Treyak (second edition): part four of Of a Note in a Cosmic Song, by Nōnen Títi
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A new planet.
A new life.
A one-way trip.
The colonists of DJar, all seeking a better future, each with their own past, and their own beliefs about right and wrong, try everything they can to create a new government and a new culture they can all be happy with.
In town, Benjamar is determined to keep things from falling apart.
Crossing the continent, Nini and Kunag’s exploration mission is searching for a better place to live.
Can just four people build a new village, with only natural resources, when the environment seems to have a mind of its own?
From: Of a Note in a Cosmic Song, part four: Treyak, by Nonen Titi
Chapter One: THE COLOURFUL HILLS
Before first light on Day One of Station Five’s second moon, Kunag left Harmon’s home and went to say goodbye to Mom. He expected a whole list of cautions, but all she said was “Be careful”. Jari didn’t say much at all; it was as if they were strangers again, as if all those years in between hadn’t happened.
“Don’t worry; Maike says we’ll just walk over those heaps of dirt and then come right back,” Kunag told them, using Maike’s description of the mountain-range that divided the continent.
Kunag didn’t really care how big the mountains were, he just wanted to be far away from town. He refused Jari’s offer to walk him to the social building and arrived to find the eleven other members of the expedition, as well as Benjamar, waiting for him. Each of the travellers had a woven pack fitted over their shoulders, covering both front and back, and a roll-up mat.
“If I say we meet at change of light, it means that’s the time you’re here, not the time you leave home,” Maike scolded Kunag, while Sinti put her arms around him. “I was afraid you’d changed your mind,” she said.
Irritated with both responses, Kunag shook her off. Although Sinti had said she’d come on the expedition if he was going, Kunag hadn’t really expected her to do so. He’d avoided being with her so she wouldn’t talk about things he didn’t want to think about.
While Kunag put his pack on, Benjamar reminded them of Daili’s challenge and said he expected them back in about a station with good news, by which he meant having found a place for a second settlement. He wished them good luck.
The knee-high orange vegetation, along with the restriction caused by the pack, made walking difficult, and nobody talked much. Sinti panted and moaned while Kunag worried that he’d step on one of the creatures that made this stuff. By Kundown, when they reached the foot of the south-western hills, he was exhausted.
Following Maike’s orders, they separated into two groups of six, men and women, and each put their roll-up mat on the bare ground. Two men, whom Kunag didn’t know, managed to get a small fire going with one of the turf logs. It didn’t produce much heat, but it was enough for Maike to warm up some water for drinks to have with the dried food they carried.
Kunag lay down on his mat and looked at the shiny dots scattered all over the dark sky. It didn’t matter that it was cold or that his legs felt heavy – gloomy town was behind him.
Kunag jumped up when the clink of an empty container hit the ground beside his head.
“Time to go and collect some water. There’s a stream up ahead, safe to drink from,” Maike, a silhouette against the pink morning sky, told him.
Careful not to step on the little blobby things that jumped around beneath his feet, which Kunag considered animals, he took the container into the direction Maike had pointed. Doret caught up with him, also carrying a jug. He was the youngest to join the expedition, not yet thirteen, but he was tall and had the build and accent of a farmer. “Why did you come? To draw?” he asked.
Kunag told him yes. His assignment was to record the land and whatever they’d find on it.
“You’ll never finish.”
“You’re from Veleder?” Kunag asked.
“Yeah, but I don’t remember much of it. I like it here. I hope we find a good place to live for all the people. My dad wants to get away from town, but I don’t want to leave my friends.”
The stream was as good as Maike had said, trickling down from the hills, as clean as on DJar – cleaner, probably; no sign of anything living in it. After filling the containers and giving their faces a quick splash, they returned to where the others were ready and packed. Marya took Doret’s container and put it on the little fire. Kunag’s bigger one was used to fill up the flasks and then for the others to have a wash.
After the water was warm, but not boiled, Maike poured it over a mush of stalks and other stuff. She called it “prut” and filled everybody’s cup with it.
“It looks like vomit,” Sinti said, pulling her nose up at it, and emptied it out onto the ground. Some of the others tried to be less blatant about it, but after that comparison… Had it not been for Maike sitting right opposite him, Kunag might have followed Wolt’s example and emptied it behind his back, but he couldn’t now. He’d already lost points for arriving late, so he drank it down. To his surprise it was sweet; a real taste.
“Honey,” Maike said when he looked at her.
Doret was sent back to the stream to wash the cups. One of the men doused the fire and salvaged the turf that had not burned. Maike handed Kunag the two empty water containers to tie to his pack. “First thing at first light. The water takes time to heat,” she said.
The surrounding land changed abruptly as the flat ground turned to hillside. Kunag’s senses indulged in the panorama of odourless colours. There was not a bit of green. Kun DJar’s coastal dunes might be called green, but it was a dull grey-green, not vibrant. He felt as heavy as when he’d first arrived on the planet, as if walking against the wind, only he wasn’t, and it wasn’t the climbing either. The air itself felt thick. It was like inhaling the sensation rather than just perceiving it, while the landscape filled his eyes with pictures he was itching to paint – all shades of blue, red, and purple, beckoning him to take out his artpack. And not just the colours, but the variety of forms and textures; though the vast majority of everything on this planet seemed to be round, or at least have some globular or radial form, they came in all sorts from gritty to shiny and smooth, from nearly black to creamy white, and from the size of his fingernail to that of a large rock. Some had outgrowths or tentacles attached, like the orbs, but these here seemed to be plants.
Kunag had sat down by the seaside so often these last kor, willing himself to draw but unable to. Today, he knew he could. Why was Maike in such a hurry?
His quiet enjoyment was interrupted when Sinti caught up with him and started asking questions: Was he happy to be away from town? Did he make nice drawings yet? Wasn’t it funny that the air was so heavy? “Do you miss your father?”
“Shut up,” he said.
“Don’t say that.”
“Then go away.”
She stood still. “There’s no need to get nasty!” she shouted, causing all the others to look.
Kunag walked on. Why had she come on this trip? She never even liked being outside. He’d ignored her ever since the disease, so she couldn’t possibly believe they were still a couple.
Wolt came walking next to him. “Go easy on her. She can’t help being the way she is.”
Kunag didn’t answer him either.
It took eight days to cross the hills. Every morning and evening Kunag collected water, which, besides drawing, seemed to be his job. He was no longer breathless and the days became routine. In the mornings they drank the sweet prut; at night they ate the dried food – mostly salted zibot meat strips and grubs – they’d brought from town. The idea was to make the supplies last as long as possible. Nobody cared much for the dried foods and soon the evening meal was reduced to a little nibble.
Only once had Maike allowed Kunag a quick sketch before camp was made. He hadn’t asked for the okay but sat down when Leyon showed them an animal in a smoky crevice. “I have to draw this.” It was an animal, after all. Well, it could be an animal. It looked like a jellyfish, but it floated on the thick air that came out of the rock. It had no colour of its own, but seemed to change depending on how the light fell on it. Kunag would have liked to touch it, but Doret had his hand slapped for only reaching out, so he didn’t try.
Once the last crest was reached a second “must draw” situation occurred. The most magnificent grassland Kunag had ever seen lay before them. Its hue was the brightest of yellows. An artist using these colours on DJar would have been called a surrealist. There was no describing it, not with words, anyhow. Maike didn’t say no; her eyes sparkled as if she was the creator of this splendour rather than the guide who’d brought them here.
This was as far as the last expedition had come. From here on it was going to be watching, recording, and being careful. They’d make camp earlier each day so there would be time to explore or draw by the light of Kun. “We won’t be going quite as fast,” Maike promised, which was answered with exaggerated sighs of relief from some of the others.
That night, lying on his mat on the very last place any people had ever been before, Kunag felt both protected in the tent of vibrant yellow, and free. These were the plains the cattle farmers would move to. Maybe it was a good thing the zibots were colour-blind. Way in the distance must be the mountains, but as far as their eyes could see, there was nothing but empty sky and endless land.
Once, a long time ago, on the day Kunag had made up his mind to go along with Dad, he’d imagined Kun DJar as an empty land just like this, with birds flying overhead. Now, in the quiet of the new planet, he remembered the crowded airfloat and busy city streets that had helped him make the decision. This was what he’d longed for. If only the beginning hadn’t been so bad.
“What’s the dream about?”
Kunag looked up to find Nini above him. “Nothing special.”
“No nobis yet?”
“No, not yet.” It was unlikely they would ever encounter anything like a nobi, or anything bigger than the orbs. Kun DJar seemed to keep everything small; its plants and its animals.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save your dad.”
Kunag shrugged. It wasn’t her fault.
She sat down next to him, quiet and serene, like the land.
“Do you miss DJar?” he asked her.
“No, just my mom sometimes.”
“But you were given no choice?”
“If I would have had a choice, I would’ve come anyway,” she answered. “How about you, are you sorry?”
She didn’t look at him. Maybe she didn’t expect an answer.
“No, I’m happy.”