Lalang walked into the store and marvelled at the goods. Most were standard for the main street stalls of course, batteries, chargers, some basic foodstuffs and cooking equipment, a few spare parts for the thermal drills the fishers used to gain access to the best fishing stocks. But the corner near the smudged window, and this young man, standing a head taller than her, his pleasant smile all grabbed her attention completely.
There were various toys, models and knick knacks scattered around, most die-cast metal, an uncommon composition in these parts. But the model of the solar system was herkey focus.
‘First of all, allow me to introduce myself, it was rude of me not to do so before inviting you in. My name is Namor, my family has owned this shop my whole life.’
‘I’m Lalang, my mother and I live out near the circle, in the fifth region.’
‘Ah, that’s quite a way, when did you leave?’
‘This morning, after our fishing and chores were done.’
Namor’s eyes bulged, ‘you left after dawn and made it here already?’ He then paused and his smile returned, but his was now a look of respect, ‘yes I’ve heard about you and your ability on the plains.’
Lalang smiled, as usual she was a little embarrassed when praise was heaped upon her.
‘Ok, well this is our solar system, this is us, our planet,’ he pointed to one of the balls that was a mix of blue and white that was attached to the base by a long metal arm. He moved it, rotating it around the orange ball, presumably the sun, the other three planets followed suit.
‘I’ve never seen this before,’ she whispered in amazement. Lalang’s understanding of the universe extended only as far as the plains they lived upon, and ultimately like most children growing up here, schooling did not exist, and only occasionally did a tutor come to the area, leaving once parents ran out of tradeable goods.
Herself having received only two tuitions her whole life, the idea that there were multiple planets revolving around the sun was only just on the cusp of her understanding. That the sun was the centre of all things, as that was where light, warmth and indeed life came from was beyond question, but seeing a visual demonstration left her in awe.
‘Most people don’t understand or aren’t interested in this, but I’ve taken a special interest, I’m fascinated by the world around us, and the worlds beyond. But an explanation is in order, as you can see, the orbit of our planet is not exactly round, it’s e-lip-tical,’ he struggled with the word. Indeed, Lalang noticed that the planet went close to the sun on one side and far away on the other. ‘When we go around the sun completely, that’s called a ‘year,’ it takes many many fortnights, no one has lived as long as one year.’
‘I’ve heard the term, never understood its meaning.’
‘It’s not really relevant to our everyday lives,’ he explained, never condescending, after all few understood these concepts beyond himself and a few who had received more advanced education. ‘When the planet is further away it is frozen, like we are now, when we get closer, the ice melts, instead of snow there is water, instead of plains there are oceans. But when we get too close, the water goes away as well, leaving only plains of dirt and sand. Thus it takes long enough that many born at the right time will know only snow and ice, and others, like our great grandparents only knew hot desert.’
Lalang’s eyes were locked on the planet, she was soaking up the information like a sponge, she’d never imagined that something was possible on her home, a word flashed into her mind. Wirinya. The Great Change.
‘Yes,’ Namor said, only then did she realise she must have spoken out loud. ‘The change is when we go from dust to water, or water to dust.’
‘It happens only once a year?’
‘Well twice technically, once on the way out, once on the way back, so every half year, but it is gradual of course, it doesn’t all change in one day.’
‘So where are we now?’ She pointed at the model.
‘I’m not sure, I don’t have exact information, but I know we are heading back in,’ he said moving the model around so that the planet was getting gradually closer to the sun.
‘What she means lad,’ a voice cut in from behind, they both spun around, ‘is when is the next Wirinya.’
‘Father,’ Namor said.
‘Hello,’ he said to the room, but his eyes focused on Lalang, she looked down awkwardly as he came into the room from a doorway that lead into the residential part of the house. He was about the same height as Namor, and had a rugged handsome look, a worn version of his son, his olive skin in wrinkles, his hair thin and gray, that they were related was unmistakable.
‘Father, this is-‘
‘I know who this is,’ his father cut in, looking down at Lalang making her feel tiny standing between these two men. ‘You’re Lalang, I remember your father,’ her face shot up, no one talked of her father anymore. ‘Forgive me, but I overheard some of your conversation, that you made it here from your home in less than two hours is not surprising when I know where your education of the land came from.’ He paused became thoughtful, regretful. ‘I was sorry to hear of your father, I know it’s been a long time.’ He left it at that, talking of those taken by the Dark was not done casually on the plains.
‘Anyway,’ he continued suddenly smiling once more filled with joy, ‘I can tell you roughly where we are,’ he leant out and moved the planet closer to the sun. ‘We’re well on our way to the next change. In fact if the Dark is kind to us, we should all live to see it.’
‘Yes, my parents lived through the tail end of the last change, it is a difficult time, a transition can be scary, especially for those who’ve known little else beyond one existence. Those who live through a change and survive are amazingly adaptable, they do their best to teach their youngers, like me,’ he chuckled touching his gray head of hair, ‘that you must be prepared, don’t be static like a mountain, or solid like ice, be like the water that flows below the ice, or that runs down from the mountains when the ice melts, if you don’t adapt, you stagnate, you die. It’s been hugely beneficial to our people to get a shocking change forced upon them every few generations, but for us, and young ones like you, we need to remember the lessons of those who came before us.’
Lalang listened, taking in as much as she could but these ideas were a shock indeed, it took time to process them.
‘How long do we have?’
‘Hmm, well I think it will be many fortnights before we reach the closest point to the sun, but the change will begin soon, some of the ice will melt, the warmer parts will melt before long.’
‘What of the plains?’
‘I’ve heard that we are not the first to feel the effects, but we’re well away from the last. As for my family, we’ve already sold our animals, now prices are still fair, people aren’t quite prepared to face the Wirinya, but soon, we’ll all have to move, and only things you can carry on your back will have any value.’
This was like a punch in the chest to Lalang. Move? The idea was so foreign to her, where would she go? She knew she would have to leave for work sooner or later, but she always envisaged going back to her mother’s hut. What now?
‘It’s ok dear,’ Namor’s father said, sensing her unease, ‘there’s still time, but if I were you, I’d start to talk to your mother, many are not getting prepared, but thinking ahead is key to our survival. Remember, adapt, or get left behind.’
‘I thank you sir for your words, you are wise.’
‘You are polite, that’s a good quality,’ he chuckled. ‘Now I’ll leave you two alone, I’ve got things to attend to. Take care of our guest,’ he said to his son.
‘Yes father,’ Namor said. He wasn’t shaken up by the news, he was generally aware of the change but he too noted Lalang’s apprehension, her unease. He wanted to be a good host, and for no reason he could discern, he liked her, seeing her unhappy made his stomach twist a little.
‘Can I get you something?’ He asked at last.
‘Hmm? Ah no, thank you. I should go, I must find work, we need to move, I mean we need a new Worobo,’ she began to move to the door.
‘Please dont’ panic,’ he said, ‘there is still time, my father is wise in these matters.’
‘I wont, thank you for sharing with me.’ She composed herself, leaving a host’s house required etiquette. ‘I thank you, It was nice meeting you,’ she nodded, and she meant it.
‘And you,’ he smiled, his sweet smile returned her to a better state of mind.
Walking outside, Lalang moved down the street looking at passing houses. There were various signs around describing sales or wares. She couldn’t read very much but had learnt what was necessary to get by in town. One trader had a ‘job’ sign up. She went into the store, it was a smaller one, only two rows of shelves flanked her as she walked to the plas-metal counter.
‘Hello young miss,’ the thin shrivelled man said from behind his barricade, he seemed to be hiding but it was merely an illusion as he was sitting and thus a head shorter than she.
‘Hello, are you looking for a worker?’
‘Ah, the sign. I am indeed, I’m in need of someone to help in the store, my wife takes care of the house you see and I occasionally need help here, maybe just a few hours in the middle of the morning.’
‘Is the pay in trade?’
The wrinkled man touched his chin, his gap toothed grin expanded. ‘I can pay money, I’d need you here everyday you can manage, and I’d offer you three Garrad a day, not a bad deal hey?’
She kept her face expressionless, it was fair, she could expect no more, but it would take a long, long time to get a new furnace. She was about to accept, what choice did she have? When a shadow descended upon her and the old man.
‘Ah,’ said a deep based voice, ‘I’ve been looking for you.’
The old man sunk down further, feeling and looking besieged. ‘What could you want me for? He croaked.’
‘Not you,’ the man barked back. ‘Her.’ Lalang was startled to see him pointing at her. She looked at him, he was covered in animal fur clothing, nothing at first unusual, except that it was clearly from animals that didn’t exist here in the plains. That and his accent had a sharp twang to it. Not a local. She looked at his boots, they were stranger still, a harsh black leather, she’d never seen their likes before. There was something new every time a trader came in of course, but this was obscure. Offworlder? She wondered.
‘I’ve got a job girl, if you’re interested.’ His face was broken up with a thin but unkempt beard and a scar ran down the left side of his neck. He was much older than her, but his lighter, yet tanned skin made it hard to pick his age. She would describe him as ‘rough’. Her every instinct told her to get away from him, but he was offering work, and offworlders could offer many possibilities.
‘Why me?’ She asked, surprising herself with the confidence in her voice.
‘Because I’ve asked around for days now, and everyone here, everyone says that you’re the best.’
‘The best guide, you know these mountains better than any, the plains as well yes?’
‘Yes, I suppose,’ she said cautiously.
‘I offer you a chance to be my guide, I’ll pay well if we find what I’m after,’ he shifted his weight, she noticed an old style rifle on his back, no laser, one that fired metal.
‘You’re a hunter.’
‘How much do you pay?’
‘5000,’ her eyes bulged, the old man’s chair creaked as he lent back as if knocked. ‘Plus a bonus if I get all I’m after. Come with me, my hut is around the corner, we can discuss terms.’ She hesitated, caution still wailed in her mind.
‘I’m in the fourth house, eighth lane,’ the stranger said, directed at the old man. This was customary, there was now a witness, if something happened to her, the small guard of the village would know where to go.
‘I know it,’ the old man responded in the customary way. Reluctantly, Lalang followed the man. Making their way back to the hut, she had to move quickly to keep up with his long fast strides.
‘What do you seek?’ She asked.
‘You know the Mordon? He replied. Of course she knew, it was the most feared of all creatures in the mountains above the plains. She stopped suddenly, he wanted to hunt a Mordon? He was mad.