Wondertimes (Csodaidők) is a combination of science fiction and family saga. The first two volumes were published by a publishing house (Animus), the last two by the author’s small press company specially founded for these books—economically based on the readers who subscribed the long waited final parts after the original publisher decided to cancel the project.
Thirty-seven steps and a bit. That was the length of the hospital’s corridor. The way back, however, seemed a bit shorter—or was she taking longer steps? She didn’t know and she couldn’t even think about it as the pain of labour reverberated through her body again and again, with always shorter intervals as her time was nearing.
Seven, eight—she counted as she walked and thought of her husband, and of her father, her two dearest, except, of course, for that small life struggling out of her belly. The two men left not long ago, and it was she who had sent them away. The thing going on here wasn’t for men’s eyes, even though a lot of husbands chose to remain with their wives giving birth to their child. Malin wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea. Her mother had died years ago, so she couldn’t be there to support her.
Twenty-one, twenty-two—the next wave of pain was nearing, somewhere around thirty. Her sister-in-law, Nigra, had only returned home from here three weeks ago with her second-born son, after giving birth to her first son the year before. Malin could suddenly see her mother-in-law’s disapproving looks cast in her direction every now and then after the birth of Amraas, Nigra’s first-born. According to the tradition, she, Malin, should have given birth sooner than Nigra, because she was the first-born’s wife, and it would have been proper for the first heir to be born first, as the first-born’s first-born. But there had been her studies, and that two years of practical training, and she hadn’t really wanted to bear a child until she finished them. Her husband, Yaan, had agreed with her, and supported her with all his strength, but even he had been helpless against his mother’s critical looks.
Fortunately, the heir was now on his way, a boy, on the top it all—
The searing pain interrupted her thoughts again. Malin stopped, and supporting herself with her two hands against the wall, tried to breathe evenly. It wasn’t easy. She felt as if everything down from her stomach was about to be ripped out of her, and the pain spread across to the muscles of her inner thighs.
By the time the pain stopped, she was heaving as if she had been running for hours, and her knees bent in fatigue.
Nobody had told her beforehand that labour could take so long. More than seven hours by now.
No, still nothing. Giin still didn’t want to be born, though the interval between the pains was very short. And the most difficult part of it was about to begin.
Giin, yes, her son’s name would be Giin. Yaan too had agreed. She wasn’t willing to go on with that stupid tradition of calling every first-born Yaan, like her husband, her father-in-law or his father. His son’s name would be Giin, the useful, the advantageous, the best!
She stretched herself slightly, and she was about to take the next corridor length, all those thirty-seven steps and the bit, when the entrance door opened with a boom and two nurses appeared navigating a stretcher on which a very thin, pale girl was lying. Behind them a man was yelling, his face purple with rage. Before the door even closed, he threw a bag after the girl with a theatrical movement.
‘And don’t even think about returning home! If you were able to get knocked by that git, move in with him too! We don’t want an outer’s bastard in our house! The shame of it!’
One of the nurses turned back and closed the door.
Sheymon, sheymon, sheymon—the Nitan words were echoing in her ears even when the yelling couldn’t be heard any more. Bastard, illegal child, the shame of the family.
The sudden scene enthralled her so much that she forgot to count and the next wave of pain took her completely off guard. When she finally regained her composure, there was only the two of them in the corridor: she and the small woman who was crying quietly. The nurses had disappeared; one of them had probably gone to calm the irate father, and the other to look for a doctor.
‘How are you, luv?’ Malin stepped closer to the sobbing woman. She gasped when the woman turned her head towards her: the woman wasn’t really a woman at all. She was just a girl, not more than sixteen. ‘Calm down, everything will be all right,’ she added in a soft, calming voice and ran her hand on the long, brown, wavy hair. “Don’t pay attention to anything else, your baby needs you now—’
‘Sheymon,’ the girl said suddenly, interrupting Marlin’s soothing words. “I’ll call him Sheymon so that he will always know precisely whom he has to hate.’
Marlin, seeing the intense hatred glow, took a step back.
Boora ka-gila sasęs.
Anyone who hates is a murderer—she heard the Bokra’s words inside, but she couldn’t utter a word.
She was still standing numb even when the stretcher was carried out of her sight.
Chapter One – Judy
Judy once more swept over the document in her hand, then she just sat on the bed and stared at the floor. So many and so different feelings were swirling in her head that she didn’t know which one she should allow to sway her: she felt disappointed, sad, angry and lonely at the same time. But the word “lonely” wasn’t the right one to describe that she was feeling. She wasn’t lonely, but felt rejected, thrown away.
She slipped backward on the bed and pulled her legs up clutching them tightly to her chest, laid her chin on her knees and stared unblinkingly forward. She didn’t know for how long she sat in this position, and she didn’t remember when she had begun to rock herself, slowly, cautiously, back and forth, marring her skin with her nails. Later, she felt the salty taste of tears in the corner of her mouth, then she laid her face on her knees and let the crying overcome her.
When no more tears came, the only feeling remained was the cold pain in her chest. It was familiar; she had been living, waking and lying with it for years, even if its presence hadn’t been obvious all the time.
She sat on the bed for a while, but finally, she made up her mind, and searched for the slippers with her toes. When she found them, she slipped in them, tottered to the sink in the room and splashed cold water on her burning face. Lifting her head, she saw herself in the mirror. A reddened pair of brown eyes looked back at her, puffy from crying. Her light brown hair hung matted into her neck and forehead.
She hated her looks, but she hated her eyes the most. They were strange: light-brown with dark, almost black borders. But at least, she didn’t look like her mother. Her mother’s hair and eyes were dark brown, and she was thin, and beautiful, even though alcohol had damaged her face. Judy, on the other hand was short, fat and ugly. Most probably, she looked like her father.
She wiped her hands and face, and after a deep breath, she walked to her cupboard and out of its bottom, she pulled out the box she kept her “treasures” in. There weren’t too many things in there: she had never owned too many things, and naturally, this fact hadn’t changed when she had been placed in a six-bed room of a transitional children’s hostel.
She sat back on the bed and lifted the box into her lap.
Slowly, meticulously, she placed everything on the bed. Priceless rubbish, all of them. A brush with an ornate handle, she had never used it, a small mirror with pink rim, “From Mum” written on it, a handful of coloured ribbons, a hair-band and a clip, a bracelet, made of fake pearls, a small notebook, “Addresses”, decorated with stars, two karas, both of them musical, they were cheap and with records of low quality, a cup, adorned with green stars (“I love you”), a couple of dried roses, and a big heap of pictures.
These were all she had, her “treasures”. She received all of them from her mother, except for the small notebook which she put aside cautiously, while the others, with the exception of the pictures ended up back in the box. Then she sat down and began to pick the pictures out.
She and her mother at Marshon, that small town where they had been living until the age of six. Judy narrowed her eyes, cast a critical look at the laughing woman standing next to a small, plump girl, and threw the picture in the box.
She alone at the same place. The picture must have been taken at the same time, in winter, because everything was covered with snow, though the sky was clear and sharp. She put the picture on the notebook, and went on.
She and her mother already in Lassan, in the capital of the Star Union. They had moved there when Judy was six. In this picture, her mother wasn’t laughing any more, and wasn’t even smiling, but looked slightly annoyed. Next to her, she, Judy, at the age of eight, still plump and ugly.
Judy remembered the day the picture had been taken. It was a cold, windy day, a couple of days before her mother had been fired from her last job. She must have had problems with her job already, because she looked nervous.
Another one, Judy’s seventh birthday. This picture was too personal to be thrown out. Only her mother’s back could be seen in it anyway, and her hand, arranging something on the cake.
Her at the age of four: the first day of school, at Marshon, where her mother was smiling proudly at her. She put the picture in the box without a second thought.
And so on, and so on.
She had a lot of pictures, but her mother was in most of them, so after the selection only some twenty pictures remained. When she finished, she stood up, lifted the box under her arm, carried it to the closest garbage chute in the corridor, and hurled it in.
As the box snapped against the chute’s wall, a small pain stabbed her heart for a moment, but she shook it off.
When she returned to the room, she took the official document in her hand again. She remembered her mother when she had given this letter to her: those glassy eyes and sappy, teary fits of crying! Her mother had almost jumped on Judy, and hugged her, and whined aloud in the entrance hall of the hostel… Judy flinched in shame even now, as she thought of the scene. Finally, her mother had told her that she couldn’t remain with her today, and couldn’t bring her out for a walk, because she had had things to do.
Things to do!
Her mother hadn’t had “things to do” for ages, except to hunt for money for her drinks.
Her mother, after finishing crying, sat down facing her, blew her nose loudly into a handkerchief, and told her that the court had come to a decision on Judy’s final placement.
Judy had suddenly become all ears, and her heart was thumping madly in her chest, even though she had felt after her mother’s scene that she wouldn’t leave the children’s hostel, on the contrary, she would go from the transitional hostel to a permanent one. That she would be an orphan even with her mother alive.
Judy knew that at the age of eleven she was considered too old to be placed to a family. She knew that the court’s decision meant that she would remain in an institution until she turned eighteen, when she would have to begin a life on her own.
When her mother had given her the official document, Judy looked directly into her mother’s eyes. With a small, embarrassed smile, her mother turned her head away, and after a quick, alcohol-smelling kiss she had practically fled from the hostel. The plastic sheet trembled in Judy’s hand…
The Central Office of Children’s Welfare of Lassan concerning the placement of the minor Judy Fensson has reached the following, final decision:
Judy Fensson is to be placed in a permanent children’s institution within seven days after this ruling.
The reasons of the decision are:
1. Except for her mother, Syndy Fensson, Judy Fensson does not have any known living family members who could claim her guardianship.
2. No other family member or person is known who would claim her guardianship.
3. Her mother, Syndy Fensson who is considered unsuitable for looking after the child by the local CW authorities, and renounced her claim of the child’s guardianship.
The Office contacted the Niesi Charity Council concerning the child’s placement, and an officer from said Council will visit the child’s transitional hostel on 15-05-3920 1944 SGT (01-08-1277 0900 LT).
The letter shortly, but strictly stated that her previous life and hopes were over. After almost three years spent in a children’s hostel, her condition would be finalised. Her mother had rejected her, and chosen alcohol.
She didn’t know when she had begun to cry again, and didn’t even notice when somebody entered the room. She only looked up when somebody sat down next to her. It was Janka, the oldest girl in their room.
‘What happened?’ the girl asked, and Judy wordlessly gave the letter to her. Janka didn’t need any comments, she knew what was all about. Janka needed only a glance to understand what it was about. ‘The bitch!’ she murmured through her clenched teeth, and both knew whom she was thinking of.
For a while, none of them said anything, they just sat in silence.
‘What do you think will happen?’ Judy finally asked.
Janka caressed Judy’s hand. ‘I don’t know exactly,’ she said simply. ‘The day after tomorrow, a Niesi will come, and, I think, your mother, Mrs Tandin, and you will decide together where you will be placed.’
Judy swallowed, when Janka mentioned the word “Niesi”.
‘I don’t like Niesi people,’ she said softly.
‘Who likes them?’ Janka shrugged. ‘A weird lot.’
‘Will I have to live with them?’
‘Dunno. Don’t think so. They are just working there. And the kids will be like you.’
The door suddenly banged open, and Karyn marched into the room, Judy’s least favourite roommate. She was fifteen, like Janka.
‘What’s on?’ She looked at the two girls sitting together. ‘What’s this cuddling?
‘Shut up, idiot. Judy’s made permanent. She will go to an orphanage in a week,’ shot back Janka angrily.
Karyn smirked widely. ‘Oh, will you go to the cloakeds? Don’t forget to write me if they’re all faggots.’
‘Karyn!’ Janka snapped menacingly.
‘Why? Everybody says so,’ the girl shrugged. ‘And that they keep the most beautiful boys and girls for special ah… services.’ She winked, and measured Judy. ‘But, of course, you don’t have to worry.’
‘Go to hell, Karyn,’ Judy hissed, and her previous, bad feelings about the Niesi people lessened considerably. If Karyn dislikes them, they must be really nice. Her mother hated them too.
But Karyn didn’t want to go. She pulled up a chair facing them and sat down.
‘Let’s put together everything we know about them. Don’t let Judy go without the necessary information.’
‘Let us alone, Karyn!’ Janka said. ‘Nobody is interested in your nonsense.
‘I know a lot of things about them.’ Karyn lifted her head. ‘Father worked for the EN-RA for almost ten years, before he became a communionist.’
‘Communionist?’ Judy asked.
‘Communion is a trade union which fights against the Niesi oppression and enslavement. Everybody who hates Niesis can be a member. But back to the EN-RA, that’s a Niesi company, one of the biggest. Father told me ‘bout them. That they have secret and dangerous things. You know that they live separated everywhere, don’t live together with normal people, but they have their own cities and governments, kinda religious governments and stuff. Their priests lead them and decide in everything. And they’re preparing to take over every important position and to make their religion the only legal one. And I heard that they eat the flesh of dead people, and they eat the meat raw, too. And they have secret weapons which can influence the people’s minds.’
‘That’s stupid. Nobody eats dead people.’ Janka shuddered with disgust.
Karyn, however, put on a serious expression and leaned forward slightly. ‘They call their funerals “banquets”. First, they eat the dead, and they put the leftovers in rugs and bury them.’
‘Nobody would do that,’ Judy said firmly.
‘That’s a part of their religion. To keep the dead people with the family,’ Karyn insisted. ‘Father saw that written in their books.’
‘I don’t believe your father can read at all,’ said Janka shaking her head. ‘If it was true, the government would have already stopped their cult.’
‘The government is bribed. You know how rich they are. The EN-RA isn’t the only company of theirs. They own the Kavenair, the Unken, the Raas firms, and even the NiTec which is the richest company in the universe. Father said, and many others say it too, that they have bought the president. And not only here. But when Martyn is the president…’
‘Martyn? Who’s this Martyn?’ Judy asked mistrustfully. Listening to Karyn, she felt the falseness and the hatred in the other girl’s voice which repulsed her.
‘The leader of the Unionist Party,’ Karyn said with disdain in her voice. ‘Someday, he will be the president of the SU and he will put the whole Niesi lot straight! Father said so.’
‘And how do you know he won’t be bribed too?’ Janka smirked. ‘If they bribe everybody, they will bribe him too.’
‘No! He can’t be bribed!’
‘You’re an idiot. Everybody can be bribed, except for the very rich,’ Janka replied.
‘But not him! Because he wants us, outers, to have money, and he plans to take the money from them and give it to us!’
Janka laughed. ‘Come on, why would he do that? Even if he does take the money from them, he will keep it for himself. We’ll never be given any money.’
This remark lessened Karyn’s enthusiasm a bit. ‘But at least, the money will be ours and not theirs!’
‘The money will not be ours, but his. Martyn’s. And, tell me, if the Niesi people are really so rich, why do you think it will be so easy to take their money from them?’ Janka shot back.
‘They’re cowards. They’re only brave when it comes to kids, but otherwise they’re cowards and run. All of history shows that. In every war, they always run away like rats, to save their money, and their skins.’
‘If that’s true,’ Janka smirked again ‘then probably when your Martyn attacks them, they will disappear with their money, and that’s that.’
‘Sooner or later, everybody will be fed up with them. They hate them everywhere. Everywhere and everybody.’
Even after a couple of hours, Judy was still under the effect of the conversation. She lay on her bed listening to the others’ even breathing, and, for the first time in her life, she was afraid of what the future could bring. She didn’t believe any of Karyn’s nonsense, but Janka later told her that Niesi people were mentalists. Janka wanted to become a psicheducator, so she was a quasi-expert of the field.
‘There’s no agreement about what they really can do. More than us, that’s sure, but they keep everything in secret. There are some of them who are so skilled mentalist that we can’t even imagine it. Perhaps they can even read thoughts. Who knows? One thing is sure: they can do more than us, because their judicial system is based on mentally skilled people who consider not only physical, but even mental evidence.
‘The judges can sense whether a witness is lying or not.’
Even though Janka told her that they aren’t as dangerous as people say, if they had been, they could have protected themselves from all those who had attacked them—and there had been many in the past.
As for the other things, that they molested children was certainly a lie. Judy knew about a lot of girls who, like her, ended up in an orphanage, and when they wrote back to their friends, they complained about the strictness and the austerity in their conditions, but not about abuse or aggression.
But Judy didn’t like either “strictness” or “austerity”, even though she didn’t own anything, and it was hardly possible for any condition to be more austere than what she was in.
She curled up in a foetal position, and pulled the blanket over her head, and thought of her father—she loved daydreaming about him.
Her mother hardly ever talked about her father, as if he had never existed, and Judy had often suspected that she hadn’t even known who it had been. He had to be white-skinned, like her mother was, because she, Judy, was white as well. He was a high-ranked leader, cold and arrogant: that had been all the information her mother had shared with her, nothing else, no name, no picture. So Judy always pictured for herself a handsome and tall man (which was unlikely considering Judy’s small stature), with fair hair and blue eyes, a man who would someday just open the door to their room and ask for Judy Fensson. And she would answer that it was her, and her father would smile at her and bring her away from here.
In her dreams, her father was rich and lived in a beautiful house, alone, of course, with no wife and kids so that he could spend all his free time with Judy. He would bring her for walks to the beach (because, obviously, the house would be situated at the seaside) and to other places, even on a space trip. In her father’s house there was always a lot of food, and she could eat as much as she wanted. And she would have normal, fashionable clothes, not others’ hand-me-downs she had worn when she had been living with her mother or that cheap, hideous and uncomfortable attire she had been given in the hostel, but lovely and comfortable clothes, and she would come here, to the hostel, and she would show the girls that there was somebody who wanted her for keeping, who loved her and gave her anything she wanted…
And she went on with her dreams, meticulously picturing the room that would be hers and hers alone, and its furniture with painstaking precision, until these dreams finally claimed her and she fell asleep, smiling.
The dreams, however, didn’t want to come true. And so, two days later at nine o’clock in the morning, Judy made an appearance in Mrs Tandin’s office, obediently, but with a face white as chalk.
The headmistress wasn’t alone. She was chatting cheerily with a man, whom she obviously knew quite well. When Judy entered, both stood up, and Mrs Tandin waved Judy closer.
‘Jondan-ra, let me introduce you to Judy Fensson.’
Judy saw immediately that the man was Niesi. He wore a strange, cloak-like robe clasped by a broad belt around his waist. There were a lot of different things hanging from it whose function she couldn’t even guess. The man wasn’t tall, quite on the contrary, he was podgy with a round, smiling face.
‘Jondan Otere.’ He bowed slightly to Judy who suddenly became embarrassed. Bow?
The man most definitely didn’t look like those phantoms she had imagined to herself. He seemed absolutely typical, only his clothes were different from the usual.
‘Judy Fensson,’ she blurted out finally, and courteously, she took her identity card from her pocket and put it forward. The man straightened himself and touched the card with his right index finger, but he didn’t take out his card.
‘We don’t have identity cards, Miss Fensson,’ the man said as if he were reading her mind. ‘We greet each other with a bow. May I call you Judy?’
Judy nodded and bowed very, very slightly. The man smiled at her and motioned for her to sit.
‘Is your mother here?’ Mrs Tandin asked and Judy shook her head.
‘I didn’t see her. Why? Should she be here?’
‘She didn’t tell me she wouldn’t come.’ The headmistress’s eyes narrowed and Judy knew she was angry. ‘If you excuse me.’ The headmistress looked at the Niesi, who nodded, and she left the room.
‘Mrs Tandin showed me your study report,’ the man said and Judy tore her eyes from the door. The study report! Where would she be placed with all those average marks in it? ‘Have you ever thought about what you would like to study later on?’
No, Judy had never thought about it. She hated studying, now and forever. So, she just shrugged.
‘I’m not really interested in studying,’ she said annoyed.
‘It’s not about studying. Do you have something you’re interested in?’
Judy bit her lower lip in thought.
‘I like chess,’ she said but it sounded too childish, so she hastily added, ‘And I like reading. But novels only.’
‘Are you interested in literature?’
Judy shrugged again. ‘The teachers make us read a lot of boring stuff. We have to write dull essays. I don’t like it.’
‘What do you want to become as an adult?’ The man’s patience seemed endless.
Rich. Independent. Not an orphan, Judy thought, but she didn’t say it out loud.
‘Dunno. Something unusual. And… far from here.’
The man fell silent, and scrutinised Judy with his eyes. Long minutes passed in silence.
‘There is an institution where you could study Niesi language and literature.’
Finally! The first thing that sounded exciting, something else, something new. Something Karyn despises and her mother finds repugnant. For that very reason she became enthusiastic.
‘Niesi language? Is there a Niesi language?’
‘Yes. It’s called Nitan. And all the Niesi books are written in this language.’
Judy leaned forward, her eyes bright in excitement. She spoke Lish only, the common language of the university, and even though she knew that many languages and dialects existed—especially on the Earth —she had never found them exciting. But studying Nitan was a completely different thing. Her mother would hate it. That was enough.
‘Where could I study all this?’
‘In any Niesi school. But since you are not Niesi, you can’t go there. We have to find an institute where you can study. What do you think about the Shremeya?
Shremeya? That was further than Alpha. Excellent.
‘Sure,’ she said immediately.
‘I must check whether they can take you in.’ The man pulled out a narrow deta from his belt, and opened it. Judy looked it with interest.
‘What’s that list?’
The door opened, and the headmistress returned, still alone.
‘Your mother apparently doesn’t consider it important enough to make an appearance at this meeting,’ she said coldly, but Judy felt that the cold remark wasn’t directed at her, so she didn’t react. ‘What are you looking at?’ she asked and sat next to them.
‘Otere,’ the man helped her along gently.
‘Mr Otere showed me a list of schools where I could study Niesi language and literature.’
‘I thought,’ Mr Otere continued, ‘that we could place Judy in an institution where she could receive training suited to her skills. I think Shremeya would be the best, but, of course, it’s her choice.’
‘Shremeya?’ the generally calm and collected Mrs Tandin was obviously taken aback. ‘But that’s on another planet! You have institutes here, too. Or… are Judy’s marks so high?’
Judy turned bright red.
‘Judy and I were thinking of these schools because of her skills, not the study marks,’ the man said tactfully, and Judy sent a grateful glance to his direction.
Shremeya – another planet, another solar system. If she chose that way, it was almost absolutely sure she would never meet her mother again.
‘Skills?’ asked Mrs Tandin. ‘What skills?’
‘There’s more to this girl than that meets the eyes,’ answered Mr Otere with perfect tranquillity.
‘I’d like to go to Shremeya,’ Judy said firmly. Mr Otere was the first person who had found any skill in her.
‘Your mother–’ the headmistress began, but Judy interrupted her.
‘She rejected me. I don’t want to see her ag––’
‘Naturally, we can organise meetings for the two of them from time to time,’ Mr Otere said softly. ‘And if Judy can’t adapt herself there, she can come back to SU-1.’
‘I don’t want to come back,’ she said stubbornly.
‘Then you don’t have to.’ The man didn’t lose his patience. ‘Is it Shremeya then?’
‘Yes.’ Judy folded her arms over her chest and cast a challenging look at the headmistress. Mrs Tandin shook her head disapprovingly, and when the man opened his deta and began to work, she motioned Judy to the other end of the room, where the windows looked on to the backyard, where the playground was.
‘Judy, since you don’t go home from here, the rules in your case are different. You don’t have to give back your clothes and the other things you were given here. However, you have to give your identity card to me before leaving, because until your coming of age, you will be a Niesi citizen, because a Niesi authority, the Kaven, will formally adopt you the moment we release you.’
The almost forgotten fears returned.
‘Does it always happen this way?’ Judy asked. ‘With everybody else?’
Mrs Tandin nodded. ‘Yes, but it’s all just formalities. Jondan-ra, are you ready?’ as the headmistress turned to the man.
‘Yes, the institute of Blulant is ready to take Judy in.’
Judy nodded, and suddenly came to her mind that she didn’t know anybody who went to an institute to another planet. She didn’t know everybody, of course, there were too many children here.
‘Your ship to Shremeya will depart at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, so we have to leave from here about 5 o’clock to be in Aldimaar in time.
‘Tomorrow?’ Judy’s breath hitched. ‘So soon?’
‘That’s the time of the weekly service. Can you be ready by then?’
‘Judy, Mr Otere has other cases beside yours. Jondan-ra, Judy will be ready by tomorrow morning.’
Judy wanted to protest that it would be too soon, but she changed her mind.
She would travel in a spaceship, and she would live on another planet! She would learn a new language, she would meet new people, and perhaps even her life would take a turn for the better! It wouldn’t be too difficulty anyway…
As for the other things: she would face them when she met them.
The entrance hall of the hostel now, in the greyness of the dawn, seemed even huger than normally. If she lifted her head, she could see the corridors all around, with doors and alcoves, and with a lot of different plants and flowers which made the hall look like a gigantic green house.
More than six hundred girls lived here. The boy’s hostel was half kilometre from here, but the older girls made long trip to that direction, and of course, the front garden of the building was often full of boys waiting for their girlfriends or somebody they could just pick up. Judy hated them, because they always laughed at her and mocked her that she was ugly and that nobody would ever want her.
She hated her school too, because she was the only white in the class, and the ugliest, fattest and clumsiest at that. Her classmates always mocked and hurt her, so she didn’t have any friends there. Nobody wanted to be refused because of her.
This life would end now.
She sat on her suitcase and tried to suppress her trembling. She was cold because of the early waking, and felt a bit lonely, too. The thought of her mother filled her with bitterness: she was there, in this city, and still, far away from her.
A quiet gong signalled that Mr Otere had arrived, and the teacher on duty let Judy out after a short good-bye.
The parking place was near to the building, and there were only a few vehicles. Judy guessed immediately which one was Mr Otere’s: it was a red and silver coloured, streamlined constructed vehicle, with an emblem on its front: an emerald green cross with a semicircular arch of similarly coloured stars over it. The vehicle seemed small from outside, but inside it was high enough for a man to stand up comfortably, and there was enough room for six people. Its control panel was so simple that Judy couldn’t see anything the vehicle could be navigated with.
‘Is it entirely automatic?’
‘No, not always,’ the man replied and sat down in the chair in front of the control panel. ‘Only if I have to make a high-speed flight, then I switch it to work in automatic mode.’
‘And now? Are we going to have a high-speed flight?’
‘Aldimaar is very far from here, on the opposite side of the planet. The travel there is almost two and a half hours at high speed.’
‘So, it’s in the third continent, isn’t it?’ Judy could barely restrain herself, the excitement took her morning tiredness and tension away.
‘Yes. But now, fasten your belt, because we’ll depart soon.’
Judy collapsed to the other chair and fastened the belt. ‘We’ll fly in the stratosphere then, won’t we?’ she asked curiously.
‘I see that you know quite a lot about flying.’ Judy nodded vigorously, but she didn’t add that she conjured all her knowledge from adventure stories. ‘Ideally, that would be the fastest way,’ Mr Otere went on. ‘But in most planets that sphere is reserved for space and freight transportation services. We’ll fly all the way at the average height, which is 9000 metres.’
Judy thought that the writers of those adventure stories probably hadn’t heard about this limitation, and smirked. Then the vehicle suddenly moved and began to rise vertically. The vertical flight was short, and they soon were directed to a low airway.
Judy peeked out of the window curiously; she didn’t have many experiences with flying. She had never associated with people who had the luxury of a personal vehicle. The city slowly moved underneath them and Judy saw the river. She had been living by the river before she had been brought to the hostel. From this height she could see easily the vehicles and the people. As they moved on, their vehicle rose to a higher airway and got into the climbing line where three other vehicles had already been before them, and, with a sudden pressure on their bodies, the vehicle began to ascend with an unbelievable speed, and the next moment, Lassan shrank under them and slipped behind so that Judy could have seen it only if she turned around. But she looked forward instead, happily eyeing the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, the forests and the settlements; the scenes were changing rapidly.
She had never flown this high and this quickly. First, it seemed that they would be at their destination in no time, but after half an hour Judy grew bored and looked at her travelling companion who was reading something on the screen of the control panel.
‘How long does it take to get there?’ she asked somehow timidly.
The man straightened up and looked at her. ‘More than two hours. In reality, we took off right now. Have you ever been in space?’
‘Aren’t you nervous?’
‘But of course! But this isn’t a bad kind of nervousness. The ship I will travel with is Niesi, isn’t it?’
‘Of course. Why?’
‘Then I will be the only er… outer.’
‘Probably, yes,’ the man agreed.
‘How will I talk to them?’ she asked anxiously. ‘I don’t speak that… Nitan or stuff.’
‘Yes, Nitan. But it doesn’t matter, every Niesi person speaks Lish.’
‘Oh.’ Judy sighed with relief. ‘There will be no problems then.’
‘Why should there? Anyway, I asked a couple to look after you during the travel. They promised me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll like Shremeya.’
Judy nodded. ‘But if you speak Lish, why do you need another language?’
‘Nitan is the language of science and literature.’
‘And of religion??’ Judy asked softly.
‘Yes, of religion too. But religion means another thing for us than for you,’ the man said carefully.
‘Another thing?’ Judy asked suspiciously. ‘Is it true that your priests are really your leaders?’ she added when Karyn’s words came to her mind.
‘That’s a bit more complicated than that, Judy,’ he said but seeing the girl’s furrowed brows, he laughed. ‘But we have plenty of time. We have a lot of different kind of priests as you call them, and they have different tasks. There are those whose best field was law in school, and they will become judges or policemen or “priests”. And there are those who prefer medicine during their studies. They will be the leaders of the hospitals and health services. And other ones who studied more pedagogy. They will be the leaders of schools or orphan institutions–’
‘Like you,’ Judy interjected. Mr Otere laughed.
‘Yes, like me, too.’
‘And is it true that you can read minds?’
Mr Otere’s face became withdrawn. ‘No,’ he said slowly, considering his words. ‘Nobody can read minds. But those who want to be leaders have to learn how to sense the other people’s feelings and emotions.’
‘So you know what I feel?’
‘Judy, not everybody’s feelings are easy to sense. And not every leader is equally good at it. I don’t know what you feel.’
‘And the other passengers? Will they know?’
‘There are no “leaders” among them.’
Judy sighed in relief.
‘Why did Mrs Tandin call you in a funny way in her office?’ – she asked as the next question popped out of her mind.
‘Jondan is my first name. In our society, if somebody wants to be polite, they will use the first name and add the word ‘ra’ to the end. It sounds very polite for us, like when you call me Mr Otere.’
‘Why don’t you use your family name?’
‘Judy, our society is completely different from yours. We have different families. My being Otere means I belong to a family community called Otere.’
‘A big family living together.’
‘Big family? How big?’ Judy felt extremely stupid, but she simply couldn’t understand the man’s words.
‘A big family consists not only of parents and their kids, but grandparents, great-grandparents and other relatives together. Sixty-seventy people altogether.’
‘But that’s enormous!’
‘Whoever marries, doesn’t move to a separate house, but receives a flat in the family’s big house. So in a family there live together parents, kids, cousins, second cousins, aunts and uncles.
‘That sounds fantastic,’ Judy said longingly. ‘I don’t know any of my relatives, just my Mum. And how big is your family?’
‘It has seventy-one members.’
Judy didn’t say anything for a while, she needed some time to digest the information.
‘And how do you greet each other in Nitan?’
‘It depends. The greeting “Ka-raa saaka” is the most general, it means: good day.’
‘Ka-raa saaka, ka-raa saaka,’ Judy repeated. ‘And how do you say good bye?’
‘This is like the other one.’
‘In your language too.’
‘Oh, you’re right!’ Judy smirked widely.
The next half an hour passed with memorising the most basic words of Nitan language while they were flying over the planet’s ocean. And then Judy remembered a question she had been thinking of for days.
‘Jondan-ra, why were there so many different languages on the Earth, and now, why is there only one even though we live in different planets?’
‘It’s because geographic isolation. If you isolate a group of people from another, and you keep them apart from centuries, both group’s language will change, and it will become two different languages. The longer the duration of separation is and the more different their living and historical conditions are, the bigger the difference between the two languages will be.
‘But how could they be so isolated on the Earth? That’s only one planet!’
Mr Otere laughed. ‘Look, Judy. In the next two weeks, you will travel a distance of 75 light-years. In the old times, messengers, if they had relay horses every thirty kilometres and very well-constructed roads available, could make a distance of 200 kilometres per day. But that was the maximum: they were usually able to only travel less than this, and they couldn’t keep that speed for two weeks. But let’s suppose that they could: in that case, they could cover about 3000 kilometres. With a calash, they could make 60 kilometres per day at the very most. With a heavily laden cart the distance is only 30 kilometres per day.
‘30 kilometres? But that’s nothing!’
‘This is what I’m saying. If two nations lived, say, 200 kilometres from each other, and there even was a mountain between them, then the chance of regular meetings and normal relationship is quite slight.’
‘That was invented later than the languages. Much later.’
It sounded logical.
‘I see,’ Judy said deep in thought. ‘But how did your language come to be? Is it from the old Earth?’
‘Good question.’ The man nodded seriously. ‘Yes and no. Did you learn about space colonisation?’
‘Yes,’ Judy answered. ‘But just basic stuff. I know that Alpha was the first populated planet, and then the Orion and the New Africa, and they were wars, and the Orion began to expand, and wars again… I simply couldn’t follow it. Almost two thousand years and wars and wars…’
‘Human history is our wars’ history, Judy,’ Mr Otere said darkly. ‘But the first populated planet wasn’t Alpha, but New Earth, Nies in Nita, though the Earth didn’t know about its existence for centuries, because it was the consequence of an unsuccessful space expedition.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘The first spaceship never arrived at the planet it had been sent to. People on the Earth thought that the expedition had failed, but it settled down on a planet far away from the Earth and was unable to let the Earth know about their survival and existence.’
‘Why? At that time they had telecommunications!’
‘Yes, they had, but not hyperspatial. Anyway, if you don’t know where an object is, you can’t send a message to it.’
‘So people who lived there spoke Nitan.’
‘This is why you are so different from us?’
‘Yes. But if you are curious about Nies’s history, there will be plenty of information in the place you’re going to. Many experts think that the Shremeya is the modern name of Nies. There is a long-standing debate about it, but I’m sure you can find as much material as you want.’
‘Dunno,’ Judy thought of the lost expedition. ‘It had to be very exciting to begin everything over on an empty planet!’
‘Adults have another opinion about this, Judy,’ Mr Otere said.
Apparently, adults were obstinate everywhere, Niesi or not, Judy thought to herself.
Judy didn’t have to wait for long to board: as soon as she arrived, she was put into the couple’s care, but before she could disappear from the man’s sight, Mr Otere pulled her aside and put a kara with an ornate cover into her hand.
‘This is a Bokra. I have no time to explain what it is precisely, but you’ll learn it soon. I thought I’d give it to you, because this is the only Nitan book with me, and I have another one anyway. Take care, Judy, and I wish you good luck!’
Mr Otere was nice, but the couple didn’t seem too kind. They seemed to be in their fifties. Both were tall, almost two metres, with light hair and eyes. The man wore a severe expression, and he had a sharp look in his blue eyes under which Judy felt squirming. The woman was softer, her glance more friendly.
‘You are Judy Fensson, aren’t you?’ the women broke the silence, and Judy’s hand almost went to her pocket to pull out her identity card for the proper greeting, but half-way there she remembered that she didn’t have her card anymore, and that it wasn’t the way to greet Niesi people.
‘I’m Norin Falk.’ The woman bowed slightly and Judy sighed to herself, relieved. The bowing!
‘Judy Fensson,’ she said and bowed awkwardly, then looked at the man.
‘Boron Falk,’ he said and nodded shortly. Judy wasn’t sure what was right in a case like this, so she bowed again. ‘Your baggage?’ the man asked. He had a cold, slightly annoyed tone.
‘Mr Otere had already left it at the check-in desk.’
The man nodded and turned around. From his behaviour it was evident that he wanted them to follow him.
‘Boron,’ his wife called after him. ‘Naa bii akoota!’
‘Vaay dęshokaadęrve k-otsaada-sę-blada-te?’ he snapped back turning his head around. The sentence sounded like a question, but the words were hard and quick and Judy knew that they talked about her.
The word made the man turn around. He shrugged and waited for the two women to catch up with him. Judy kept her eyes strictly on the ground, and tried to pretend she wasn’t there.
When they reached the plane, she lifted her eyes and saw how huge it was. Judy had never seen anything as big as this stratosphere plane which was to bring them to the orbital docks where they would transfer to the spaceship. It was matt grey, its shape was like an airplane’s, without windows.
The first stair, however, was too high, and Judy hesitated a little. But when she lifted her leg, she saw a reached hand in front of her.
‘Grab it,’ she heard Mr… no, Boron-ra’s voice and put her small hand promptly to the bigger one. A strong pull, and she was on it.
‘Tenęmu Boron-ra,’ Judy said trying to mimic the tone Jondan-ra had used.
The man was surprised for a moment, then furrowed his brows.
‘That’s not correct. Either “tenęm Boron-ra” or “tenęmRa”,’ he said finally, and turning hurried up on the stairs.
‘I see,’ Judy said a little bit down-hearted.
When she reached the door, she cast a last glance to the planet of SU-1.
‘Three days ago I didn’t know what Nitan was,’ she noted to herself, and entered the plane.
Translated by the author
Etelka Görgey (penname: Raana Raas, who is also a character in the novel) is a Hungarian writer and translator, also a Protestant pastor and an expert on Hebraistic studies. Her first published novel is Wondertimes. Now she is working mainly on translations.
Official homepage: http://www.csodaidok.hu
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