For such an important journey, it was rather tedious.
After all, I just needed to drive in a straight line for a few hours. The ground was flat and even, without any serious bumps or dips. The mountains loomed in the distance, a reminder of the coming obstacles, but for the moment, there was little to be done. I listened to some music during the drive, and let Rudak tap into the channel while he waited in his cabin. Apparently, he found the singing to be “rather dull”, but he enjoyed the strings and percussion.
For the most part, I enjoyed the quiet. It gave me time to think, for my mind to wander. I was so busy for the last few weeks that the gravitas of my situation could barely sink in, and now I could fully appreciate it. I was driving on the surface of an alien world, trillions of miles away from home, while an alien sun shone overhead, all to learn whatever an advanced alien race was hiding.
And I now had an alien for a brother.
That still took some getting used to. I had only known Rudak for a few weeks, and yet I felt more comfortable around him than I did with my own crew. Despite being from two entirely different worlds, he and I could relate to each other, and I didn’t have to hide parts of my true self. I could practically bare my soul to him without judgment, and he could do the same to me. Cultural stigmas on each side were forgotten.
After so long without family, I finally found it again, trillions of miles from where I’d expected.
Eventually, the sun began to set, and I parked the rover. The power would sustain life-support until sunrise, though I had started to breathe in the Mulolowan air. There was no worry of contamination, after all, and I was getting sick of having to wear a suit. The designers back home had tried their best to make it comfortable, but there was only such much they could do.
Hopping out of the airlock, I sat down with my Yixing pot and some leaves I’d managed to get from the greenhouse. I’d already set about to drying and rolling them, and now I began to boil some water.
“What are you doing, sedenbrok?”
Heavy footfalls preceded Rudak’s arrival. Resting on his haunches, he peered down at the pot. It was hard to see his face through the visor, but I imagined he had a curious expression as he studied what I was doing.
I smiled. “I’m making tea, Rudak.”
“It’s a kind of drink, back on Dìqiú. The most popular, actually. It is made by brewing leaves of the tea plant in boiling water, and letting it steep for a short while. You can add other herbs to it, but I prefer just pure tea.”
“Interesting,” Rudak said. “Could I watch you make some?”
“Of course,” I replied. “First, I put the tea leaves in the pot. There are many types of tea leaf, depending on how they’ve been prepared. This is green tea, which is the most popular in China. There’s also white tea, red tea, and pu’er, which each has a different method of preparation.”
Once I did that, I grabbed the kettle and held it up for Rudak to see. Some steam was rising from the top, and I waited for a minute before pouring the water.
“This pot is a Yixing. It can be used to make green tea, but the water must cool a short time before being used. When you let it steep, the clay of the pot absorbs some of the tea, and produces more flavor over time. My family has had this pot for many years, and is very flavorful as a result.”
I poured out the cleaning brew, then dumped it. Rudak seemed puzzled about it, until I explained the reasoning to him. Once that was done, I finally poured myself a cup, and took a sip. It was less astringent than what I was used to, but still good. After so long, it was fantastic to have a proper brew, and I relished in it.
“Could I have some tea?” Rudak asked.
I blinked. “There, well, it’s possible that you could have a reaction…”
“Perhaps,” Rudak admitted. “But it seems less and less likely, if you have not had a reaction to my environment. If the need arises, I can just take some medication in my cabin later.”
I shrugged. “Well… be careful.”
Rudak took off his helmet, his breath visible in the cold air. I poured him a cup, and he gingerly took it between two claws. Holding it up, he sniffed deeply, letting the steam caress his snout. Satisfied, he drained the cup in one motion, then set it down. He rolled his tongue a few times, tasting it.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“Bitter,” he managed to say. “Very, very bitter. Yet… it has a certain quality to it I’ve never tasted before. May I have another?”
I finished my cup, then grinned. “Coming right up.”
Grabbing the pot, I poured another cup for myself, and one for Rudak. For a few minutes, we just drank in silence, while the stars shone overhead. Rudak ended up drinking most of the pot, but I still had enough to satisfy me.
“Though I know you only said it as to hide your intentions from Diplomat, I find the idea of becoming Ktrit’s representative to be… appealing,” Rudak said. “To actually be able to visit Dìqiú…”
“There’s so much I’d want to show you,” I said. “Both big and small. It’s an entire world of new things for you to see and experience. I’d want for you to see the Pyramids of Egypt, or the Moai of Rapa Nui. I’ve shown you the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Grand Canal, but that’s just in China, and even then there’s countless things for you to see. You should see a soccer game, or somebody making an ice sculpture. Every year, millions of people make a pilgrimage to a holy city, and it’s the largest gathering on the planet.”
I put a hand to my head, and sighed. “Words can’t do it justice. The world just is, and you’d need to see it for itself to really understand.”
“I know what you say, sedenbrok,” Rudak said. “Only the Allmother Herself can truly sing of Ktrit. I could only give you the scarcest dreams of the Holy Mountain of Wa, or the Great City of Nulo, where light and darkness meet. There’s this magnificent temple in the southern province of Movon’lo, the biggest on our world. The great stone halls seem to almost reach the heart of all things, and when the Mothers sing… it is almost like being with the Allmother Herself.
He lowered his head. “And yet, you could never be there yourself. You’d be crushed by Ktrit herself, or overheat, even at the Calm Sea.”
“I’d imagine there would have to be a way,” I said. “And if there is, then we’d find it. Maybe I’ll be able to see your temple, someday.”
“And what of your world?” asked Rudak. “I understand that, as one approaches the speed of light, time itself seems to almost stretch. How many years did you experience on your journey here?”
“Five of mine,” I replied. “Approximately forty of yours.”
Rudak chuffed. “A shame. I hoped that, if I did bring my family with me in a larger vessel, I could visit and return… but that would not be possible.”
I frowned. What did he mean by that? Ten years couldn’t be too insurmountable for him, couldn’t it?
“Rudak,” I asked slowly, “how old are you?”
“I’m fairly young,” he replied. “Not absurdly young for a father, but nonetheless… by your standards, I am around seven. If I watch my health, I could reach twenty-five.”
For a few moments, all I could do was gape. Sure, I knew there could be possibilities like this, but to actually experience it was another thing altogether.
Rudak took a step back. “You find that surprising?”
I took a deep breath. “Rudak, I’m thirty-two. If I watch my health, I could reach over a hundred.”
“Thirty-two?” Rudak looked as though he’d hit a wall face-first. “Why, you’re old enough to be my great mothermother! We didn’t even have radio when you were born; I just can’t imagine what it’s like to live that long, let alone a hundred years.”
“Something tells me Diplomat probably lives even longer,” I said. “With such technology, I wouldn’t be surprised if they could improve their bodies.”
“We discussed something like that on my world,” Rudak mused. “If my family agreed, I wouldn’t mind having such treatments, especially if it would let me see your world. But, this is simply a discussion of fancy.”
“So was the idea of ever meeting you,” I retorted.
Rudak hooted. “Perhaps. I must return to my cabin, now, but I would wish to continue this discussion in the morning. In the meantime, you could possibly begin a list of things I should see on your world, if only as a hypothetical exercise.”
With that, he rose and walked back to the cabin. I watched him go, mouth still agape, then slowly rose to my feet. Grabbing my tea set, I returned to my own cabin, and tried to get some sleep.
It was a long night, as I grappled with what he’d told me.