Saturday Story: Rajworld Part 2

In Which Rigi and Thomas Learn A Great Deal . . .

Chapter 2: The Finding

 

They had already read the text version of the Finding, and now the holo would begin. Rigi went to her place and found a pile of books and a holo-viewer piled in her seat and on her workspace. It was the last lesson for the day and she didn’t want trouble, but trouble seemed to want to bother her. A larger boy stood with his back to her, hands on his hips, complaining to one of his friends, “This is so flippin’ boring. Everyone knows how the colonies got started. We’ve looked at the text files. Why bother with holos? Text files are a waste anyway. Everything outside of school is holo. My father says text is wasted on most people anyway. And the Slinkies don’t read or write and they survive just fine.”

Benin Shaka Petrason sounded just like his father. Rigi didn’t want to tell him to move, but they had assigned seats and she didn’t want to be punished for being in the wrong place, either. Benin continued, “I’m so tired of this dump. Home needs to cut this place off or take it over and urb-scape it fully, my father says. And he’s right.” As he listened to his friends agreeing with him, Rigi moved about half of his things back to his seat. She was coming back for another load when his crew finally noticed her.

“Hey, Benin, the teeny-tiny’s touching your stuff,” Pahl snickered.

The taller boy turned, saw Rigi, and quit laughing. He scowled at her. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Moving your things to your seat before the teacher gets here.”

He grabbed at her but she ducked backwards, evading his reach. “Dirty dirt louse, upper classes in the front, workers in the back. Get to your place and do not touch my things with those nasty forefeet of yours.”

Rigi stood her ground. “No. This class has assigned seats. Go sit in yours or you’ll get in trouble.”

Benin sneered. “No. Never. Father’s told the administratrix who runs this school, and it’s not her or you, thief. I bet you stole from my bag when you touched it, didn’t you?”

Rigi’d seen him scare the younger students using the accusation and she shook her head. “Go to your seat before Miss Nimmima gets here, Benin.” He swung for her. She dodged and one of his friends grabbed at her. She dodged him too, but he got her bag and ripped it off her shoulder, dumping the contents onto the floor. She started to crouch to pick up her reader and other things, then saw his leg move and jumped sideways to avoid the kick.

“What is this?” Miss Nimmima demanded, sweeping into the room. A neo-Traditionalist like Rigi’s parents, she had no patience for Benin’s rude behavior. “Benin, go to your seat. Tariko, two demerits for disrupting the classroom. Auriga, pick up your things. The text comprehension proof will begin in one minute.” Rigi had to wait as Benin collected his stuff, wiped the readers and e-comm on his closely-trimmed trouser leg and walked to his desk, glaring at everyone as he went. Rigi barely had time to get her response stylus out before the questions appeared on the surface of her workstation.

After everyone finished answering the questions, the lights dimmed and the students put on holo-viewing glasses. The walls seemed to shimmer and Rigi floated in space, outside the orbit of Shikhari’s three micro-moons. A voice from everywhere began, “Probes located the planet in the tenth year of the Second Diaspora. Because of concerns about encountering sapient species, the then Department of Exploration and Charting ruled that only passive sensors would be used to observe the planet.”

“They were too cheap,” Rigi heard Pahl grumble.

The voice continued as three observation satellites swung into orbit, “After three local years of monitoring without observing any signs of broadcast-capable culture or large areas of urban-phase settlement, the Department agreed to send a live scouting mission. Two potential new worlds had recently been rejected by the Home government then in power for various reasons, despite his majesty Roger V’s protests, and due to a population surge and the desire for trade, it was hoped that a new, Earth-like world could be found that would not require extensive terraforming.” A transport ship appeared and launched a scout vessel. “The proximity to wormhole beta-three seemed to be an advantage lacking in other possible sites.”

The white and grey disk-shaped scout ship skipped along the atmosphere and the view changed so that they were watching from the ship itself as it descended. It went through clouds, passed over the Archipelago, and after some maneuvering landed at the edge of a grassland and river forest on what Rigi knew was the Indria Plateau. The vessel remained closed for two days before the hatch opened and a figure in a protective suit emerged. Several remote flyers emerged as well and Rigi watched them spread out and begin recording. A herd of 1000 kg wombeasts, furry brown lumps on stocky legs, slowly grazed past, clipping the lush grass and oblivious to the scout ship. Well, Rigi giggled to herself, their defense was their size, not their intelligence. A striped-lion followed, as did several terror birds, the three-meter tall flightless carnivores with poisoned spurs on their heels. The view shimmered and changed to show part of the Bataria Archipelago. Brightly colored birds flew among wet-footed trees growing along the wide waterway between two of the islands. The holo followed one large red and orange bird with a short, thick beak as it landed on a low branch. Before Rigi could blink, a pair of forefeet grabbed it, pulling the puffer bird off the branch. The meat leaper bit the bird’s throat, killing it, then stripped half the feathers off and devouring part of it. The rest the leaper tucked into its pouch and hopped off into the forest, taking the food to her young in their tree-trunk den.

“Neither the initial scout nor the second investigation found signs of sapient life. Not until after the trade colonization permit had been granted and the transport ship left the First Diaspora worlds did Captain Jamie DeHaan make his discovery.” The image shimmered and a tall, blond man in the uniform of the interstellar scouts appeared, then stepped to the side as the picture story resumed. “His flyer crashed as a result of a cool-season storm not far from what became Sogdia. He was not injured, but his transport would need extensive repair. As he worked to regain contact with the support ship, he encountered the first of the people we now call Staré.” The blond man had climbed a tree and was fastening a metal rod to the highest branch, then climbing back down, unrolling a wire. Someone muttered, “How primitive” and a girl snapped “But it worked and still does, and its light weight and small.” Rigi smiled to herself. Anna-Marie knew more about communications than half the adults Rigi knew.

When Capt. DeHaan reached the ground, he found a group of Staré watching from the edges of the clearing. Rigi saw that they were second Stamm and nodded. That made sense. Second Stamm produced military leaders and defenders, although it was fifth Stamm and lower who actually hunted and fought. Human and Staré watched each other, and then the natives faded back into the woods. DeHaan started to follow and changed his mind, returning to his ship.

The image shifted again and showed the scouts trading with the Staré. “Although it is the policy that sapient cultures are to be left isolated and uncontaminated by human cultural effects and activities, the trade fleet had already passed through the wormhole and gate and were not able to reverse without running out of supplies. The first generation landed, began establishing an agri-trade colony and encounters with the Staré became more common. In many cases the Staré initiated contact, making avoidance difficult to maintain.” The holo showed more exchanges, then Staré watching from a distance as the fabricators laid the base layer for the landing port at Sogdia, and even worked beside some humans, all men, butchering native animals and some modified import herbivores. The next bit showed a first Stamm female leaning on a tall, carved staff and talking slowly to a human man. It was an older Capt. DeHaan. “Later research and interviews revealed that the Staré had seen the scout flyers and holo drones and had hidden so well that none of the sensors detected their presence. Not only were they sapient, but they had villages and communities, and a very clearly defined social hierarchy based on family age and knowledge, a pattern later observers called the Stamm.”

“So they have a caste system. Who cares?” Benin hissed. Rigi wished he would either be quiet or that his father would hire the that private tutor Benin claimed he wanted. The holo showed young humans and young Staré playing together and older Staré giving both groups treats and talking to them. Rigi nodded. The young did not belong to a Stamm until the age of full awareness, and the Staré applied the same idea to young humans. A human woman fed a group of human and native children before shooing them all off to go play in a pond or small lake. A man with a beam rifle went with them, watching for the big hunting reptiles and armored swimmers. Staré of the sixth Stamm did the same from a boat on the water.

“The first generation of colonists and their officials did not mention the Staré to the authorities until after cultural contamination had progressed well past the second DeVry stage. Although greatly upset, the Colonial Administration Branch realized that attempting to undo the damage was impossible. Staré had begun working for humans as hunters, foragers, laborers, and even some minor bureaucratic positions including law enforcement and defense.” Second Stamm members in uniforms rode on transports along with humans, and a few worked in an office, typing on modified data entry systems or doing basic chores. “That the Home government had suffered from economic decline during the interregnum following the Cousins’ Conflict and the inability to enforce many of the regulations due to the lack of personnel may have played a role in the decision. However, ten Home years ago, new laws make the repetition of such events almost impossible.”

Several of the other students snorted and Rigi hid a smile of her own. She’d heard her parents and their friends talking, and her father saying that until communications and enforcement could catch up with transport ships, or someone genetically modified humans, people would find a way around rules. Not just humans, Rigi thought, since she knew of a few low Stamm people who worked at things normally done by fourth or even third Stamm.

The picture shifted once more and now Rigi sat at the edge of a pine woodland looking at rolling hills covered in scrubby bushes with thick, spongy leaves and knobby fruit. “Among the exports the first generation found on Shikhari, lump fruit proved to be one of the most valuable.” As a human man wearing a big flat hat watched, Staré moved between the plants, picking the fruit and a few of the largest, low leaves and putting them into separate baskets. The Staré worked in pairs, one picking and the other carrying. “Attempts to mechanize the process of gathering lump fruit have so far been unsuccessful because no AI has been capable of judging the ripeness and of gathering the fruit without bruising the peel.”

The holo left the workers and moved to a group of humans standing around a machine that was pulling fruit off the bushes and placing them into a bin. Even though it seemed to be gentle, when the fruit emerged from the bin at a packing and peeling shed, half had begun changing color, turning bright red. The humans shook their heads, frowned, and one woman with a data pad turned marched over to a box and kicked it against the wall of the shed before returning to the conveyor belt and making notes on the data pad. “Any bruising releases the enzyme that alters the color of the peel as well as neutralizing the chemicals that make the medicine to combat Philaret’s syndrome.” The pad-like lower leaves, stripped of their thin outer skin, made a wonderful sweet and fatty candied treat. The outer leaf skin also had a use, as the holo showed. A Staré and a human woman sprayed vegetable plants with lump-leaf extract. A wombow waddled up to the plants and started to nibble, then stuck its long tongue out, squealed, and trotted away. Human children also stayed away, although it did not seem to bother the Staré as much.

“Because of the changing policies from Home, Shikhari remains a trade-colony world, not a population colony.” The holo showed men in the dark, close-fitting clothes of Home arguing with each other, then a copy of the trade charter and a stack of text files. The holo ended and the students took off their glasses as Miss Nimmima stood in the front of the room. “You will study the full economic story of Shikhari next term, along with the history of faster-than-light travel and other more advanced topics.” She looked at all the students. “Remember that the comprehension measurement is tomorrow and plan accordingly.” A chime sounded but no one moved. She smiled. “Good. You are dismissed.”

A small stampede followed the flurry of grabbing bags and readers and viewers. Rigi lagged behind, letting Benin and his crew get ahead of her. And she wanted to see if Tomás had learned anything. She put her school materials away and went out the side door to find him waiting in the shade. The contrast between shade and sun wasn’t as bright as usual, and she looked up. The sky seemed pale. “I think they are the first of the cool-season clouds,” Tomás said. “We’re about to start that section in science class.”

“It’s the right time for them.” She waited until they had left the school grounds and found Mar and Preena, their watchers, before she asked, “Did you get permission?”

“Yes. Tomorrow, after school. Dad’s going to speak to your father to confirm, but I have permission for both of us, as long as we behave.”

“What is this, Master Tomás?” Mar inquired after looking to Preena for permission. Preena outranked Mar, upper third Stamm to fourth, but Mar had paternal connections to a second Stamm lineage, making things a touch complicated.

“Tomorrow Tankutshishin will be reciting the origin story in the forecourt of the House of Refuge, Mar, and I obtained permission from my father and from the Guardian for Rigi and I to attend as listeners.”

Preena gave off a puff of pleased/proud, while Mar released surprised/mild concern. “I’ll dress properly and I don’t have any tests the next day, Mar,” Rigi assured her governess.

“If you are with Tomás and he has permission, as do you,” puff of general agreement.

#

“A break, please,” Uncle Eb said, and Mister De Groet stopped his machine. Shona had appeared with tall rock-cut glasses of spicy tea. Rigi excused herself for a moment, returned, and sipped the very welcome hot drink. It soothed her throat and smelled like good feelings and comfort.

“Miss Auriga, before you go on, were you able to understand the recitation?” Mr. De Groet asked.

“Yes, sir, almost all of it. I probably missed a few details, but you see, everyone echoed Tankutshishin’s scents, and he used spoken word as well, general Stamm speech because of the open gathering.”

De Groet blinked and stared at her, his mouth a little open. “You heard a first Stamm in person reciting? That, that’s wonderful! Someday I’d like to ask about that, but not now,” he assured her as her father and Uncle Eb leaned forward as if to argue. “So, if you are ready to continue, Miss Auriga?”

The next afternoon Rigi left her school bag at school and carried only a small personal bag with her as she and Tomás walked away opposite the usual flow of students and parents or watchers. The clouds of the day before lingered in the sky, confirming that the cool season would begin soon, bringing torrential rains and even heavy snows in the southern highlands. The humans who could moved north, into the hills and away from the floods and the worst of the storms, at least for the first two months of the cool. Rigi noticed that Tomás was wearing the formal version of their school uniform, but without the badge. She’d worn a dark grown-up dress that covered her to her knees, a white scarf, and Mar had touched her with a bit of scent that marked her as coming from a good lineage. Tomás did not have scent, but he was male, and their scents tended to be so strong as to overwhelm everyone around them if they were not careful. Not having one meant that he was too young to be Stamm.

They walked up the guide path for almost a kilometer and a half before reaching the House of Refuge. Staré were filing into the great forecourt and Tomás and Rigi joined the flow. They’d both brought shoe-covers and slipped them on before stepping onto the clean-swept blue tiles. A few of the Guardians sniffed at them, but they acted properly respectful and passed inspection. One second Stamm female pointed to the shaded area off to the side where a group of older youngsters already stood. Rigi made a hand bow and the humans joined the Staré. Soon the scent of expectation and excitement filled the large forecourt. Rigi had only been past, not inside, the forecourt and spent the time looking around the walled-in space. The pale stone walls had been painted with great sweeps of pastels that grew darker as they approached the House of Refuge proper. No human was permitted inside the building, by orders of the governors and the request of the First Stamm. As she looked around, Rigi only saw color, no designs or figures or carvings.

“We’re organized by Stamm” Tomás said quietly. Rigi turned her attention to the crowd and saw that he was right. The pelt colors shifted from very dark in the front rows to pale or even patched in the rear. All wore their best draperies and modesty pieces and pouch-covers. The young stood to the side so their view would not be blocked by the taller low Stamm. “Oh, that must be Tankutshishin.”

A male Staré shorter than Rigi and very broad had emerged into the sunlight from the doorway to the Refuge. Everyone in the forecourt bowed, forefeet together, and puffed respect and honor. Rigi and Tomás bowed as well, honoring the elder who had given them permission to attend the great recitation. The black-coated Staré raised his forefeet and all sat, crouching on their two-toed hindfeet. Rigi sat cross legged while Tomás squatted on his heels. “Hear, people of the second world, the story of our coming.” A wave of attentive-scent puffed through the courtyard, underlain with something Rigi didn’t recognize. She glanced at Tomás but he looked as puzzled as she felt.

“In the days of long ago, before the time of loss and the shifting of the world, our ancestors lived in a great land, a place of ease and rest, a place of clean scents and life without effort and pain.” Longing smell wafted over the crowd. “Great villages, sweet and clean, surrounded by gardens and gentle flowers, that was where our ancestors dwelled. The creator had blessed them for their faithfulness and their work at improving the world. Beautiful tall white buildings and ever-clean streets filled with people, so many people, all well fed all living in harmony, a world without Stamm or birth star. The creator gave it to the people, and they tended it for the creator. The oldest memories hold that some people flew higher than the birds, and others could speak across distances, the wind carrying word and scent as the creator granted.” A sigh of pleasure came from the crowd at the vision. It sounded like a wonderful place, Rigi thought, trying to imagine it.

“But all was not well, although the people did not understand or sniff the danger. A few in the great villages began to take their ease, to stop doing the creator’s work. For so long their bellies had been full whenever they desired, they had mated with any who caught their fancy, they lived clean and warm at all times of the year. The creation gave them everything without cost, or so they dreamed. They became heedless, taking for forever what their ancestors had known was temporary. But all remained sweet and proper, their young grew up strong and healthy, food came always, in or out of season, and none died of pain or labor. Or so it seemed in the cities.”

A hint of uncertainty scent tickled Rigi’s nose. “Those living away, in the smallest of places, still labored. They lived with their beasts and bowed to the creator’s will, cool and warm, wet and dry. Although they wanted the comfort of the great villages, they did not long for such things. And for this reason the people of ease began to look down on the outside people, to ignore the ones who worked. The self-moving tools of the creator labored, not the people, or so the great villagers came to believe. Not all.” He raised a forefoot and caution-no-rush echoed from the listeners. “Not all, and some warned that the self-moving tools and other things did not move without the effort the creator desired.”

“And then, one day, at the end of the cool, a warning came. Shadows swept across the first world, black shadows across the great villages, like giant birds but bigger still. The people saw and wondered. What were these things? Had the shadows come from the creator? Or were they just a new beast, as some had whispered a few great villages had developed.” Rigi had a mental picture of a terror bird that could fly and her heart began racing. That would be really scary, really really scary. “No one knew what they might be or what they meant, although a few people wondered if they were a warning. But a warning of what?”

The first Stamm elder raised his forefeet again. “The mysterious birds disappeared and life continued as before in the great clean white villages. Until the creator grew impatient with the lazy and the ungrateful, and turned over the world.” He stopped. Everyone leaned forward, listening and sniffing intently. Rigi and Tomás clasped hands as he said, “Fire erupted from the ground, fire and shaking. First the great cities disappeared, swallowed into the land, taking the people with them. Buildings, walls, gardens, self-moving tools, everything vanished, sucked down, down into the dirt and rock. Rock took their place and it was as if nothing had ever been there. Fire erupted again, devouring the smaller places, anywhere groups of people lived. Some tried to flee, but if more than a forefoot full gathered, the ground opened and swallowed them.

“The ground shook, all of the old world shook and darkness covered everything. Water rushed into new places and left old places. The few remaining people cowered, hiding deep in the forests or in a cave, or so the memories say. Of the cave people, no one knows. The forest people emerged only slowly, after the ground stopped turning over and the fires faded away. The creator had remade the world.

“A new world grew from the soil, animals returned and new animals appeared, new birds stalked the land or moved into places they had not lived before, and still the people waited, deep in the forests, watching for a sign. Those who had seen the first world and passed their memories along were first Stamm, the wise. Their children, some of them, strong and clever but not so wise, became the founders of the second Stamm.”

“At last one of the first of the first Stamm and two males of the second Stamm emerged from the forest to look at the new world. A message from the creator waited, warning that they must no take for gifts that which should be earned, nor assume that a gift once given would be forever repeated. They took the word back to the people. They had hidden so long and so well that they now resembled forest shadows, dark and small, but they remembered. From them came the second Stamm, not so dark because they ventured out into the edges and borders, looking at the new world. They were not so wise as the elders, those who survived the transition of the world, but they knew how to live and were canny, brave and careful.” A mixture of scent, respect, acknowledgment, and agreement tickled Rigi’s nose. The lower Stamm listeners bowed as they crouched, honoring the first and second Stamme.

“And so the new world came into being, and the people have lived, mindful of the duty to the creation and careful to appreciate gifts.” He lowered his forefeet and crouched. Everyone bowed and a scent of understanding and gratitude, like a warm blanket on a cold night or Rigi’s mother’s and father’s hugs, filled the forecourt.

Rigi looked around and blinked. Shadows filled the entire forecourt. Several hours had passed since she and Tomás entered the courtyard. No wonder her rump and feet felt numb. They waited for the higher Stamm members to stand and start to leave before getting up. Several of the young Staré helped Rigi unfold her stiff legs and stand. Tomás looked a little smug, at least until he staggered and rubbed the back of his leg. She stuck her tongue out at him, just a little. She didn’t want to get in trouble with the adults. After the fourth Stamm began to leave they joined the flow out the gate, removed their shoe covers, and started walking toward the school building. After two street crossings Tomás pointed and they trotted ahead to where his father waited. Major Prananda was easy to spot—only officers stood as straight as he did, and his unusual pale hair and eyes and dark skin belonged to only one human on Shikhari. Rigi had heard Mar wondering once if one of the major’s parents had been out-Stamm. Rigi just assumed that his parents had paid for a genetic twist, back before they became illegal.

Rigi finished the last of her tea and said, “And that’s how things were. The school term finished and we came to the hills when the cool season began, and then we found the ruins and we guessed they were important because of the story. Tomás found them, actually, but he asked me to come see and make certain of what he thought he’d found, and because his m-mule broke down and he wasn’t allowed out on his own and because Preena had retired.”

Her father held up a hand and Mr. De Groet stopped the recording. “Rigi, do you feel like finishing the story after a little break? If not we can finish tomorrow.”

She thought for a bit. “I’d like to finish today, sir, while it is fresh, if it is not too much trouble.”

“It is no trouble at all, Miss Auriga,” the adults assured her. Rigi went inside to use the necessary. Lyria grabbed her as she came out. “What’s going on? What are you doing out there? Mother won’t let me go out because she says I’ll interrupt.”

“Uncle Eb’s friend wanted to know about some things Tomás and I saw one day, and I’m telling the story. Father said to.”

“What things you saw?” Lyria shook her younger sister.

“The wall. Uncle Eb thinks it might be a really interesting new kind of rock formation,” Rigi lied. She didn’t want Lyria asking more questions or telling people about what she and Tomás had found until Uncle Eb gave her permission. “I need to go finish.”

Lyria shook her again, then let go. “You still have chores. Mother says.”

Rigi nodded and zipped away before her sister changed her mind. As she started to open the verandah door, she waited, watching Shona refilling the tea warmer and setting out a plate of little nibbles. Her stomach grumbled a bit. Uncle Eb and her father helped themselves and she heard Mr. De Groet say, “You don’t understand. I don’t think any human has been allowed to listen to a recitation and has understood so much before! That alone is amazing.”

“Actually, I have, as has Ebenezer,” her father replied. “Not understood as much, no, but we were outside the gates and our noses are not as good as Rigi’s.”

Uncle Eb made a slightly rude sound. “As good, just trained for other things. She wouldn’t recognize a hull seal leak or ekrat gas, not until they killed her. You and I can’t read pheromones as well as the youngsters do, but we don’t need to.”

“Point.” Rigi waited but when no one said anything more, she opened the door and rejoined the three adults. The tea tasted a little sweeter, and Shona had made spicy little meat bites in pastry cups. He only made those when he was very happy. The dough turned tough if he were not in a good temper.

After she finished her nibble and most of her tea, Mr. De Groet started the recorder again.

Tomás had come to visit, accompanied by no one. That had surprised Rigi’s mother. “I’m too old, Mrs. Bernardi. Preena retired to work with younger children because she says that I am of the age of judgment. She’s high third Stamm.”

“Ah. All is now clear. Certainly, come in and be welcome.” Rigi had been peering down the stairs, watching. “Auriga, please come down.” She did as asked. “Auriga, Tomás has come to ask if you would like to go look at a garden with him.” Tomás gave a quick wink, a hint that the garden might not be quite what Mrs. deStella-Bernardi thought it was. Her mother’s tone suggested that going out would be a good idea. The fight with her older sister two hours before might have had something to do with it.

“I would be pleased to go with you, Tomás. Mother, may I go?”

“Yes, after you change into warmer things. It’s not scheduled to rain for another few hours, and then it will be light.” Rigi hurried up and pulled on heavier leggings and a sturdy dress, then put on good stout shoes and a coat she’d inherited from Lyria. After a moment she tucked her little sketchpad and pencil into a pocket and came back down the stairs at a more ladylike pace. Her mother had no patience for children who clomped.

Mar inspected Rigi before opening the door. Rigi and Tomás hurried out, and Tomás led the way as if they were going to the main part of Keralita. Then he cut off into the woods. Rigi followed, trusting him to explain later. He was fourteen, after all, and two and a half school levels ahead of her. And his father would take steps if Tomás misbehaved, or so Rigi had heard her father say, with some approval, “Unlike that Benin boy’s father.” Once the woods shifted to true forest, Tomás stopped.

“Promise you won’t tell your parents what you see?”

“Why? Is it something wrong, like when Assia stole the fruit from the governor’s tree?” That tree was supposed to be for everyone to look at and enjoy, and she’d broken a branch trying to get to some of the still-unripe fruit. Her mother had apologized profusely and had disciplined Assia, then made her apologize during a school assembly. Rigi wanted no part in that sort of thing.

“No, it’s something strange looking, and I don’t want adults trampling through it and making a mess before someone smart looks at it. Usually I just bring my m-mule, but father says I can’t go by myself until its repaired.”

Rigi felt unhappy about taking second place to an m-mule. Then she realized that Tomás had asked her and not an adult, meaning that he trusted her. And she’d read about what happened when careless people did things without thinking and accidentally destroyed important stuff. “Oh, like in that book about xenoarchaeology and how the colonists carted off half that carved cliff before the xenoarchaeologists could image it?”

“Exactly like.”

“OK, I won’t tell until you say I can, unless something bad happens.”

He nodded and they shook hands. “Fair’s fair.”

Rigi had not been in the true forest before without adults, and it was a little spooky and nervous. “Don’t worry about animals, Rigi,” Tomás said. “I have seen nothing bigger than ten kilos, and those are all plant eaters. They don’t like this area for some reason.”

“Its probably the weather,” Rigi replied after stepping over a large fallen tree limb. “Cool wet in the forest isn’t much fun, and nothing has fruit or nuts yet, does it?”

He held some bushes aside for her. “Not that I’ve seen. I’ll ask Kor. He’d know.” They went a little farther before he held up a hand and she stopped. “What do you see?”

“Forest. A lot of bushes and wait, what’s that black thing? And why are the trees not so thick ahead of us?” She leaned forward, squinted and then leaned back. “That’s a funny looking rock. Is it a rock?”

“I, I don’t know. Come on.” Rigi followed and stared. After checking for snakes, she reached out and touched the shiny black that appeared from under some racer vines. It didn’t feel like normal rock, unless it was the volcano glass, and that didn’t make sense. “If its rock, I don’t know where it came from. And see how it goes?” He pointed and she could see that it seemed to curve away from them. “And wait until you see what’s inside!”

His excitement was catching, and Rigi bounced a little. She followed him in through a gap in the black stuff, and they went to a big stone standing alone in a clearing. She looked at it, felt it, and walked around it, then poked it with the tip of her pocket knife. “Those patterns. That’s not just the rock. Someone made those, I think. They’re too even on both sides and the lines are really straight. Really, really straight.” But that didn’t make sense. “So who did it? Is it from the Finding? But then it would be in Common, wouldn’t it? Or in Stamm, but teacher says Stamm isn’t written down.”

“Uncle Eb says that too, so it must be right. I don’t know, Rigi. I think you’re right, it doesn’t look like plain old rock, and someone put it so it would stand up, but I don’t know what it says. The translator bot doesn’t have any matches. Not even neo-Sanskrit or that funny-looking script from Second Persia.”

“May I sketch it, just a quick little sketch?” She didn’t want to steal his rock, and it was his discovery, after all.

“Um, sure.” She pulled out her pocket pad and pencil, and made a quick, rough drawing, blurring the lines of writing. “Call it the name rock. People used to put up rocks to show what was theirs and where the borders were.”

“Name rock. That makes sense.” She initialed it and put the pad away. “Are there more rocks like this?”

“No, but there’s a building. I think it’s a building. Want to see?” Tomás’s brown eyes had a light in them she’d never seen before.

“Yes, please.”

They’d looked at the building without a roof, because it was closer and safer. “This is, Tomás, this is something special.” She scuffed through the dirt and something shiny appeared. Rigi bent over and picked up a piece of something in rainbow colors that seemed to flow as she tipped it back and forth. “This is like a lost city!”

“Or a temple, or something like the House of Refuge. I, Rigi, I think, that is, um, well,” he looked away, hesitant, then looked back and stated, “I think this is related to the story of the first and second world. I don’t know how, or why, but I think it is. I’ve gone through the history files on the Finding, mine and the ones my parents have, and there’s nothing about Capt. DeHaan setting up a memory stone or anything like this.  And the trees are all slow growing, and racer vines are fast but not that fast.”

Rigi looked from him to the walls around them and to the thing in her hand. “You may be right. I can’t think of anything else, and I don’t recall reading anything yet about a planet that had two sapient species develop, the first disappear completely, and then a new one appear. And there’s nothing in what I’ve seen about the Finding that talks about a town here. The big five, plus the plant farms, are all there is.”

“Yeah, that’s why I think this is related to the first and second world.”

Uncle Eb held up his hand and she stopped. So did the recorder. “Miss Auriga, thank you. I think that is enough for today.”

“I agree,” her father said. “We’ve taken away enough of your day, and you’ve done an excellent job recounting what you and Tomás found. I’m glad to see you remembering your lessons so well. However, I’m curious where you heard about succession of sapient species.”

She didn’t dare give him a half-truth. “I heard it on Lyria’s edu-holo that she’s been watching.”

“Oh? Has someone been working on her viewer?”

Rigi looked down at her hands resting in her lap. “Um, her friend Owen came to visit and he worked on it because it wasn’t getting a good feed. After he did, she started watching upper age holos about design and textile-dynamics, and xeno-design.”

“Hmm. Anything else?”

She shook her head. “No, sir, just clothing stuff and history of clothing stuff. It’s a little boring.”

Uncle Eb laughed. “Timothy, you have a daughter worth her weight in platinum if she thinks clothes are boring.”

Rigi missed the joke and looked from one man to the other. Her father smiled and rested one hand on her head. “Don’t worry, Rigi, you’ll understand when you are older and your mother starts taking you to dress makers.” He sighed and patted her head.  “Thanks be she’s a neo-Traditionalist and not one of the super moderns.”

Uncle Eb leaned forward, serious again. “Miss Auriga, you and Tomás did a very good thing. And I think, just between us three, that Tomás is right, and that the ruins do have something to do with the first and second world. But we won’t talk about it until I’ve done more research, and Mr. De Groet has mapped the site. You did very, very well, Miss Rigi, very well. I’m proud of both of you.”

“And I think, my little explorer, that it is time to get you an m-dog and teach you how to shoot. Because I can see the itch in you, and you are going to want to explore and go places that are not as free of interesting animals.” Her father sounded both pleased and a little sad.

“An m-dog? Really? Thank you, Father, thank you so much!”

“Hmm, Timothy, maybe clothes would be less expensive in the long run,” Mr. De Groet said as Uncle Eb smiled.

“However,” her father cautioned, “You are not to go wandering off into the forest by yourself, m-dog or no. And bolt-shooters are not toys, and your mother has the final say, since you will soon be a young lady.”

“Yes, sir.” An m-dog! It wasn’t as big as an m-mule, but they were fast and could stop a lot of bad things, and only almost-adults had m-dogs.

Uncle Eb tapped the top of the table. “Timothy, idea. Why don’t you share it? That way you can get a higher standard, and it won’t compromise her position with the Staré.”

Her father’s eyes lit up and he slapped the top of the table, making the dish of savories jump. “Capital thought, Eb. We don’t want Miss Rigi growing up too fast, after all.”

“Thank you, Rigi, for all your hard work and your effort this afternoon. Mr. De Groet may have some questions for, or Uncle Ebenezer might, after they talk to Tomás, but you’re done for today.”

Rigi stood, curtsied to the three men and went inside. There she found Mar and her mother waiting. “Young lady, I believe that you need a hot soak. What was your father thinking, having you sit out in the damp for so long without a proper coat or leggings on?” Her mother shook her head. “Men.”

Mar put her forefoot on Rigi’s back and steered her toward the stairs. For once Rigi didn’t mind being directed. She was a bit cold, truth be told, and she yawned. Trying to remember everything was hard work, like taking a spot knowledge test in school.

 

(C) 2016 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

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5 thoughts on “Saturday Story: Rajworld Part 2

  1. Oooo, I’m really liking it. Reading it did remind me of your post regarding British leanings in your writing. Are you trying to do so deliberately in this case? Because if so, you’re succeeding. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but the prose is reminding me of British works from 100-150 years ago, as if it had been contemporaneous with Arthur Conan Doyle, Kipling, Erskine Childers, etc.rather than a modern work.

    • A little bit, yes. I suspect it may be the relative formality of the language. And I suspect Rigi is going to grow up to be a very proper young lady, polite, restrained, drinks tea with her pinkie extended, always follows the Four Rules, takes care of her m-dog, and is absolutely ferocious when it comes to defending her own. Sort of a young version of the Dowager from Downton Abbey.

    • To me it reads like a collaboration between Kipling and Jane Austen… placed in a setting of Kipling’s choosing.

      Except, of course, for the sci-fi bits. 🙂

      Yes, bery British.

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