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QUISTA (Book One: Danay)


QUISTA (Book One: Danay) by Aviva Bel’Harold
Enlarge Cover


  Space Opera
  Action & Adventure



ISBN: 978-1-77053-107-9
$5.99 US

Print Paperback:
ISBN: 978-1-77053-108-6
Trade Paperback
5.5" x 8.5"
$12.95 US
$14.95 CDN
360 pages

QUISTA (Book One: Danay)

by Aviva Bel’Harold
Copyright © 2016 by Aviva Bel’Harold

Chapter One
Coming of Age

"Oh, hey, I got this for you," Kit said holding out a small satchel.

It was the day of the Popling Festival. We sat on the dock waiting for the event to start. Kit had her feet in the water and was making ripples as she swished them back and forth.

"What’s that for?" I asked as a hot breeze caught a rogue strand of my hair and blew it across my face. I pulled it back, trying to tuck it behind my ear. I wished my hair would grow past my chin like Kit’s… like everyone else’s.

"It’s for your birthday, silly," Kit frowned at me as she dropped the satchel in my hand. "Don’t tell me you forgot today’s your birthday?"

"Yeah, I forgot." I lied. I stuffed her gift in my pocket and turned to stare out over the water towards the Deeps.

A flock of hooroop soared overhead, casting shadows across the rippling water.

Kit sighed, "Did you really forget?"

I wish I had. "No, not really."

Her tone became compassionate, "I understand."

I was sure she didn’t. "Thanks," I said.

I continued to stare out at the water, watching small currents pull and drag so the surface danced with yellow, gold and orange hues from the three suns above.

"You know it’s not fair!" Kit’Una kicked at the surface of the water.

I leaned back to avoid the splashes.

"Of all the stupid things Emperor Zigel has done."

"Hush," I said gently putting my hand on her shoulder. "You shouldn’t speak like that."

She pulled away from me glaring, "You don’t like him either. You can’t even think about him without making a face — see!"

I shook my head trying to lose my expression. "Still, you know the penalty for saying anything bad about him. Even on our planet you need to be careful."

"Oh, stop worrying. All I was going to say is it isn’t fair that every planet has to keep time according to his planet’s Royal Years. It’s impossible to keep track of anything."

I looked around to be sure no one else could hear us.

"Come on Danay, you have to agree with me. It’s crazy making! Last Turn your birthday fell in the rainy season, this Turn mine will." She threw her hands up. "It’s as if he did it on purpose just to make us miserable! Why else would he pass such a ridiculous law?"

"It wasn’t his law," I said, surprising myself. Then even more surprising I went on, "That law was necessary when there was open trade between the planets."

She stared at me, "Whose side are you on?"

"Not his," I said with a scowl. Then I bowed my head feeling guilty. I checked again, everyone else was at least fifty paces away. They were all on the safe docks waiting for the day’s events to start.

"Someone should tell the Emperor to change the law then. I mean it’s been over seventeen Turns since travel was banned between the planets. No travel — no trading — no communication — no reason to keep the same time cycle. No reason to mess up our birthdays. Especially this one," her eyes narrowed on me. "How could you forget your Coming of Age birthday?"

I knew she hadn’t understood.

"You’ve been talking about it for over five Seasons. Just last Turn you couldn’t wait for today. What…" she bit her lip before she finished asking her question.

I pressed my own lips together and turned away. She knew full well what had changed. She stayed quiet but I didn’t turn back. Instead I studied the soaring flocks of hooroop. Such strange sleek creatures they were. They easily soared through the air, but if their underfur got even a little wet they drowned. Still, somehow, they thrived here.

"Kit! Kit!" Pal’Hon called. I looked at the safe dock where he was. He was frantically waving his arms making the rolls of fat on them rippled like the ocean after a rock was thrown in. Catching my eye, he deliberate pointed a fat finger at Kit then at the railing of the safe dock. It was slowly being raised to provide a barrier of protection for the onlookers.

"I think Pal’Hon wants you to go sit with him." I said. He was one of the more popular boys in our school, and she was lucky he kept trying to show her interest.

She rolled her eyes. "Can’t you see I’m ignoring him?"

"It’s okay if you want to watch with him." I often wondered why she stayed with me when all the other kids would be happy to have her join them.

Kit frowned. "Unlike you, I have not reached my fifteenth Royal Year. It would be improper to accept his invitation… or anyone else’s."

I nodded. She and I both knew that Pal’Hon wasn’t the only admirer she had. He was just bolder than the others. I suspected that might change the closer the Seasons got to her fifteenth Royal Year.

"Your birthday isn’t that far off. It’s less than a full Turn away. No one would say anything." I’d seen girls flirt with potential suitors long before their fifteenth birthday. "Besides, you have so many to choose from it might be a plan to start weeding them out."

"You never did that," she said.

As if we were the same. Kit could have been the most popular girl in Tem, if she didn’t spend so much time with me.

"You forget," I tried to keep my tone light, "I don’t have any suitors."

"What about…"

"He left." Just saying it made my heart ache.

"But he…"

"No Kit. He left." I squeezed my eyes shut as I thought about the only boy I’d ever liked. Phillip. He was an off-worlder, like my father. Phillip had come to our village, Tem, in the middle of last Turn. But he never showed any interest in me, and he left halfway through the last Season. "I don’t want to talk about him."

Kit looked like she was about to argue.

"No! I don’t even want to think about him," I snapped.

Now she looked like I’d slapped her.

"I’m sorry." I thought about the gift I’d stuffed into my pocket. I didn’t deserve it. I should try and give it back… but I knew she wouldn’t let me.

"More people would like you if they just got to know you," Kit said.

She actually believed that. "Kit, please, we’ve been over this before."

"Yeah," her voice got louder, "and I think we need to go over it again. You’re the best person I’ve ever met. Just because you happen to be a little skinny—"

"A little? Huh. That’s the understatement of the Turn."

"—looks aren’t everything."

"That isn’t the only thing they don’t like about me."

Kit shook her head.

"Kit, open your eyes. It’s not just that I’m way too skinny, I’m also too tall. I’m taller than everyone in Tem by at least three finger widths! Then there’s my hair, and my eyes… and my skin — they are all the wrong color. Not to mention, I don’t have enough webbing on my hands and I don’t have any on my feet. And we aren’t even talking about the biggest problem… I’m… I… I get sick if I stay wet too long."

"I don’t see the problem," she said.

"You don’t?" She had to be kidding. "Um, haven’t noticed that the whole planet is covered in water!"

"Yeah? So? You’ve lived here all your life, it hasn’t killed you yet. You visit me all the time. You could make it work with a boy if you wanted to."

That really stung. "Kit, believe me. I want to. If anyone—" my voice caught, "—anyone showed the slightest interest in me I would do everything I could to make it work. But I’ve got nothing to offer the boys here and they all know it."

"You do to," she huffed, "and if they can’t see it — then — then they’re all a bunch of dakka." She crossed her arms and glared over at the villagers who were squished together on the safe dock.

I wanted to laugh; I’d never heard Kit call anyone a bunch of hoorup droppings before. "What did I do to deserve such a good friend?"

"You don’t get it." She switched her gaze to me. "You don’t see how amazing you are."

I felt my smile disappear. "No, I don’t."

I could see she wanted to say more, thankfully she didn’t.

Turning away I wondered, yet again, what was my purpose? At my age, girls were supposed to be thinking about dating, mating, and learning a skill for their future. There was no chance of me doing that — so what was I supposed to do?

When I was younger, I used to wish my father’s relatives would find me and take me away from Uma’Three — thinking any planet would have been better than this one. I stopped wishing for that when I realized that I’d have to leave my Nan’Dah. She was a true Uma’Threeite — as hard as it was for me, a half breed, to live on this planet — it would be impossible for her to live anywhere else. Now Uma’Three was my home. Besides, I couldn’t leave even if I still wanted to, all unofficial space travel was banned. Banned by Emperor Zigel when I was just a baby.

I felt my face scrunch up, like I’d eaten something sour. Of all the things I didn’t understand, banning space travel was the worst.

"Don’t worry. There’s plenty of time for the right boy to find you." Kit patted my back, "And the longer he takes, the longer I get you all to myself."

I leaned over until my shoulder bumped hers. "Thanks Kit." I didn’t bother reminding her that by the end of this Turn she would be going away for her studies.

I stared out at the Deeps again trying not to let my mood slip any lower. Slowly I remembered why today was special. Not because it was my birthday. But, because it was the Popling Festival.

My breath caught. I felt the energy mounting. It made my heart flutter and my skin prickle.

The burb’s were coming.

I may not have fit in with the people, and the constant waters might have dampened my mood, but when it was time for the Popling Festival — I knew this was where I was meant to be.

I smiled.

"You know, I was thinking…" Kit stopped and pulled her feet out of the water as a great white shark swam by.

I reached out and dipped my arm into the warm water, all the way up to my elbow. I ran my fingers along the great white’s flank. Its hide was rough but strangely soothing.

When I could no longer touch the shark, it made a quick circle to swim by again. This time it pressed itself against me. "You are a beauty," I whispered. "Kit, isn’t she beautiful?"

"Yeah, sure. Beautiful."

Great whites were the kings of the Deeps. They were nearly twice as long as a regular shark and over double the weight. Great whites could take on a mammoth stingray and win. This one was particularly stunning, more silver than white, with smoothly rounded fins — a sure sign that she was female.

Kit didn’t put her feet back into the water until the great white was several paces away. She sighed as if she had been holding her breath the whole time.

"Here," she offered me the sleeve of her wet’skn before I even started looking for a place to dry my hands.

I happily wiped my fingers on it feeling the material absorbing the moisture to circulate it closer to Kit’s body. Everyone on Uma’Three wore wet’skns. Nothing else made sense. A wet’skn makes it easier to move through water and it wicks in moisture, keeping the wearer damp at all times. I also wore a wet’skn, only mine was inside out. As an off-worlder the reversed wet’skn kept me dry — and made it even more obvious that I didn’t belong here.

"You know you really shouldn’t do that."

"What?" I pulled my hands away. "You offered it to me."

"Not that." She rolled her eyes. "The shark, you shouldn’t touch it."

I knew I shouldn’t. I looked over at the docks where everyone was gathered. They were watching me. I touched sharks when no one else would. I didn’t go behind the protective barriers when everyone else did. I wasn’t helping my reputation. I shrugged, "It’s not like I can lose any more points. I’m pretty much at the bottom of the chart."

"What about the shark. It could bite off your arm before you could even blink."

"I guess she could," I watched the shark, she was twenty paces out. "She wouldn’t though. She likes it when I rub her."

"How do you know that?"

"Easy, I still have my arm." I laughed. It was funny because I knew she’d never bite me.

Kit wrinkled her nose. She was also watching the shark — warily — ready to get out of harm’s way if it turned towards us again.

"Relax, Kit, I won’t let anything bad happen to you."

Her worry lines disappeared, "That’s true. Nothing bad ever happens to me when I’m with you. It’s like you’re my good luck charm." Her gaze became unfocussed. "You know, my dad told me I’d like you, even before you moved to Tem. And he promised me that if I gave you a chance I wouldn’t be sorry for being your friend."

As much as I loved Mr.’Una, I always hated hearing this story. It was hard to know that my one and only friend had been told to be my friend. It pointed a spotlight on the fact that even Kit’Una wouldn’t have liked me if her father hadn’t told her to. But I listened, because ever since Mr.’Una had died; Kit liked to talk about him… and I liked to listen because I missed him too.

"You know my dad single handedly got your apartment ready for you before you moved here."

Mine was the only apartment in Tem that didn’t have the customary three finger widths of water lining the floor.

"I kinda helped him, as much as any three-Royal-Year-old can be helpful." She laughed. "I didn’t know what to expect. I mean I’d seen an off-worlder once when I was in the city. But I’d never really met one," she glanced at me, "or the daughter of one."

I nodded.

"Anyways, my father was so excited. He spent every minute he could working on your place. And when he wasn’t working on it he was talking about it with my mom. He acted like your coming here would be this huge blessing… I guess it has been. Your Nan’Dah’s been a great help." She frowned then shook her head as if trying to get her thoughts straight, "Anyways, he wanted to make everything just right for you."

She scratched her head. "It was like good wasn’t good enough. It had to be perfect — only better than perfect."

I thought about Mr.’Una. The first time we were introduced, he bowed so low he almost did a belly flop. He had always been nice to me, treating me like… like I was one of his children. Whenever he came home from the silt mines, he’d have something for me the same way he brought back things for Kit and her brother.

When he died, I cried for days. To this day I sometimes still cry.

Kit blinked as if remembering she’d been talking.

I hadn’t realized she’d stopped.

"Did I tell you what he told me the last time before he went off to the mines?"

I shook my head. It hadn’t been a Royal Year yet, he’d been alive for my last birthday.

"He told me that I should protect you."

"Protect me from what?"

She shrugged, "I’m not sure." Her eyes were unfocussed again, "But boy do I wish I could figure it out."

"You think I need to be protected?"

She quickly focused on me, "No." She shook her head, "No, you never seem to need protection. If anything you protect me. You’ve saved my life at least twice this Turn alone." She smiled.

I rolled my eyes. "Don’t over exaggerate."

"Have you forgotten two Seasons’ back when those sharks entered the village? They attacked five people before they were caught. You heard them coming and scared them away."

"That wasn’t…"

"And what about the stinging jelly hatchlings?" she cut me off. "Those things could have killed me. But you wouldn’t let me leave your house. It was like you just knew something bad was about to happen. And what about all the flood waves you’ve protected us — protected me — from? I would have been swept out into the Deeps."

"Enough already," I held up my hand. I was prepared to hit her if she tried to mention the mi’lex I’d stopped her from stepping on. "What I did wasn’t that spectacular. I heard the sharks because they were splashing too much. I felt the stinging jellies, when their electric charge made the hairs on my arms tingle. And the flood waves are easy to anticipate if you know what to watch for."

"You heard. You felt. You saw. You." Kit was looking at me the way she sometimes did. As if to say… I don’t know, something like: I was different. I hated that look. "Danay Qwan, you’ve been my good luck charm ever since day one."

I shook my head feeling exasperated.

"You have. Do you think I could sit here, on the open docks, if you weren’t with me? No. I would be there, with them." She pointed back at the safe dock.

She was right; anyone from the village who’d come to watch was gathered there. And anyone else who wasn’t there would be locked in their homes.

The people on the dock moved away from the railings as the great white slowly passed in front of the crowd.

I scowled, "Idiots. It won’t hurt them. It’s this kind of blind fear that causes the senseless killing of these magnificent creatures."

"Not everyone loves sharks." Kit patted my knee, "You’ve gotta cut them some slack. It’s hard not to be afraid of something that big with so many rows of teeth. I mean, what does it need all those teeth for? If it really wanted to it could swallow a person whole."

"Sharks aren’t interested in humans. Aren’t you supposed to be a future marine biologist? You should know that they don’t attack people unless they’re ill."

"How are we supposed to know if a great white is sick?"

"They splash too much and froth at the nostrils. It’s easy to see."

"For you," she said softly.

"They come here every Turn and they haven’t once tried to attack anybody. They are just as much a part of the Festival as the hooroop, the stinging jellies, the burbs and the poplings."

"Not everyone can trust nature the way you do, Danay. Not everyone is as charmed."

"I’m not charmed," I grumbled.

"Whatever you want to call it. Lucky, observant, intuitive — whatever. Like I said, you are my good luck charm."

I rolled my eyes and gave up.

A hoorup cried and my gaze was drawn back to the Deeps.

"You can feel it, right? It’s almost time for…" I heard the smile in her voice.

"It’s close." My heart fluttered in my chest. "Very close." My breath caught as I glimpsed the dotted horizon. My lips curled into a smile of their own. I was about to laugh, but I held it in. No one else had seen them yet.

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