The years crawled past, and still we were no closer to finding a way back to Earth. Although I had learned to read the strange language of the Bixsi creatures, thanks to Arvid’s insistence that I begin learning to fit in here, I had not come across any books dealing with spacecraft or space exploration. And Aksel, despite all his scientific and engineering knowledge, had zero luck with designing any kind of vehicle using scraps, let alone something that could exit the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the girls were growing up. Jia went from being an irritable, neglected toddler to a sweet, nervous little girl whose face lit up whenever I arrived for our monthly visits. During those times, it was just the two of us, though always under the watchful eye of at least one member of the Bergfalk family. I sang to Jia in Chinese, spoke to her in Finnish and English, and brushed her soft, strawberry-blonde hair. I tried, in just a few short hours, to repair the damage that the Bergfalks had inflicted with their long list of strict rules and rigid expectations.
“It is the Bixsi way,” explained Arvid after his father punished Jia for reading a children’s book full of colorful pictures instead of a dull instructional text. “People of our family’s caste do not waste our time reading fairy tales and fantasy. She is expected to learn how to be useful.”
I was horrified. For a civilization with such advanced technology, it was startling to learn that their social order was based on some inane caste system.
The Bergfalk reign of terror did not end with Jia. I, too, was scolded numerous times. For feeding Jia snacks between meals. For giving her a rag doll to play with which I had sewn myself using scraps of old clothes (“Our children do not play with toys!”). Even for pushing Jia too high on the playground swings.
“For God’s sake, she’s not a baby!” I snapped at Katje.
Katje narrowed her eyes. “Our people do not allow our children to take unnecessary risks!” With that, she order Jia to get off the swing and go find something safer to do.
Ugh! I wished that I could just scoop up Jia in my arms and run away to the mountains, so that she could grow up free and happy like her sister. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t even tell Jia that she had a sister – a funny, energetic and imaginative sister who loved to climb rocks and go fishing in deserted ponds at her dad’s side.
“We need to get Jia out of there.” I told Aksel. “It’s urgent!”
Aksel shook his head. “It’s too soon. We’re not ready. We don’t have a way to escape this planet, remember?”
“Then we can bring her to live here in the quarry.”
Aksel’s face darkened. “That’s insane. Do you really think we can kidnap a little girl and that no one will come searching for her? Or you?”
We argued back and forth until Meiying interrupted us. “I know how we can get back to the Earth place,” she said, tugging Aksel’s shirt.
Aksel looked down at her. “Oh really? And how’s that?”
Meiying broke into a wide grin. “We just use one of the Bixsi people’s ships and fly there.”
The fight drained out of me. I stroked her soft curls. “Fly one of their ships. Any idea where we can find one of those?”
“Yes I do,” said Meiying. “They’re in the place of the sun and the moon.”
“That sounds nice, sweetie,” I said. “I hope we can find such a place soon.”
“I’ll help you look!” Meiying flung out her arms and raced off, pretending to fly a spacecraft.
“You heard her,” I told Aksel. “We have to find the place of the sun and the moon.”
Aksel slipped his arms around me and pulled me close. “Okay, then we’ll start looking right away.”
“And then we’ll rescue Jia. I promise. ”