A little sisters tale, p.1
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       A Little Sister's Tale, p.1

           Lynn Gazis-Sax
A Little Sister's Tale
Sister's Tale

  Copyright 2016 Lynn Gazis-Sax

  You always remember where you were when you got the news. You know the events I'm talking about. The day Shakuntala Dipti Jiang died in that crash. That disastrous night club bomb in the city of Shaoging. The day the Great Windstorm hit Sheylatabad. The Fall of the Ubagane Empire.

  And not just the final Fall, that day we saw the gray faces of the Last Emperor and heard his scratchy voice announce his resignation. The day that cheering crowds in Chania and in Benjo 5 pulled down all the imperial statues. The day that Chancellor Hawin C'Drani began the weary task of negotiating the Empire's dissolution.

  No, I'm thinking of that earlier day, the day that we first began to suspect that the Empire, which had seemed meant to last forever, might die.

  I was in our garden, picking crystals from the aunior tree. Pick them promptly, and they will stay firm and shiny for weeks. Leave them on the branch, and they crumble in days.

  “Little Sister, Little Sister!” Big Sister's voice sounded from indoors.

  I ignored her at first. There was a perfect crystal I thought I could just reach if I stood on tiptoe and stretched my arms as far as they would go.

  “Little Sister! Zhen Zhen, come quick!”

  I dropped the crystals I had into my basket, and ran inside.

  “What's the rush?” I started to say, and then stopped short.

  There, in the living room, was the hologram of the Last Ubaganian Emperor, Emperor Loni Sh'Groni. You will remember that hologram. We all do. His faces, not the faded gray that they had become by his last speech, but a deep purple. His robes the imperial green, studded with gems. His six legs stiff, and his arms folded, as the band played “Glory to our Beloved Emperor.”

  How we used to mock that song! After all, for us in the human belt of planets, he was never our beloved emperor, but the great power at our border to be kept at bay. I frowned at the not very beloved emperor, and wondered if I could slip back to my perfect crystal. My big sister, my brothers, and my parents, though, watched the hologram as raptly as if it were a fluffy uron pup. Did they know something I didn't?

  The emperor began his speech, as always, with a litany of the glorious deeds of his ancestors. I stared at our wall hanging, and tried to calculate how many uron pups would fit on it, if we laid it out on the floor. A fall in the emperor's voice interrupted my calculation. I turned back to the hologram. This was the point in the speech where you could expect the emperor to shift from relating past glories to relating current triumphs. Instead, he stood silent for a long moment. When he spoke again, his voice remained deep, as Ubaganian voices do when they relate things that they themselves don't believe. He spoke of peace, he spoke of honor, and I listened for the catch. To which new planet would he send his honorable peace?

  Like an air shark leaping out of a tropical sea, Emperor Loni Sh'Groni's voice rose again, “And so today, Ubaganian troops are withdrawing from Lorir.”

  My parents and brothers and big sister must have heard a leak on an earlier hologram, for they began to applaud, while I still sat too stunned to clap. For how many centuries had the Qorathi fought to free Lorir from the Ubagane Empire? Other worlds were taken, and sometimes other worlds were even released, but not Lorir. Had not Emperor Loni Sh'Groni himself said that to lose Lorir would be like losing a lung?

  And then I knew what would happen. I don't mean what would happen politically. I didn't picture the decades long decline of the Ubagane Empire, “the sick man of the galaxy,” as one bit after another of the empire won its independence. Not the joyous dance of the Sheromi among the branches of their Great Tree, as they celebrated the departure of the hated Governor Sehenog Azaen Biloxan. Not the worried conversations about who might fill the power vacuum left as the galaxy's sick man drew back (for the Ubagane Empire was hated, but the Ubagane Empire meant stability). And certainly not that final day when the Last Emperor resigned. No, I simply knew this. As sure as the suns rise, my father's younger brothers would assemble at our house to talk politics. And, if I did not escape, my mother would assign me to cooking duty.

  Let Big Sister help our mother with the cooking. I was headed out. This was best done while my family was still riveted to the hologram. For the emperor was not done speaking. There would be words about the withdrawal of troops, and then there would be holograms of commentators, to interpret the speech.

  I left my basket of crystals on the floor, slipped over to the closet where my water pack was stored, and took it, a hat, and my hiking poles, off for a long walk. I hesitated by the door, and then tore off my communicator and put it down. If I kept it, my mother would track me, and my walk would prove short.

  One of the suns was already setting, its orange light spreading across the river. But the other sun still had a ways to go, and the aunior crystals still sparkled. I made my way up the path toward the hills. As I started to climb uphill, a uron pup crossed the path. I stopped to watch. It's best not to get too close to a uron pup, for the mother is generally nearby, and urons can be fierce if you tamper with their pups. Besides, so long as you keep a safe distance and don't alarm the uron mother, watching a uron pup is great fun. The pup let out a trill, and did a cartwheel.

  Whoosh! An air shark swooped down and snatched the uron pup. I heard a crunching of bones.

  Now, here's the thing about air sharks in Yaygantu. You, who have always lived light years away from Yaygantu, may think that my home world is one big sea of air sharks. Often I have been asked how we survive with such a predator in our home. But it's not like that. Just as Chania isn't entirely a desert planet, so there are large areas of Yaygantu where no one expects to see an air shark. They float and swoop near the equator, and we have settled many miles away. The only air sharks I had ever seen near my home were in cages.

  I had no time, though, to wonder from what zoo this beast had escaped. I turned and ran.

  You can't, of course, outrun an air shark. But I figured that for the first few minutes, at least, I didn't have to. I just had to get farther away from the air shark than the uron mother. And she would be running toward the shark. Did I mention that uron mothers are fearless in defense of their young?

  Both pup and mother were, I reckoned, doomed. I, on the other hand, might just survive, if I could take the fork to the left and head to Old Zhou's cave. You can't outrun or out climb an air shark, but you can fit in a cave small enough to keep an air shark out.

  I heard crunching, and then I heard a flapping of air shark fins. I kept running. Out of the corner of my eye, to my right, I thought I caught a glimpse of the air shark gaining on me. I kept running. I reached the cave and flung myself into it. As I turned to look out, I could see that I had arrived in the nick of time. The air shark flew back and forth right outside the cave opening, looking for a way in. The appetite of an air shark is vast. There is no way that a uron mother and pup will satisfy it.

  I jabbed at the air shark with the points of my hiking poles. The shark easily dodged my blows. I jabbed again. The shark moved further away, out of my reach. I sat down to wait for the shark to give up on the entrance, and move on to other prey. Unfortunately, the shark had the same idea. It flew back and forth outside the cave, waiting. An air shark can be patient. An air shark can wait.

  I scrounged in the cave for rocks, and threw them at the shark. Some missed, and a couple hit, but none phased the shark. I reached for my communicator, to call for help. And remembered that I had carefully left it at home.

  Then I sat down to cry. If only I had stayed home to help cook dinner! But how could I have known that such a monster would appear?

  I didn't fear for my life, not really. I had wedged myself safely in the cave, and I had my water pack. Su
rely I could survive, until someone missed me and came looking, or until some zoo missed the shark and came looking for it. But the sun was setting, and, beyond the equator where the air sharks live, Yaygantu nights are cold. I hugged my shirt, warm enough for a Yaygantu day, and thought how flimsy it would feel when night fell. I shivered in anticipation.

  And then hope dawned. Yaygantu nights are cold beyond the equator where air sharks live. That's exactly why we live here. We, unlike the air sharks, can survive those cold nights. True, we survive them with warm clothes and central heating. But perhaps, even without those things, I could still outlast the air shark in a cold night.

  There are pockets in my water pack with a few basics. There I found my space blanket, my hand warmers, and my fire starter. But no fuel. I poked my hiking poles outside, and managed to drag a few twigs in. These I lighted with my fire starter. The smoke filled the cave and made me cough. Then the fire died. I simply didn't have enough fuel to keep it going.

  Giving up on the fire, I huddled in the space blanket, and watched the shark. At first it flew back and forth, back and forth. Then it began to show signs of distress. It swooped and swiveled, as if searching. I dared to hope that it was searching for warmth, warmth it would not find. And then it slowed, and sank, sank to the ground, where it lay still. Was it now safe for me to leave?

  I waited a few minutes. Then I reached my poles out and prodded the shark. Either it was dead, or it was unconscious, or it was playing dead. Keeping my back to the cave and my poles ahead of me, ready to strike if it flew at me, I stepped out of the cave. The shark lay still.

  Should I run or should I fight? I opted for fight. You can't outrun an air shark. If I made damn sure it was dead, I could still dive back into the cave if it fought back. So I went back into the cave, assembled a pile of rocks, moved them outside the entrance, and clobbered the shark, at close range, with one rock after another. By the time I was done, the shark wasn't going anywhere. All the same, I ran all the way home.

  The suns had long set by the time I got home, and the living room was full of uncles and aunts and cousins and plates of food.

  “Where have you been?” said Second Brother.

  “You left me to do all the work,” said Big Sister.

  “Don't run off without telling me,” said Mom.

  “I ran into an air shark on the trail,” I said, “and I had to hide in a cave.”

  “Air shark!” said Second Brother in a mocking voice, making shark motions with his hands.

  “There have never been air sharks here,” said Big Sister.

  “Go do the dishes, all of you,” said Mom.

  And so I did.

  But even though they didn't believe me, and even though I can see in your eyes that you don't believe me either, there really was an air shark.

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