The Mystic on Val Shohob could wait.
The Voice knew Balthazar could’ve done entirely without the journey away from his homeworld.
It would be his first such voyage.
“The Consortium Council sends its regrets,” the plump, bald-headed Listener Mordecai said. He steepled his long fingers as he stood before the raised scribe’s desk in the Tower of the Eye. “The Minerva was forced to make a detour to the Centauri system.”
Balthazar quirked an eyebrow and smiled with the right corner of his mouth. “I do hope we replied that we anticipated such a delay. We have a reputation to protect, after all.”
Mordecai flapped his fleshy mouth up and down for a few moments.
“A joke,” Eye Balthazar explained. He waved a hand dismissively, then stepped down from his platform. At the bottom, he turned to bow in respect to the violet and silver stained glass window embedded in the stone wall. The window displayed a stylized eye and rippling mind waves, the millennia-old insignia of the Order of Mystics on Val Shohob.
“Do you wish to send a response, Eye?”
Balthazar faced the Listener. He did, indeed, have several responses in mind – not the least of which was to tell the Consortium not to bother sending the vessel. He didn’t want to go. His reluctance didn’t owe itself completely to a parochial mentality, but that did bear some of the debt. He understood the importance of his mission to the Order. In recent years, they’d been plagued by increased harassment from pirates and pockets of smugglers setting up havens in the arid wastes of the Shohobian North Continent. And, in just the past few months, scout vessels from the Clawed Fist Fleet began venturing closer to the Shohob System. The reptiloid warmongers in the Parallax most certainly would enslave Balthazar and his people for their own ends, twisting prophecy for profit.
But the Voice knew, as Balthazar did, that the Stellar Consortium would not be immune to similar temptations.
He didn’t want to go because he knew that once he left this place, he would set into motion a chain of events that would irrevocably change everything: an end to everything as it was, and the beginning of something new, probably terrifying, possibly catastrophic.
Balthazar might leave his homeworld for the first time and never return.
In the end, he opted for this response to the Consortium: “Tell them that we appreciate their situation and that we eagerly await the arrival of the Minerva whenever that might be.”
Listener Mordecai bobbed his head in agreement, then bowed his way out of the chamber, the hem of his rough brown cloth robes hissing on the cobblestone floor as he disappeared into the spiral stairwell and began the descent toward the compound.
Left alone, Balthazar twitched his mouth and walked over to the nearest bookshelf – a floor-to-vaulted-ceiling structure with dozens of stone shelves carved into the rock walls, each shelf packed with leatherbound books, each book stuffed with pages of prophecy documented down from antiquity by the Listeners for interpretation by the Eyes and the Order Council. More than a few he’d written during his tenure as a Listener in the Scribe Hall. So much material than Balthazar could ever hope to read during his centuries of existence.
Until now, the Mystics of Val Shohob – not unlike Balthazar himself – had preferred keeping to themselves. They didn’t meddle in the affairs of other civilizations. Generally, the Shohobian Mystics enjoyed a happy neutrality. They weren’t in a particularly strategic interstellar location. They didn’t build weapons or amass fleets. They lacked abundant mineral resources that might draw attention from those hoping to exploit their world. They just sat in their libraries and listened to the Voice, taking notes whenever possible.
The Order Council didn’t want to entirely sacrifice that neutrality, but determined that they could benefit from the safety in numbers that might come from joining an alliance, such as the Consortium.
Balthazar pulled a dark red tome from a shelf in the center of the wall, just above eye level. He cradled the book in the palm of his left hand and then opened to a page near the back. He scanned the first line, scrawled in Shohobian script by a Mystic who’d mostly likely been dead for six hundred years:
“On the verge of crystal, the window opens to betrayal.”
He flinched, closing the book and returning it to the shelf.
That desire to remain on his homeworld, to break off diplomatic overtures with the Consortium and remain isolated, came rushing back.
But his brothers on the Order Council would not be swayed.
The Voice knew that, in the end, Eye Balthazar wouldn’t be swayed either. As his mother told him so many years ago: “Prophecy is an obscure statement of fact, not a clue for enabling avoidance.” He could hide in his tower on Overlook Mesa for the rest of his days, but all that had been predicted within the pages of the books in this tower had and would continue to come to pass, whether or not he participated.
So, against his better judgment and for the sake of his people, Balthazar would participate.