Read The Faarian Chronicles: Exile Online
Authors: Karen Harris Tully
I hadn’t seen the ship undisguised before. Like something out
of an old B-grade sci-fi movie, it was conical on the bottom half and rounded
on top. It gleamed like brushed silver from the crisscrossing of scratches and
gouges it had probably gained over many, many trips through the wormhole. It
was supported now by a tripod of skinny legs, like ants supporting a rhino.
I looked around and saw that we’d landed in the middle of
nowhere, the tarmac I stood on so cracked and worn in spots that it was down to
dirt. The suns glinted off shiny buildings off in the distance. Why didn’t we
land closer to the terminal? Now we’d have to wait for a bus or something.
I immediately wished for the sunglasses buried somewhere in
my bag. In addition to the two suns, I saw three pale moons in a cluster near
the deep purple horizon. Did that mean night was falling, or that it was still
early morning… or neither one? My warm-ups, which had been heavy with water a
few minutes ago, were already almost dry now. Was it this hot here all the
time, or was it the equivalent of high noon in mid-summer? I had no way of
knowing. I shook my head in bewilderment and tied my jacket around my waist,
engulfed in a strong feeling of being adrift with no way of getting my
“Sunny! Hurry it up.” The Robot’s voice got my attention
after a few minutes. I had been numbly watching the bustle around me. “They’ll
be here for you any minute.”
I looked over at Sensei. She was standing apart from
everyone, observing me and my reactions. She came over as I offloaded my bags.
“Sunny, you’re going to have to ask a lot of questions.” I
nodded, but hesitated. “Don’t worry about looking stupid. Anyone who doesn’t
understand has never had to throw out all of their background knowledge. You
have to allow yourself to start from scratch.”
I swallowed. “What time is it? What time of day, I mean,” I
“It’s 1230 hours. Twenty-two hours in a day, remember? Not
so different from what you’re used to. Stick to military time and you’ll be
fine.” I nodded. Okay, so it was early afternoon.
“Is it always so hot here?” It must have been about ninety
degrees. “What time of year is it? Where
“Remember your geography,” she said patiently. “We’re on the
shore of the Great Sea of Tethys at the north pole of the planet. This is where
the main port is for shipping and travel between planets.”
I envisioned the globe that Professor Obot had projected in
our lessons and started to calm down. “In winter it’s completely frozen over,
“Right. It’s high summer now and this is about as hot as it
gets... here. Do you remember where the Kindred is?” she asked.
“Yes.” I took a calming breath and tried to allow what had
been useless classroom theory to become reality. “It’s just south of the
equator, southwest from here. North of the Great Desert.” She nodded. “It’s
winter in the southern hemisphere now… no, no, that’s Earth. It’s summer there
too, because of the two suns, right? And it should be hotter. Ugh.”
“Yes. Not many people choose to farm south of the equator
anymore, but our people have never been ones to give up. It’ll be hot, but what
you’ll really notice is the dryness. Drink a lot of water and don’t forget the
I nodded absently.
“So, that thing,” I began, “that… wormhole. Is that what
happens when people get lost in the Bermuda Triangle?” I asked. A normal person
would drown if they went through that.
“In the past, yes. Professor Obot!” she called across the
pitted tarmac to him. “Would you come show Sunny the bone yard, please?” She
gestured to a building in the distance.
He grumbled as he hovered his way over to us. “Such a waste
of my polymorphic programming.”
“Now our pilots are all trained to check for air and sea
vessels so that none are caught and dragged in when the wormhole opens. These
days, if Earthans go missing there, it’s most likely foul weather or some sort
of accident. Either that or people are staging a hoax for the tabloids.”
The Robot hovered next to me and projected a field, round
and wavery at the edges, that zoomed in on the distance like a camera. I saw a
run-down building with a sign that read: Quarantine.
“Quarantine?” I asked. “We don’t have to go there, do we?”
“No, no,” Sensei answered. “That’s mostly for when people
leave the planet. Look next to the building.”
I saw a big fence that looked like it went on forever in
either direction and… “A scrap yard?” I asked.
The Robot snorted. “Yes, but what’s in the scrap yard?”
From where I stood it looked like a giant pile of
splintered, twisted metal. “Um, rusty scrap metal.”
“Pieces of old planes and ships that were caught in the
wormhole, Sunny,” Sensei said. “There’s a small memorial there too.”
“Oh.” I felt like I should say something else, but didn’t
know what. “Who are those people on the outside of the fence there?” They
seemed angry, waving their fists in the air and chanting.
Sensei took a look through the view screen. “Afflicted
rights protesters. They’re not allowed past the fence line.”
“It’s a disease, Sunny. The polite term is the affliction.”
“What, are people here scared that they’ll catch it?”
“No. They don’t bother chlorophyllated people like us.
Mostly the National Council wants to prevent them from getting off-planet to
“Ohhh. But they can’t
to spread their disease to
Earth. Can they?”
She looked around and cleared her throat. “The Afflicted
claim that they’re not contagious and should be allowed to travel like anyone
“Oh. Well, if there’s a chance of them spreading some new
disease to Earth, I don’t think they should be able to go.”
She gave me a wry smile. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep
them from trying.”
“So, what does this affliction do?” I focused on them
through the Robot’s zoom screen. Except for the anger, they looked healthy
enough, not about to drop over dead or bleed out through their eyes or
Sensei glanced around as if uncomfortable answering in front
of the others before finally saying quietly. “It makes them go insane, Sunny.”
“Oh."Okay, that would be the worst disease ever; one
that hijacked a person’s brain and made them do and think things they wouldn’t
normally. I watched the protesters for a minute, glad they were so far away.
crazy,” I said, then kicked myself.
How exactly do crazy people look, Sunny?
“That’s the problem,” she replied. “They don’t seem to show
outward symptoms until they go off their medication, and then it’s too late.”
“Oh,” I repeated, not knowing what else to say. Through the
view screen the Robot was still projecting, sighing every few minutes as if
very put out, I noticed someone who looked vaguely familiar standing a short
distance apart from the group of protestors. He lowered the rectangular device
he held, and I recognized the smallish man from the entrance of the karate
tournament the other day, except today, his spiky hair was the bright, almost
fluorescent green of new grass. He grinned at me, as if he knew I was watching,
and disappeared from sight behind the quarantine building.
“Hey! That-,” I began but stopped when several oddly shiny
human-shaped figures exited the quarantine building and zipped, phased I guess,
toward us, kicking up a cloud of dust in their wake. Watching on the Robot’s
zoom screen, they looked like they were speeding right at me.
I jerked backward in surprise and tripped over my own feet,
landing on my butt in a dusty pothole. Three short people who, like my duffel
bag, seemed to be shrink-wrapped from head to toe, arrived full-stop right in
front of us, wearing goggles and masks over their noses and mouths. I got up
and brushed myself off, embarrassed to hear everyone laughing around me,
including John and his father who were standing a short distance away from the
rest of the group with their bags. No one else had moved an inch or seemed the
least bit alarmed.
It was hard to tell what the lumpy figures looked like
under their wrapping as they popped open their cases and each removed some kind
of strange weapon I may have seen before on Star Trek. Two of the three
surrounded me and I stumbled back again with my hands up in front of me.
“Sunny it’s okay; they’re just Faarian med-techs.” Sensei
caught my elbow to steady me this time. “They’re here to give you some
One of them next to me waved his/her – whatever it was. “We
had to come up with this special, you know. Just for you,” a friendly voice
“Why?” I asked, still alarmed.
“You’re the first Earthan to arrive for a long time. Sure,
people travel to Earth and back, but we’ve never had someone come in who wasn’t
born here. At least, not in the last 400 years or so.” She, I think it was a
woman, laughed warmly. And then she punched me in the arm with her weapon
“Ow!” I clapped a hand over my arm. The plastic-wrapped
person on my other side passed a curved, light-saber-looking thing up and down
my entire body several times, like I was being wanded at the airport. She then
waved it in front my face and grunted in satisfaction as it lit up and chirped
like a musical Christmas tree.
“Well, you needed all the vaccines from the last couple
thousand years,” the first woman said, bringing my attention back to her. “Did
you think it’d be painless?” The second one punched me in my other arm without
“Ow! Would you people quit doing that?” I whirled on the
She ran the blinking scanner thingy over me again and took
off her mask and goggles to reveal, not a woman, but a small man grinning at
“Plus, we had to see if you were carrying any Earth germs –
” he emphasized, waving his scanner thingy at me, “and wipe them
out before you infected the planet.” I rubbed my arms. Both of my biceps now
hurt like a – something Judith would wash my mouth out for saying – but when I
pushed up my t-shirt sleeves, there wasn’t a mark on either arm.
The other people on the flight were all given a similar wand
scan and germ cleanse, but only in one arm, and it seemed much less painful for
them. Either that or I was a big wimp. Maybe now we could get a bus to the
Or not. As soon as they were scanned, John and his father
picked up their bags and started walking. Ugh. I started picking up my stuff to
follow when Sensei stopped me, motioning me to put my bags back down. John
looked back over his shoulder and gave me a little smile and a quick, peace
sign wave and continued walking. I hadn’t seen him without a hat before, but
his hair was short and spiky, like pine needles all over his head. Huh. I
wished I’d gotten a chance to talk to him again.
Before I could ask what we were waiting for, I heard a
roaring, rushing sound from above. I looked up, shading my eyes from the suns
and searching for the source as it got louder and louder. A plane stopped
directly above the cargo container, hovering like one of those military jets
that could land and take off straight up and down - a Harrier. I’d never
actually seen one except on the Discovery channel, but this one was much bigger
than that, like a Harrier cargo plane.
Sensei tapped my arm to get my attention and handed me a
pair of foam ear plugs. Really? I traveled a gazillion miles through a wormhole
in a spaceship that can disguise itself as practically anything, or go
and we use
earplugs? She twisted hers to insert them. I shook my
head in disbelief but followed suit. I tried to shield my eyes with my hands
from the swirl of flying grit. My skin felt like it was being sand blasted.
Teague and Myrihn, now wearing protective earmuffs, were waving it down, the
belly of the plane opening to swallow the shipping container whole.
“What’s that about?” I shouted at Sensei.
“The plane looks like a giant tiger!”
“The painted design keeps the haratchi away,” she yelled
“Oh!” I nodded to show I understood. I at least knew the
haratchi were large bird pests that were a big problem.
Finally, the plane settled on its landing gear and the
engines died, allowing both the sound level and sand storm to settle.
I took out my ear plugs and heard the sounds of chains and
winches working inside the plane.
The door near the front of the plane opened and stairs
lowered. A thin man I’d guess to be in his mid- thirties came bounding down
excitedly, scanning the crowd and smiling hugely when he spotted me standing
next to Sensei. I ignored him and stared at the door, waiting for my mother.
Maybe she would look like me. Maybe some part of me would
recognize her immediately. But no one else exited the plane.
“Veridian! Welcome!” the man said, stretching his arms
open wide as he came toward us. My disappointment changed to alarm as I
realized this strange man expected to hug me.
He had dark green tattoos outside one eye, forming several
progressively larger arrows that stamped dark and heavy across one side of his
forehead and cheekbone, reminiscent of tribal tattoos I’d seen in
I tried not to gawk.
His lips were regular color, but his welcoming grin
displayed teeth that were swirling shades of pearlescent teal, to coordinate
with the tattoo? And, worst of all, to my admittedly limited fashion sense, he
had this strange girly hair, straight to his shoulders and curled under in a
jade green bob. Like Johnny Depp in
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Despite the fact that my expression must have been shocked,
he came right up to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I stood
there like a statue, not knowing what to do.
“Sunny,” Sensei’s voice was calm, “this is Ethem, from your
mother’s Kindred. The family home.” She added this last definition as a
“Oh yes, forgive me, but I feel like I’ve known you
forever,” he gushed as he took my hands and gave them a squeeze before finally
letting me go. “I’m so glad you could finally make it to our side of the
galaxy!” So… he was glad, but my mother couldn’t be bothered to make it?
“Sensei Qian. Professor Obot. It’s so good to see both of
you again after all these years!” he continued gushing. I hadn’t noticed the
Professor propelling himself up beside me. The man, Ethem, didn’t greet Teague
or Myrihn who just picked up their stuff and boarded the plane.
“Yes, you too Ethem,” the Professor answered warmly, happy
to be so politely included. “You must be what, administration manager for the
General now?” The General, right. Sensei and the Robot always referred to my
mother that way. And was he going to just chit-chat and ignore the fact that
she wasn’t there to pick me up herself?
“Yep, that’s me. Cooking, cleaning, scheduling, procuring
supplies,” he said proudly, gesturing to the cargo plane. “You know, that sort
of thing.” It sounded like a glorified housekeeper to me. I wondered what Judith
would think of him.
“Sensei, Professor, are you coming with us to the Kindred
for dinner? You’re more than welcome and I’m sure the General would like to
thank you in person for all of your years of service, mentoring Veridian.” He
seemed to remember something and turned to me, contrite. “She was sorry she
couldn’t be here in person to meet you, Veridian,” he began.
“Sunny,” I interrupted, my voice short at the second-hand
apology. “People call me Sunny.” I attempted a smile to not seem so rude. It wasn’t
his fault she sent him to fetch me.
"Okay,” he said slowly, “Sunny. She had an important
meeting she couldn’t miss. I hope you understand. She’s looking forward to
meeting you at home tonight.” My lips tightened and I nodded curtly. I
understood, all right. Dad would have rescheduled any meeting to be at one of
my competitions. She couldn’t do the same to meet her own daughter for the
first time in fourteen years?
I picked up my bags and headed for the plane. One year, I
thought. I had to survive one year and then I could go home. Supposedly for a
visit, but I’d find a way to stay on Earth if it killed me. I gritted my teeth.
Dad had encouraged me to think of it like being an exchange
student. I was here for the experience. And what doesn’t kill you makes you
I turned back to the man. Ethem, I reminded myself. “Where
do you want me to stow my stuff?”
He sighed resignedly and gestured at the steps. “In the
passenger cabin.” His smile had finally faded. I knew as I climbed the stairs
and entered the plane that they would be talking about me.
After the hard plastic seat of my last flight, the standard
airline seats aboard were positively cushy. Teague and Myrihn had each
stretched out across a whole row apiece in the back. I picked a window seat in
the front row and piled my bags on the seats next to it. I didn’t really want
to sit next to that man. Besides the pilot up front, there was no one else
“Can’t you come to dinner?” I heard Ethem ask as I started
back for the rest of my things. He must not have realized how his voice would
carry. “At this point, I think it might be easier if she had someone familiar
with her, for a little while. I’ll have the plane take you to the school first
Huh. It must be nice to have a huge private jet.
The Robot’s nasal voice answered, “I’m scheduled for an
upgrade and overhaul before my next assignment. She’s just being a teenager;
she’ll be fine.”
“Teenager, yes, but I think anyone would be upset at having
their wishes so completely disregarded as to the path of their life. I’d think
you would understand that better than anyone, Professor,” Sensei’s voice was
quieter, introspective. “I’ll come for dinner, Ethem. It will be fine if I make
it to the Academy tomorrow instead of tonight.” A breath escaped me that I
wasn’t aware I had been holding, and my shoulders relaxed a little. It was a
relief to not be left alone with these people yet.
The flight was mercifully uneventful and shorter than I’d
expected to travel across an entire hemisphere. It wasn’t difficult to say
goodbye to the Robot. We just yelled it through the open plane door. Ethem came
aboard and immediately moved my bags to a closet behind the cockpit without a
He took the seat on the aisle, leaving a space between us.
As we flew, he pointed out sights to see out the windows. Sensei made a comment
or two from the row behind us. The mountains, a river, a small green patch of
forest he seemed inordinately excited over. A large pipeline that I was told
was how the Kindred got its water from the Polar Sea. Mostly I saw an awful lot
of golden brown desert. I didn’t pay attention to the names or ask any
questions, only made a few ‘oh reallys’ and ‘mm-hmms’ at appropriate intervals.
He seemed content to pretend that I was interested.
Every time I looked at him, flashes of teal teeth had me
staring until he noticed and I looked away. Eventually I couldn’t stand it any
“Did you eat something… green?” I interrupted his tour guide
impersonation. Except the color wasn’t fading, so I didn’t think that could be
it. I couldn’t think of the Faarian word for teal at that moment, or any other
reason for his teeth to be that color.
“Why, do I have spinach in my teeth?” He smiled a big
grimace to show me as much of his mouth as possible. Two rows of big, colorful
teeth flashed garishly at me.
“Nooo… it’s just… the color. Why are they all that color?”
“What, you don’t like it?” he said with a raised brow and a
hint of teasing challenge. “I just did it myself this morning. I almost went
with the fuchsia again, but it was time for a change,” he laughed.
Fuchsia. Not knowing how to answer, I stumbled. “No. I mean,
I don’t know. It’s just…” I cocked my head to the side and stared as he
jokingly made funny mouth gestures at me. “Why would you do that?” He laughed
again, a little self-conscious now and started to dig around in his fanny pack,
producing a mirror.
“No, no, Ethem. They look fine,” Sensei reassured him.
Really? I thought skeptically. She thought dyed teal teeth were attractive? But
then, Sensei had never been the kind of person to just tell people what they
wanted to hear.
“Sunny’s just never seen dyed teeth before. It’s like your
dyed hair, Sunny,” she explained.
“Oh,” Ethem seemed relieved. “I didn’t want to ask but your
hair is dyed that color?”
“Ethem also wears the traditional Faarian markings for the
Katje Kindred.” Sensei motioned to the side of his face. “His are pretty
simple, but they can be much more elaborate. When we get there, you’ll notice
that the Kindred is a melting pot of peoples originally from all over planet
Earth. Over time, traditions like Ethem’s markings have become unique to this
I nodded and shrugged, not really getting it and not in the
mood for a culture lesson. I got up to unwrap my backpack and found my iPhone
“How about you?” Ethem asked before I could put my earbuds
in. “Are your eye markings traditional for your people on Earth?”
“Eye markings?” I asked.
“Your eye makeup, Sunny,” Sensei prompted.
“Oh. No, it’s just, you know, makeup,” I replied.
“They’re temporary, Ethem,” Sensei said. “For fashion.”
I nodded and inserted my earbuds. Dad’s familiar oldies were
a relief and I turned it up to drown out any new attempts at conversation.
About two hours into the flight Ethem was shaking my arm and
pointing out the window. It would have been rude to ignore him.
“There it is: The Kindred,” he said with an air of satisfied
pride when I took out my earbuds. I looked out the window and saw a quilt of
bright green and dark brown rectangles below us growing like an island out of a
sea of desert. And in their midst sat a palace. A humongous, square building
made of brick with a large dome shining at the center of the roof. Four towers
were attached, one at each corner of the main building. Each one was a taller,
skinnier version of the main structure, complete with a little dome winking in
Sheesh! I knew she was rich, but this was ridiculous!
All these years, I’d been picturing my mother as some kind
of female Middle Eastern sheik strolling through a huge open courtyard of her
desert palace. Maybe I was psychic.
The dome caught my attention, changing colors as we
approached. It held a flawless reflection of the cloudless purple sky one
minute, then the next, the whole thing flashed golden fire from the red sun.
The main building must have been least three stories tall,
and surrounded by a… was that a moat? The huge arch of the front doors reminded
me of the Taj Mahal.
We hovered almost above it for a moment before descending
and I could finally see that the dome in the middle was actually glass, housing
a courtyard complete with a green carpet of lawn and fully grown palm trees, no
pool to be seen though, dang it. And what had looked like a moat was nothing
more than a big trench - bone dry.
“Let me have a word with Sunny, Ethem,” Sensei said when the
plane had performed its vertical landing in front of the huge brick structure.
“You go ahead; we’ll meet you in a few minutes.”
“Sunny,” she began after Ethem, Teague, and Myrihn had left
the cabin. She paused, trying to find the right words, which peaked my
curiosity. She usually just said whatever she needed to say. “Sunny, you’re
going to need something now that we weren’t able to teach you very well on
Earth – how to fit in here, in our culture. We don’t have much time, so listen
She waited until she had my complete attention again and
looked me straight in the eye, “Be tough. Remember, girls don’t cry. Not here,
not ever.” I did remember. She used to tell me that as a kid all the time. “The
most important thing to know is that you
tough. I know you. I’ve
seen it. You can handle whatever anyone throws at you. Got it?” I swallowed and
nodded, a little afraid now of what was waiting for me at the other side of
that imposing front door.
“And second, even if you may not want to be here, you
here now. Try and make the best of it. This is your family. They’re good
people. Give them a chance, okay?”
I nodded again, feeling very deer-in-the-headlights. Be
tough and be nice. I hoped I could handle that.
“Okay folks, time to get going.” I hadn’t noticed that the
pilot was still there until he spoke. “I just got a message from the General
and she’s ready to be picked up. We’ll be back in about two hours. So you can
stay on the plane, or get off, but either way this cat’s gotta fly.”
Sensei looked at me. “Do you want to stay on the plane or go
“Go.” I picked up my bags and hurried off the plane as the
engines fired back up. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go inside, but I was positive
that it wasn’t a good idea to meet my mother for the first time on a plane. One
of us might end up testing the parachutes.