"Oh, you've got to be kidding me."
Nita Callahan looked up from where she was buried in the pages of her manual to look at her housemate, best friend, and fellow wizard Kit Rodriguez. "Another postcard from Carmela?" Nita asked, recognising that particular tone of Kit's. Over the last eight months -- ever since Carmela's graduation from university and her decision to travel the galaxy for a year before heading on to grad school to pursue further work in linguistics -- it had become a relatively constant fixture in their lives. Because Carmela, even half a galaxy away, was ever adept at getting a rise out of her brother. "Where is she now?"
Kit threw the postcard -- actually a thin piece of some kind of plastic-film, with Carmela's letter scrolling across it in the graceful letters of the Speech; Nita knew, from the last few, that if you pushed the right spot, a hologram of whatever image Carmela had encoded would appear, floating above -- onto the desk in front of him and groaned. "Would you believe that she found 'the planet of the catboys'? Her words. Apparently it's an anime fan's dream."
Nita frowned and picked up the postcard. "Catboys?" she asked. "Really?" She touched the postcard's hidden 'button' and Carmela's face appeared in the air above it, sharing the space with, yes, a 'catboy'. "Humanoids with feline features. Who'd have thought?"
"Carmela, apparently. Sker' suggested the planet to her when she asked. Remind me to thank him for that later?"
Nita couldn't help but laugh at Kit's theatrics. "C'mon," she said, glancing at the clock. "If we go now, we can catch Dairine on her way through the Crossings. And we can see Sker', too."
"When's she due back home again?" Kit asked. "I mean, seriously, she's been gone half the break already. She'll miss Christmas!"
Shrugging, Nita gathered up her things and pulled out her favorite iteration of the Beam-Me-Up spell. "I don't even think she knows herself," she admitted. "This diplomatic tour is turning out to be a little more complex than either she or Roshaun expected, I guess." Nita laughed. "I still can't believe that Dairine's on a diplomatic tour."
Kit leaned over to double-check his name in Nita's spell, casually bumping her shoulder as he did. "At least there's a tour to go on," he pointed out. "She spent all summer on that last-ditch effort to rescue Roshaun. I'm just glad it worked."
"For both their sake," Nita agreed. "I don't know what would have happened to her if it hadn't."
Kit just nodded and stepped back, into his part of the spell. "Ready when you are," he said, slinging his backpack over his shoulder.
With a grin, Nita reached out for Kit's hand as they spoke through the wizardry, the words coming with the ease of long practice, and shortly they were jumping away to the worldgates at Grand Central Station, and from there to catch the next gate patent to the Crossings.
Dairine turned around from where she was being hurried through the Crossings by Roshaun's guards, wary -- but not for any fear of personal safety. She knew that voice, accent, and phrasing far too well -- only one person she knew of could combine two different languages in the Speech and still be intelligible like that. "Carmela!" she greeted, forcing a bit of a smile. It's not that she didn't want to see Kit's sister -- over the last few years, they'd gotten used to each other. Not that anyone else (such as Nita or Kit) would have thought that it was possible to get used to them. Either one. Still, though, Dairine was more than exhausted and was looking very forward to the bed waiting for her at the other side of her gate. "What's up?"
Carmela bounced up, her ever-present braid bouncing along behind her, and replied, grinning, "Nothing much! Just passing through on my way to another planet. I thought I'd drop by Sker'ret's office and say hello to my favorite centipede, and see if the latest shipment of chocolate's arrived for me yet from Kit."
Dairine's eyes narrowed. "You're the one responsible for the influx of chocolate on the galactic market?" she asked. "Carmela, do you have any idea what you're-"
Carmela waved a hand dismissively. "Pfft. It's fine, I'm just giving some to some friends, I'm not selling. And I'm checking their physiology first, I'm not giving any to any of the species for whom it's addictive. I may not be a wizard, Dairine, but I'm not stupid."
The guard at Darine's side moved a little bit closer and coughed politely. "Excuse me, Guarantor ne Callahan, but we do need to get moving or we'll miss the gate."
"Ooh, where are you going next?" Carmela asked. "Can I tag along? I mean, at least through the gate, I don't expect you to bring me along on whatever you're doing."
"We're heading back to Roshaun's homeworld," Dairine explained. "We're there for a couple of days to take care of some business before returning to our trip. Has Kit mentioned it to you at all?"
"Some kind of diplomatic mission, ne?" Carmela asked. "He told me, but it was Kit, it's not like I listened."
Dairine, privately, sincerely doubted that. While both Rodriguez siblings maintained their public distaste for each other even now -- and while Carmela certainly did manage to get a rise out of the more staid Kit at every opportunity -- it was obvious to anyone who'd spent any time around them both that they loved each other very much. It was the root, Dairine though, of what had gotten Carmela involved in the lives and work of the wizards around her: the want to protect her younger brother. "Pretty much. We're going around to some of the worlds Roshaun trades with, to introduce me. Get them used to the idea of Roshaun... partnering... with a Terran woman."
"Pfft," Carmela said, waving her hand. "If they don't like the idea, that's their problem. We're awesome. Anyway, I totally haven't been to Roshaun's world before." She pulled out a small hand device, one Dairine recognised as being used for a number of organisational tasks by a number of humanoid species. "Hm. Yup, looks like I've got the credits for that jump! I'll grab a ticket when we get to the gate."
The mention of credits had Dairine pausing. "Actually, Carmela, what are you doing for credits?" she asked. "I mean, you're not exactly..."
"A wizard?" Carmela filled in. "Like I need to be."
"No, I just mean," Dairine explained, "you're not exactly trained for survival out here. Credits can't be easy to come by."
Carmela shrugged. "Again: not a wizard, still not stupid. I do odd jobs, that kind of thing. It's like backpacking across Europe, only instead of Europe, it's, y'know, the galaxy."
Dairine just shrugged. "Fine, whatever," she said, but she couldn't help smiling. "C'mon, we're over here. And please, don't cause any more diplomatic incidents? I heard about what happened on Rhvs III."
"Oh, please. They had it coming."
"Okay, seriously," Dairine said, sipping at her blue fizzy drink. "You co-opt Sker' into your plan to delay my portal, you drag me along for food... And it turns out that you didn't actually have anything interesting to say? I am on a schedule here, guys."
Sitting around a table were five friends: two sisters, pale-skinned and fiery-haired; another set of siblings, a brother and sister, darker-complected; and a giant centipede. (Well, he wasn't really a centipede, but he looked like one to any Earth-born person around.) Nita leaned over and slung her arm around Dairine's shoulders. "Yeah, but this way you get to see us," she pointed out. "And, really, doesn't that enrich your life?"
Carmela reached over and snagged one of Kit's blue potato fries -- actual Earth blue potatoes, which Kit had been quite startled to discover. "Isn't she going to be home soon anyway?" she asked, waving the fry like a conductor's baton. "I mean, really. You could have waited."
"I think it's nice," Sker' offered. "Siblings should spend time together when they can."
"Most siblings, sure," Kit retorted. "But if I'd know Carmela was going to be here, I'd have stayed home."
The group, long-used to the friendly and continued rivalry between the Rodriguez siblings, just laughed. Carmela poked Kit in the cheek with the fry before taking a bit out of it. "You just can't stand to be around this much awesome," she said, grinning. "Now, c'mon, let me know all the news from home."
Laughter continued to abound from the table, tucked away in a cozy corner of a Crossings diner, as the night went on. It had been a while, after all, since all five had managed to be in the same place at the same time. Filif's absence was felt, of course, and Roshaun's, too (and he would likely have words to say when Dairine eventually arrived) -- but it was nice to spend the time together, and share some stories of their time spent apart.
(Kit elected to stick his fingers in his ears when Carmela discussed the catboys. Nita and Dairine listened with much interest.)