A Nobek with a crush ... ain’t that sweet? Jol has a lot to tell his clanmates when it comes to Iris and Thomas Jenson:
His tone mild, he said, “You will be receiving a complaint from Governor Hoover tomorrow, Ospar.”
Standing on Jol’s left, the Dramok snorted. “I receive complaints from him every day, my Nobek.”
Jol smiled. Earther Governor Hoover was Kalquorian Governor Ospar’s least favorite part of his job. The uneasy mix of an Earther colony within the Kalquorian Empire had the two at each others’ throats more often than not. Hoover was always insisting on less Kalquorian influence over the Earthers, even when such would be detrimental to his people.
Ospar unleashed a theatrical sigh as he measured spices to go into the soup. “What will be his particular issue this time?”
“I had an Earther’s shuttle impounded and his permit to pilot revoked. The fool nearly killed a child.”
He sensed both his clanmates pause in their work. Ospar turned to him. “A child?”
Jol switched off the meat grinder and regarded his clanmate of 26 years. Ospar’s handsome face was missing its easy smile, the smile that so often disarmed opponents during his long political career. Ospar not wearing his charming expression was always a bad sign.
A flicker of anger warmed Jol’s chest, thinking about the morning’s close call. “A six-year-old boy. One with sensory impairments that led to him being in the middle of a travel lane. The area is clearly marked to all traffic that a child with a disability lives there. The offender was driving his shuttle too fast with all safety devices disabled.”
Ospar’s bright purple eyes narrowed, his wide nostrils flared, and his jaw tightened. “Did you happen to pound some sense into the offender’s head while you were at it?”
“I thought for the cause of peace between the colonists and ourselves it was best to refrain.”
The Dramok grimaced. It never failed to amuse Jol that a man whose career hinged on compromise had to be reminded so often to do so. But in this instance, Ospar’s instinct to squash bad men could be excused, what with a child involved.
“Pity. But a wise decision,” Ospar finally said, clearly hating his own words.
To Jol’s right, their Imdiko spoke up. “Where were the child’s parents?”
“There is only the mother. Iris Jenson.” Jol was profoundly aware of how his lips formed the woman’s name. He saw again her tear-bright blue eyes, her pretty but too worried face, the strands of golden hair escaping from the woven brown cap on her head. He swallowed.
He made himself meet Rivek’s sharp eyes. His Imdiko’s strong features were framed by the braids twisted into the forward part of his ankle-length hair. Jol told him, “She was present and looking out for her son, but unable to retrieve Thomas in time. It was no fault of hers.”
“I’m sure she was appropriately grateful.” Ospar’s sarcasm came out with little bite. They were all used to Earthers, particularly women, keeping as much distance as possible between themselves and Kalquorian men.
“She thanked me profusely.”
“Really?” That brought back Ospar’s smile. “Sometimes they surprise me.”
Jol thought of Iris. How she’d run with all she had to get to Thomas, no doubt knowing she’d be too late to save him. The terrible knowledge in her eyes, the gloved hands reaching desperately from too far away. Then later, staunchly defending the boy’s abilities, insisting Jol know how talented he was. He wondered at her vulnerability and the stubborn strength she showed despite how difficult her situation seemed.
He pressed the ground beef into the pie crust he’d prepared earlier. “She needs help,” he said.
Ospar raised an eyebrow. “Did she ask for it?”
“I offered a boundary protector. She seemed grateful to have it, for the boy’s sake.” Now here came the part his Dramok would not like so much. “Her snow blower is inoperable, and the heating system in her home is about to quit.” The sound of impending failure when the shelter’s heat had kicked on had been obvious to Jol.
Ospar pursed his lips. His duties and the hostility Earthers regularly showed Haven’s supervising Kalquorians were obviously much on his mind as he said, “We have to be cautious with such things, especially when an Earther female is involved. I would not worry overmuch with the snow blower unless it becomes a safety issue.”
Rivek folded his arms over his chest, unconcerned with the flour smearing all over his loose brown tunic. He spoke as he usually did, with quiet, measured tones. “The heating problem must be addressed. If it fails in the middle of the night, they could freeze.”
Ospar nibbled his lower lip. “Her funds are not adequate for her to have one of her own repair it?”
Jol felt a stab of sympathy for his Dramok. No doubt Ospar wanted to let the Nobek charge in and put everything to rights for a needy family. Having to tread so carefully around Earthers was a huge challenge for the take-charge governor.
Jol told him, “The child’s difficulties make it hard for Matara Iris to do more than sustain them at their present level. I sincerely doubt she has the ability or goods to trade for the heater repair.”
He put his prepared meat pie into one of the vast kitchen’s heating units. An instant later, Ospar’s soup went into another one. On the Earther-style stove, Rivek began dropping his flat discs of bread into hot oil. In sync as always, but then they had been clanmates a long time.
Jol knew perfectly well Ospar would give him the go ahead to fix Iris and Thomas’ heating system. Just as Ospar knew Jol would also repair the snow blower despite the order not to.
Ospar’s glare was only window dressing. “I will not have a Matara and child endangered, even if they don’t want our help. Fix their heating at your earliest convenience, but be as discreet as possible. We don’t want the E.I.K. targeting them.”
Jol nodded. “Of course.”
Ospar knew better than to remind Jol to be cautious. However, the Dramok’s greatest failing was his heavyhanded way of running things, whether it be governance of a colony or his clan. For the most part, Jol had learned to overlook that quirk. As Rivek often reminded him, forgiveness was its own test of strength, one worthy of a warrior Nobek.
Besides, Jol looked forward to the opportunity to see Iris and Thomas again, to perhaps learn more about them. If he and Ospar got into an argument, his Dramok might see fit to send someone else in to do the needed repairs.
Jol felt a near compulsion to speak once more with the pretty Matara who wore sadness like a dark cloak. He didn’t know why he was so fascinated with her and the boy, but it was one of many questions he wanted answered about the pair.