Author : Chris Amies

Mewi Lupa suli sat and inspected the heel of one boot, which had come adrift revealing an odd honeycomb pattern in the structure. With her tongue she dislodged a small piece of carrot between two teeth – the relic of her morning’s teethcleaning. On Hydris the only use of carrots was to clean teeth. Mewi had never known it otherwise. She was shipborn, a daughter of the ‘Long March’ who had never set foot on a world until she was three years old.

Her work was to produce books for the community. The new language had taken root like a plant aboard the ‘Long March’ and all books previously aboard – in English or in Chinese – had been used for fuel as soon as their tongues’ last speakers were too feeble to protest. Instead the 120 root words of Toki Pona were used, spoken, written down in various combinations; you could say most things in them. Mewi had originally been called Mavis, and her surname ‘Lupa suli’ had been ‘Trench’: ‘Lupa suli’ was literally, ‘big hole’.

In the new language you had to weigh words very carefully. The elders remembered the old tongues and how dangerous, how imprecise they had been, and they told Mewi and her age-clade all about them.

Mewi’s hair was spiky and orange. She washed it in the null-grav washer in the ship – an affectation, but she had few others and she was still young. The null-grav sphere was fun and the power that drove it wasn’t about to run out any time soon. Those who were shipborn gravitated back to it time and again.

That evening as the orange and violet sky of Hydris was darkening, Mewi and her friends Luka and Ewani regretfully left the null-grav sphere and stepped out into the echoing grey space of the ship. Ship was home for the elders; Mewi and her age-clade, a foot in each camp, slept in bunkhouses down below on the planet’s surface. But the ship drew them back, especially now they were becoming adult and their games had changed.

The oval door of the ’Long March’ led to a ramp, and the three walked down, hand in hand.

The scents of the night-blooming trees filled the air and some strange creature – a scaly thing that in ten million years might evolve into a bird – shrieked.

There was a small knot of children at the bottom of the ramp, nine-year-olds or less, planet-born. As the three said ‘hello’ to them, they chattered curiously. Mewi thought their eyes glittered yellow but it must have been the light of the setting sun.

The children followed Mewi and her friends, talking between themselves, but although Mewi tuned in –

“Listen to them,” she said, “can you understand what they’re saying?”

“Not a word,” Luka agreed.

“Me neither,” said Ewani.

The children streamed past them, strange words hovering in the air and fading away.

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