A Knight of the Republic, Abroad Williamsborough-Implarian International Airport, Middle Plantation, Commonwealth of Sinnecomacca; about a week ago They'd given him enough warning before this deployment that there'd been no mad scramble of surprised arguments, last minute ticket prices for cramped seats on an airline that misplaced travel bags and spare uniforms and - most importantly - no bawling, bewildered toddlers to walk away from and into the clutching abyss of combat's unforeseeable ironies. Memories that did not deserve the remaking and spending untold months undoing again, especially with a wife halfway into another pregnancy - even if that deployment had earned him his "bottlecaps," the pair of electrum (green-gold) stars that had marked his uniform collars since. Knighthood too, he reminded himself. "Sig" - Lieutenant Colonel Sigismund Maurice Clayton - glanced to the passenger seat and absently placed a protective hand over Alodie's rounded belly, subconsciously coming to terms with the rising disquiet and guilt waging evolutionarily mandated warfare against the memetically hard-coded compulsion to honor his duty and obligation to Constitution and country. It's of some comfort that DoD and the Army have gotten their game pinned down better in the years between now and then, he thought, warmed slightly by the broad smile Alodie rewarded him with, and the sight of their two children in the rearview mirror, each asleep under one of his mother in law's arms. Mrs. Wright, "Mother, or Katherine if you must," as she continued to insist, was dozing herself by now, thankfully disinterested in backseat driving. Though he liked her well enough, under more normal circumstances Sig would have been bit wary at having brought her along for one of their more personal family vacations. As it was this time, he was glad enough she had come to help Alodie with the children, and to drive them back home once he was in the air. Their parking lot was coming up in a few miles now, the sprawling breadth of the Northwest Coast's largest airport continuing to rise into ever more impressive view as their path on the interstate wove over, across and through the rippling hills of Sinnecomacca's Piedmont. A hulking, fat-bodied airliner was taking to the air in the distance, climbing over the world with a false-sluggishness, but quickly rising to a speed that was unmistakable even from the skewed perspective of a car hurtling down the interstate. As the increasingly more developed terrain overtook the green splendor of the country just a month shy of full Summer, Sig couldn't help but let his memory fall back over their impromptu roadtrip and vacation. He could've flown out of one of the smaller airports closer to home, in Culpepper, and transferred from here for the same results. Taking that route wouldn't have allowed him to enjoy the Lovers' Leap Monument, or the Channeled Scablands, or the Pinnacle Forest and Fort Wagon Commonwealth Parks or the "Republican Zoo of the Far West" with his wife and kids on the way. Their eldest, Jack, had been over the Moon with having seen the majestic Kashtanese and Kollamese tigers, the gracefully prowling Pelasgian khyphur cats and - best of all - the towering Engellachian snow bears, every bit as pale-colored as their names suggested and very nearly twice the height of a man on their hindlegs. His as yet still youngest and daughter, Cindy, had fallen asleep still talking about the titanic Pinnacle Redwoods - how could she when they'd just driven through an evergreen 400 feet tall? "The people there must be big and tall, if the soil grows trees this size," she'd reasoned, not entirely baselessly. The sparse grandeur of Fort Wagon and Thoth's Lighthouse, the primordial chalk and crimson rock spiral of an eroded mesa some miles opposite, had impressed Alodie and Katherine, and had of course spoken to Sig himself on a deeply abiding level. His own First Cavalry, albeit un-Armored in those days, had fought one of their greatest battles in the broad plain between the fort and Thoth's Lighthouse in 1870, forever breaking the predatory hegemony of the Western Chiricahua in the what was likely to have been largest cavalry charge the continent had ever seen. Racing through the shadow of the old mesa, before the beleaguered earthen ramparts of the fort, and over the whole run of the flat plain between the landmarks, 483 Cussians (of roughly 1100) had sold their lives most dearly, taking nine times that number of the foe with them. Their sacrifices and great victory had busted the continent's interior open for Beautancus and the railroads, connecting Sinnecomacca and the more heavily peopled East Coast in just a matter of years. Tens of millions of pounds were made, and the lives of tens of millions of future Cussians made possible, for a little blood and thundering, iron-shod hooves. That was Sig's pedigree as a warrior, the nearly mythic heritage of the Knights of the Old Confederacy, a tradition that he ever had been and yet still was compelled to prove himself worthy of inheriting. "There it is Babe, Exit 420b," Alodie pointed a skinny finger at the sign, far too large to be missed even be a man sunk as deep into revelry as Sig was. All the same, he smiled and nodded his thanks and followed her implicit directions. Sigg felt they were hurtling along much faster than the 45 mph the dash read, angling their Promenade, a family SUV from Lancaster Automotive newly introduced for the upcoming model year, down Exit 420b. "Strange how different this ride feels...you normally feel like you're crawling, going from 95 to 45 like this." Conscious of how out of sorts he sounded, Sig wasn't surprised that his wife responded by taking his scarred paw of a hand into her own smooth, delicately skinny-fingered hand and gave it a squeeze. "You're a good man Colonel Clayton." "You are a good man Sigismund. My daughter did our family justice, and then some, by bringing you home from school." Katherine interjected now, roused from her dozing. "Aww Mom, thanks. I did have some idea what I was supposed to be looking out for." Alodie winked, more at Sig's crotch than the man himself, but it was still good enough for him. "Telephone Colonel maybe, you mean. Not quite a full-bird yet Babe." Lieutenant Colonel Clayton felt obliged to remind them - as at least a few dozen of his colleagues and mess-mates had with him. "Yeah, well...if they don't pin an eagle on you for this, I don't know where the Army brass have their heads at. It's not just anybody they can send into some den of lukewarm Fictionalism - two of 'em, and have an expectation that these things will go like they're meant to." Alodie had never failed to be his biggest fan, even the last time he'd "gone overseas," and left her with Jack a toddler and Cindy a suckling infant. The Wrights were a military family too though, and her Dad, uncles and grandfathers, officers all, had done their service too - Alodie had been raised knowing only this world of self-sacrifice and honored obligation. Even if they're mostly Navy fucks, Sig allowed himself with a judgmentally inward smile. "Are we there yet Daddy?" Jack chimed in from the backseat, rubbing the sleep from his clever young eyes. Sig nodded, "Check out that monster plane buddy, you see over there?" Jack nodded, rewarding the whole family with a genuinely awed "Wow!" "Is that like the one you'll be flying away on?" Cindy spoke up now, her little mind racing to make connections here, as ever. "It sure is Baby-doll, I think it's the exact same kind." A Clarenthian made-airliner, Sig forgot exactly what kind, was completing a takeoff of its own now, climbing slowly and curving up and eastward. He was an old hand at flying at this stage in his career, more advanced than he liked to recall at times, but neither of the kids had ever been to a real airport before. Hopefully just another part of the adventure for them. "Will they bring your tank to you on an airplane too?" Cindy again, innate curiosity and precocious deduction working overdrive to make some sense of all the big, huge worldliness around her. The delight both of them had greeted him with, on seeing his Conqueror II for the first time, was something that would stick with him for all the rest of his days, and warm the cockles of his heart no matter how dire the circumstances. They were proud to be his kids. "No, I don't think so this time Sweetpea. My tank is so big and heavy it's going to have to go on a boat, with all the other ones in my unit." "The ones you get to boss around?" Jack this time, concerned with the dominance hierarchy like any good Nativist boy should be. All three adults laughed, "Just the ones Buddy." They continued in this fashion for several minutes more, navigating the enormous tangle of roads and parking lots that made up Williamsborough-Implarian. Sig was incredibly thankful it was all going so well, as much for his awareness that the inevitable goodbyes were looming as from more typically paternal pride. Alodie looked even more pregnant than she was to him, helping her out of the Promenade. Still not quite pregnant enough to be able to tell the baby's gender yet though. Sig held his wife's hand as tightly as she would allow, the whole walk across the parking lot. Partway across, Cindy wanted a ride on his shoulders - which was happily obliged. Jack satisfied himself by taking his father's free hand, still not quite old enough to think such a display uncool. They all paused before the flag on their way in, Katherine fussing over their places being just so. She even managed to get a shot with the green, white, red and gold fully unfurled in the wind, almost like it'd meant to do cooperate. They all stopped before the door, seconds peeling out into long moments of an emotion Sig wasn't entirely familiar with, even having been a family man for as long as he had now. "Well...this is it family." Alodie nodded, keeping it together but clearly holding back tears. Sig took a knee and drew both of their children to him in a huge embrace. "I love y'all so much. Listen to your Mama and Grandma while I'm gone, you hear?" Jack and Cindy nodded, solemn in receipt of their duty. "We love you too Daddy," they chorused in unison. "Just...please be careful. I know you're brave Daddy, but you have to be careful too." Cindy spoke alone now, ferocious little blue eyes boring deep into his soul. "I will kiddo, don't you worry. You and Jack look after Mama too, it won't be long before baby brother or sister will be here with us. Hopefully, I will be home before then." Both nodded, and Sig stood, giving his mother in law a hug he actually meant. "Thank you, Ma. Please don't let her get too excited." "Oh Sigismund, you know I'll take good care of her. Now go, before you make this any harder on you or them." Lieutenant Colonel Clayton nodded, and squared his shoulders. He turned back to his wife and took her into one more embrace. "Love you so much Babe, let you know once I'm in Eisgarten, and again once I'm there." He couldn't make himself say the Two Kingdoms, for whatever reason. "I love you too, and we're going to be right here, waiting and ready for you to get back. All of us." She brushed at the scar marring the right side of his features, ever so gently. Sig turned, but Alodie caught his shoulder once more. "My Knight, remember: With your shield, or on it." He bowed, turned again, and was gone.