Traveling had been smooth so far. Professor Obligado and Nalmar had decided that it was time to bring their small daughter on her first investigative trip with them. It had been a few years since they had gone on one - longer than the old Utrom was used to spending away from explorations. Nalmar, being younger, didn't feel the time quite like he did, but knew he was anxious to spread his legs again. After a curious start to the trip, little Xeinos wandered too far from her parents, babbling about nothing as toddlers often did. She seemed a perfect combination of her parents, wearing her father's swarthy gray skin and crowned with her mother's osteoderms across her head and back. She had also melded her father's curiosity with her mother's former haplessness - she had become more mindful since becoming a mother.
There wasn't much to explore on the tiny ship. It wasn't much different from a tiny motorized caravan. The cockpit was in the front, with an extra seat behind the pilot seats. Behind that was a kitchenette on one side with an even smaller lab setup on the other, by the door. There were a few extra seats, but there were small and around a tiny table, which could be converted into a bed. At the far back, there was a fold-up family bed and a separate section into a bathroom. It was so small that there was nothing for a child to explore, save to look inside drawers and compartments when she was bored.
Obligado was piloting the ship, and at his side, Nalmar was navigating. For a brief moment, they both lost focus on their daughter. She discovered her mother's compartment of special plants in the kitchenette. Xeinos never knew what these plants or where they came from but they smelled nice and that's all she cared about. It took a moment for Nalmar to realize that Xeinos had stopped chattering to herself, looking behind to see what was happening. She gasped abruptly, noticing that she had managed to get herself into one of the higher drawers.
"Xeinos!" She exclaimed, bolting from her seat to collect her. "Sweetie!" She plucked her up gently.
"Let's not open drawers, alright? Especially not high ones." She stifled her voice when she felt Xeinos stretching as best as the little Utrom could; the baby was being held in a rather constrictive grip. Nalmar quickly but gently relaxed herself to let the little one move more comfortably. The older female sighed. With a precious baby in her arms she couldn't stay mad for long.
With Xeinos tucked up against her pale yellow body, she left the secret stash and strolled back from whence she came, ranting softly to herself.
"If she wanders off like that on the planet..." She shuddered to think of it as she regained her seat next to Obligado in the cockpit.
"Everything alright?" Obligado asked as Nalmar settled.
"Oh...she just wandered into the kitchen..." She sighed. "Got into one of the drawers."
Obligado smirked and looked at Xeinos. "Got bored, my love?" He touched her head.
"Yeah." Xeinos mumbled, falling back against her mother.
"Well, there will be plenty to do when we get to the planet." Obligado told her gently. "You'll be able to play in snow."
Nalmar put Xeinos' favorite blanket over her. "For now, you should rest."
Xeinos complained a little, but didn't move from being held. She just pouted and rolled away, and went quiet.
After a few minutes, Obligado gave a short laugh.
"I think she's faking." He chuckled.
After a few minutes, after it was clear Xeinos had fallen asleep in her mother's arms, and the planet Planet Demeter KR-XII
was finally drifting into sight.
Her parents were glad she was getting the rest she needed, but at the same time her father was hoping his lovely progeny would be conscious enough to see their destination appear. But if she wanted to sleep, then Obligado didn't blame her. It was her first expedition with her parents after all - and their first since she'd been born in turn. The Utrom couple decided to take it easy and not do much of anything for a while until their daughter was old enough to handle space travel okay without having to worry about her.
As for Obligado, Xeinos' dutiful, elderly, and wise professor of a father, he went about exploring everywhere he could get at just to see what was there. For example - and one of Nalmar's favorite examples - the old bloke had jumped into a forest of sharp crystalline spires to rescue an artifact they had been attempting to collect. Granted, he came out close to death like others who went in before him, but she always admired the determination in his action. Excited by his own discoveries and adventures, Obligado would often catch himself rambling on about them to his daughter, who either slept the whole time or stared wide eyed at him, having not the foggiest idea what the big blob of a creature was telling her. Perhaps...
Obligado would often dream, stroking her brow, perhaps those stories will have to wait for another day.
But that time came sooner than the couple had forseen. After four long years, when Xeinos was at the age they required to travel, they had decided to take an easy trip. The plan was to spend a week on Demeter KR-XII's tundra, where they could make a geological survey - rather so Obligado could thrill himself with another scientific adventure of his wildest dreams - and Xeinos could see her first snow.
"There's our coordinates." Obligado grumbled, in a voice tempered by age and wisdom. He shuffled aside so Nalmar could join him, and pointed to a spot on the planet below. Its outer thermosphere was swollen with clouds,
coated in frost. "Persefóni Apón." He noted.
Nalmar sighed at the frozen wasteland, subconsciously patting the sleeping Xeinos still in her embrace. "She's going to hate it," she whispered, staring
out at the region disapprovingly.
"Oh, let's not underestimate her." Obligado smiled and sent the ship flying down into the planet's atmosphere, scattering the clouds. "She's her father daughter, I'm sure she'll be hardy like me."
"At her age? About as hardy as an overripe grape on the floor..."
"I mean it, dear, she couldn't even handle a seam tearing on her Babbi." Nalmar pushed against her seat as clouds whipped around the ship.
"How's she supposed to survive an alien arctic on her first try?" Her motherly growl was strong.
"She'll be fine. Both of you will be."
"Her first experience in a climate like this won't do her good. And with Babbi in disrepair..." Nalmar paused. "I wish this visit could be on happier terms for her." She stroked her sleeping daughter. "She'll be miserable now."
Obligado paused himself, quietly musing to himself about what she said. He nodded in agreement. He'd been there when it happened. Earlier that day, Xeinos had a meltdown over the filling popping out of "Babbi", her favorite stuffed toy.
"He's dead!" She had sobbed hysterically, over the top of her mother's assurances that it could be fixed. After struggling to get her tantrum calmed down, Nalmar had taken the doll to repair it, and she'd done a fine job of it. She had thought about re-bestowing the Utrom-like doll upon her daughter while the little thing slept, exhausted from her upset, however, Nalmar found that there was not quite a position to return it to her.
Even now Xeinos remained sour. And with the approach of such cold, bitter winds, there was a chance that the cold would only bring further stress to her tiny system.
"I'm...I'm just worried for her..."
Obligado snapped from his musings. Regaining his assuring smile, he draped a tentacle over one of hers. "She'll be fine. I promise, Nally."
He checked the weather monitor, and immeidiately changed his expression.
"Hm! There's a storm coming where we're landing. We might just have to set up a few lab tents when we land. It wouldn't be wise to put out any equipment."
Nalmar pushed in to see, rolling Xeinos toward her gently with the motion. "We'd have plenty of time." She softly agreed.
"And it wouldn't take long." Obligado finished. He reached over and patted Nalmar's side. "It will be fine."
After an hour passed, Xeinos was settled in nicely against her mother and sighing deeply. She'd woken up not long ago and was now getting her first good look at Demeter. Truth he told, she wasn't sure what to think of the white out resting before her eyes. "Why are the clouds on the ground?" She mumbled.
"That's snow." Obligado replied, preparing himself for a string of follow-up inquiries. To his surprise, however, they didn't come. Xeinos had looked away, looking crabbier than normal. They remained awkwardly silent until the right altitude for landing.
"Get her ready for landing." Obligado announced. "The ice is rough...and it will be loud on impact."
While he set the ship for easy decent, Nalmar smirked. "Loud on impact...not like us, then?" She gently jabbed Obligado's side with the tip of her tentacle.
He groaned and rolled his eyes while pulling a switch to bring down the ship's landing legs. For the first few minutes everything was peaceful, aside from the frigid gales. Then there came a ferocious crunching THUNK
when the landing gear finally touched down. Xeinos snapped to further attention and looked around, mumbling in delirium.
Nalmar gently hushed and soothed her. "We've just landed on the planet." She cooed. "It's okay,
Papa and I are going to start making camp outside, and you can keep sleeping in here until we're done." She hefted herself off her chair while she spoke, beginning to make her way from the cockpit.
Xeinos was already weakly complaining "no" in mumbled strings.
"It's just for a little bit." Her mother kissed her forehead. "We'll be right back, sweetie. I promise."
Xeinos groaned in protest and clutched her tightly. Nalmar strained a look over her shoulder, directing it to Obligado for help. He met her pleading gaze, looking at his mate being held in a vice grip. Obligado
came around and wrapped Xeinos' favorite blanket around her.
"It's going to be cold when we open the door," he kept pulling it, sliding the material sneakily around Xeino's little tentacles so she was no longer latched to her mother. "We're just putting up the lab tent and making it warm; you can keep napping through it." He pulled down the fold-away bed at the far back of the ship. He lifted Xeinos into one of his tentacles and carried her into the bed, tucking her in gently.
He caught the tail end of a relieved sigh behind him. For a moment he glanced at her; Xeinos was curled up tightly.
"And If you feel awake enough later, you can come out with us. We might find something you can help us with." Obligado beamed gently. "Papa loves you, little one." He leaned in to kiss her too.
The ship abruptly rattled,
and violently. Nalmar, in alarm, launched herself toward her family and just grasped them as the ship tipped. The lights flickered momentarily, and shut off completely as the ship collapsed back evenly on its feet.
"Oh God, no..." Obligado shuddered under his breath. It went utterly quiet, save for Xeinos whimpering. He could feel her and Nalmar huddle close around him.
Within a moment the red emergency lights buzzed into life. They barely lit the ship,
dousing them in eerie blood red hazes,
but the family could at least still
distinguish one another.
"Seems the weather was worse than we thought..." Nalmar pulled Xeinos toward her,
her worried and suddenly hoarse tone
"It's coming in faster than we thought too." Obligado added, enveloping her in his tentacles, watching the red lights anxiously.
Suddenly, the lights came back on. The two Utroms shut their eyes against the brightness until they adjusted, Obligado and Nalmar both giving uniform sighs. Xeinos didn't seem to notice those, busy wailing hysterically.
Nalmar squeezed her close. "It's over," she
while Obligado dug into a storage compartment and recovered the repaired Babbi.
"Xeinos..." Her father softly set the toy beside her.
His daughter instinctively wrapped her tentacles around the resurrected Babbi, squeezing him like she'd been squeezing her mother not long ago. Finally feeling satisfied, she gave another deep sigh, deep for toddler standards, and snuggled up with her mother again.
With Xeinos settled, Obligado scuttled to the thermostat and electronics monitor. He nearly swore, but held his tongue.
"Nalmar." He turned to her urgently. "The heat is out."
Nalmar gasped softly. "Oh no..." She looked at Xeinos with alarm. "Oh no!" She tossed a blanket around her lightly and wrapped it tight.
"Mama!" Xeinos complained, wiggling uncomfortably. "I don't want it!"
"It'll get cold, love...the heater doesn't want to work." She rambled anxiously.
Obligado was already into a toolkit and was investigating the source of the disruption. He sighed gruffly; the circuit had not switched back.
"Bother it all." Obligado grumbled, setting down the tools in frustration.
Nalmar had buried herself and Xeinos in some blankets for warmth, and was reading to her from a children's book. There was an abrupt crackle of thunder, with no rumble of warning. It simply announced itself with a great, bursting roar. Xeinos jumped and grasped her doll tightly. Nalmar set the book down open-faced and embraced her.
"Oh, sweetie..." She whispered.
"That was loud..." Xeinos mumbled.
"You know how thunder happens." Nalmar reminded her. "It was loud!"
Xeinos reiterated firmly.
A moment later, the sound of water cascading down on the ship erupted.
"Well..." Obligado sighed. "Better get the heat checked." He pulled up a rug covering a trap door, and then slid it open.
In the meantime, Obligado quickly shuttled himself to the inner center of their ship beneath a trapdoor, where a bizarrely shaped engine rested within a cocoon of metal, the Utrom's version of fiberglass and ordinary glass. This was the ship's main source of heat, connected directly to the engine itself; designed to siphon heat off that and direct it into the ship's body to warm its occupants. Obligado knew it must've been damaged during the rough landing even before he opened the door. Steam was getting through the seam of the door.
No...no, that wasn't steam, he realized. That was smoke.
Obligado prepared an enthusiastic and creative curse in his mind as he quickly put int he combination that allowed him entrance. The doors refused to open. He tried again and again, becoming more sure of his scathing words the longer his efforts refused. Finally they gave way and Obligado hurried into the heater's domain. He was welcomed by a thick cloud of smog that belched in his face.
Up above, Nalmar could hear him scream a sharp exploitive, and awkwardly rubbed Xeinos' back.
"Why's Papa mad?" Xeinos inquired with a whisper.
"I would say something's broken." Nalmar responded.
The elder male Utrom swore, well aware of how loud he'd spoken, but at the moment too irritated and worried to care.
He looked to the heater before him, the bases of his tentacles going slack. "Damn it to hell." He hissed.
The heater was lopsided. And it wasn't supposed to be. During the landing the ship had jostled too much and knocked it partially from its base in the wall, crimping and closing off the access it needed form the engine to function. The pipes were battered and little service windows on the heater itself were cracked. An ominous humming sound, not unlike some metallic heartbeat on quaaludes, surrounded the metal chamber. Obligado took time to listen to it. That was a sound he didn't recognize.
"What happened now...?" He slapped his face. "That isn't an entirely healthy sound for you to be making..."
Wanting to get to the bottom of it, he went to his workman's station and rifled through the necessary tools he might need to fix it. With his treasury in tow he turned back to the lopsided heater with the odd heartbeat, and prepares himself to get it done.
Nalmar opened the hatch and peered down. "Obligado, what's going on?" She asked.
"The rough lading left the heater all -- caddywonked!"
Nalmar bit her lip, nervously.
"We should have seen this coming! This ship is old--and we brought it into an ice planet during a storm!?"
Obligado looked up at her, slightly starting to miss the Nalmar that would have lazily slipped down the stairs with the grace of syrup and come right to his aid. But since becoming a mother, she was a little more on edge. Maybe it's because she's ingesting fewer narcotics...
He often wondered.
"We can fix this, can't we?" Nalmar waved the residual smoke out of her face, surveying the damage with concern.
"Of course we can, but it will be a little difficult." Obligado sighed. "We'd have to take out the whole radiator and repair the collapse."
He got into a small drawer where some rubber tubes were kept - gloves to him, as he slipped his tentacles within them and picked up a pair of pronged rods. "Get the rubber mat out." He addressed Nalmar softly as he regained his calm, though his heart was still racing with the turn of events.
Nalmar did so, pulling out such a mat while Obligado maneuvered the prongs to pluck the radiator from its housing.
The mat was placed directly below it, and the open space revealed some wires ripped out of place from the wall - and the back of the radiator.
"Well..." Obligado huffed. "We'll have to get a patch for that." He noticed Nalmar was already retrieving it, in the form of a three-dimensional printer that resembled a carpenter's pencil.
"Thank you, dear." Obligado kissed her head. "Now...we'll need some water to caulk the wall. And Xeinos will need some reassuring."
Nalmar nodded and went up to comfort Xeinos quickly while she retrieved cold water.
She'd fallen over on her side on the bed, clutching Babby and her favorite blanket. "You hold on now, Papa and I are fixing the heat machine so we can stay warm." She gave her a few kisses and let her lay stiffly. Then, with a pitcher of water filled from the tiny sink in her tentacle, went back down to help Obligado.
"We should be able to set this back quickly..." He said, observing the collapse.
"And then we'll have to get it fully repaired as soon as we get home." He added.
Nalmar nodded. "Of course." She agreed while she started to mix the caulk.
Obligado, meanwhile, started to set the radiator back in place and repair the wire connections.
They listened for Xeinos nervously. "She's been quiet for a long time." Obligado said. "I don't like it." He added.
"I'll check on her while you fix the wall." Nalmar whispered. "I'll go...you've already been to see her." Obligado responded.
"You have better handiwork with this anyway." He smiled coyly. Nalmar gave him a friendly swat on the shoulder. With the caulk prepared, Obligado gave Nalmar space to work while he went to see Xeinos. She was still on her side, watching the open hatch. She lifted a little when her father came out.
"Hello, my sweet." He ran a tentacle over her. Xeinos reached for a hug from him. He gently obliged. "We're nearly done." He said.
"Then we'll have heat back." He put a bigger blanket over Xeinos. "Can you wait a few more minutes?" He asked.
Xeinos nodded weakly.
Obligado gave her a kiss between the eyes. "Then I'll see you in a little bit."
He turned and went back down to Nalmar, who was finishing her work already. "And since it's fast-drying...it should be ready." Nalmar wiped her tentacle over her eyes. Obligado gently pressed the new caulk, finding it totally dry and rough. "I'd say it's good enough." He motioned Nalmar to stand aside while he flipped it on, fearing something worse would happen.
There was a silent, eerie pause.They waited until there was a sharp "click" and the heater buzzed back into life.
Obligado heaved a long sigh of relief. "At last." He shut the heater door and started putting his equipment back in place.
Nalmar went back up and came to Xeinos with a smile. "We fixed it. Now we'll be warm." She helped her sit up.
Obligado returned to them and closed the trapdoor triumphantly. "Well, that's managed." He folded his tentacles proudly.
"Now let's get that stove going now." Nalmar patted him. "The stew might not have thawed and I'm sure you're as hungry as I am." She cheekily pulled open the tiny refrigeration unit and pulled out a small metallic container filled with a stew, pre-made and frozen.
"Let's get this warmed up." She turned on the stove and set the container on it.
Obligado, meanwhile wrapped Xeinos back in her blanket and hugged her close.
"There now, we should be getting warmed up at any minute." He bundled her in and kissed her head. They stayed mostly quiet for the next quarter hour - until the rain finally started to pour. Obligado couldn't see the downfall through the window - it was too dark; nightfall had come while they were fixing the heater. "So much for making camp." Nalmar sighed, scooping out the melted and warmed stew into bowls, and brought two to her partner and daughter.
The smell was savory and comforting. The broth was seeped with soft shellfish and slices from a lake plant. Normally, Xeinos would have refused to eat it if it didn't have a secret ingredient.
Nalmar did what she always did best, cultivate gardens of plants for feel-good personal use, or dedicating herself to her career as a translator and linguist. Recently, she had taken to experimenting at cooking with her own crop fluids. Obligado hardly complained; it was sensible-even reasonable-compared to the more unusual oddities he had consumed. It made her foods ten times richer than normal. Most of all, it made Xeinos more willing to eat solid foods.
While the adults made small-talk, Xeinos was getting into the bowl of stew she was handed, and donkey-lipping a piece of meat from it.
She recoiled instantly.
"It's too hot!" She whined. Obligado tiredly peeled some bread apart. The day is almost over...
He reminded himself.
"Here." He said, passing a piece to her.
"You can dip that in the broth and eat it like that."
Xeinos looked at it hesitantly, and made for a try. She ended up dropping the whole thing in the soup, and it sucked up the fluid like a sponge.
She looked up at her parents in silent alarm.
"Just scoop it up with your spoon." Nalmar quickly instructed before Xeinos could throw into distress again.
She gave it a try, and seemed pleasantly surprised. "That's good..." She whispered, and held out her tentacle for a little more bread.
Obligado passed her the other bit. "Don't fill up on it, now." He said.
Eventually, Xeinos was able to eat the solid bits of her stew. She chewed at it slowly, clearly starting to nod off. "I'm tired." She groused, barely able to keep her eyes open. "I want to sleep." She struggled to keep herself upward, but kept trying to eat her food.
"Are you ready to sleep?" Nalmar asked, picking up Xeinos' empty bowl. Xeinos nodded, barely able to keep herself balanced. "Let's clean you up a little, first." The female Utrom set the three bowls in the sink for Obligado to wash, while she picked up her little one to whisk her away to the bathroom.
Nalmar took some water from the sink and soaked a washcloth with it, making sure it wasn't too hot but at a pleasing temperature she knew her daughter liked. She went to Xeinos sitting on the edge of the bathtub and delicately wiped her face with it. She whined again.
"There you go..."
It was over quickly, and Xeinos was too tired to protest against it.
"It's been a long day, hasn't it, sweetie?" Nalmar gently asked.
"Yeah..." Xeinos half-heartedly grumbled.
Obligado huffed. "Well...the heat is fixed...the ship should be anchored in well..." He pulled down some of the blanketing from the round bed.
"If you two are ready." He pulled out a book from the bedside table.
Nalmar got Xeinos balanced and helped her walk to the bed and made sure she was settled in the middle, before taking her place in the left side of the bed. Obligado joined them. When he was sure they were snug down, and Xeinos had Babby, he switched out all the lights to a singular lamp that only cast a soft white glow. He picked up where he'd stopped reading on a previous occasion, and prepared to settle down.
"Mama..." Xeinos mumbled tiredly. A stray tentacle of hers was grasping aimlessly for the corner of the blanket. Nalmar gently smiled and snuggled her back. "No need to ask, Love." She tucked the blanket around her and let her her nestle in closer. Sufficiently warmed through, Xeinos closed her mouth on her mother's crop and nursed. It was a rare event now, and it seemed appropriate given the day they'd had. Obligado, though busy with his face buried in his book, glanced up and reached over to stroke the crown of her head. Nalmar was already dozing off. Muffling his sigh, Obligado looked the pair over. Thank goodness they've finally relaxed,
he thought, but the bulk of it was directed at Xeinos. She'd spent the day so high strung it was a great relief to see her so calm.
He returned to his reading, until a few minutes later, when Xeinos mumbled and briefly took a moment to breathe.
She lolled onto her back with a massive stretch, squeaking during the yawn she also released.
Her father watched from the corners of his vision. He was surprised to see his daughter staring right at him. Normally she would curl right back to sleep facing Nalmar.
"Hello little one. You woke yourself up didn't you?" Obligado cooed.
Xeinos squeaked. "I yeah..." She drew breath.
"Tell me the story, Papa." She slurred
tiredly on the exhale,
grasping Babbi and her blanket close to her.
"Of course." Obligado obliged, by habit finding himself about to read from his
personal literature, this time currently
being The Primordial Prehistory of the Planet Neutrino.
He froze with his mouth open when he realized that it might not be up to par with Xeinos' level of understanding or interest. On the other hand...she was interested. He tucked the bed's blanket in over her while Xeinos found her place beside her mother's crop, and ensured she was holding Babby and her personal blanket.
Obligado started reading from the last paragraph he started, once in a while, letting his gaze slide back to his daughter time and time again, watching her relax more and more. She didn't seem to keen on the content of the passage - that being the oceanic trenches which would later become steep valleys in the present. Obligado was sure she just wanted to hear his voice against the rain and thunder. For a planet known for its ice, it sure did storm a lot.
She seemed to be struggling to keep her eyes open, but soon gave in. Xeinos broke away from her mother with a yawn and
turned away to cuddle at her father's side for a change; where she conceded to her exhaustion. Nalmar never noticed.
In the end
Obligado was the last one awake, but he softly continued to read out loud to Xeinos, though making sure not to speak too loudly or else disturb the two girls too much. At long last he finished the chapter he was reading and closed the book, setting it aside for another time
in the compartment he pulled it from. He listened to the rain against the ship's metal for a while, not bothering with the light. Mostly due to it being
difficult to reach to the switch with Xeinos close to his side.
Still, he was tired himself and the glow annoyed him. He gently attempted reaching for the light, keeping his eye on Xeinos so she didn't wake. A click later and the glow ceased to exist. Sliding down deeper into the bed, Obligado delicately slid his baby girl on what could be considered his chest, while he in turn shifted closer to Nalmar. He kissed her above the eyes and nestled Xeinos between them. A crackle of thunder distracted him briefly, getting his gaze to dart to an wall, toward where the thunder had crackled.
Xeinos tensed at the noise, but did not wake up. It rumbled down and he closed his eyes.
Things would be better tomorrow. He knew it.