Princess Alyna ran through my garden as fast as she could, screaming as loud as she could. Queen Sofia chased after her, attempting to wrangle the half-Human, half-D’Tali two-year old.
“Get back here, right now, Alyna! And put your clothes back on!”
I chuckled, remembering my younger cousins. “An I-hate-clothes phase?”
“I swear that child lives to vex me.”
The little Princess stuck her tongue out at her mother.
All the human women on this world had arrived the same way. Some nasty aliens called Zarg had abducted us from our life on Earth. The Zarg had intended to sell us, but we were rescued by the D’Tali.
Queen Sofia fell in love with Dojak, King of the D’Tali. At first, the mere thought that a human woman and a dino-man could fall in love threw me for a loop. That was two years, seven human-D’Tali mate pairs, and several babies ago.
Conventional Earth wisdom denies Princess Alyna could exist, yet she rolled naked in my garden while Queen Sofia tried to fit her back into her dress.
Once I had adjusted to the glaring fact that miracles existed in the form of half-human babies, I dedicated myself to finding out what other miracles existed on the D’Tali’s planet.
Since none of the human women can go back to Earth, now.
“She’s not hurting anything, Sofia. Leave her be and come tell me why you dropped by. Alyna will entertain herself.”
Queen Sofia looked torn between trying to keep her child in clothes and getting off her feet. Aching feet won and she plopped into one of the wrought-iron, human-sized bistro chairs around the garden bistro table.
Queen Sophia had commissioned the set to be made from the remnants of the crashed starship which had brought us humans to this planet. She released a breath of tension and her body relaxed as she melted into the thick cushions.
Her eyes darted about, but I knew she was looking inside of her own head, searching for the perfect words.
“Nora, I know we’ve talked about this before—”
“And I’ve turned you down, before.”
“Four times and counting, but hear me out—”
Old tension, born of too many repetitions of the same argument gnawed at my nerves.
“I’ve already made it clear I am not a good fit for a classroom setting. My specialty is fieldwork. Tethering me to a classroom is like…like…might as well chain me to a stake in the yard, Sophia.”
Queen Sophia raised an eyebrow at me. “And you’re not being even a little hyperbolic, are you?”
“No. I exaggerate nothing.”
I leaned forward, taking her hand. I looked into her face, as honest and open as I could be.
“Sophia, this is an entirely different world. There is so much out there waiting to be discovered…seeking out those discoveries is what I love. Do you realize? No scientist has catalogued anything the way we can. Everything out there is new! That’s what I need to be studying—what we have available to us here on this planet.”
“But, Earth knowledge…”
“What good does it do me to try to teach my Earth knowledge to the D’Tali? They will never see a philodendron or poison ivy. They will never see Earth wheat or anthrax or aspergillus or…or a horse.”
“Are you into animals, too? Or just plants?”
“I know some basic Zoology, but I prefer plants. Of course, there is always some overlap. Zoology, Entomology, Geology…all play a part in Horticulture… Okay, Sofia, that’s not fair, distracting me with my favorite subject.”
Sofia shrugged a shoulder.
“Don’t be mad just because I made my point that you are a good teacher. And knowledgeable.”
“And all those disciplines require samples to use and teach. Data points, tests, reams and reams of paper, miles of filing cabinets, in the absence of computers. Not to mention scores of scribes just to write the textbooks…”
“All of which I will work out. Eventually.”
A half-grin tugged one corner of my mouth. “Before I go insane? Knowledgeable plant people are not the best people people, Sofia. Plants, I understand. People…confuse me. I could be discovering the metaphorical cure for cancer during the time I waste trying to figure people out.”
Queen Sofia ran her hands through her dark brown hair as her eyes watched Princess Alyna dig up half of a mound of good topsoil, then turned back to me.
When she spoke, her haunted tone sent chills down my spine.
“Nora, what we have in our heads is all we have of our place of birth, our cultures, our stories, our knowledge…everything our children may ever know of Earth. What we carry in our minds is a treasure more precious than gold. We carry every remnant of a culture more advanced than the one in which we live…hundreds of years of thought and knowledge.”
I picked at a loose thread on the shorts I had talked the tailor into making me. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“And it breaks my heart, Nora, thinking it will be lost in a single generation.”
We fell silent, watching Alyna play while Sofia wiped a tear from her eye. She sucked in a deep breath.
“I have a question for you, Nora. When did you become fascinated by plants?”
“Uhhh…I guess it all started when I was six or so…”
“What started it?”
“My aunt, Cindy. Like, the most amazing crazy ex-heroin addict crazy, artsy aunt you can imagine. She bleached half her hair and never wore matching earrings.”
“Sounds like a blast.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, Mom was not happy the year Aunt Cindy gave me a Ouija board for Christmas.”
“Anyway, she read me The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie dePaola. The bluebonnet is such a fascinating flower and the story was so profound. I started looking at the world in a different way.”
Sofia pointed at me, face serious.
“That’s what I’m talking about. I’ve never read that story, but, after hearing you talk about it, I regret missing it. Would it inspire Alyna to plant things rather than dig?”
I chuckled. “It might. I was a digger, too.”
“Then there’s hope…”
Sofia and I laughed.
“At least she stripped before digging. You can wash most of that mess off in the rain barrel when you need to leave. There are even clean towels.”
Sofia craned her head around to locate the towels.
“Oh, Bless you. The trick, of course, will be getting her out of it, after we get the dirt off.”
“After all that digging, I bet, once you get her clean, she’ll be asleep in your arms before you even get her to bed.”
“One can only hope.”
I shrugged. “Mom always said it worked on me.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Yeah. Back on Earth.”
“There’s only a grave back there to miss.”
Sofia laid a comforting hand on mine. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. She went out happy. Snowboarding.”
“What? Really? How old was she?”
“I was a surprise baby.”
“I bet you were.”
Princess Anya sculpted a mound of soil with her little hands, sticking random twigs and leaves into the sides, like trees on a mountainside.
“Could you write that story down? For Alyna? I want her to have stories with humans in them…”
My heart broke for her a little. “Give me some time and I’ll see if my memory holds up. I’m sure I can recreate it.”
“Awesome. Just get me the pages and I’ll have it copied and bound.”
“You really make a great Queen.”
Sofia cackled. When her laughter faded, her somber mood returned. She pinned me with her eyes. “Seriously, though, Nora. I want to establish a Department of Science. I need someone to train people on basic science theories and lab procedures. I need every human on this planet writing down everything they know—every story they remember.”
I sighed. “I agree that those things are important, but I can’t deal with a classroom setting.”
Sofia nodded. “Let me think, Nora. I’m certain we can find a way to make this work for both of us.”
We watched Alyna sculpt a mountain and I leaned towards Sofia. “Ever watch that old movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind?”
Sofia laughed so hard she choked. When she stopped spluttering, she sighed.
“I was thinking the same thing, Nora.”
“My mom was a huge sci-fi fan. We would stay up late and watch old movies. I guess that’s what I’m getting at, Sofia. While I watched these old movies with Mom, she would try to explain what the world was like when those were filmed…”
I held up a finger, asking Sofia to wait for me. I took a sip of water and continued.
“But I will never really understand a time before women could vote or get a credit card or loan without a husband’s signature. And how do we even explain the context of any of that to Princess Alyna or Camilia’s little Anya?”
Sofia sighed, watching Anya. “Like trying to explain why Alyna’s mountain made us laugh to Dojak when I see him later.”
“Exactly. And do we even want to bring all of that world with us? No one in D’Tali is going to treat us bad for being women—maybe for being mammals, but not for being women.”
I turned to Sofia and looked deep into her eyes. “Do we even want to introduce the concept?”
Sofia rubbed her forehead with her palm. “I don’t know, Nora. But these are good questions.”