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[Fiction] Clara in the New World, 2492 A.D.





Clara's brother grabbed the new stone from her and she acted without mercy, slapping his wrist and knocking it free. He was smaller and faster, so he dove to the floor before she could bend down. She leaped off the couch and shoulder-slammed him five feet away. The reactive floor rose up and cushioned his fall, but he yelled, "Aaoohwh!" anyway, the big crybaby.

Clara picked up the fist-sized stone. It was silvery, almost like a mirror, but had the rough shape of something natural.

Eustace stood with an accusing look while he rubbed his hip. "Ever since you turn giant, is like you don't care 'bout people feelings."

"Daddy," Clara pleaded, looking over at where her father was tinkering with an assembly of pipe-y looking things, "tell Eustace to stop calling me giant. Is just puberty and he making me sound like I's some freak."

Eustace pointed. "You's a freak yes. You chest alone look like somebody inflate it with—"

Clara reached to grab him and her father's hand closed softly on her wrist.

"Babies, babies," he said in his slow voice. "This ain't how we gon' build the Revolution, squabbling with we self."

"But he—"

"Why the two of you don't help me together? I need fo' see what happening at the east ravine and the sensor-them not responding. Take a break and go check it out."

A simple jetbot could do that job, Clara knew.

"Send me alone," said Eustace. "I's ten." He made sure to look at Clara as he added, "I don't need she helping."


***



They passed several knots of the local aliens, who scattered in alarm as Clara drove by, despite the gentle hum of the hover pod. She checked to see if they would leave another silver-stone behind, but they kept the alien stones clutched close in their furry arms as they sprinted off to hide. She noticed Eustace keeping watch for a stone too.

It was such a childish thing to want a shiny stone, she rebuked herself. Clara was thirteen now. She should be thinking about more grown-up things.

Like how she was the only girl on this whole planet. If you didn't count her mother. And her mother was always gone for days at a time anyway, mapping resources and taking samples for her research. And never mind being the only girl—her family were the only people on this whole planet.

She twisted the control stick and dodged around one of the rare trees in this area. One good thing about being pioneers, at least, was that Clara could drive her own hover pod without having to worry about laws and licenses. But the isolation didn't seem worth it just so they could own their own planet.

Across a field of short, sparse grass, she spied another group of aliens, facing each other in silence as usual, with their silver-stones piled in the center. Some were young—short with thick fur. Others were old—their scaly skin showing where hair had fallen out in patches about their body. She wondered if they considered this planet theirs. The family parrot, Rupert, considered the bell on his cage to be his property and pecked anyone who tried to move it. And the aliens of this world were certainly smarter than Rupert. Clara remembered her father's stories about Columbus invading the Caribbean a thousand years before and declaring himself its discoverer. Maybe Clara and her family were the invaders now.

"Let me drive," Eustace said from the left side seat.

"No."

"You being a bully."

"You being a brat."

He scowled and said, "Just because I call you giant, you-"

"Shut up. We reach."

The ravine grew from a distant scar on the floor of the faded yellow plain ahead into a wide chasm with steep, jagged slopes of bare rock. Off to the right, another group of aliens was camped in their odd circle. They were near her father's broken sensors according to the map. Had they destroyed it?

The control stick went slack in her hand and an alarm blared then died out. The hover pod spun to the left, then the right, then left again. It lost power and slowed, then bounced off the ground and rolled upside down. Then the pod went upright. Then upside down again. Upright. Upside down...

Clara slammed the eject button. Nothing happened. Whatever had damaged the hover pod had disabled all the electrical systems. Outside, the edge of the canyon was coming closer as they continued to roll. She had enough time to reach over for the mechanical release switch on Eustace's chair. He disappeared as he was thrown clear to safety, but Clara had no time to save herself. She caught sight of the huddle of aliens out of the window before the sphere of the hover pod rolled over the cliff.

The pod was strong enough that it only cracked and bent as it tumbled downhill. The double straps in her chair kept Clara in place, but her body still got knocked around. When the mangled pod finally came to rest, her right arm and shoulder were in so much pain she could not move them and her nose was swollen and dripping. She wiped it with her good arm and her sleeve came away streaked with red. The mini computer screen on the back of her glove lit up when she tapped it only to blink out with a pop three seconds later. The emergency communicator embedded under the skin of her neck was dead too. She tapped it anyway, calling for her father and mother. Even for Eustace.

No response.

It took Clara ten minutes to crawl out of the wrecked pod. She found herself surrounded by scattered boulders on the gravelly brown floor of the chasm.

With an alien.

It clutched its silver-stone close, but made no sound. Then it turned and ran. Or rather, it tried to run. One of its blunt-footed legs was injured and the creature had to limp. Eventually, it stopped, as if the pain was too much. It turned and rested one fist on the ground, resembling a gorilla in its posture.

Clara wanted to go over and help. After all, she was the one who had injured the alien. But she remembered her mother's warning from when they had lived in the commune back in Guyana, when her parents had thought the jungle would offer enough isolation to build their political dream. "Injured wild animals will attack out of fear."

But was this alien an animal? Clara looked it over. This was the first time she had gotten a chance to observe one up close. It was the same height as her, with a furry face that hid its features, except for its silver-flecked blue eyes. She couldn't tell if it had ears or even a mouth. This particular alien was old, since its cracked, bare skin was showing in patches. The fur was wheat-coloured, with stripes of pale brown at the sides. The alien lifted its silver-stone high and pounded it into the ground three times, then glared at Clara.

She backed away, putting the remains of the hover pod between her and the shaggy creature. She wondered if the pod's distress signal had gone off to warn her parents. Probably not. Something was affecting all electronics. Her computer, the pod—her father's sensors even—had been shut down.

Clara looked around for her silver-stone, but it was not there.

An echoing voice called down, "Clara!"

"Eustace?" It sounded like him, but it was hard to tell.

The ground shook and rumbled. Were their voices causing that? No. The rumble came again, louder, again and again, clearly from underground. The pieces of the pod rattled and one big chunk fell over.

The alien didn't seem scared. In fact, it seemed happy. Clara found a wide flat space on the ravine floor and crouched. This part of the planet wasn't supposed to have earthquakes. She looked up, trying to spot Eustace. When the shaking of the ground stopped for a little bit, she called his name and scanned the rim of the canyon for his reply.

There. He was standing to the west of the trail carved into the slope by the crashed pod. And there were aliens closing in from all around, forming a semi-circle as Eustace faced them, his heels hovering over the edge. They seemed to be threatening him, shoving their silver-stones in his direction. He bent to the ground and came up with one himself, swinging it at them. It must have been Clara's, sucked out when she ejected him.

The ground roared and heaved and a cloud of dust exploded around the pod, followed by a massive stone hand tipped with silver claws. The giant hand closed around the pod and crushed it into splinters of glass and steel.

Tucking her bad arm close, Clara weaved through the boulders toward the rim where Eustace was crouched. The gigantic hand was followed by an arm, then another hand, each emergence making the ground rise and fall in waves. One sudden surge knocked Clara sideways, slamming her injured elbow into the edge of a boulder and making her scream.

Behind her, a rock monster climbed out of the ground. It had silver horns to go with the silver talons on its fingertips and slitted obsidian eyes. The neck was chunky and its legs wide and bulging. It stood as tall as a greenheart tree back home.

Even in the midst of her terror, Clara realized how silly it was of her to still think of Guyana—Earth—as home. This place was her home. This stupid planet with its stupid name.

Rodney.

That's what their father had called this planet after landing. Of course, Walter Rodney, the ancient politician, had been a hero of his since forever, but the name was still surprising. Clara was old enough to start learning serious things on her own and she felt Walter Rodney wouldn't have liked having a planet named after him. Too much of politics was about leaders and personalities he had once complained. Real politics was about ordinary people she had argued with her father.

Well, if she was smart enough to challenge her father, she was smart enough to figure an escape from this canyon and its oversized guardian. Nothing like the giant had showed up on the exploration of the planet before. Whatever interfered with the electronics of the hover pod probably blocked all scanners too. But if this thing was real, it had to have weaknesses.

The rock giant turned toward the alien first, reaching for it with one open hand. She felt sorry for the injured creature since it couldn't run away, but it gave her time to prepare. She checked her waist pouches. Most of the contents were useless since the electronics were dead. The only things that would work were her signal flares and her adjustable-length, high-tension rope.

Clara found two massive boulders and used the grabbing clasps at the ends of the rope to stretch it taut between them. She held a flare at the ready on the far side while the giant attacked the furry alien.

Except it didn't attack. It knelt and held its claws out. The smaller creature responded by gently holding its silver-stone in both hands and touching it to the tip of the nearest claw, causing a blue spark at the moment of contact. The two beings stood still like that for a long moment and then the big one reared up and whirled towards Clara. Lightning hummed and buzzed between its horns.

The giant clomped toward Clara, each step rocking her off balance as she held the flare in her uninjured left hand. Good thing that was her strong hand. Wincing at the pain, she used her right hand to crack the flare and light it.

Too late. When she threw it, the giant had already seen the trip-rope and stepped over it. The flare still blinded it, though, and when it tried to grab her she had already moved. Clara ran around the rock giant and prepared a new flare. The little alien was watching all this from behind a boulder, no doubt cheering for her to get smashed.

From the other side of the rope, the giant was coming for her again. This time she timed the throw so that the light blinded it right as it reached the trap. The humongous foot snagged on the strong rope and the mountainous creature fell forward in slow motion, crashing to the ground face-first in a cloud of dust. The ground undulated and cracked in snaking lines under the thunderous impact.

The little alien limped over to the fallen giant and stroked its head sympathetically.

Clara wasn't sorry. The thing had tried to kill her. She had a right to defend herself.

The rock giant lifted itself to a kneeling position and the little alien bounced on its heels in joy.

There was no rope. No flares. Nothing else Clara could do except try to climb out. She looked to the nearest slope and was shocked to see Eustace halfway down. He was hanging by his own rope, tied around his waist and the furry aliens at the top were the ones lowering him down!

The giant looked around, then spotted Clara and the angry lightning sparked between its horns again.

"Eustace!" she called. "Don't come down! The giant gon' get you!"

He looked back and smiled. "Don't worry 'bout he. Use the stone. That's how they talk to one another." Then he tossed Clara's silver-stone at her feet.

She picked it up from the shaking ground and looked at the approaching giant.

"How you use this thing?" she shouted up Eustace.

"You got to touch them together."

No wonder the furry aliens were always putting their stones together in a group. That's how they talked. And the silver claws of the giant must be made of the same material. To stop the rock monster all she had to do was tap this stone against its claw so that it—

No, she'd never get close enough without ending up hurt. Or worse.

The giant swung a massive clawed hand at Clara. She dove to the ground and it swooshed through the air above her back. She got up and dodged behind a boulder just as a second claw came by. Through the legs of the giant, she saw the smaller alien. Half from panic, half from inspiration, Clara ran straight at it, passing between the plodding giant feet.

When the furry creature saw her coming, it ran away as fast as its limping legs would allow. The ground shook as the giant slowly turned behind her. She raced after the little alien, then leapt onto its back and shoved it to the ground.

It wriggled in resistance as she turned it over, searching for the silver-stone in its hand. When she reached for the stone, it struggled even harder. Behind her, the thumping of the rock giant's approach grew louder. Clara couldn't get a hand on the other silver-stone no matter how hard she tried.

She rose and stepped back. The little alien got up and made to run away, but then Clara gently held her silver-stone out. The creature hesitated, looking behind it and then back at Clara. It held out its own silver-stone to hers and a spark ignited as they touched.

Images and feelings flooded Clara's mind: The fear the creatures felt as she ran at it. The outrage from when it thought Clara had deliberately attacked it. The pain of the impacts as the hover pod had knocked it down the slope of the ravine.

This was a dizzying way to communicate for Clara. She could tell there was no lying and no holding back. Only truth.

And Clara could tell her own story was rushing over to the alien. Telling it that Clara had wanted to help when it was injured and that the pod's crash had been an accident.

But the rock giant didn't know all this. It attacked, swinging its claws. The furry alien pulled Clara to safety at its side and the giant pulled its hand back.

The little alien patted her on the back and then held its silver-stone out to the giant. She did the same. The deadly claws returned, but only to spark a new conversation, one talon in contact with each stone. The images and emotions flowed almost too fast for her to comprehend as she exchanged knowledge with both aliens.

She felt a rush of pride at being the first human to communicate with an alien species. She would go down in history as—

No. That was Eustace. He must have accidentally touched stones with the aliens while holding them off. She ground her teeth at the thought that he had stolen her glory, but she didn't mind too much. He had saved her life after all.

And it didn't matter if he called her 'giant' or 'freak'. She lived on a planet where the native children lost all their hair at puberty and became rock giants as adults. This was a planet of freaks. She would fit right in.

Illustration source: publicdomainvectors.org



About the Author

Imam Baksh is a Guyanese writer who enjoys tales of magic, monsters and heroes. His debut novel, Children of the Spider, won the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. His second novel, The Demise of the Queen's College Adventure Club, was shortlisted for the award in 2016. He’s interested in history and how the world works, and never accepts any claim without proof. As a boy, he left his countryside home on the Essequibo Coast to attend Queens College in Georgetown, where he learned most of his bad habits. He became a trained English teacher but had the most fun teaching physics because he got to use electricity on his students. Find out more at imambaksh.com and follow him at Facebook.com/imambaksh.writer.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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1 comments:

  1. Imam continues to push the boundaries of imaginative Caribbean speculative fiction. I like this.

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