a quote from historian Will Durant as I remember it. “Let me give tribute to all those Mothers, who over time dragged their children kicking and screaming through centuries of Civilization.” I presume he means the good Mums. Have fun.
“Say-shun! Say-shun!” Sprout ricocheted around the cabin, enjoying the free-fall before docking. “SAY-SHUN!”
Gavin fielded her on the fifth pass. “Settle down. Sprout. We gotta remember Rule One when we dock. What’s Rule One?”
“That’s right. Good girl. We stay close. Now. Who do we stay close to?”
Sprout pointed at him.
“Yes! We stay close to each other. Now Papap has to talk to some boring people, so the first thing you’re gonna do is have an adventure in the kindergarten.”
Sprout frowned. “Rule one. S’ay close.”
“Well, Papap figured you wouldn’t like being in a boring room with boring grownups talking. Right?”
Sprout sucked her thumb as she thought this over. Eventually, she nodded.
“Right. It’s way more fun at kindergarten. There’s lots of toys, and lots of other children, and there’s fun big toys like see-saw’s and slippery slides and swings. If you’re lucky, there might even be a sand pit.”
Sprout looked skeptical. And no wonder. She’d spent almost her entire life aboard The Rusty Rustler. Big toys were unknown territory.
“And when we’re done, you can help Papap spend all his profits. I know you will. We’re gonna get new clothes, and good food. And we’re gonna put flowers on Momma’s grave. And if things go right? We’re gonna buy a place to live on the Station. Papap’s going to find some stay-in work. Won’t that be good?”
Sprout shook her head. “Wanna ‘vencha.”
“I know, darlin’. But adventuring on a solo scavenger ship is not good for a little Sprout. You need people to talk to other than your old Papap.”
She was three years old. And it hurt to see tears in her eyes. “Papap s'ay close. Don’ go ‘way.”
He’d told her that her Momma had ‘had to go away’ after she’d died. The only time Sprout remembered being on a station was when someone died and her short life changed forever. Gavin hugged her tight and kissed her cheek. “Papap’s gonna try his hardest, sweetie.”
“Her real name’s Sequoia, but I call her Sprout,” Papap told the strange lady. She wore a brown knit suit the colour of poops and smelled like flowers. It was a sticky, intense smell. The belt around her middle was hung with a variety of shiny, interesting objects that rattled whenever she moved.
Sprout clung resolutely to Papap’s leg. Her knuckles gone white. Papap’s hand was warm on top of her head. Comforting.
The stranger knelt. “Hello Sequoia? Will you let me call you ‘Sprout’ too?”
Sprout shook her head. She didn’t trust this stranger. She didn’t trust anyone. She didn’t even trust that the three bracelets on both ankles and one arm were going to keep her safe. She wanted Papap to stay close.
“Why don’t we have a look together? If you don’t like the looks of this place… I’m pretty sure the boring people won’t mind you colouring in a corner.”
Papap let her hang tight to him as they entered…
…a rainbow wonderland of play. Other brown-suited grownups stood watching or played with many other children. Some were her size. Some bigger. And some were smaller. They were all laughing and having fun. They were loud. It wasn’t the wrong kind of loud, the loud that made Papap put her in the pod until he took care of things. This was… fun loud. Like games of Tig or Sing As Loud As You Can Nights.
And they had an entire tub of tinkertoys!
Sprout let go of Papap’s hand.
“You wanna stay?”
“Papap has to go and be boring. You gonna be okay?”
Nod. This was just like Papap’s EVA, when he went out the danger door to fix this. The only difference was that she didn’t have a comm link to hear his voice. But then, no comm link she knew of could combat the noise of so many children having fun.
Papap kissed her and let her kiss him back. “Stay safe, Sprout.”
“S’ay safe, Papap.”
Okay. Good news - this trip of urgency had been profitable enough for them to move on to the station. And there were enough low-risk jobs to pick from once Sprout and himself picked out a place, he could pick one of the dozens nearby.
And if he sold The Rusty Rustler… He’d have himself some good funds to help Sprout out.
One of the red-shirted Child Supervisors was waiting for him at the door. “O thank the Powers you’re here.”
Abject terror. “Something happen to Sprout?”
“Not… exactly…” She had made a terrifying mask out of play dough and scared some of the little ones. Drawn alarming pictures that had the novice Supervisors concerned until they learned that Sprout spent most of her life in space. Would not share the food she had made at cooking skills with the others because it was ‘for Papap’. Built an enclosure around herself and the foodstuffs with tinkertoys and threatened anyone who came close with a pair of craft scissors.
Gavin entered the playground to see Sprout huddled defensively in her tinkertoy cage. She’d been smart about it, anchoring parts into the larger structure of the play gym, and was ready to make a permanent mark with safety scissors.
“Sprout,” he sighed. “This is not playing nice.”
Now she cried. Between sobs, sounds that could have aligned with, “They wan’ed ‘a ead id all…” escaped her.
He took one, to calm her down and show that Papap got the food she made. Then he declared it so yummy that he just had to share it with everyone. Thus satisfying the needs of the curriculum.
Only after all feathers were settled and all messes tidied, did Sprout get the lecture about playing nice and being good. She would have to wait one day more for ice cream at Unsuitable Food Eat, and had to stick with Papap during the second part of the boring stuff. Sitting in a corner. Being quiet.
A sentence worse than death, according to Sprout. She spent a good ten minutes in that corner crying. He let her have three more in silence before he declared it was all right to sit on his lap.
Station Administration was understanding, at least. And the advised daily visits with a counsellor until Sprout was ready to socialise. And in the meantime, Gavin was going to make sure Sprout learned how to deal with their neighbours.
He hoped they were ready for her.