[1429.096.0705] Casimir District, Saorsa

"Sir, the boy is at the door again. Should I kill him?" Matreetha said.

Matreetha had not gotten up from her rocker. Indeed, she had not missed a beat with her back-and-forth motion nor with the long pointed needles that turned green-and-brown yarn into baby-sized clothing. She didn’t miss a beat as she leaned over and spat brown juice into the brass bucket beside her rocking chair.

There was a knock at the door.

"No!" Alba Ester "Al" Domici said loudly. She was zooming in on thirteen years old, and spending the spring quarter alone with her dad. Mom was off planet and the twins wouldn't be back for weeks. Al's dishwater-blond toptail bounced on the underside of the shaky kitchen table. Mom never let her get away with not brushing her hair. Mom was three parsecs away and Al's hair hadn't been brushed in a week. She had one stretch band for each of the five Sangrean colors, almost ten centimeters of hair sticking straight out from the crown of her head and another eight centimeters of unbrushed mop on top.

"Please stop saying that! I'll be right there!" Al said. She leaned out from under the table and glared at Matreetha. Wilbur, "the boy," was Al's sidekick. Every adventurer needed a sidekick just like in the vids of "Joaqim Domici: Red Pirate in Black Space". Wilbur might be a dorky scaredy cat most of the time, but Joaqim Domici talked nice to Esmerada, his cute-but-clumsy First Officer. Even if Wilbur was a boy, he was a good sidekick.

Matreetha stood smoothly to her full meter and a half. She glared back. Her brown hair was streaked with gray. Her tanned skin was cracked with age, and tattoos peeked from under half sleeves. Her bare feet silently crossed the wooden floor of the tiny living room. She opened the door.

The boy stood there smiling. His bike leaned against the porch.

"She will be right there," Matreetha said. She closed the door and returned to her rocker. The occasional spit into the bucket interrupted hums of a jerky tune as knitting resumed.

"Just about done," Al said. Her head went back under the table. Her tongue stuck out a little as she focused on tightening the last bolt. In the vids, Joaqim Domici could fix anything with the right wrench. He could fight with a saber and pick greega fruit by shooting branches from the trees. His clothes were always new and fit just right. Joaqim had one dark bang that fell across his sea-green eyes, and his strong, tanned hands were firm on the pilot's controls.

With each twist of the handle, Al noticed the rough edges of her chewed nails. Joaqim Domici didn't get broken nails fixing the "Princess Aurelai". He didn't chew his nails or get his hands scratched fixing his old bike. Did Wilbur notice her nails? He never said anything. She scrunched her bony self tighter under the shaky table. This one stupid bolt kept coming loose and making the whole thing shake back and forth.

Al missed the twins joining her on the wooden floor. Hannah and Aldo were off with Mom's family for the spring. She missed Mom’s solid footfalls around the house, her billowing, violent pastel clothes, and her cheerful bellows. Mom herself was at a sports medicine conference on Alssijn. She even missed Matilda, the family dog, who seemed so used to Al working on stuff that she didn’t bother investigating. Her only company was Dad's tanned bare feet sticking out of his coarsely woven, blue canvas pants, and her worn canvas tool bag. A dad toe occasionally meandered over and tickled a rib.

"Done!" Al said. She put her wrench back into her tool bag and scooched from underneath the table. She stood and looked at Dad. Some kids called their parents by their first names. Mom was Mom because she was the awesomest mom ever. Irene just didn't inspire the same reverence.

Dad, well, his name was Marco Domici. Yeah, the same name as the real-life famous guy. Al spent three and a half weeks last year explaining to everyone that her dad wasn't the real Captain Marco Domici, hero of the Free Trade League, rescuer of thousands, and with his own star cruiser and line of action figure toys. The real Marco Domici was rich and could afford a table that didn’t rock itself loose. The real Marco Domici led the Theocracy of the Firsters on Birach when he wasn’t adventuring around the entire Free Trade League and beyond.

Dad was a junior assistant professor at the seminary. He wore loose sweaters and jogged a little more when Mom pinched his belly. The family transport had a rusted hood and left a faint trail of oil smoke wherever it went. Mom worked at the hospital. Dad washed dishes and talked to people. He straightened up the house. Dad used to change diapers but the twins had grown out of that. Cuddly and boring, that was pretty much Dad.

Physically, Al and Dad saw nearly eye to eye. Like everyone, he was shorter than Mom. When Dad sat and Al stood, her eyes were right at his forehead. She had finally started growing and now her britches showed her ankles even after she loosened the shoulder straps. She had gone to rolling her britches legs up. Her toptail gave her height but that didn’t faze Dad. His eyes reached in. He tilted his head to the side and his mouth did his cuddly smile.

"Thank you, Lady Tater Head," Dad said. He straightened up like he was doing a formal news announcement. "Yet again, you come to the aid of the family."

He set down his favorite blue-trimmed white-chipped mug and lifted the dinged-up data pad. "I've been going over the rules for the games. Are you sure you don't want help?"

Dad had very curly black hair, with a shock of gray, over a tanned face that was buried in a book most of the time. He wore woolen sweaters with the sleeves rolled up, and gave a spooky soul-reading look whenever she tried to fudge the truth. Dad was great, but he was Dad. Some things dads just don't understand.

"Uh, no, thanks. Coach Radcliff has a great training program laid out for everyone that makes it through the tryouts. We use the same training his team used to win the bronze in the 1416 games. I've memorized his strategy for the shooting and swimming competitions. Wilbur's uncle lets me borrow his pellet gun for practice. That's where we're going now."

Dad looked at her and smiled. He waited. His head tilted just a little more.

"Is that okay?" Al said. Her shoulders slumped. She was almost thirteen. When would he see her as an adult?

"C'mere." Dad set down his data pad. His arms pulled Al closer. "Thank you for being respectful enough to ask. I love having a wonderful daughter who honors her parents and fixes old tables. You've been working hard to earn that scholarship spot. I'm proud of you. Here, I found some money. Why don't you and Wilbur get lunch at Brakey’s afterwards? Training is hard work, you know." Dad put two credit coins into Al's bib pocket. "It's not much, but should work for a sandwich and a shake for each of you."

"Thanks." Al bit her lower lip. She and Dad hadn't gone grocery shopping all week. Did they have enough food? "Could Wilbur have supper with us tonight? I want to go over the training plan with him."

His blue eyes looked just like hers. He smiled.

"I love you," he whispered. "Yes, Wilbur can join us for supper as long as the two of you promise to wash dishes. Which reminds me, you did a great job of fixing that leak under the sink last week. It hasn't come back."

"Promise!" Al's arms went around him. She gave him a peck on the cheek and then bolted through the living room, slid across the wooden floor, and crashed into the pile of sneakers and boots by the stairway. “Lemme get my shoes on!” She yelled.

Matreetha's eyes followed her. Al stood, yanked her bucket cap from a back pocket, and pulled her toptail through the hole she had cut in the top. She glanced at the older woman.

"The trees are standing; your life is good," Matreetha said. She spat into the center of the bucket. "Remember that."

"Uh, sure," Al said, and then she launched.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” -- G.K. Chesterton

"Be a kid when it's time to be a kid. Be a world changer when the world needs changing." -- Josephine "Jo" Franco

"She struggled to understand love, to accept it. She struggled, as we all do, to find her place. To find her heart." -- Matreetha of the Dragon Clan, NavakSen, "Grandmother"

The Domici War novels are easy reading level science-fiction Coming of Age stories with a Christian Warrior ethos.

The characters struggle with their imperfections and the challenges of an unknowable future.

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