The closer I looked at Maigan’s model of Andala, the more I was intrigued. I pulled it close to me, to see just how she made it. But nothing about the little globe felt the least bit artificial. I saw no seams, no paint, no ink. In fact, as I held the orb up to the distant light, I’m sure I saw the clouds take on different shadows, until, in the tiny dusk, ruddy haze spirited them away to night. It really did look just as worlds do from out in space. Not to mention that it felt as though it hadn’t any weight, and I couldn’t see what held it up.
“This, this is quite impressive.” I stammered.
“This is Andala.” Mina said to Tani, a broad smile on her face.
“Mmm!” Grinned Tani. “But my Andala is more big.”
“Tani, your globe doesn’t begin to compare to this!”
I held on tight to Maigan’s model. I couldn’t even tear my eyes from it, indeed, it felt like the most precious thing I’d ever touched.
“We are…” Mina said, hovering a finger over the world, “move your hands…”
She tapped the very spot where we stood. But she quivered.
“What do you think this is made of?” Mina whispered to me.
“That’s the thing. I haven’t the least idea. Not a projection, at any rate. It feels like…”
“Like cold air. But then you press into it.”
By now, Tani wanted to have a go, too. I noticed her hand grasp the world away from me, and only then did I realise she’d let go of my waist.
“Marie!” Mina gasped at the sight of me, free beside her in the air.
“This Andala is quite good.” Tani observed, twisting the globe around single-handed, pondering it like an apple she fancied tasting with a bite.
“Apparently this is fine.” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder. Although she’d let me go, I couldn’t move any more freely than before.
“I see her mistake!” Tani shouted, startling the lot of us.
“Mistake!” Said Maigan, now right next to us. Tani shot a surprised glance at her.
“Anaya,” she said, gesturing to the thumbnail sized patch of the globe’s surface which mapped her homeland, “is more small. Too small. You Azu is playing your none sense!” Although Tani spoke in our language, Maigan could well understand her. She pinched her fingers over the surface of the globe, letting a rather nervous Mina free while doing so.
A brief exchange of angry Anatara followed while Tani and Maigan each took the model in their hands and dismissed the other’s foolish ideas. I enjoyed watching them mirror each other’s gestures and condescending looks.
“Who won then?” I asked as they finished. Tani took a moment to come up with her answer.
“We go to Bee and we will see Anaya is more big than this!”
“It looks about right to me. Goodness, you can even see the glimmer on the Aykataliya river.”
“Everything is on purpose by Azu.” Tani grumped. “She knows.”
“Marie.” Said Maigan quietly, as she tapped me on the elbow to take me away from Tani. I felt a gentle sway as she moved me up with her, little Andala in her other hand, toward Kai where it belonged.
“Kariala?” I asked, pointing to Andala’s nearest little sister moon.
Maigan nodded, careful with Andala in her fingers as she righted the world.
“And over there is “Sankarala?”
“Mmm.” She smiled, expecting we should know as much about the neighbourhood.
“But where is Jaramala?” I said, shrugging my shoulders to emphasise the question.
Without looking up, she waved off in Kai’s direction. Sure enough, just behind its rings, I saw the smallest of Kai’s four moons, and more or less as slight as it looks in Andala’s sky.
“How on Earth did you make those rings, I wonder?”
Once she put Andala back in its right place, Maigan pulled me right beside her to see what she was getting at. She traced the line between night and day on her model, the terminator, a good while from us in bright Zuba, where she pointed next. Indeed, she’d got the alignment perfect. Close to Andala’s orb, everything out in space looked quite as it did in reality. But one thing wasn’t there. She pulled us back away from Andala, and went a sixth of the way around Kai. I could tell by how the moons changed. Then, where there was nothing in the air between us whatsoever, she pointed an emphatic finger.
“Zancra.” She said, with a provocative look on her face, like I was meant to be surprised.
“What? I don’t see anything. What’s Zancra, Tani?”
“Azutara.” Shrugged our Ana assistant, a good way below. “Not any thing sense able.”
“Look where you are, Marie.” Said Mina, down there with her. “Would you say that she could be pointing to…”
Right enough, she was. From where I stood, Andala looked the same enticing orb as when we first arrived, desperate for a place to save ourselves. I stared at it, reliving the memory for a moment. The blue circle that got ever bigger until we touched down. Our ship, we left behind out here right where she pointed. Out where the balance between Andala’s gravity and Kai’s would keep it safe. Maigan was quite right, of course.
“Proteus.” She said.
“Yes. Proteus.” I pointed to the same invisible dot, between our heads. “Our ship. We call it Proteus.”
“But how did she see it from this distance?” Mina called from over there, where Andala itself was but a toy.
“Wouldn’t I just love to know.” I said, looking into Maigan’s glowing eyes.
Out beyond the planets and the moons of her model, painted on the walls of the circle shaped room, blue lights glistened against the orange red of Andala’s sun. Sharp blue stars so dazzling that we even have names for them on Earth, hundreds of lightyears away. Alcyone, Maia, Electra, Caleano. The one the Ana call Sahra, the one we call Merope, glowed the brightest of them all, proud and electric far behind where I’d looked before. It really was a little universe in here, a microcosm in the most literal sense I’ve encountered.
And even so, on this scale, how far would our homeworld lie away? I shuddered at the thought of explaining such a thing. But if there was anyone who could understand, it had to be our star builder. She was still watching me once I’d thought all this. Had she to know? How could we lie to her?