Hi there! Child's Play is something I originally posted on the Bob and George forums years ago. Unfortunately, it got badly mauled in a server move. A friend and reader of mine from there known as Slife helped to retrieve about 75% of it. Any original fans will note that most changes are subtle, general improvements here and there. However, some large chunks had to be completely rewritten and will thus be mostly new. I hope I remember everything of those parts.

For those of you who've never seen this work before, it's one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 1: Falling Stars

June 21, 22XX, Maverick Hunters HQ

"So we've beat Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey, Plucky Ducky, Foxy Loxy, Wishy Fishy, Piggly Wiggly, and Jack. So who's next?"

X chuckled. "I can't believe you said that with a straight face."

Zero finally cracked a smile. "It was tough."

During a moment of downtime, the two famous Maverick Hunters were sitting in the control room. They were meeting with the support officers, strategist, and other organizers that helped out behind the scenes of every mission. These people were immensely important even if they didn't get the recognition that the front line officers did. As both Hunters knew, their missions went smoother and more efficiently with these folks backing them up. Without them, there would be more mistakes. More mistakes was something their group did not want.

X, though, was in a sillier mood than usual. "Logically, it would be Mother Goose."

Leaning back in his seat, Zero countered with, "But we already fought a goose reploid."

"Would you guys take this seriously?" Alia said from her console. "We do have dark messages spreading around the world encouraging the reploids to destroy all human civilization."

"We've been fighting the Nursery Rhyme Gang," Zero said. "How can we take this seriously?"

"Sorry, but this has been one long strange mission," X agreed. Signas walked out of his office, so he asked, "Hey, how's Axl doing on that special assignment?"

"He's still undercover," Signas replied, "so no full report for you. But he's doing well. He'll still be away for another two or three days."

"We've got nothing to worry about him," Zero said.

X shrugged. "I just hope he keeps control over his itchy trigger finger."

Zero nodded, then watched as the computer database looked for the source of the messages. He yawned. "I dunno about you, but I'm bored."

"I'm working as fast as I can," Alia said.

He shook his head. "Not this waiting game, I meant this whole scenario. Everything's been so easy lately; I haven't had a decent challenge in years."

"Don't tempt fate," Signas warned. "You might get more than you wished for."

"Hah, like that could happen."

"I've got it!" Alia called. "The message source is Ikari Tower in Death Valley."

X came over and looked. "Seriously? But that's a giant mechatree."

"It does have satellite beacons, for taking readings of the atmosphere and sunlight, then broadcasting them to research universities. But you remember, the place is very secure. In order to hijack the beacons, you'd have to overthrow the entire tree's security. Or infect it."

"You two be careful," Signas said. "But take care of this quickly."

Ikari Tower looked exactly like a gigantic sequoia tree alone in the middle of the desert. One could see its brilliant green leaves from miles away. In truth, it was a living utilities plant, providing clean energy, water, and air to people for miles around. The two Hunters took an elevator on the side to the beacons' platform.

X leaned on a post. "This elevator is slow. If I had a moment, I would have brought along my book chip."

Zero smiled and shook his head. "A book on a mission? You're such a geek sometimes."

"Is there a problem with that?" he asked teasingly.

"I guess not. So there's a few machines up top, but most rooms and labs are underground?"

"Right. You're not supposed to be able to get in the root system or in the elevator unless you have security access. Someone on the inside was helping Sigma; they even have the advanced firewall in place here."

"So how would he infect it?"

After a moment's consideration, he replied, "Only by using passwords to shut down the firewall."

Zero nodded. "I see. So how many make out spots are there?"

X rolled his eyes, but knew he was being teased. "I told you, I'm not dating Alia."

"Oh please, I know you want to."

"She'd talk my ear off if I did take her on a date. I couldn't stand that."

"She does that anyways."

"That's true."

Zero looked at the trunk as they climbed. "So how safe is this elevator? Sigma could just crash it while we're in here."

"That wouldn't be dramatic. It's not Sigma's style to use a non-dramatic plan."

"Practical warfare beats dramatic warfare any day."

"That's why he never wins. That, and he's evil."

"You would say that."

"Besides, the elevator's on safety rails. If the rails are messed with in any way, the elevator won't work. It can't be crashed."

The elevator stopped and opened to a spiral staircase. Leaves the size of dinner plates moved in the slightest breeze. "Shall we go kick his ass again?"

X followed Zero out. "You know, if Signas were listening, he'd tell us to stop the chatter and do our mission."

"Secretly, I like radio blockades." They both laughed.

The spiral staircase went up for three stories. There were some enemies on the path, but nothing worrisome. And as expected, Sigma was waiting at the beacon platform. X looked around for traps; there would be traps. But there were so many leaves around them that it was difficult to see beyond this little 'room'. He did notice how the platform was made. Large steel bars made up a grid. Resting on the grid was a sheet of chain-link mesh, so light could filter to leaves below while people could work on the beacons. However, some sections of mesh were missing, leaving gaping holes to a thousand foot drop. Reploids could survive heavy damage, but a thousand foot drop was hard for anything to survive.

Sigma was smug. "My plan to lure you up for your destruction has worked perfectly."

Zero groaned. "Is that it? You went to all that trouble, overtaking a secured network, spamming the entire world net, just to get us up here? Good grief; you could have gotten the same effect by just calling us on the telephone and saying, 'Hey dimwits, meet me on top of Ikari Tower in one hour'. Would've been a lot faster too."

He was caught off guard by this response. "Well..."

X elbowed Zero. "Hey, don't give him ideas like that. We wouldn't get paid for doing that."

"Oh, right. Never mind then. What idiotic plan for killing us do you have now? Not that it matters, as it won't work."

"What's gotten into you?" Sigma asked.

"He is right," X said. "This game is getting a little old. How many times do you have to die in order to realize that you're not right?"

"Meaning, your plans are stupid."

Sigma fumed. "They are not. This one is guaranteed to..." he was cut off by a sudden flash of light. It was like someone had tried teleporting to Sigma's exact location. Sigma was thrown down one of the gaping holes. But the light remained longer than a typical teleport.

"Lumine again?" Zero asked quietly.

But it wasn't Lumine. The light disappeared, leaving a child-like reploid with blue armor, black hair that was slightly blue, and green eyes. The child looked amazingly like X, only three foot high. He looked down in the hole Sigma had fallen through, rather worried. "Oops. I wasn't supposed to hurt anyone."

Zero smiled. "I don't think anyone would mind, kiddo."

The child turned around, startled, but then looked relieved. "Oh good, I did find you. I was worried... this is an odd place."

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" X asked kindly.

"I, um, I'd explain, but I don't have a lot of time to do this. See, um... I'm in trouble. A lot of trouble. I was hoping you'd help me."

"We were in the middle of something," Zero said, "but it seems you took care of that for us."

"We'll help anyone we can. What's your problem?"

The child looked relieved. "See, in my world..."

"Your world?"

He nodded. "I'm from another world. There's this monster... two of them, actually, two monsters that are going to fight over my world. They could destroy every living thing if they do fight. But before they do that, my friend and I... the monsters are going to kill us first."

"Monsters, huh? We can fight monsters."

X scratched his head. "What sort of monsters? And we need to know more about you."

But the child only heard Zero's comment. "Great. Come with me."

"To your world?"

The child raised his hands, and everything turned white.

Sigma leapt up through the hole; some branches had stopped his fall. "All right, what's going on here? Huh?"

He said this to someone new to him. This person... human or reploid? Sigma wasn't sure, and he could usually tell right away. He looked hominoid, with snow white hair, pale skin, gray eyes, and a long black cloak. But something was off about him, something that made him not-quite-human. He was looking up. "Exactly what I thought would happen. It was a brave effort. But it puts us right in the middle of perversion of originality."

Sigma was about to ask who, and what, the stranger was, but then he turned. "You're the guy who built this Tower. Ikari Domino."

Ikari nodded. "That's right."

"But you're supposed to be some hermit."

"If you wish to call me that. You ought to follow them, you know."

"Them? But..."

"Sometimes to fight a corruption, one must go along with it." Ikari raised one hand and a black glow surrounded him. "I'll show you the way."

Everything turned black.

June 21, XX54

It was a cold snowy day... when wasn't it snowy around here? The people working in the snowfield were well prepared. The reploids all wore an extra set of armor to keep their internal temperatures stable and keep out the wet. The humans all wore warm layers of clothing under a special suit designed to keep out the wet, wind, and some forms of magic. The cyber elves usually stayed in the armor or clothing of their bond partners, only coming out if they were really needed. Everyone would have liked to be inside, in safety and warmth, but this was an important task.

"Dr. Ciel!" one of the last groups working called out. "We've broke through the ice."

Ciel came over in her snowshoes and peered through. "What've you got?"

"Hang on," a muffled voice came from inside, "there's a lot in here."

"I've got you," the reploid who'd called her over said. He fired off another Fire Pillar, then physically yanked off another section of silver colored ice. "There, now you don't have to squeeze yourself back out."

"Thanks," the human inside answered. His heavy boots made loud metallic echoes. "I see lots of damage on the outside, but not inside. But this caravan went through one helluva fight."

Ciel went inside the truck. They knew this caravan had gotten unlucky enough to encounter the Ice Dragon. They knew that before they found it. But upon inspecting the trucks and remains, the battle had been much worse. There was damage from plasma-type weapons, damage from spells (where the elements were not just ice, but fire, earth, and electric), and damage from lesser monsters. Something had gone terribly wrong here.

"Any bodies in here?" she asked.

"None so far."

A small ball of light darted out of Ciel's suit. Croire paused, then flew right for a box. "Miss Ciel, there's something powerful here."

"Okay, I'll be up there in a sec."

She climbed onto the boxes while Croire unsealed the box. Inside were many layers of protective foam. Ciel pulled off the first layer and found a beautiful statue of an angel decorated with gold leaf and gemstones. Carefully, she lifted the angel up and found an inscription on the bottom. 'Hope, Rasia Angelica Cathedral, Kykital.'

"What've you got?" the human asked.

"The Angels of the Virtues. They look intact. So this confirms that this was the last caravan from Kykital."

"I'm not finding anyone in here, which means we're still short a few bodies. They would have reported a death before they left."

Ciel nodded. "Right. The Ice Dragon doesn't eat her victims, as far as we know, but there were some predators... but they could still be out there."

There was a crash as a particularly large section of silver ice came off. "But it's been three months; they couldn't survive that long."

"You don't get it," the human said. "The ones missing are Neko, Xenophon, and Star Guise. Snow Patrol members. If anyone could survive this long, they could."

"Zero would survive snow," Croire said. But of course, only Ciel could hear her.

"Still, it's got to be hard," the reploid said. "Even for a legendary hero."

Ciel shut the box with the Angels in it. "I'll send some others out to help you pack up all these boxes. We've got to search the surrounding area for them now."


She came out and Croire went back into her pocket. She'd have to order a second inspection of the entire battle site, just in case someone missed the bodies. But she didn't think those three had died. The two reploids were highly trained and the cyber elf with them was quite powerful. And Neko had come back from certain death situations before. So yes, if anyone could survive three months in the snowfields, it'd be them. But where would they be? Did they decide to camp somewhere, or to try making it to a SP fort on foot?

And what was she going to tell Sonya Chi Guise now? Ciel had promised her friend she'd find her missing husband. She'd found the group, but not Sonya's husband.

At their camp, she looked around for an idle group. "Jacobs, Hirondelle, Laguna, you three go to truck E and help them unload. They've got almost a full load."

"Yes, m'am," two of them said.

Hirondelle, an old friend of Ciel's, pointed up at the sky. "Look up there. There's three stars out."

Laguna, a new friend of Ciel's, looked and shivered. "Three bright new stars in the daytime sky, on the solstice no less. It's a strange omen... they're coming down."

Ciel looked up in time to see one of the new stars fall to the west. The other two went southeast. That was odd. She thought of another time she'd watched falling stars, and of the Angel of Hope. She wished she could see Neko again.

June 21, XX54

Sonya Chi Guise twisted her wedding band around her finger. On her forehead, she wore a white band of mourning. She wondered how her friend Ciel was doing and if she'd found the caravan yet. Hopefully there would be news about her husband. Good news.

Sonya was a mermaid reploid; at least, she had been. But for her beloved Star, she came out of the water and was transformed into an amphibious reploid. She still looked mermaid-ish, with bright orange hair, gauzy orange and yellow fins, an orange tail that had been transformed into a skirt of sorts, and her gills which were still on her neck. Life on land was okay, but Sonya would prefer to be underwater again. Only, all the nearby bodies of water were frozen solid.

"Sonya, I need your help," a voice came from the hallway.

"Coming, Miss Roll." She got up and left the office.

Roll Light was the first female reploid, having been upgraded from a mere robot. She appeared like a human woman in her early twenties, with grass green eyes and corn blond hair in a braid. Currently, she was wearing a red blouse and blue jeans. She looked at Sonya and her expression warmed. "Oh, but if you're not feeling well... I might be able to get one of the other refugees."

For a moment, Sonya wanted to agree. But then she shook her head. "No, I'm... I probably should be doing things."

"I know it must be hard on you. But if you don't mind, I've picked up some new tables for the conference room, the dens, and the great room. They need to be brought in and assembled, but first we need to get the old tables dissembled and taken to the truck"

"Okay." The two women got to work.

The Light family estate had been passed along many generations. The house grew and expanded until it was five stories high with two large additions on either side. And then the last human owner, Dr. Thomas Light, had expanded downward, adding five layers of basements to create one of the most sophisticated research labs in the world, even now, thirty years after his death. Thomas had created the reploid race, which was now over seventy years old. When he died, he left his estate not to his human descendants, but to his three reploid descendants, Roll, Rock, and Blues. Rock and Blues were gone most of the time, though, leaving Roll to do whatever she wished with the expansive building.

It was much too large for a single person to live in, as well as expensive to upkeep. So Roll devised a business plan. She rented the basement labs out to scientists, wizards, or research groups, who were willing to pay whatever she asked for them. As for the upper portion, she turned that into a country inn. At least, it should have been a country inn. Monsteropolis had grown in the years since Dr. Light's death; where it had once been surrounded by trees, the estate was now surrounded by buildings taller than itself. Roll had managed to keep her inn/lab/home a private building instead of public.

Sonya had moved in four months ago, when she had fled Kykital after its shields fell. A city without a shield was helpless. Other refugees were living here as well. Most had made it out alive, but the last caravan had never made it here. Star had been in that caravan, along with his Snow Patrol friends Neko and Xenophon. They were all trained to survive the wilderness, but the dangers were many. Sonya had hope they would come back safely.

Still, what if she never heard from them again?

Sonya worked slowly, thinking all this. Roll understood and didn't bother her too much. She was such a sweet and kind woman; no wonder every other female reploid looked up to her as a good example of how to live one's life. There was once though, when Sonya was outside putting a dismantled table into the truck and pulling out a new table's box. Roll tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to the sky. "Look, Chi, there's stars out."

She looked up and saw three stars where they shouldn't be, when they shouldn't be. Two darted off south quickly. The third grew brighter and brighter, until it rushed right over their heads and through the streets. Roll ran over to the street to look and listen. The star simply vanished without a sound.

Roll scratched her head as Sonya came over. "Odd. There doesn't seem to be any damage. I hope nobody got hurt."

"I hope that wasn't a bad omen." Because she'd wished Star would come back to her.

David Cain looked back at the sky. Three stars in the middle of the day, on the summer solstice no less. Some believed falling stars to be omens, and those three were conspicuously unique. In the next few days, there'd be all sorts of predictions of doom and hope. David was suspicious of prophecy, though. Sure, there could be omens and signs, but they were hopelessly vague and hard to interpret. He preferred to ignore that 'art'. David was more worried that the star had crashed into the wall and left a gaping hole in the city's defenses. He didn't want Monsteropolis to turn into another Kykital.

His radio beeped. "Sir, we have tracked the local star's flight path. We're waiting on the Snow Patrol's report on the other two."

"Fine, send it to me."

"You're not going to like this."

A few seconds later, David's wristband computer projected a three dimensional map of Monsteropolis. The star's path was genuinely odd. It came in from the southern part of the city almost straight down, but then altered its path to a gentler slope. It came to a total stop in the old Downtown area, about five stories off the ground. Then it went east one block, changed its mind, then went north. After that, it went east, north, west, west, south, east, south, west, north, east twenty blocks, then north straight for the wall. If it hit the wall or beyond, it would have done so in sector 35.

David frowned, then looked back to the east. He would have seen or heard an explosion. He'd been in that area not that long ago and had left his two sons over there...

His sons!

David ran.

June 21, XX54

Sigma felt strange. Everything was still black, and his systems tingled. It was almost like coming into close contact with the true Zero virus. There was something in the old texts about dark energy. Did that have anything to do with this?

Finally, something materialized. But an odd something: a floating walkway made up of large tiles. It was about six feet wide and three inches deep. The walkway twisted and turned, met itself, formed some open squares, and had dead ends all over. Some of the dead ends were finished with an arch, sort of like an electronic door. While most of the tiles were blue, the ones he was standing on or near were red.

"Odd place," he said quietly to himself. He looked out at the darkness. Every now and then, a streak of colored light zipped by. There were also rainbow colored bubbles.

Well, he'd best find something to infect, so he could figure out where he was. He spotted a terminal fifteen feet ahead. As he walked towards it, more tiles turned red. Before he could figure out this strange behavior, a bubble floated right up to him. Sigma started to brush it away, but then saw someone in the bubble. Not a reflection of himself, but someone who looked familiar. He couldn't think of who, so Sigma tried to capture the bubble for examination.

The bubble squealed and shot away from him. Seconds later, an alarm sounded. Teleport flashes appeared as this place brought in its security, which was made up of the oddest looking mechaniloids Sigma had ever seen. He knew mettaurs; there were plenty of those. There were also mini-tanks, cylinders with faces and giant propellers, rabbits with one large fused foot, and a few plunger/spring/helicopter things that stomped every time they touched the ground.

"What kind of joke is this?" Sigma asked with a sneer. He activated his plasma blade and fired off several rounds of Crescent Wave. This killed almost all the security mechaniloids in one shot each. It also turned every tile affected red.

Sigma turned back to the terminal and infected it. But the information it was giving didn't make sense. It was storing basic knowledge: spelling, history, geography, and math. It did give him one useful piece of information. It told him that the security forces were taking orders through one of the archways. If he followed the orders, he could find the master of this place.

Good, that would make things faster. He shut off security in this area. Everything turned red, from the light flashes in the blackness to the archways. The rainbow colored bubbles all squealed and got away.
After touching the archway, the pathway vanished, then was replaced. It was arranged differently. This time, there was a long perimeter path, a few side paths with terminals, and one large path in the center. But that path was blocked by three flashing blocks approximately six foot by six foot by six foot each.
Sigma tracked the orders with another terminal and found the source beyond the flashing blocks. He went to examine those blocks. They didn't seem very substantial.

'Three layer pass code required for entry,' the front block warned him.

"I don't need no stinking pass code," Sigma replied. He charged his saber with the virus. This shattered the lock blocks easily, allowing him to pass through the supposedly secure arch.

When this new area formed, it wasn't a path like the others. It was a large square of tiles, about fifty by fifty. There were pretty flowering trees and decorative tiles with stars. There was a fountain in the center making a peaceful background noise. There was a reploid sitting on the edge of the fountain. He was an odd one, though. He had light brown hair, wasn't quite four feet high, had child-like facial features, and odd tattoos, like blue triangles around his eyes. In fact, he looked like Sigma if he had ever been a child.

The child-like Sigma looked at the adult Sigma, startled. "What are you doing here? It's supposed to be safe here."

Sigma walked up to him. "I'd like to know that myself. What have you done with me?"

"I-I-I, I did nothing wrong! My dad said I could be there today, promise." He quivered.

Sigma crossed his arms and looked at the child critically. "I was never such a chicken. Now tell me the truth."

"I don't know. Really! No one else is supposed to be in here without my permission."

He held up his saber threateningly. "Tell me..."

The child jumped into the fountain. "Greater spirits, please protect me!"

Instantly, two adults appeared. One appeared to be X. Maybe. He wasn't wearing his helmet, but was wearing a golden crown. His base armor was different and he was wearing a white cloak over it. His facial features weren't quite right and his hair was the wrong semi-black. Like he was a sloppy imposter. The other appeared to be Dr. Cain.

"Leave this place now, dark spirit," the X imposter said.

Cain stayed by the fountain. "Leave my son alone. Go in peace or we will forcibly evict you."

"You can't force me to do anything."

Sigma struck at the X imposter. He dodged, put his hands to his lips, and began muttering something. Cain snapped his fingers and formed a faint white shield around the fountain. Sigma struck at X again, this time vaporizing him.

Did he really just vanish? Sigma wasn't sure what to think. Keeping an eye out for sneaky backhanded tricks, he attacked the white shield. It shattered, taking Cain with it. No, that was far too easy.

There was a buzzing sound. The remaining blue tiles all turned red. The decorative tiles erased their stars and replaced them with Sigma's sign. The flowering trees all grew razor-sharp leaves and poisonous blossoms. And the fountain began to spew blood instead of water.

The child Sigma scrambled out of the fountain quickly when it did that. The tile he got out on turned blue. He looked confused, as if he felt his defenses should have lasted longer too.

The adult Sigma grabbed the child by the collar. "Now you tell me what's going on."

The child said nothing, but his eyes expressed terror.

June 21, XX54

"Hey kid, you all right?"

Kid? Sigma blinked and realized his situation had suddenly changed. Instead of looking at his child self being afraid, he was looking at a mass of white, gray, and blue. He smelled rock salt and water. He was cold and wet.

"Sigma!" someone called. He sounded an awful lot like Dr. Cain. But, wasn't he long dead and recently vaporized? What was going on?

"He's down here, David."

"How is he?"

"He got knocked out, dad, but he's alive."

David, dad? Sigma sat up to figure the voices out. He was in a large pile of snow. The one who sounded like Cain also looked like Cain; this one was David. There was a teenager sitting by him, who also looked similar to Cain. Roger, his mind named this teen. There was a third human, but he was unfamiliar in every way. He looked at the three of them, and to his own surprise, started crying. "Daddy!"

David hugged him. "Thank goodness. How do you feel?"

Sigma scolded himself silently for acting so stupidly, but it was as if he had little control. He tried to gain that control. "I, I don't know... it just happened. What happened?"

"You got star struck," the stranger said cheerfully.

"There's a... I feel some strange energy."

His father let him go and looked him closely in the eyes. "You're right; there is some unusual energy in your systems. I'll have to give you a thorough checkup at home."

Wait, how did he know that just by looking into his eyes? Should he be using scanning equipment to find that out? Sure, certain reploids could diagnose problems by checking another's eyes. But that was reploids. Humans couldn't do that kind of thing.

David looked to the stranger and his other son. "Did you two see what happened to that star?"

"It crashed right into him. We both saw that, right Roger?"

The teen nodded. "Yeah, appeared out of nowhere and smacked him in the head. But there was no explosion or anything. It was a silent hit; all I heard was Sigma falling into the snow pile."

"There isn't a trace of it left, believe me. If there is, it's in that snow."

"I'm not sure what to make of that," David said.

"Hey dad, what happened to those other two stars we saw?"

Two... so there were three falling stars? Sigma immediately thought of the Maverick Hunters. He recalled them talking to someone while he had been trying to get back up to the mechatree's maintenance platform. But then they had disappeared by the time he got back up.

David shrugged. "Haven't heard. They fell somewhere to the south. The Snow Patrol is trying to locate someone closer to that crash site. We'll figure it out eventually. Do you think you can walk, Sigma?"

"Of course." He stood up and figured out that he was about 47 inches high. There was no sign of his armor or cape. Instead, he was wearing a colorful knitted cap, a plush coat, and snow boots. He was exactly the same as the child he'd just been threatening. On the plus side, he was no longer bald. Otherwise, it was negatives all the way.

David took his right hand and walked with him. Roger followed close behind. Sigma looked over a short blue-gray wall to his left and saw a large open plain with snow to the horizon. There were some trees out there, but unless they were evergreens, they were dead. He looked to his right side and saw that they were actually on a wall. Like a castle's perimeter, this wall was protecting a large city from the outside world. He looked back at the snowy outside world and realized there was something else odd.

There was a translucent film starting from this wall and going over the city. He could only see it where the sun's light refracted just right to form an oily rainbow. And the shield and the world beyond, they both had a strange feel to them. Sigma wasn't sure what to call it. It was like the aura put off by the Zero-type viruses, only not as aggressive.

Roger tapped his shoulder. "Hey little brother, what is it?"

How dare some human call him that? Sigma kept his temper. "What's what?"

"You had that look on your face. You're feeling something."

"Magic of ice and snow." Magic? Now he wasn't making sense again. "I don't know."

"The Ice Dragon's magic does rise and fall," David said. "But our protective shield is strong and constant. Monsteropolis is safe, don't worry. It's just easiest to feel the dark magic outside from the wall." He squeezed his hand. "This is why we don't normally allow citizens up here."

"Okay, dad." He had to push himself to say that. But he was ignorant right now, so the best thing was to try fitting in until he knew what was going on.

Roger tweaked his ear. "Ease up, Sigma. You should thank the greater spirits that the star didn't kill you. You got very lucky." He winked. "Either that, or you have a destiny written in the stars."

"Roger," David tried to warn, but he wound up chuckling.

Stars and destiny. Perhaps this was a superstitious place. In that case, "You have to find out what happened to those other two stars."

"And why's that?"

"They are a sign."

David nodded. "They could be. But will we read them right?"

"Aw, you're no fun dad," Roger teased.

He remained insistent on denial, which was good for him. Not so good for Sigma. "Prophecy is a serious matter, but it's vague. We must be careful; I don't want either of you following some tragic self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyway, let's get back home and check you out. Then we'll make some hot cocoa. How's that sound?"

"That'd be great," Roger said.

It took him a second, but Sigma smiled at them. "Yeah, great."