- Sci-fi comic about ancient things people find in melting icebergs
“Rose-beetles,” said Jana showing her brother a brightly green bug on her little palm, “are called that because they eat roses in the gardens”.
“Oh… I thought it was a may-bug,” replied Orster, surprised. “Yes, the green one, with shining back…”
Jana said nothing and let the bug go.
“I’m releasing it,” intoned the little girl, “and I know it will eat a rose in someone’s garden. Maybe even in the king’s garden. Maybe even the most beautiful rose”.
“And you don’t care?” Orster asked looking his sister in the eye.
“Nope,” Jana nodded and looked away.
They headed back home through the endless hilly meadow, a strawberry sea full of little white flowers. Orster felt like an alien here, in his homeland. Five years ago he left it, as a little kid, when parents sent him to the Column City to get education. Since then all his family worked only to pay his teacher.
When Orster visited them he saw how hard it was, their faces always sad and tired, their hands callused and bloody from endless work. It never got easier. They had to marry off Orster’s elder sister, sell her, in other words. It brought some money to the family, sure, but everyone can see how living with this man kills her every day, her head always bowed, her eyes full of misery and pain. Orster’s younger sister, Jana, is growing up like a wild grass, half starved, neglected because her parents work from dawn to dusk and don’t have a minute to spare for the child.
Orster hated his master for this and everything else. The master was a fat glutton of a man, always greedy, always cruel. And you had to kneel when he spoke to you. How many times Orster wished him a horrible death? How many times he decided to leave?.. He lost the count over years.
Whenever he was about to break down, he heard his mother’s words in his head: “Study, son! You are our future. One day you will be rich and powerful and return to save us all. You’ll buy Tween back from her unhappy marriage and make Jana’s a happy one…”
Dark, angry thoughts were boiling in his mind again blood rushing to his face.
Jana walked several steps ahead of her brother, barefoot. Orster kept his boots on. His feet were tender and weak, just like any city dweller’s now. Another reminder of how alien he’d become to this place.
“Would you like to come with me, Jana?” Asked Orster all of a sudden.
“To the city?” Her eyes widened, brightened up.
“Yes. My master keeps a garden. You can help the gardener tend to it, learn about tending to flowers and growing oranges!” Orster felt tears welling up in his eyes and hope burning so hot in his chest it hurt. There, in the city, he felt even more alien and lonely than here. “And when there’s a holiday we will watch fireworks and dance on the centran square!”
“I’ll come!” exclaimed Jana gaving her brother the biggest, happiest hug.
Parents agreed at once, happy that there was a place and an apprenticeship for Jana in the city, so by the end of the summer Orster was leaving home with his little sister and at the moment he couldn’t be happier.
Jana knew all the stories about Column City by heart, but few of them turned out to be true. The city wasn’t all rich quarters with marble paved streets, pools, palm trees, and marvelous houses. All this existed only at the top of the central hill. Everything else was dirty, ragged, and poor. And not a blade of grass grew between the rough boulders of the common streets. Orster lived there, in the middle of filth and poverty, in a basement under the baker’s house.
But the garden of Orster’s master was a fairytale come to life, almost elvish in its delicate beauty. The gardener was Orster’s friend. He accepted Jana as his apprentice without questions. His name was Chant. Master Chant for his apprentices. They lived in a little hut by his own house at the edge of the garden, in the shade of orange trees.
From now on Orster’s life had brightened up a lot. Seein Jana’s happy smile every day filled his heart with joy and pride.
There were holidays, fireworks, and fruit his little sister treated him with. There was life…
Of all the flowers in the garden roses were Jana’s favourite. One day, when a swarm of rose-beetles had been spotted near Column City, Chant approached the flowers with pesticide spray and stopped there, hesitating, unwilling to hurt their delicate beauty with poison.
“Master Chant,” said Jana coming up to him. “Don’t spray them. I’ll tell rose-beetles to stay away”.
“I’ve got no time for childish games,” frowned the gardener.
“Just look,” the girl pointed at the lonely rose-beetle buzzing around the bushes and murmured something to herself. The pest flew away as he was commanded to, as well as a hundred of others, from all over the garden.
The gardener, shocked, dropped his spray bottle on the ground…
The swarm attacked the city gardens that day full force, chewing on and mutilating everything green sprayed or not sprayed with poison.
The next day Chant’s master was selling roses for their weight in gold… Jana’s gift didn’t remain a secret for long. Soon, the word of her reached the king and, curious, he sent for the little girl.
What king demands king gets. Royal knights came for Jana and took her away. Neither Orster, nor even his master couldn’t do anything about it.
For Orster, even the grief was not allowed. He was told to be happy for his sister and give all hope to ever see her again.
King’s palace became Jana’s golden cage for many years. Forbidden to leave its walls she watched every holiday from her high window as a distant show of faint music and distant fireworks. She could dance, guided by a teacher, but not allowed to happily forget herself in motion and music. There were rules, masks, and lies everywhere. And her brother… she saw Orster only once when he sneaked as close to the castle wall as he could and waved to her. He was soon seised and dragged away by the guards. Jana hasn’t seen him since.
The girl’s magical gift turned the king’s gardens into a world famous marvel. She made roses change color and shape, smell and height as she wished. And no beetle ever touched their gentle petals. Soon, the Column City was renamed into a Rose City by the king. Ten years passed. A little girl locked up in a golden cage grew up and turned into a beautiful, but very sad young lady.
All the servants loved Jana and were her good friends. The librarian tried to cheer her up by telling her the most kind and beautiful legends he knew. The astrologist told her about the stars and how to read one’s destiny in them. A young guard fell in love with her, but Jana still saw him as a friend. He brought her a secret letter once. “My dear,” he said, “I beg you to burn the letter after you’ve read it or the king will destroy us both”. When Jana unwrapped the scroll, a tiny emerald rose-beetle flew out of it and, buzzing, landed on the girl’s palm.
“Fly, away, little bug,” she commanded as usual, but the bug didn’t even stir. Strange...
Jana read the letter. “I created a lifelike thing out of the living metal and emerald dust, a tiny machine sitting right now on your palm, indifferent your magic. I learned a lot in these ten years, Jana. Tonight I’m taking you home.
Your brother Orster”.
This night, right after the sunset, Jana heard a loud buzzing behind her window, as if there were thousand of bugs trying to get it. The next moment a young man had jumped inside the room. Orster. He grew up and changed a lot, but he still was Jana’s dear brother. She threw herself into his arms and gave him the biggest hug.
“Let’s go home, sis,” said Orster taking her by the hand and heading straight to the open window.
“But I can’t! The tower is so high!” exclaimed Jana, scared for her life.
Orster moved the curtain aside and let his sister see she source of the strange buzz: a huge mechanical rose-beetle with an armchair and a steering wheel on its back.
“It’s a machine just like the one I sent you, only bigger,” he explained. “It will fly us home”.
They flew away, just like he promised: home. It was a little castle in the woods where Jana was greeted by her parents and her elder sister Tween. Orster kept all the promises, to everyone. He bought the life they dreamed of and brought Jana back…
As the family reunited the holiday began, with music, dances, and fireworks. Orster left his family in the middle of the celebration, unnoticed.
He stood alone on the small balcony overgrown with ivy, his heart cold, his face cruel. A little emerald bug landed on his palm, buzzing, and sat still waiting for orders.
“I’m releasing it,” intoned Orster, “and I know it will eat a rose in someone’s garden. Maybe even in the king’s garden. Maybe even the most beautiful rose. Or maybe even the king himself...”
Orster smiled vindictively and let the bug go.
The mechanical rose-beetle raised high in the air. Thousands of little emerald machines followed.
“And no one will call Column City the Rose City again!” said Orster, made up his best smile, and walked back into the music and light.
(September, 7, 2003)