keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 72: Brown 76
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 71: Slade 72
Growing up and learning to read also meant spending time with other sprites his own age. Derek had to remind himself that they were not stupid. He had probably thirty years of learning, including a lot of what he would say were college level studies behind him, even if he was in a nine year old body; some of them were quite intelligent for their age. One was quite adept at reading the strange script in which the sprite language was written, and another could speak spritish better than English.
Learning spritish was, perhaps not surprisingly, the one thing at which Derek did not excel. His parents had never spoken the language around him, and had discouraged his grandparents from doing so; it seemed that they did not expect he would be able to study the language when he was old enough, but that things had changed such that it had become possible. Other students were already speaking it fairly proficiently, having mastered a fundamental vocabulary and syntax which eluded him. Some of the phonemes were difficult, unfamiliar to his mouth, and so hard to pronounce accurately. In contrast, he knew more math than was known in this world, more science than would be discovered for centuries, and had a better grasp of the human English language that had become the common speech of the land than some of his teachers. He was physically ahead of normal, having been exercising diligently since before most of his peers had figured out what arms and legs were for. None of that mattered in these classes; he had a lot of catching up to do to tackle the subject.
It struck him with a bit of irony that he was probably viewed as the dumb jock in this world. He was strong and agile, but behind everyone else in spritish studies; and nothing of his vast knowledge of technology would have been useful here even if he could make them understand it.
It was also frustrating because, as it was with listening to his father tell the tales of Tonathel, learning the language was not the end but the means. He wished to read the writings, to understand the faith of these people, and to find out what lessons he could draw from their history which would help him deliver them. This, he realized, made the entire task more difficult. To his peers, learning the language was the goal, and they counted themselves successful for each step forward in this. For him, learning the language was all preliminary, and he could not consider himself successful until he could actually read the texts. This difference in outlook meant that most of his peers (save for a few who were having more trouble learning the language than Derek) were usually excited and pleased with their progress, while he was usually discouraged even when he reached the same milestones. It was almost beyond argument that he would have been a happier child had he accepted the small victories that marked the progress he was making. Yet such accomplishments had the character of building blocks, of steps in the journey, and he could not find it within himself to be happy about taking the next step when the goal still seemed so distant.
Over the months he realized that there were new students in the class, but the class wasn't getting larger. This gave him another cause for concern. He paid closer attention to who was leaving and who was staying, and determined that the poorer students tended to vanish from the class. This was a subjective judgment, certainly, because as far as he knew there were no grades, no tests, no evaluations. Yet it was clear that the students he always recognized as the more adept were all still here, and most of those who had had difficulty were gone. It made him wonder whether they had somehow failed out of the course. He didn't know you could do that. He reminded himself that he still didn't know whether you could do that; but the evidence was compelling. The better students continued, and the less capable were weeded out.
He was going to have to work harder at this. Reading the writings, whatever they contained, had become important to him; he needed to be successful enough that they would allow him to continue, to get that far. Most of those who remained were in one way or another better than he--better pronunciation, better vocabulary, better syntax. He often found himself struggling to keep up with the others; the possibility that he could be dropped for failure gave him more determination to succeed.
Being with peers wasn't all study, though. There was also play, and rather competitive play. Derek had always disliked sports; but now he could see that this was because he had never been very good at them. In the flying games that dominated sprite play, he was one of the best--at least, at those things at which boys were good; he was again struck by the difference between boys and girls in flight, and found himself considering how the wing structures might be involved.
Boys enjoyed doing powerdives. There was a lake near the cave and clearing that served as schoolhouse (it was probably not much more than a pond, really, but was quite large in sprite terms), and a lot of flying practice was done here. It was generally thought that if you fell in the water (as many did quite frequently) it was easier to pull you out than it would be to fix you if you plunged to the ground. One game involved powerdiving toward the water, then doing a powerstop into a forward glide with your feet resting on the surface, to see how far you could ski across it before you started to sink. It was a challenging game. It was possible to push yourself down so fast that you couldn't stop. Girls had this problem more often than boys, as their wings often would fail when they attempted to flip around and change direction. This inevitably led to them plunging into the water, to peals of laughter from the others (particularly the boys) while friends rushed to pull them out. Fast starts and stops, sharp high-speed turns, and other powerful maneuvers were the forte of the boys.
Girls, meanwhile, seemed to have far more grace in their movements. Derek had noticed that his mother could hover effortlessly. Many of his female peers could similarly hold position in the air as if they weren't even thinking about it; he could not, and knew no boy who could. Also impressive was the girls' ability to do a backover, to go from flying forward to looping upward in a sort of horseshoe until in a moment they were going the other direction and gliding on their backs. Boys frequently got dunked attempting to do this; the best any of them could do consistently was a full loop--staying on their backs didn't seem to be in their repertoire. Watching this as closely as he could, Derek realized that girls' wings could curve almost inside out, creating pockets on what would normally be the top side. Boys couldn't do this, or at least he couldn't find a way to do it and none of the other boys seemed able to master the trick. He recognized that this difference probably accounted for the other. If girl wings were designed to be more flexible in this regard, to turn inside out so they could fly upside down and backwards and hover in place, they would be holding their shape by strength of muscle, and so more prone to give when overly stressed. Boys, on the other hand, must have more bone and cartilage giving shape to their wings. This meant they couldn't bend and twist them to the same degree as girls; but it also meant that the wings were more solid and less likely to give under stress.
Still, there were many things that girls and boys did equally well, even if they used different strengths to do them. One of the most fun to watch was what Derek called a corkscrew (the others adopted the name, as they didn't have a good word for it, even though they didn't understand what a corkscrew was; the spritish word seemed to be some form of the word spin which didn't translate well). This took a sharp turn, called a wingover, and extended it by tucking one wing completely inside and spiraling downward on the extended wing. It was dizzying. Derek remembered, vaguely, that ballerinas and figure skaters always tried to snap their heads around at the last minute, so that they wouldn't see the world rushing in circles as they spun, and found that as he mastered this technique he got less dizzy.
There were older kids around who also played at their lake. Derek sometimes watched these, and realized that they did the same kinds of tricks but strung them together into what he decided to call routines. They most reminded him of the floor routines done by gymnasts, in that they strung together a series of tricks in a way that was both aesthetically enjoyable and physically challenging, so that those who knew what it took to do what they did would be impressed, and those who didn't fly as well would still enjoy watching. It was also, he realized, like what was once called break dancing; he'd seen this in a few movies, although he'd never seen anyone do it live. In the same way as that, these sprites were performing a dance that was impressive because it was both beautiful and challenging.
Sometimes they danced together; and as Derek watched this, he began to understand why girls' wings were designed to let them fly on their backs. It was beautiful, alluring. He reminded himself that he was still only nine, and shouldn't know things like that; but he had been twelve once, and he remembered. In a way, he couldn't help liking girls. He somehow suspected that the other boys with whom he played also liked girls, but for some reason no one ever admitted this.
He also suspected that the girls liked the boys. One in particular kept calling him, specifically, to watch her fly; and he liked watching her. She was very good for eight years old, he thought, already graceful and skilled. He particularly looked for her when he came with the boys, and was always pleased to find her there. All the students learning to read were boys; he couldn't see a reason for this. He realized that years ago he would have thought it unfair that he was forced to study something they weren't; now he saw the disparity in the other direction, that they were excluded from something permitted to him. He wondered which way the girls felt about it. Did they feel lucky that they didn't have to struggle with spritish script and language? Or did they feel excluded?
Probably they felt both ways, he thought. Some probably felt both ways at once, or at least one way one day and the other the next. Some probably would not have stayed with the course even had they been permitted, washed out with the less capable of the boys. Some probably would have excelled--girls, he remembered, were generally capable linguists, more adept on average than boys, so the sprites were probably training the wrong children in these skills. (Of course, that was based on what he knew of humans; he often assumed that sprites were the same, but for the ways in which he knew them to be different. This was not logical, but it more often than not proved to be correct.)
He wondered most how one girl in particular felt about it, one girl who seemed to take more interest in him than in the other boys, one girl who flew well and liked to sit next to him and talk about things that didn't matter; a girl who called herself Dearie, but whose name was Borellen Terria Condira.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #186: Worlds Change. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: