“My grandparents should be here by now,” said Parthi to her roommate Maide. “I sent them the money for a taxi so they wouldn’t try to save money and get lost. I even sent them three times what the fare from the airport to here should be so they could pay even if the taxi did the via Laniskiff con.”
“Maybe their flight was delayed?” Maide looked around at the presentation ceremony preparations being given their final touches. “They do know this is all on a timetable, don’t they?”
“That’s why I got them on the earlier flight,” replied Parthi, “with the company that doesn’t cancel as often as the cheapest flier. I worry sometimes about how much money they’re spending on trying to find my parents. Every time I talk to them, they seem to have found someone else who swears they can help – if they’re paid enough.”
“And there’s no chance they could find them?” Maide asked the question while watching the gates for an arriving taxi.
“My mother was crushed by a falling building and my father was burnt alive,” said Parthi soberly. “All there is to find is their graves, if they have them. I have no confidence that the Kizmat would have treated their remains with any respect.”
“Sucks,” commented Maide. “While you were having a final fitting for that thing none of the rest of us are supposed to know about, there were some arrivals. There was an Admiral I didn’t recognise, but his car had Fleet Command pennants, Captain Niblitz arrived with a bosun I didn’t recognise, and there’s been a bus with darkened windows.”
“If my grandparents don’t get here soon then they’ll be late,” fretted Parthi. “I want them to be here today. Maide, is it silly of me to want them to be proud of me for what I am, and not who they think they want me to be?”
“No,” replied Maide, “but have you tried telling them who you are? Or did you lock everything down like you did when you started here?”
“When I got returned to them, they didn’t seem to want to know anything about what I’d been doing, where I’d been, or who I’d been with for the past six years. They just kept telling me that it was all over and behind me. Until they became convinced that my parents are still alive out there somewhere. Then they didn’t want to believe what I told them.” Parthi smiled wryly. “I suppose I hope that today will make all those conversations easier.”
Maide asked, “Not just to change the conversation or anything, but do you know a whole lot of people who’d be wearing Jerdu robes?”
Parthi looked around eagerly and exclaimed, “They came! My foster family from Anchor of the Morning! Excuse me, Maide, I haven’t seen them for over a year now and I want to hug them all. Can I introduce you in a little bit?”
“Sure,” agreed Maide. She looked again, “They’re all family?”
“They’re all my family,” confirmed Parthi. “It looks like they’ve left a couple of people behind to mind the ship,” she added quietly, “or maybe they’ve moved on. It happens.” She didn’t quite skip towards the approaching group of men, but she came close to it.
For the first time in her life Maide truly appreciated that the Jerdu were not just one physical ethnicity. Her base assumption, she realised, was that everyone she met was a native Ainglic speaker and so fit somewhere into the complex hodgepodge of that language’s sphere of dominance. Instead of being only the dark haired, graceful, golden skinned and colourfully robed figures she thought of when she considered Jerdu, this group held at least three different ethnicities. As well as the tall, golden-olive skinned, black haired men of her expectations there were tall, fair skinned, blonds and short, wiry, dark skinned men with prominent cheek bones and deep set eyes. There were others in the group that she wasn’t sure were of a single ethnic descent.
All of them stayed behind the man marked as the captain by the gold embroidery on the turned out facings of his robe. He was a tall man in the classic Jerdu style with a hatchet nose and his black hair bound up in a knot or bun that rose above his head. Three long hair pins with ornate heads helped secure his hair in place, and his knee-length robe was a heavy fade and emerald mottle that just allowed the mid-blue base colour to show. Shapes and diagonal stripes in other colours marked his hem as well as the facings under the gold embroidery and although Maide knew they had meaning, she didn’t know enough to interpret them.
While Maide had been working out what she was looking at, Parthi had reached the captain to whom she bowed deeply with her interlaced fingers holding her hands in the proper supplicating position. She began formally in Jerdu, using the correct honorific, “~Greetings, radmarumi. I apologise for not having been in contact since I left your protection, but I lost the contents of my address book in an incident with my device shortly after that date.~”
Captain Sarharmudi replied in the same language, “~The organiser of this event conveyed that information to me, inci. I understand your difficulties; my own blood elders have spoken of the disadvantages of having an otherwise elegant electronic squiggle as a contact address.~” He smiled and continued in Jerdu but with the informal orange chromatic annunciator of affection, “~We have all missed you, beloved niece. Please forgive us for letting them take you away so precipitously.~” He opened his arms wide and Parthi almost flew into them to be firmly embraced in two strong, silk clad arms.
As she hugged him back she replied, “~Oh, senior uncle, I have missed all of you too. Please don’t feel guilty about what happened; they took me back to my blood grandparents and even if that wasn’t the right place for me to be, I did need to be there for a time.~”
He answered without letting her go, “~It is well then, but it is better that we have found you again. Also we have something for you beyond your possessions that the authorities left behind when they swept you from us.~” He let her go and added, “~As you have had a birthday since you left us and are an adult now, it is meet that as you family we should give you an adult’s garb, and that you should receive it from the hands of the one who was your primary nurturer.~”
He stepped aside and let the Chief Purser come forward. He was older than the captain, with silver hair in among the black of his topknot, paler skin, a few more laugh lines around his eyes, and a knee length robe in silvery greys. “~Your adult endeavours suit you, choice child. Are you too old now for a hug?~”
Pathi laughed, “~Never, maduheld.~” She used the masculine form of the of the nurturing parent title, and followed up by hugging him.
When that fierce embrace ended, it was the turn of everyone else, all her foster/adoptive uncles and cousins, to take turns to hug her, pat her on the shoulder, and in one particular case, trade bicep punches. It was a whirling, human surge of home that Parthi almost hadn’t realised that she’d been missing. Then the Chief Purser had one of his assistants bring forward the robe bag they’d been keeping out of the way. The bag was opened up and the Chief Purser carefully took the robe out and helped Parthi into it.
There were probably regulations about not wearing it with her uniform, but at that moment Parthi didn’t care. It was knee length, because she wasn’t entitled to the longer length that went with the trades and professions who kept their hair short for safety reasons. The main body and sleeves were the same pattern and fabric as the captain’s robe but a finger’s length above her knee was the thin amber band of adoption, while below that the remaining length was the sea grey used as the Ainglic visual marker. The short piece of grey was bisected by a narrow band of the purplish red that told the world that she had been orphaned as a child. The robe’s turned out facings were slightly opalescent and the pale greyish blue of those of those who manned fighting spaceships. The three copper-bronze upwards diagonals on her right hand front facing just above the adoption line showed that she held combat rank and position, while the three diagonals on the outside of both her sleeve facings in the main colour of the Chief Purser’s robe showed her other filial linkage.
Parthi looked down at herself and said, “~Thank you! It’s beautiful.~”
Captain Sarharmudi stepped forward again and said formally, but still using the orange annunciator, “~Remember, this is not the only robe you will ever own, or even the only one you will own now, but this is where you start.~” He pressed the ball of his dominant hand’s thumb firmly into the middle of her forehead, and went on, “~We know you are worthy of us, now go build on this basis and be worthy of yourself. It all lies before you!~”
“~My family, your love is a light on my immediate path and I thank you for it.~” Parthi gave the most appropriate of the traditional responses then said, “~I would like to introduce you all to my friend and roommate-.~”
“Pallas Gens, what do you think you’re doing letting these men handle you?” The angry voice of Parthi’s maternal grandmother snapped through the air and mood. Parthi turned and they were standing there, both her grandmothers looking like offended avenging angels. “Grown women are supposed to keep the world at a distance, not blur their boundaries with it."
Parthi took a deep breath, put a restraining hand on the arm of ~nearest uncle~ who’d been the one to rescue her in the spaceport all those years ago and understood Ainglic perfectly well, then said, “~Everyone, these are my blood grandparents, the Dakola Gens and the Dakola Bhan.~” “Grandma, Granmama, Grandad, Granpa, this is my foster family who looked after me during the war.”
“What, all of them?” Parthi’s maternal grandmother let her lip curl as she surveyed the group in front of them. “For a few weeks before you went into a refuge camp? That doesn’t make them family, we’re your family. Your mother was the same; I couldn’t break her of touching unnecessarily and inappropriately either.”
“Actually, a few of them aren’t here,” said Parthi calmly, “and I was with them for six, going on seven years. I was never in a refuge camp, and you are all my family.”
“Well,” said Parthi’s paternal grandfather, “it would not do for us to be backwards then, would it?” He made a short bow that nodded politely at Jerdu practice. “I am Odysseus Gens, and this is my wife, Olympia. I am sure,” he looked firmly at his wife and at Parthi’s maternal grandmother, “that we are pleased to meet you.”