Since my arrival on Dalygaran, my time has been very full. The mornings have been dedicated to physical activities, supervised by the Major. My body, I was told, is a brand-new model whose capacities have yet to be tested. I feel like it is more me they are testing.
The first morning, I had to run, do push-ups, chin-ups, go up and down stairs very quickly, climb a rope, jump over obstacles. So strong was my feeling of being a lab rat that I wondered if I would have to run in a wheel.I was given a wrist recorder, and all my vital data were monitored during the exercises. The Major was holding a supervision tablet, and he looked like he was pleased by what he saw.
In this new body, I was able to do whatever I was asked to, without much effort. And I was pleased with that, even if it was a bit weird doing exercises that usually I would have avoided. Push-ups and chin-ups are really not my cup of tea.
The second morning, the tests were about nimbleness. It was simple at the beginning: I had to run as fast as possible by putting my feet on coloured spots facing each other—one on the right, one on the left, and then both feet in the middle. On Earth, I was good at it. It was with a rope ladder lying on the ground: foot right outside, then foot left outside and both feet in the middle between two rungs. But it was just a beginning.
I was then led to a room called the Pendula Room. It is in this type of place that the servicemen(women) of Dalygaran train to improve their reflexes. The object of the exercise is to cross the room as fast as possible, avoiding each swing of a pendulum along your way. Oscillations adapt to the abilities shown by your path. According to the Major, there is a collision avoidance system. If a mistake occurred, an alarm would ring and the pendula would all get in high position to clear the path. “Don’t run during your first return, he said to me. Just feel how it works.”
So I did my first return quite slowly. I succeeded easily. Gradually, I was able to feel each pendulum. I could see each movement and was able to anticipate the next. It was exhilarating.
I noticed the Major shouting something, but I was so concentrated on the movements that I didn’t hear him. I did three or four returns, I don’t remember, and the pendula swung faster and faster. Then all of them got in high position.
– I didn’t hear any alarm.
– There wasn’t any. I pushed the emergency stop.
– You’ve reached the 10th level. Nobody ever gets to the 10th level. Those who succeed in the 8th are rare, he answered with something in the voice I thought was irritation.
– I… I… don’t know what to say…
– You’re… you’re…
– Exceptional. I’ve never seen that before.
It wasn’t irritation then.
– Why did you stop the machine? I could maybe have done more returns…
– 10 is the maximum level. You can’t go further. And this level can’t run for a long time. There’s a danger of the system overheating.
– Oh! Sorry.
– Don’t be.
And then he told me I could go home; well, to my hosts’.
What can I say about my afternoons? The day after my arrival here, after the physical sessions that morning, I went back to my hosts’.
There was only Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain there. On Dalygaran, there is maternity leave too. Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain is a teacher. She stopped working recently, because the last two moons of a pregnancy, which lasts for11 moons, are dedicated to preparation for birth and rest. She and I are getting along well, and we even went to town together. Means of transport: horse-drawn cart, still with the same type of horses, because Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain can’t ride a horse in her state.
On Dalygaran, apparently, barter is used for trades. We have bought food in several shops, and each time she gave bags of dried plants.
– My mother taught me how to identify plants and use them to make nice drinks. Here, I am the queen of brews. It was while I was searching for my herbs in the forest that I met Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe. He was perched on a tree. Wildlife observation, he said to me. I jumped with fright the first time he talked to me. I hadn’t seen him. He came down his tree and apologized. He questioned me about the plants in my basket. We talked while we were walking. I didn’t collect anything else for the rest of the day. He said he was a scientist from the travel center. But he really loved nature. He would be very pleased to learn to know the plants as I did. And that’s how we began to see each other regularly. It didn’t take many occasions for me to realize that he knew at least as much as I did. He had a knack for finding the most well-hidden plants. That over there, isn’t that…? he would ask me, and he would show me an herb very well camouflaged among the others, that nobody else but him would be able to see.
He admitted later he had seen me many times collecting my plants and he had heard me singing. I never noticed I sang while picking plants. Then we fell in love.
I told Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain that it was a nice story. My personal love story on Earth was somewhat complicated. I wasn’t so sure I’d found the right guy. I explained to her that we argue a lot, especially about space travels. And I can’t stand his speech against Snoop… travellers. Even if I knew he was just mad with worry for me. And when I said: “I should have suspected it—my mother likes him,” she looked at me wonderingly, with big eyes.
Obviously, on Dalygaran, mothers-in-law haven’t the same reputation they might have on Earth.
As we were in town, I asked her if it would be possible to get something to draw with. I thought about electronic pencils since they had tablets. And then, I thought I was about to faint—she found a set of real canvas and sorts of soft pencils for me.
-You will have to give one of your drawings to the shopkeeper, she said to me. And you will be allowed to come back as many times as you wish. You owe this favor to the rarity of Earthling productions on Dalygaran, she added with a smile.
– He knows where I come from?
– Everybody knows where you are from.
– Wow, was the whole planet there yesterday when I made my speech ?
– I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But my husband is known around here, and you’re not my husband. You’re wearing a uniform but you’re not a serviceman.
– How could they know I am not a serviceman?
– They never go shopping while wearing their uniforms.
– And, generally speaking, you’re in the news.
And she showed me a screen on the shop window, with my picture.
– Do they know I’m a girl?
– You’re here only since yesterday. I think only a few know it… You’re apparently a splendid young man.
– And there is no gossip?
– How so?
– You, a married woman with another man?
– You’re not even from here! And you’re incomplete.
– Does anybody know this?
– I don’t think so. How about getting back home now?
And then we went back home. I spent the rest of the afternoon drawing. I did two canvasses: the park I used to go to with my friends–that I will give to the shopkeeper–and a try at a selfie; not that bad by the way.
– Is this you?
– You are… pale. You’ve got … pinkish skin.
– Yes, I said with a laugh.
– Your hair…
– Yes, Madame. On Earth girls can have plaits too. But here, it’s just for the drawing. My hair is not long enough today to make this sort of plait. My hair’s length is like yours, but it can be plaited, you know. Do you want me to show you?
– Your medium-length hair, I can do it in a plait, or two, on either side of your head. I did it to my cousin when I was a little girl.
– Do you think it’ll suit me?
– Let’s try. If you don’t like it, we’ll just undo it straight away. Please, sit down.
And I plaited her hair while we went on talking.
– I had a weird dream last night, I said. I was completely drunk and I had a bottle of champagne in my hand.
My interlocutor looked back inquiringly.
– No, no, don’t move your head. Just talk looking straight in front of you.
She obeyed and asked:
– Are you sure?
– Yes. What did I say that surprised you so much?
– Drunk and champagne. I don’t know these words.
– Don’t you have any alcohol here?
– Alcohol is a disinfectant. Do you really drink it on Earth?
– Not in that form.
– So there are other forms. Champagne?
– Yes, it is a sparkling one. With bubbles I mean.
– Oh, like soda water. We have soda springs here.
– Alcohol has side effects on humans when they drink it to excess. We are slower, we can have defective speech, we stagger. Don’t look back. We can feel very bad.
– Why? Why do humans drink in excess then?
– Because humans are sometimes over the top.
– So I was completely drunk…
– Has this ever happened to you before?
– What? Being drunk?
– Sometimes. But I prefer a nice glass of wine to too many drinks that’ll make me sick.
– Is it good?
– What? Alcohol? It depends. It’s like with food: some you like, some you don’t.
– So you were drunk with a bottle of champagne in the hand.
– And you know what?
– No. Obviously not.
– The bottle was the one I’d hidden for my boyfriend’s birthday. Exactly the same. Not even cooled. Champagne has to be put in the fridge before you drink it. Anyway, dreams are always nonsense. And suddenly, I saw these two guys, the supervisors of my travels. We talked to each other. I can’t remember what about, and pop, the dream ended. I was awake for a few moments, then I fell asleep again until this morning. I am far away in the universe and I dream of getting plastered, being drunk I mean. And about these two guys. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
– It’s just a dream.
– And it’s done. The plaits I mean. Let’s go in front of the mirror.
She rushed in front of the nearest one.
– Oh, that’s…
– You don’t like it?
– Just say to yourself it’s something Earthling. Do you want me to undo them?
– No, I would like to see the back of my head. Wait a minute; I am going to get a little mirror.
Then she returns.
– It’s fascinating. I don’t know if this suits me, but those plaits are so amazing. I’ll keep them both. We’ll see the face of Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe when he comes back tonight. Beth?
– May I ask you a favor? I’m a teacher you know.
– Yes. You told me.
– The school called me while you were at your physical session. I don’t know how the director learned we were putting you up. She would like you to come to talk with the children… Tomorrow… Or after tomorrow, or whenever you want…
– Do you think I should?
– I think you may arouse their interest about other worlds. With your drawing talents, you’re going to cause a sensation.
– My afternoons are free anyway.
– Is this a yes?
– Let’s try tomorrow afternoon.
Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain hastened to call them.
The rest of the afternoon passed softly by talking about this and that. Until the return of Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe.
When he got closer to Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain, they began to purr, like they did the day before.
– It’s Earthling, she said.
– You look lovely.
– Really? I asked. They just purred louder.
The evening ended with a meal, an excellent one, and then everybody went to bed.