A Child of Seven Suns

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A girl and her father attempt a perilous border crossing through a war-torn, desolate Mars.

Submitted: December 11, 2013

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Submitted: December 11, 2013

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A Child of Seven Suns

 “My feet hurt.”

He doesn’t look back. He just keeps climbing, the enormous pack bobbing on his hunched back like an ant’s behind.

‘’My feet hurt!” I whine again. “I’m ti-ired!”

“I’m sorry, Luna.”

But he keeps moving, every step threatening to leave me behind. He’s not sorry at all.

“We’ve been climbing all morn-ing and you aren’t even telling me why! I want to walk on the road! The road’s right there!”

“No. We can’t go near the road.”

“But whyyyy?”

“Because there are people on the road.”

“I’ll be goooood! I prom-ise!”

“No. I’m sorry, Luna.”

I stamp my sandals to a stop in rust-red dirt. Cross my skinny arms and pout. “I’m not taking another step until you tell me!”

“Luna!” Finally, he turns his wind burnt face to me, his thin tunic dark with sweat. His eyes frighten me. They are too wide, too far out. Scared.

He grabs my arm. “Because, there are soldiers on the road. Bad men. If they catch us they will steal our things and shoot me and rape you and the

they will shoot you too.”

I stare down at my blistered toes. Holding back hot tears.

“Do you understand, Luna?”

I bob my head.

“Look at me. Tell me you understand.”

“I understand, Papa.”

He lifts my chin. I don’t want to look at him; I don’t want him to see me. His face softens. He rubs my hair. He once said that I have my Mama’s hair. Red pony hair, he called it. His calluses scrape my face. I like it.

“Be brave for me, Luna. We have to make it across the border.”

 “The border! But that’s three days of walking!”

“You can do it, Luna. You have your mother’s bones. We are going to New Llasa to meet Ramul.”

“Ramul!” My eyes light up like sapphires. “I haven’t seen Ramul in ages! How is he?”

Papa starts moving again, knowing I will follow. He’s very sneaky. I’ll complain about planting the field, but he’ll start telling a story and walking and planting; before I know it, the sky is dark and the field is planted.

“He’s getting married.” says Papa.” You’re going to have a sister.”

“A sister! I’ve always wanted a sister!”

Papa winces. I clap my hands over my mouth in horror. I forgot. I accidentally reminded Papa of the Sad Story.

“Yes, Luna. We are going to go live with Ramul for a while. On the other side of the border.”

 “To meet my new sister?”

“Yes, that’s one of the reasons.”

“Why else?”

“We are going to a wedding. If anyone stops you, tell them we are going to a wedding.”

“Who’s going to stop us?”

Papa peers over a ridge. He sighs and wipes his face with his sleeve. He shuffles along the ridge, his back hunched like a cat’s.

“Anyone.” He says.

“The Mars Authority?”

Papa stops to rest. He looks old. I only started seeing it a few moons ago. He looks like a slightly-squashed Papa, a towel-wrung-out Papa.

 

A Child of Seven Suns

 

“The Mars Authority.” He nods head down, panting into his beard. “Stay away from them.”

The Mars Authority owns our soybean field. The Mars Authority owns my school. We have to pay them money every moon. Sometimes, we don’t.

“Are they looking for our money?”

Papa squints at the orange sun, the peach colored sky. He is measuring the land. He can use the sun and the shadows of the mountains to measure which way to go, where to plant this season. Papa is very smart.

“We don’t have any money.”

My stomach churns with guilt. “Papa...What if we found some money?”

“Don’t be silly. There’s no such thing.”

“But-But if we did, would-would we be okay?’

“Quiet, Luna. We’re close to the road. This is the only way through.”

Papa moves swiftly, arms and legs splayed out like a salamander as he scurries over rocks. The heavy canteens bang against his skinny thighs.

Water is sucks to carry. It’s the only thing that can’t be crammed small. Our food is in pills. Our clothes are thin plastic. We even have bottles of air, for emergencies; vacuum-sucked so tight it will explode if breaks. But the strap of my water jug cuts into the soft part of my shoulder.

“There are some guards up ahead.” says Papa.

I know. I saw them first, but I was afraid to speak. Papa’s eyes aren’t so good anymore. But there is no one to tell him that except me. And he doesn’t believe me.

“Hide.” says Papa. ”Curl up in the dust like a sandworm and pretend to be dead.”

Instantly, I am down under a reef of rock. I throw dirt in my face and wear a mask of resolute glumness, like how a dead person would look. I bite the insides of my cheeks to prevent laughing.

The guards are coming. They are clumsy and noisy, kicking over stones, stumbling boots, chatting aimlessly in Universal.

They stop. Quiet.

“There’s a weird heat sig here.” says one.

I hear the charging hum of their rifles. A shadow falls over me. A boot nudges my ribs.

“Hey, girlie-girl. Can you hear me?”

I am dead, I chant to myself. Every muscle and hamstring is pulled tight in stillness, like a bow.

“Wake up if you’re still alive. Wakey, wakey. Wakey, wakey.”

He pours water on my face. I am angry. I try not to let it show. Only the Mars Authority can afford to waste water. Papa and I collect our pee in a still and boil it and drink it two or three until it is pure dark gold. Four times if the crop bad and until our sides are hurting.

“Found another one.” Smack. “You awake now?”

I hear Papa stammering an apology. Soldiers listen better when you stammer to them and pretend to be scared. I don’t know why.

“Wake up, Luna. It’s okay.”

Papa sounds scared. I can’t tell if he’s pretending.

I don’t want to wake up. I want them to go away.

“You know what we do to little dead girls who won’t wake up? We find them all the time. We throw them in a crater where they can’t get out and let the nighthawks get them.”

I open my eyes. I’m scared of nighthawks. Mama used to tell me that I was too skinny, that a nighthawk was going to swoop down and fly off with me. I used to eat as much as I could whenever we had food, trying to get fat.

“Hello, cutie pie.” The guard picks me up and sets me on my bum. “What are you doing all the way out here?”

I look at my Papa. Another guard is holding is him, smiling at me.

“I--I’m going to a wedding.”

“Whose wedding?”

“My b-brother Ramul’s. In New Llasa.”

Papa winches, as if he had just stepped on a white scorpion. I know I said something wrong.

 

A Child of Seven Suns

 

“New Llasa? That’s on the other side of the border!” The guard grins. “Do you have a border pass?”

My chest is tight. I can’t speak. Papa is pale, like a bad crop.

“We couldn’t afford passes.” says Papa.

“You know it’s illegal to leave the Mars Authority without a pass.”

“Yes, officer.”

“Especially with Geronimo’s dogs running around.”

“Yes, officer.”

“Let me see what you’re carrying.” He takes Papa’s bags. The other one reaches for my water jug.

“Noooo.” I hug the baked clay jug.

“Luna! Do as he says!”

“Listen to your grandfather. There’s a good girl.”

I want to tell him Papa’s not my grandfather. He only looks old because he works so much. But I bite my lip and surrender my jug.

The guard uncorks it and pours a whole half-liter on his hand. He smells it. “Damn. Hoping you were moonshiners.” He flicks his fingers dry.

I want to cry. I want to scoop up the dark red dirt and squeeze my water back.

“You don’t have much.” says the other guard, throwing Papa’s bags on the ground.

“We don’t have much.” agrees Papa.

“Take off your clothes.”

Papa strips down to his brown, bony frame, his clothes flapping in his hands in the brisk wind.

“The girl too.”

Papa has this look on his face, like hurt, like he was covered all over in white scorpions. I haven’t seen him look like that since the Sad Story. I don’t know what to do.

“Now!” The guard prods me with the tip of his rifle. It’s warm. Electric rifles get warm when they charge.

“Please.” says Papa. “Take anything you want.”

The guard laughs. ”We won’t hurt her. We just want to have a look.”

I take off my plastic worker’s uniform and hand it to them. My hands are shaking. They will find the diamonds. I think. They will find Ramul’s diamonds hidden in my tunic. How will I face him then?

The guard circles around me. “Not hiding anything, are you, sweetie?”

Run. I want to run. But I can’t leave Papa.

“N-No.” I’m cold. I’m scared, too, which is like being cold.

“Why are you shaking?”

“M-M--” I shake my head.

“Leave her alone.” whispers Papa. He takes a step forward. A rifle pokes against his chest.

“Tell me, girl,” The guard squats. “Why are you shaking? Are you hiding something?”

“N-No.”

“Then why?”

“M-Mama said I’m t-too old to g-go outside in m-my sky clothes.”

He throws his head back and laughs. He throws my clothes at me and turns to my Papa. “See? We’re pretty nice guys after all.”

Papa quickly dresses and rebalances his pack.

“We have to keep things in order with bandits like Geronimo hanging near the border.” 

Papa nods. “Yes, it is us poor folk who must pay higher taxes when he steals from the Authority. May the sky fall on him!” Papa spits on ground.

“And he makes us work overtime hours! May he be carried off by a dust devil!” The guard spits with much more moisture.

“And may the nighthawks eat his eyes!” I spit, too.

A Child of Seven Suns

 

The guards laugh hard. “Okay, we’ll let you go to your grandson’s wedding. Kiss the bride for us! Just don’t get caught by the guards on the Federation

side. They’re not nice guys like we are.”

Papa waves me toward the mountain border. I stuff my tunic in my pants. Diamonds still there, the hard lumps in the fold at the hem.

“Hurry,” says Papa.” Night is coming.”

 

I wake up to the cry of nighthawks. The sound carries from the black sky outside and echoes inside the cave. The air shivers with terror. I feel like I’m trapped inside the giant, rocky throat of some ancient monster.

Because some people believe that, you know that there were people on Mars before us. Maybe they all died. Maybe they left, because all the settlers say life is so hard in the colonies. Or maybe they’re waiting for us to leave. And when they get hungry, they dig themselves out of the caves and eat little brats like me. That’s what Ramul says. But I don’t believe him. Ramul likes to tell stories.

Papa believes in Mars-people. But he thinks they’re invisible and live in the wind. So be careful what you do--the wind is watching. I’m not sure. Papa believes there are space-people in space and ocean-people in the water of Old Earth. You can’t see them or touch them, but they’re just there. Papa can be strange sometimes.

I can’t get back to sleep. There are nighthawks above and rock monsters all around and hungry Mars-people buried below.

“Papa?” I grope in the dark. His spot is empty. ”Papa!”

This is where he dug in the soft dirt and cleared away the rocks to sleep. I have an awful vision of nighthawks flying off with him or a Mars-person pulling him under.

What am I going to do? I want to start digging and scream: Give me back my Papa! A rock clatters near the cave mouth. I shrink back. Someone is walking in. Papa? I can’t speak. I pick up a rock from the pile next to Papa’s dirt bed.

“Oh!” Someone tries to lie down on top of me.

“Luna?”

“Papa!” I hug him.

“It’s okay, Luna. I was just watching outside.”

“I can’t sleep. I’m scared.”

The nighthawks scream outside. It sounds like there are hundreds of them.

“Come with me, Luna. There’s something I want to show you.” He carries me outside.

Two moons, one fat, one skinny, cover the valley below in shadows. Lots of stars. Papa taught me their patterns when I was younger, but I forgot them. Nighthawks circle overhead. Sometimes flying in front of the fat moon so I can see the black fingers at the ends of their wings. I cringe when they scream. Some settlers believe nighthawks are the souls of bad people after they die.

“Do you know what they’re doing, Luna?”

I bury my face in his chest and shake my head.

“They’re dancing, Luna. It’s mating season. That’s their love song.”

“Really?”

He nods. “You don’t have to be afraid, Luna.”

I watch the sky with rapture. A long ring of dancers. A cry. An answer. Love.

“When is mating season for humans?”

Papa chuckles. “Not until you’re older. Much older.”

“Where is Mama?”

He smiles and points at the brightest star. “There she is.” He points at a tiny one next to it. “And there’s your baby sister.”

We were quiet for a long time. Finally, Papa took me inside. “Try to sleep now Luna. We will cross the mountains tomorrow.”

 

We call the volcano the Devil’s Bowels. And it smells like it, too, with all its bubbly, yellow smoke. I think it has some proper rich person’s name, but we don’t call it by that. Every settler worth his soybeans calls it the Devil’s Bowels.

A Child of Seven Suns

 

There are hot springs around here--pools of rainwater with white lime rings on the rock like an old bathtub. You have to be careful around here.

Some of the water doesn’t look hot but it’s hot. Some of it boils.

Papa says he wants to do laundry. He takes off his shirt and holds it by the edge as he dips it the boiling water. He swirls it carefully. There is a colorful film on top of the pool, like a slick of oil. Papa pulls his shirt out and twirls it nimbly, sending hot water everywhere, then lays the steaming shirt on a rock.

“That didn’t hurt, Papa?”

“Not really. Boiling water’s not as hot in the mountains.”

I won’t try to figure that out. This is just one of the Papa things that he knows, like reading the stars.

“I want to try!”

“Luna, don’t. Let me.”

But I’m already dipping my shirt in the water. Papa watches with a pucker in his mouth.

“Ow!” I fall back, sucking my fingers.

“Luna!” He catches me. My shirt floats down. “No!” Papa lunges. Splash! He throws the wet shirt on the rocks and walks away, wincing and slapping his hand against his thigh.

“Papa, are you okay?”

“I told you no, Luna! You have to start listening to me!” He keeps his back to me.

“I’m-I’m sorry, Pa-pa…”

He turns around. “It’s okay, Luna. Don’t cry.”

“Let me see you hand.”

“No, Luna. I’m okay.”

“Let me see it!”

“Luna—“

Crack. I know the sound: the sound of hot air splitting from an electric rifle.

Papa’s eyes are big and watery. “Put your clothes on, Luna.”

He pulls his steaming shirt over his head. Mine is still too hot. I hold it in a bundle.

“Hurry, Luna! Move!”

I run after him. He grabs my shirt and yanks it down over my body.

“Owie! It’s hoooot!”

“Do as I say. Luna! We can’t let them catch us. No matter what, don’t let them catch you.”

“Who is it, Papa?”

We’re jumping over rocks, carrying our life’s stuff, going up towards the rotten-smelling smoke of the volcano.

Papa turns and looks in the distance. “Coyotes.”

The rifle cracks again. Closer. I don’t understand. How can coyotes be shooting at us?

“Faster, Luna. They’re coming.”

The air is so thick up here. Big clouds of yellow soup blow at us. Suddenly, I can’t see Papa. I run forward, waving my arms, trying to clear the smoke.

“Papa! Papa! Where are you?” I have an awful thought: What if he fell into the volcano?

An arm appears in the fog and grabs mine. I scream.

“Luna, it’s me! It’s Papa! This way!”

 We are running down now, stumbling down the other side of the Devil’s Bowels, leaving the smoke behind.

“There are some canyons ahead, Luna. We can hide--”

Crack. Papa falls. We bounce together, arm-in-arm. I curl around my water jug, the way any settler would do. You can break bones; break your water, you die.

We stop. I’m okay. Papa is lying with his face in the dust.

“Papa, Papa! Please wake up!” I shake him. His muscles are stiff from being hit with the electric rifle. His eyes are frozen open. His mouth moves.

A Child of Seven Suns

 

“Run, Luna! Run as fast as you can!”

 “I can’t leave you, Papa!

“Find Ramul in New Llasa! Go!”

I run. My face burns. I don’t know where I’m going.

Crack. Are they shooting at me? Or did they just kill my Papa?

I dive for the canyons.

 

Give me my Papa back.

I am wedged into a narrow crack in the canyon wall, hiding from the lunatic Martian wind, hiding from the “coyote.” I stick my head out to look. The canyon runs left and right, twisting into crazy bends. One way leads to New Llasa (I think), one way leads back to Papa and the Authority. Dust devils haunt the passageways.

How can I save Papa on my own? How can I go to New Llasa on my own? I am jammed in a spot so tight I can barely breathe.

I hear the crunch of footsteps. Slow, deliberate, searching. Maybe someone hurt. Papa? I want to look. I’m scared to look. I hear Papa’s scolding in my head: Don’t be so reckless. Luna. Think before you jump. Your Mama gave you that big head for a reason.

I wait. Someone’s coming. I hear the flap-flap-flap of a scarf jumping in the wind. Papa didn’t have a scarf. I see the long shadow of a man. And his rifle.

I want to scream. I stuff myself as deep in the crack as I can go, the sharp stone tearing at my exposed skin. I am the tiniest snail in its shell.

I see him. He stops in the opening. He wears a long, blood-colored coat, matching the stone. The wind opens his coat, revealing the black side he will use at night. He scarf flies before him into the wind. His face is the hard-bitten settler’s face, like Papa’s without the warm, like mine will be someday. He has the lean settler’s body, grown tall in the Martian gravity, without a kilogram of wasteful fat. His eyes are pulled tight, in the bloodline of the First Settlers, protected under goggles.

He turns and looks at me, squinting in to the dark crack. The distant sun flashes in the lens of his goggles. He fiddles with his gun. Bare metal pieces soldered to a fat barrel.

A weeeeee whistle.

The man hand signals someone behind him, high up. Three short whistles. Impatient. The man blows a sigh up his forehead and turns back.

I understand now. Bandits. I will find Papa. I will follow him.

 

They have a fire. I can see it a kilometer away, a warm candle in the cold Martian night. That’s a bad idea. Everyone knows that, even I, a child of seven suns. The thermal drones will be out tonight. I’ll have to watch my head.

I think I’m on the Federation side of the border. That’s bad. Federation militias ride around on screaming rovers with lightning bolts on their helmets and cross over the border just to make a point.

I creep up to the camp on my belly. I rip open the hem of my shirt and squeeze out the diamonds into my palm. They glitter faintly in the light of the Phobos moon. Bandits like diamonds. Diamonds for Papa.

There is a man lying next to the fire. I sneak closer, until I can feel the heat on my face. I can smell the bitter dry wood as it pops. Papa?

No. I can see his face, just under his lightning bolt helmet. His mouth is wedged open. His eyes are gone. There is another smell in the air, charcoal and sour. The man’s shinbones are in the fire, blackened at the ends where the feet had long fallen into cinder.

I run, squeezing tears in my eyes. I want to forget. I want to jump into Papa’s cot and wrap myself in a shivering ball under the covers.

I lose my sandals as I scrabble up a sand hill on all fours. The rocks bite my feet the way down. Every stride is an off-balance leap into the dark unknown.

I hear a whistle behind me, up and down. I pivot to look. Ooff!

I land on my back with blood on my lip. I groggily sit up. Someone cuffs me again. Lucky Mama always said I had a hard head.

A man steps on my chest and puts an electric pistol to my head. It charges with a whine. He leans in to look at me. I can count the gray stubbles on his wind burnt face. He sneers.

“It’s just some kid!”

A Child of Seven Suns

 

Shadows skulk around us, circling, like wolves. “Kill him.” one urges. “The boy might be a Federation spy.”

 “No…” I wheeze. “Not me… I’m just looking for my Papa……”

“Geronimo won’t like this. Maybe we should just let the kid go.”

“I have an idea.” grins the man with the gun. He lifts me by the scruff of my tunic. “Go fetch a bag.”

I begin to kick and scream. One man holds a sack open with a crazy smile while the other shoves me into the wide-mouthed blackness.

 

I’m being bounced like a sack of potatoes in the dark as the fat tires of the Hug-a-Bug kick endlessly around the mountain. Up, then down. Big rocks, a million little rocks – I feel them all chattering on my backbone.

The bag is made of veg-weave. No oil on Mars. Plastic is precious. It feels like I’m riding in the open air. It’s cold enough. I’m still holding the diamonds in my fist, squeezing them until they hurt against my palm. Maybe I should run.

Maybe they’re taking me to Papa.

Maybe they’re going to cook my feet and eat them.

Maybe they’re taking me to the Mars-people.

I have to pee. That does it. I’m running. I’m not going to die here in an itchy bag frozen in pee just so Mars-people can eat me. I’m going to go find my sister.

I feel the Hug-a-Bug slow down, grinding and moaning over really difficult rocks. I can imagine them: like shark-monster teeth, smiling from the pictures of water-Earth.

I cut the bag with my biggest diamond. Then I pop them all in my mouth and jump. Moonlight. The blue mountain and black valley and faraway city light of New Llasa. Then I land. Even in Mars gravity it hurts. Good thing I’ve got my Mama’s bones and my Papa’s smarts and Ramul’s diamonds and my own hard head. Still, owie.

I get up and run. Not really run--kind of flea hops rock-to-rock. The bandits yell. Some jump after me, their long legs carrying them further. The rest of them turns the Hug-a-Bug, throwing its great eye lights on me. The engine screams as it pushes its six wheels over sharp rocks--wheels bigger than me. I run like a field mouse, small and sneaky, looking for a hole. A big guy sails past me, grabbing and missing. They can’t change directions like I can.

Then a crack. An electric rifle! I push as hard as I can for the dark side of the mountain, my chest pulling in the thin Martian air.

I pass through the light of the Hug-a-Bug. Crack.

I land in the shadow of the mountain. My leg is numb to the hip. I crawl over the stinging gravel, the moonless valley below open like space. They are still chasing me in their Hug-a-Bug. I wedge my body between two rocks and start to cry.

I remember Papa’s warning. I could swallow the diamonds. I could swallow the diamonds and die. Oh, what would Papa say?

They sweep the lights. I tuck in my tail like a sandworm. I’m dirty enough already.

They’re coming. The eyes bouncing and leg-wheels bonking over rocks. So small on the dark side of the mountain, like ant-men following a big beetle.

They’re right on me. I can’t move. My leg.

The Hug-a-Bug rolls right over me, right between the two rocks. I could reach out and touch the rubber tread. But I don’t. Because that would be

stupid.

I really hope the rocks hold. The Hug-a-Bug has three wheels on each side. As the second wheel spins in place and splashes me with dirt, I look at the stars. Mama is there. My sister.

The third wheel passes. Bandits walk by. They haven’t seen me. They’re leaving.

Then one of them strikes a flare. The wind blows its fiery smoke in my face. Long Martian shadows like a red spider web. The man turns and sees me, shrugs loose his rifle. And smiles. He whistles to the others. And aims.

Then the Hug-a-bug blows up.

Everyone goes crazy, looking up at the sky. A burning tire bounces by me. A dark shadow flies over the fire, like a nighthawk but ten times bigger. I hear the drone of its jet engines.

I see lights crawling on another mountain: great Federation tank-rollers miles away, crushing a road as they come. The bandits scatter and race for the caves. The thermal comes back.

 

A Child of Seven Suns

 

You don’t run from something on wings. Even I know that. I, a child of seven suns.

The gun goes tap-tap-tap.

The gun goes tap-tap-tap.

I rub my leg until it wakes up and don’t try my luck against the tank rollers. New Llasa shines like a jewel in the desert.

 

An ice factory, throwing a scarf of dust and dry carbon into the wind. It drills into an ancient, dried-up lake bottom. Dark, no people. A gray pipe leads to New Llasa.

Papa say ice factories make Mars warmer by breathing hot air into the sky. That’s good, because I’m freezing my knees off. I go towards it, hoping for water. I don’t see the nighthawk until it’s right there, close enough to spit on.

It’s just sitting there on its long tail and clawed feet the size of hands, watching me, I’m not afraid. It looks like a handsome soldier, standing guard at the edge of the thousand-meter gorge, its tail hanging over. I probably would’ve walked right over it. Look before you leap, says Papa.

The nighthawk opens its mouth and shows me its pointed, black tongue.

“Thank you, Mr. Hawk. I wish I had tea to offer you--”

It screams, so loud it pinches my ears.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hawk, but my Papa say I’m old enough yet.”

It unhangs its wings, as wide as a man’s arms, and soars away.

 

Dawn is coming.

I can’t go any further. I’m out of water. I have nothing to even drink my pee in. I lost my shoes. I can’t believe I cried about walking beside Papa just a few days ago.

I lie down in the red dirt. A nap. Maybe when I wake up, Papa will be calling me a lazy-bum and bribing me with stories to work the fields.

I wake up to find a sandstorm coming over the hills. Oh no--a dust devil. No. It’s moving too straight. I stand up on my toes to see. An armored car. Coming at me. Lightning bolts.

I run, cut-up red feet flying. It slows down to chase me, letting me get ahead, and then closing in as I lose my wind.

I jump into a ditch, a ditch so steep, it must be man-made. The car swings around and drives along the edge. A man leans out of the side port, blond and laughing. He has a pistol.

Crack.

The car tears by. The man falls out of the car and tumbles bloody into the ditch. Then a sound like thunder, like a hammer hitting steel, and the car spins upside-down into the ditch.

A man’s shadow appears over me. He skates down the slope on his heels. A red coat, black inside. He looks at me through slanted eyes.

“W-Who are you?”

He smiles. “Geronimo.”

 

“Papa!” I throw my arms around his waist.

Luna.” He picks me up and cries. Papa never cries. Not since the Sad Story. “Luna…”

The other bandits watch us over their supper-pots cooking in a natural thermal vent.

Geronimo laughers and musses my hair. “So this one is yours, then?”

Papa nods solemnly.

I detach and bow. “Thank you, Mr. Geronimo, for taking care of my Papa.”

He smiles and bows back. “My honor, Lady Luna. But now you owe us the hotel bill.”

I gulp. I was afraid of this. “How much...”

“Let’s see…” He counts on his fingers. “Ten million kilowatt-hours!” He flashes all ten fingers.

A Child of Seven Suns

 

The other bandits snicker over their bowls of beans--beans that papa and I grew! And what did they do? Lazy-bums.

“Fine!” I hand over the diamonds. I give Papa a guilty look.

He looks at me like I’m crazy. “Luna! Where did you--”

Geronimo takes a close look at the diamonds--and laughs. “Sulfur crystals! What am I going to buy with these, little Luna?”

“Sulf--no, these are diamonds!”

He takes one and breaks it between his teeth and spits. ”Worthless! Grows on volcanos underground. Tunnelers dig them out by the truckload. There’re no diamonds on Mars—no carbon. Who told you these were diamonds?”

I turned towards New Llasa and balled my hands into tiny fists: “Raaammmuuul!”

 

Papa and I walk around the city, staying close to the mountains. I wanted to go straight in but he says this way is safer.

“We don’t want to be caught between two sides in a war.”

“War? Since when did a war start?”

“Since before you were born, Luna.” He looks tired. “Ramul will have a safe place for us.”

I’m still mad at him. Lucky Geronimo was nice enough to let us go without charging us ten million kilowatt hours. I don’t know where he thought we would get that kind of money. I play with my new crystal necklace.

New Llasa is finally coming toward us, with its sprawling streets and copper-colored lake and flying white shuttles like swans.

We enter the city through the back door. I’ve never seen so many people. They all seem to be in hurry. Giant windmills turn at dusk. Electric streets. Tall buildings. Every kind of food!

They launch a rocket. Music plays. Soldiers on the U-screens. Everything on the U-screens, everything except soybeans.

There is a celebration in the rich people’s area. Even I know where that is, I, a child of seven suns. We don’t go to the rich people’s area. But we do go to the park. Whole green jungles grow on sticks and screens. The air is so rich, I am dizzy, like eating too much sweets. Papa has to carry me to the hotel. We sleep on the floor of small room. I am happy.

“Tomorrow,” whispers Papa. “We go out to find Ramul.”

 

Tomorrow, Papa wakes me up with new water jugs and food pellets. He hands me a hot breakfast. “Eat up, Luna.

Then we hit the road.”

“Huh? But--Ramul--?”

“Is not here.” Papa shakes his head. “But he left us a message. He’s close by. We’ll find him.”

 

I stomp angrily out the city. My feet hurt. I stomp even harder.

Ramul lied. Again. But he’s not here, so I have to be mad at Papa. He lets me. He can be so difficult sometimes.

We’re about a mile past the last satellite dish when the first bomb hits. We see the light and feel the prickle on our skin, then hear the boom a few seconds later. Some of the tall buildings are on fire. Then the second bomb, a little black dot falling out of nowhere, out of the clear, salmon sky. People’s houses are burning. Can they get out in time? A third bomb. Where are they coming from? I scan the sky in terror. I’m not scared of the dark or nighthawks anymore. I’m scared of broad daylight and war. I want to shut my eyes and run, but Papa takes me by the hand and makes me walk

to the mountains.

Then Papa falls.

 

“I’m okay, Luna.”

I know he’s fibbing, even I, a child of seven suns. His leg’s poking out wrong. He’s sweating, even though it’s nearly dark and below freezing.

Nowhere to go. Papa won’t let me light a fire, even though we have a few precious pieces of charcoal. We’re still on the Federation side. I dig a small windbreak with my hands and lie next to him to try to keep him warm. I touch his leg and he groans. I watch my tiny hill dissolve in the wind.

“Go.” says Papa. “I’ll be fine.”

A Child of Seven Suns

 

“No…no, you won’t.”

“Go, Luna. Remember what I taught you. Be good.” He passes me a piece of melty-looking crystal. “Find your brother.”

 “I’ll stay with you.”

“You can’t. Besides, they’re waiting for me.”

“Who?”

He doesn’t answer. He just looks up at the stars. It’s so cold, so dark. I can’t take it anymore. I decide to light the fire.

“Luna, what’re you doing?”

I hit the volcano glass together until my fingers bleed and the charcoal lights. “At least we’ll be warm.”

“Luna! Put that out! The drones!”

“I’m not leaving you, Papa. I not afraid.”

At dawn, the whole mountain rumbles. It’s something new, something I’ve never seen before. I close my eyes and let it come.

Mars thunders through my new moccasins. Papa wheezes and tells me to run. But there’s nowhere left to run to. I sit and rest my tired feet. The sky is very pretty today.

A hole crumbles open in the mountain. Endless red dust blows out like steam. A metal cone rises, like a spaceship nose--Holy bean paste! Mars-people are real! Ramul was right! I-I don’t know what to do. Ask nicely for a ride? Stay off the road? Run as fast as I can?

Something is coming out, like the world’s biggest sandworm. Then I see the armor and the lightning bolts. A tunneler. Federation.

It rises like a tower, then levels and flops on its belly, on full-body all-around tracks. It crawls slowly towards us.

“There’s nothing more you can do, Luna. Please. Do it for your Papa. Run.”

But I’m too scared to move, more scared of walking through the mountains alone than of what the bad men will do to me.

A hatch opens.

Ramul once told me about sea-swim ships on Earth, that could dive to the bottom of an ocean and stay down for whole moons, with handsome captains and beautiful mermaids and magic, color-changing squids. But that’s probably too much to expect.

A man backflips out of the hatch with a big grin, at home in the Mars gravity. He turns.

“Ramul!” I run to him.

He opens his arms.

I jump up and kick him with both feet in the stomach.

“Oof!” He topples over. I’ve been practicing that. For him. He groans and laughs at the same time. “This is the thanks I get, Marshmallow-head?”

I pound him with my fists. “Thanks? Thanks? Do you have any idea what I and Papa have been through?”

“Take it easy, Luna. You’re going to be worse than Mom. I get enough of that at home.” He nods at the tunneler.

“Home? You mean--how--where did you--?”

His stupid grin stretches. “I borrowed it. I needed it more than they did.” He turns serious. “Where’s Pop?”

I take him to him. Ramul carries him and lowers him down the hatch. “We have everyone--a doctor, a teacher for the Marshmallow-head, a good-for-nothing lawyer, a President-for-life-- “He winks.” --And now a farmer. We have everyone we need.”

“Everyone--?” I lean forward.

A woman climbs out of the hatch, stretches in the morning glow, and turns and smiles at me. She’s holding a baby--a baby waking to reach for the new sun.


© Copyright 2017 Edward Ji. All rights reserved.

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