“Where’s home?” Atica asked as she rubbed her eyes and gazed out the window.
Braxas pointed to the sky. “Just there. See the bright star in the center? Now look just a bit to your left. That’s your homeworld, Allura, in the Andromeda Galaxy.”
“Will I ever see it again?”
“Someday. Don’t despair, Atica,” Braxas assured her as he guided her back to bed. “Sleep well. I will see you again soon.”
Atica crawled into her bed and grabbed her stuffed bunny. As she snuggled into her covers, she watched Braxas wink at her and then fade away.
Like so many other orphans scattered across the Universe, Atica had been aboard the Dilectia, an enormous expedition ship exploring deep space when it came under attack. The parents placed their children in pods and cast them out into the vast expanse, much like seedlings from an Earthly dandelion, dispersed by solar winds. At the age of six, Atica landed on Marmooth, a small planet occupied by bipeds, like herself. She’d been accepted into a caring family consisting of two mothers and two fathers and their eight children, but Atica never felt a part of them. She was not a Marmoothian and never would be.
Atica’s only salvation was the nightly visits from Braxas, a hologram who’d been placed aboard the computer on her pod. Unfortunately, he was only a Model-2 ATH – Andromedan Tutor Hologram – and had just enough power for a few hours of evening courses. He taught her all about the known Universe, about Allura, and about her parents. All things to keep her memory barely intact. When he left her each night, Atica imagined him returning to the pod that still sat in the back yard of the house she occupied with the Klaufk family. He’d be kicked back in a reclined seat, sipping a fizzy with his body hooked into the matrix to recharge. It was a silly story she told herself. She knew full well that when Braxas disappeared each night, he became the matrix, nothing but bits and bytes of data.
As she closed her eyes, Atica thought about her parents. They were both engineers and had been so proud for the chance to serve aboard the Dilectia. Atica had only been three when they’d boarded the ship, but she remembered so clearly playing in the zero-gravity school room while her parents worked. A tear fell from her clinched eyes as she recalled the horrible explosions that pelted the ship minutes before she was cast off by her mother. She could still see her mother’s red, tear-soaked face as she said her final goodbyes.
“If we survive, we will come for you,” her mother had promised as she buckled Atica into the small seat. “We love you, Atica.”
It had been three years. Atica no longer had hope that she would see her parents again. Somedays, she feared she would never return to Allura either. Had the Captain not sent a distress signal back to Andromeda? Her pod had a tracking chip in it. Surely someone would come for her, even if her parents hadn’t survived.
These were thoughts that kept young Atica awake at night. Thoughts that she dragged around all day like ghosts. Her mind recalled the mournful eulogy the Captain said each time someone had been killed or lost in space. Words she could never forget. Words she repeated each night as she drifted off to sleep.
We mourn the loss of…. And cast back to the Universe our brethren. Those who came from stardust and now return to stardust. May the light of Andromeda bring your spirits home again.
As she fell into a deep sleep, Atica wished to be lost, to be stardust, riding the solar winds back to Andromeda.
Each morning began the same. Her adopted sisters, Sasine and Elanta, who were close to Atica’s age, would jump on her bed to awaken her. They were the only three too young to join a trade school and remained home with the mothers. Atica still couldn’t bring herself to call them Mama, so instead she called them Mata G and Mata C, mata being a word of endearment on Allura. G stood for Gladia and C stood for Cristasha, the women’s given names. They’d both accepted Atica’s words for them. Even Sasine and Elanta used them on occasion. The fathers weren’t as accepting. They didn’t like being called Dal M or Dal T and insisted upon being called Papa. Atica tried every way she could to keep from addressing them, often directing all her words to the Matas.
“Mata G says we can help her in the garden this morning,” Sasine informed Atica as she helped braid Atica’s long white hair.
Elanta rummaged through the closet. “We should all wear matching shorts and tops. Then we’ll be the same.”
Atica stared at herself in the mirror. She would never be the same as Sasine and Elanta. They had copper skin, long black hair, and deep green eyes. Atica was as pale as the light blue seas of Marmooth, and with her cobalt eyes and her white hair, she stood out regardless of how she dressed. Despite the agony of the reminded contrast, she smiled at Elanta and nodded her head. She couldn’t refuse Sasine or Elanta anything.
With their matching outfits and braided hair, the three clambered down the stairs and into the kitchen. They expected to see Mata C at the stove cooking breakfast, but she was nowhere to be found and there was no food laid out for them. Sasine and Elanta didn’t seem at all bothered by their missing mother, but Atica fretted and paced the floor.
“Don’t worry, Atica. You know our mamas disappear sometimes,” Sasine said as she dragged a chair to a cupboard, climbed onto it and gathered three bowls.
Atica sighed. “But never at breakfast.”
Elanta gathered cereal and milk and sat them on the table. She glided by Atica, patted her on the shoulder and chuckled. “Our poor sisling doesn’t like change.”
Atica cringed at the word sisling which meant adopted sister. It reminded her once more that she was not a part of the Klaufk family. It was true though. She didn’t like change. She ignored Elanta’s teasing and walked out onto the cobblestone patio, looked over the edge of the wall and out into the garden. Mata G was nowhere to be found either.
“They’re both missing,” she announced as she rejoined Sasine and Elanta in the kitchen. She plopped down in a chair, frowning.
Sasine poured the green and purple cereal into each of the three bowls, covered it with milk and sat a bowl in front of Atica. “Eat. They’ll be back when they get back.”
In all this time with the Matas, Atica still didn’t understand why they disappeared periodically. Usually it would be just one or the other, but since Sasine turned ten a week prior, they’d given her more responsibilities. It was apparent that now she was also their babysitter.
“Aren’t you just a tiny bit curious?” Atica asked, staring at Sasine and lifting a spoonful of cereal to her mouth.
Sasine shrugged her shoulders. “I will know soon enough. No sense in rushing my childhood.”
They’d had similar conversations in the past, but this was the first time Sasine had alluded that she too would go through this. Did all the Marmoothian women disappear for a bit?
“How do you know you will know soon?”
“Our mamas told me.”
“But they didn’t tell you why?”
“And you didn’t think to ask?”
Sasine sighed. “I am not as curious as you are, Atica. When it is my time to know, I will know.”
Elanta slurped her milk and then looked up at Atica, grinning wide with a milk moustache. “I will know some day too.”
“So, this is a Marmoothian thing.”
Sasine nodded. “Our papas disappear too. We just don’t see it since they work all the time.”
“Will I disappear?”
Sasine and Elanta glanced at one another for a long moment, and then with scrunched up faces, they looked back at Atica. In unison, they replied, “I don’t know.”
Atica folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair. “I’ll never get used to this place,” she said with a sigh.
The three toiled in the garden all morning. Sasine tended the matarask fruit trees which yielded a sweet, honey-like purplish-blue fruit. The limbs had to be pruned often or they would entangle themselves with the other fruit trees and bear poisonous fruit. Elanta pulled weeds along the rows of lettuces and other greens. She enjoyed being close to the ground so she could play with various beetles and worms. This meant that Atica got the nastiest of jobs – wheeling barrels of manure and water to the garden and dispersing them.
Every now and again, Atica stopped, wiped her brow, and looked up into the pink sky. She tried to imagine what the sky looked like on Allura, but she’d only seen pictures of home on the vast holowalls in the suite she’d shared with her parents on the Dilectia. Her memories of then were fading with each passing day. Had the skies been periwinkle? She struggled to remember, but failed. She’d have to ask Braxas. It was nearing high-noon which meant Atica would have to go inside. Her skin couldn’t handle the heat of midday.
“I’m going in now,” she yelled at Sasine, who merely waved in acknowledgement.
By the time Atica reached the shade of the house, her skin burned. She’d stayed out too long. She went up to her room and walked into the small closet-like chamber the Klaufk Dals had built for her. She closed the door, sat down on the coolness of the crystal bench, and let out a relieved sigh. This small floor-to-ceiling crystal room was all she had to connect her to Allura. She closed her eyes. In her mind, she could hear Braxas speaking.
The cities of crystals. Streets, buildings, even the saunas, all filled with crystals. The mountains of crystals beaten by the clear aquamarine oceans. That is Allura, my sweet Atica. That is home.
Atica curled up on the bench and fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of Allura, far away in Andromeda.
Andromeda Dreaming is a YA Science Fiction story. Young Atica has been marooned on an alien world, adopted by a family there. She longs for her parents who may or may not be alive, and Allura, her homewold in the Andromeda Galaxy. Will she ever see her parents again? Or will she have to accept a life on the foreign planet Marmooth where she fears she will never fit in?
Andromeda Dreaming ©2016-2017 Lori Carlson. All rights reserved. Permission must be granted to distribute or copy this serial (unless reblogging). Thank you.
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