Once Anaxis and his family were back at their home, his parents laced into him.
“What were you thinking, Anaxis?” his mother roared. “Endangering your own life and the future of our whole tribe with that foolish attempt? What are we all supposed to do now? What are we supposed to eat this year?”
“Mom!” Anaxis protested. He turned from her glare to his father. “Dad!”
“I agree with your mother, Anaxis,” said his father. “You’ve made some serious mistakes in the past, but never anything as egregious as this. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I was trying to help,” Anaxis said. “How often do people get hurt, trying to steer the cannar? I thought, with my lens, that I could save them their injuries, could improve…”
“The Hunt has been our way of life for hundreds of years, Anaxis,” said his mother. “It doesn’t need help, or fixing, or improving. When are you going to realize that you’re wasting your time with your experiments and your dreaming?”
“I’m not wasting my time,” Anaxis said. “Would you say that the first people to learn to hunt the cannar like we do now were wasting their time? Wasn’t that an improvement? What of change, what of a future that is easier and better than the past?”
“Do the nima change? Does the wind, or the sun?” his mother retorted.
“Yes, there is proof that the wind does change,” Anaxis answered.
“Don’t get smart with me, Anaxis,” said his mother.
“No one wants to get smart about anything around here, do they?” asked Anaxis. “We all just want to live in the rock and scrape out an existence from the sticks and stones, don’t we? Well I don’t. I think there’s more in store for us than living a step above the animals, Mom.”
“Anaxis, what you did in the valley was brash and foolish,” his father interjected. “You told no one, you acted selfishly, and it cost us dearly. You cannot claim you were hoping to improve anything other than the way people view you. Reckless pride is not something I would think we have instilled in you. It brings me great sadness to know that you are so stubborn and self-interested. I feel like we’ve failed you as parents. That we’ve failed the whole village.”
“No, you’ve raised someone who can innovate, who can think for themselves,” Anaxis said. “Please don’t tell me you’re even more disappointed in me than you already were.”
“Your mistakes have never been so costly,” said his mother.
“So I messed up,” Anaxis said. “I told everyone I’m sorry. But next year, if we have more lenses, if it’s better coordinated…”
“I’m telling you now, there will be no lenses anywhere near the Hunt next year, Anaxis,” said his father. “Or ever again. You need to put that idea to rest.”
“It could help us, though,” Anaxis said. “Any idea has problems at the beginning. I mean, Mom, remember when you started adding brall to your bread recipe? How it burned so badly? Then you refined it. We can refine…”
“A loaf of bread is a very different matter than an entire year’s worth of meat, Anaxis,” his mother interrupted. “The discussion is over.”
“Fine,” said Anaxis. “I don’t even care. What’s more important is what I found out there in the desert. I have to get back…”
“You’re not going anywhere, other than lessons, for a long time,” said his father.
“What do you mean?” Anaxis asked.
“You’re grounded, Anaxis,” said his mother. “Perhaps the freedom we’ve always afforded you has been an error on our part. You’re going to stay close, under our watch. You’re going to the training circle every day. You’re going to condition with your brother and sister. You’re going to accept our way of life if you like it or not.”
“Grounded!” Anaxis wailed. “You can’t! The constellations are changing with the seasons, this is the best time of year to observe!”
“Let the stars go, Anaxis,” said his father. “You have to learn how to survive, first, to learn what’s really important, before you devote any more time to your hobbies. To be a functioning member of this tribe, you have to hunt like our ancestors always have. And you have to be strong. You have to learn to stand up to bullies. You have to deal with the now, you can’t ignore it and retreat into dreaming.”
“But I don’t care about bullying,” Anaxis protested. “I can eat what I scavenge, what grows naturally. I don’t care about the Hunt!”
“Then we’re going to make you care, for your own good,” said his father. “I’m sorry, son, but desert life is hard, and you need to be hardened. Only the strong make it in this world. You have to grow up.”
“I have to grow up? You have to grow up! The whole village has to grow up! You all have to get your heads out of your rears and start moving forward, or we’ll be stuck here forever!”
“That’s enough, Anaxis,” said his mother. “Go to your room.”
“You can’t argue anymore, so you’re sending me to my room? Pathetic.”
“The only pathetic thing around here is a boy your age that can’t hurl a spear, Anaxis,” his mother said coldly. “We’re stronger than you, and so you have to do what we say. There’s your first lesson in the real way of the world.”
Anaxis felt tears filling his eyes, but didn’t want to give his parents or his brother and sister the satisfaction of seeing him cry, so he left immediately for the ladder against the wall that carried him up to his room.
The next day, at lessons, Anaxis didn’t feel like participating. Xara would look to him for the answers he was usually ready with, but he just stared at his desk, silently. He did nothing when Balta and the other bullies threw stones at his head, and didn’t eat a mid-day meal when the class broke.
“Anaxis,” Xara said when the other children had left and the boy hadn’t moved from his spot, “You seem upset.”
“That’s very perceptive of you, Xara,” Anaxis said.
“No need to be sarcastic,” Xara said. “Tell me, go on. What’s upsetting you so much?”
“My stupid family,” Anaxis answered.
“Family is difficult, but you only get one,” Xara said. “And they care for you, even though what they want for you might not be what you want for yourself.”
Anaxis rolled his eyes.
“I understand you found something rather remarkable in the desert while you were away,” Xara said.
“Yeah, well. Who cares?”
“You know I do. Care to tell me about it?”
“It was just a bunch of junk.”
“That’s not what I heard.”
Anaxis made eye contact with his instructor. “It was so bizarre, Xara,” he said. “It was like a ship fell from the sky. There were creatures inside it, and strange artifacts that lit up without fire.”
“That’s very bizarre, indeed,” Xara said.
“How could no one care about such a thing? I just don’t get it. How can I be so different from everyone? I feel like I don’t belong here at all.”
“What were the creatures like?”
“They were almost like you or me, but they were so skinny, and pale, and they didn’t have any hair. And their clothing wasn’t animal hide, it was shiny like glass. What could it possibly have been?”
“I do wonder,” Xara said with wide eyes.
“I just want someone to go back with me, to prove that I saw it, and to find out what it was,” Anaxis said. “Everyone’s so mad at me, though.”
“Not everyone. You wouldn’t even talk to your friend, Mills, today. I know he’d want to hear about it.”
“He just wants to fit in. He says he’s not popular enough to be different. He just wants to keep his head down.”
“We all do what we must to get through this life,” Xara said. She pinched her chin in thought and stared out a window. “What could you possibly have found out there?”
“My brother said it was probably Gnirean,” Anaxis said.
“Gnireans have hair, like us,” Xara said. “I’ve finished my book about their culture. Fascinating stuff.”
“Then what could it have been?”
“Something from outer space, perhaps,” Xara said.
“Outer space? From the stars? From beyond Valor?”
“How? From where?” Anaxis asked excitedly.
“That much I do not know. But I do know that the crash needs further investigation.”
“I know! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone!”
“It’s hard when no one will listen.”
“Tell me about it.”
Xara stepped away from Anaxis’s desk, her long dress sweeping around her as she stalked to the front of the classroom and back.
“Would your parents let you go back if you went with me?” she asked after a while in deep thought.
“To the crash site? No. I’m grounded.”
“Hmmm,” Xara said, stroking her hair. “Would you tell them I took you if we went anyways?”
“Would I tell… No! No way, I promise!”
“Hmmm….” Xara hummed.
“Oh, please, can we go? I don’t care if I get in any more trouble. They could ground me for the rest of my life, all I want to do is go back and investigate!”
“Alright,” Xara said. “Tell you what, let me do some thinking on this. In the meantime, try to suss out if Mills would be interested in going with. Okay?”
“Yes!” Anaxis whooped. “Oh, Xara, that would be amazing!”
“No promises, Anaxis,” his instructor said. “But we can’t let some hard heads squander your brilliance, can we?”
Anaxis was practically, levitating he was so excited.
“I’m sure your parents are wondering where you are right now,” Xara said. “Go on home, and we’ll talk tomorrow, alright?”
“Alright!” Anaxis cried. “Thank you so much, Xara!”
“Think nothing of it,” she said. “Go on now, and keep your head up.”
Anaxis ran from the instruction hut, his heart racing. The sky was blue again, and the air smelled sweet once more.