‘One hundred and sixty-three years it’s been,’ says fat Gela in her heavy wheezy voice, ‘one hundred and sixty-three years since Tommy and Angela came to Eden.’
‘In a boat they came,’ went on little Stoop, when Mitch had poked him irritably with his bony fingers. ‘First in the starship Defiant , a wonderful sky-boat that could travel across the stars, and then in the Landing Veekle that came down from Defiant to the ground.’
‘Remember!’ Mitch called out in his thin wavery voice. He had a batface, not the full batface split right up into his nose, but a little split in his upper lip, and ‘Remember’ came out more like ‘Rememfer’. He was about to say something else, but then began to cough, and his eyes went even more red and watery, and he couldn’t speak.
I had reached John meantime. He was standing with his cousin Gerry. I squeezed his hand. I could feel the grownups’ eyes watching us. I could feel them thinking, That’s no way to carry on in an Any Virsry.
‘In the round Landing Veekle boat they came,’ said old Gela, her blind eyes bulging as if she’d just swallowed a big fat flutterbye by mistake, ‘and this Circle marks the place where they came to land.’
Their helpers led the three of them slowly round Circle of thirty-six white stones, which were supposed to mark the outline of the Landing Veekle, and guided Oldest’s blind hands so they could brush each stone with a bundle of twigs.
Michael’s names, it took a long, long time! There were whispers and murmurs. A little child began to wail and was hissed at to be quiet. Another little announced he wanted a piss. John’s cousin Gerry farted loudly, and newhairs and children laughed. Even some of the adults had a job to stop themselves smiling. Any Virsry had only just started and everyone was already bored. Even our grandmothers and their men were bored, though they wore a mask of respect.
Round and round the thirty-six stones went Oldest, slowly slowly slowly. People whispered. People wrinkled up their faces as Gerry’s fart wafted past them. People yawned. Blueside had been in middle of a sleep when the horns went, after all, and Redlantern and Spiketree were both right at the end of a waking.
Finally, Oldest returned to the centre once again and Gela poked Stoop, who looked cross at first, but then remembered what he was supposed to be doing.
‘There were five people who came down in the Landing Veekle,’ he went on, ‘and three of them returned in it to Defiant to try to get back to Earth. They were the Three Companions.’
Stoop paused and gazed at us as if his brain was stuck. We waited.
‘ Defiant was damaged,’ he finally said in his little high voice, ‘and they knew it might break. But it had a thing inside it called the Computer, which could remember things, just like a person can, and another thing in it called the Rayed Yo, which could call out across space, so even if the Companions died, Earth could get news of us. And … and even now …’
Again he stopped, as if thoughts had suddenly stopped happening inside his shrivelled old head.
‘And even now Earth may be finishing a new sky-boat like Defiant to come and find us. So … So …’
‘So we must stay here and be a good Family and wait patiently,’ said Gela impatiently, ‘so that they will be pleased with us and will want to take us all back home to Earth.’
‘Sky-boats take a long long time to build,’ wheezed old Stoop, holding up his hand to stop Gela. ‘ Defiant was as long as Greatpool, remember. And made …’ He had to stop to cough. ‘And made … and made not of wood but of metal, which takes a long long time to find.’
‘Think how long we’ve been looking for metal in Eden,’ wheezed Gela, ‘and we still haven’t found a single bit.’
‘Rememfer!’ gasped Mitch, before he began another fit of coughing.
A flock of jewel bats darted back and forth across the clearing. The trees had been pruned for
Dori Hillestad Butler, Jeremy Tugeau