ABC Shorts: Exchange Student…

[Note from Steve: A. B. Carolan has completely rewritten and reedited my YA sci-fi mystery The Secret Lab and is finishing up YA sci-fi mystery based on my short story “Marcello and Me,” The Secret of the Urns. The first novel will be published in the first quarter of 2018, the second in the third quarter. Here’s one of his YA short stories set in one of my sci-fi universes. There’s nothing that says a story for young adults can’t have some meat to it….]

Exchange Student

Copyright 2018, A. B. Carolan

Truhan had no problem with immigration and customs at the spaceport on Wendall’s Planet. He followed other passengers into the arrival lounge and saw a tall woman with a sign bearing his name. He accessed a computer file with the implant in the side of his head. Misdak Bron from my host family. Mother of Kalin and Roh, wife of Set. Why is she alone? He’d expected the whole family to be there.

She waved at him and approached. “Welcome to Wendall’s Planet, Truhan.” She looked around. Why is she nervous? “Follow me.” They walked out of the lounge to a road filled with cars.  A sleek one pulled up. “Please get in.”

“My luggage?”

“I’ll have someone pick it up for you.” She tapped on the dull green icon next to the red; it turned bright green and the red one dimmed. The car moved out.

“Is there something wrong?” said Truhan.

“A bit of political unrest, I’m afraid. My people have elected a new leader who wants to banish anyone not born on Wendall’s Planet. They’re voting on the bill right now in our planetary congress.”

Truhan was familiar with xenophobia. Even on his home planet, some Humans barely tolerated non-Humans. “But I’m Human,” he said.

“He doesn’t care. He campaigned on cleansing our planet of all foreign elements, including Humans, blaming them for all our problems. It’s an old tactic of autocrats wanting to ensure their power, but too many voters agreed with him.”

“I wouldn’t have come if I’d known there was a problem.”

“No one believed he would win. He’s already arrested many people. Set and the children are in hiding because Set and I spoke against his policies. You were already on your way here, so I came to meet you. You might have ended up in jail…or disappeared…otherwise.”

“What am I going to do? I’m supposed to start classes in two weeks.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that. Too many students sympathize with the new president and are attacking anyone who’s a foreigner, especially ETs, but also Humans. And their parents encourage them. It’s as if the president created a mass hysteria.”

“How could this happen?”

“As you know, Set is a cultural anthropologist, but even he can’t understand it. I’m a microbiologist, so it’s way beyond me. All I can say is that Humans can be crazy sometimes.”

Truhan nodded. He knew Human history well.

***

Most of the remainder of the trip was spent in silence. Truhan would have enjoyed the majestic scenery if he weren’t worried about his and his hosts’ futures.

The road wound into the mountains towering over the capital city. After another hour, the robocar turned off the main road and followed an old dirt road into the woods. After another ten minutes, they came to a clearing with a rustic A-frame cabin in its center.

“This place has been a get-away for my family for generations,” said Misdak. “We’ve always called it that, but the word has a new meaning now.”

“How long will we stay here?” said Truhan.

“Until they find us or until people come to their senses and overthrow the despot.”

“What would they do to us if they find us?”

“Unknown. All of us were born here, except you, of course. It’s our speaking out against the new administration that got us into trouble. Some people who were protesting have disappeared. Our new leader is a narcissistic psychopath, so his actions have become erratic. He belongs in a straitjacket and confined to a padded cell.”

“That’s a bit strong,” said Truhan with a smile. “It true, didn’t people know about his condition before the election?”

“Of course. Too many voters turn a blind eye. Set says it’s interesting how otherwise intelligent people can lack logic and reason. Despots are good at manipulating those weaknesses.”

“Throughout all of Human history.” He looked at the darkening sky. An omen? “And ET histories too. It seems to be a galactic-wide curse. We’ve had Human colony planets destroy themselves.”

“You’ll enjoy chatting with Set about all this,” said Misdak. She hesitated. “Maybe ‘enjoy’ isn’t the correct word. Would you like to meet the rest of your host family?”

***

The daughter Kalin was Truhan’s age, sixteen standard years; the son Roh was three years younger. The father Set looked older than Misdak, but Truhan knew they were the same age. He recognized the remainder of Misdak’s family from their holograms, of course, but that was never the same as meeting someone in person.

Kalin towered over Truhan; she was already as tall as Misdak. She seemed shy at first. A natural reaction when meeting someone new, Truhan thought. She had the bright eyes, ready smile, and sunken cheeks of her mother, but the dark hair of her father. Roh was much shorter, taking after his father; he also seemed to have excess energy and was ready to take Truhan on a tour of the area around the cabin.

Set’s piercing eyes seemed to be x-raying Truhan for a moment, but then he offered to shake hands.

They were all dressed plainly. Did they have to leave their home in the capital quickly to avoid arrest? Truhan decided to save that question for later.

“I’m sorry we have to put you through this, young man. I suspect your aunt and uncle will be worried. Our esteemed leader still believes in trade, as long as it’s on his terms. He’s very selective, of course, but your home planet will have heard about our political unrest by now.” He winked at Kalin and Roh. “While Mom and I prepare some lunch, why don’t you two show Truhan around? Don’t go far, of course.”

“I’m the leader!” said Roh. Kalin winked at Truhan. “I’ll show you the river and the falls first.”

***

The exploration didn’t quite take Truhan’s mind away from Wendall’s Planet’s political problems, but it helped.

“When it’s hot, we go swimming here,” said Roh when they arrived at the falls. “That’s six meters deep just out from the falls. I can bring up rocks from the bottom.” Roh was almost shouting over the noise of the crashing water.

“My planet’s mostly desert with artesian wells. All our mountains are barren. It’s beautiful around here.”

“We like it,” said Kalin. She found a rock to sit on. “We’ve never been off planet. Tell us about your home.”

“It’s an old Human colony, but now the population is 40% ETs because of the robot factories.”

Roh started rattling off the ET people present on Truhan’s planet. Kalin waved a hand to quiet him.

“Maybe if we had that diversity, these recent election results wouldn’t have happened.”

“History shows they can happen if a despot needs scapegoats for people to focus on,” said Truhan. “There are bigots on my home planet too. They haven’t won any elections, though.”

“Do you have to conserve water there?” said Roh.

“If not wasting it is conservation, the answer is yes. But our population is twenty times yours.”

“And we have more water to begin with.” She thought a moment. “Mother read your essay to us. One of the things you said was that you’re excited about the opportunity to travel and mingle with new people. Father thought there might be more to it.”

“Because I lost my parents?” She nodded. “Accidents happen, and sometimes modern medicine can’t save people when they do. My uncle and aunt are much older than your parents. They’re nice people, but Set is right. I enjoy being with other people, especially people my age. Where we live on my home planet, everyone’s old.  And I’m not old enough to strike out on my own yet. Does that make sense?”

“I think that if that happened to me—I mean, losing my parents—I’d withdraw into a shell.  How did you avoid that?”

“I didn’t at first. My uncle encouraged me to write, though, and that’s really helped. We can go anywhere in our own imaginations.”

“You two are talking like grown-ups,” said Roh. “That’s boring. Do you have any dangerous animals on your home planet, Truhan?”

Truhan smiled. Roh reminded him of himself when he was that age. Not so long ago.

***

Lunch was an interesting experience, more from the conversation than the food.

“This situation is difficult for Kalin and Roh,” said Misdak. “They were supposed to start school in two weeks along with you. They have to face the possibility that they’ll never see their friends again.”

“Some are jerks, Mother,” said Kalin.

“Sokos’ excrement,” said Roh.

“Roh! Watch your language,” said Set.

“A soko is a large herbivorous animal that roams these forests,” said Kalin.

“I know,” said Truhan. “I spotted a few piles of what Roh is referring to on our way back here.”

“Some kids tried to beat me up because of what Dad said in his speech at the university,” said Roh. “I’m referring to them.”

“Let’s change the topic to some practical matters,” said Set. “We need to continue our drills. If the authorities track us here, we need to be ready.”

Truhan looked around the table. “Where would we go?”

“The Holy Order of Life has a monastery on the other side of the mountain,” said Misdak.  “We would have to hike there.”
“Maybe even split up,” said Set. “They would have to divide their forces too.”

“Wouldn’t they just enter the monastery?” said Truhan. “And what is this Holy Order?”

“The monastery is considered a sanctuary by even the most violent and vocal bigots,” said Set. “The fathers came with the first colonists and provided a stabilizing influence in those pioneer days. They have little importance now, but even our president respects their traditions.”

“And those are?”

“As their name indicates, respect for all life in the Universe, no matter what its form might be.”

“Even ETs!” said Roh.

“Especially ETs,” said Set. “They worked within the Tali and Usk societies for years as a civilizing influence. They didn’t play much of a role in the old Human colonies, though, because Followers of the Way were more common there.”

Truhan nodded. Following the Way wasn’t exactly a religion, but it had religious trappings, especially of old Earth religions. It had begun among those Humans who colonized and exploited Earth’s home solar system.

Set cocked his head. “We have visitors!”

Truhan heard the flitters too. They created their escape plans in a rush and were soon out the door. Set and Roh went one route; Misdak, Kalin, and Truhan went another.

***

Truhan didn’t keep up very well. The heavier gravity compared to his home planet fatigued him, and the first part of their journey was uphill. The mountain wasn’t that high, though, so soon the three were looking down at the monastery.

Truhan did better going downhill. Soon the three were welcomed by an old Tali male and ushered through the gate. Two Human males and an Usk male waited for them in the small courtyard.

“I’m worried about Set and Roh,” said Misdak.

“Did they go the long route?” said one of the Human monks. Misdak nodded. “Then they will be here soon. Come. We were just setting down to wine and cheese.”

Truhan enjoyed the mixed crowd of ETs and Humans. He almost felt at home, but the monastery sat in a lush valley that never could have existed on his home planet.

“The secret police will never touch you here,” said the old Usk who sat across from the three at the long wooden table. “We transmit all our vesper services. If the population ever fails to receive those programs, they’ll know the despot has gone too far.”

“Maybe he won’t care,” said Misdak.

“With him, anything is possible,” said the old Tali, sitting next to the Usk. “But it would end his presidency, I’m sure. Ah, I believe Set and Roh have arrived.”

Misdak looked relieved when her husband and son entered the hall.

***

“What’s going to happen now?” said Truhan.

Kalin and he were enjoying the view of the misty valley from atop an old stone wall.

“Time will tell. Wendall’s Planet petitioned for membership in the Union last year. Any action taken against the monastery by the despot would torpedo that. I doubt people would stand for it anyway.”

Truhan nodded. His home planet was already a member of the Interstellar Trade Union of Independent Planets, or ITUIP. Will the despot be willing to lose all those trade benefits? Will the people of Wendall’s Planet? He glanced at Kalin. Of course, there are positives about staying right here in the monastery!

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format, including a .mobi (Kindle) version, at Smashwords and the latter’s affiliate retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo). It’s also available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). See the review and interview at Feathered Quill.

In libris libertas!

 

 

 

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