A young male drummed his fingertips on a windowsill, the staccato tapping sounds innocently floating into the air.
“Honey, please stop. You’re messing with my work.”
The taps ended. “Sorry mom.” The boy turned slightly to look at her, taking a moment to adjust to the warmly colored light after looking into the dark for so long.
Just as soon as they were adjusted, his eyes were captured by his mother’s movements. In place of the tapping, pleasant hums and partial tones rose from the island table she was working from. Her arms waved, cut, and drifted through the space around her, and her fingers arced and traced patterns he could not follow at those speeds. Her hands twined, twisted, and pulled at the dormant vibrations in the air to create frequencies that she merged, coupled and put into containers just big enough to need two hands to grip under them.
She was making her merchandise to sell at the marketplace. They were called miracthu harie, music boxes, and there were never any leftovers in a batch. When they were opened, a beautiful and emotionally spurring string of sounds emerged.
The boy marveled at the process. He’d seen it done a million times already, but he usually found himself captivated by the expression she would make, and she wasn’t facing him so her movements were the next coolest thing. He had recently begun learning how to tune into natural frequencies and trivial vibrations himself. He couldn’t wait until he was able to compose anything half as beautiful as his mother could.
“Now you’re staring.”
“Sorry.” The boy slowly tore his gaze away from his mother’s motions before once again looking out into the darkness, and what it held.
Once he did, his thoughts from before the instruction to kill the tapping came rushing back. After a minute, he moved his head carefully so that he could sneak a glance at his mother, wondering if he had the guts to ask again.
When his mother abruptly stopped moving and sighed loudly, he was startled but didn’t hesitate.
“Why don’t we ever visit Earth?”
“Jeeooh, we’re just–”
“not meant to,” he finished with her. “I know, but I just don’t get it. Why do we bother to learn its languages?”
His mother finished the box she was working on and came to sit by the window with him. The large lens in it was zoomed in to show a blue sphere a hundred or so light years away.
“Why haven’t I heard of anyone in orbit around Rathakar ever going there?” Jeeooh continued. “Why do others cease speaking when it is mentioned?”
Jeeooh’s mother swiped the bottom of the window, making Earth zoom out of view. Jeeooh stared at her profile, anticipating the usual lack of answers.
When she finally looked at him, thinking that he would be told to retire, Jeeooh tried one more appeal. “They have their whole solar system to themselves and they think they’re alone in the universe. How can we let them?”
Jeeooh’s mother looked at Jeeooh sharply, aware of his little trick. “And why does it fall upon us to enlighten them? Any number of the countless other races could have stopped ‘letting them’ believe this.”
Jeeooh’s eyes widened. He froze as he stared into his mother’s burning brown eyes, the contrast against the surrounding beige walls and the harsh grey of her skin making them seem more fierce.
A few seconds passed before Jeeooh’s mother put her hand in his hair and brushed it back. “Fine.” Jeeooh’s shoulders tensed. “You should at least know why we learn about the Earthlings, and I don’t like you making the nation sound malignant,” she explained.
The front spines on top of Jeeooh’s head drooped when it turned out she wasn’t too angry, and they snapped back at the apparent agreement to give him answers to questions he’d been asking since he was nine Telneiran years, three Earth years ago.
Jeeooh’s mother pulled her hand back. “The races within the nations have learned by example,” she started. “The earthlings are in possession of something that makes Earth an adverse setting for races from other planets.”
Jeeooh’s features slackened and he once again looked out the window, though it only showed the blackness of space and distant specks of light now. It never occurred to him, with all the time he spent staring at the bewitching white swirls across the blue sphere, that Earth could be dangerous. “What is it?” He finally asked.
“We know that our races lack it.” Jeeooh’s mother paused for a long time after she said this. It was when Jeeooh was afraid she’d say no more that she continued. “Whatever it is has been responsible for members of the more xenophobic races, like those that try to communicate by mutilating the earthlings’ crops or those that briefly port earthlings into their crafts, being reduced to mere beasts until they find a way to leave the planet, or more commonly, until they leave the solar system. It took centuries for the last of the grand race of dragons that had traveled to Earth to escape.” Jeeooh stared in consternation while his mother continued on like she hadn’t said anything of much significance. “Learning the Earthlings’ tongues and customs is part of the endeavor to acquire it, but we have been unsuccessful.”
With less certainty than with his previous questions, and still digesting most of what he had just learned, Jeeooh asked, “How does any race know it hasn’t been found, if none ever visit Earth?”
“I didn’t say no race visits Earth, Jeeooh. Be careful of the conclusions you draw.” Jeeooh’s cheeks tightened as the blood flowed away from them in his embarrassment. “But it is true that no race in our solar system goes there. You don’t need to know any more about what those other races do on Earth for now.”
Jeeooh shook his head. “But then why do we learn about Earth? I don’t understand.”
“That’s enough questions, little one.” Jeeooh’s mother smiled at him with a penetrating gaze.
A low grumble came from Jeeooh as he stopped himself just before he grunted his disappointment. That wasn’t enough answers. But with just the little he had learned, it was clear to him why his mother resisted telling him for so long.
“Retire for the day,” his mother said. “I’ll be here working a little longer.”
Jeeooh touched all ten of his fingertips to his mother’s. “Good night,” he said before heading to his bedroom, reassurance fed to him by the touch.
A boy stood by his new window, hypnotized by the view of the setting sun casting orange light on the metal coated cars zipping by his line of sight in a stream,resulting in an alternating blur of platinum and copper. It reminded him of the kind of money that wasn’t in use anymore. He was charmed by such artifacts and outdated trinkets. An example would be the yard that came with the house, which was uncommon in their metal and polycarbonate city that existed about half a mile above the ground. The green and flora were nice to look at, even from the great height of his window (the magnifying option certainly helped). Unfortunately, the boy did not expect to spend much time there; the air below had thinned since the civilization in this area migrated up, and since the plant life adjusted to the change.
The spell broke when he heard the door creak open slightly behind him. It creaked more as the door was fully opened and he was faced with his mother.
She smiled at him. “So you picked this room, huh?” She glanced around before coming to stand by him at the window. “Ooh, this is a nice view. I get why you chose it.”
He had been told to pick a room that he liked and stay in it, while his parents did the same. It was so that they could unpack manually, while the unoccupied rooms of the house were unpacked and set up automatically.
“Where’s moddy?” he asked.
“She’s unpacking things in our room,” she responded. She moved to the side and approached one out of the many stacks of boxes that had floated into the room sometime after he got lost in the view outside. “Come on Jimmy. After we’re done here I have a treat for you.”
A little over an hour later, they were done unpacking Jimmy’s room and his mother was leading him down to one of the lower levels. The room Jimmy’s mother led him into was antiquated with worn, creaky floorboards and a square door that opened downwards.
It had his full attention immediately. “What is this place?”
“This used to be the attic,” said his mother before pulling a beaded string to turn on the light.
Jimmy stayed still as a number of precision lasers blasted the spiders that started to scuttle around in response to the lighting change. The lasers didn’t damage any of objects that were now in sight.
Jimmy was standing before a museum that suited his tastes. He started going around the room and interacting with the articles of the past while his mother laughed at his excitement. He jumped into an old rocking chair. It’s cushion expelled a cloud of dust, which he fled, coughing, to a different area of the room. There, he found a jumping rope. He tried it a few times, tripping consistently.
He continued going around in this manner until he found something unfamiliar. It’s front and and back faces were semicircular, the front was covered in knobs, and it had a smooth brown, wooden surface all around.
“Oh, what’s this?” His mother had come over since he had stopped moving.
Jimmy’s face was blank. “I think it’s a radio… I haven’t seen one like this before.”
“Well then, maybe it’s really old.”
Jimmy remained quiet, but his mother could sense that his thoughts were running amok. “If you want you can put it in your room after the dust is cleaned off.
Jimmy beamed at her. “Thank you. Thanks for bringing me here.”
She smiled back. “You’re welcome.”
The prospect of being turned into a beast did not sit well with Jeeooh. Yet he was unable to keep it off his mind as he lay in bed the morning after he had that conversation with his mother, only stopping when rays from Rathakar tried to smite his face. He made sure not to look out of the window as he left his room.
Passing the entrance chamber on his way to the kitchen, Jeeooh noticed that only two out of the three discs kept by the doors were present in the indentations meant for them, telling him that his mother already left for the marketplace. After he was done eating, he returned to the entrance chamber and walked onto the middle disc. It stuck fast to his feet and began to hum as it lifted off the ground. The metal expanded and curved upwards at the edges, allowing him to sit. Jeeooh took note of the amount of dust that was on the last disc before the doors slid open and locked behind him.
Jeeooh was confused. Humans have a capacity for violence outside of wartime, but the overall impression he got from his lessons on them was a good one. The feeling had been as ordinary as the burnt brown terrain zooming past him. Now that the human race had some danger and mystery added to it, his head was unclear. The strong tug in his lower abdomen told him that it was inappropriate to have education based only on fear. It was a betrayal to allow him to admire human ingenuity in inventions like the piano, and to love the contrasts in scenery between the two worlds, only to taint it.
Jeeooh stopped his transport when he got to the clay field. He stood, stepping off the disc when it shrunk back, and put it under his arm. He needed to think about something else.
Jeeooh walked to a random spot, knelt, setting down his disc, and applied enough pressure to the hardened, but relatively thin, surface clay to get to soft clay beneath. He started molding without anything in mind, letting his mind wander.
The members of his race had the ability to mentally perceive and manipulate different frequencies. Some could do it better than others so that was why so many were willing to buy his mother’s miracthu harie instead of just making their own.
For the past few weeks, Jeeooh had been doing beginner’s stuff like sensing the frequencies the molecules of different objects vibrate at. But it was hard for him to tell how he was doing since he couldn’t control the frequencies yet.
He figured doing something new could be the perfect distraction. He closed his eyes and reached out with his mind. Nothing seemed to happen at first. But then there was a soft pull on his mind, and a lot of his focus went in that direction.
Jeeooh noticed that the sculpture turned out looking like him while he waited for something to happen. He broke the connection since nothing was happening and reached out again.
Jeeooh kept doing this until a frequency he tapped into fizzled in his head and made him drop the sculpture, cracking its surface, which hadn’t hardened enough, and spilling out its soft clay guts. Curses escaped his mouth before he could stop them; he had begun planning to give the sculpture to his mother.
Jimmy stepped away from the windowsill, which was where he had put the radio and where the sound that unmistakably resembled music came from.
After they had brought it up, Jimmy’s father determined that it was still in good condition, but it wouldn’t play any stations since none of those frequencies were still in use; modern day radio wave transmitters used LM instead of AM or FM, she said.
The music prompted him to go find his parents. “Mommy, moddy,” he called. The panel on the wall outside his room beeped and showed him their location.
When he walked in the room, both women had their eyes trained on him from the couch they sat on.
“The radio! Music!” They allowed him to rush them to his room.
Back in Jimmy’s room, the radio was silent. His parents humorously waited a while until the radio played static again.
Jimmy’s parents led him to his bed and sat on either side of him. His mother put a hand on his shoulder. “How are you liking the house so far, Jimmy?”
Jimmy was still focused on the radio before he turned to look at her. “Is this really a house? It’s so tall and there are so many floors and rooms. I like the attic though.”
Her laughter clashed against the static. “Yes, it still counts as a house,” she said as she reclaimed her hand.
“Isn’t it a waste to have this many rooms when there are so little of us?”
“Well that’s…” The bed creaked as she shifted her weight. She answered his expectant look with, “Your father can probably answer that better than I can.”
The woman on Jimmy’s other side ruffled his hair before he could even look at her. ” Think of it this way,” she started. “It was more of a waste while no one was using them before we bought the house.”
Jimmy looked at the radio again. “Also,” she added, “the rooms can be used for whatever we want. Like super hide-and-seek with a bunch of your friends.”
Jimmy looked at her. “Can we play that now?”
She looked at Jimmy’s mother before answering. “Yes, and Silly can play too.”
“I’m going to kick your butts!”
Hours later, silence instead of static came from the radio when Jimmy walked in, and he went to his windowsill.
When nothing happened after a few minutes, he became frustrated. “Hello?” he spoke at the machine.
It had been hours and Jeeooh was back in his room. He stopped what he was doing shortly after he considered the risks of continuing without supervision.Then he couldn’t stand doing nothing anymore (the fact that he spent most of his time Earthgazing now left a bad taste in his mouth), and reached out again despite risks, allowing his mind to be pulled away from confusing realties. It wasn’t long afterwards that he heard someone speaking in his head.
“Hello?” He responded, not thinking.
“Is there anyone there?” asked the same voice.
Not sure that he’d been heard and curious about the person on the other side of his mind, Jeeooh tried focusing more. He felt the pull strengthen like his mind was slowly getting dragged through a tube. And if he kept his eyes closed he could see the silhouette of someone.
“Who are you?” Jeeooh asked.
The silhouette shifted and Jeeooh’s view of its upper body came closer. “Everyone calls me Jimmy.”
“Okay.” The skin on Jeeooh’s forehead creased at hearing the common human name. “Jimmy, where do you live?”
“Hey, why are you asking me that? I don’t know you!”
Jeeooh stayed silent at the outburst. The silhouette had its arms raised. Jeeooh continued to watch as they were lowered again.
“Wait, don’t go! Can you please play more music? It was very beautiful.”
‘What?’ Jeeooh thought automatically.
“I heard music from this station earlier today,” Jimmy answered.
Jeeooh noticed that he hadn’t even spoken that time.
It was something Jeeooh said while he was in the clay field, he was thinking, and when it hit him, he expelled a few short barks of laughter before turning in his bed to muffle his giggling in a pillow. Someone thought that the swearing in one of his planet’s tongues was musical.
“Hey, what are those noises?” Jimmy asked after hearing the sounds that came from the radio following his request. “Is your music machine broken?”
The sounds continued for a little longer before Jimmy heard from the person on the radio. “So you want to hear the music again?”
“Yes, very much,” Jimmy said, practically face-to-face with the radio.
“Then I have a challenge for you.”
Jimmy raked a hand through his soft, orange hair. “What is it?”
“Just tell me names of planets in the solar system.”
Jimmy inhaled. “Mercuryvenusearthmarsjup-”
“Slower, please,” Jimmy heard laughing.
“Mercury. Venus. Earth. Mar-”
“Okay, that’s good. I can already get the feeling you know all of them.”
“Well, that was the easiest challenge in the world,” Jimmy said.
“Go do something else while I…set up the music machine. Sorry.”
The radio went silent again, but Jimmy stared at it with the biggest grin on his face. When he got it from the attic it was already cool enough just being an antique, but he had no way of knowing it would be this awesome. He was expecting it not to work after what he had been told, but reality
Jeeooh spent quite a bit of time staring–no, squinting, at one of the walls in his room. During his conversation, he started off only curious. But after he got a nagging feeling, he talked until he got confirmation. The way Jeeooh saw it, It was incredibly improbable that he would make contact with a human not even one earth day after learning they all could have a nonsensical kryptonite effect on him. He squinted at the wall, running concepts such as fate, coincidence and destiny through his mind, and eventually the question of whether he should continue contact with Jimmy.
The little bit of interaction he had with Jimmy made him interested despite himself and the danger, but just talking would not be same as visiting Earth so it was reasonably harmless. He closed his eyes, now with the knowledge that the silhouette was of a human figure. He saw it in profile with kicking legs and with an object in hand. He had not disconnected for all these hours, sometimes just watching, always silent. Only very concrete thoughts were going through the tube.
‘Hey,’ thought Jeeoh.
He saw the kicking stop and the object get put down. “Hey, you kept me waiting.”
‘This is for your ears only, okay? Don’t leave and bring anyone back to listen.’
‘Music or no music?’
“Okay,” said Jimmy.
Jeeooh smiled at that. He could always stay quiet if he saw Jimmy’s silhouette leave, but that could lead to unnecessary suspicion.
‘3. 2. 1.’ Jeeooh began singing one of few lullabies he knew completely in the language Jimmy heard. He watched the human stay quiet, still and attentive the whole time.
Once he was done, Jimmy became animated. “That was so good. What’s the name of your radio station? I can get a lot of people to listen to you. My moddy is super rich. The house I’m living in right now is ridiculous!”
‘Didn’t I just say it was for your ears only?’ Jeeooh was amused by the offer regardless.
“…But why? I thought that was because I was the only one who did the challenge and had to wait so long for the prize.”
Jeeooh felt his cheeks tighten. ‘Because this isn’t a radio station.’
Some of the energy Jimmy’s silhouette was running on was lost. “It’s not? But this is a radio.” The silhouette reached out and seemed to touch Jeeooh, which he figured was because the radio was acting as his mind’s eyes in a way. “How are you able to hear what I say, anyway? I know radios don’t work like phones or VidComs.”
‘I’ve been doing an experiment with radio waves, and the result is making a radio work like a phone.’ It wasn’t really a lie. He was experimenting with tapping into frequencies, and it was because of his mental ability that he could hear and almost see the other side of his mental connection.
“Oh wow, that’s cool. Wait, how old are you?”
‘Huh? Oh, Fourteen.’ That wasn’t really a lie either. It was the average of his ages in Telneiran and Earth years.
“I knew it,” said Jimmy. “Grown-ups don’t do cool stuff like that. We can be like pen pals.”
“Pen pal? Oh–”
“It’s okay if you don’t what that is. Almost no one does anymore.” Jimmy closed his eyes pridefully.
Jimmy started tapping the wall beside the window in his excitement. “So what’s your name?”
“Je-ust Rodney Yu.”
“Rodney me?” Jimmy rubbed his forehead.
“No, Yu, y-u. My parents are Chinese.”
“By the way, what is a moddy?”
“Moddy is moddy. That’s all there is to it.” Jimmy wouldn’t bother getting angry anymore. Whenever he told anyone his father used to be a man, but is now a woman, it usually didn’t go well, so he stopped explaining.
A roar sent vibrations through the room.
“What was that?” asked Rodney.
“That was Silly,” Jimmy explained.
Silly entered the room and walked with purposeful footsteps up to Jimmy and the radio.
“What do you mean?”
Silly was about to claw at the radio after the sound came out of it. “Silly, no! Silly is my domesticated Bengali tiger.”
Silly grabbed the back of Jimmy’s shirt with her teeth and put him onto her back.
“It looks like she wants to play. Bye.”
“Whee!” Jimmy said as Silly dashed out of the room.
Jeeooh was in the clay field again. Talking to Jimmy again.
It had been four days since they first spoke to each other. Jeeooh learned a lot about Jimmy and he still continued to be interested. Jimmy lived in Seattle and was an only child. His parents loved each other and made as much time for him as he needed, and he was able to experience the thrill of going to school under the guise of being in the middle class so that he could make real friends before they learned what his family was really like. Jimmy was 10 ½ and had Silly since he was five and she was a cub. His mom had a domesticated Nile crocodile and his moddy had a domesticated black wolf.
Meanwhile, Jimmy learned that Rodney was a well-funded teenage scientist who lived in the Midwest, and whose parents worked in similar businesses and travelled frequently, but did not get to see each other frequently, even after his mom quit and became an entrepreneur.
Jeeooh could see more than a silhouette now when he looked at Jimmy. He could now see Jimmy’s orange hair, green eyes and pale skin. Plus he could clearly see what actions he was doing front of the radio.
‘Jimmy, what were you doing before I played that music for you a few days back? Do you remember?’ Jeeooh couldn’t see him as well then.
Jimmy was on his floor playing cards with a robot assistant, sworn to secrecy (programmed only to listen to Jimmy excluding dangerous situations).
He paused briefly. “Timeout. Yeah, I remember. I was on the windowsill waiting and reading a book. I tried to see how many things I read about reminded me of something I saw outside the window.”
When Jimmy mentioned his window, Jeeooh thought of the windows in his home. He hadn’t been looking through them much lately. Jimmy’s radio had become his new window. And instead of Earthgazing, he had been human gazing.
“Hey, why aren’t you surprised?” Jimmy’s sharp words snapped him out of it. “I said I was reading a book, even though everyone reads holo-files.”
‘I already know that you like old things.’ Jeeooh responded. ‘Silly.’
Suddenly his connection was stopped. Jeeooh heard a thud and a loud crack behind him and whipped his head around. A female a few years older than him was groaning. He recognized her.
“Qeela? What happened?” He tried to help her up, but she gently smacked his hand away.
When she was up, Jeeooh saw that it was part of the hard clay that Rathakar had hardened over the surface of the field, and soft clay dirtied her backside. She staggered slightly, apparently dizzy.
“What happened?” He asked again, but she only looked at him with narrowed eyes.
“Jeeooh, I saw you over here just staring out into space. I thought, what could he possibly be doing but trying something that we both know he shouldn’t be doing by himself yet.”
Jeeooh just looked at her. He had nothing to say.
“So I come over and try to jack into your frequency, and get jolted in the temples for my trouble,” she continued. “Do you know what that means?”
Jeeooh slowly shook his head.
Qeela groaned, put her hands on her hips and bent forward so they were eye level. “It means that whatever frequency you were on runt, it was further out than the reigning champ in distance could access.”
Jeeooh was utterly surprised. It made sense though. If just anyone could make contact to Earth, he would definitely know about it, the way people obsessed about it on Telneirus. He tried to remember how distance worked. Something about mental agency significantly increasing the rate at which radio waves travel and being fast enough to have them travel to and back from a place in at most five seconds.
Qeela ruffled his hair and smiled. “What an amazing rookie.”
Earth was over a hundred light years away. Jeeooh’s eyes widened.
Adeniyi Ajayi is a Junior Computer Science Major who loves things that go against the norm.