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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