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I don't get in until late that night; a nasty incident with a neuro-gel pack and some replicator trouble keep me on my feet into well in the early morning. I don't expect her to be awake - if we were in the habit of waiting up for each other to come in, we'd never get to sleep.

She stirs a little on the couch, where she has fallen asleep. A half eaten chocolate dessert is on the table, and I'm ashamed to admit that it looked appealing.

"Hey." I pull the blanket up around her shoulders. "You should have gone to bed."

"I wanted to wait for you." She stretches a little. "See how your day was. Whether you had heard anything about the turbo-lift."

"Well, the last time I walked past, Tuvok and Sam were arguing about whether or not Naomi should attempt to climb through the hatch and try the panel release. Tuvok's argument was that Naomi has the smallest hands...."

"...of course."

"But Sam suggested several things which would be quite inappropriate for me to repeat in front of my Captain."

"Your Captain is here?" she jokes.

"C'mon. We should go to bed." I hold my hand out, experiencing a weird sense of Deja vu. How many days would we run on empty for, this time?

She yawns. "I wanted to thank you for these past few days."

"You don't have to thank me." I levered my boots off with the side of the coffee table. "I learnt a long time ago how stories can make things better." I must have sounded vague, because she looked at me strangely. "Have I ever told you about Susannah?"


Children of Happiness
by Deborah O'Keefe


The stars were glittering overhead like diamonds scattered across the sky as Susannah Tsyecum Miller climbed tiredly into her sleeping bag. The heat from the fire didn't reach the spot she'd picked to bed down, but her lightweight bag was designed to reflect body heat and within minutes of bundling side, she was warm again. Blinking sleepily, she watched those adults still fire-side pass around the last thermos of hot chocolate, while off to her right, she could hear the muffled sounds of her friends readying for bed.

It had been a fun day hiking up to the campsite. She loved being outdoors...especially when outdoors meant exploring woody trails and backpacking into the mountains. These were the times when Dorvan V felt like a vast, unexplored wilderness, instead of the tame agricultural planet where she'd spent all her fourteen years. Her parents had been born in the settlement, like their parents before them, and there were times when it all felt so familiar Susannah almost wanted to leave.

Almost.

Letting out a long, contented sigh, she rolled onto her side, tugging her pillow under her head. In all honesty, she never wanted to leave Dorvan V. It was home. Everything she knew--the mountains, the colony--was here, so much a part of her life that at times, it seemed they were extensions of her. Susannah could conceive of leaving the planet to visit Earth and the places where her great-grandparents had been born, but she couldn't imagine living somewhere else. She wasn't like that. She wasn't like Chakotay.

Chakotay. She lifted her head off the pillow, peering across the campsite until she spotted him, the tallest, oldest boy of the group. He was near the fire, talking with some of the other kids, but even from where she lay, Susannah could see their puzzled frowns. They were probably inviting Chakotay to go swimming or fishing tomorrow. And he was probably turning them down. Again.

Susannah dropped her head back down with a "Hff!" She was surprised the other campers had bothered speaking to Chakotay about anything; he'd been cold and standoffish from the start of the trip, hanging back from the other kids, participating in group activities with the greatest of reluctance, and then only after some adult badgered him into it. A contrary, her mother called him; Susannah's own term for him was a lot less polite. She'd tried talking to him earlier in the day, when the group paused by the river for lunch, but he'd been cool to the point of rude and she'd quickly given up on the awkward, one-sided conversation and hurried back to her friends. She didn't know why he was even along on this trip. Probably his father had asked one of the other parents to include him...

The sudden sound of feet padding over the grass towards her made Susannah sit up, pushing her long hair off her face as a lanky figure materialized out of the dark. She blinked quickly, to clear her sleepy eyes, then realizing who her visitor was, she smiled.

"Heyla, Grandfather"

"Hello, Susannah," her grandfather replied in his gravelly voice, stepping over the last tree root before lowering himself onto the carpet of pine needles beside her. "I came to see if you were all tucked in."

She nodded in the dark. "I'm fine."

"You have your extra blanket?"

"Hmm mmm.

"Your wrist light? Your water?"

"Yes, Grandfather," she groaned. She'd been camping since she was nine, she knew how to do this!

"Checked your sleeping bag for snakes?" Her grandfather's expression was innocent, but Susannah felt something sliding along her foot. She giggled under her breath, kicking her leg.

"That's not a snake, that's you!"

"Hmm, I can't fool you anymore." He released her foot, glancing casually over his shoulder. "Who were you looking at before? One of the boys? Someone you like, maybe?"

"Hardly," she snorted. "I was looking at Chakotay.

Grandfather craned his head higher for a moment. "Ah, him." A short pause. "You don't like him?"

"No." Susannah flushed, and made a face. "He's awful. He's spoiling things for everyone.

"Really?" Grandfather's grey eyebrows went up. "How?"

"He's a snob," she pronounced flatly, recalling every awkward moment at lunch. Chakotay hadn't been arrogant, actually, far from it, but Susannah felt the need to exaggerate to make her point. "He doesn't join in on anything, and he's barely said two words since we left home. He didn't want to be on this trip, and he's making sure everyone knows it."

"Maybe." Grandfather shrugged, plucking a long pine needle from the ground and twirling it absently between his fingers. "Or maybe he just isn't comfortable around this group.

"This isn't a difficult group to get along with, Grandpa. Everyone's easy to talk to, if you just make the effort."

"Sure, they're easy talkers...if all you like discussing is who danced with who at the last barbecue, who's captain of the Paresee Squares team next year at school, or what Jonathan Nagewa's new shuttle racer looks like," he shot back, and Susannah flushed hotly.

"We talk about other things, too," she retorted defensively.

"If you say so." But it was clear her grandfather didn't agree. Thankfully, he tossed the needle away and appeared to drop the subject of her flighty friends. "Chakotay's not that bad a person, Susannah. Try being more accepting of his differences, and maybe he'll open up a little.

"He doesn't like me," she complained, the words slipping out before she knew it, and her cheeks got even hotter. "He doesn't like anyone. I don't know why I bothered trying to talk to him, anyway" she added hastily, trying to cover up, but alerted, her grandfather crooked an eyebrow.

"I think I do, now," he said. And grinned slyly. The pine branches above their heads creaked in the breeze as Susannah tucked her hair behind her burning ears, tugged the sleeping bag over her arms and shot a murderous look at her overly frank grandparent. He relented after a moment.

"Sorry, I wasn't trying to embarrass you.

"I'm not embarrassed," she lied, still apprehensive. Grandfather wasn't someone known for his subtlety; there was a distinct possibility that he'd walk up to Chakotay tomorrow and announce to the young man that his granddaughter found him attractive! But on closer examination, Susannah saw there wasn't any mischief in her grandfather's face; he did indeed appear regretful about teasing her.

"How about a bed-time story?" he offered in a conciliatory gesture, and Susannah hesitated only for a moment before nodding. A talented story-teller, her grandfather, unfortunately, rarely told them; he believed in letting people learn about the universe in their own time and their own way, so traditional parables about the lessons of life came after the mistake had been made, if at all.

"All right. But it better not be about some brave warrior and his beautiful Indian maiden," she warned sternly, sliding back under the flap of her sleeping bag. Grandfather shook his head.

"Don't worry, it's a story about children."

"Children?"

"Mmm hmm. The Children of Happiness," her grandfather replied, then promptly launched into the story. There was little preamble with Grandfather. Susannah smiled, and closed her eyes as he began to speak.

"In the days before there were enough people to populate the world, Copper Woman, who had been one of the first people and was still one of the wisest, decided it was time to go out into the world and see for herself what was on the other side of the water. She built herself a dugout canoe, and set out on the path the setting sun makes on the water, leaving her eldest daughter, Mowita, behind in their wood and mud house. Mowita was by herself for a long time, so long that there came a time when she couldn't remember what it was like not to be alone. But, one day, she looked up and Copper Woman was coming across the clearing, her arms held out to her daughter. Mowita ran to embrace her, and that night, their house was filled with warmth and laughter. Mowita sent the spirits songs of thanksgiving for her mother's safe return, so many songs of such grateful joy that the spirits wept to hear her, and allowed the happiness to take root and grow inside Mowita. Some time later, Mowita's happiness came into the world as twin baby girls. One girl had green eyes, like her grandmother, and this girl and her sister were the first Children of Happiness.

"Children of Happiness are not like ordinary children. They are different. They are special. From time to time, a boy is born with the signs, but usually it is a girl, and you can tell such a child by the way it is different.

"A Child of Happiness always looks not quite the same as other children. They run and play, as all children do, they talk childish talk, as all children do, but they are different. They are special. They are born tall, with long, straight limbs to carry them through their days. And because they have older souls living inside them, they feel the weight of the spirits on their shoulders, so their faces are very serious.

"Until they smile. And then it's like the sun lighting up the world.

"You only have to look into the eyes of a Child of Happiness to see that the Child came into this world understanding everything that is truly important. But because of what they are, these Children always feel different, uncomfortable, never quite fitting in. For that reason, they end up leaving their homes and parents early, looking for other places, other people. But still, this is how it should be, since this is how the Children find their way to the people who are waiting for them, the ones who need them the most.

"A Child of Happiness can prevail where others cannot, they survive where others could not, and to be found by a Child is to know Love even if it has never been shown to you before. The Children were intended for such ends, and since the stars are always unfolding as they were meant to, no matter where they were born, all Children eventually arrive at the right place at the right time, to meet the people they were suppose to find."

Typical of her grandfather, the story ended there without any fanfare. Susannah lay quietly for a couple of minute before opening her eyes.

"That's a good story, Grandpa. You should tell it to the others."

But Grandfather just shrugged. "You tell it to Chakotay, tomorrow. That's enough. "

Susannah turned her head on the pillow to glance towards the fire, to where Chakotay was sitting by himself. His tall frame and sober face were highlighted by the orange flames, but he wasn't looking at the fire. Instead, his face was tilted up as his eyes studied the stars. Susannah watched his star-gazing for a long moment before nodding slowly.

"Yeah, maybe I will."

* * *


"So? Did she?" Kathryn asks.

I smile. A smile reserved for someone thousands of light years away.

The question does not need an answer.


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