Chapter Three: Vincent

Markig had a huge smile as he walked out of rehearsal, a huge smile that turned into one hell of a pissed off glare when he saw me there.  I shrugged at him and mouthed, “What’s wrong?”

He pointedly ignored me for a few while he talked to some of his friends, cheering up again so that by the time he headed over to me his huge smile had returned.  “You don’t have to walk with me, Tollur.  I’m not a little kid.”

Oh.  That’s why he’s pissed, I thought, rolling my eyes at the conclusion he’d jumped to.  What the fuck is it gonna take to get through to him that I don’t think of him as a little kid? I wondered for the thousandth time that sulid alone.  Since he’d decided not to do the tagreeth, he seemed convinced that I was never going to see him as the young adult he was; nothing I said did a damned bit of good to convince him otherwise.  “I ain’t walking with ya cuz you’re a kid.  I’m walkin’ with ya cuz I was headed this way anyway — was in town running an errand for Kanji — and thought maybe we could snag lunch together.”

“Oh,” he said a bit sheepishly, looking at his feet.  Then his smile got bigger than ever and he said, “I have some great news!”

“I’ll never guess,” I said as we started walking towards a bistro I knew he loved.

“Emmerich has goifa!”

I stopped walking and turned to my son, shocked.  From Chess, I could believe this.  Hell, even Maggie had one hell of a vindictive streak at times.  But Markig?  My eldest boy was one of the kindest people I’d ever met.  “Your friend has a nasty ass virus, and you’re happy?!” I asked incredulously.

He laughed.  “No!  That’s not why I’m happy!  Lurlur, who was his understudy?”

I had a feeling I should’ve known this.  Luckily, Markig’s smile gave me the answer.  I racked my brain trying to remember who Emmerich had been playing.  I’m pretty sure my smile equalled my son’s when I realized the answer.  “You’ll be playing Roderigo?”

He nodded.  I hugged him as I said a quick, silent prayer of thanks . . . and one for Emmerich to get better soon, but not too soon.  Didn’t want the kid to suffer, but wanted my boy to get his chance too.

“I think that calls for somethin’ a bit better than Xavis for lunch, don’t you?”

He got a mischievous twinkle in his eye that was a bit too much like looking in a mirror and said, “Carazot’s?”

I sighed heavily.  I hate Mamiof cuisine; Markig loves it.  “If it’s what you really want, sure.  I’m sure they’ve got something I’ll eat.”

He hugged me tightly and said, “I’m just kidding.  I’d like to go there, but it can wait until Poppa can go with me.  Xavis is fine for lunch.”

“You sure?”

He nodded.  “Besides, Maggie’s making hygliak for dinner, so I don’t want to be too full.”

“Why does no one tell me these things?”

“You were out of the room helping Chess find her shoes.”

“Still, you’d think someone would’ve told me later.  Anyway, let’s get to Xavis.”  I smirked at him as I added, “I’ll let you have some time alone there so you can tell Najara the good news.”

“I can tell her with you there.  I just can’t celebrate it with her with you there.”

I laughed.  It was one of the rare times he sounded like he was my kid.


That evening, while Markig was outside with Najara, looking at the stars — allegedly; it hadn’t been so long since I was fourteen that I believed that’s all they were doing — I said to Kanji as I sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders.  “I’m feeling really fucking old right now.”

She gave me an incredulous look.

“We have a kid old enough to play Roderigo Malsereno, and it ain’t even our eldest.”

She kissed my cheek and said, “If our kids didn’t get older, we wouldn’t get grandkids.”

I looked over at Tirzah, happily playing on the floor nearby and smiled.  “You got a point.  I kinda like bein’ a grandpa.”

“I know.  Besides, Roderigo is a teenager.  When we have a kid old enough to play Xavier, then you can feel old.”

“Yeah, I suppose so, but I don’t think we’ll ever have a kid playin’ him.”

Kanji looked at me quizzically.

“I think even on Sweytz it’d be hard to get people to accept a Mugdaran Xavier Flores.  Every Ruvellian around would be all ‘I am quite certain there was a Ruvellian man who could have played the part much better.’”  I thought I’d done a pretty good imitation of a high class Ruvellian accent, to judge from Kanji’s opinion, she felt differently.

Walter poked his head around the doorway and asked Kanji, “Why is our husband doing bad imitations?”

“It wasn’t bad!  I sounded just like Quinn.”

“Ren’s boyfriend?” my husband asked.

I nodded.  “Fucktoy, actually, but yeah, him.”

“He sounds nothing like that,” Walt said as he came in the room.

I studied him for a piclano.  “You look different.”

He and Kanji both looked at me like I was nuts.

I smirked and said, “There’s something missin’.”  I pretended to contemplate it for a moment, then said, “I’ve got it!  Your hands ain’t got a book in ‘em!”

He made a rude gesture but smiled.  “I’m taking time off over the holiday.  I’ll get back to work on my dissertation in Unua.”

“Good,” I said.  “You need a break.  So, you just gonna stand there, or can those hands that ain’t occupied by a book come give me a neck rub?”

He laughed and joined Kanji and on the couch.  “So, why were you doing a bad imitation of Quinn’s accent?”

“It wasn’t bad!  You two just don’t pay close enough attention to how people talk!”

Walt kissed my cheek.  “Vince, I love you.  I love you very much.  You’re an incredibly talented man, in several different ways.  But please, for the sake of everybody who can hear, leave the acting to Markig.”

“Kanj, back me up here.  It wasn’t that bad, right?”

She kissed my other cheek and said, “He’s right.  Leave the acting to Markig.”  Then to Walter, “He was showing how he thinks Ruvellians would react if Markig were ever cast as Xavier Flores.”

Walt shrugged.  “On Ruvellia, yeah.  Around here . . . I doubt it.  That trip to Earth for their Jül rattled your brain, love.  You’re seeing prejudice in places it isn’t.”

“Eh, maybe you’re right.  Anyway, hopefully by the time he’s old enough to play Xavier, Markig’ll have moved on to better things than plays at the local faire.”

“I hope so,” Kanjetta whispered softly.  She’d always been content to perform at small, local things, but our son’s dreams were bigger than that.  I’m pretty sure all three of us were praying for them to come true in the silence that followed what she said.


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Chapter Two: Quinn

I’d missed dinner.  That was disappointing.  Sven had cooked it, so I knew it had to have been good.  Oh well, I thought as I walked across the parlor, attempting to sneak up on Renata.  Maybe there’s some left.  And even if there’s not, it’s not like there’s ever a shortage of food in this house.

Lyndsey saw me, but just smiled and went back to studying her cards.  No one else noticed me.  “Boo,” I said quietly, touching the shoulder of the wonderful woman who’d been kind enough to let me stay in her house for the past few korvare.

“Hi, Quinn,” Renata said, amused, as she tilted her head back to kiss me.

“Hello, cartima.  Lyndsey, good to see you again.  Nice bruise.  I take it the other person looks worse?”

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” the young woman said, tossing a handful of credits into the pot.

“How’s the game going?” I asked as I pulled up a chair.

Kris and Courtney grumbled, Lyndsey shrugged, and Renata said with a grin, “I think you can guess.”  I was rather amazed they were playing with Courtney.  Telepaths are banned from the majority of professional games for a reason, after all.

I whispered a suggestion in Renata’s ear.  “She doesn’t need your help, sivak,” Lyndsey said, calling me what I was sure was a very rude word in some language.

“Who said what he was saying had anything to do with this game, kid?” Ren said, lying smoothly.  “Maybe he was making a suggestion for after the game. Did you ever think of that?”

“Mom, Quinn’s never bothered to be subtle about propositioning you before, why would he start now?”

I chuckled.  Lyndsey did have a point, loath as I was to admit it.  Once upon a time I’d had too much class and decorum to have propositioned someone blatantly in front of their children, but that was before I spent many years as a Dagger.  Some of the less savory behaviors of my fellows had rubbed off on me.

“You know, he could have been suggesting something that had nothing to do with kista or sex, child,” Renata said, tossing another fifty into the pot.  Internally I smiled approvingly.  She was taking my advice.

Everyone else at the table looked incredulous.  “He coulda been!  Just because it’s not likely doesn’t mean it’s impossible!”  Ren argued.

“Suuuure, Momma,” said Kris, before shaking his head sadly at his cards, folding, and saying, “I need to get going, and I’m already out more money than I wanted to be so good luck convincing me otherwise.  Good night, everybody.”

I started to ask if I could join the game in his stead, but before I got the first word out, both Lyn and Ren gestured to the seat he’d abandoned.  It was an enjoyable game.  Courtney apparently couldn’t quite read our minds well enough to get much of an advantage . . . Lyndsey was probably doing that bizarre ninja thing where she keeps an annoying song in the forefront of her mind to help, I was thinking in Ruvellian as I almost always do when I play kista, so that left just Renata, and she was having such incredible luck that no amount of knowing what cards she had or what she was thinking would’ve helped anyone much.  Eventually Courtney left the game, deciding that helping Crystabel do someone’s hair was more fun.  Kista does not work well as a three person game — it twists the odds in weird ways — so I was about to propose looking for a fourth player when Martoz came over, Soshanna sleeping in his arms.

He kissed Lyndsey’s cheek and said, “I think we should get home.  She’s sound asleep, and Val’s not going to be awake much longer.”  Lyndsey looked so maternal right then, so unlike the woman I’d seen easily dispatching foes so many times, as she kissed her baby’s head with a soft, sweet smile.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m gonna go tell other people goodbye.”

“So I guess it’s getting late?” Ren asked.  The large Mugdaran nodded.  Renata smiled at me seductively.  “Maybe we should head up to bed too.”

I inclined my head in agreement, took her hand, and escorted her to my room.


We were woken up much too early by an enthusiastic small child clamboring onto the foot of the bed and crawling her way up between us.  “Morning, Mommy!” a tiny voice said.

It’s a testament to how much Renata loves her children that she forced a smile and said, “Good morning, Arcielle” instead of growling and spewing a torrent of epithets worse than most spacers of my acquaintance knew, which is what she’d done every time I’d woken her that early.

“Play?” the happy little girl asked, clearly already wide awake.

“After coffee.  Why don’t you go see if Daddy Vik is up?”

She frowned.  “Writing.”

I took pity on the beautiful woman next to me.  “I’ll go play with you, sweetheart.  I think your mommy might need some more sleep.”

“Oh,” the tiny girl said as she took my hand in a surprisingly strong grasp and pulled me towards the door of the large room.

Ren shot me a thankful look, tucked the duvet closer around herself, and looked like she was quite ready to stay in bed for another few nulaire.

Soon other children joined Arcielle in the playroom, so I drifted downstairs to help with breakfast.  Viktor’s husband, Donovan, was making a pot of coffee; Tera was pouring tea; and Lance was sitting on the counter talking.

“Don’t you ever do anything useful?” I teased as I started cooking some sausage.

“I am being useful.  I’m entertaining people,” the former space rat said.

“Oh?  That story was supposed to be entertaining, was it?” Donovan said, his accent still terribly thick despite having lived on Sweytz for years.  Poor man seemed to have no head for languages.

“Yep,” Lance said, smirking.  “You just didn’t appreciate it cuz you’re a prude.”

“Decorum keeps me from saying what you are,” the Terran countered.

“You know I can tell what you’re thinking so that does no good, right?”

“I can’t control what I think.  I can control what I say though.  You should try it some time.”

I tuned them out; I’d heard variants of this argument several times before.  Donovan was usually a very easy-going man, but Lance always managed to get under his skin.

They were still bickering several saenaed later when Viktor came in, ink stains on his fingers.  It always amused me how primitive his preferred writing tools were, but having seen the man struggle with the simplest computer, I could understand why he used something even Terrans considered old-fashioned.  He sighed and gave his husbands a significant look, a look that suggested they should shut up now or, at best, they’d be sentenced to one of his lectures about proper behavior and setting a good example for the children.

Lance hopped off the counter and embraced Viktor, saying, “Good morning, sexy.”

“You’re not getting out of trouble that easily, dear.  Why were you tormenting Don again?”  Viktor sounded more like a father scolding a child than a husband right then.

“I wasn’t!” Lance said indignantly.  “He was tormenting me!”

Viktor looked at Donovan pointedly.

“I wasn’t tormenting him any more than he was tormenting me, Viktor, so keep that damned glare to yourself.  Now, could you come here and tell me if I got the coffee right?  I’m thinking it might’ve come out a wee bit too strong.”

After sampling the coffee and declaring it perfect — which warned me to stay away from it, as Viktor’s taste in coffee is vile — he helped all of us finish making breakfast.  Right as we were about to serve the meal, Renata came in looking groggy.  Wordlessly, Viktor handed her a cup of coffee that he’d roughly half filled with sugar.  “Good morning, love,” he said.  She grunted inarticulately in reply and downed the coffee quickly enough that I’m surprised she didn’t hurt her tongue.

I stared at her in disbelief, despite having seen her do this countless times before.  Viktor noticed my experssion and said, “I suspect she’s immune to pain this, ahem, early in the morning.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and poured herself another cup of coffee.


I’d just stepped out onto the porch for some peace and quiet — or as close to it as can be had at Renata’s house — when Lyndsey arrived, alone.  “Martoz and Ana got tired of you so quickly?” I teased.

She smiled.  “Nah.  They apparently haven’t done all my Jül present shopping yet, so they went to do that today.  Ana’s folks wanted to show the kids off to some friends of theirs, so I had nothing better to do than come over and pester my siblings, parents, and assorted hangers-on.”

“Assorted hanger-on.  That’s a new one for me to be called.”

The younger, blonde Renata clone shrugged.  “It fits.  So, wanna help me gather up some of the small fry for an epic snowball fight?”

“Sounds fun,” I said.

I found myself volunteered to be the captain of one team while Lyndsey captained the other.  The game was fun, if a bit marred by Viktor storming outside at one point to lecture Lyndsey for climbing on the roof and encouraging her team, even the very young members of it, to join her up there.

I concentrated on trying to get my team to pay attention to me and the other team instead of Lyndsey’s punishment so I only heard bits and pieces of what was said, but I still got the very distinct feeling that Viktor’s reaction wasn’t solely about this incident.  Lyndsey’s behavior had been . . . erratic . . . for some time.  All Daggers are cocky.  It’s a survival trait in our line of work.  Lyndsey, for the past several korvare, had been pushing the boundaries of good sense more than normal even for a Dagger in her quest for adventure and fun.

I was, I must admit, a bit glad she was receiving this lecture.  I was beginning to worry about her.  I’d lost too many friends to heedless overconfidence over the years.


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Chapter One: Richie

Somewhere out there in the tri-galaxies, one of my older sisters was headed home after fighting to free a world from a tyrant.  Somewhere out there, one of my other older sisters was headed home after a bit of smuggling.  I, on the other hand, was in the nursery of my own house trying to convince my daughters to take a nap.

“Izzy, c’mon, sweety.  I know you’re tired,” I said, putting her in bed for the fourth time in a nulair.  “Boris is sleepy,” I said, handing her her pale purple stuffed luriset.  “Why don’t you cuddle him?”

“Rosie’s up!” she argued.

“Only because you kept poking her,” I said, fighting the perfectly understandable urge to throttle my eldest daughter.  She wasn’t feeling the slightest bit of remorse for waking her sister up.  “Now, back in bed, both of you.  You need to be well rested for tonight.  We’re going to my parents’ house for dinner.  You don’t want to be too sleepy to enjoy that, do you?”

“Don’t wanna sleep with her!” Rosie said, clutching the pink stuffed dragon she carried with her everywhere to her chest.  “She’s meanie!”

“Fine then.  You can go nap on my bed.  Izzy . . . Rosie, what’s wrong, sweety?” I asked, having felt fear from my baby girl and caught a glimpse of her thoughts.  There was something about monsters in them, but I couldn’t make sense out of them beyond that.  There are times being only a quarter-Magvinnian is really annoying.

Rosie started to speak at the same time I noticed Izzy running off.  “Isabella Gwenneth Reddige-Fine, get your butt back in here!”

Izzy looked at me and apparently decided she didn’t like what she saw, as she climbed wordlessly back into bed.  “You’re cranky,” she informed me.

“Because you’re being a brat today.  Now, Rosie, what’s scaring you, baby girl?”

“Monsters under bed!” she yelled, clutching her dragon tighter.

I sighed heavily, wishing once again that I was telepathic enough to know who was to blame for this.  “Why do you think that?”

“James said so!”

I silently swore to kill my younger brother then said, “James is wrong.  Come with me, and we can look under the bed, okay?  Or you can climb up there next to your sister and sleep in here.”

She chose her sister over the monsters.  “Monsters eat little girls.  Izzy just pokes,” she informed me, as she scooted as far away from her sister as she could.

I ran my hands through my hair and shook my head as I walked back down to the living room.


They got done with their naps very shortly before it was time to get ready to go.  I’d spent their nap doing the less than fun parts of being a somewhat popular musician . . . arranging interviews, decling invitations to perform on worlds too far from home for me to be back with the girls in a reasonable amount of time, all sorts of really exciting shit like that.  It was tedious and annoying, but it was worth it.  The only thing in the universe better than the way I felt when performing was the way I felt when my little girls looked at me like I was the best thing in the universe.

I got them and me dressed without much incident . . . little things like Rosie somehow poking her sister in the eye with the hairbrush not counting.  That’s just the sort of thing that happens when you have an energetic four and two-year-old.

As soon as I got out of my speeder in my parent’s garage a very familiar one pulled in beside me.  “Serena!” I said, excitedly running over to hug my best friend.

“I feel so loved,” said Georgia, her wife and my sister.

“You are loved.  Just not as much as her,” I said with a teasing grin.

“Don’t worry, dear.  He’s just been missing me because I make his band actually sound good,” my darling best friend said, her lilting accent making the words sound even more sarcastic somehow.

“Nah, I do that.  You do help it look good though,” I said, smiling at the way the pants she was wearing showed off her long, shapely legs.

That we can agree on,” Georgia said, helping their daughters out of the speeder.

I was always amazed by Kaelee and Dejah.  They were a few korvare younger than Izzy, but always seemed so much older to me.  They were so much calmer than my little bundle of energy.  Izzy had held still for more than ten saenead at once only once in her life . . . when she had byopid fever.  Georgia and Serena’s daughters though, they sat quietly just because sometimes.  It was weird.

And I was a bit envious, but I’d never tell them that.

I hugged Georgia and her daughters, and then the kids wanted to build a snowman, so I went with them to help while Georgia and Serena caught up with other people.  Delthakk University classes had just ended the day before, so Serena had been busy giving and marking finals for the past sulid.  The sulid before that, she’d been under the weather.  So it’d been a fairly long time since she’d seen most of the people there.

After a bit, I felt someone coming up behind me who was nervous.  I also felt some very familiar minds.  Daddy Lance was here, with the stray space rat he’d taken in.  I’d talked to the kid on the comm a couple of times.  He seemed like a nice kid who’d just had shit luck up until then, so I took it upon myself to make him feel a bit more at ease.  Some people get overwhelmed by my family.  I’ve never been really sure why.  Janice, my wife, says this is because I grew up in it.  She might be right, I guess.

“Hey!” I said to the boy.  “This is Izzy, my little girl.” I gestured to her.  She was concentrating intently on placing rocks for the snowman’s mouth, otherwise she would’ve tackle hugged him by now I was sure.  She loves to meet people.  “Izzy, you want to meet someone new?” I asked.

She squealed, “Yeah!” then ran over and hugged him.  She didn’t, amazingly enough, tackle hug him.  I guess she was learning a bit of self-control.  “Hi!” she yelled.  “I’m Isbella Gwinif Reddige-Fine.  That’s my Daddy!”  She pointed excitedly at me.  What can I say?  I’m her favorite person.

Okay, one of them.  Her other daddy or her mommy or any of her grandparents and most of her aunts and uncles would’ve gotten introduced the same way.  Enthusiasm is Izzy’s defining trait.

The boy, laughing a bit, bowed and said, “Marcello Vilenti, at your service” in a Ruvellian accent thick enough to make Daddy Lance’s seem barely noticeable.

“Hi!” Izzy said again.  “You wanna help?  This is Kaelee and Dejah,” she pointed to the identical little blondes whose faces were practically hidden in their fur trimmed hoods.  “They’re Georgia and Seeny’s kids.  You can find somethin’ to use as a nose.  Rosie was supposed to, but she wandered off.”  An adorable thoughtful expression passed across my little girl’s face.  “Daddy!” she yelled after a piclano.  “We’re gonna be in trouble!  We lost Rosie!”

I know it was mean of me to laugh when she was so worried, but I couldn’t help myself.  “We didn’t lose her.  I was watching her.  She’s over there listening to the story Don’s reading.”

“Oh.  Building snowman’s more fun.”  She leaned toward Marcello and said, “My little sister’s kinda silly.”  He and I both laughed at that.  She joined in, though I’m pretty sure she had no clue why we were laughing.

Kaelee and Dejah, who’d been standing there perfectly calmly waiting for a chance to introduce themselves did so and then the five of us finished the snowman before joining in the game of tag going on around us.

Marcello and I were debating the attractiveness of various holo stars during a lull in the game when Sven came out and said, “Dinner is ready.  I think I made enough for everyone, but it looks like more people than I was expecting got here while I was cooking, so if you want to be sure you get to eat, go in and get some food now.”

“C’mon,” I said to Marcello, putting my hand on his shoulder to gently guide him through the throng headed inside.  “You don’t want to miss a dinner made by Sven.  He’s a gourmet chef.”

I swung Rosie onto my hip and was about to tell Izzy to stay near when Serena picked her up.  “Thanks,” I called.

“Not a problem.  Wouldn’t want this tiny thing to get trampled.”

Once inside, you didn’t have to be an empath or telepath to notice that Marcello was overwhelmed.  The house I grew up in can have that effect on people.  Actually, I was gaping a tiny bit myself.  My parents had just redecorated and the new carpet and reupholstered furniture in the parlor made them look even richer than usual.  The new carpet was light blue with a faint purple vine design and the furniture, which had been mostly maroon for years, was now covered in blue fabrics of various shades.  It was still the same eclectic mix of styles it’d always been, but more of it matched better than ever before.

I, personally, thought it’d looked better with more of it not matching and, especially, with more of it maroon, but no one asked my opinion.  And if I’d offered it, they would’ve just told me I had no taste or accused me of being colorblind probably, because people don’t appreciate my style choices.

Marcello just stood there, gaping.  “You okay?” I whispered after a moment.

“Yeah, just . . . how rich are you guys?!”

“I’m honestly not sure.  All I know is we get 500 credit a korva allowances until we’ve got a job that pays better.”

The kid stared at me in utter disbelief.  I didn’t really blame him.  I mean, my music was popular enough that I made decent money, and Janice’s job paid well, and Matt’s helped, but my girls weren’t going to be getting 500 credit allowances any time soon.  “But, aren’t there something like thirty of you?!”

I nodded.  “Yeah, but most of us make more than that now.  I don’t get an allowance any more; Lyn’s a Dagger, so you know she makes more than that; Ria’s a pirate captain . . . I think the oldest of us that gets an allowance still is Sal, and even she might . . .”  I trailed off.  He wasn’t paying attention any more.

“Pirate captain?  Ria?”

I gently pushed him towards the dining room; we’d barely made it inside.  “Yeah, or ‘honest trader’ if she’s running from somebody.  She’s supposed to be here already; I hope she’s just running late.”  It’d really put a damper on the holidays if she spent them in jail.

He started to say something and stopped abruptly when we walked into the dining room.  The redecoration hadn’t reached this far yet, but someone had decided this counted as a meal fancy enough for the best dishes apparently.  Silver plates and crystal goblets were in front of most of the seats at the huge table, and the little kids were being gently guided to the seats with less breakable drinking things.  Marcello sat on one side of me and Rosie on the other.

I couldn’t spare any attention for him during the meal, being occupied by helping my kids and feeding myself.  I was really glad Janice would be back from her dig soon.  Matt’d been having a lot of gigs lately that went over dinner time, so with her gone, I’d been feeding the kids alone a lot.  I was getting used to eating cold food.

Rialanna got there during the meal.  “Oh, good!  I was afraid I’d missed dinner!  Momma Ren, if you could take a look at my hyperdrive later, I’d appreciate it.  It’s not been acting right since the last fight I was in.  Wow, Lyn, nice bruise!  Forget how dodging works again?”

I hadn’t really paid much attention to Lyn when she’d gotten there so until right then I hadn’t noticed the very dark bruise under one eye, taking up almost all of her cheek.  It looked really painful.  There’s a reason that, while I admire the Daggers, I’d never be one.  Pain is a bad thing.

“Screw you,” Lyn said good naturedly.  “Some jackass Neo-Imperialist hit me in the face with his blaster after it malfunctioned.  Damned near broke my cheek bone.”

“Ow,” Rialanna said, filling her plate.  “Still, you should’ve been able to dodge it, shouldn’t you, with all that fancy ninja stuff?”

“Oh gods!” Lyn said, desperation radiating from her.  “Kenshin is going to give me hell for this.  Thanks, sis.  I hadn’t realized that yet.”

Rialanna bowed mockingly.  “All in a day’s work for little sisters.”  Then she noticed Marcello. “Oh, hi, you’re new.”

“Marcello Vilenti, at your service,” he said with a slight bow of his head.  Kid had manners, that was for sure.

“Mrrsharan Rialanna Nahirim Sullockalonesk-Evans at yours,” she said, rising to bow with a deep flourish.  For some reason she and Lyn never just introduce themselves, there’s always a deep, flourishing bow involved.  And people say I’m too flamboyant.

“Aren’t you a little . . . unfurry . . . to be an Aslith captain?” he asked.

“Yes, but a lot of my crew is Aslith.”

I tuned out there conversation as well as I could with it taking place right next to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I find piracy as fascinating as anyone, but this conversation seemed the sort that was going to end up discussing intricate details of ships and shit that I didn’t care about.  Besides, I had the start of a song in my head and wanted to get done eating so I could get to writing it.  Rosie was already done eating, and Izzy nearly so.

Sure enough, the next thing I heard was Rialanna and Marcello discussing why ships like hers aren’t made any more.  Seriously, why does anyone find things like that interesting?  I quickly returned to not paying any attention to them.

After dessert, Daddies Lance and Vik went out to smoke; Momma Jazz and some other people went to the living room to play an Allurian game I can’t recall the name of; and Kris and Courtney were feeling brave enough to play kista with Momma Ren and Lyn.  Most of the littler kids, my daughters included, had headed to the downstairs playroom and were making a racket.  Some people find the amount of noise made by that many kids annoying, but having grown up with so many people around, too much quiet makes me edgy.  I was happy for all the noise.  I stretched out in front of the large fireplace in the parlor and started working on the song.


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