The seventh of my many entries for this year's Pod and Planet. The first eight are all very short fictions, entered in the 'Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden' category. This one is 750 words.
A Man of Peace and War
They were sitting on the beach, drying, when Grandfather strode over to them. Too long under the sun had left his skin a deep, dark brown, and pale scars stood proudly on his broad chest. Grandfather wasn’t really their grandfather, or anyone else’s in the outpost. Nevertheless, all held him in a deep affection, as you do anyone so kind. He returned this affection thrice-fold, and played his part to the hilt.
“Hello, young ones. How are we all today?”, he started, smiling broadly at them.
“Granpapa! Granpapa! You’ll never guess what we did!”
“Oh, won’t I?”, he questioned. “What have you little ones done?”
“We went over the grand rapids, Granpapa! We all got really wet! Joar fell in, and Mrs Natar had to rescue him.” They all pointed to Joar, who was soaked head to toe, and grinning fit to burst.
“You did, did you? I see you’re soaked to the bone, Joar. Where is Mrs Natar?”. When they didn’t know, he knelt down and whispered knowingly: “I hear that brave boys and girls get ice cream from the adult’s kiosk.” He winked. “Can you think of any boys and girls who might be brave?”
“Us! We’re brave!”, they chorused.
“Now now”, he rose, “remember the rules. All together now —” He conducted them.
“Don’t run, walk. Don’t go off without your teacher. When the teacher asks you to do something, you do it.” They trailed off, as he waited expectantly.
“Well, that’s three. Where’s the fourth?” Joar hesitated, raising a hand halfway, then lowering it. “Joar, I think you know it.” Joar’s face shook vigorously. “Go on, son. No-one will laugh.”
Joar hesitated, then started to speak: “If the alarm goes, uh, gather around your teachers. They will direct you to safety.”
“Very good”, Grandfather grinned. “You get extra ice cream!”
The class was outraged, “What, no fair! Joar fell in! He got Mrs Natar wet!”
“Ah, ah, ah, boys and girls. Joar was the bravest, and that’s the rule.” He turned, leading them to the adult’s kiosk. Greetings and welcomes followed him, and when he nearer, the queue parted to let his flock through.
“Hail, Shora. Obey these munchkins, take their orders and put it on my tab.”
“As you always say”, she nodded. “You do this every day.”
“Ah, but today’s class is the bravest.” He pointed to Joar, who was still dripping. “This one fell in, and got his teacher wet!” Shora’s grin deepened.
“Mrs Natar didn’t have to rescue me”, Joar defended hastily. “It wasn’t like I was struggling.”
“You”, Grandfather pronounced broadly, “are a menace. A brave menace, but a menace all the same.”
They were sitting on the beach, ice creams mostly finished, when Joar asked the question. “Granpapa, why do you have coins on your back?”
Grandfather knelt and, as they all leaned in to hear the answer, quirked his lips slightly. “It’s because I’m a Caldari”, he chided knowingly. “All Caldari have coins on their backs. It’s because we love money so much!”
“No, Granpapa, no! Kaila hasn’t got any coins”, Joar protested.
“Kaila’s Ma and Pa do though, don’t they Kaila?” Kaila nodded silently, her dark braids caught in the wind.
“ — but you said Caldari, Granpapa!” Joar continued weakly, “and Mrs Natar has the same coins on her back, and she’s Gallente!”
“I did, didn’t I?” He smiled warmly. “Gather round,” he continued, “and I’ll let you in on a little secret.” Once they had done so, he began. “The coins aren’t there because I’m Caldari, and they’re not even really coins. I used to be,” he paused dramatically, “a capsuleer!” He waggled his eyebrows. When they didn’t react, he frowned in mock-puzzlement. “What’s this? Aren’t you afraid of the fearsome capsuleer?” He lifted his hands and roared, clawing at imaginary enemies. They laughed, helplessly.
“Granpapa, please!”, Joar gasped. “You couldn’t hurt nobody!”
“Couldn’t I?” He murmured to himself. “Couldn’t I!?” He pronounced more dramatically, casting his arms wide. “Why, I could hurt you right now!” He lunged for Joar and, fingers dancing, tickled him all over.
“Stop, stop! Mercy, Granpapa, please!” Joar pleaded. Grandfather chuckled, and pulled him upright. “That’ll teach you to fear not me,” he boasted. “After all, I am the mighty Grandpapa, unconquered and unconquerable!”
As one, they leapt upon him, and the mighty Grandpapa was vanquished.
When Mrs Natar had shepherded them away, and the sun was set, he knelt, pondering.
“Couldn’t hurt nobody,” he echoed in distant wonder. “Couldn’t hurt nobody.”
Because even retired Capsuleers must go somewhere, right?