A Planet to Call Home-Final

August 2, 2020

It took several weeks to build a two-room cabin on the peninsula. With Hanerra’s help, Engrem felled straight trees and formed them into an A-frame structure as he had read about in story books about the ancient days.  During this time, a few wild metahs and several of the josis wandered into their meadow.  The two humans managed to capture them and put the animals in hurriedly constructed pens. The metahs would theoretically produce wool, meat and milk. About a third of them were females. In the end they released all but one of the male metahs.

Engrem found that in practice, slaughtering an animal was too unpleasant a task and Hanerra wanted nothing to do with it. The josis were big enough for the occasional meal and gave them eggs regularly. The only food they lacked was grain for bread.  The edible roots that grew wild could be mashed and baked into patties, but it was a poor substitute for real bread.

One day while Engrem was chopping wood, He heard Hanerra calling to him from the cabin. He looked up to see a pair of breehahs approaching him from the road. They stopped when he straightened up and said, “Sah’he.”

Engrem slowly let the axe drop and took a few steps toward the Folk.”

Metoosahs,” he said, raising his open hand.

Metoosahpe!” said one of the breehahs, “We are Scribes from Lokahku urbai.  Are you a kahpoo?”

Engrem smiled and said, “Yes. Come and eat with us.” He gestured to the cabin. Hanerra was watching from the door. The breehahs followed Engrem, but kept a space between them as if making room for hindquarters which the human did not have. As they neared the cabin, Hanerra went inside.  She came out again carrying a tray with a few of the root-mash patties and a small bowl of fresh cheese.

Engrem took one of the rounds, tore it in two, dipped each half in the cheese and handed a piece to each of the Scribes saying, “You are our guests.”

They took the offering and ate it. Then the one who had previously spoken said, “I am Gromaa. My companion is Neefaa. We noticed the smoke from your fire.” He indicated the chimney of the cabin. White smoke was still rising from it. “We only need to know if you live here.  We keep records of such things.”

Engrem led them inside the cabin. The humans seated themselves on a wooden bench.  At his gesture, the breehahs sat on their hind quarters.

He said, “We live here,” and anticipating the next question,”I am Engrem and this is Hanerra.”

Gromaa opened a pouch slung over his neck and produced a rectangular slate held in a wooden frame with a cover.  The other breehah handed him a stylus. He made the notes with a scratching sound. “Hen’urem and Ha’ne’ura,” he spoke as he wrote.

“Do you come from the Place of the Kahpoohah at Hisoigo?”

Engrem decided that he didn’t want to explain how he got on the planet. He simply said, “Yes.”

“Are other kahpoohah coming?

He shrugged and glanced at Hanerra. “Not that I know of. The others are at Hisoigo.”

Gromaa asked, “Are you working the mine?”

“What mine?” said Engrem.

Gromaa’s antennas crossed momentarily. “We are in Hilonepo,” he said matter of factly. “There is a mine here, across the lake. Would you mind if others came to work it again?”

Engrem, glanced at Hanerra and shrugged. She responded likewise and addressed Gromaa. “I’m sure that you need the ore…”

Engrem broke in politely, “Is there another mine nearby that could be worked?”

Gromaa put his slate away and said, “The other mines in Hilonepo are not as accessible.”

Engrem frowned momentarily and shrugged. “I guess it would be all right.” Then he glanced at Hanerra again.

“It will take time to find available miners and send them here. Many of the Folk have died of the sickness.”

“Are the Folk coming back to this area?” said Hanerra.

Gromaa’s antennaes sagged briefly. “Slowly. The Folk are spreading out from less affected areas.”

“That is good to hear,” said Engrem.

The breehahs stood then. Gromaa said, “Is there anything you need?”

The humans looked at each other.  Hanerra said, “We could use a source of flour.  All we have are field-roots.”

“And,” added Engrem, “Do you have any paper?”

Gromaa bowed slightly and said, “A nearby mill should be operating soon.”

The other breehah, Neefaa said, “We have paper at the House of Scribes.  Some will be brought to you.”

Engrem offered the Scribes a few silver pieces that he had which they accepted. “You are very kind, Engrem of the kapoohah.”  With that the Scribes left.

Over the next few weeks, the weather remained fairly moderate. Except for some periods of rain and occasional frost it was rather pleasant. Hanerra remarked that in the human outpost she had heard one of the scientists say that the planet should have rather minimal seasonal differences, something to do with axial tilt..

A few more weeks passed. The pair made improvements on their dwelling and even found some of the tasty durni nut trees. With the flour that a traveling trader had sold them Hanerra figured out how to make the cookies that Engrem enjoyed.

One day after the afternoon meal, Engrem brought out something he made in the carpenter’s shop. He had managed to cobble together a nivi, a two-stringed instrument consisting of a stick attached to a small, open-ended drum.

Hanerra looked at him circumspectly. “You can’t play that, can you?”

But Engrem just smiled, sat down with the nivi on his knee and began plucking out a melody.

After a few repetitions, Hanerra said, “Now I recognize the tune, but I can’t name it.  It’s very old isn’t it?”

After another repetition , he stopped and placed the instrument on the dirt floor. “It’s old, yes. I don’t know what it’s called nor the words to it, but it has something to do with the joy of being home.”

A human voice outside their door announced, “The song is called ‘My home is Paradise’, or so I was told.”

Engrem jumped to his feet. “Who is it?” he called.

“Hanerra said, “It sounds like Doctor Bahefin!”

Engrem opened the door.  It was indeed Bahefin, and behind him were two guards from the camp. Engrem stood in the doorway in shock, not knowing what to do.

“May I come in?” said Bahefin affably.

Engrem slowly moved aside, realizing the inevitability of the situation. Bahefin waved the guards away and stepped in. He looked up and around with interest. “Very good. This is a fair replica of a pre-industrial Mornerthian dwelling.”

“Thank you,” said Engrem. Hanerra moved to his side and held his hand.

“I think you know why I am here,” said Bahefin without preface. “The Protected status of Silonar is being enacted and unauthorized personnel are being evacuated.”

Silonar? What is that?”

Another voice spoke from outside. “Silonar is what we have asked the kahpoohah to name our world in their records.” A breehah appeared in the doorway. It was their friend.

“Nimar! Did you help them find us?” said Engrem in a loud voice. “We asked you to keep it secret!”

Bahefin interposed himself between Engrem and Nimar, who remained outside. “He didn’t betray you. He didn’t have to.”

“The local Scribes spread the news of two kahpoohah living here,” said Nimar. “I tried to suppress it, but I was too late.”

Bahefin said in halting breehah, “I too know a Scribe.”

“I think it would be impossible to stop information from spreading on this world once it has left the source,” said Engrem. Then he sighed. “Well, If I must leave, I am glad I was able to see you again, Nimar. Metoosahs?”

Metoosahpe,” said Nimar. “I have something for you.” He opened his satchel and handed Engrem a folded sheet of paper. The sheet was sealed with a glued strip of paper and bore only the approximation of his name in the breehah letters, En’urem. He opened the page and scanned the words.

Smiling, he said, “It’s from Baisah!”

“Little Baisah?” Asked Hanerra.

“Yes!” He began reading aloud for the benefit of Hanerra and Bahefin.

 

The Scribes say that you will leave our world. Much I want to say to you but mostly that I am happy with Nunah. 

 

A tear fell from his eye and he put his finger to his nose to cover a sniffle.

 

We have a farm together near Lokahku Misopuror. We are all well. I hope you have happiness on your world. 

Thank you for caring for me. I will always remember. 

 

Baisah

 

Engrem continued looking at the letter, reading it again silently. Then he folded it and looked to discover his tunic had no pocket.

“Wonderful news,” said Hanerra. She held up a hand to accept the letter. “I can hold that for you.”

Engrem handed it to her. “The best news ever,” he said, wiping his nose again.

Bahefin cleared his throat. “I have some news that you may like. The Koplushian Council has decided to start an experimental community on a habitable world that was recently discovered. They need people capable of living without modern conveniences, at least to start. It has something to do with the health of the species I suppose…”

“Engrem, that sounds ideal for what we want to do!” said Hanerra. “Doctor, would there be running water?”

Doctor Bahefin chuckled. “Yes. The plan is to make the community pre-electronic, not pre-industrial.  Running water, even heated running water fits into that parameter.”

Engrem was smiling. “I’m attracted to the idea, but Hanerra, It would be a lot of work.”

“As long as we’re together,” she said.

“Good,” said Bahefin. “I’ll recommend you as part of the leadership team then.”

It was then that they heard a dull roaring sound above them. The group went outside and looked up to see a lander coming down vertically. It gently landed in the meadow.

“When I first came to this world, Broskot didn’t use the gravitics.  He just glided in like an ancient airplane.”

“He always was one to make a show,” said Hanerra.

Nimar came to Engrem’s side. “Is that your sky-ship that sails in the black ocean?”

“No,” he said. “That one only flies through the blue sky to the black. It will take us to a bigger ship which crosses the black ocean.”

“Amazing.  It is like a giant jibai.”

The two guards appeared from within the cabin. They were each carrying a large box. “One of them said, “We gathered your things from inside. Apologies for any intrusion.”

“Did you at least put out the fire in the stove?” said Hanerra, slightly annoyed.

“Yes Ma’am,” said the other guard.

Engrem moved past  them and went inside. Hanerra joined him, putting her arm on his shoulder. The two guards had indeed packed anything they deemed of value. They left only the wooden table, benches and the cooking pots.

“We didn’t have that much,” she said softly.

“But we had enough,” he answered. “And in the end, Hanerra, as long as I am with you, I am home.”

She kissed him and bowed her head. A tear ran down her nose.

When they came back out. Engrem slowly closed the door, then looked over the two guards, Doctor Bahefin, and then at Nimar. “I guess this is it, my friend.  I think I’ve done enough on your world. I am sorry.”

The breehah’s antennas drooped a bit. “Do not regret anything that has happened here, En’urem. I am sure there is a reason the gods brought you to us.  You have done much good among the Folk.”

Hanerra put her hand on Nimar’s shoulder. “Thank you for guiding us through your world.”

The guards began walking towards the lander carrying the boxes. Doctor Bahefin started off and Engrem and Hanerra followed him together.

Nimar stood by the cabin and watched as the two-legged kahpoohah got into their flying thing and left. He knew that though the gods brought the kahpoohah to Silonar, the gods also gave the breehah the strength to keep their own ways.

 

From the Journal of Engrem Barinium:

 

The lander delivered Doctor Bahefin and the guards back to the island outpost on Silonar before taking us up to the K.S. Enidaras. Hanerra and I had to endure two years on Koplushia heading up the Experimental Community Project before the Council finally let us go to the planet and settle there. I am proud to say that on Anthtl Zetek we created a safe and sane community and raised two fine sons which we named Greefrem and Nimarem in honor of two breehah that I remember fondly.

-The End-

 

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A Planet to Call Home-11

August 1, 2020

Their journey took them through several small villages and past many isolated inns where they either stayed the night or purchased food. Engrem had a supply of the local currency that he had earned during his time among the Folk. As he explained it, the currency consisted of valuable metals, copper, tin, silver, etc.  formed into small square coins of equal weight. The value varied depending on the scarcity of the metals in any given area.

Occasionally they encountered a Scribe or one of the Folk on the road.  Engrem always asked them what was in the area ahead. The dialect spoken was slowly changing as they traveled among the Folk. Hanerra wondered if there was a point where it would become an entirely different language.  Luckily this was not the case.

On day eleven of their journey, they entered a village where the mill was not running, nor were there the sounds of the blacksmith working. Only the inn on the other side of the fountain had smoke rising from the chimney. Engrem parked the cart and they went inside.

There was no one inside except for the innkeeper and her young son. She looked them over carefully. Then she said slowly, “Can I help you?” Her dialect was understandable, more of an unusual rhythm to her words than anything else.

Engrem said, “We’d like something to eat.” He held up a few coins to assure her. “I can pay.”

The breehah’s antennas crossed momentarily. “What have the gods brought?  What are you?” Then she started to walk around them examining Engrem and Hanerra from all sides. They were stooped a bit due to the low ceiling.

“We are of the Kahpoohah,” he said.

The breehah gently poked Engrem’s rear, as if wondering where his hind legs were. Then she poked one of Hanerra’s breasts. “Huh. We don’t get many travelers here aside from them Scribes and I ain’t never seen a kahpoohah, but you’re welcome to eat what I can offer. Take a table and I’ll bring something out.” She ducked through a door.

Engrem and Hanerra kneeled at one of the tables.  It was the only way using breehah-height furnishings. Sounds of activity were evident in the kitchen.

“Maybe this isn’t the right place. Maybe we should go on,” he said.

“Well, “said Hanerra, “It certainly is isolated. If you want to hide, it may be ideal. I’m not so sure our host would want us under foot everyday.”

“I’m looking for a place where we can live on our own anyway, not like on the Boseras. I want us to grow our own food.”

Hanerra frowned. “Didn’t you say that you left being an agronomist on the space settlement Vafotin to get on the mining ship?  And now you want to be a farmer?”

Engrem smiled briefly.  “It’s all part of the same thing, isn’t it?  We’ll need to eat. Why not grow it?

The innkeeper entered then carrying two plates filled with an egg dish.  As if to accentuate the fact, an egg-laying josi cried outside, “urEEki!” The innkeeper served the plates and brought two cups of water. “That will be half of a tin piece,” she said.

Engrem fished out a tin coin and broke it in half along the groove which was struck in it for just that purpose. “Uronar,” he said, handing it over. Then he asked, “Can you tell me where everyone is? The village seems empty.”

Her antennas straightened briefly and they briefly leaned inward, nearly touching. “Most left when the crops failed. The sickness took most of what stayed.” Without another word the innkeeper went back into the kitchen.

Engrem touched Hanerra’s arm. “Is there a chance that we could get this sickness? Or did we bring it to the planet with us?”

“I think there is very little chance of either,” she said. “Our  anti-contagion innoculation prevents that sort of danger between our space settlements. It should likewise protect us and the breehah here.”

“Ah, thank you, medical science!”

“Only after the death of thousands on the space settlements,” Hanerra said quietly.

The only think Engrem thought to say was, “All in the past.” She nodded and said no more about it.

They ate their food and then stood up to leave.  The innkeeper reappeared at the door to the kitchen.

Engrem asked, “Are there any empty farms around here?”

“They’re all empty,” she said, “Except for the one my family works.”

“Can you tell me where the nearest House of Scribes is?”

“‘Bout a day’s journey down the South road. You may meet one of ‘em coming north.”

Uronar, um which is the South road?”

“It runs along the lake. You won’t miss it.”

Engrem looked at Hanerra, shrugged slightly and they left.

 

They filled their canteens at the village fountain.  It at least was still functioning here. As they started down what they hoped was the South road, Engrem said, “I think we’ll be sleeping under the stars again tonight.”

“Well,” said Hanerra, “I don’t blame you for not stretching her hospitality. Our host didn’t seem very amenable.  ”

“I was happy enough to get the food to eat. Now I’m hoping we’re on the right road.”

Hanerra looked up, glancing at the sun. It was getting low in the sky, but was definitely to their right. “It seems to me that we’re traveling south, if that means anything.”

But Engrem just smiled at her and said, “It’s enough to me that we’re together.”

Hanerra shifted her backpack and smiled, brushing her hair from her eyes. “Me too.  I think this adventure has grown on me.”

They walked for several hours. As the twilight approached, Engrem stopped and stood for a moment in silence.

“What’s wrong?  Are we stopping here?” said Hanerra. She had been taking a turn pushing the cart.

“Actually I think something may be right.” Engrem was speaking softly, almost to himself in a whisper. “Look over there,” he spoke louder as he pointed.

To their left, just through the trees they could see a wide lake. In the dimming light it looked like a broad, flat, area of blackness.

“Is that the lake the innkeeper mentioned?”

“I suppose so,” said Engrem as he started slowly walking down an incline towards it.

“Be careful! you’ll fall!” said Hanerra.

“”I am!  Leave the cart and come.  I see something.”

She followed Engrem as he continued down a gentle incline that was nearly hidden by the dim light.  The incline ran parallel to the lake’s edge and there was something off to the side.

Engrem halted, fiddled with something from his pocket.  Suddenly there was a small flame in his hand.  It was one of the small oil lamps the breehah used, but this one was fashioned more like a candle than a torch.

“Did you make that?”

“Yes, follow me.”

They entered what was once a small stone building. The floor was littered with leaves and dry twigs. Engrem said in an awed whisper, “This looks like a blacksmith shop!”

“So?  It’s abandoned.”

“Hanerra, we should spend the night here and investigate in the morning.”

“Not in here! Who knows what’s in here.”

“Agreed.  We’ll sleep up by the cart.”

 

At first light, Engrem woke and made his way back down to the lake shore. The building was indeed an old Blacksmithy. An even better discovery was a larger building located nearby which was obviously a carpenter’s shop.  Both buildings were in good shape, as if they had been idle only a few months.

Hanerra appeared in the doorway “Would you like something to eat?”she said.  Then,  “What have you found?”

“Tools!” was Engrem’s immediate answer. Then he took the offered pieces of jerky that she had brought from the cart.

 

The couple brought the cart containing their belongings down the incline and parked it next to the carpentry building. Then they started converting one end to living quarters.

During a breather, Hanerra said, “Can we be sure that someone isn’t coming back here?”

“If they were, they wouldn’t have left.  No, I think this area was abandoned during the sickness that the innkeeper mentioned. Probably they got ill and were taken away.  Otherwise the tools would have been taken when they left.”

“What will we live on? We’re running out of what we brought.”

“The lake likely has fish in it.  I know Broskot and Kethrem were fishing when we first came down. We’ve seen a few metahs roaming free.  Maybe I can catch a few…”

“So this is the place you were looking for?”
Engrem smiled. “Yes. This will do nicely,” he said rubbing his hands together.

As they explored along the lake, going farther from the road, they found a secluded spring-fed cascade suitable for washing and even bathing. A stream led away from it to the lake. There was also a meadow big enough to grow grain. A brief exploration in the soil yielded edible roots large enough to harvest.

The best part however, was the lightly wooded penninsula that jutted into the lake. There was a hilly area on it large enough for a modest dwelling.

“It’s as if it was made to order,” said Engrem. “We can build a small house here and make a little world of our own!”

Hanerra momentarily frowned. “It’s going to be a lot of work.”

“The breehah say that there is nothing better than to eat and drink and take pleasure in one’s work.”

She sighed and smiled. “They must certainly be a happy people then.  Where shall we start?”

A Planet to Call Home-10

July 31, 2020

It took several days for Hanerra to convince Doctor Bahefin to let her go off again among the natives. Then she had to locate Nimar and ask him to help find Engrem.  Nimar, seeing how anxious Hanerra had become, suggested that they should go towards his last known location.  He would get updates on Engrem’s whereabouts from the Scribes as they travelled.

The journey from Hisoigo up to Jure’lur took longer than the one coming down because Nimar inquired at every inn and House of Scribes along the way for any news. Updates were few, but sufficient to guide them. From the information given, Engrem had settled in another village to the west.

After another two week’s journey, Hanerra and Nimar entered the village where Engrem was now living.  “The shop is over there,” he stated. “I’ll be in the House of Scribes if you need me.”  Nimar padded off and Hanerra followed the ringing sounds of hammer on anvil.

As she approached the stone-walled blacksmith shop a breehah wearing a dirt-smudged apron came around a corner. His antennas straightened in surprise and he quickly spun around on his hind feet and went into the shop.  The hammering stopped just as Hanerra entered through the side door.

She found Engrem standing behind an anvil near the forge. He looked tall and thin, maybe a bit too thin. His dark hair stood out from his head and an untrimmed beard covered his face. His bare arms and chest were well muscled and sweaty.  He wore a knee length leather apron, a loin cloth, and sandals.  Nothing more.  Not sure what to say, Hanerra stood looking at him until Engrem put the iron he had been working back into the coals of the forge and placed the hammer on the nearby bench.

He looked up at her and stepped back in embarassment. “It’s good to see you,” he said. Then he briefly smiled, looking down at himself. “I’m sort of a mess.”

Hanerra, still recovering from the shock of seeing her once clean-cut lover, stepped around the anvil slowly. She looked him up and down, not believing how a few weeks had changed him.

“There are family stories,” he continued, “that say one of my ancestors was a blacksmith in old Mornerth from the town of Rini’em.  They say that’s the origin of our name. ‘Barinium’ is derived from ‘Ba Rini’em’. I figured I could learn the same trade.”

“Engrem…” she began.

But he held up a finger to her and spoke to the breehah stoking the fire. It sounded like instructions to her limited knowledge of the local dialect. Then he walked outside.  She followed.  Engrem washed his arms and chest with water from a large tub on the side of the building, dried himself off with a towel and put on a long, woven,  gray, tunic. “I hope I know what you want to say, Hanerra.” He began walking towards the public fountain.

“I’m sorry,” she said simply. “I shouldn’t have lied to you, Engrem.”

“I know that you did it with good intentions.”

Reaching the fountain he took the cup, filled it and offered it to her.  She declined.  Engrem drank deliberately. “I’m glad that you came looking for me, Hanerra. I was afraid I had lost you.”

Then a small breehah ran up to him carrying a wooden object.  “Nuree En’urem,” it said. “Can you fix this? It broke.” The child handed Engrem a sort of toy.  It was a wooden replica of a breehah and a small two-wheeled cart.  One of the wheels had come off the axle.

Engrem smiled and knelt down to the breehah. “Yes I can, Furisah.  Take this to the shop and tell Daafi I’ll repair it after I eat.”

Uronar, Nuree En’urem,” she said and padded off towards the blacksmith shop.  Hanerra was happy she understood the exchange.

“They accept you as one of their own,” she said.

“I’ve found the Folk to be surprisingly sophisticated, more than we might expect.”

Engrem led Hanerra into the inn.  After a short exchange he was given two  packages, each wrapped in a cloth napkin. Hanerra touched his arm as they stepped into the sunlight, “The Council is enacting the Protected status. That means no humans are allowed on the planet.”

“No one?” Engrem handed Hanerra one of the packages and opened his. Inside were four nut cookies.

She made an odd expression, wrinkling up one side of her face. “Well, there won’t be any outside interference allowed, but the Council is establishing an outpost on an island.”

He nearly choked on his cookie and had to spit it out. “For what!?”

Hanerra waited for him to calm down before continuing. “A small team of anthropologists to study the culture.  This is, after all, our first true alien contact.”

Engrem returned to the fountain to get some water. He was silent as he hung the cup on its hook.  Then he turned around with a smile on his face. “Then there should be no problem then if I stay here.”

“I don’t think you should try,” Hanerra said. “It took some convincing for them to allow me to come find you.  They were going to send the military.”

“It would have taken them longer.”

“That’s what I told them.  You and I are the most familiar with the Folk. And it was Nimar who actually found you.”

“You could say you didn’t find me.  I’m just one human on the entire planet.”

“If I go back to the settlement without you, they won’t let me come back and someone less friendly will show up.”

“You’d tell them where I am?” Engrem smiled the accusation.

“No, but I won’t have to.  They already know generally where you are.  The Scribes know.”

“I can convince the Scribes to keep secret where I go from now on.”

Hanerra finished her last cookie. “I have some other good news too,” she said.  “The breehah don’t have to worry about anyone coming down to mine anymore.”

“Why not?” Engrem began smiling.

“A few days before I left to find you we got news that a mineral rich asteroid field was found in an uninhabited star system nearby.  The breehah are safe from miners.”

“Good news indeed!” he said.  But then Engrem stopped smiling. He turned to her and took her hand in his. “I’m still not ready to go back home,” he said softly.

“I know that,” she said.  Then she leaned towards him conspiratorially and whispered, “Are you sure that you can hide somewhere and not be found?”

“Yes, “he whispered back. “There’s enough empty places around.  I could hide here for years.”  Then Engrem straightened up and said, “Why are we whispering?  No one here understands us.”

Hanerra smiled as she looked at him. His hair and beard were shaggy and his hands were calloused and still dirty from holding the smithing tools. But he was still the young man that she had gotten to know on the mining ship and had fallen in love with.  He had gained confidence while living on his own among these gentle creatures.

She turned to face him squarely and took a breath. Taking both of his hands, she looked into his eyes. “Engrem Barinium,” she said, “I want to be with you forever.”

Hearing those words from her surprised him. She gently squeezed his hands momentarily and Engrem realized that she was waiting for his reply.  Hoping she had meant what she had just said, he spoke the words softly, “Hanerra Niwosh, I want to be with you forever.”

She smiled.  They hugged each other tightly and kissed.  After several seconds passed they pulled apart and looked around as if they had done something indecent. Then they both laughed.

“You’ll come with me then?  To live together?” he asked.

“Isn’t that what I just said?”

“Sorry.  Yes, you did. One day we’ll have to do the whole thing–officially.”

“Actually,” she began, “Nimar is here too. Why don’t we have him officiate?”

Engrem’s eyes narrowed, but his smile broadened. “You canniver!”

She put on an expression of innocence. “I didn’t plan it!”

“I know,” said Engrem.  “I have one thing I need to do yet today.  Then I’ll go see Nimar. It’s likely he will want to do that duty in the morning.”

“You’ll get no argument from me.  I’m tired. Where are you sleeping these days?” she asked.

Engrem smiled shyly for a moment. “In the warehouse behind the grist mill. Just tell the miller that you’re my mate and he’ll show you in.”

She laughed.  “Nimar will be happy.  He was always nudging. Something about blessings from the Sky Father,”

“Same here.” And he laughed.

Hanerra smirked at him. “Don’t be too long.” She turned and started walking towards the road leading to the mill.

Engrem watched her leave, then returned to the blacksmith shop.  He informed the apprentices and the master of his intentions and then stepped to the workbench by the window. Engrem picked up the broken toy and reached for the pot of glue he kept on the shelf.

 

The next morning, Engrem was just finishing trimming his beard with the scissors he had kept from the survival pack. They were small, but adequate to the task.  Hanerra came back in through the back door, drying her hair with a cloth.

“Wherever we settle, I hope we can build something suitable for washing.  I’m not so much for standing nude out in the morning air.”

“I’ve got some ideas, in that direction,” he said, “but I usually just bathe in the mill pond.”

“It needn’t be anything fancy either,” she said walking over to him. “ I can even help build it.”

Engrem wiped the loose hairs from the shirt that Hanerra had brought in her things.  Then he turned and casually watched her finish dressing. “I’ll need the help. Trust me.  As they say, we are meant to have a helper in life: ‘Two will halve the work of one. Two can better defend against an attacker and, Two will better keep warm at night.’”

“I’m hungry enough for the two of us.” said Hanerra.

“We’ll eat at the inn,” said Engrem. “And I think we will be on our way by midday.”

 

After breakfast they went over to the House of Scribes together and asked for Nimar.

The Scribe came out and brought two others with him. “It is a good day for a joining,” he said.

“And we thank you for your help,” said Engrem.

Nimar was in the lead, Engrem and Hanerra followed behind, holding hands like youths. In the rear were the other two Scribes.

They gathered near the fountain in the area between the mill and the inn. One of the other Scribes had brought the innkeeper and she had brought her children along as well. Unexpectedly, breehah from all corners of the village began collecting around them.

Nimar said in a loud voice, “These two kapoo wish to announce their betrothal to each other, but they wish the knowledge of this to remain among those in this village.” He turned to the two Scribes. “We are to record this in the local record, but it is not to be sent abroad.”

The two nodded their understanding, and said, “We will keep the knowing of it among us.”

Nimar then turned to the humans. “We are your witnesses. You may begin.”

Engrem and Hanerra faced each other and clasped hands. “Ready?” he whispered. The night before Engrem had translated the traditional Koplushian betrothal vow into the breehah language and they had both rehearsed it.

She nodded, took a breath and smiled.

“Hanerra Niwosh, I want to be with you forever.”

She answered, “Engrem Barinium, I want to be with you forever.”

They continued with him speaking a line and her repeating it.

“Where you go, I will follow.

“Let your way be my way.

“Your family will be my family and our children will be our house.

“Where you live, I will live.

“Let eternal punishment come upon me if anything but death separates us.”

When Hanerra had spoken this last, Engrem alone spoke the final line, “And I will always protect you from harm.”

Hanerra whispered in Koplushian, smiling, “And I will keep you out of trouble.”

The pair embraced and then kissed. Then they were startled to hear Nimar begin chanting a prayer, “Oh, great Sky-Father, maker of all creation, bless these two in their lives together.  Give them health, unity of spirit, and many children.”

Then the whole crowd of breehah repeated in sing-song, “Give them health, unity of spirit, and many children.”

Engrem and Hanerra hugged each other again.  When they parted, both of them had moist cheeks.  In only a few minutes, the crowd had dispersed, everyone going back to their normal activities.  Only Nimar remained.

“May many blessings follow you on your way,” he said.

Engrem bowed slightly and said, “Thank you, Nimar. You have been a good friend.”

The newly-wed pair returned to the storehouse to gather their belongings into a small cart. It was normal size for one of the Folk, but small for Engrem.

As he pushed it forward to start them on their journey, Hanerra asked, “What’s our destination?”

“To the west there is an area that I’m told doesn’t have a lot of Folk.” I figure that’s a good place to try.”

“Oh. How long will that take?”

Engrem shrugged. “I’m not sure. A few days or so.”

Hanerra chuckled. “Suddenly I’m reconsidering my decision.”

“I know where I’m going, or at least I know how to find it. A little trust?”

Hanerra reached over and patted Engrem’s shoulder.  “Where you go, I will follow, remember?”

– : –

A Planet to Call Home-9

July 30, 2020

They left the next morning. It took them eight days to reach the human settlement near the port of Hisoigo. Engrem had insisted on bringing his cart loaded with their travel gear. Hanerra was helping push the cart up a steep hill when Engrem stopped short.  She joined him and Nimar at the crest of the hill.  Below them they could see the human settlement.

“Well,” said Engrem, “I wasn’t expecting that!”

In an area to the side of the breehah village, there were several artificial looking quonset huts set up like a camp.

“I did say it was a settlement,” she said, “We had to sleep somewhere.”

It has the look of a beach-head, thought Engrem grimly.

 

The group descended the hill and entered the breehah village. The human community consisted of a collection of five huts surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence with a gate.

Nimar said, “I’m going to report to the House of Scribes. I can join you later.  Baisah do you want to come with me?”

“No, nuree Nimar,” she said. “I will stay with En’urem.”

“Very well, I will join you later.” And Nimar walked off to a stone building in the village.

As they got closer to the camp, Hanerra took the lead and led them to the lone guard.

“Hanerra Niwosh to see Doctor Bahefin. You can tell him I found Engrem Barinium.”

The guard nodded, took her com-unit and reported the information.  She was military, but looked to be a new recruit.  After a few moments on the com, the guard opened the gate and admitted them.

“Hut number three,” said the guard.

When they were away from the gate, Engrem said quietly in Koplushian, “Why the fence?”

Hanerra answered in the same manner, “It’s only a precaution.  You’ll remember the mining camp was attacked.  There’s only a squad or two of the military here. The rest are Engrethy ministers and/or scientists.” She added with a small laugh, “I think it’s more to keep us in than to keep the breehahs out.”

Engrem parked his cart between two of the huts, ceremonially dusted himself off and joined Hanerra and Baisah at the door. He noted that Hanerra had discreetly put her someley around her neck. The flat ring looked as much like a mechanic’s fastener-washer as anything, but it identified her as an Engrethy minister.

“I see you have your badge of office,” he said.

“Yes,” she agreed, momentarily fingering the silver pendant. “I felt silly wearing it after I left with Nimar.  No need for it out among the natives.” Hanerra paused a moment, bowing her head. Slowly, she started, “Engrem, I need to tell you–”

Just then then the door opened and a man stepped out. He was an older man, clad in a standard ships coverall.  He also wore a vest and a small someley pendant.

Gwith,” he said in Koplushian.  “Come in. I’ve been expecting you.”

Inside the hut, the man, who introduced himself as Doctor Bahefin, offered them seats. They had just finished exchanging pleasantries when a functionary entered from another door carrying a tray of bread and cheese.  Engrem noted that these were not native made. The bread looked too fine and the cheese too light in color. He sampled it, and gave some to Baisah.

“It’s not as sharp as you are used to,” he whispered to her.  She took it and ate slowly.

“You look well,” said Bahefin.

Engrem straightened in his seat and said, “Thank you. The breehah are a gentle and generous people, Doctor.”

“With one exception,” Bahefin said, raising his fore finger.

Engrem glanced innocently at Hanerra, who gave a small shrug. Then he said to Bahefin, “I think they considered the polluting of one of their rivers to be a desecration of their world. As I heard it, the miners threw stones at the breehah who came to object to what they were doing.”

“And that has all been dealt with now,” said Bahefin. He clasped his hands before him on the table. “I guess you’ve had some adventures. I’d like to hear about what you’ve been doing among the natives.”

Engrem frowned briefly. “With just yourself, Doctor?  I have a few statements I wish to make.”

Bahefin straightened in his chair. “I am the head of this community.  As such I am a representative of the Koplushian Council.”

He glanced at Hanerra, Bahefin, Baisah, and the functionary.  He had hoped that Nimar would be there with him as a representative of the Folk. Then he said, “I’d like an Observer to be present.” Then he added, “And also the military commander.”

Bahefin showed mild surprise for a moment before replying. “That can certainly be arranged.” He nodded to the functionary beside him, who turned and left the room. Doctor Bahefin then brought over a pitcher of water, cups,  and a package of the protein wafers that were standard fare on spaceships. Engrem ignored the wafers, but poured water in the cups for Baisah, Hanerra and himself.

He had just taken a sip when the door behind him opened. He and Hanerra turned and watched as the official Witness to the Koplushian Council came in and stood near the rear door of the room. She was tall and young, but her face had lines of determination.

“I am Observer Asorth, “ she said. Please identify yourselves.  Before anyone could answer, the door next to the Observer opened and the military commander stepped in.  He was a short, unassuming man whose eyes darted about. Seeing what he sought, he grabbed a folding chair and took a seat next to Doctor Bahefin. At Asorth’s repeated request those in the room introduced themselves.

Then Doctor Bahefin said, “Mister Barinium has a few things he wants to say. Please proceed.” The Doctor gestured an open hand to Engrem.

Engrem began at his meeting with Greefur and detailed his time among the breehah, his leaving for the ship, and his return. He accentuated the gentleness and self reliance of the Folk. All listened with attention, particularly the Observer.

When he had finished the narrative, he stood up and said, “It would be wrong for us to exploit this people. They live in peace with their world and each other. I recommend we let them be and leave.” Then he sat down.

“Thank you, Engrem,” said Bahefin.

Then the commander spoke, leaning towards him on the table. ”Young man, what you’d prefer is all well and good, but are you aware of the full effect that mountain of dust had here?  Many of the crops failed due to rain or the out of season cold weather. Many of the natives perished–are still dying of hunger. Don’t you think we should help them. We could educate–”

“All that they need from us has been done, hasn’t it? “ Engrem interrupted with a raised voice. “If the dust has been removed from the atmosphere as I was told it was,” he glanced at Hanerra, “then the rest is up to the breehah people themselves. We should not interfere further.”

“But the deaths…” said the commander.

Engrem closed his eyes for a moment. He felt Baisah brush up against him.  She had no idea what was going on. Finally, he said, “I have been out among the breehah during all of this. Yes, their way of life has been disrupted, but they will recover.  They are recovering.  The Scribes do very well to keep the Folk in their ways. We should leave them alone.”

Doctor Bahefin looked over at the commander as if to silence him. Then turned and said. “We will certainly take your comments into consideration. Thank you. Quarters have been arranged for you here in the camp.”

With that the interview was ended. Engrem, Hanerra, and Baisah were escorted out by a civilian functionary. They were shown where to bathe and get food. While they were not forbidden from leaving, it was strongly suggested they stay near the camp.

 

The evening of the next day, Engrem, Hanerra, and Baisah were just outside the camp enjoying the light breeze that came off the ocean.  The day had been cloudy, but not rainy for a change.  The horizon cleared up as the sun set.  It was still a very deep red. As dusk approached, Baisah told them the names of a few of the star patterns in the sky that Nimar had taught her.

Suddenly a voice in the distance said, “Baisah?  Is that you?” Engrem looked and saw two adult breehahs walking towards them.

Baisah spun around quickly and yelled “Nunah?  Nunah!” She quickly rose to all fours and trotted off, closing the distance between them.  By the time Engrem and Hanerra reached the pair, Baisah had jumped onto her mother’s back and was hugging her torso from the back, yelling, “Nunah! I missed you!”

The other breehah was a Scribe who had guided Gesah here from a village several days away. “Word finally reached us about Baisah and where she was going to be,” said the Scribe.

“You have quite a communications network on this world,” said Engrem. “Is there any word about, Greefur, her father?”

The Scribe’s antennas touched tips as it said, “Gesah said that Greefur had gone to the mountain to help clean up the river from the trash left by the mimilodi. He was surely there when the mountain turned to dust.”

Engrem hung his head momentarily. “That saddens me, but I am glad to see Gesah again.” Engrem had heard the word ‘mimilodi’ a few times while in the human settlement.  It was a derogatory term for humans.  With understanding, he let it go.

Baisah was still clinging to her mother’s neck, babbling about what she had been doing these months. Gesah managed to walk over to Engrem, Hanerra followed. “Thank you for caring for Baisah!” said Gesah in a whisper.  There was so much confusion after the explosion and the shakings.  Everyone ran and I lost sight of her.  Thank the gods they sent you to find her!”

“But, Gesah, it wasn’t…”  Hanerra, at his side, pressed his arm.  He looked at her and she quietly said, “Let her believe what she wants. It’s not our world.”

“I thank the gods.  I thank the gods,” said Gesah as she turned, Baisah still on her neck and started walking away. Engrem noted that her left antenna was severely bent.  She had been through much.

The Scribe came over. “She will be well now. Gesah is working a farm in Lokahku Misopuror with another widow and an orphan child. They will be well.” That said, the Scribe turned and followed Gesah away.

Engrem watched them walk off into the growing darkness.  Hanerra, at his side voiced his thoughts, “Just thanks, and so long, huh.”

“I think they were closer to the event than the breehah we’ve been dealing with.  I can’t blame them if they are resentful.”

“Well, still, one would think…”

“Their ways are not our ways, Hanerra,” he said. Then, with a sigh, “I’m going to miss little Baisah.”

Hanerra put one arm around his waist, and her hand on his shoulder.

Engrem watched the breehahs disappear into the dark.  No doubt they would sleep in the village over the hill.  He whispered to Hanerra, “Would you go with me?”

“Go where?”

“Back to the village, to Jure’lur.”

She was quiet for a moment, then said, “Why should you go back? Baisah is with her mother and the breehah will be protected from more interference from us.”

Engrem sighed in the dark. “I don’t feel like I belong here.  I don’t feel comfortable in the world as the Council would make it.  I just want to live a simple life, out there. Somewhere.”

“But we’re here now,” said Hanerra. “We can go back home to Koplushia. Maybe we can live in one of the small cities…”

“WE?” he said in a tone of annoyance. “When did you and I become a ‘we’?  When I asked you on the ship–”

“Engrem, don’t you see?  We’re not on the ship anymore.  We’re here with humans and we can go home and build a life together.  That’s why I told you they wanted you back…” her words trailed off and she gasped with regret.

There was a moment of silence. Then Engrem said, “I thought they gave in too easily!  They weren’t waiting for me.  They had already decided on the Protected Planet Status.”

Quietly Hanerra said, “Yes. They didn’t need your statement for their decision.  I brought you back here for your own good.”

“My own good?  Have you ever thought that I know my own good? I’ve been living out there on my own.  I can take care of myself.”

“You can’t do that forever. When the Protected status is enacted they’ll come and find you!”

“I wish them luck.  I’m going back to the Folk.” Engrem pulled her arm from his shoulder and stood up. Hanerra’s hand grasped at him in the dark, but he stood up and took a few steps away. “I still love you. Will you come with me?”

Hanerra sniffled a few times.  Then she said in a whisper, “I can’t.”

Engrem strode off into the dark then. After she had composed herself, Hanerra returned to the camp. Engrem’s cart was still parked between the buildings.  She worried if he would be all right without the provisions and belongings it held.

A Planet to Call Home-8

July 29, 2020

The rains returned and the weather remained cool. After some weeks of carting supplies and returning to the village, Engrem began to feel superfluous and decided to leave. Nimar had continued on his circuit again, so he informed the local Scribe of his intentions. The Scribe asked if he would deliver a news packet to the village of Jure’lur since they were short a courier at the time.  Engrem agreed.

The next day his cart was lightly loaded with some provisions and he and Baisah set off together.  The innkeeper had offered to look after the young Baisah, but she herself was adamant that she would stay with Engrem until they found her parents.

The route they were taking was unfamiliar to Engrem.  The road led to a wide river. While previously he had crossed smaller water courses at a simple ford, here there was a sturdy wooden platform and a ferry station.

The ferry was a flat boat which was guided across the river by a thick rope. It was now bringing a few Folk to his shore.  He could see they too were carters.  When the boat arrived, they looked him over as they disembarked, but otherwise just went on their way. The ferry master, seeing the packet from the House of Scribes, said, “Metoosahs! Where are you headed?”

Metoosahpe!” said Engrem. “We are going to Jure’lur.”

“We’re looking for my Nunah and Gugah,” added Baisah.

“Do you know of Greefur and Gesah from Mimipuror’peloo?” Engrem asked.

Shaking his head the ferryman said, “Sorry, no I haven’t, and I’ve seen a lot of new Folk lately.”

After they started off from the dock, Engrem detached himself from the cart and carefully moved to stand near Baisah.  She was watching the shore recede as they were carried across the river.

“I will find them, Baisah,” he said to the little breehah.

 

Hanerra and Nimar entered the village of Jure’lur ahead of their hunter guide, Mimer.  Some children were playing stick toss in an open area to the side of the public fountain.

“I believe he is there,” said Nimar, pointing to a small, wooden, rectangular building about halfway up the gently sloping road.

Uronar, Nimar,” she said, shifting her back pack.  “I see him.  I’d like to talk to him alone.”

“As you wish. You can find me at the House of Scribes over there.”

Hanerra saw Engrem move behind a bush and she sped her climb up the hill.  She called out, “Can’t meet me halfway?”  He took a few steps towards her as she reached the top.  He looked very different.  Engrem had gotten thinner during the past months and now sported a mop of hair and a scraggly beard.

She reached out and gave him a firm hug and then kissed him. “You weren’t easy to find.”

“Good. I wanted it that way,” he said.  Then he smiled. “It’s good to see you. We can talk inside.”

The building he indicated looked like a storehouse. Unlike the other breehah buildings Hanerra had been in, this one had a high ceiling. Wide shelves lined the walls. One shelf evidently served as his bed. It contained a thick grass mat and a large woven blanket. The other shelves held crates and sacks marked in the breehah lettering.

Engrem spoke to a small breehah who appeared at the door.  After the child left he offered a stool to Hanerra and then leaned against the small table.  It creaked unsteadily and he immediately stood up again.

“Why did you come looking for me?” he said quietly in a near monotone. “I was hoping to be forgotten.”

“Well, I missed you too,“ Hanerra said. Then she smiled uneasily. “Relax. No one is hunting you, well, aside from me.“ She smiled broadly. “The Council has taken charge of the situation here, but they’re letting the Engrethists handle most of it.  No military.  Well,” she shrugged, “the military is supplying us, but we’re in charge.”

“That’s good to know,” he said slowly. “Can you tell me what happened after I left the ship?”

She looked introspective momentarily. “The crew managed to break into the control chamber and grab Broskot, but not until a fifteen second blast of the mining beam hit the planet.”

“You should have seen it from down here,” he said dryly. “It looked like a volcanic eruption that tracked across the land.”

Hanerra nodded. “The beam atomized the crust in a swath fifteen miles long and a quarter mile wide. All that matter got pulled straight upwards into the upper atmosphere.  It’s designed to pulverize asteroids.  No one knew what it could do to a planet.”

Engrem frowned and scratched at his beard. “How bad?”

“Not much worse than the historic eruption of Mt. Alatewm, but…”

Kich!” he cried. “The historians say that eruption set us back a hundred years!  The breehah…”

A few days later an exploration vessel popped out of hyperspace and took command of the Boseras. The captain sent a report to the Company and the signal was intercepted.”

Engrem nodded introspectively.

“The Council is starting to help.  They have a plan,” she said.

“Wonderful,” he said with sarcasm. “What’s the plan?”

Hanerra paused to get his attention. “The atmosphere is being cleaned of the mineral dust from the ‘attack’. They are actually using the Boseras for that chore. It is hoped the climate will normalize in a few years.”

“In a few years,” he said dryly. “These people are suffering now.  Their society has been completely disrupted by this… this… event.”

“And that is why I came looking for you, Engrem.  You know the people and the language, well, one of the major ones. They know you and you’re trusted.”

“Pfft,” he made a noise.  “Trusting me did them a load of good. How many have died because of this?”

Hanerra hesitated, then replied softly, “The estimate is over one million of the breehah.”

A growl came from Engrem’s throat. “I should have stayed instead of returning to the ship. I could have helped when things were going wrong. I was the one that got them permission to mine…”

“Engrem, there’s no use in lamenting things that cannot be changed,” Hanerra said. “We need to start here and move forward.”

Engrem bowed his head a moment, looked at her and then nodded a few times. “You’re right.”

Then the small breehah returned, carrying a jug of water and a tray holding a flat round of bread, a small bowl of cheese, and nut-cookies.  “Uronar, Baisah,” said Engrem.  “Hanerra, this is Baisah.  I stayed with her family when I first came down. I doubt I would have survived without her.  She’s good at finding food in the wild.”  Then he made reverse introductions for Baisah in the breehah language.

The small breehah looked at Hanerra for a moment and then said innocently, “Her skin is darker than yours, En’urem. Is it so with all your mates?”

Caught unaware, he paused in thought and said to her, “Not always. The kahpoohah are many colors.  I think she is very pretty that way. She is also very wise.”

Baisah quietly left and Engrem poured water into one of the clay cups on the table and handed it to Hanerra.  Then he tore off a bit of the bread, dipped it into the soft cheese and politely handed it to her saying, “You are my guest.”

After a moment, she took it, nodding appreciatively.

“It’s a bit sharp,” he warned.

“Thanks,” said Hanerra. “I thought you didn’t like cheese.”

Engrem took one of the nut cookies.  “After the first few weeks of it, it’s not so bad.”  He picked up a sheaf of papers from the table, rolled it up and placed it on his bed.  It was likely his journal. On the ship he was always keeping a journal.

After a few silent moments Hanerra started to ask, “How have you—”

He cut her off. “Why did you come for me?”

She stood up.  “I told you. Decisions are being made about this planet.  Some of them I don’t like.  If you want a voice in the fate of these people, you need to come back and be heard.”

“Why don’t you say something?” he said, annoyed.

Hanerra slowly stepped towards him. “What do I know of the breehah?  You’ve lived weeks here among them.  Who better to speak on their behalf.”

Engrem put his inkwell and stylus on a shelf near the bunk, putting his back to her.  Then he said quietly, “I’m just a steward on a mining ship.”

She stepped to him and lifted his chin to look at his face.  “Engrem Barinium, you were a steward. But now, for whatever reason, you’ve become the best advocate these people could have.  Are you going to leave them to suffer, or will you be their voice to help protect them?”

Engrem sighed. “I won’t go anywhere without Baisah. I’m responsible for her.  And we should enlist Nimar. There needs to be a native voice in this.  I saw that he brought you. How did that happen?”

“Well, he came into the human settlement one day looking for me, but  he only knew to say my name.  It’s a lucky thing I was down here instead of up on the ship. I was summoned and taken to him.”

“And you just followed him away?”

“No, silly! she said with a smile.  “Nimar immediately started to teach me his language. You were right. They are great teachers!”

He said quietly, “So you understood what I said to Baisah just now?”

“Most of it.  I’m learning more each day.” She smiled again and gave him an understanding look. “Anyway, after I understood that he wanted to take me to you, I told the camp commander I was going to find you. They’ve wanted to talk to you regardless.”

“And they let you just leave with a native?”

“And I just left with a native…” she shrugged, “ at night… well, just before dawn.”  Hanerra hugged him and kissed him again.  “I missed you.”  She squeezed him tightly and spoke in a hoarse whisper, “Engrem, I thought you were dead!”

“I thought I might never see you again!”  He inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of her hair. “Mmm.  I’m glad you’re here, Hanerra.”  They let go of each other and she quickly wiped her eyes.

“I brought you clothes and some underwear,”  she said, opening her back pack and pulling out a flat package.  “We have a week of travel ahead of us, so we should leave as soon as we can.”

Engrem looked up at her, holding the package. “I haven’t said I’d go yet.”

“Well, unless you want the Council to make policy without your input…”

He stammered, “B-b-bu…”

“What is it you want for these people, Engrem?”

A moment of thought, and then, “I want their environment repaired and I want them left completely alone.”

“If you don’t go and say that I know what they are planning. They hope to industrialize the breehah, or at least some of them so they can trade with them for their metals.”

“No! I will not allow that!” Engrem clenched his fists. “I’ll get my things together here. Please go tell Nimar that we must leave in the morning. ”

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

A Planet to Call Home-7

July 28, 2020

Engrem and Baisah walked along the deserted road.  They had been going away from the destruction for several days, hopefully into an area where there were people.  After the blast had hit the mountain everyone ran away. Baisah told him between sobs that Greefer had gone to the mountain a few days before to help clean up the river.  She and her mother, Gesah had gone to Mimipuror’peloo to trade a surplus of josi eggs for some spices. Engrem had no idea where Gesah had gone. He had only found Baisah because she ran to him, screaming in her high-pitched voice.

Baisah likely saved him during those days. She knew which plants were safe to eat and where edible roots could be dug from the ground. His emergency provisions would stay edible until he needed them. Living off the land was a better plan for now.

Engrem held the survival blanket from his pack around him and Baisah carried one on her back.  The temperature had turned colder after the event. He had bound her leg as best he knew how with some bandages and a splint.  It didn’t seem to be broken. Hopefully it was just a sprain.

After a few days of walking they came to a crossroad. He saw a breehah with a carrysack watching them approach. At last! Engrem stopped a distance away, not knowing how to react.  Did he know about humans? Did he know what humans had done? Engrem put down the undersized shovel he was carrying lest it be interpreted as a weapon.

Metoosahs,” said the breehah cautiously.

Engrem winced inside, knowing the meaning of the greeting, ‘Is life good?’  He couldn’t bring himself to give the customary response. He simply said, “I am glad to see someone.”

The breehah paused.  His antennas crossed momentarily and then separated, leaning forward slightly.  He said carefully, “At first I thought you might be a god, but you speak with an accent.”

“And gods always use your speech without flaw,” Engrem finished. He had heard this before.

“Yes.” He inclined his head as if evaluating him and Baisah, who quietly stood at Engrem’s side. “I am Nimar.”

“I am Engrem.  This is Baisah, daughter of Greefur and Gesah of Mimipuror ‘peloo. We have been walking for days looking for Folk.”  He picked up the shovel.

Nimar took a step back. “Why the shovel?”

“Digging for roots to eat,” he replied. Then more quietly, “I also buried a few of the dead as we have traveled.”

“That is well,” said Nimar. “I have only encountered the displaced and hungry.  Where are you going?”

“Away from there.” He indicated the way he had come, “but…”

“Let us travel together then.”

Engrem and Baisah stepped toward Nimar and fell into step as they continued down the cart-road. “Shouldn’t someone help those near the mountain?  Your people?”

“We first need to find those capable of helping.  I’ve instructed those I’ve met how to survive where they are.  Happily most already knew and did not need my reminding. I found a few occupied farms along the way and they are sending food and whatever they can spare.”

“Is that all you can do?”

“Not I alone. There are many of my craft and they are all doing likewise as they travel the affected area.”

“What craft?” asked Engrem.

“I am a Gartur,” Nimar said simply.

A few moments later Engrem said, “I do not know that word.”

Baisah whispered then. “He is a writer of words.”

Nimar nodded to her. “I am a record keeper and an advisor to my community.”

A Scribe, though Engrem.  Then he said, “I met one of your craft.  He told us who worked the mountain…” And he fell silent.

At evening they approached a village. Nimar remarked, “It is early to be so dark.  Have you noticed the sunrises and sunsets are an odd color?”

But Engrem answered simply, “Yes I have.” Even though he had lived among the breehah a mere two weeks, he noticed the sky was a deeper red color now than it was before the mountain exploded.

There was no sign of habitation although the buildings were intact. Nimar looked up at the idle structure alongside a long pond. A narrow waterfall cascaded down. “Someone will have to run that mill.”

They took shelter in the living quarters of the mill. Nimar said it would be better stocked and more manageable than the inn. While Engrem dug some roots and filled water jugs, Baisah was given charge of keeping the fire in the hearth alive after it was lit. Nimar scavenged some wheat flour and made a few flats of bread while the roots boiled in a copper pot.

The three gathered at the low round table.  Nimar paused, looking at Baisah, then at Engrem. He began chanting “We thank you, Neebah, god of harvests for the food you have given us…”

Haltingly, Engrem finished what he had heard many times at the table of Greefur and Gesah, “…And for family and strangers to share our abundance with.”

They ate in silence. When the plates were empty, Baisah silently took them away to wash them. Nimar stood and backed from the table a few steps to add wood to the hearth.

“Tomorrow I’ll add some green wood to the fire to make smoke so that anyone around will know to return.  I believe we are in Jarsaa’peloo.”

“And then what?” said Engrem.

“We have to get the village functioning again.  There’s no danger here.  I think I saw an undamaged crop in the fields. Once the Folk return, help can be sent where needed.”

“How long will that take?” said Engrem.

“That depends on who comes.  But that is for tomorrow.” Nimar took the mat he had sat on and put it near the hearth. He sat and pulled a roll of paper sheets from his satchel. “I need to record the events of the day.” He took out a cane stylus and a small bottle of red ink and began writing on the sheets.

Engrem came over behind him to watch. The language was written in long and short vertical and angled strokes.  They meant little to him as yet although Baisah had begun teaching him the rudiments of the markings during their rests.  Greefur had not taught him to read in their short time together.

Nimar asked him if he knew what actually happened.

Engrem thought how best to relay it to the breehah. “I think a mountain became dust and turned into a huge cloud.”

The breeha’s antennas leaned inward and crossed momentarily . “How did that happen?”

Another hesitation. “One of my kind in a sky-ship lost his mind and hit the mountain with a… a hammer of light.”

“Do you say,” said Nimar.  “Your kind are from the sky?”

“Absolutely not,” Engrem said quickly. “We come from another world, much like yours.  But above your sky and ours is an ocean of black that we crossed to get here.  Your blue sky is like the sea shore.” He clarified a few other points to Nimar as he was questioned.  Everything was recorded on paper in the dark red ink. When he was satisfied, Nimar said,

“Your name is En’urem?”

Engrem shrugged. “Close enough.”

“Do you have a family name among your kind?”

“Yes.” Although reluctant to attach his family’s honored name to these circumstances, he said carefully, “Barinium.”

 

Several days later it began to rain. A week passed before there was a break. During this time Engrem and Nimar had inspected the buildings in the village looking for hiding survivors and the dead. They found neither. Nimar had instructed Baisah how to keep a smoky fire burning in the mill hearth. Engrem did likewise in the blacksmith’s forge.

First to return was the innkeeper who presented herself to Nimar one rainy morning at the mill. With her were two young children and her husband who was the village carpenter.

After more of the local Folk returned to the village, Engrem asked the carpenter to adapt a cart to his taller stature. Engrem then helped to haul any supplies to out-lying villages where food and other supplies were needed.  Baisah accompanied him on these travels. Mostly the areas affected by the dust were abandoned.  The running streams had become clogged with dust and dead fish. The streams did not clear for several weeks.

Many of the Folk who were traveling away from the blast of the mountain  were hungry and welcomed the food. There was talk of many deaths beyond the mountain from lack of food, but that area was too far for Engrem to travel to. Whenever he met any of the Folk on the road, he asked if they knew Greefur or Gesah from Mimipuror’peloo. The answer was always in the negative.

During one of these trips, Nimar accompanied Engrem, acting as a courier for the House of Scribes. They had just forded a small, clean,  river.  Engrem had removed his boots and rolled up his pants to make the crossing.  As he was putting them on again, a notion came to him.

“Nimar, how does one become a Scribe? It doesn’t seem like something just anyone can aspire to.”

His antennas briefly crossed and he sat down next to Engrem. Baisah was poking in the water’s edge with a stick, looking for leg-fish. “Scribes are chosen,” he said. “One of our duties is to see to the education of the young. We take note of anyone particularly bright and we invite them to become one of us.”

“It is much the same with my kind.” said Engrem. “We choose those with certain abilities to do certain jobs.”

“Is that how you became a traveler between the skies, En’urem?”

He paused, thinking. “Traveling between the skies is not something just anyone can do.  Sometimes one has to do a simple job, instead of something important in order to be on the ship.”

“I think I understand,” said Nimar. “In my youth, I often had to clean out a latrine before I learned to do other tasks. I was happy to grow out of that duty.”

“Nimar…”

But high pitched screams from Baisah drew their attention down stream.  A large dark gray animal was making its way towards them.

“Baisah, come here!” said Nimar returning to all-fours. “En’urem we must flee the haalo’hah!

Engrem grabbed the poles of the cart, but Nimar waved him off.  He dropped the poles and the three of them ran up the road. When they reached the top of a hill Nimar stopped them.  They saw the large haalo’hah stop and topple the cart over.  It pawed through the food that was in it, grabbed a bag of dried meat in its mouth, and pushed the end of the cart aside. It then continued upstream.

Engrem said, “Can we go back for the cart?”

“It should be safe,” said Nimar.

“I never saw a haalo’hah,” said Baisah, her antennas parted to the right and left. “That was fun!”

Nimar said quietly, “I never saw one so unafraid of Folk.”

The three walked back down the hill, righted the cart and continued on. The jerky was gone, but the roots and grain were unspoiled.

That evening after Baisah had fallen asleep, Nimar and Engrem were talking as they watched the campfire burn down to coals. Without warning, the Scribe asked, “Among your kind, do you have a mate, or are you alone?”

Engrem hesitated before answering. Then began slowly, “I have a mate on the sky-ship. No one else knows about it though.”

Nimar’s reply sounded almost like a reproof. “Here among the Folk, a mated pair must announce their partnership among their neighbors.  In the distant past, males would capture females and force them to mate without consent.”

“Oh, there is definitely consent, Nimar. We just haven’t told anyone.”

“Such a secret thing will never receive a blessing from the Father in the sky.  What is the name of your mate?”

“Her name is Hanerra,” said Engrem.

“That has the sounding of a good name. When you return to her you should announce your commitment to each other publically.”

Engrem did not tell Nimar of Hanerra’s reluctance when he had suggested just that. Instead, he rose and said, “That is my intention, but now it is night and I’m going to sleep. Is there any danger of a visit from another haalo’hah?”

“Not here,” said Nimar. “They follow the course of streams and other waters. We are far enough away from the water. Sleep well.”

A Planet to Call Home-6

July 27, 2020

A few days later, worse news came.  The ore ship arrived only half filled and carried two wounded men.  It was an emergency run. Broskot and his brother Kethrem had been hurt in an attack at the mine site.  Broskot had an arrow protruding from his shoulder while his brother had one in his chest.

Kethrem could only moan in pain while Broskot spoke in a delirium as he was carried down the hall.  “They came at us at night with bows, arrows and spears…  Dozens of them…  We only had rocks to throw… We need weapons…  Shot us up with arrows…”

Hanerra medicated them both upon entering the medical bay and began working on Kethrem as his wound was more serious.

“Damn it!” she said under her breath. “We’re not set up for things like this!”

Her two aides were there assisting.  They successfully removed the arrow and stabilized the wounds of both men.  Broskot responded well to treatment, but his brother remained in shock and unstable.  During the night Kethrem died.

The next day when Hanerra told Broskot, he had to be pinned to the bed to keep him from jumping up in rage.  “I’ll kill them!” he yelled.  “I’ll get those dogs for killing my brother!” Finally Broskot had to be sedated because he remained so upset.

The company ceased operations on the planet immediately and brought the remaining crew back up to the ship. The idea was to let the situation cool down on the planet.

That evening, after the usual game of gyvyk, they retired to Hanerra’s cabin. As they lay in each others arms before sleeping, Engrem whispered, “Do you think anyone’s noticed us?”

She replied, “Why do you think it even matters what people think? As long as we do our jobs on the ship, who cares? We’re both adults.”

“I was thinking about our families. We both come from families of high standing.”

Hanera was silent for a few moments, then turned onto her side to face him. Long dark hair covered half her face. “You’re worried someone will think one of us is an opportunist?  Ridiculous!”

“It could be said…”

“Oh, nonsense,” she whispered gently. “Both our names are of equal rank.  They both belong to founding families dating clear back to Kidana, let alone Koplushia!”

“Maybe we should join forces and start a dynasty!” Then he chuckled.

“The blockers would have to wear off first,” she said, continuing the joke.

Engrem was quiet. She snuggled back under the bed cover. Then he said, “Hanerra?”

“Mmm?” she replied.

“After this job, I want to leave the ship. Leave the company.”

“To go where?”

“There’s talk of starting a colony, an offshoot from Koplushia.”
Silence.

“It will be on a planet, not another space settlement.”

Silence.

“Hanerra, when I go, I want you to go with me.”

A longer silence.

“I’m asking you to marry me,” he said. “I want to be with you always.”

Hanerra shifted. Her face was pensive.  She was looking at him and smiling, but her eyes were filled with… what?   Worry? Engrem reached out and caressed her hair off of her cheek and found a tear.

“What’s wrong?” he whispered.

She pulled him down to her with her free arm.  “Engrem, I love you!” she said. “I love you and I want to be with you forever…but… I need to think about this first. I need to think about it in the light of day.” She began quietly weeping, but Engrem knew they were tears of joy.

 

 

The next day, after eating the evening meal, Engrem and Hanerra had just finished their game. He avoided mentioning the previous night and what he had asked her.

“I think you’re starting to understand the game,” Engrem said. “You gave me a challenge this time.

“Maybe I just need to be more aggressive,” she said. “This whole thing with the planet has me upset.  I’m used to doing first aid, broken bones at worst.  Scratches and cuts, not arrows.  Now I’ve lost my first patient!”

“It’s a terrible thing, Hanerra.  I can’t believe things got that bad down there.  The breehah I met were so gentle and, well… civilized.”

“I asked the returning crew.  They were just dumping anything they didn’t want right in the river, trash, mining sludge, everything. They were also throwing rocks at the natives.”

“If I had been there…” whispered Engrem.

A powerful hum became evident and was now rising in intensity.  Suddenly an alarm began sounding.

“What the skot is that?” asked Hanerra.

“Are they powering up the mining beam?  That’s what it sounds like.”

“That’s just for breaking up asteroids!” she said.

They both stood up, looking helpless.  Neither had any business anywhere having to do with mining. “The port!” said Hanerra.  She set off for the doorway.

“The one on the planet-side is this way!” Engrem quickly led the way.  In the corridor Hanerra was met by one of her assistants. “He got out!” he said. “Broskot isn’t in the medical bay.  Have you seen him?”

“No! Who’s firing the mining beam?”

But the announcement over the shipwide intercom prevented any other communication.

“Attention! Stand down the mining beam. Unauthorized persons  attempting to fire mining beam.”

The pitch of the humming rose and the whole ship vibrated.  Engrem beat Hanerra to the port and looked.  He saw the planet below them.

“I’m going down!” said Engrem.

“How?” said Hanerra, but he was already down the corridor opening the hatch to an escape pod.” A new alarm sounded indicating what he had done.

“No! Engrem don’t!”

But he had already climbed in and closed the hatch.

 

Engrem climbed into the escape pod and strapped himself into a position on the ring-shaped couch along the perimeter. As he did so, a large green button lit up. He mashed his fist on it and the pod launched from the ship. It was a steerable pod and Engrem knew enough of such things to set it to land near the lake that was the landmark when he had originally gone to the surface. Then he held onto the safety straps and helplessly watched as the pod automatically took him down.

 

The pod landed with a bounce and splashed into the lake.  Before it had even stabilized, Engrem unstrapped and opened the hatch.  After choosing his destination, he grabbed a pack of survival gear, dove into the water, and swam ashore.  Then he ran.

The sky was cloudless. Engrem got his bearings from the landmarks and started up the path leading away from the lake.  A flash of light caught his eye and he stopped to turn. A ray of bright green light, nearly vertical appeared beyond the mountains. Almost instantly a plume of brown dust began rising upwards. There was a rumbling sound in the distance and the plume kept rising.  It began obscuring the noon-day sun.  He had to get to Mimipuror’peloo to warn them.  Engrem ran along the road he was on, hoping it was indeed the right one.

It got darker as the plume expanded. Suddenly the ground shook beneath his feet and he fell. The quake subsided and he began running again. The rumbling stopped, but the landscape was lit by an eerie light. When he ran out of breath, he kept walking as fast as he could, then he would run again along the road until forced to walk again.  Another quake toppled him to the ground.  He rose and stumbled forward.

Eventually he came to a small cart-bridge over a stream. There was a large tree near the road and a split-rail fence.  It was familiar to him.  It was the road to Greefur’s farm! Engrem ran up the smaller road to try and find Greefur and his family.

The pen for the metahs was broken open and many of them lay dead on the ground. A very few were weakly braying. Engrem called out in breehah, “Greefur!  Gesah!  Baisah!  Where are you?”  The house and the shed had collapsed and looked like they had been blown over.  Engrem tried to search in the debris.  He looked up and noticed the mountain was missing its top.  He called out again, but there was no answer.  Engrem decided to go to the village instead.

After many periods of jogging and walking, he was nearly exhausted when he approached the village. A fine dust had just started falling.  Engrem pulled his shirt over his nose to act as a filter.  This did not help his exertions. When he reached the village, there were breehah yelling and hurrying in all directions.  They ignored him as he yelled for his friends.  Many of the buildings here were damaged.

Then he heard his name being called in the distance.

“En’urem!  You came back!  En’urem!”  It was little Baisah and she was limping towards him as fast as she could.

A Planet to Call Home-5

July 26, 2020

As they descended the hill after taking their leave of the Scribe, Engrem said to Greefur, “I will need to go to the lake…  Karbusaa, you called it?  My friends await me there.”

“We should eat first.  We have time before the milling is finished,” said Greefur.

“I would enjoy that,” said Engrem.

Greefur led him to the inn along the public road.  They went in and Greefur ordered food for both of them.  A few of the breehah looked at him and the noise level decreased, but no fuss was made of him. There was a trio of musicians who began playing again after the momentary lull. One had a drum, another a twin-pipe flute, and the third had a large jug which it blew across to make an intermittent drone.

When the food came to Greefur, they went outside to eat near the fountain but within sight of the mill. Greefur said the customary prayer and they began eating.  He had bought some kind of stew served in a winged bowl for each of them along with a bottle of a fruity wine. Greefer ate by dipping two fingers into the bowl and drank the liquid as if it were in a large cup. Engrem did likewise.

“Greefur, why don’t the Folk seem surprised by my appearance?  Have they seen humans before?  When you first saw me in the field you came right over and introduced yourself.”

“Why should we fear you? You are not harming us. When I saw you that day it was obvious that you were no animal. You simply needed to learn our speech. The haalo’hah, now that’s a thing to fear.”

“The haalo’hah.” Engrem repeated.

“It is a large animal that one finds in the wilderness between towns.  It is larger than us and occasionally will attack if hungry or threatened. This time of year we do not see them because there is plenty for them to eat.”

“The Folk are a very rational people,” Engrem said.

“As you seem to be.  Ah, look,” said Greefur, “the blue flag is out. My flour is ready.”

 

On the return trip to Greefur’s farm they came to a side road breaking off. “That road goes to the lake you describe.  It is not well marked, but you can see it in daylight.”

Engrem looked down the trail and then back to Greefur.  Won’t you come with me?”

“The trail is too narrow for the cart and I must return home.  You can find your way back after you speak to your friends, yes?”

“Um, yes.  I guess so.” Engrem had a bad feeling that he was saying good-bye to his host for a long time.  “I will see you later.  Thank you for all you have done.”

Greefur started off without further word.  Engrem looked down the narrow trail and started towards the lake.  At least Broskot will be pleased with the result.

 

He spotted the lander from where the trail stopped at the shore of the lake. It was on a small island a ways off shore.  He called out, but got no reply. Engrem walked along the shore looking for an easy way across and found a small inflatable boat in a cleared spot along the shore. The boat was attached to a line that was tied to a tree on the island.

Engrem got in and began pulling the boat to the island.  With each pull he heard a metallic clang on the island. They had evidently rigged an improvised bell to announce someone using the boat. Kethrem appeared from inside the lander and began pulling the boat to the island from his side.

“Welcome back. How did it go?” he said.

“I got permission for us to mine the mountain,” said Engrem.

“Really?” asked Kethrem.  “Well, that’s great.  Here, give me your hand.”

Kethrem helped Engrem from the boat and accompanied him into the lander.  They found Broskot in the pilot’s couch, asleep.  “Brother, wake up!  Engrem’s back and we’re clear to mine.”

Broskot groaned and turned over onto his back.  Then he rubbed his eyes. Well, the company will be glad.  Let’s get back to the ship.”

“There are some things outside, Engrem. Go bring them in and stow them.”

There was a short silence before Kethrem said, “Come Engrem.  I’ll help.”

Engrem cleared his throat quietly.  “Is there a chance I could stay down here longer?”

At that Broskot sat up. “No.  I’m not leaving you down here to relax with the doggies.  You belong on the ship. You work for the company.”

“You’re right,” Engrem said despondently.

The first thing that he and Kethrem did was to deflate the boat and bring it in. That act finalized in his mind that his little adventure was over. When everything was stowed, Kethrem went through the preflight check and took the lander up, taking off via the wing jets. Engrem watched the ground as they rose vertically into the air. The lake was as it had been on the trip down, a long ovoid shape with a sharp peninsula jutting in on the northwest shore. The finger of land looked like it was pointing to the small island that the ship had been on.

Engrem could just make out Greefur’s farm and the village of Mimipuror’peloo before the clouds closed in and hid them from view. Well, at least there was one good thing waiting for him on the ship, he thought.

 

The lander flew into the hangar bay of the corporate mining ship Boseras Etha. After Broskot secured the various systems, all three men got out. Engrem grabbed his pack and left the brothers as soon as he could. As he stepped through the airlock from the small hangar bay, he immediately encountered the ship’s medic.   He smiled as he slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder and said, “Gwith, Hanerra. It’s good to see you.”  She was nearly ten years his senior and one of the few friends he had on the ship. They were in fact more than friends.

“Welcome back, Engrem. You look well, but company regs say you need an examination.”

Engrem smiled at her brusqueness. “I was expecting that,” he said, beginning to walk down the corridor towards the medical bay.  “Was I missed?”

She chuckled quietly.  “Well, only when something needed cleaning up.  Your co-workers couldn’t keep up.  How was it down there?”

“A success, I suppose. They’re setting up to mine the mountain.”

“You were only there a little over two weeks.  Did you learn their language that soon?” Hanerra sounded incredulous.

“The natives there managed to teach me enough to get along in only a week.  I hardly had to use my computer after that. There’s something to be said for immersion in a foreign culture.”

“Or maybe you truly have the gift of gab,” she said as they reached the medical bay and entered. The moment the door closed behind them, Hanerra gave Engrem a firm hug and kissed him. “I missed you,” she said.

“And I, you.”  He gave her a peck on her cheek before they separated.

As the ship’s medic, Hanerra examined Engrem and found nothing amiss.  He was fit and healthy as when he left. “I’m putting you down as ready to return to duty, well, not until tomorrow,” she stated. “If anything, the fresh air and time outdoors has helped your complexion.  What did they feed you?”

Engrem inhaled, remembering. “Real food.  And some kind of cookie with nuts!” He smacked his lips and Hanerra chucked.

“Tired of the fare from the ship-board alge bank?” she said.

Engrem nodded. “Are we still on for a game of gyvyk in the evening, like usual?”

“Of course!” she laughed.  “It’s one of the things I missed, even though I’m terrible at that game. I don’t mind losing to you though.”

“As I recall, you don’t always lose.” He gave her a peck on the cheek. “At least not afterwards.”

A grin  appeared on her face. “Not until you shower!”

“I’ll even use soap!” he said, smiling and picking up his bag as he left the medical bay.

 

The next day Engrem returned to his duties. He had missed the running water and hot showers in the head, the comfort of his sleep cubicle, and the casual games of gyvyk with Hanerra almost every evening.  On the ship full of rough miners and spacers, she was really the only intellectual friend he had. Not only was she the ship’s medic, but also a minister of the popular Engrethy religion. All of these things had drawn them together at the beginning of this job.

On the fourth evening after his return the troubling news came. He had just won at gyvyk again when Hanerra said,“I heard some news from the planet today. Sounds like the natives don’t like the mining after all.”

“What do you mean?” asked Engrem. “How do you know?”

She shrugged.  “Well, one of the men broke his leg and came up with the ore ship.  He said a bunch of  breehahs approached the mine site.  No one could understand them, naturally, but they were yelling and dumped out pails of dirty water and dead fish on the ground.  The crew there thinks it has to do with the river that runs down the mountain.”

“That one might have been called Puror’lemai. Hmm. Maybe I should go back down and talk to them.”

“Well, somehow I doubt that’s going to happen.  You know how much that ore is worth and how much Koplushia needs it?  Besides,” she smiled sarcastically, “who would wipe our tables and mop the floors?”

“But if they need a voice…” he trailed off quietly.

As if to distract him, Hanerra covered a yawn and said, “Feels like it’s been a long day. First that broken leg. Then a bunch of the crew needed their fertility blockers renewed.”

Engrem glanced at his right arm, as if that would tell him anything.  “I know mine’s still good. How’s yours?”

“Mine was getting old, so I renewed it while I was in the cabinet.” She gave him that look. “Maybe we should test it?”

Engrem smiled,  clasped her hand below the table and kissed her gently on the lips. “Always open to experiments,” he whispered.

“My cabin in an hour?”

“As usual.”

A Planet to Call Home-4

July 25, 2020

The sound of rhythmic squeaking roused Engrem from sleep. He opened his eyes and could see dim light between the wall boards of the shed.  In the distance he heard several cries of urEEki from the half dozen egg-laying josis. He pulled off the rough blanket he had been given and was greeted by the cool morning air.  He quickly pulled on his boots and wrapped himself in the blanket.

The squeaking was caused by little Baisah working the pump to fill a wooden pail with water. “Metoosahs, En’urem,” she greeted. “Did you sleep well?”

Metoosahpe,” he answered appropriately. “Yes, thank you.”

“Morning meal will be ready soon,” she said, taking the pail and  heading for the house.

Engrem’s mornings for the past two weeks had begun like this almost without change. Once he understood enough of the language, Greefur had asked him to take count of the metahs in the pen each morning to be sure none had been taken by a predator during the night.  He was sure this was actually to familiarize him with counting in their language.

Engrem worked the pump and while the water was spilling out onto the drain grate he caught some in cupped hands and washed his face.  The rising sun was beginning to warm him, so he quickly folded the blanket and put it back in the shed.  As he descended the gentle slope to the metah pen, the sound of their braying became louder.  Mi, mimi, miso… goosomimi. There were still fourteen of the four-horned sheep-like animals in the pen.

He looked around as he had done many times. He saw the wide, blue, sky speckled with small white clouds, the pasture adjacent to the metah pen, bordered by trees and a split-log fence, and the mountain looming over the nearby ridge. That was the mountain that contained the rare minerals, which Koplushia needed.

On his way back up the slope, he met Greefur coming down with a pail. “Metoosahs,” he said. “You’d best get up to the house to eat.  We’re going to town this morning.”

“Beautiful day for a walk,” Engrem replied.  He had been waiting for this trip. It was the reason he was here. He needed to get permission to let his people mine the mountain.

 

The meal he was given consisted of a small stack of pancakes covered with sweet berry syrup. Several strips of metah jerky were on the side of the wooden plate as well. There was a cup of juice and a cup of hot tea as well. Engrem drank the juice first and sipped at the tea while Gesah spoke.

“The red sunset last night should give you good traveling weather today,” she said.

“We had a similar saying among my people,” Engrem replied.

“Our god, Burde gave the same sign to us as to your people,” Gesah said.

He finished his tea and did not mention the modern weather science the Koplushians used.

After the meal, Engrem found Greefur putting the last sack of wheat on a two wheeled cart. When he finished, he padded around to the front and backed up between the hitch poles and attached them to a harness he wore on his back between his fore and hind legs. He also had a pack strapped to his upper back.

“Those two are for you, En’urem.”  Greefur indicated two carry-sacks by the shed door.

Engrem hefted one on each shoulder, crossing the straps. “How far is it to the town?”

As Greefur began pulling the cart towards the dirt road, he  answered unhelpfully, “Part of a day.”  Engrem sighed quietly and started walking beside his breehah host.

At the end of the lane there was a large old tree and a cart bridge over a stream. Greefur turned onto a slightly wider cart road and headed toward the town. Engrem tried to stay alongside and asked, “Greefur, how long have you been here?”

“Hmm,” he began. “I’ve seen thirty-two Winters.”

“On this farm?”

“Gesah and I have been joined for eleven Springtimes.”

Engrem took a moment to take in what Greefur’s answer meant.  Evidently he was born in the Winter and they were married in the Spring.

“Did you always live here?”

Greefur’s antennas crossed momentarily and he glanced at Engrem as if he had asked something obvious. “No, I was born in Mililo, in the east.”

“How far is that?” asked Engrem.

“Many days of travel.”

“So, why did you come here?”

Greefur said, “Why do you ask so many questions?”

Engrem hesitated before answering. “I want to learn about the Folk.”

They walked together for nearly a minute before Greefur said, “I came to work the farm and join with Gesah.”

“Did she come with you?”

“No. Gesah was from this place.”

Some kind of arranged marriage then, thought Engrem. He was getting the feeling that his questions made Greefer uncomfortable, so for the rest of their walk he asked only about the trees and plants he saw along the way.

 

They reached the town which Greefur called Mimipuror’Peloo. The best translation Engrem got for that was ‘Mill at Two Rivers.’ And indeed, as they crossed over a wood-plank bridge he could see a second bridge down the road.  The rivers were not very large, but ran with clear water.

They passed a stone building with smoke coming from the chimney. There was a rhythmic clang of metal coming from the building. Engrem remembered from historic fictions that it was a blacksmith at work. “Kichkel,” he muttered.

“What was that?” said Greefur.

“My people had an ancient belief that the whole world was created by a worker of iron. We call him Kichkel.”

“Our word for that is nopotur.”

“for the Creator of the world?”

“No, a worker of iron.”

Greefur pulled the cart past the blacksmith shop, two large buildings, a fountain trickling water,  and up to a large stone building. He then unhitched himself from the cart.  This building had a huge wooden wheel on one side and Engrem heard cascading water nearby. He saw several small breehah children playing he supposed across the way.  They occasionally pointed his way and babbled something.

An adult breehah came out of the building and greeted Greefur.  He was wearing an apron covering his torso and front legs. Upon seeing him, Engrem heard the familiar exclamation, “What did the gods send to us?”

Engrem removed the sacks he was carrying, putting them beside the cart. The miller, he guessed, looked him over as he approached.

Metoosahs,” he said.

The miller responded to the greeting and having decided something about Engrem, he turned to Greefur and said, “Your flour will be milled by midday. Your flag will be blue.”

Uronar,” said Greefur. “We will return.” He led Engrem further into the town to a small fountain with several streams of water pouring into a stone basin. He took a copper cup from a hook, filled it from one of the streams and offered it to Engrem who took it without hesitation.

Uronar,” he said before drinking it completely down. Engrem refilled the cup and handed it to Greefur who likewise emptied the cup. The House of Scribes is up the hill,” he said.

Engrem looked where he indicated and saw a stone building with a gable roof. The shingles were gray slate laid in a decorative pattern. It was the most substantial structure he had yet seen. He set off up the hill with Greefur following.

A breehah wearing a cloth vest on his torso met them at the door. “Sah’he. I am Heesaa.”

“I am Greefur and this visitor is En’urem. He is of the kahpoohah and my guest.”

Heesaa backed up and allowed them to enter.  The high-ceilinged room was lined with shelves filled to varying degrees with rolled bundles of paper leaves.  A small table was the only other furniture.  Heesaa sat behind it to face the visitors.  He wrote something, presumably their names, on a sheet of paper at the bottom of a list.

“How can I help you?” Heesaa finally asked.

Engrem made to speak, but Greefur began first, “En’urem wishes to know who works the mountain near lake Durba’karbusaa.  His people need some minerals it contains.”

The Scribe rose, consulted a map he took from a shelf and then pulled a bound sheaf of papers from one of the high shelves.  Engrem noted with interest how the Scribe climbed up using its arms and front paws to reach that height. It’s rear paws remained on the ground as it backed up and returned to the familiar four-fotted stance. Heesaa brought the sheaf to his table, turned some pages, looked up and said, “No one is working the mountain this year.”

Engrem looked at Greefur for clarification. “Your people may work the mountain if that suits you,” he said.

Uronar,” said Engrem.  “That will be very good for my people.”

– : –

A Planet to Call Home-3

July 23, 2020

As Engrem receded toward the alien’s farm, Broskot turned to his brother, Kethrem. “Looks like we get a little vacation in the fresh air.”

Kethrem nodded in the direction of Engrem. “Do you think the kid can really do it?”

“Well, if he does, it’s a point in our favor.  Even if he doesn’t, we’ll take what we want and go.  What can the doggies do, throw sticks?”

“Ya know, we’re actually making contact with aliens for the first time…”

“And we’ll get the credit for that too.  Not that kid! I don’t care that he’s from one of the founding families.  Here he’s just a steward on a mining ship.”

Kethrem looked concerned. “But shouldn’t we be with him to help?  What if those aliens…”

“It was his idea.  If he gets killed, it’s on him.  Last week he was poking around and caught me and that technician having some private one on one…”

“You were in a cleaning supply closet if I recall.”

Broskot waved him silent.  “Doesn’t matter. Let’s get this thing over to the lake.  I’m looking forward to some fishing while he’s gone.”

Broskot and Kethrem boarded the lander and took off, leaving Engrem alone.

 

 

Nunah!” said little Baisah. “Gugah is coming and there’s something coming with him!”

“Come away from the door then,” said Gesah, her mother.

Then Gesah herself made an excuse for looking through the doorway as she took an extra bowl and spoon from the shelf. What have the gods sent us? she asked.

Another look revealed Greefur picking up various tools and objects and showing them to the two-legged stranger.  She knew what that meant.

“Baisah, bring a small cushion from the bed and come here.”  When she arrived, Gesah continued, “The stranger will be like the Tinker that we guested last season.  We need to teach him how to speak.”

“I understand Nunah.  I will talk slowly so that he can learn.  Where is he from?”

“We may find out soon.”

The door opened and Greefur came in followed by the stranger.  “Gesah, I’ve brought someone to share our supper.  He came from a flying-thing that landed in our field.”

Gesah moved to face the stranger, putting her hind quarters behind her.  She turned her hands outward before her and gave the customary welcome, “Sah’he.”

Greefur put his arm on his wife and young daughter who stepped forward in turn.  “En’urem, this is Gesah my spouse and Baisah my daughter.”  She greeted him as had her mother.

Engrem repeated their names and replied, mimicking their gestures, “Sah’he.”

“The supper is ready to eat.” said Gesah.

Greefur guided Engrem to the low table surrounded by cushions on the floor.  Each of them placed their rump on a cushion.  After a hesitation Engrem did some odd folding of his legs and sat on the cushion.  It had no hind quarters and sat somewhat lower than the others.  Its two-eyed face was barely above the table top.  Then it changed position and stood on its knees.  How did it not fall over with no hind legs?

Greefur spoke in singsong, “We thank you, Neebah, god of the harvest for the food you have given us…”

“…And for family and strangers to share our abundance with,” Gesah finished.

Greefur then broke the bread, dipped it in the soup and offered the piece to Engrem saying, “You are my guest.”

Engrem took the piece, bowed his head momentarily and ate it.

As the servings of soup, bread, and sweet roots were passed, their respective names were spoken for him and he repeated them.  Gesah served a tea and sweet biscuits for afters which Engrem looked to enjoy.  It surprised them pleasantly when he voiced his appreciation with one appropriate word, “Uronar.”

After the meal, Greefur and Baisah took Engrem outside and continued his education together.  They learned that Engrem was male and that his kind were called kahpoohah. At the fall of night Greefur showed him the sanitary closet and the place he could sleep in the cart house.  Before Greefur left him for the night, Engrem was able to say, “I thank Greefur.  Tomorrow I learn more.”

– : –