The old woman trembled in her chair on the lawn beneath the dimmer orange light of the night sun. She breathed heavy, and soon the breathing became troubled murmuring and her body rocked mightily. Kashton set down his book upside down, keeping his page, and approached quickly but carefully, making sure not to surprise her from behind. He shook her upper arm with one hand but protected his head with the other. Sometimes she woke up swinging.
“Grandma, you’re dreaming. Wake up. You’re okay.”
The old woman’s eyes blazed to life, and for a second Kashton was sure she’d rip his arms off and club him to death with them, but recognition washed over her face along with the confusion and she softened.
“Oh, Kashton, I must have dozed off.”
She made it seem as though she’d already forgotten, but Kashton was a smart young man. He knew better. “You were dreaming about the war.”
She tucked up her top lip as if she were in great pain and looked down into her lap. “No one dreams of war; not after you’ve been there. It’s a waking nightmare, and once you’ve seen it the nightmare gets a taste for you—comes back to find you. No, not a dream.” Her voice drifted off and she was silent for a moment before finishing, “I’m sorry, Kashton, you don’t want to hear such things. You can read your book.”
He made a show of shutting the book—some pulpy thriller, not that there’s anything wrong with that—without even marking his page. “I do want to hear, Grandma. What was it like? Back when you fought off the Noncarbs and saved the Seven Systems?”
She sighed loudly and placed her hands on the arms of her chair. “Do you know why I live with you, Kashton?”
She said his name a lot when she spoke, like she was constantly reminding herself who he was. He grinned. “Because I’m your favorite grandkid!”
She smiled, but it dissolved quickly. “You know Grandma doesn’t play favorites.” Now she tilted her head back and looked to the sky. “I love you to pieces, but I live with you, here, because of the night sun. You wouldn’t really understand, but on other worlds the night is terribly dark. Terribly dark. And that’s what war is like: a terrible darkness.” She pulled herself up to her feet—a task made harder by years and a more massive planet beneath her than the one she’d been born on. “You don’t want to hear. No one wants nightmares. Be a good boy and leave the nightlight on when you turn in. Grandma’s tired.”
And with a shuffling walk she disappeared into the house.