What was that?
Jim was sure he'd caught a flash of -- blue? -- out of the corner of his eye, but a closer inspection of the area showed nothing amiss. Still, there had been something...
Wait! A streak of pink this time, gone before he could identify it.
Carefully, almost delicately, he extended his senses. Hearing... no heartbeat, no nibbling teeth, no skittering claws. Scent... nothing unusual. Lasagna from last night, coffee and bagels from this morning. The mingled smells of the various soaps, shampoos, and cleaning agents that he and Sandburg used. Vision... he scanned every corner in detail, searched under all the furniture. Hmm... he'd have to make Sandburg run the vacuum more often; some of his long hairs were embedded in the area rug and migrating under the couch. But still, that wasn't enough to set off Jim's internal 'alert system'.
And something did have his 'alert system' tingling. There was -- there had to be -- something amiss; he felt almost subliminal vibrations in the air. Probably no one other than a sentinel would have noticed it, but it was driving him crazy.
Fine time for Sandburg to take off for the library, he groused to himself. Maybe with his help I could isolate this thing.
But dammit, he had perfected his hunting skills with the Chopec. The heightened senses were useful, but not essential. If he had to lie in ambush in his own home, so be it. He could wait, completely unmoving, for hours if necessary. Eventually the -- something -- would grow incautious enough to show itself.
He completed his preparations -- drank a glass of water so that thirst wouldn't become an annoyance, made a quick trip to the bathroom to avoid the later discomfort of 'hydrostatic pressure', and placed his shoes under the coat-rack; bare feet would help him relax. As he dropped into a comfortable cross-legged position midway between the living area and kitchen, he grinned to himself. Sandburg might be amazed that he could plan to be absolutely still for several hours, if necessary. Jim wouldn't let his friend know about this ability, however; he didn't want the kid to step up his campaign to encourage Jim to meditate.
He slowed his respirations, taking deep, even breaths, and settled in to wait. He turned vision, hearing, and smell up just a notch; enough to give him an edge, but not enough to precipitate a zoneout. Then he allowed conscious thought to fade as he became simply an open receptor, waiting for input.
There! Something -- still unidentifiable -- stirred in the kitchen. There! Another something, near the door of Sandburg's room. Jim continued to wait, motionless, gathering data until he was certain. The 'something's -- several of them -- seemed to be based in the small bedroom. Much as he disliked the idea, Jim would have to brave that den of disorder to make a closer inspection.
He rose fluidly and stalked on ghost-silent feet to the door of Sandburg's room. He leaned against the doorframe, settling himself for another extended wait to gather more clues. Hopefully, he find where the 'something's were coming from... or where they were going to. It wouldn't surprise him to find anything hidden here, but he still couldn't see / hear / smell anything other than the usual jumble of books, papers, artifacts, and clothing.
There! And there. Under the bed. Another. And another!
Jim silently lowered himself to the floor and crept forward on his stomach. He lifted the edge of the comforter to peer underneath. Oh my god!
I thought 'dust bunny' was just a nickname. He stared in repelled disgust at the colony -- count 'em, eight -- of creatures under the bed, all in pastel shades of pink, blue, and green. Even worse, there seemed to be two -- no, three -- nests of 'babies', squirming around and growing bigger as he watched.
He looked closer, trying to understand. Even with the evidence of his eyes, it was hard to believe. They seemed to be alive -- they were moving without being pushed by air currents -- but they made no sound, and had no scent other than the normal smells of the loft. No wonder he had had such trouble isolating them; they were part of the loft itself, with nothing to distinguish them to his senses.
He needed Lysol, Clorox, vacuum, broom -- anything, everything to clean them up before Sandburg got home. With his luck, the kid would want to study them, or make pets of them, or something equally unnerving. He refused to let his home become a refuge for the wayward, impossible creatures.
Too late. Sandburg was walking through the door. "Hey, Jim, I'm back!" he called out as he dropped his backpack on the couch. "Think I found everything I needed at the library. How was your day?"
"Sandburg," he growled, stalking out of the bedroom, "when was the last time you cleaned under your bed?"
"What? What are you talking about, man? What's wrong with my bed?"
"Under your bed, Sandburg. Have you looked under your bed lately?"
"What, you found a couple of stray dust bunnies? Come on, Jim, I do my part to help you keep the rest of the loft clean; can't you cut me a little slack in my own room?"
"Take a look, Sandburg, and let me know just how much 'slack' I should cut you."
Shrugging, Blair solemnly lowered himself to his hands and knees, then peered under the futon. "Gosh, Jim, two small clumps of dust. Absolutely disgusting. So, is the world going to end tomorrow?"
Jim's jaw dropped; how could Sandburg not see the incredible creatures clustered in such a small area? He looked under the bed to confirm his original vision. Sure enough, he saw -- two small clumps of dust.
But... but... but...
"SANDBURG!" he bellowed, bolting upright from his nap on the couch.
"Jeeze, Jim, give a guy a heart attack, why don't you? Bad dream?"
"Come on, Sandburg, we're cleaning up your room right now!"
"Jim, I'm in the middle of grading tests here; can't it wait for awhile?"
"No," he snarled as he gathered the cleaning supplies. "Clean now, grade tests later." Seeing the stubborn look forming on Blair's face, he eased back on his demands. "Please, Chief. It's important. We just have to do this now. I'll cook supper and clean up after, to give you time to finish grading. And," he concluded as Blair opened his mouth to protest further, "I'll explain it all later. Okay?" His pleading look rivaled Blair's best.
Blair took a long look at his friend, then gave in. It was true; he could finish grading the tests later, and Jim obviously had some kind of burr under the saddle. He could ask questions after Jim calmed down. In the meantime, he would appreciate the help cleaning his room; he'd let the job go too long and had been avoiding tackling the mess.
He smiled up at his friend. "Sure, big guy," he agreed. "No problem."
But he would find out what had brought this about -- eventually.