Little Boy Lost

Set 2258, on Centauri Prime

(This is best read if you've already seen The Lost Tales: Voices in the Dark, but no spoilers persay.)

Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.

Captain John Sheridan was enjoying his leave immensely. It would probably be his last for a while. After he left Centauri Prime, he would be taking his ship, the EAS Agammenon, back to Earth for re-fitting. There were rumours he was being re-assigned, but he'd worry about that when he got home. He'd spent a great deal of time training his second in command, Commander James, and was confident the man could take over if EarthForce had decided it was time for him to move on. As long as they didn't expect him to become a desk jockey, or some sort of PR flack for the service. That had been a danger ever since his actions during the war.

He'd decided to take the official tour of the Centauri Royal Palace and grounds before he had to get back to his ship. It wasn't normally his type of thing, but the shop that had sold him the ticket had assured him that the Royal Stables were included in the tour, and he wanted to see the dromes, the great draft animals that pulled the Royal carriages. They were reputed to be some of the largest and strongest equine-like creatures in the known worlds. He'd always loved horses; it was one of the things he missed most about being ship-bound. Space was his natural habitat, he sometimes thought, but it was good to feel solid ground again, and he was looking forward to his tour.

The guides spoke several languages, and each group was selected for linguistic preference. He was put with a small group of humans on vacation, and a smattering of other races that understood enough English to get by. Truth be told, the guide's English wasn't terrific, but it was good enough to get the gist of what he was saying. The Palace had been the usual sort of thing; overdone, ornate, and very, very large. The fountains and gardens were quite pretty, a little formal, but he rather liked that. The dromes, however, were magnificent. He estimated they were about 17 hands, with long thin heads that ended in a snout lined with what looked like very sharp, pointed teeth. Lingering behind the group, he knelt down to get a better look at their cloven hooves, which also looked dangerously sharp. They were hobbled, so he wasn't in any danger—at least he didn't think they could break free. Although the way they were stamping the ground, he was sure they would like to. As he started to rise, he caught a small movement in the back of the stall from the corner of his eye. Wondering if the Centauri equivalent of a cat, or maybe a rat, was back there, he crouched down, and peered into the darkness. What he saw was a small child, a boy by his clothing, crouched in the darkness at the back of the stall. His blood ran cold as he looked again at the drome's razor-like hooves. Holding out a hand, he tried to gesture the child from out of his hiding place. The boy stood, but backed up against the wall of the stall in terror as the drome shook his great head, trying to turn it towards the sound coming from behind it, but restrained by the tether fastened to a ringbolt in the wall. John gestured again, making encouraging sounds, and stretched his hand further towards the frightened child. The boy inched towards the opening, then suddenly threw himself forward, towards John. The drome reared up, and the man grabbed the boy, falling backwards out of reach of the drome, as his hooves slashed at the ground, and he whipped his head backwards and forwards, trying to reach whatever had rushed past him.

John fell backwards, still clutching the boy in his arms. "Are you all right?" he asked anxiously, at the same time realizing that it was unlikely the child could understand him. He sat up, looking him over for any sign of injuries, but aside from being extremely dirty, the child looked fine. He stood up, taking the boy's hand, and began looking around for the guide or the rest of his tour group. He'd have to find out where his charge belonged before he could head back to the ship.

A female Centauri, in long robes, came rushing towards them from the Palace gardens. She knelt in front of the boy, speaking rapidly in the Centauri tongue, alternating between what sounded like scolding and relief. Looking up, she said in broken English, "You are thanked! He runs, all times, this one." She looked down with obvious affection at her charge and said "I have been looking for you. Your father wants to see you." She smiled sadly at the look of fear that filled the child's eyes. "Say thank you, and farewell, to the offworlder."

The child bowed gracefully, said a few unintelligible words in his own tongue, and then took his nurse's hand. John returned the bow, said his good-byes, and headed off, secure that the child was safe.

"Come, Dius," said the nurse, and she tried not to wince at the wistful look the young prince gave the retreating form of his rescuer.