My Book Report on Starlight – Joachim Heijndermans

It’s strange. The school isn’t like I imaged it would be at all. I figured it would look more like in the movies, with long hallways of lockers and posters that say things like: ‘reading is fun’ or have quotes by famous people I’ve never heard of. But it’s nothing like that. The hallways aren’t even hallways, when you get down to it. This place looks more like the dome at a spaceport, but with even whiter walls and a giant glass ceiling that gives you a great view of the outside. And there aren’t any posters of any kind. Instead, there are these blue metal spheres that float by, projecting little holo-clips of people talking and playing sports, but it’s all in Carillian, so I don’t understand any of it. It’s a beautiful school. And I don’t like it.

“You nervous?” Mom asks. I shake my head, even though I’m lying. To be honest, I’m terrified. Every step I take makes my backpack feel even heavier, like an anchor keeping me away from my new class longer and longer. A part of me wants to grab Mom’s hand, but I’m not going to. I’m not a kid. I can do this on my own. But I’m still glad she came with me.

We hear this pinging sound coming from above. A tube of blue light appears in front of us, like if someone were shining a spotlight down at the floor. A man zooms down through the tube. When he reaches the ground, the light vanishes, leaving only a blue circle to indicate where the tube once stood. He’s from Caril, but he’s dressed in Earth clothes, with a tie and pocket protector and everything. It’s too bad, since I actually like the clothes they usually wear on this planet, with all those frills and color patterns that look like cherry blossoms in a garden. These clothes makes him look like every other teacher I’ve ever had, aside from his bluish skin, four green eyes and a flat nose. He smiles his sharp looking teeth and introduces himself to Mom in Carillian, then turns to me and shakes my hand.

“Hello, Graze. How do you are? I am prinzeepal Solalaron,” he says in a thick accent. It’s the first time I’ve heard someone from Caril speak an Earth language. I’m actually glad to meet someone I can understand, even if it is another adult. I doubt I’ll actually talk to him all that much. Adults never seem to really talk with you, just at you.

“I’m fine. And it’s Grace, like ‘place’.”

“Ah, of course, yes. Apologizing,” he says. He then turns to Mom and goes back to talking to her in Carillian, gesturing with his hands and clicking his teeth rapidly, while Mom does her best to keep up with him. While she can understand him for the most part, I can tell from her face she’s wishing he’d slow down just a little. I just wish I understood what he’s saying at all. Right now I’m guessing he’s bragging about the school and what the students do all day. It’d be nice if he actually told me any of this, but I guess he’s leaving that for Mom to translate.

“Grace, you liking the sports?” he asks.

I nod. “Gymnastics,” I say. I could tell him about the championships I won back home, and how my team managed to make it to the nationals, but I don’t. I just clam up and look away, peeking at the school grounds outside of the glass dome. The principal just nods and smiles, then says something to Mom in Carillian.

Mom turns to me. “Sweetie, you’re going to your class now. But since most teachers and students aren’t fluent in English or Spanish, and their English teacher won’t be here until next month, you’re going to be assigned a helper who is.”

“A helper? What does that mean?” I ask.

“It means that a student from a different grade is going to sit in with you every now and then and help you along with assignments and translating whatever you don’t understand. He’ll be your ‘study-buddy’, so to speak.”

“Ok,” I mutter. While I don’t know what to expect with this ‘helper’ (I’m not calling him a ‘study-buddy’), I’m just glad that I’ll be talking to someone that I hope is going to be around my age. Though I am curious what kind of student it’ll be, since Dad once told me the people of Caril don’t know many languages outside of their own. “Does my ‘helper’ really speak English?”

“Yes, he doing the speaking very well,” the Principal says. “Better than me,” he laughs. “Top student. Good grade very.”

“Well, doesn’t that sound great, Grace?” Mom says, trying to be uplifting.

“I guess,” I mutter back.

The principal says something to one of the metal spheres, which causes it to zoom away. While we wait, the principal starts showing Mom some artwork that the students made, as I look through the massive window at the Carillian landscape outside.

The purple grass on the school grounds has been cut very short and into weird shapes. I have no idea what they’re supposed to be. They look like boneless animals that are falling in on themselves. There’s a groundskeeper robot who’s pushing its lawnmower around. The sky has an orange tint, while off in the distance, above the azure mountains that mark the border of the valley, I can see Bron Wyverns flying. This planet really is beautiful. I hate how much I like looking at it.

Mom calls out to me. “Grace, your study-buddy is coming.”

I groan, loud enough for her to hear me. While I don’t mind the company, I wish she’d refer to him as anything other than ‘study-buddy’. She is the reigning champion when it comes to making me feel like I’m eight again. I’d regret asking her come with me on my first day here if I wasn’t so terrified of going alone.

She points to the end of the hall, and I nearly jump up three feet in shock when I see him. Here I’m expecting a skinny Carillian kid, one with glasses and a lisp like they always give to geeks on TV. Instead, a nine foot, four-armed, pale-skinned, one-eyed creature comes toward us, his feet never touching the ground as he glides through the air. With his single half-blue, half-green eye, he looks at me. I’ve never seen anything like him.

The principal introduces him to Mom, who then introduced him to me. “Honey, this is Bowie-san-Gath. He’s another immigrant student, like you, but from the Zig system. He speaks over eighteen languages-,”

“Nineteen,” a voice echoes in my head. Mom heard it too, as she looks just as frazzled as me. It’s his voice, though he doesn’t move his mouth when he talks. I don’t know if he even has a mouth, or a nose, or ears. It’s like his head is just there for that one big eye of his.

“Oh, sorry. Nineteen,” Mom corrects herself. “And, as you probably guessed, he speaks English. He’ll be helping you with anything that you have trouble with. At least until you feel comfortable enough to study on your own.”

He holds out his hand to me, but with his six fingers upward, showing me his palm. “Pleasure to meet you, Grace. I am Bowie-san-Gath, from Zig-Gimma-Tjon.”

“Ehm, hi—,” I mutter. I place my hand on his, which I’m hoping is what he wanted me to do. He doesn’t seem to get angry, so I’m taking that as a yes.

“How are you liking the school?” he asks. It’s weird to keep hearing his voice in my head. How does he even do that?

“It’s fine, I guess.”

“Trust me, it will grow on you in time, as it did for me.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Nearly a qiollicath. That is roughly a ‘year’ on your planet.”

“Oh,” I say, which is the dumbest response I could think of, and yet I said it anyway.

“Would you like me to escort you to your class?” he asks. I find myself looking at Mom, needing assurance that it’s okay, feeling even more like an eight-year-old. Why not ask her to hold my hand as we walk to it? Urgh! Stupid!

“Yeah. Cool,” I say, trying to sound self-assured. I have no idea who I’m trying to impress here.

“Right this way,” says Bowie-san-Gath. “It’s on the eighth floor, right above auditorium Demma. All you need to do is step on the lift-stream.”

“The what?” I ask.

He points to the blue circle thing on the floor. “The blue circle thing, if you wish,” he says.

“Huh? That’s funny.”

“What is?” he asks.

“It’s like—,” I say, but I stop. “Never mind,” I chuckle. For a second there, I thought he read my mind or something.

“I did read your mind,” he says. “Low-level telepathy. It is not deliberate, so I must apologize.”

“Hey! You stay out of my head, you hear me!” I snap.

“I will try,” he says.

I find myself looking back at Mom. She gives me a nod, telling me it’s OK and I’ll be fine without saying it aloud. That doesn’t make it any less scary to follow this giant pale alien guy onto glowy light. When I step on the blue circle, we’re suddenly zipped several floors up. It feels like I’m pushed up by an invisible disk, though there’s nothing beneath us. When we finally stop, Bowie-san-Gath motions for me to follow him.

We enter another hallway, walking past the classrooms. I catch a few glimpses of what’s going on inside (mostly students staring at the teacher in the front), but I don’t want to be left behind by my — ugh — “study-buddy”, who walks very fast for someone whose feet don’t touch the ground. He then stops in front of a classroom with a blue door.

“This will be your class. Your teacher is Ms. Gorarawin. I will make introductions between you two.”

“Okay. And then what?”

“I will sit in with you for the remainder of the morning, but then I must return to my own classes and studies afterward. I hope that is all right with you.”

My first instinct is to say: no, please don’t leave me here all alone with no-one to talk to. But I tell myself I can do this. I’m alright. I’m fourteen, aren’t I? I steel my face and strike an ‘I’m cool’ pose, and say; “Yeah, that’s fine. Whatever.”

“There is nothing to be scared of,” he says.

“Who’s scared?” I say. He looks at me for a bit, which I think might be a comment, then opens the door without actually touching it. We walk in.

The whole class, all Carillian students, turn to look at us. Even though one of us is tall, six-armed, pale-skinned and has only one eye, I know it’s me who catches the most attention. Some girls whisper. A few guys give each other looks, the ‘what’s up with her?’ look. The teacher, an older lady with silver hair braided into three rows, walks toward us. She shakes my hand and greets me in the only three Carillian words I know (which are hello, how and you) before she goes on and loses me with these long drawn out sentences.

“Ms. Gorarawin welcomes you to her class. You are to sit over there in seat Hwo-ax, which means B-12. She is currently covering level-two mathematics. However, since you have not mastered Carillian yet, she will allow you to perform extracurricular activities.”

“What does that mean?” I ask.

“You may do other things, as long as she deems them productive and befitting of your school time. You came prepared for this, did you not?”

“Are you reading my mind again?”

“No. I just assumed it’s the reason why your backpack is so full.”

He’s right. Since I didn’t get any of my new schoolbooks yet, my backpack if filled with some old school books from back home, a few journals, Mom’s old Carillian dictionary, and a copy of a novel I never got around to read. I look at the teacher, who’s giving me this expecting look, so I put my backpack down, open it, pull out the novel and hand it to her. “Is this okay?” I ask.

She looks at it, inspecting the cover and the back. I think it might be the first time she’s seen a book printed on paper. Once she sees the picture of K’un Di, the author, on the back, she smiles and hands it back to me, saying something in Carillian to Bowie-san-Gath. He doesn’t answer her, but she talks like he has. I wonder if you can only hear him if he wants you to?

“The book is fine. You may read during class, although I would suggest you try and see what the other students are studying. Do not be afraid to ask me to translate anything for you,” Bowie-san-Gath says in a tone that I think is supposed to be inviting, but sounds more like a lecture. He doesn’t really talk like a student or a teacher. More like a hallway monitor, or someone who really digs school to a weird degree. I nod and take my seat, opening the book to page one, while my alien ‘helper’ sits beside me.

It takes nearly ten minutes for me to actually read a word, as I use the book to hide my face more than anything. It takes another ten before I start to remember what I just read. I keep peeking around to see whether the students are still staring at me, which they’re not. They’re just doing their school work, listening to the teacher and passing notes to each other. Perfectly normal schoolkids in a perfectly normal school, on the other side of the universe. I’ve never wanted to go home so badly. Actual home. Not this planet. I’m doing my best not to cry, and even that I’m blowing, as tears roll down my cheeks.

#

The first week went by really quick. It’s Friday (or sjo’zath as it’s called here), and while everyone has been nice to me (for the most part), I still feel like an outsider.

For example: yesterday, right before lunch, these two girls came up to me and asked me something. Bowie-san-gath wasn’t here, so I had absolutely no idea what they wanted. I smiled and shrugged, after which they laughed and walked away. Another girl, Urasuwa I think her name is, snapped at them. After that, no-one has bothered or laughed at me. I wish I could stand up for myself like that. But I just don’t know what to say and I feel super awkward when they all laugh. I know it’s probably a joke amongst themselves, but I just can’t shake that feeling like they’re laughing at me. Whether it’s in my head or not, it awful being on edge like this.

Ms. Gorarawin checks in on me from time to time, always asking the same thing each time. “You…okay, are yes?”, followed by “Gud jop,” when I nod to her. She mostly lets me read my book, which is fine, I guess. It beats doing homework for now, though I don’t know what I’ll do once she realizes I finished the book already. Twice, in fact. It’s much better than I thought it would be. It’s got action, some cute romance parts and plenty of space travel. Good stuff, and it keeps my mind occupied from other things, like how no-one understands a word I say.

I know it’s been only a week since I started, but the language issue is really kicking me down. Mom is helping me out after school with her old books on Carillian, but she can only do so much considering her busy schedule, and her old study material crashes repeatedly whenever I boot it up on my tablet. Bowie-san-Gath is not much help either, as he retreats into himself most of the time. I know a lot more words than before, but it’s the sentence structure and the speed at which native Carillian speakers talk that’s really kicking my butt. It’s like everyone is running laps around the running track, while I’m on my hands and knees trying to keep up. And now they have students coming up to the front of the class, each doing some kind of speech about something, I’m left staring at them, in the dark to what they are talking about. I just wish I knew what was going on, even for just a little bit.

#

It’s lunch, and I’m sitting by myself again. I’d sit with my class, but not saying anything for thirty minutes straight while I chow down is much worse when you’re with others. No one ever told me you could even be lonely in a crowd.

“Hello,” says a voice in my head. I flinch, knowing exactly who it is without looking up.

“Hi, Bowie,” I say.

“Bowie-san-Gath, if you please,” he says, sounding somewhat annoyed. “May I join you?”

“Sure,” I sigh. It’s been a few days since I’ve seen him when he sat in with me last Friday. He’s transfers me translated copies of homework assignments from his old classes every now and then, but he hasn’t shown up in person till now. It’s the first time he’s met up with me for lunch.

“Enjoying your meal, Grace?” he says, crouching down so he doesn’t tower over me.

“Meh.”

“Is the food not to your liking? The cafeteria staff can show you visual options if you have trouble reading the menu.”

So that’s why they kept showing me pictures. To be honest, on my first day I didn’t know what to think of it. I’ve never had a lunch of mostly beans, fruit and beets. Imagine my surprise when I looked up these rambutans they gave out for dessert on the MAYNE-Frame, only to find out they’re actually from Earth.

“It’s not the food. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Nothing,” I sigh. He sits down beside me, and while I’m happy he does, I don’t show it. I don’t know why he annoys me so much. He hasn’t done anything to get on my bad side. If it were up to me, he’d be in my class all the time. Maybe it’s the fact that he makes me feel like a side-project. I’m just something to deal with when class isn’t in session, or if he’s got all his homework finished. I might as well be the class pet in a glass cage, an aquarium without water.

“Terrarium,” he says.

“What?”

“A waterless glass containment unit for non-marine animals. Terrarium.”

I stand up, fighting the urge to slap him across his white domed head. “Stop reading my mind!”

“I don’t mean—,” he says, backing away as I shake my finger at him.

“Yeah, you told me, you don’t control it. But it’s still really creepy. Now stop it!”

It’s then I notice people are looking at me. I can feel my face turn red when all the other kids start mumbling among themselves, throwing glances my way. I don’t know why, but I drop back down, grab my book and hide behind it. I hope that they’ll either ignore me or that the ground will swallow me up. Either sounds good enough.

“Are you enjoying ‘Protovech Ghan’?” Bowie-san-Gath suddenly asks, pointing to the book.

“Proto-what?”

“‘Protovech Ghan’. The novel you’re reading. It’s the first part of the ‘Odakkar’ saga by K’un Di, isn’t it?”

I hold it up, pointing at the title. “Yeah, it’s by K’un Di, but it’s called ‘Starlight’.”

“Ah, yes, I see. I’ve only read it in its original Zon. ‘Starlight’, was it?”

“Yeah.”

“Amusing. That is not a correct translation of the title at all.”

“Why? What does ‘Protovech Ghan’ mean in English?”

“The Sun Queen’s Laser Spear.”

I chuckle. “No offense, but I like ‘Starlight’ better as a title.”

“None taken,” he says. “You’ve been reading it non-stop since you started school. I take it you enjoy it?”

“It beats doing nothing or getting homework I can’t read,” I say, trying to sound cool and aloof. I don’t think he buys it, because I get the feeling he can tell from my voice that I’m about to re-read my favorite chapter.

“Are you at the part where Solea meets the Harbinger yet?” he asks.

“Just about. I—,” I say, stopping when I know I just gave myself away.

“Second read through?” he asks.

“Third by now,” I mutter. To my surprise, I hear him laughing. It’s a pleasant laugh, one that is understanding. I laugh too, which I realize might be the first time I’ve done that in front of him.

“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I say.

“I’m sorry I read your thoughts.”

“Start again?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” I say. “Tell me more about yourself. Why’d you come to Caril for schooling?”

He locks his hands together. “After some…issues on my home world, my previous diploma’s and degrees have been rendered invalid. I had to retake my classes on Caril so I can have the appropriate grades and certifications for this part of the galaxy.”

“Oh. But you like it here, right?” I ask.

“It is pleasant enough. But like you, being the only one of my kind here with no-one to speak my native tongue with was intimidating.”

“Yeah, I bet. But I only know English and Spanish. You know a dozen more languages than I do,” I say, chuckling. “Did it take you long to learn Caril?”

“It’s not so difficult one you practice it. I mastered it in a tymwull — a month.”

“Jeez. All I know you could fit on a single page. It’ll take me more than just a month,” I sigh. He looks at me, without saying anything. I break the silence; “So what about friends? You seem to be popular here.”

“I do not have any friends. Not in the way you define it.”

“Why not? You’re easygoing, as far as I know.”

“I suppose I am not in the habit of making friends. Even for lunch, I sit alone.”

“Really?”

“Yes. My studies keep me preoccupied. It seems friendships are simply one of those things that I am unfit for,” he says, sounding actually kind of sad. “How about you? Are you fitting in?” he asks. “Made any friends yet?”

I laugh, but it’s not a happy laugh. “I haven’t. And I’m not fitting in either. Either I avoid people, or they avoid me.”

“How come?” he asks.

“Because I have no idea what to say to anyone, and I don’t have a clue to what’s going on in class. I sometimes feel I might as well be on the moon.”

“Which one?” he asks, looking up at the ceiling as two of the large moons pass over us, the blue one being much bigger than the rainbow colored one. The third one should be on the other side of the planet at this point.

“Good one,” I chuckle.

“Humor is not as alien to my kind as it may seem. You will find my culture is quite versed in the art of comedic timing.”

“Yeah? Know any good Zig knock-knock jokes?”

“No, but our Xenxnex cabaret is similar to the Owarai comedy from your planet. Are you familiar with it?”

“Not really.”

“It’s a Japanese style of comedy. It is very popular on some of the outer colonies, like the Brbrrrb satellite near Tensemt and Colo, where the Technarcy have embraced it.”

Wow, those are a lot of names I’m probably not going to remember. “You’ve been all over the universe, haven’t you?”

“I have moved around quite a lot.”

“Do you miss your home planet?”

“Not really. But you do, don’t you?” he says.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” I groan.

“It is all right to be homesick. But-,” he starts.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that. From my mom, my dad, even people I’ve e-mailed back home. But that’s not what’s bothering me.”

“Then what?” he asks.

“Can I be honest?”

“Of course,” he says, moving closer to me. His one eye changes color to a deep brown. I’m not sure if that means something.

“I’m actually really bored here.”

“Bored? Does Ms. Gorarawin not assign enough homework?”

“I think she does, but I get the feeling she doesn’t give me all of it. Just mini math assignments. Outside of that, she just lets me sit there and read.”

Bowie-san-Gath chuckled. “I know several students who would prefer that to actual homework.”

“Yeah, I get that. But how am I supposed to fit in when I get pushed aside all the time? I can’t add anything to a conversation. I can’t give answers to a question. I’m the Earth girl in the back, who no-one can talk to. I just feel like a whole bit of nothing. Like I’m just wasting my time until class ends, and then I have to do the whole thing again the next day. Like today, when one of the kids — Horth, I think his name is — went up to the front of the class and talked about something with all these pictures to back him up. And while everyone else is commenting and asking questions, I’m just sitting there, gawking at them. I feel so stupid, like I should be in the remedial class or something. I mean, what was he even doing? What are any of them doing?”

Bowie-san-Gath presses two of his long fingers against what I think is supposed to be his chin, and sat there, lost in thought. I figured he drifted off somewhere, bored by my story, when he suddenly sits up and pulls out his schedule planner.

“Your grade seems to be in the midst of their Yurngahli-do.”

“Oh, okay,” I say. “And what’s that?”

“Basically, it’s an assignment where the students hold a presentation about any literature of their choice.”

“A presentation? Like a book report?”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

“Any book?”

“Yes, any book, as long as the presentation conveys the content in proper terms.”

“What does that mean?”

He rubs his head for a bit, trying to find the words. “You need to be able to retell the story under a set time limit, and it is encouraged to explain what it is about the book that spoke to you the most. Like I said, it’s a small assignment.”

“Oh, okay. And does everyone in my class have to do this?”

“Yes. Everyone except you, of course.”

“Yeah. Right. Of course.”

We sit there for a minute or two without saying anything. Me, chomping down om my PB&J, him absorbing water spheres through his chest. I try to think of a new topic, but I just can’t seem to get my mind off of book reports. I’m glad I don’t have to do one, but at the same time, I’m not. I mean, I have been reading the same book for nearly two weeks straight. I could do a report on it. It’d be better than sitting around and doing nothing. But I couldn’t go out there and talk in front of the class. I barely speak a word of Carillian. It’s insane. It’s impossible. It’s—

“Are you thinking of participating in the Yurngahli-do?” Bowie-san-Gath asks.

“Are you reading my mind again?” I ask.

“I didn’t have to,” he says. “Your face speaks more to me than a mild mind probe ever could.”

I feel myself blushing. “Forget it. It’s just a stupid idea. It’s not like I even have to do it.”

“No, that’s correct. You are not obligated to.”

“Right. I mean, I’m not sure I even can do it.”

“True,” he says in the most deadpan tone ever. “Your Carillian is poor, so what would even be the point to go up in front of the class and speak about a book you don’t even like?”

“Excuse me, but I happen to like ‘Starlight’. Just because I don’t speak Carillian, doesn’t mean I can’t do a book report on it. I could do just as well as anyone else.”

He turns to me. I see my reflection on his face as he quietly stares at me. Then it dawns on me what he’s trying to get me to realize. Sneaky alien kid.

“Look, just because I can do it, doesn’t mean it will be good. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

He quietly hands me a small driver. “Place that in your tablet. It should help.”

“What is it?”

“My old Carillian/English dictionary. It also has a phrase generator and can adjust poorly formatted sentences. It should still have all my notes.”

“Wow, thanks. Did you get this when you first enrolled in school?”

“No. It was a gift from a Carillian peacekeeper.”

Peacekeeper? I’m afraid to ask, but I’ve heard Dad talk about the Caril government sending soldiers to wars in the past.

“I don’t know about this. I don’t—,” I begin, but Bowie-san-Gath calls one of those blue spheres over. He mention Ms. Gorarawin’s name, after which the ball zooms off. A minute later it returns along Ms. Gorarawin, smiling broadly. Bowie-san-Gath talks to her, pointing to me, the book, and the blue sphere that shows some clips from today’s class. I catch a few words here and there, realizing what he’s setting up for me. I actually getting excited about it.

“Ms. Gorarawin has agreed to allow you to participate. You will have twenty minutes to present your speech on ‘Starlight’ in front of the class in any matter you deem fit.”

“Great! So will you help me with the—”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot assist you with a book report. I have not the time to help you on this.”

“What? But it was your idea!”

“No, it was yours. I simply helped you along with making the first step.”

“But…can’t you just help?”

“Are you asking me to put own schoolwork in jeopardy to help you on an assignment?”

I don’t say anything. I feel like such a jerk now. He’s right. That’s exactly what I’m asking him to do. “But there’s no way I can do this on my own,” I stutter.

“I beg to differ,” says Bowie-san-Gath. “Besides, you were the one who said you were bored, right?”

“Yeah…”

“I believe this book report is what you need to break the barrier. A way to share who you are with your class.”

“But why can’t—”

“—I help you? Because I have six exams that hour that I need to complete to pass my classes.”

“That hour? Don’t you mean that day?” I ask.

“No,” he says. From his tone, I can tell he’s neither kidding or lying.

“But…but—,” I stammer, wanting to finish with ‘I can’t’.

“Yes, you can,” he says. “I feel that you doing this on your own is the push you need to overcome your shyness and fears. Call it a baptism of fire, to quote your planet’s writers.”

It’s ridiculous. On the one hand, I don’t think I can do this. But on the other, I can’t just sit around doing nothing forever. I live here on Caril now. This is my home and my this is my school. He’s right, even though I don’t like it. If I can do this alone, I show the class who I am and what I’m like. I have a voice, and I want to be heard. “All right. I’ll do it. I’ll do my book report on ‘Starlight’.”

“Excellent,” Bowie-san-Gath says.

“One thing,” I say.

“Yes?”

“What’s ‘Starlight’ called in Caril?”

He laughs. “‘Tyun-fo’, as in ‘The Light of The Sun Queen’.”

That’s actually not half bad, but it still can’t beat ‘Starlight’ when it comes to titles. I repeat the title to Ms. Gorarawin, who smiles and nods, then pulls out her tablet and begins writing something down. She slowly talks to me while showing the schedule. She marks the last box with a ‘G’, which I think stands for ‘Grace’. “Toleallir?” she asks me.

“Uhm, yeah. Sure. Fine,” I say, turning to Bowie-san-Gath. “What did she say?”

“She said you will be doing your report on toleallir. Thursday.”

“Ah, ok,” I say. “Which Thursday?”

“This upcoming one,” he replies, before hovering off to the lift-stream. “Good luck,” he says, waving at me, while I stand there, speechless and frozen with panic. I have five days to prepare. Right now I’m glad that Bowie-san-Gath is the only one who can hear me screaming in my head.

 #

I’m stuck. Trying to read is a chore. Not that I didn’t understand the material. I got the book just fine. But trying to retell it in a language I barely grasp is impossible. The English/Carillian dictionary is lying there by my feet, waiting to be used, but I just can’t make any sense of the sentence structures.

I’m pacing back and forth, biting my nails, trying to figure out some way I can pull this off. I stop when someone knocks at my door.

“Grace? Honey? You coming down for dinner?” Mom asks.

“In a little bit.”

“Dad found a place that makes pizza and brought some home.”

“Pepperoni?”

“No, sorry. They don’t make sausages out here. Are peppers and tuna all right?”

“That’s fine,” I sigh. She opens the door and peeks in, instantly seeing my frustration the second our eyes meet. “What’s wrong?” she asks.

No point in hiding it. Not from her. “I agreed to do a book report in front of the class this Thursday.”

“That’s great,” she says.

“No. That’s not great. I’m going to look stupid, standing there with nothing to say.”

“Didn’t you read the book?” she asks.

“I read it four times. I know the story front to back. I can

dream it. But I can’t talk about it because no-one will know what I’m saying.”

“Oh, I see. Can’t…what’s his name? Your ‘study buddy’? Ziggy-zen…?”

“Bowie-san-Gath. And no, he can’t help. He’s doing six exams that hour.”

“You mean that day, sweetie,” she laughs.

“No, I don’t.”

“Oh,” she says. “Do you need me to help you? I can help you write out what you want to say after dinner.”

“That would help. Or you could come to school with me and translate?”

“Sorry, honey. I can’t. You know I would if I could, but I have to meet the housing representative and—”

I stop her. “I know. I’m not serious,” I say, although part of me is a little bit. “But even if know what to say, how do I know I say it right?”

“Well, how about you eat first? I’m sure you’ll think of something once you’ve got some food in you.”

We walk downstairs to the kitchen. Dad and Danny are already chowing down, with Danny holding his pizza in one hand and a red robot toy in the other. “Rrr! Gigator-7 has come to save the pizza planet.”

“Don’t play with your food, Danny,” Dad mutters.

“Gigator-7 needs to eat too, Dad. He’s been fighting the Omni-armies all day.”

“Oh, and how did that go?” Mom asks, playing along.

I envy Danny. He doesn’t have as a hard time fitting in. He already made a few friends and picked up some Carillian, even watching that robot show on TV without any problem. I watch him play for a while as Mom cuts me up some pizza, listening to him recreate today’s episode of Gigator-7. He uses his toy to show Mom and Dad all the moves that Gigator used to beat up Tarno-saur. Left kick. Right punch. Barrel roll slam. He makes it sound so real. Like it actually happened.

Then it hits me. An idea. I know how I’m going to do my book report on ‘Starlight’.

“Danny, can I borrow some of your toys for school this Thursday?”

#

I watch the clock ticking down. It’s almost hour 70, two-thirty in Earth hours. I’m holding onto the box of book report stuff like it’s a treasure chest. I hope I’m not making the biggest mistake of my life. For all I know, I’m gonna go down as the girl who played with toys in front of her class. I’ll get a zero-minus on my record for the rest of the year. They’ll put me in some sort of remedial class, where I have to carry Bowie-san-Gath’s books until he graduates.

No. I’m being silly. I’ll just go up, do my thing, and get it over with. It’s time I stop being the wallflower from Earth in the back of the classroom.

“Graze?” Ms. Gorarawin says, motioning for me to come on up. I feel like I’m on autopilot, as I want to stay seated and curl up into a ball and vanish, but instead, I get on up and walk down the steps, passing by the other students, with the box in my arms.

“You begin, yes?”

“Yes. Thank you – so-fath,” I say. I take a quick look around the class. Most of the students throw each other looks. A few of the girls laugh. Ms. Gorarawin gives me two thumbs down, but I think that is meant as encouragement, as she’s smiling and nodding. I take out my copy of ‘Starlight’, and hold it up for everyone to see. I’m really doing this. Here goes nothing.

“This is my book report — mae Yurngahli-do — on ‘Starlight’ – ‘Tyun-fo’. It’s a novel — tiullitan — about Solea, the Queen of the Starlight,” I begin, opening the box and pulling out my old Malibu Amy doll, which I’ve put in a yellow dress and taped a fork to her hand. Some of the students laugh. My heart skips a beat. For a second I think about bolting out of the classroom while I still can, but I keep going. “She’s the creator and the ruler of all the suns — ila zonea. She’s a good queen. But she’s at war — brokarr — with an awful enemy: the Dark,” I say, pulling out Terror-man, the scariest toy from Danny’s collection, and I begin my report.

One by one I take the dolls and toys out from the box and place them on the desk, while I roll off the names of the cast. Once I’ve given every toy their name, I talk about the first part of the book, where the Sun Queen comes out from hiding after the destruction of the green sun of Torra. I pause every now and then to translate a few things with the Carillian dictionary, or I just use props from my

box to gesture it (the green sun of Torra is played by an orange). I get stuck a few times, but Ms. Gorarawin jumps in to translate. After a while I talk without any hiccups for so long, I don’t even worry about looking at the class anymore. All my nerves are gone, as I move onto the last part, where Solea is attacked in her castle by the Darkling army, loses all her servants and has to fight by herself, which I play out by slapping Danny’s old Terror-man toy with my Malibu Amy, although the battle ends with her being thrown from her tower, played by the teacher’s desk. She falls into the inky sea of ebony, ending the story on a bleak note. But then, when everything seems lost, her sun spear suddenly comes floating out of the inky blackness. To be continued.

“So I really liked this book. I didn’t think I would, at first. I mean, I kept putting it off, never giving it a chance. But it didn’t turn out as bad, and I’m glad I finally did give it a go” I say, not sure if I’m still talking about the book or not. I look over the class, seeing everyone intently listening. “Well, that’s the end — dexfini — of my book report – mae Yurngahli-do — on ‘Starlight’ — ‘Tyun-fo’. Thank you — so fath — for listening.”

I stand there, holding Malibu Amy and Terror-man in my hands. The rest of the class is looking at me. My heart stops. Then, one of the boys in the front row, Horth, begins to clap. The students sitting next to him join in. Urasuwa, the girl two seat in front of me, yelps out. Soon, the whole class, Ms. Gorarawin included, are clapping. No one is laughing. Not one of them made fun of me. I feel so ridiculous, for even thinking they would. Then, I hear a voice in my head. “Well done.”

I look around, seeing the tall figure of Bowie-san-Gath in the back of the class, throwing me a wave. The lunch chime blares from the blue spheres, causing the classroom to empty out. I walk to my desk with my box of props, where Bowie-san-Gath is waiting for me.

“Hey,” I say. “You watched it?”

“Yes. It would have been regrettable had I missed it,” he says.

“You skipped your exams for me?”

“Of course not. My instructor still thinks I’m there. Small mind trick I learned long ago. But I wanted to be here and see how you did. And I believe it was a success. You should be pleased.”

“I am. Thanks for your help.”

“What help?” he says, making a strange sound that I think is a laugh. “You did all this on your own.”

“Well. You still helped by being a friend.”

He looks at me. His single eye shines a new color, with dashes of orange added in. Is he blushing? “We are friends?” he asks.

“Yeah. I figured we are.”

“Hmm,” he mutters.

A finger taps me on the shoulder. It’s Urasuwa, who has hair braided into six tails and a pencil-thin visor on her nose. “Graze…goud worke,” she says, before saying something, which I think meant either “seeing book” or “watching wood”.

 “She asked if she can see your book. She has never read it and your presentation has piqued her interest,” Bowie-san-Gath says.

“Oh. Of course,” I say, handing ‘Starlight’ to her. “So-fath,” I say.

She looks at the cover and flashes me a smile. I smile back. When I turn around, I see Bowie-san-Gath heading out of the classroom. He waves at me before the door closes behind him.

#

I’ve been in school for a tymwull — a month. Things have gotten a lot easier now, especially since I became part of Urasuwa’s group. One of the students in the fyio-gi class lend me a Carillian copy of ‘Starlight’ for on my tablet so I can learn some words and phrases, and Urasuwa has been helping me whenever I get stuck. Also with the arrival of Mr. Subra, the English teacher, I now attend his class on Carillian for English speaking students (I’m the first to attend any such class on the entirety of Caril, so I’m top of the class).

I’ve also joined the school gymnastics team. Mr. Frunadnar, the keileion (that’s like a coach) doesn’t need to do much talking when barking orders at us. He’s all right though, and he let me know through Ms. Gorarawin that if I keep up with my studies and practice, I might be able to make the school team next year.

I don’t see Bowie-san-Gath as often. He’s still around, throwing me a wave when we pass each other or leaving me a book that helps me practice my Carillian. So I’m surprised he showed up right before class today.

“How are things?” he asks.

“Things are good,” I say, before trying it in Carillian. “Ginn to finwa si garr.”

“Hinn, not ginn,” he says. “But not bad.”

“And you? How’d your exams go?”

“They went well. Very well indeed. In fact, I am to be transferred to the more advanced levels in the school’s southern campus.”

“Really? Where’s that?”

“A few days travel from here.”

“Oh, but that means—,” I mutter.

“Yes. I’m sorry to say, but it does,” he says. His eye turns dark, a near black. “That is why I wanted to give you this before I leave.” He hands me something wrapped in brown paper. It feels lighter than it looks.

“Thanks. But this isn’t goodbye, you know? I’ve had my fill of goodbyes.”

“Then we shall meet again. And when we do, I hope you’ll have finished my gift. So until then, see you soon, Grace.”

“Later, alligator,” I say.

“What?”

I turn red. Great. Way to go, Grace. But I think he knows how embarrassed I am, as his eye turns a greenish color. He waves and floats off.

“Grace, quero da hui ki forre?” asks Urasuwa, which means ‘what did he give you?’. I shrug and begin peeling the paper off the gift. It’s a small file driver, which I quickly load onto my tablet. A picture of Solea, queen of the sun, pops up on screen. I read the title.

“‘Solarmax: part 2 of the Starlight saga’, by K’un-di, with annotations in Carillian and Zon,” I read aloud. There’s a message encoded with it, popping up as I load the first page.

“Dearest Grace. I hope this next installment will illuminate your life on Caril. Signed; Bowie-san-Gath. Your friend.”

###

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