2115, New Territories, Australia
Aurora went over her homework in ancient handwriting. She scanned the document on her computer screen and sitting back, checked her watch. Thirty minutes of peace before virtual contact with her instructor. She wondered what criticisms the nerd would make regarding her work and how she would tackle his comments. As far as she was concerned, her weekly assignment of a thousand words in handwriting was perfect. Aurora pushed her chair back. Rising to her feet, she ambled to the kitchen to prepare a snack.
Aurora had high IQ and EQ levels. The authorities had conducted many tests on her. She did not carry any gene mutations caused by the great nuclear disaster of 2050. Upon reaching her thirteenth birthday the previous month, she had earned the approval to study handwriting, a privilege only given to students of high calibre. Trees were scarce – paper more so. The thin notebooks her parents bought for her were used sparingly. She wrote on both sides of the pages, with a pencil first, to allow corrections. When she completed editing her work, she would write in ink, for a bolder appearance on the computer screen, and present it to the instructor.
Bleep, bleep! The alarm jingled through the house. She stuffed the last morsel of her fish-paste and seaweed sandwich in her mouth, ran to the lounge and sat before the big screen. Straight-faced, she waited for Mr Writer to appear.
“Err, Aurora, your homework. The handwriting is fine, the story a bit offshore.”
“What does that mean, Mr Writer? I thought we were already offshore, living on the biggest island in the world.”
“Excuse me, what did you say?”
“Sorry, correction, we are offshore …”
“That’s right. Usage of past tense is redundant. Back to your remark, geographically you’re right, metaphorically your story needs an anchor, rather than drifting in the open seas. Too many feelings, thoughts and ideas, without a plot structure.”
“It’s only a composition on a prompt. Why can’t I talk about my feelings and thoughts? Are they not allowed?”
“They are, since the beginning of the new millennium. So, you’re lucky to be permitted to express them, but that’s not enough.”
“Why not? Why must there be a plot all the time?”
“Because that’s how stories go.”
“I like reading stories. I want to learn all the ancient languages and read the tales in Germanic, Frenchish, and the other old languages.”
“German and French, Aurora. Before you learn other languages, you must strive to express yourself proficiently in Earthlish, your native language. A derivative of ancient English because it happens to be the language spoken here before the great disaster.”
She pursed her lips. “I just want to do something different, occasionally.”
“Free composition is for advanced students, not for beginners. Tell me, how do you know about books in German and French?”
“My mother’s legacy, from her great-great ancestors. I love looking at them.”
“Are they paper books?”
“Yes, some even have pictures.”
“Why doesn’t she hand them over to the library?”
“I guess she thinks they won’t want them, being in foreign languages.”
“Please tell her to do that, immediately, and I won’t report her for keeping ancient manuscripts of historical importance. You know paper books are rare and fragile. They belong to everyone and must be kept in the museum library.”
“Will anyone understand them?”
“We have methods of translating them. Tell your mother to find a good excuse for failing to turn them in.”
A news alert flashed on the screen in large red letters. Mr Writer and Aurora watched the broadcast as the reporter delivered the announcement. “Boat people are seen offshore, ten miles off the old Great Barrier Reef. Refugees are approaching in dozens of boats. Attention all coast guards, on sea and air, encircle them, and bring them ashore for the immigration procedures.” The news flash ended with a jingle.
“Why are they coming here? Where are they from?” she asked.
“They’re probably from the few remaining Pacific Islands. Maybe their water supplies are diminishing or they lack the technology for converting sea-water into drinking water. Perhaps, they feel lonely where they are and want to belong to a bigger society.”
“They probably don’t speak our language. How will they survive?”
“We’ll learn their language and they’ll learn ours. There’s enough room on this island continent, the oldest in the world. We, Earthlings, are social people. The more diverse our society is, the richer our culture will become. Our population is very low. We need more manpower to advance our civilization.”
“I know a few foreign people, but they speak Earthlish and have many children. The Aborigines tell stories about being here before the others and how they could see the great disaster coming.”
“Aborigines are the first inhabitants of what’s left of this continent. I will speak in past tense now since we’re talking about history. The ancient settlers here and everywhere else on Earth loved to hear their own voices, rather than listening to the wisdom of the indigenous cultures. They failed and brought the world to its destruction after the wars of religion. Our founders on this island banned all religion saying the only one worth worshipping is humanity, in its struggle to survive.”
“Why can’t I use the past tense?”
“To encourage you to practise living in the moment and dreaming about the future. We learn about the past and our history, but we don’t live in the past. We only take our lessons from the past.”
“I love history. I like studying it, ” she said her eyes gleaming.
“And you will. There’s no limit to learning as long as you’re willing. This brings me back to your composition. Next week, I want more plot and less rambling. I need a story. Any words for a prompt?”
“Boat people, refugees,” she said, eyes wide open.
Mr Writer thought for a moment. “Castaway, see you next week, Aurora.”