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Birthdays rolled around far too quickly on Marmooth. It hardly felt like a year to Atica, and in truth, if she’d been aboard the Dilectia or on Allura, she’d still be half her age, but since she was on Marmooth, she followed the Marmoothian calendar. It still made little sense to her. Four turns of the solar cycle marked a year. Andromedan’s used a lunar calendar. It was more accurate.
Today marked Atica’s tenth solar birthday. With each passing solar year, her memories of lunar years faded. Had she been on Marmooth a little over two years lunar or definitely four years solar? Braxas tried to keep it all straight for her, but his advice made less sense to her these days. She was becoming a Marmoothian, if in name only.
All birthdays were celebrated the same. No one’s birthday was more or less important than anyone else’s and for that very reason, Marmoothians came from near and far to celebrate. Atica shared her solar birthday with a hundred other Marmoothians, one of the largest number of celebrators. Hatash, the largest city on the small planet, hosted these events. It took three nights’ travel for the Klaufk family to reach its border. They spent the night in a hostel outside the city, a cold, damp place that invigorated Atica, but left her adopted family in misery. They preferred the warmth of their southern township. Since birthdays were only for children up to their solar twenty-first year, they only traveled this route and stayed in the same hostel seven times a year, two times for their two sets of twins, four times for the other four children and once for Atica, but they only complained when it was Atica’s journey. Their complaints were always in hushed whispers, but unlike Marmoothians, Andromedan’s had acute hearing. Atica heard each harsh word, from the Matas, the Dals, and all her adopted siblings. Atica knew her place. She would always be the odd one, the adopted one, the strange, ghostly child of an alien world.
Atica had no advocates on her journeys and stays in Hatash. Braxas’ signal wasn’t strong enough and he couldn’t travel with her. She always felt so alone on her birthday. Ten marked a special time for Marmoothians. They were no longer ibishbies, babies. If their parents decided, a ten-year-old could be sent to trade school. Most parents waited until their children reached Entignastia, twelve years of age, the age of reasoning, but the Klaufk Dals made it clear to Atica that as soon as they returned to their township, she would be sent away and earn her share for the family that had sacrificed so much for her. Today was not a day of celebration for Atica.
Mata G helped Atica dress that morning. She wore the traditional birthday clothes for females, a long sweeping grey dress with a cream-colored, crocheted half-sweater over top, grey slippers and a halo of purple flowers that rested upon her head. The clothes were striking on the copper girls of Marmooth, but they paled on Atica, leaving her washed out. Just another reminder of who she was. Once properly attired, the Matas guided Atica through the city streets to the center of town. They followed the procession of all the celebrators. First, they were presented to the Mayor, who crinkled her nose up at Atica, but politely acknowledged her with a nod of her bejeweled head. Next, they were presented to the Grand Master, who was less of a snob and embraced Atica as he did all the birthday children. And lastly, they were led to tables filled with gifts, cakes, and punch. For the first three years, Atica had always sat with a boy named Ito, but today, she sat next to a girl named Ostare. She glanced around at the other tables, but Ito was nowhere to be found. Her heart sank a little. They weren’t exactly friends and he hadn’t always been friendly to her, but he was familiar. Atica preferred consistency now. Soon, her life would be in chaos.
Ostare leaned in, cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered, “You must be the adopted alien.”
Atica sighed. Why did everyone state the obvious? She so wanted to be rude, but knew better. Any misbehavior would result in strict punishment by the Dals. Atica merely nodded.
“I’d give anything to have your hair.”
This startled Atica. No one had ever said that to her. She’d always been teased for her appearance. She turned and stared into the deep green eyes of the Marmoothian girl. “You would?”
Ostare reached out and ran her fingers through Atica’s white locks. “Oh yes. Your hair is beautiful, silky to the touch. I envy you.”
Atica turned her head away and lowered her eyes. “Believe me, you wouldn’t want my hair. The price is too great.”
“You are from the southern region, yes?”
Atica nodded again.
“I figured. They are so xenophobic there. I wish you had landed closer to my region in the West. We are more forgiving there. My family hosted an alien child before I was born. He was from a place called Earth. A funny little boy with a mop of red hair, peach skin with freckles and a delightful accent. He said he came from the country of Ireland. We have holovids of his stay with the family. He was eventually rescued, about a year before my birth.”
Atica imagined what it would be like to be accepted. A grin creased her face. So not all Marmoothians were as cruel as the Klaufks or those where she lived. This brought a small amount of joy to her heart.
Ostare glanced at the purple flowers in Atica’s hair. “You’ve turned ten.”
“Yes,” Atica said in a low voice.
“I suppose your adopted parents are eager to send you off to trade school now.”
“As soon as we return home.”
“I am not surprised. That will relinquish some of their responsibility toward you.”
Atica hadn’t thought about that. She would be under the supervision of the Trade School Authority. Her heart sunk and she sighed. Just another group of people to discriminate against her.
“Don’t be so despondent, Atica. Some of the Masters and Mistresses of the TSA are very nice. Have you decided on a trade yet?”
“Not really, Sasine and Elanta, my adopted sisters, said I wouldn’t have to choose until this year, then I would have to write a report about my interest, deliver the report to the Dals and get their agreement.”
“Sorry, it is a term from my homeworld. The papas.”
“Oh yes. Sounds lovely. Will the Dals force you into just any ole trade school since you haven’t chosen?”
Atica shrugged her shoulders. “They haven’t said.”
“What would you like to study?”
Ostare’s eyes lit up. “Really? That’s what I will be study. Oh, you must convince the Dals to let you.”
Atica studied Ostare a bit closer now. A halo of yellow flowers encircled her head. Twelve years of age. Of course, she would be going to trade school. It would be glorious to have an advocate at the trade school. Could she convince the Dals to send her there?
“Maybe,” she finally said. “But if they knew how badly I wanted it, they would send me somewhere else out of spite.”
Ostare giggled and hugged her. “Then you, my dear pishku, must convince them that it is the last place you want to go.”
Atica teared up. She’d heard the term pishku from her adopted siblings. It meant friend, or more accurately, soul of my soul. No one had ever referred to Atica in that manner.
Ostare pulled away from Atica and looked at her tear-soaked face. “Why are you crying, Atica?”
“You… you called me pishku.”
“And we are. From this day, forth.” Ostare embraced her once more. “Memorize this. Zet2Ostare. That is my interstellar code. You do have a zetaphone?”
Atica shook her head.
“No worries, you will get one at the trade school. Still, it will be good to memorize it in case the Dals send you to a different trade school. We will never lose contact, and definitely not over the Dals’ xenophobic cruelty.”
Atica whispered the code repeatedly in her head. She would also give it to Braxas when she returned home. Her pod would travel with her to trade school, so she would have Braxas with her. That alone gave her a small amount of peace.
Atica and Ostare continued to chat as they opened their gifts. They received the standard gifts from the State, appropriate for their ages. Tablets filled with books, games, and puzzles. Their families also left them gifts. The Klaufks gave Atica a small globe filled with shiny seafish surrounded by the Marmoothian ocean and crystals dazzling in the planet’s pink sky. It was a kinder gift than Atica had expected. Ostare received a shiny silver dress. She felt the love and care Ostare’s family felt for their daughter. It radiated from the expensive, delicate material. They ate their cakes and drank the punch, all the while continuing their conversation. As midday approached, Atica had to leave the company of her new and sole pishku, but only after she explained to her about how the sun affected her skin. They stood and hugged, vowing to meet up again at sunset for the ending fireworks show. A show Atica would not get to see.
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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