In the Shadow of Heaven



Chapter Thirty-Six - The Past Is Not a Home You Can Go Back To


The Past Is Not a Home You Can Go Back To

“Her arms are the comfort of the airlock, holding me close. It’s the promise of safety, of coming home and of going out again. I hear her voice in the crackle over the radio, in the moment before my uncle says ‘Hand me the spanner, will you?’ I see the reflections of her eyes in familiar stars, when I tilt my head just right.”

- from “My Mother, Gone to God”, Yan BarCarran for Creative Writing 202, age 17

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The remainder of the days on Olar were uneventful. It took a little while longer to finalize all the details of the agreement between Olar and the Trade Guild than Yan had hoped, but the wheels of progress turned slowly. Yan and Sid were invited to a formal event where Apprentice Olms and Governor Marquis signed the document, and they went out of politeness, since all they had to do was smile for the cameras. She was growing tired of the whole event, and now that the work was done, she was left with more than enough time to fret and continue to feel guilty.

Yan was doing better. Her feelings weren’t as bad as it had been those first few days. Some of the sting and shock was gone, but Yan just wanted it all to go away. She was tempted to try to somehow erase the memory from her brain. It might be possible, if she got Sid's help. But that seemed like the coward's way out. The sin would still weigh on her soul even if she didn't remember committing it, and then she would have no way of atoning for it, either. As Iri said, she would just have to wait it out. Yan spent a lot of time praying, and attended a few worships on Olar when she wasn't busy. Sid didn't come, but Iri followed her as always.

Sid was coping with things in his own way. Or perhaps they both were not-coping, but still differently. He spent a lot of time alone. There was no way to know what he was up to.

Yan did see her uncle a few more times. They met up to have meals, or walk the city. Yan would have preferred not to spend so much time with him, but she couldn’t be rude. They were in the same place so rarely, after all. In some ways, it was just like when Yan was a kid, and the Iron Dreams stopped at a planet and let people down for shore leave. Those were rare occasions that stood out in Yan's memory. They talked about mundane things, on these meetings: politics, family, how Yan liked her coworkers, Sylva. The specter of Yan's guilt and the awkwardness that had lay between them for years prevented them from saying anything meaningful.

The time finally came for them to leave Olar, and they boarded the Skyfish. The captain, whom they had talked to at the dinner with the Guild, was polite to them, and the crew seemed unaffected by their presence. It was a pleasant, quiet journey to Galena, as much as it could be when Yan stewed in her own thoughts.

There came a point where Iri, even, became fed up with Yan and yelled at her to stop being so melodramatic. Yan had cried and gone to her room. Iri came back later and apologized, then gave Yan a task to do (helping repair a fishtank in the ship's greenhouse), which made Yan feel better by taking her mind off of things.

They made it to Galena without any problems, but they would have to wait several days before the next ship, the Kinetic, would pick them up to take them to Emerri. Sid took control of the situation and demanded that he be allowed to go visit his family. He argued with Hernan about it, but won the argument, so they all ended up taking the long elevator ride down to the surface of Galena, rather than staying on the station. It was a relatively quick plane flight to Sid's family's town, then a long taxi ride out to the farm where Sid's family actually lived.

There was nothing but farmland for miles around. Yan had never seen anything like it before. Endless fields stretched out from one side of the horizon to the other, worked by massive machines that she had only seen in pictures and videos. It was enchanting, if also a little lonely.

Sid's family lived in a farmhouse that looked like it had been standing since before the founding of the Empire. It was surrounded by a blessed break in the monotony of the farmland; a copse of trees was planted around it to serve as a windbreak. What could be considered the front yard had an assortment of odd sculptures cluttered around. Machinery in different states of disrepair lay scattered nearby, and a few cars were parked on the grass at the end of the dirt road to the town. Outbuildings were positioned further away behind the house.

The whole place was almost eerily silent. Save for the rustling of the wind through the tall grain crops and the distant roar of machinery traversing the fields, the whole place could have been abandoned. The van that had drove the group in headed away, leaving Yan, Sid, Iri, Hernan, and two of the Fleet guards all standing on the road, waiting for something to happen. Sid took the initiative, and bounded up to the front of the house. Everyone else followed him, much more sedately.

He casually kicked over a statue that sat next to the front porch, a weird looking bird with giant plastic feet, and picked something up off the ground. Sid held up the spare key triumphantly.

"One of the cars is out, so I don't think anybody's home," Sid signed. He stuck the key in the lock and opened the door. He held it open for everyone to file in. Yan picked the statue back up before she went inside. She didn’t understand what the point of locking the house was when there was clearly nobody around for kilometers, but then again, she wasn’t Sid’s family.

Sid instructed everyone to put down their bags and deposit their shoes on the mat near the door. The interior of the farmhouse was spacious, but every available shelf seemed to be crowded with knickknacks. More weird statues lurked in every corner of the room. There were paintings (mainly of the nearby scenery and what Yan assumed were Sid's family members) on the walls. There was also a smoke detector that was making a constant 'error' beeping noise. The kitchen had a large wooden table, its surface marred by years of heavy use. Sid rifled through the refrigerator to see what snacks his family had. When Sid finally turned around, soda can in his hand, Yan was able to ask the question that she desperately wanted to know the answer to.

"Did you tell your family we were coming?" Yan asked.

"No," Sid signed. "But it doesn't really matter."

Yan wanted to scream. Iri and Hernan, who apparently already knew this small fact, gave each other a look. "At least they aren't waiting in town to pick you up," Hernan signed.

"I'm sure they're all out shopping. The fridge is barren," Sid signed dramatically.

"Any guesses when they'll be back?" Iri asked. Sid shrugged, plopping down on a chair at the table.

They all sat around uncomfortably for a while. The two Fleet soldiers looked especially out of place in the farmhouse kitchen. Sid seemed relaxed, but in a way that made Yan think that he was doing that just for show. His tattoo was healed enough that he felt like he could safely mess with it, but it was still sensitive and raw, so he was leaving it alone. Yan wondered what his mother's reaction would be when she did get home, considering that one of Sid's stated reasons for getting the tattoo was to make her mad. The family politics of this situation were confusing and mysterious. She didn't want to think about how the presence of five strangers would impact that dynamic.

Yan was slowly being driven insane by the beeping of the smoke detector.

"Can you fix your smoke detector, please?" Yan asked, finally, pointed at the offending object.

"What's wrong with it?" Sid asked.

"It's beeping," Yan signed.

"I wonder how long it's been doing that for," Sid signed. He stood and dragged his chair over to where the fire detector was positioned on the ceiling. Standing on the chair, he unscrewed the offending object and fiddled with it until the beeping stopped. He then screwed it back in to the ceiling.

"Thanks," Yan signed. Sid sat back at the table, hands now slightly dusty. "What was wrong with it?"

"I don't know. I just turned it off."

Yan sighed. Of course.

"How does that help you if you can't hear it?" Iri asked, clumsily signing.

"It's wired up to flashing lights in other rooms. But we've never had a fire anyway." He shrugged.

They waited and waited for Sid's family to return. Eventually, Yan heard the sound of a car approaching: car tires crunching over the pebbles on the unpaved road.

"They're back," Yan signed.

Sid grinned widely. He stood up, and walked over to the front door. He positioned himself so that his family would immediately see him when they opened the door. Car doors slammed outside.

Yan thought that this was not going to go well. She cringed at the embarrassment that all of this was bound to cause. Iri looked vaguely amused at the whole prospect; Hernan looked bored.

The front door jiggled as someone put a key in the lock, but as it was already unlocked it just creaked open. Yan could only see Sid, and didn't see what his family members' reactions were. Sid signed "Surprise!" and there was the sound of something heavy falling to the ground outside the door.

Yan went to look out the window. Sid's family, not counting Sid, consisted of four people: what looked like his parents, one that Yan knew was his older brother, and his younger sister. He had mentioned them to Yan on occasion, but she didn't know their written names, only their sign names.

Sid's mother was sitting on the porch, surrounded by spilled groceries. She was wearing a long skirt, heavy work shoes, and a flowy green top. Her wiry grey hair was pulled up into a bun on the top of her head, though there were many strands flying loose.

Sid's father was a stout man who was holding one side of a heavy wooden crate. Sid's brother, "dirt foot" as Sid had called him, was holding the other side. Both of the men were strong and tanned, much darker than Sid, belying the fact that Sid rarely went out doors if he could help it. Both were wearing work jeans that had clearly seen better days and heavy boots. Sid's father was clean shaven, with rough black hair falling into his eyes. Sid's brother had a massive beard. Yan thought that was a bit of an affectation.

The younger sister, "apple face", was in the middle of pulling groceries out of the car when the commotion up at the front door happened. She was dressed like her brother and father, in jeans and boots, but with her hair in a bun like her mother's. She had a sweet, open face with sunburned cheeks. Yan could imagine where she had gotten her nickname.

Now that Yan thought about it, were the sign names that Sid gave her just mean nicknames, or were they the ones that their parents used as well? Knowing Sid, Yan would probably put her guesses on the former. At the very least, "dirt foot" didn't seem like the kindest name to give someone.

The brother and father put down the crate in front of the porch, and the father helped the mother up. There was a flurry of sign that Yan couldn't follow- but she got the jist that all of them were asking how in God's name Sid had gotten here, and what in the name of all that's good had he done to his head?

The commotion continued for a while, but Sid managed to give at least a satisfactory enough explanation to stop them from crowding him. They all picked up the spilled groceries and came inside. Everyone who had been sitting at the table stood up to greet the family.

"Mom, Dad, dirt-foot, apple-face," Sid signed. "This is my group. Yan, Maedes, Hernan, Lopp, and Vane." Sid pointed at each person before he spelled out their names. Lopp and Vane were the names of the two Fleet soldiers who had accompanied them. Yan was a little surprised to note that Hernan was the only person in their group who had his own sign name, the finger gun tapped to the wrist that Yan had seen Sid use before. Maybe it was a private joke between him and Hernan. Sid fingerspelled all the names, including Hernan's before he gave Hernan's sign name.

Sid's parents and siblings came in to shake hands with everyone and deposit all the groceries on the kitchen table.

"Nice to meet you all," Yan signed. "Sorry for the surprise, I thought Sid had told you we were coming." Yan used the sign for Sid's name that he had originally shown her, the sign that she thought of as "egghead".

"It is an unfortunate habit of Sid's to do things without telling anyone," Sid's mother signed. She fingerspelled Sid's name, then used a completely different sign for him: the sign for "fix" tapped on her forehead.

With the whole family in the kitchen, Yan could get a better look at them all. Sid's father and brother were both taller than he was, with the brother being about the same height as Yan. Sid was taller than his mother and sister, who were both approximately the same height.

Sid's father pulled Sid out into the hallway, where no one else could see their conversation. Yan wondered what they were talking about, but she figured it was just Sid getting yelled at for scaring his mother.

"This is my daughter, Renay," Sid's mother signed, waving her daughter over to introduce her to the group. She fingerspelled the name, then gave the sign name that wasn’t Sid's unfortunate nickname. This new sign was the sign for 'quick' rested on the palm of the left hand. "And my son, Karl." After fingerspelling it, she made the sign for 'strong' with her right hand, and the first letter of the name with the left, wiping the letter along the length of her right arm.

All of this was a lot of new information to Yan, and she was doing her best to remember it. The kitchen was quite crowded with everyone in it, and some of the groceries on the table looked like they needed to be put in the freezer before they melted.

"Renay, can you take everyone out back? I need to put away the groceries," Sid's mom signed, looking overwhelmed. Renay nodded, and she gestured for everyone to follow her.

It was a bit of a process, as everyone had taken their shoes off as Sid instructed earlier, and had to put them back on before they could go outside. Behind the house, amidst the tall trees, there was a picnic table and assorted lawn furniture in various states of disrepair.

"Sorry that my mom kicked you out of the house," Renay signed. Yan and Renay sat down at the picnic table, Iri, Hernan, and the two soldiers stood around talking between themselves.

"It's ok," Yan replied. "We did barge into your house without warning."

Renay smiled. She looked quite similar to Sid when she did that, with the same sharpness at the edges.

"Nothing like a little excitement," Renay signed. "You're Yan, right? Sid mentioned you in a letter, one time." Yan nodded.

"I hope he said something nice," Yan signed.

"Just that you signed badly, but it was better than not at all."

Yan laughed. "I've gotten better."

Renay shrugged. "Sid doesn't really like to say anything useful in letters."


"We don't get a message from him for months, then he'll send us something really random. Like, a ten page letter about a book he just read, or scanned pages from his sketchbook, or some new idea about how to make the tractor faster."

"You sure he wasn't just sending you his best schoolwork so you knew he was still alive?" Yan asked.

"Those were just some examples," Renay said. "I love him but he is the worst."

"Sid said he was mad that he had to go to the Academy," Yan said. She recalled that he had used the term 'stolen' when he had first mentioned it, but she was trying to be polite. "Do you think he still is?"

"He would have hated staying here," Renay signed. "I'm sure he already told you, but he doesn't get along the best with our parents."

"He did mention something like that," Yan admitted. She wasn't going to go into detail about how Sid said he was doing things to make his mother mad on purpose, but she assumed that Renay already knew.

"Are you and Sid good friends?" Renay asked, changing the subject.

"I think so. He came to my room one day and declared that we were.”

"Sounds like Sid," Renay signed. Yan noted that she used the 'egghead' sign that Sid had first introduced himself with, not the one that his mother used.

"We've been through a lot together," Yan said. "But I think we're friends mostly because I could already sign when I met him."

"Spacer, right?"

"How could you tell?" Yan asked sarcastically, gesturing to her overly tall body. Renay smiled.

"I want to hear all about Sid's apprenticeship- he'll never tell us anything, so you have to."

"What do you want to know?" Yan asked. "I'll tell you anything that isn't confidential."

"You could even tell me secrets, nothing will ever pass my lips," Renay signed jokingly.

They continued on, Yan telling Renay about what Sandreas was like up close, how brutal Halen's training could be, and what it was like getting to attend fancy dinner parties with important politicians. She left out most of the important details, such as how she and Sid had murdered a bunch of pirates, and Halen's past, and how Sandreas and Halen were partners, and how Sandreas was actually off visiting an active warzone that no one knew about. There was a lot that Yan had to filter out that was just background noise to her life. Renay asked to see her gun, and Yan showed it to her. She also wanted Yan to demonstrate her powers, and Yan did by making one of the weird statues fly around.

Renay gave as well as she got, describing their somewhat mundane family life. It was a completely different world than what Yan had grown up with. Sid's family was isolated, living alone on the massive farm. They went into town occasionally to buy supplies, but almost every other transaction was conducted over the net: buying and selling their crops and animals; homeschooling Karl (until he graduated), Sid (until he was taken to the Academy), and Renay; and communicating with the outside world, including their grandparents, extended family, and the wider Deaf community on Galena.

Sid's family was almost the opposite of what Yan's home life was like. Where Sid had a close immediate family and distant extended one, Yan had only her extended family all around her. But their home, alone in the middle of miles of farmland, was almost like a ship, in that it contained most everything they needed.

Renay also described how Sid used to spend hours and hours arguing with people over the net about how best to maintain tractors, what was the best farming equipment to buy, and any other mundane thing. Apparently he was quite a firebrand when it came to net arguments. It made Yan glad that she had lived on a ship without access to the net, so she never developed the instinct to publish her diatribes on random subjects to public forums. She wondered if some member of the security team had gone through and scrubbed the net of any of Sid's more vitriolic messages. She didn't envy that person their job.

Yan also inquired about all the statues around the place. Apparently, most of them were made by Sid's father, but Renay herself had taken to making a few recently. It seemed as though every member of the family had some sort of personal hobby. Sid's was drawing and fixing up the family's machines, Renay and her dad worked on the statues, Sid's mother was an accomplished painter and cook, and Karl... Renay rolled her eyes when Yan asked what Karl liked to do. Apparently Karl enjoyed going into town, getting drunk, and participating in weightlifting competitions. Yan had no opinion on any of that.

The life on the farm seemed almost idyllic from the way Renay described it, but Yan saw the look on Renay's face when she mentioned certain things, and the way that other things were casually not mentioned. Renay was about five years younger than Sid, so fifteen or sixteen, yet she had made no mention of what she would do for the rest of her life. On that same point, Karl was twenty-four and was still living at home, even though his hobbies as Renay listed them involved socializing in town. Sid was, although no one quite seemed willing to frame it that way, the only one who had managed to escape. Sid had mentioned, once, that his mother liked to control people.

The question lurked in the back of Yan's mind, even as she had this pleasant conversation, why had Sid chosen to come back home at all?

Eventually, Karl came out of the house, bearing sodas and snack food to pass out to the assembled guests. He sat down on the picnic bench next to Renay. She gave him a friendly shove to try to push him away, but his body was solid enough that she wouldn't have been able to move him even if she had actually been trying.

"Hey," Karl said aloud, which shocked Yan enough for her to choke on the soda that she had just opened. "Yan? Nice to meet you." He stuck out his hand to shake. Yan finished coughing and shook his hand.

"Hi?" She said, questioningly. Yan had been under the impression that Sid's entire family was deaf. Karl wasn't wearing the glasses that Sid wore, so she wasn't sure if he could hear her.

"Oh, yeah, I can hear you," Karl said. "I'm the oddball here, not deaf."

Next to Karl, Renay was making 'blah, blah, blah' motions with her hands. She wasn't wearing glasses either, but it was clear that she couldn't hear what Karl was saying. Yan wasn't sure what to do. Was it rude of her to talk to Karl out loud when Renay was right there? But Karl clearly wanted to be speaking, so would it be rude to use sign? Yan was paralyzed with indecision. Renay saw the look on Yan's face. She rolled her eyes.

"I'll go talk to Sid's buddy over there," Renay signed, pointing to Hernan. "Sid must get along with him great." Renay stood up from the table with a jaunty wave and headed over to where Hernan and Iri were sitting beneath some trees.

Yan hoped that Iri was not flirting with Hernan, but they did seem to spend a lot of time talking to each other. It wasn't really her business, but the thought of it did feel extremely weird. She shook her attention away from the two minders and turned back to Karl.

"I thought that your whole family was deaf," Yan admitted.

"Well, it's genetic, but there's always weird stuff with genes," Karl said. "Doesn't really matter. So, you're Sid's friend?"

"Yeah, well, coworkers first, friends second. But yeah," Yan said. It was difficult to explain the relationship that she and Sid had in simple terms.

"Heh, of course. You're pretty good lookin, you know?" Karl said.

"Uh, thanks?" Now Yan was trapped in this awkward social situation.

"I've always told Sid, he's missing out on the best parts of life, which is to say, the girls," Karl said.

"We're not dating," Yan clarified. "If Sid told you I was his partner that's-"

Karl laughed. "Like I said, he's missing out."

Yan was distinctly uncomfortable, and really didn't know how to escape. She wished Renay hadn't left. She would just have to approach it like the diplomat she was.

"Well, Sid can make his own decisions in life," Yan said.

"That's too true. Did you try to stop him from getting that ugly as sin tattoo?" Karl asked.

"I didn't think it was the greatest idea," Yan said, tactfully. "But Sid was going to do it whether I liked it or not."

"He's in there getting yelled at over it," Karl said, nodding to the house. "He shouldn't have done it, or he shouldn't have come home."

"I think he lives for the drama of it all, sometimes.”

"That's true. Maybe he's just a sucker for punishment.” Now that they were actually talking about Sid, rather than obliquely about how much Karl liked the way Yan looked, the conversation was easier. Sid was something they had in common.

"You really think so?"

"Let me put it this way. When we were kids, he used to challenge me to fights, and I would win every single time, but he never got bored of trying."

"You'd think he'd at least try to cheat to win," Yan said, thinking about the lessons that Halen had taught them.

"Nah, he likes to feel superior, but he won't break the rules. So he'll lose honorably when I wrestle him into the dirt." Karl flexed his arm, showing off his physique.

"Well, you have about forty kilos on him," Yan said. "Is that really a fair fight?"

"All's fair in the family," Karl said. "But it's Sid's fault for being so scrawny. He never would go outside."

Karl talked about the brotherly rivalry he had with Sid until he got bored and wandered away, leaving Yan alone at the table. This was going to be an awkward overnight stay, she could already tell. She liked Renay enough, but Karl seemed like the opposite of ‘her type’. Having now gotten the full Karl experience, Yan could safely say that she understood why Renay had rolled her eyes when describing Karl's hobbies.

On the other hand, Yan couldn't really blame him for being the way that he was. Karl was the odd one out in the family, possibly even more so than Sid was, but he was trapped there by... what? What kept Karl from leaving the family farm and living in town, where he clearly would prefer to be? She would have to ask Sid about it later. Maybe he would be able to give her a clearer picture of what was going on with his family. Or maybe he wouldn't. Sid was unpredictable if he was anything.

Yan waited around at the picnic table, not sure what she was waiting for. They had arrived in early afternoon, and it was a warm, late-summer day on this part of the planet. The shadows cast by the trees that surrounded them grew longer, and a breeze rustled through their branches like a whispering chorus.

Sid came out of the house eventually, looking slightly chagrined. Perhaps he had been yelled at more than he was expecting. He came over and sat next to Yan. Yan nudged him with her shoulder.

"Get yelled at?" she asked.

Sid nodded. "We can stay here for tonight, but they didn't buy enough groceries to feed guests, so we can't stay tomorrow."

"I don't know what you expected to happen.”

"Honestly, I didn't really plan anything.”

"That is extremely clear. Does your family have guest rooms?"

"One. You and I can share my room, and Hernan and Maedes can share the guest room. Lopp and Vane can take the couches downstairs, I guess."

"I'd rather share with Iri, if it's ok with you," Yan signed.


As unnoticeably as Yan could, she jerked her thumb to point at Karl, who was in the middle of arm wrestling with the Fleet soldiers. "He was being weird."

Sid raised an eyebrow. "Want me to punch him?"

Yan gave him a look. "No, I do not want you to punch him. I just would prefer not to give him any more ammunition."

"I'll punch him anyway," Sid signed. "But sure, you can share the guest room with Iri. And Hernan will be stuck with me."

"I'm sure he'll greatly appreciate you as a bed partner.”

"I'm sure he'll sleep on the floor.”

"Well, you get to break the news to all of them," Yan signed. "Since you were the one who suggested all of this."

Sid grinned. He was going to stand up and deliver the news, but Renay came trotting over, Iri and Hernan in tow.

"You must have gotten so yelled at," Renay signed. "You're so dumb."

"I just missed you so much, I had to come home," Sid signed. "Not a day goes by when I don't think of you, my dear, sweet apple-face..." Sid was being melodramatic, and Renay slapped his hand, hard.

"You idiot. I can't even call you egg-head anymore, now you're..." Renay struggled to think of a new pejorative sign, but Sid held up a hand to stop her.

"Watch this," he signed. Closing his eyes, he focused on the ink on the tattoo on his head, and made it invisible somehow, leaving the normal white of his head. As normal as it could be, considering it was still a bit raw. Sid opened his eyes and grinned at Renay, waiting for her reaction. Yan, Iri, and Hernan were watching this demonstration with patience, amusement, and resignation, respectively.

Renay did not disappoint. "You could do that and you left it up just for them to yell at you about? Wow, I bow before your stupidity," Renay signed, bowing to Sid.

"Well, that's the point, isn't it?" Sid asked.

"I don't know what planet you're living on," Renay signed. "But on this one, we try to get chewed out as little as possible."

"I live on Emerri, the rules are different there," Sid signed, grinning. He closed his eyes and let the ink of the tattoo return to its normal color.

"I wonder what Dad is making for dinner," Renay signed, changing the subject. "Pasta, probably. That’s all we could have enough of."

They all sat around the picnic table and had a fine conversation. Iri must have felt a little left out, as her sign was only the basics of what was required to understand most of what Yan said to Sid on a normal day. Even Yan felt a little left behind by how Sid, Renay, and Hernan signed to each other, and she had been practicing sign nonstop for months. She thought she had gotten pretty good at it, but it was clear now that Sid had been humoring her and slowing down his motions most of the time. She could follow most of the conversation, but not well enough to feel confident participating.

Sid was a good conversationalist, as he usually had something interesting to say, even if it was mainly aimed at riling up various other people. Everyone was used to his antics, however, and took it in stride. He told Renay all about what Olar was like. She was interested in the descriptions of the city, as the mountainous zone was so different from the endless expanse of grain that surrounded her here.

Despite it being summer, the afternoon slid by quickly, and the sun crept towards the horizon. Yan still had seen neither hide nor hair of Sid's parents, who were bustling around in the house. Presumably Sid's father was preparing dinner, and possibly his mother was preparing the guest bedroom and couches for use by their unexpected guests. Considering how isolated Sid's family seemed to be, it was a wonder that they had guest space at all, but Sid explained that it was really just a spare bedroom that had been around since the building of the house. He didn't mention how long ago that was, but it from the look of the place, it was quite a while ago.

Finally, Sid's parents came out. Sid's dad was bearing a giant pot of pasta in sauce, and Sid's mother went in and out of the house, fetching plates and cups and utensils. Everyone was quite hungry by this point. Yan stood up and moved away from the picnic table so Sid's parents had a place to put all of the things. There wasn't going to be enough space for everyone to sit at the table, so it was only polite for no one to sit there, Yan figured. Everyone got in line to take food and drink. Once served, Yan went to sit on the grass underneath the trees, carefully balancing her food on her lap. Everyone sat in a big circle. Even in the deepening twilight, Yan could see the family clearly.

They all talked as they ate, putting down their forks when they wanted to sign something. Yan noticed that Sid's parents were careful to keep the conversation away from the awkward situation at hand, that of the unexpected group of guests barging into their home.

"So, Yan, what did you like to study before your apprenticeship?" Sid's father asked. Yan still didn't know his name, but she was too awkward to ask, at this point. She resolved to just fingerspell out Mr. Welslak, if it came down to it.

"I wanted to go into xenobiology," Yan signed, remembering the sign that Sid had taught her the first night they really talked. That had been a million years ago.

"A useful calling indeed. What made you change your mind?"

"One cannot refuse when opportunity knocks.”

"That has always been Sid's philosophy," Sid's mother signed. "Do you two get along well? I heard Sid mention that he didn't like one of the other people he was working with."

"I never said I didn't like her," Sid protested. "But that was Kino, anyway. Yan and I are friends. Obviously."

"Kino?" Karl asked. "Who's that?"

"The third member of our merry trio," Sid signed. "Another apprentice."

"She pretty, too?" Karl asked.

Sid's mother, who was sitting right next to Karl, slapped his leg, causing his pasta plate to slip sideways onto his shoe. "Be polite," she signed.

"What's she like?" Renay asked.

"She's quiet," Sid signed.

"Observant," Yan added. "Always paying attention."

"Where is she now? Why didn't she come with you?" Sid's father asked.

"She went with Sandreas to visit Jenjin," Sid explained. "We got to pick where we would go."

"She didn't want to go with you?" Sid's mother asked. "I wonder why." Her face was the normal neutral questioning one. Yan wondered if there was something hidden underneath that simple sentence.

"One of us was going to go with First Sandreas no matter what," Yan signed. "I picked to go to Olar, and Sid picked to go with me. Kino was left with going to Jenjin."

"So it was you who left her behind," Sid's mother signed. "Of course."

Yan wasn't really sure what was going on. She had just explained that only two of them could come on the trip. It wasn't as though Yan wouldn't have wanted Kino to be with them- well, she was glad that Kino hadn't been inflicted with the same traumas that they had faced on the journey- but in the beginning, Yan would have liked all three of them to have gone. It wasn't her choice, or Sid's. Maybe his mother was where Sid got his argumentative streak from.

"We couldn't all come," Yan tried again to explain.

"Besides, you're glad she's not here, there isn't even room for us," Sid signed with a grin. He looked positively ghoulish in the dim light. They would have to go inside soon, or quit talking. The light was growing noticeably dimmer and it was going to be hard to see each other's signs soon.

"I always have room for my wandering son," Sid's mother signed. "Have you been well, out on your travels?"

"I haven't been sick," Sid signed. That was a dodge to the question if Yan had ever seen one.

"That's good to know," Sid's father signed. "What's your apartment like? Is rent expensive now that you're not in student housing?"

"It's paid for by my apprenticeship. It's a nice place." Sid shrugged. "Not much to tell about it. High security, right near Stonecourt."

"Do you really need a lot of security?" Renay asked, curious.

Sid pointed at Hernan, Iri, and the Fleet soldiers. "We usually have a bigger entourage than just them, but nobody else wanted to come down to the planet with us."

"And thank God for that," Karl said aloud.

"Wow, you're really important," Renay signed. "Don't let it make your head any bigger. I'm sure if it gets any larger you'll explode."

"Renay, be nice to your brother," Sid's mother signed. Renay smirked.

"If I haven't died from it by now, I'm sure I'll survive," Sid signed.

"No, all those tattoo pricks relieved the pressure of the gasses in your skull. It's only a matter of time before they build back up to fatal levels," Renay signed.

"So I should get more tattoos is what you're saying?"

"NO," Sid's mother signed emphatically. "I can't bear it. They're beyond ugly."

Sid covered his mouth with his hand so that his family couldn't read his lips. "Karl, did they ever find out about yours? Want me to tell?"

"Don't you dare, you little-" Karl dropped his plate on the ground and started to lunge across the circle at Sid. Sid scrambled up out of the way. This was apparently the signal that meant dinner was over, because everyone scooted out of the way of Karl and stood up to escape the brotherly scuffle. Hernan watched it with consternation, but didn't step in.

Renay came over and tugged on Yan's sleeve, pulling her to the side of the house so that they could have a more private conversation.

"What did Sid say to Karl?" she asked. Renay was using the ruder sign names for both of them.

"I don't think I'm supposed to tell you," Yan signed. "Sorry."

"He's rude," Renay signed. "I hate him."

"Who, Sid?" Yan asked.

Renay nodded. "I think he came here just to blow off steam on us all. What made him extra angry?"

"Extra? He's usually at least a little like this.”

"But not to everybody, all at once," Renay signed. Yan frowned.

"Renay, I think you're cool, but I'm not going to tell you Sid's secrets. You'll have to ask him yourself," Yan signed.

"But I deserve to know, he's my brother."

"And he's my friend, and he deserves to have his secrets kept, if he wants them to be."

Renay crossed her arms. Yan sighed.

"Here's a compromise. If you ask him, you can say that I don't mind him telling about my part in it. He might be trying to protect me, too."

"How mysterious," Renay signed. "Thanks."

"Yeah. Well. Don't... Don't be mean about it, ok?"

"What? I've never been mean to Sid in my life."

"Yeah, and I've never been on a starship before. But really, please. I'm not kidding."

"Ok, I promise I won't be mean about that specific mystery," Renay signed. "Thanks, Yan. You're cool."

"You're welcome," Yan signed, but Renay was already skipping away, presumably to go harass Sid. Yan slowly made her way back around the side of the house toward where everyone was gathered.

The evening was winding to its conclusion, with everyone standing around and talking. Sid had been beaten squarely by Karl in their fight, surprising no one. Yan hadn't gotten to see it, and she almost wished she had. Maybe she should tell Halen to make Sid bulk up. She was surprised to find herself thinking positive thoughts about Halen. They had been gone for so long, maybe absence truly did make the heart grow fonder. If she thought about it too hard, though, the feeling of guilt would come back- Halen was once a pirate, and she had-

She tried to stop thinking about it. She walked around the yard, picking up people's discarded plates and cups, stacking them on the picnic table. She made herself useful. Once she had finished cleaning, Yan stood around with Iri and Hernan, not wanting to go bother Sid as he talked with various members of his family. Yan felt like an outsider here, more than she felt like an outsider in general. She was used to that feeling, but she hated it. Eventually, everyone trickled inside the house.

Inside, it was almost unnaturally quiet, since the majority of the house spoke in sign language. Sid's parents sat on the couch in the living room and watched tv, muted. His father had his feet up on the coffee table, socked feet wiggling. Yan definitely didn't want to be alone in a room with them, as that would be unbearable, so she headed into the kitchen, where they were all drinking. Karl had broken out his personal stash of beer, it looked like, and had deigned to share it with his siblings on this night of celebration. Though Yan didn't want to intrude, Sid was the only person she knew, so she headed into the kitchen and took a seat next to Sid. Karl offered her a beer, but she declined as politely as she could. No one was really saying much; there was only the sound of the bottles hitting the table occasionally.

From the look on Sid's face, it seemed that he and Renay had their conversation already. Yan didn't know what the outcome of it was, but underneath the table, she twined her leg with Sid's and tried to send him a bit of comfort through the power. Sitting silently and thinking was the opposite of keeping his mind off of it all, after all, but Sid had been coping with it so differently.

Yan just wanted to go home. Maybe Sid felt the same way, after all, here they were. Was this helping him? Sid sent her a muted feeling of amusement back. The beer, like the Vena, took the edge off of his power, but in a much lesser way. One would have to be completely blackout drunk before they were unable to muster the thoughts to control the power, but Vena took much less of a dosage before thoughts became soft, unfocused, and muted. That was the way Yan imagined it, anyway.

Sid and his siblings had a conversation, but Yan just watched, feeling already overwhelmed by the day. She didn't really follow it, and just tipped back her chair and let the time and the warmth of the kitchen pass around her. Eventually, they heard Sid's parents head up the stairs to bed, and then Sid got up to show all the guests to where they would be staying.

Yan and Iri took the guest bedroom. It had a large (neatly made) bed, a desk with a chair, a closet, a mirror, and a window, but not much else. The quilt on the bed was a haphazard yet endearing patchwork, and it clashed horribly with the striped green wallpaper of the walls. Yan wondered how long all of this had been in the room. Generations, maybe.

Yan washed up in the bathroom a few doors down, then changed into her pajamas. She had brought them and two changes of clothes in her backpack, but it seemed she would only be needing one. They would be leaving in the morning, after all.

"I guess we don't have to worry about keeping anybody up if we talk," Yan said to Iri as she came into the bedroom, having finished brushing her own teeth. "Except Karl, and the rest of our group, I guess."

"Karl's bedroom is all the way down the hall, Lopp and Vane are downstairs, so it's really just Hernan we'd be bothering," Iri said. She always did have a good idea of where everyone was. That was her job.

"Sorry, Hernan," Yan said. There wasn't any response. "Guess he can't hear us."

"You know, you really ripped me off, not letting me share a room with him," Iri said. "I'm holding that against you."

"Grow up and be professional about it," Yan said. "You're supposed to be here working with me, not flirting with your coworker."

"Ah, but Yan, those things are not mutually exclusive!" Iri said, voice muffled as she pulled off her shirt.

Yan turned away as Iri started changing into her own pajamas, hopping around ungracefully to get her feet into her pants. Yan caught a glimpse of her muscular body in the mirror and immediately shut her eyes. Iri was... ostensibly straight. For all that she had flirted with Yan at the Governor's Dinner, that seemed to be more for amusement than anything, and her recent attentions had been directed squarely at Hernan. (Yan still personally thought that Hernan was too old for her, but that might have just been her projecting.) Besides, Yan had Sylva, and it would be weird to get involved with Iri. But, unfortunately, Iri was undeniably attractive, in a strong and sultry way, and constantly present. It was a bad combination, especially when mixed with Yan's perpetual feeling of awkwardness.

"I'm dressed, you can turn around now," Iri said. "Not like you had to be all weird about it in the first place."

"It's not weird, I just wanted to give you privacy," Yan protested weakly. She sat down on the side of the bed.

"If I cared that much about privacy, I would have changed in the bathroom. Besides, not like you have any privacy from meeeeeee," Iri teased. "And we get to spend the whole night together, isn't that fun?"

"You don't have to be all weird about things," Yan said. "You'd better just hope you don't wake up with me thinking that you're out to get me in the middle of the night."

"Well, you seemed to sleep pretty soundly when Sid was around, didn't you?" Iri hopped onto the bed, causing the springs in the mattress to creak and bounce Yan up and down as the whole thing settled.

"Only because he was out cold, and I was psychically latching on to that," Yan said.

"Oh, weird power nonsense, of course that's why you were all cuddled up," Iri said. "I get it."

Yan was tempted to hit her with a pillow. "We should go to sleep. We spent all day travelling and we're going to have to spend all of tomorrow doing the same."

"You're not wrong," Iri said. She wrestled somewhat unsuccessfully with the covers, only managing to get her legs twisted up in the taut blankets on top of the bed. "Hit the lights, will you?" Iri asked.

Yan just used the power to flick the light switch, plunging the room into pitch blackness. When Yan's eyes adjusted, she could see the vague outlines of things , thanks to starlight coming in the window. She crawled underneath the covers, kicking to free the quilted blanket from the end of the bed. She pulled it up to her chin.

They lay there in the darkness, facing eachother. Iri's eyes caught the light.

"Iri?" Yan asked.


"Do you think Sid's ok?"

"No," Iri said. "But you should talk to him about it, if you want to know."

Yan nodded, mostly invisible in the dark, but the action tugged on the blanket. Iri tugged it back.

"Talking about it is hard," Yan said.

"I know. You don't have to."

"Do you think that I'm ok?"

"No. But I think you will be, eventually."


"I don't know. I think you'll survive, though."

"I don't want to just survive," Yan said.

"What do you want?"

"I just want to go home," Yan whispered.

"We are," Iri said. "We'll be there soon."

Yan felt the tears pooling in her eyes, and she wiped them messily on the quilt. This had been a new record length of time she'd gone without crying, since the whole thing happened. A whole two days, even.

Iri fumbled around underneath the quilt, grabbing Yan's hand. She squeezed it hard. Iri's hand was solid where Yan's was long and spidery. Iri could break her bones, if she wanted, but Yan could do worse. Why was she thinking like this?

"It won't be the same," Yan said.

"The past is not a home you can go back to," Iri said.

A note from javert

And now we get to meet Sid's family. As they say, "that boy needs therapy!". Though that could be said for literally most of the cast of this story for one reason or another. But I feel like Sid in particular has that middle child syndrome going on. He's scrawny compared to his older brother, and he's not the cute baby of the family like his sister is, and it doesn't help that he was taken away to go to school for most of the year, so it's a little awkward for him. 

Sid's family is pretty weird, but only seeing them through Yan's eyes it's really 🤔.  pretty rude of Sid to drop by and bring a ton of guests uninvited lol. 

You're still welcome to leave name suggestions in the comments for future characters : ) 

Hope everyone's weekend has been well, and if you got today off from work/school you enjoyed it! See you on friday!

update 9/12/19 - added title. that's a theme of this story, baby! anyway we're literally at Sid's home, that he feels completely disconnected from, trying to reclaim some sort of connection to the past lmao. anyway everyone is /trying/ to go back to a time when they felt at home but they can't! can't go back! never can go back! the past is a foreign country!

About the author


Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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