What could she do now? Where would she go? These were the questions running through Sara’s mind as she gazed over the main marketplace on NVida 7, the space station she had inadvertently landed on while running from Vesley9. Less then twenty-four hours before she had woken up in the medward after having fainted from low oxygen in the cargo hold of a spaceship. Just hours before she had been released and given a tiny room with barely room to move around the bed, mini-bathroom, and stove area. She had also been given a credit chip with a small allowance to fill her small closet. Sara knew all this was an attempt to keep her nearby so that they could learn about the “human” from Vesley9. They had no records of her so they assumed she had somehow been raised outside of human space. They thought she may have information they didn’t on many of their alien allies and the humans hoped to get that information from her. What was that human saying? “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Yes, she knew that’s what they were doing but they had miscalculated. The foolish humans thought she was human, albeit a short petite version. She was not. She was Vesley, part of a race known for its isolationist ways, a species that let no non-Veslean past Vesley9, the outpost designed for trade and commerce. Humans and other species knew little or nothing beyond what the Veslean royal family allowed in news reels. Ones like the one playing below about the pending engagement and marriage of the Crown Princess to a Baron. The names were mispronounced, the rest merely speculation. She had hoped staying in an Earth outpost would keep her from hearing the news from Vesley but if how long they devoted to theorizing on the wedding was any indication the humans were fascinated by what they didn’t know. The reminder of what she had lost, what she could never return to, was nearly a physical pain. Vesley was over for her, but what could she do now?
Not in the mood to hear more about the wedding, Sara walked down from the near catwalk above the marketplace and left through the closest corridor out. Agitated by the reminder of home and what she could never return to, she wandered aimlessly through corridors until she heard a child crying and realized the walls were a different color. Following the dimly lit corridor to the crying girl, Sara knelt down to be at eye level with the child. “What is wrong, love? Why are you crying so?” she asked the dark haired child, focusing on hiding her accent so the child would understand.
"I can’t find my mummy,” the girl sobbed, throwing her arms around Sara.
“Why not?” Sara asked, awkwardly wrapping her arms around the girl.
“Mummy works in Red District at Flight Control but I don’t know how to get there.”
“How does your ‘mummy’ usually get there? Or how do you usually get there?”
“Mummy knows all the halls of this station; she’s been here a long time. Duddy is still learning some of the halls. He has to use the touch screens that show the station maps.”
"Where is your ‘duddy’, love? Can he take you?”
"Duddy won’t wake up!!!” the child nearly screamed, her sobs renewing and much louder now.
“Hush, love, how can you explain anything when you can barely speak? Calm down, if you can show me where a touch screen is we can find your ‘mummy’. What do you mean your ‘duddy’ won’t wake up?”
“He’s lying on the couch. We were watching an old cartoon reel he loves and I think is really funny but when it was done we were going to go to the marketplace to check our mail. Mummy’s birthday is coming up and Duddy said he was going to send for something really nice. It should get here soon. When I was ready I went to wake him but he didn’t move!! He won’t speak, he didn’t even tell me to let him sleep like he usually does!”
“Calm down, love, it may be better to get the doctor to see your ‘duddy’ before we talk to your ‘mummy’. He may be able to wake your ‘duddy’ up.”
“No!! Doctors are mean, they always stick things in me and make me hurt! I want Mummy!”
“Then we will see where your ‘mummy’ is. Ah, here is a touch screen. Can you show me how this works?” The child couldn’t show Sara because although the screen was all in English, the language the child was speaking and she had to be over the age when human children first start school she seemed unable to read the screen. However, the screen showed that getting to Flight Control from where they were was as easy as a few corridors and an elevator ride. They got there and the mom called the doctor to check on the dad. Sara left the child in her mother’s hands and wandered over to medward 3. The nurse who had been checking her vitals the day before was on duty and the room was empty so Sara sat down to talk.
“This may seem strange to you, but I just met a child here who can not read. She seemed to be of an age to at least read basic English, as that seemed to be her language, but she was unable to read the simple words on the screen. Is that normal here?” In Vesley children learned to read their main language at two or three years old. The research said human children learn to read at about five or six years old. The girl had seemed to be about eight human years old. She should have been able to read the words on the screen by then.
“Very few children born on stations or even some colonies know how to read. Many adults can’t read beyond what they need to know for their jobs. Those tend to be the people that wind up working in the station utilities, maintenance, and at the docking bays. The station is so big and constantly needing upkeep and attention that there is little time for children to see their parents, let alone learn to read and very few stations are willing to pay a teacher to come on station. Teachers and tutors are expensive and usually prefer to live planet side on the larger colonies where they have many students to pay their bills.”
“If the children rarely see their parents, what do most children do while their parents work?”
“Children generally stay in their quarters and watch the video reels the family has, play games on the screen, are watched by older children, usually in the family or in a large quarters in a district. Most of the older children start learning the parents’ trade as soon as possible or leave the quarters and get in trouble.”
“Is there no area that the children can play in outside their quarters?”
“The station doesn’t allow children under fourteen to wander without supervision. However, there was a room set aside for children to play in. It’s a large play area parents can bring their children to but there too they need supervision by someone over twenty Earth years old if they are under fourteen. Also a part of the gardens was originally built as a child’s play area, with supervision.”
“That seems unfair to the children.”
“This is a working station. Hundreds of passengers travel through here from every planet in the Alliance. We don’t have time to watch the children as well.”
Seeing her point and that another nurse had come in to chat, Sara went to check on the family in the other room. It seemed the dad had suffered a heart attack from years of working nights on the docks and would need hospital care to get him functional again, although manual labor was out of the question anymore.
It seemed sad that children here couldn’t read, Sara thought a little while later as she stood in front of a large window looking out to space. If a child can’t read, it can never have a well paying job, no matter what the culture or species it lived in. The Vesleans had learned that years ago and most adults could read and speak at least three different languages before they were sent into the workforce. However, for poor children of other cultures there were few chances for them to improve themselves without learning to read and learning to read was an expense few working class parents could afford, especially humans. For humans the jobs connected to space travel, research, or politics seemed more interesting than teaching other people’s often unwilling children so teachers got paid a lot and were pretty scarce.
It seemed wrong that so many children were hurt because adults could be so selfish and have so little patience and so little time. So little patience and so little time… Sara stood a little straighter as a thought occurred to her. She had patience and nothing to do with her time for a while. She could also read and write in a number of languages, even if she had trouble speaking some of them. All that mattered here was that she was very fluent in English, the main language of the station. If the children learned to read English they could get better jobs and maybe teach their parents and the adults could get better jobs. Even if the kids only learned the basics they might be able to teach themselves the rest, or at least enough to get into schools or advance higher in jobs. At the very least a school could be a way to get the kids out of their quarters for a while each day and meet friends they never knew were around. Maybe the child’s room would work for a schoolroom somehow or the area in the garden would. She had time and at the moment would be getting free meals with the crew. Yes, being around all those children and helping them learn new things may be just what will make her smile again.
Children had always been her joy, the big thing she shared with her grandmother. At that thought she remembered the last time she had seen her grandmother and Sara glanced at her right hand. It had burned as the old lady had crushed it, mixing the blood from the cuts on both of their hands as she spoke. “Little One, your time has come but you are not yet ready. Your journey has not yet come. Soon you will start your journey to your destiny and one day you will return. When you are ready, it will come. Then everything I have told you will come true. Until then, try to understand what you must learn and know I will not leave you, my true daughter.” Those were the last words her grandmother had ever spoken and her grip loosened and her eyes closed forever. “Oh Grandmother, why did you have to die now?” Sara whispered in a language humans had yet to learn. She tightened her hand into a fist and stared out into space for a moment before relaxing her fist and heading back to the hospital. There was work to be done and time may be short.