It's a part from a WIP but fitted the challenge just too nicely. -------------------------------------------------------------- Travelling with Children I felt as if I dropped into bed just to bounce back and return to the walking dead. Sarah was naturally wide awake and excited. It helped a little. "Can we go now?" "You have to finish breakfast first." "Not hungry." "Not important." I hid a sigh. "You will be hungry later if you do not eat now." "I eat later." "There won't be anything to eat later." Her eyes grew wide. "Forever?" "No, not forever." I should not be allowed to talk when sleep deprived. Not even my own flesh and blood understood me. "Until we arrive." Which was a lie, but she needed to eat something. "How long?" "Eight hours" It was not that long overall Noris lay on one of the bigger hyperlanes and that made it easy to get there. Once you were in space. I had not anticipated how long it would take just to get into space. Sarah mulled that over while pushing the food around on her plate. Admittedly, I was not doing much better. Forcing myself to be a good example I took another bite, chewed and swallowed. It was not the most fun activity I could think of. Not that anything but sleep was right then. Even taking sweet revenge on the whole of stubborn Chiss-kind was taking a backseat to that. I made sure, Sarah had gotten at least a little more into her stomach before I let her rush off to check on her bag. I followed suit not much later, pocketing a rather high stack of calling cards on my way out. With some foresight I had the main luggage sent to the spaceport already. Still, we made a funny little group, Sarah, Rukh, and I, each with their own preferred item of luggage. For reasons unknown, Sarah had insisted on getting a small blue suitcase she could drag behind her. She looked so much like a human child, apart from her blue skin that is, that it almost broke my heart. Whatever else, she was worth anything I was doing here. Rukh had a kind of snug fitting backpack that probably did not get in the way of killing people. I had my old duffel bag, the scent and memories of the Empire long gone from it. We walked to the overhead train station and Sarah squealed just get into that. We rarely used it. I had not yet gotten around to taking her places that warranted it much. A visit or two to the outer districts because trees, but overall it did not seem worth the trouble. Oh gods, what had I gotten to? Trees not important, my ass. I really needed a reality check. Even if they were not really real trees growing all wild and free, it didn't get any better than that on Csilla. "Are we there yet?" Sarah pressed her face against the window of the speed train taking us to the elevator system leading to the surface. "No luv," I replied trying to see anything in the greyish white rushing past. "We have not even started." "But this is not Csapla." "No. It is kilometres of ice in all directions." "Where are we?" "I have no idea, luv. Somewhere under the ice." An idea struck me. "Do you want to see where we are going?" She nodded and I found a way to display the train as a small dot moving across a white field. Csapla was a dark point somewhere and the elevator point was another, blinking slowly as we approached it even slower. "This is Noris." It was more of a question as her finger bored into the blinking light. "No, luv, that is where we go up to the spaceship." I pulled my finger upwards from the slowly blinking dot. Then I left it hanging in the air over the small table. "That is where we meet Uncle Storm. And then we fly to Noris." "How long?" "We fly for five hours," I told her. "And we drive in this train for over an hour and go into the elevators for about an hour." My finger followed the stations meticulously. "But in the ship you can unpack some of the toys and play. Or you can draw space." The idea excited her for a short time. Then it was up to me again to keep her occupied. There really was not much to do driving through endless tunnels of ice. When we finally reached the elevators I envied Storm for not coming with us and evading the task of keeping a child busy on a long boring ride. The space ship would be easy. We had worked out a schedule for that in advance. Storm looked well-rested and I hated him for it. His lor'kina mocked me thoroughly for the sorry state I was in and I had no energy left topay him back in kind. Life was so unfair. "You look like you need to amend your lifestyle," he said easily. Since my daughter was around to listen, I did not tell him what I thought he looked like. Smug bastard. I wondered fleetingly when the right time would be to teach Sarah some decent swearing. Looking at the environment she grew up in, she would certainly need it. "I will when you will," I told him instead. "How do you survive those long nights? I had barely an hour of sleep." "I didn't have any." His eyes flashed full of amusement. "That is my secret." "Why did you and mama not sleep?" Sarah wanted to know. "I sleep. I sleep good." "Yes you did." I ruffled her hair, which she graciously allowed. "But Storm and I had business to attend to." Business hours in the Ascendancy certainly sucked. "You and dardar did business all night?" Her face scrunched up in concentration "What business?" "Well," I had to think a moment. How did you describe long social meetings with no real use apart from showing people how important you were and who your important friends were? "We had to talk to important people," Storm came to my help. "You cannot talk to important people just any time you want. You have to wait for the right time to do that." I did not miss the dig in my direction. "You wait until night." Sarah nodded as if it made perfect sense. I wished I could ask her to explain it to me. But she didn't wait for any other explanation. "Is papa on Noris?" She had come to understand that he was far away, just how far and why were still difficult for her to understand. I watched as Storm silently dissolved into thin air, probably into the cockpit. Rukh followed, probably not for polite conversation but more down-to-earth skills. Well, we all had our jobs. "No, papa is not on Noris." I turned back to my daughter. "Where is papa?" I sighed. Then I picked Sarah up and sat her down before the table with the display. "Hold on tight, yes?" "Yes, mama." Her small hands grabbed the thick edge of the table "Good." I pointed at the planet still hovering in the middle of the image. "You know what that is?" "Home!" She crowed. "I know, I know that." "Yes, you do. And this is where we are." I tried to stub the blinking point of light with my index finger. That was a mistake as Sarah tried to do the same and I had to intervene to keep her from toppling. I waited until she had successfully poked the light before settling her again and letting go. I shrank the image until it had Csilla at one end and Noris at the other. We blinked happily between the two. "That is Noris. That is where we go." I shrank the image even further. It was a blessing that the main body of the Ascendancy didn't sprawl. The blinking dot was still well visible. "That is the Ascendancy," I explained. "This is where all Chiss live." Sarah didn't mind the many simplifications. Instead she stared at the many stars hovering over the table. "So big? Where is home?" I pointed out Csilla that lay conveniently in the middle. There was something very predictable about maps and where the place you lived would be displayed. It was transferable to star charts easily. I spread my thumb to the side a little. "And that is Noris." "Not far," Sarah decided. "Is it far?" "Not really, luv. There is much more space." It took some making, but I managed to convince the projector to project all space, even the unknown bits. They showed up suspiciously neatly labelled and also in a correct fashion. "Glad to be of help," I murmured under my breath. It had certainly been a weight off everybody's chest to finally get an official source for this when my ship got dissected. "What is help?" Her hearing was better than I tended to remember. One day it would be my downfall. "Nothing luv," I assured here and tried to orient myself in the mess of stars. It had been some time since I had stared at a chart that did not have Csilla as its shining centre. But I had spent enough time sweating over images of Byss to find that and from there it was easy enough to find the rest of the galaxy. I did not comment on how Sartinaynian was called Bastion, though. This map was updated from when I had left my ship. I would have to have some words with Storm. Different words than usually, I mean. Sarah didn't notice my silence. Her eyes were all over the chart. "So many stars." I smiled and put my finger onto Csilla. "Home." I placed another finger somewhere around Bastion. "Papa." She almost fell of the bench again, inching her way along its length to follow from one finger to the other. "That is far." "Yes, it is." I sighed. "But there is papa." "Papa is far." Her voice was suddenly very small. "Why?" It was a long story and one she probably knew by heart. I sat down beside her and put my arm around her shoulders. "Once upon a time, I began, "when papa was very young and handsome..." Some things were easier to explain as a story. And this is the reason I didn't update here.