In The Lair of the Draca (Book 2)-- Prologue: Tremor

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Mother, I miss you. I miss you more than you will ever know.

Ziuta's wide eyes were open. They took in the darkness of this new place that was Joo-Lee's room, lingering over the lovely mirror that hung over their canopied bed; the tall, burnished dresser upon which rested brushes, bottles, and tiny jars of sweet-smelling things; the belly-shaped bowl cradling a single, nectarine-hued Creeper (Joo-Lee called it a "feesh") swimming round and round in a state of perpetual boredom; and the prong-eared animal that crouched at the edge of Joo-Lee's bed, watching the 'feesh' with lust in its eyes. That thing was called a 'cat'. Ziuta had stroked it a few times, and it was soft, but she wasn't sure she liked the him. What she really wanted was to hurl her arms around her best animal friend, a calf from her mother-planet Kiwa, whom she'd named Xuqa. Somehow, though, Ziuta did not think there was any room for cattle on this enigmatic craft. Joo-Lee called it their 'sheep', the U.S.S.F. Celestial.

And there were other things in Joo-Lee's room. Charming things, odd things. Objects which she never could have conceived of before. This place was almost like a palace in the stories of the Ancients! If only Deroaka were here, the two of them could giggle and explore-- but there was no Deroaka. Not here.

Not anymore.

Ziuta sat up quietly, trying not to rouse her sleeping friend. What was this thing she slept on...? A 'bed'! That was it. It was higher off the ground than the traditional sleeping mats used by her people, the Nasa'a, and so fleecy that at first Ziuta had scrambled out of the covers and screamed. She'd been afraid she would sink into all that pink softness and drown, and Joo-Lee had laughed and laughed. Ziuta had not appreciated anything funny about the situation. What kind of people were these that they needed such high sleeping places and 'pillows' to rest the head? Were they royalty? Did they think that sleeping near the ground was beneath them somehow?

I don't like this place, Mother. I wish you hadn't left me. I wish you were here! To hold me-- to love me.

But who would love her in this place? And would she ever learn to speak the language of these people? She didn't think so. It was lazy-sounding and ugly to Ziuta's sharp little ears. Still, she had picked up a few phrases.

Ziuta stared at the wall. It had a huge, flat panel that was blank for the moment, except for a digital read-out that Joo-Lee said told the time of day. Yesterday, she had seen a book for the first time and been fascinated. Each smooth leaf had been filled with odd symbols. Joo-Lee said they were 'letters' and 'numbers'.

"We don't use books much anymore, but you can have that one; it's for third-graders. You have a lot to learn," Joo-Lee had told her the evening before. Ziuta had understood only the words 'letters' and 'learn'. While her auburn-haired friend watched, she had turned the leaves slowly and stared with fascination at the illustrations. There'd been a horse, some odd-looking birds, and a few other creatures that Ziuta did not recognize.

"Xuqa! Xuqa!" she'd said eagerly, pointing at the horse and springing up and down.

"Xuqa?" Joo-Lee had looked at her oddly. "Is that how you people say 'horse'?"

"Xuqa," Ziuta had said helplessly. "Xuqa." She had cradled the book to her chest and wept. Everything around this place made her weep. Joo-Lee had patted her back awkwardly and was silent, as though, to some extent, she understood. Here, Joo-Lee had family and friends. Ziuta had no one.

She smoothed the bed-covers, adjusted the pink sleeping gown she'd been given to wear, and raked her fingers through the tangles of her long, flame-colored hair. Joo-Lee did not wear whorls. She wore her hair in braids. Ziuta decided that she would do the same.

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