Three levels of ladders later and the two were on the top of the overhang that protected the row of cliff dwellings from heat and sandstorms. There was a small garden, and to the left of that, a cloth covering over what Anaxis had invited Mills to see.
“What do you have for me this time?” Mills asked.
“I’ve been working on it for weeks,” Anaxis said.
He pulled the cloth off a wooden table to reveal a round piece of glass fixed into a metallic holder.
“What is it?” Mills asked, reaching for the glass.
“It’s glass,” Anaxis answered.
“The whole thing?” Mills asked, looking through the glass with wide eyes at Anaxis.
“It’s the biggest piece I’ve made yet,” Anaxis said proudly. “I had to use a bunch of smaller pieces to focus the light to where it got hot enough to melt the sand to form it.”
“Where’d you get the smaller pieces?”
“I found a lightning strike,” said Anaxis. “There was a bunch of glass bits from where it hit, all I had to do was get them out of the sand.”
“Wow,” Mills said, looking through the glass at the desert landscape stretching out around the village.
“Careful,” Anaxis said. “It’s pretty fragile.”
“I bet,” Mills said, setting the glass back down carefully. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I’m going to use it in the Hunt,” Anaxis answered.
“Watch,” Anaxis said. He picked up the glass and angled it about in the sunlight, until he captured the rays just right to where they were focused in a bright spot on the ground below. “See that bright spot?”
“I’m going to steer the cannar with it.”
“How are you going to do that?”
Anaxis directed the light into Mills eyes. Mills grunted, held up his hand to block the rays, and looked away.
“Hey, what are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing wants bright light in its eyes,” Anaxis said. “I’m going to coerce the herd toward the hunters with it. Prove to everyone that thinking and reading and science is good for something.”
“That’s pretty neat,” Mills said. “Have you told your parents about it?”
“No, I want to surprise them,” said Anaxis. He put the glass back down. “I can’t wait to see the look on my father’s face when I make the Hunt ten times easier.”
“I hope it works,” Mills said.
“No harm in trying,” Anaxis said.
Just then, the voice of Mills’s mother came gently on the breeze, calling him home.
“That’d be my mom,” Mills said. “I’ve got to go.”
“Okay,” Anaxis said. “See you tomorrow at lessons?”
“As always,” Mills said. “Later, Anax.”
“See ya,” Anaxis said as Mills disappeared down the ladder.
Anaxis worked for a while longer with his lens, making sure the metal bindings were fast and smoothing it as best he could with a shearstone. When he heard his parents get home, he covered the lens back over with the cloth and descended into the house.
“Who’s that?” his mother, Jora, asked as Anaxis came into the main chamber.
“Looks like Anax,” said his father, Valaxis.
“Hi, Mom, hi, Dad,” Anaxis said.
“Where’d the fruit go?” asked his mother.
“Illox put it up on the shelf,” Anaxis said. “She said Mills and I should save it for people who do something.”
“That wasn’t very nice of her,” said his father. He took the fruit down and tossed a piece to Anaxis. “Where is she now?”
“She went to the training circle,” Anaxis said.
“Why didn’t you go with her?” asked his mother.
“Mills was here. I wanted to show him something,” answered Anaxis.
“The Hunt is nearly upon us, Anaxis,” his mother said. “Have you done anything to prepare?”
“You’ll see,” Anaxis answered with a coy smile. “It’s a surprise, but you’ll see!”
“Have you done any training, is what I meant?” his mother asked.
“You’re going to make a fool of yourself,” his mother said. “Anaxis, when are you going to grow up?”
“I’m growing every day,” Anaxis said. “Like everyone my age.”
“You know what your mother means,” said his father. “You’ve got a responsibility to your family and to the village.”
“The village is a bunch of jerks,” Anaxis said. “Sorry, but it’s true.”
“What happened to your face?” his mother asked. She came closer to him to examine the black eye that was developing. “Did you get into another fight?”
“I didn’t get into it, it came to me,” Anaxis answered. “Stupid Balta again.”
“Did you get any good punches in?” his father asked.
“No,” Anaxis answered.
“Son, you’ve got to stick up for yourself.”
“Why? Why should I prove myself to those idiots?”
“We’re all we have out here in the desert,” said Valaxis. “Like it or not, there’s no one else to prove yourself to.”
“I get the best marks in class. I can write and read better than anyone. Doesn’t that count for anything?” asked Anaxis.
“We’re proud of you for that,” said his mother, “But you know as well as we do that reading and writing won’t keep us alive. We’ve got a very thin margin of survival we’re working with, all the time. Maybe in another place, in another time, all your dreaming would help, but right now, it’s not doing anyone any good. That’s why you’re picked on.”
“Someone’s got to dream, as you put it, to make sure we’re not stuck out here in the desert living like pitegs for the rest of our existence,” Anaxis said. “Someone’s got to move us forward, don’t they?”
“You keep talking like that while we get your food and clothe you,” said his mother. “It’s so frustrating sometimes, when I see how well your sister and your brother do…”
“Sorry I’m such a constant disappointment, Mom,” Anaxis said.
“Don’t talk like that,” said his father. “You know we both care about you very much, and only want what’s best for you.”
“You know, even though everyone treats me like crap, I only want what’s best for them, too, can’t you see that? There’s more to life than hunting and eating. Any animal can do that.”
“Enough, Anaxis,” said his mother. “We’re only animals. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
“You can study and imagine all you want, son,” said Valaxis. “But you have to survive, too. That comes first.”
“Okay, okay,” Anaxis said. “Whatever. I don’t want to have this conversation for the millionth time. But I’m not wrong. You’ll both see one day. One day soon.”
“I’m going to the training circle to meet Illox and Caraxis,” said Jora. “I want you to come with me.”
“But I was going to…”
“Let me rephrase that: you’re coming with me. Get your boots and your spear.”
Anaxis looked to his father for support, but found none.
“Go with your mother,” he said.
Anaxis huffed and spit the pit from his fruit into the fire. “I swear,” he said.
“Of course you do,” said his mother. “Get your boots.”