Secondday, the Bth of Eighthmonth 459A
Today was our first day on board the spaceship to Chern. Of course, we aren’t going all the way to Chern; we’ll be getting off at the Alpha Centauri Transfer Point to catch a smaller ship to Earth Watch Base on Earth’s Moon.
Our departure from Fomin Spaceport was as joyful as it was tearful. It’s amazing what a close bond Darryl and I feel towards Harshan’s parents even though we don’t speak a word of Halakanian. We made our way through the crowds, and after we arrived at the gate, Darryl hugged both of his grandparents tightly. He promised to bring them souvenirs on our way back home to Thorgelfayne.
I saw Mrs. Nagala whisper something in Harshan’s ear. He blushed and teared up. There was an announcement over the public address system, which Harshan translated as our boarding call. So we waved our final goodbyes to the Nagalas and started down the boarding ramp to the space-jitney.
The air in the ramp was hot and muggy. I don’t think the inside of the ramp was air-conditioned. Darryl was carrying his school bag in his hands—he had it filled with books, souvenirs, and favorite toys, but it was obviously getting a little heavy for him.
“Want me to carry that for you, space cadet?” Harshan asked.
“No, Daddy,” Darryl said, slipping the red and green canvas bag onto his shoulders. “I kinda forgot to put it on.”
“What was that all about?” I asked Harshan in a low voice.
Harshan looked puzzled for a moment. “Oh, you mean about mother!” he said with a smile, “She was congratulating me on my fine little family!”
I could figure out what she really said, but I didn’t have time to blush, because we entered the space-jitney right then.
We strapped ourselves in for the short hop to First Moon, where the spaceliner was docked. The flight was too short to do anything, but long enough to be boring, so they served us a small snack. We also had a beautiful view of Homeland from space—it’s a beautiful, blue and white swirled marble with reddish brown continents beneath the clouds. I watched the view, while Darryl and Harshan discussed astronomy, with special emphasis on our sun Tau Ceti, our planet Homeland, and our three moons.
Before long, we docked at the spaceship. We didn’t have time to see much of First Moon, since the space-jitney’s exit door hooked up directly to the spaceship’s reception hall. The ship’s crew was greeting the passengers.
A pert young lady intercepted us as we walked into the room. She started to greet us in Fjarnian, but Harshan said something to her.
“Hello, and welcome to the Zerpick to Chern run,” she said, switching over to near-perfect Thorgelfaynese, “May I ask you your names?”
“Certainly,” I answered. “I am Melissa Lahtissimon; this is my husband, Harshan Lahtissimon, and our son Darryl Lahtissimon.”
“Thank you!” she smiled, as she looked up our names on her clipboard. She checked them off when she found them. “How very charming,” she remarked, “everyone in your family has the same last name! It’s very unusual for Thorgelfaynese…” she looked us over once or twice, “In fact, if you don’t mind me saying so, you even look unusual for Thorgelfaynese!”
“There’s a story behind that,” Harshan explained. “I am Halakanian, and we follow the Halakanian naming convention. However, my wife and adopted son are both Human, and we settled in Thorgelfayne.”
“I see,” the young lady smiled, “I didn’t think there were any white Thorgelfaynese! Now, according to my list, you are disembarking at Alpha Centauri transfer point. Are you traveling on to Horstmingle?”
“Oh, no!” Darryl chimed in. “We’re going to visit grandma on Earth!”
“Earth!” the lady repeated, barely concealing her surprise. “That’s a developing planet that’s not even part of the Interchange! Do you have the proper permits?”
Harshan showed her our permit to transport a minor outside the Cultural Interchange; and since I am a Human, she mercifully exempted us from the usual lecture about the dangers of traveling to underdeveloped planets. She walked over to the reception desk and returned with our cabin assignment, then a purser materialized to show us to our cabin.
You’d feel right at home on a spaceliner, by the way. It’s like being on a luxury ocean cruise, but without the ocean and without much of a view of the outside!
We were so pooped, even Darryl volunteered to go to bed on time.
Thirdday, the Cth of Eighthmonth 459A
What can I say about today? We all had a lot of fun. Harshan took Darryl to some activities having to do with spaceflight and astronomy, and I spent my time lounging about the swimming pool.
We all met for lunch at a lovely little harngedern on the third level, where the gravity is real light. Our table was a little wobbly, but the waiter fixed that in a jiffy. Harshan confirmed my impression that the table was made of real wood, and that the tablecloth was woven fabric. He started to explain how they were chemically treated for spaceliner use, but the waiter returned to take our orders. The menu was printed only in Fjarnian, so Harshan had to translate for us. It took us a while to decide. Aside from academic lectures and papers, Thorgelfaynese is not spoken much outside our beloved Duchy, so we did run into language problems now and then. Thank goodness Harshan’s former career as a spaceship purser caused him to learn four languages! He speaks Halakanian, of course (that’s his native language), Fjarnian (that’s Homeland’s most widely spoken language), Thorgelfaynese, and some other language that keeps slipping my mind. Oh! I forgot English! He learned that in the last two years, so I guess he knows five languages.
During lunch—the food was delicious, by the way—Harshan suggested that we all take a guided tour of the spaceship. Darryl could hardly contain his excitement! He transformed himself into a culinary vacuum cleaner and finished eating in no time.
The tour was really grand. We saw all the passenger decks and the baggage area. We visited the hydroponics farm and the adjoining Biosphere Control Room—the details of humidity control and water reclamation was fascinating, even for me. The propulsion plant would have been more fun to see if it hadn’t been so noisy in there! (We had to wear special protective headphones for that.) We had a lengthy stop in the Observation Room as our guide explained how the viewscreen works and what sorts of things would be visible along our way. (Basically, for the lay person, nothing. Deep space is mostly boring.) We also heard the standard lecture about why the speed of light is the universal speed limit and why high speeds result in time distortion. This time, I’m proud to say, my Thorgelfaynese was good enough that I could even understand the explanation about how we Maneuver around that problem. As Harshan told me long ago, there are more ways to go than fast and slow!
The crew was amazed at Darryl: a little white Human child who could speak Thorgelfaynese, the language of scholars! I think Darryl’s enthusiasm made them take more time and go into greater detail than they would for the usual tour group.
That evening, we went to see a movie, but it was in Fjarnian. It was one of those standard epics about the earliest settlers of the Northwest continent of Homeland, so I could pretty much follow the plot without being able to understand what the characters were saying. Darryl fell asleep halfway through, even though it was an adventure movie. Harshan whispered a translation of the dialogue into my ear all the way through the movie—it had a hypnotic effect. Next thing I knew it was ship’s morning and we all woke up in our own cabin. Harshan said that he had to carry Darryl, and that I don’t remember walking back because I was half-asleep.
Fourthday, the Dth of Eighthmonth 459A
Goodness, it’s the thirteenth of Eighthmonth already! On the sixteenth, we get off at Alpha Centauri to catch the space-jitney to Earth. My, how time flies!
This afternoon, Darryl interrupted my reverie by the pool to complain that he had nothing to do.
“Nothing to do!” I exclaimed, “How can that be? You could go swimming!” He grimaced. “You could go to the library!”
“All the kid’s books in the Homelander section are in Fjarnian,” he whined.
That was a legitimate complaint. So I suggested a host of other activities, but he turned them all down. Oh well, I sighed, just a case of childhood blues.
Then I had an idea. “You’re going to have to brush up on your English so you can talk to Grandma,” I said.
His eyes lit up involuntarily.
“I have some science fiction in the cabin,” I said as enticingly as I could, “That’s your favorite!”
We went back to the cabin and spread the Human science-fiction books out all over the carpet. Books about knights in shining spaceships were among the first to go; and they were followed by the magic and fantasy stuff. We eliminated all the books about monsters, because they aren’t realistic, and because Darryl takes personal offense at them. (After all, from a Homelander point of view, Darryl is a creature from outer space!) We didn’t even give mythical or cuddly creatures a second glance.
In the end, my pile of thirty-two paperback books was reduced to only two. However, Darryl’s problem had evaporated in the meantime, and the swimming pool regained its allure.
Fifthday, the Eth of Eighthmonth 459A
I keep thinking that the weekend begins tomorrow, but that’s such a silly thought! We’ve had one huge weekend all week long. I’ve really enjoyed it all: exercise classes, movies, tours, lectures; activities of every kind that you can think of. I’ve never been on a luxury ocean cruise on Earth, but I imagine that this is what it’s like.
Today I met Ktornk, a Chernian woman on her way home from diplomatic service on Zerpick. She looks about my age (which means that she’s really older; Humans have slightly accelerated life spans), and she’s really quite good looking. We struck up a conversation after the exercise class, and decided to drink a cup of harng together on the third-level harngedern.
“You must be very excited about going home to Chern,” I said conversationally. “Imagine seeing all the Homelanderoid planets!” I was a tad envious of her interstellar travels.
“What’s that?” she said, looking up. “Oh! That term ‘Homelanderoid’ threw me for a moment,” she laughed. “Of course, everybody has their own term for that. On Chern, we talk about Chernoids. On Earth, I suppose you call us all ‘Earthoids’!”
“No,” I said a bit bashfully, “I think the term is ‘Humanoid’.”
“Well, that’s a relief!’ she winked as she sipped from her cup, “Somehow the word ‘Earthoids’ conjures up images of mud people!”
Then we talked about, gosh, everything! Diplomatic work out here in civilization isn’t life threatening like back on Earth, but it is still fascinating. Ktornk told me about all the different countries she’s been assigned to on Chern and on Zerpick.
“It must be fascinating, Katornk,” I said, “but doesn’t all this travel interfere with…”
“My name is not Katornk,” she gently corrected, “It’s Ktornk.”
I practiced saying Ktornk a few times until I could get it down to only one syllable.
“That’s very good!” Ktornk congratulated me with a smile. “Where I come from on Chern, Ktornk is a very common name for girls.” She tried to sip her harng, found the cup empty, and signaled to a waiter for another. “The ktornk is a gentle summer breeze that comes before the rain,” she reminisced. “Oh, I interrupted you. What were you going to ask?” The waiter delivered another cup of harng.
“I was about to ask what sort of impact all this has on your private life,” I asked excitedly.
“Oh, that,” she said flatly. “No, it has no effect at all for the simple reason that I don’t have a private life.”
“Oh,” I whispered weakly, afraid that I had inadvertently touched on a topic that was none of my business.
“No, in fact my boyfriend dumped me right before I left.” Her face looked like the sky right before a major storm. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she confessed with sudden emotion, “I can’t seem to do it right.”
After that we had a very intense personal conversation. I told her all about the social handicap I experienced on Earth with my eyelid birth defect (she flatly disbelieved me at first), how I stumbled on to the existence of the Homelanders, and received a grant to travel. Then I told her every embarrassing detail about how Harshan and I had found each other.
We both had a good cry over it all.
“That’s such an encouraging story,” Ktornk said. “True love was right on your doorstep, and you nearly ruined it through sheer disbelief!”
I nodded affirmatively. “Falling in love is like falling asleep,” I advised, “you can’t do it on purpose. It’s fragile when it starts; if you try to help it along, you kill it.”
“That’s very wise,” Ktornk observed with a far-away look. “It’s true! The nights I find myself trying hard to fall asleep are the same nights I have insomnia.”
That night, we all went to the dance marathon. Darryl won a prize in the children’s competition, but Harshan and I had to content ourselves with the pleasant memories.
Sixthday, the Fth of Eighthmonth 459A
Today was the day of the big fire! I would not have even known about it, except I happened to be walking down the main concourse when the Environment Patrol rushed by on their way to the second level. Apparently, some passenger who had permission to use an incense burner for religious purposes did not put it out properly. After he left his cabin, some of his papers caught on fire, and most of his belongings went up in a flash!
There wasn’t any serious damage to the spaceliner. They managed to clear the smoke so fast, that many people were surprised to learn that there had been a fire. Aside from passenger baggage, very little on a spaceship is flammable; but even little fires have a bad effect on atmospheric gases.
“Oh, this is all we need,” an impatient voice complained behind me, as we watched Environment Patrol pass by on their way back, “Now it’ll be nothing but salads, all the way to Chern!”
Seventhday, the 10th of Eighthmonth 459A
The sixteenth is here, and we’re all snug aboard the spacecraft to Earth… and I do mean ‘snug’! This place is teensy compared to the spaceliner. It looks like an ocean liner that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for some frumpy central European country.
We arrived at the Alpha Centauri Transfer point this morning at eleven o’clock in the morning. We had to wait an hour or two to board the ship, and then we had to wait even longer to get into space again. Darryl spent most of the time being cranky and bored. However, by noon everything was in order again and we were ready to put a nice lunch under our belts. Darryl sure was hungry. Harshan joked about putting ‘inedible’ labels on things to keep him from eating the uphostery off the chairs! I think Darryl took his father’s joke as a challenge to eat even more, because he spent the afternoon with indigestion.
Immediately after lunch, the three of us went to the cabin to take a nap. There’s not much to do on a little craft like this, so we’ll have to think of things to entertain ourselves for the four-day trip to Earth Watch Base on Earth’s Moon.
I found out this afternoon that this is the very ship on which I spent the first leg of my trip to Homeland! The ship on which Harshan and I met! It’s amazing how it seems to be more cramped and less modernistic than it was back then.
I know from her letters that Mother is doing quite well, but I can hardly wait to see her again. Just four more days and we’ll be back on Earth.