Starter

Bren stumbled.

He had to pay more attention to what was going on around him; what if it had been an assassin trying to kill him? Not that there were assassins on Mospheira, and even if there were, why should they be interested in one Bren Cameron, pupil of Jackson Elementary School?

Kevin O'Reilly had explained it all to them during the meet and greet. Mr. O'Reilly was the paidhi successor, and it was really very special that he was talking to the new students.

The whole school was made to prepare for this occasion. Bren's whole class had drawn pictures of atevi and of the petalsail landers in celebration of Mr. O'Reilly's visit.

Mr. O'Reilly had been a nice man and had patiently answered all their questions:
Yes, atevi were really that tall. Yes, their eyes really glowed in the dark. Yes, it had been spooky at first, but was very fascinating once one got used to it. Yes, the ladies and lords wore really fancy and regal dresses. Yes, there were servants everywhere. No, one didn't have to fear assassins springing from behind every column. Yes, there were lots and lots of big beautiful carpets just like the one in the war museum. No, assassins didn't come after elementary schoolers. Yes, one really had to be good at maths . No, there weren't any atevi on the island. No, not even in the Shinini Woods, no matter what the Bretano Whisperer said every few issues. No, the atevi didn't have sharp and pointy teeth like the pictures in the Whisperer. No, they didn't eat little children who weren't eating their vegetables, but one should eat one's vegetables anyway.

He had also told the students about the few times he had been in Shejidan. He had even met Valasi, the aiji.
They had practiced to say aiji and Valasi.

Mr. O'Reilly had looked very proud when he told how, at one time, Wilson had been away on vacation and he had had to translate something for the satellite committee Without this information, the project would certainly have been delayed for months, because the committee couldn't vote on the felicitous day without that important piece of knowledge.

Then he had tried to explain to them about felicitious numbers, but no one had really understood that.

Still, it had been exciting, and Bren and his classmates had all wanted to become paidhiin, not paidhis as O'Reilly-paidhi had explained. He had also told them about the difficult training and how unlikely it would be that they would ever meet atevi face to face; only the paidhi and the paidhi successor got to see atevi in real life.

But Bren still wanted to try, even if it meant doing math all day long and being woken up in the middle of the night to answer questions about the declination of mecheiti. Even if he would never have atevi friends.

It was difficult to imagine that there would be people who didn't love or even have friends,but he had friends on Mospheira. He would come visit them from time to time when he was paidhi, and he would write letters to them every week.
He would have to visit Mospheira often, so his mother wasn't all alone. She always told him and Toby, how happy she was to have them and that she didn't know what she would do if they would leave her.

Bren nearly stumbled again.

He had again stopped paying attention and found himself already at the steps to his home.

Bren opened the door.

He couldn't wait to tell his mother and Toby about everything.

"Mom, I'm home!"

Today she only had the first two lessons, so Bren fully expected a response, which he got.

"Bren? Wash your hands and come eat. We are having blackflipper."

Oh, he liked blackflipper! It was one of his favorite foods, especially when his mother made it, so soft and salty and, with some sliced tomatoes, just about the best food in the world. Sniffing carefully he thought he could smell the mouth-watering blackflipper already.

Thinking back about what Mr. O'Reilly had told them earlier, the food season had to have changed on the mainland, because there was little fresh meat to be had on the mainland during this time of the year and the atevi ate lots and lots of fish. Bren had even heard someone grumble about it in the stores last week; all of the blackflippers Mospheiran fisher caught were sent to the mainland.

Bren hung up his coat and took off his shoes.

He had agreed with that man then, that the atevi should just eat preserved meat like the Mospheirans did. But now he knew better and how important all the fresh food was for the atevi. Mr. O'Reilly had even taught them the word for it: kabiu. Besides, it wasn't really that bad to eat magaeiwa for a few weeks every year, it was just not as great as blackflipper.

Taking his bag he ran down the floor to the kitchen.

"Bren, no running in the house! You know what happened to the swan."

Upon his mother's call, Bren slowed. The swan had been a glass figure Bren had broken, because he had run in the house and hadn't been able to stop in time from crashing into the display case it stood in. The figure had fallen and one of the wings had broken off. They had glued it back together, but it just didn't look the same. Bren had liked to look at it when he was younger. There weren't any swans on this world or any other animals like it.

Slowly he walked into the kitchen. Toby already sat at the table, waiting for lunch. After a hug and a smile by his mother, Bren sat down at the table too and got out his math book to do homework while eating.

"Put your homework away, Bren. You can do it later. And don't wolf down your food like that."

"But, Mom, if I want to become the paidhi, I have to be really good at math."

She looked amused.

"Become the paidhi? You know that means growing out your hair and combing and washing and drying it for hours?"

Bren really didn't like the combing and the washing and the drying; it was bad enough with his hair short. But Mr. O'Reilly had looked great with his braid. One of the girls in Bren's class had long hair, and Mr. O'Reilly had shown them how to do that braid on her. It hadn't looked that difficult, and she had to have a fast way to take care of it, because she went to all those after school activities. Bren would have to ask her how she did her hair.

"I'm sure it'll be okay. The last few times wasn't so bad as before, so maybe I'm growing used to it. Oh, and we learned how to write our name in Ragi. I even know how to write Toby."

Food momentarily forgotten, his mother and Toby looked in wonder at the sheet of paper he unpacked. It was a sheet filled with exotic signs speaking of a world far different than his own, a world of adventure and great wonders.