By Renko Doremi Rodenburg
Preface: This was intended to be a serialized story at some point. Chapters two and three exist, but do no longer reflect the person I am today/ my feelings and emotions. Hence, I won’t be uploading them.
It was dawn on Juncea farm and slowly-creeping sunlight awoke Zerstrammilia. She would get out of bed immediately- she used to, really- but didn’t. Dozing off again and again, snoozing and waking when there was nothing that needed immediate doing felt like the best thing in the whole wide world.
Her snoozing was rudely interrupted by someone banging on the door and yelling her name, though. Annoyed, she got out of bed and put on her clothes, some simple work overalls suited for farm life and opened the door. There Ketrammoslo greeted her, exhausted and sweating.
“Zerstra,” he said. It looked like he wanted to say more, but he was hyperventilating as if he’d just rand around half the planet.
“I broke the world record,” he panted.
“The world record of what?” Zerstra asked.
“I ran around the entire planet,” he said. “Three-hundred thirty kilometers.”
“Ketra, what for?” she asked, exasperated. Every other week he’d show up at her house to brag about another physical achievement he had achieved.
“Because I knew it was possible. And if it’s possible, I want to have done it.”
“Was that all?”
“No, of course not. I needed to wind down for a moment, and then I wanted to ask you to come to the city with me. Professor Elegistrammoslo is unveiling his new rocketship. He’s going to try and land on the moon after a test flight tomorrow.”
Ketra looked at the young man, steam rising from his forehead and massive blotches of sweat on his shirt. If this was another attempt at wooing her, it had horribly failed.
“I’ll go see the rocketship with you, but it’s not going to be a date. Understood?”
“It’s not going to be a date. I’ve given up on that, besides,” he paused for a second and smiled. “I’d only want to date a gal who is awestruck at me running around the entire planet.”
“Terrible,” Zerstra replied. “Come in, I washed the clothes you left here after your previous ultra marathon attempt. Go change clothes, I’ll make some drinks for us. When you’ve caught your breath, we’ll go see the rocketship.”
Grinning, Ketra walked past her and off to the bathroom. Shaking her head, Zerstra went off into the kitchen. She mainly grew ‘Hasha’ fruit on her farm, the inedible leaves of which could nonetheless be used to make a great tea. Using an electric heater- A few years back another Aimillian had made an invention she had called electricity, an energy that could efficiently be converted to work- she heated up some water, added some Hasha leaves from a jar and put the cups on a tray to bring to her living room.
Ketra was already there. Zerstra couldn’t help but smile upon seeing him, almost no longer fitting in his old clothes. Even though he was a hulking frame of muscle now, growing up had been kind to him and he was still recognizable the same Ket she knew from her childhood.
“Here, fresh Kasha tea.”
“Thanks,” he said as he nodded.
Together, the two Aimillians shared tea, one exhausted from running a circle around their tiny world and one exhausted from being woken up at the wrong time by the other.
“Anything new from the city?” Zerstra asked her friend.
“Esmestrommilia built a weird automaton, like a small Aimillian made out of gears and metal. It follows her around like a pet Krark, and someone, I don’t know their name, invented a new thing.”
“Again? The amount of inventions these days is staggering. It seems the gift of the Universal Soul was not wasted on our kind.”
“Yeah, but this time it’s not a tech thingy, but a cultural thing. It’s called theater and you should go there someday. It’s great.”
Zerstra raised her leftmost eyebrow. Ketra took a moment to drink some of his tea, then explained.
“A couple of friends are playing pretend, complete with costumes and such on a wooden stage. They reenact things like the Universal Soul giving our ancestors intellect and they also make stories up like dramatic tales about love and such. It’s a fantastic, delightful idea.” He smiled as he said it, making Zerstra laugh a little.
“It does sound nice. Are they going to be doing that for a while, or is it a one-off thing?” Zerstra asked. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the time to go, it was just that she didn’t like hurrying.
“Oh no, they’re already talking about building a building specifically for theater performances. So you don’t have to hurry.”
“Ah, that’s good. Want a second cup of tea?” She asked her friend.
“No, I’ve recovered. Let’s go see the rocketship.”
“Very well, very well. But it’s not a date! I don’t want to hear friends say ‘oh I heard you were on a date with Ket again’, you hear me?”
“It’s not a date,” Ketra said, smirking.
Together they departed Juncea farm, walking down the gravel laden path to the city of Esme, the largest city of the planet, home to almost ten thousand Aimillians. It was not too far away from Zerstra’s farm, a forty five minute walk or so.
A couple of Aimillians were toiling to build another building at the edge of the city, another steel-and-glass construction that seemed to be so popular these days. It was unimaginable how the city had grown the past decade, and even more staggering how far the once meek Aimillians had grown. Electric lights, mechanical carts, and airships seemed to be ubiquitous now. It felt like everyday someone might unravel the very secrets of reality. As they walked further into the city, towards the square where Professor Elegistrammoslo had built his rocket ship, they passed a shrine to the Universal Soul. Usually portrayed as a seven-pointed star, an Aimillian from the observatory had mentioned the Soul was more akin to a glowing white ball that slowly moved through space. Still, the seven-pointed star was popular, and many of Zerstra her friends paid tribute to it at shrines like these.
“Every day it feels more and more clear why the Universal Soul gifted us the gift of intellect,” Ketra said.
“And why is that, then?” Zerstra asked.
“We were born to be scientists, engineers. Inventors. If the rocketship works, who knows what is next. Maybe our children will be born on the moon, or eat fruit from farms on far off planets. Well, with our children I mean our generation. Not ours personally, of course.”
“Of course you felt the need to add that,” Zerstra replied.
“Of course,” Ketra smiled.
A minute or so later they turned a corner and saw the gleaming, silver rocketship.
“Woah, it’s at least twice as big as the last one,” Zerstra gasped.
“It’s magnificent, isn’t it? I asked the professor if I could ride along to the moon, but he doesn’t want anyone else on it during the test flight. Afraid it’ll explode. Coward.”
“You say ‘coward’, but isn’t it wise to test out such a dangerous thing before accidentally killing someone else with it?”
Ketra scoffed at the notion. He appeared to be more than a little upset he wasn’t allowed on the rocketship. A large crowd had gathered around the ship, and they were surprised to see that Professor Elegistrammoslo was there himself, answering some questions.
“Can you breathe on the moon?” Someone asked.
“Actually, we don’t know. The people at the observatory have confirmed that the moon indeed has an atmosphere, but we don’t know if it’s composed of oxygen and argon like ours! I’m taking equipment with me to see if the atmosphere is breathable.”
Someone else asked: “At your last lecture you said the fastest route to the moon isn’t just going straight at it, and that confused me. Can you explain that?”
“Ah,” Professor Elegistrammoslo replied, “Gravity seems to exist as a spherical field, from my observations, that is always pulling on the spaceship regardless of distance. In the same way, the moon seems to be falling around the world indefinitely. I’m certain someone better at math than I am would be able to come up with an equation describing this behaviour, but alas I cannot. However, I do know how to exploit the ‘falling around the world’ behaviour to drastically speed up my spaceship by making a circle around the planet before going towards the moon. It’s a bit complicated but I hope this covers it.”
Someone in the crowd took a flipnote out of their bag and furiously started scribbling, and Zerstra couldn’t help but start laughing.
“Guess the professor has found their mathematical genius, don’t you think?”
Ketra didn’t answer. He was blindly staring at the rocketship.
“You okay, Ketra?”
“I guess,” he said. He didn’t sound okay.
“Is this still about not being allowed on the rocketship?”
“I guess,” he moped.
“Hey now, let’s walk on. Get something to eat.”
She dragged him along, away from the square and to the restaurant district. There was a place she regularly brought Kasha fruit to, so that would be a good place to sit down for a pie or something.
When they arrived there, the owner was just serving a fruit pie with whipped cream to another customer and noticed Zerstra and Ketra approaching.
“Hey there, it’s Zerstra and the world champion,” she thought about it for a second before continuing, “everything, I think?”
“Bah,” Ketra replied quietly.
“Don’t mind him, he’s in a bad mood,” Zerstra said to the girl. She had forgotten her name, but thought it was something along the lines of Payka or Paytra. “Oh, actually, do mind him! Do you have anything to cheer him up?”
“Absolutely,” the girl said. “Sit down you two, I’ll go fetch you two a nice slice of sweet bread with a fruit spread and a drink.”
As she went back inside, Zerstra and Ketra sat down at one of the wooden tables on the terrace.
“Ketra, you seem to be seriously affected by the rocketship stuff. Do you want to talk about it?”
“I don’t know. You’re just gonna say I’m being silly again.”
Zerstra shook her head. Years of talking with him and he still thought she was the type to start bullying or scolding him at the drop of a feather.
“No, I won’t. By now you should know you can trust me, Ket.”
“Argh.” It was more of a frustrated noise than it was a word. “I’m upset that everyone around me seems to be achieving magnificent and grand things and I’m not doing anything.”
“Ket, you have the world record weight lifting, long distance running, sprinting, and swimming.”
He looked at her, no longer frustrated but now genuinely upset.
“What I mean is that Esme isn’t even an adult and she’s invented the entire field of robotics. The Professor is going to be the first person on the moon because he’s an extremely gifted chemist and engineer. Every other person we meet is either inventing theatre or new fields of science and I’m here being really good at running and jumping. Do you know what the worst is? Everyone can do that. I got there by training every day, for which I had time because I’m not good at anything except wasting time training.”
“Ket,” Zerstra sighed. “I work on a farm. I’m not doing anything great or special either, but-”
“At least you have a job that keeps people fed. People love you for it.”
Zerstra was getting a bit upset herself too. It didn’t feel like Ketra was arguing in good faith here.
“You can find something only you can do, Ketra. You said it yourself, the Universal Soul-”
“The Universal Soul gave our kind minds but distributed its gifts unequally. I tried to get into mathematics, I tried to get into paintings. But it all eludes me, all I can do is the same our unelevated ancestors could- climb and swim. Crawl over the plains all day. The Universal Soul skipped out on me.”
Tears were welling up in his eyes. Zerstra had no idea what to do or how to help him. It felt like nothing she could say would reach his heart. If she thought about it, the way he brought it was depressing, but it also seemed like a matter of perspective. Her parent, a man who tended to desert lizards for their wool, had once told her that if she didn’t have anything wise to say, she shouldn’t say anything. She decided to follow that advice.
“There there,” she said while patting Ketra on the head. “Let’s eat some cake and then go see the theater, okay?”
Ketrammoslo shook his head, got up and said “I’m going home for today, I’ve had enough. Don’t follow me.”
He left his friend behind in a daze of confusion and mist, and disappeared into the streets.
“Hey,” the girl from the cake store asked as she brought two plates with sweet bread to the table. “Where’s your friend?”
“I don’t know, he seemed to be upset. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”
“O-oh,” the girl said as she put down Zertra’s plate of sweet bread and three little cups with different fruit spreads. She took Ketra’s plate back inside, leaving Zertra to her thoughts.
Tonight she would take her time to think about what to say to Ket. She didn’t want her best friend to feel like that, and she didn’t want to leave him hanging like this either.
Absent-mindedly she poked a bowl of fruit spread. Tomorrow she’d find a way to help Ket, certainly.