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Water strider

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Camford's week, thus far, was mixed. No, mixed did not cover it, it was more a gleefully frustrating combination of a thousand tiny annoyances layered atop very real worries, like fate was intent on serving her a baklava of bad circumstance.

Bad metaphor and pastry cravings? She'd slept poorly, that was for certain. Mediating harried (and opportunistic, oh, some of the old council!) politicians and engineers kept her awake until the technical morning, and Rob woke her cloudy-bright and early by climbing on her and asking if he could go outside if it was only raining a bit this morning and come on, mom, I think I saw the sun a little.

A little! If only it were more. Parts of the capital—her city—and surroundings were underwater, as nature saw fit to break the magnetic storms with the worst series of real storms they'd seen in decades. Zoids still clumsy from reawakening clogged the streets, and the people stuck in them as their homes flooded took out their frustrations and old factional gripes violently and messily. Krüger had been running himself ragged trying to separate them, and he usually kept Rob out of her hair before she'd had a chance to eat breakfast.

The reconstruction committee, at least, didn't want to fight. They just had taken over her kitchen as temporary headquarters (what sort of reconstruction committee built its first headquarters on a flood plain?), filling it with card tables and maps and filling her head with questions. Camford didn't feel like talking city replanning before she'd had coffee and oatmeal. Caffeine for the mind, grain for the stomach, she always said.

She sent Rob on ahead of her to make both, just to give him something to do that wasn't climbing the walls...literally, like yesterday's shelving disaster.

He came back with them, all right, but he didn't look happy. He was dragging his feet, and Camford realized from her pre-meeting paperwork haze Rob was also late. It didn't take half an hour to make oatmeal. Not that she'd done much in the meantime; her files on the maps spread in front of her ended in a series of dots down the margins from tapping her pen. Blue tabs marked the scarce sections not urgent—deemed, after yesterday, to be more efficient than the other way around.

"And where were you?" she asked her son, taking the coffee he offered and setting right to drinking it. It was cold, and did little to help the tension headache building round her furrowed brow.

"Everyone else ate all my favorite cereal," Rob said, and stood on his tiptoes to reach over her paper stack and set down the oatmeal bowl and spoon. "The one with the little Deadborders."

"We'll get more, don't worry. You did eat, right, and not go wandering off? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, remember."

Rob just frowned more. "That's what mister Krüger said when he ate the last bowl."

She would have to have a talk with Krüger about how he was not a five year old, and he did not need the melting green marshmallows more than her son. Her son, who was still fidgeting.

"Rob Hermann, do you have something else to tell me?"

"Um. I'm sorry I bothered you before," Rob said, and looked down at his shoes as he kicked the rug. They squished, and he stopped. "I shoulda let you sleep."

"And?" Camford poked pointedly at her failed breakfast, long since cooled over into an impenetrable oat shield.

"And I got something to cheer you up. It's really cool!"

Hermann dashed back out of the room, and Camford watched him return with increasing suspicion as he slowly poked the door back open with his knees and then wiggled inside. He held his hands behind his back the whole way to the desk, and she pretended for a few moments to not suspect the inevitable result of the it's-gonna-escape dance. It had to be small, at least, Hermann wasn't carrying a box like last time. Camford appreciated the thought—who else but her son would bring her wildlife on what was shaping up to be the worst week of the year?—but she had her responsibilities as a mother and to the environment.

"Hand it over, Rob."

Really-cool-something was large and metallic, and its hindward two pairs of legs were hopelessly long and coated in fine shiny fuzz. It watched her with beady black eyes, peering curiously at its reflection in her glasses. As far as hand-sized insects went, it was charming, and certainly not meant to be inside.

"It's an excellent specimen, thank you for showing me. Now put it back."

"You don't even know what he is," Hermann pouted, trying to stand taller and move the insect closer for her inspection. "And I can't put him back!"

"It's...he's a species of water strider. And why not, young man?"

"Because you said to absolutely never go near the floody bits, and that's where I got him from."

Camford sighed and set her oatmeal aside, giving Hermann the disapproving over glasses stare.

"But don't worry, mom," Rob continued, shifting his hold to one hand and setting the strider flailing over the edge of his palm, "he'll only bite if you poke him like this—"

Camford caught the bug, quickly moving it away from the would-be demonstration on Rob's fingers. "—he'd better not be venomous. You remember when Kevin left babies."

Hermann grinned, no doubt because he remembered quite well when Kevin left babies and how several important diplomats had been visiting. "That was awesome."

"It wasn't your filing drawer that exploded spiny metal centipedes." Camford would admit to smuggling an Earth cat or two around castles back in her day and enjoying the results when they got near her father's fancier robes, and affected an air of deliberation as she watched the water strider wibble clumsily across one of her hands and onto the other. Laughing wouldn't do.

"Krüger can return him on his way out. You don't want him getting lonely."

Hermann nodded a bit reluctantly.

"And to make it clear—you're not going with Krüger, and no more going near any water. Floods aren't a game."

"I know, I know, stay away from all the cool stuff." Rob held out a hand to get his bug back, and then held it up to his chin so its eyes matched the big sad ones he made. "Can I at least get him breakfast first? Please?"

Camford had to smile, finally. Hopefully the reconstruction committee wasn't afraid of bugs—though oh, wouldn't it be funny if they were. Maybe they'd clear out of her kitchen. "Only if he helps you make new oatmeal."