When the door slid open an hour after Chantral had left, Badge was thoroughly engrossed in real-time vid recorded from the vessels that had been berthed in the Antillan port. Glancing over the top of the IAF’s screen, he dared to glare at the new arrival. “You’re late.”
His long, dark hair tousled and unbound from its customary tie-back, Nix offered a white-toothed grin, which looked brilliant in the blue-white wash of light pouring from the screen across the dark room. One arm was conspicuously held behind his back. “You’ll appreciate the reason when you see what I’ve brought.”
“Better.” Nix strode to the desk and plopped uncharacteristically into the fixed chair opposite Badge. His arm drew around to reveal a covered tray from the refectory. “Dinner.”
Badge smelled something delicious, and his stomach growled. “Lattier steaks?” Nix shook his head. “Dronchic?” Another head shake. Badge had exhausted his guesses; there wasn’t much variety in the provisions. “You got me.”
Badge’s brows pinched. “I thought you would have fritzed them into oblivion.”
“No powers necessary. Today was target practice.” The Guardian deposited the tray on the table’s corner, and with a flip of his wrist the cover retracted.
“You shot them? In a partially decompressed compartment?”
Nix picked up a nugget of the white meat arranged loosely on a plate, tossed it in the air, and caught it in his mouth. “Sure. Why not?”
Overcome with hunger, Badge leaned across the desk and swiped one for himself. He chewed on the delightfully tasteful morsel, and momentarily all thoughts of spaceblades and trainers vanished. “Oh, this is good.”
Rolling his right hand before his face, Nix offered a mock bow while still seated. Both men shared a laugh, then ate in a respectful silence.
His mouth half-full, Badge found something he wanted to say. “You know the CO would prefer you eliminate the hubbler population in one fell swoop.”
“Personal requests. An early sign of bonding.”
Badge flung the nugget in his hand at his brother, who snatched it out of the air. “Not at all. I’m just passing along a commanding officer’s preference. She does decide the who, what, and when of my training facility’s assembly team, you know.”
Nix tipped his head toward the now half-eaten plate of hubbler. “If she’d have been here, you wouldn’t have had to explain why.”
“I’m not sure roasted hubbler would suit Chantral’s palate.”
Badge knew what Nix was implying – that he understood Chantral’s food preferences in addition to asking personal favors. No matter how much Nix wanted to force Badge into considering his future, though, there was only time to focus on the dangers of the present. After queuing up one of the topographic models he had been fiddling with earlier, Badge pivoted the screen so Nix could see it too.
“I have several questions I think you might be able to answer.”
Nix eyed the screen, his face giving no indication of annoyance at being summarily brushed off. “I’ll answer to the best of my ability.”
Zooming into the three-dimensional map of the Antillan port, Badge used his finger to circle the arrangement of vessels near the mouth of the bay. “I’m trying to figure out the logic behind putting –”
“Let me stop you right there.” Nix ran a hand through his hair. “That’s my fault. I probably should have had this talk with you sooner, even though I’m pretty sure no matter what I say you’ll have to learn it yourself the hard way.”
“I always value your insight.”
“I don’t know if I can offer much on this. Suffice to say, until you’ve experienced it first hand, the logic of the Primeans is about as alien as… well, an alien. To be honest, you’re better off approaching them like you would the Orkans.” Nix tapped his finger to his temple. “They don’t think like us.”