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Of Whales and Florists

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Sometimes, Nita thought, being a wizard is a lot harder than it looks.  Being a wizard involved self-discipline, optimism and a good amount of determination. It did not involve punching her father as he shook her awake, no matter how tempting it was. Instead she moaned and rolled away from his hand, opening her eyes in a squint.

Dad,” she whined in lieu of a more eloquent protest.  “Come off it, it’s the holidays!”

“Sweetpea, you said that twenty minutes ago and Kit’s already at the table.”  Nita squinted at him, confused, before it all came back to her in a rush. Omigod I’m late!  After the events on Mars, Nita’s father had wistfully remarked that as nice as it was to meet all of these wizards in his yard, it would be even nicer to visit them in a place where you don’t have to hide them from the neighbours.  Nita had raised the issue with Tom and Carl, who thought it was a rather splendid idea.  The only difficulty had been narrowing down just who to see first.  Finally, it was decided that they would start off gradually, introducing Harry to S’reee as she swam in the Atlantic before taking him off-world.

Of course, all this depended on Nita actually being up to go with her father and Dairine. Lord only knew what kind of fight Dairine would pick with a shark that gave her a look she didn’t like if Nita wasn’t there to intervene.  Nita wasn’t sure what alarmed her more: that Dairine would pick a fight with the biggest shark in the area, or that she would probably win.  She thought about that as she rummaged around her dresser for a clean shirt and skirt to wear, making a face at her choices.   She could either wear black – which had the advantage of going with everything – or peach and trying to match a shirt to the skirt. She decided on black, hoping that it wasn’t going to be too hot once they were out on the water.  She was tying her hair up with a scrunchie as Dairine barged through the door.  At least she opened it this time.

“You could have knocked,” she remarked, shoving her dresser drawers closed.  “I might have been getting changed still.”  Dairine’s shrug was textbook insolence.

“You weren’t. Anyway, dad’s been asking Kit about what you two have been doing lately. If you don’t want him to spill the beans on your new relationship, I’d get out there now.”  Nita flushed scarlet.   “You really need a better cover story,” Dairine went on.  Nita swore that she was enjoying this.  “Everyone knows that Xanip’ne-ke is the place for dating.  Real subtle, Neets.”

Nita’s mouth opened, closed, opened, and then closed again.  Then she glared at Dairine and went to try and defuse the situation. 

“You’re up,” Kit remarked, seeing her enter the dining room, breaking away from what seemed to be a fascinating conversation about the rattle the carburettor had picked up over the last few days. Nita glowered at Dairine, whose serene smile didn’t falter as she poured maple syrup and sugar over her toast. She also took a moment to marvel at the work of puberty on Kit; she swore he had grown another half-inch since she had seen him yesterday. He certainly ate enough for it. Nita wondered where he put it all as she slapped his hand away from her French toast. 

“You already ate,” she told him sternly before biting into her toast with a decisive chomp.  She wolfed it down in a series of quick bites, ignoring her father’s admonishments about how she would give herself indigestion that way.  “I thought you were going to see your cousin today?”

Kit rolled his eyes.

“I am.  I just wanted to see how your car was doing, so I know what to bring this afternoon.”  He turned to Nita’s dad. “Thanks, Mister Callahan. I’ll stop by later and find out how your adventure under the sea went.”

Nita wished he hadn’t said that before teleporting out with a pop. She’d been planning on easing her father gently into active wizardry, and the places that it took a practicing wizard. While she was quite accustomed to visiting S’reee in the ocean, she certainly wasn’t planning on introducing her father to S’reee quite like that.

“Under the sea?” Her father didn’t sound pleased at this.  “I thought we agreed, no underwater adventures while there are sharks around.”  Nita wondered whether she should tell her father that sharks were wary around her – as wary as sharks could be – after their Master had died for her sake.  “Dad, you went to the Moon.  And besides, we’re only going to sit on the water.  S’reee said she’d surface to talk to us.”  Her father didn’t look convinced, but he shook his head.

“Well, time’s a’wasting, as they say. Dairine, put your dishes in the sink and don’t leave them on the table for your sister to clean up later.”  Nita noted with pleased pride that her father didn’t ask the questions she hated, like “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” and “what happens if this fails?”.  Dairine rolled her eyes but did as she was told, putting her dirty dishes into the sink with an emphatic clunk, before heading back and taking one of her father’s hands.  Nita hid a smile as she took the other and they began the transport.

*

The ocean was a color that Nita was sure couldn’t be described in English resorting to saying blue-green with as much emphatic emphasis as she could, and that lost a lot of nuances that the Speech would be able to capture: the way the light reflected off the water, the distortion of light as it passed through the water’s surface and how the color of the water changed with the density of it.  At best, English could only describe it as being intensely blue-green, almost painful to look at.  She let her father’s hand go, running a wizardry to make sure they didn’t get burned while out on the water.  She’d learned that the first time she’d been to see S’reee; the sun reflecting off the water tended to cause a nasty sunburn.

“Don’t look down, dad,” Dairine suggested, staring at the water under her feet in fascination.  “It’s a long way down...  oh look, there’s a whale!”

“What?” Nita’s father blurted.  Nita grinned and waved as the young humpback whale surfaced.

“It’s S’reee, dad!  Dai, S’reee!”

Dai, hNii’t, Dhar!n’ne!  Is this your sire?”

“Yes, I am,” Nita’s father replied.  “I’m Harry Callahan.  You’re ... S’reee?  Is that right?”  Exposure to alien exchange students had broadened her father’s horizons, Nita was pleased to note.  “I’m just meeting all of her friends.”

“Well met, cousin,” S’reee replied cheerfully.  She had used the term for colleague-in-wizardry-without-having-wizardry, though Nita wasn’t sure that her father picked up on the nuances.  “You must be very proud, having two talented wizards in the family!”

“It’s certainly been eye-opening,” her father replied ruefully.  “What with all the times the world’s been in danger. At least now they text me before diving into the cores of planets.”  Nita could see Dairine’s ears flush pink at this.  Nita had warned her, after all, and she did deserve a bit of teasing about it.  “But yes. I’m proud of them both.” Nita tried to tamp down the goofy, silly smile that threatened to wriggle across her face when he said that.  It wasn’t that she didn’t know he was proud of her, but it was nice to hear it sometimes.

A lively discussion followed about the life of a young whale Senior – something with which Nita’s dad had little experience– and of a florist.  Nita’s dad asked a great number of questions, though S’reee had fewer for him.  Mostly she listened with the intent focus of someone who was learning about something that was similar yet not identical to something she was familiar with; in this case, Nita suspected it was to do with coral gardening.  A few guiding questions from Nita got S’reee talking about her amateur forays into the field, a line of conversation that Nita’s father took up with great interest and quite a few questions about the adaptability towards the average suburban aquarium. Nita made a wry mental note to flick through her manual’s section on coral gardening when she had a moment, as she could see how she would be spending her next weekend.

Dairine, after a moment’s uncharacteristic silence, joined in with asking questions about whale wizardries, a line of inquiry that reminded Nita that unlike Kit, Dairine hadn’t experienced the exhilaration of using the whales’ branch of the Art.  Dairine would probably make a better killer whale than humpback, Nita mused as Dairine asked how wizard duels worked underwater.  It was fortunate that Dairine didn’t share Nita’s affinity for the sea: otherwise she might very well have to apologise to S’reee for making her job harder as Senior.  Not that S’reee would ever complain – it was one of S’reee’s best characteristics that she might be nervous yet she always loved her work – but a wizard always knew when she was being a bother.

“Well,” Nita’s father remarked after their two hours were up.  “I should get back to the shop.  Dead plants to arrange and whatnot.”  S’reee sung a wry note at that.  “And the girls here have to clean up their rooms.  If we can’t open the doors, it’s too messy.  And don’t send it to Uranus, either!”

“I’d send it to Titan anyway,” Dairine retorted.  “Fewer of Nita’s things there.”  Nita made a face over her father’s shoulder at Dairine, who returned the favour.

“Girls,” their father warned, before turning his attention back to S’reee.  “It was nice meeting you.”  S’reee laughed.

“It was an honour to meet you too,” she replied.  “But I have to go as well – a wizard’s errantry is never done!”

“Oh Lord,” Dairine moaned, looking at the sky.  “I was supposed to be at the Crossings ten minutes ago.  Gotta go, bye everyone!”  Nita wondered who or what Dairine was meeting there, before dismissing it.  Whatever this was about, Dairine would fiercely guard her secrets, and Nita could always ask around later.  Instead she waved goodbye to both Dairine and S’reee, before taking her father’s hand and teleporting him to the shop.

“That wasn’t too bad, was it?” she asked.  Her father, his sunburn contrasting with his silver hair, just shook his head. 

“I think I get used to this wizardry thing, and then I get to talk to whales. Whales!” Nita wondered why this was more surprising  than talking to people from other planets, and mentally revised her list of people for her father to meet. Maybe it would be best for him to meet Filif’s family first – he did get along better with plants.

Nita was startled out of her thoughts by her father giving her a hug. She squeaked, both in surprise and at how hard the hug was.  “Thanks for taking your old man out, kiddo,” he told her and she flushed with pleasure.  “Now you better get out of here before Kit takes the car apart and puts rocket packs on the wheels.”  Nita laughed and went.