Zin Zidel awoke hot and sweaty, tangled in her swaddling robes. She pinned her feathery black hair atop her head and went digging through the cart’s many trunks and baskets for something to busy her moaning stomach. She settled for tough jerky, though there weren’t many choices left.
“Smithlin Caust, do you never sleep?” she called toward the front of the canvas-covered cart.
Smithlin’s cheery red face with its cherry red eyes poked through the veil separating the driver’s bench from the cart’s interior. “Good morning, Zin Zidel. I had hoped to let you sleep a bit more, but this bumpy road had other intentions. No matter. Now that you’re up, come see.” He patted the empty bit of sun-bleached wooden bench beside him and let the veil fall back into place.
“See what?” The long journey and dreamless nights had left her mind sluggish, but her intuition was strong; it was not only a want of food that impelled her gut to speak so forcefully. “It can’t be. Have we arrived at the Arc?!”
Smithlin patted the wooden bench again with his oversized hand. “Come see, Zin Zidel. Come see.”
She crawled to the veil over a tangle of blankets and robes, which were nearly the same thing, and poked her head out. There it was: the arcology. She had only cautiously hoped the tales to be partially true, but in fact everything she had ever heard had downplayed its glory.
It was well past sunrise, but the yellow and red disks of the twin suns were both eclipsed behind the arcology’s bulk. It looked nothing like a village, though she had heard it was like a thousand thousand villages in a single structure. And in purpose, perhaps it had been. But in form, it appeared to her as a mountain. A mountain made by people, smooth and symmetrical and with precise and purposeful angles. There were structures for which she had no name, but which she immediately recognized as novel and distinct and wonderful: great domes, and skyways, and columns, and balconies, and tall minarets.
It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
“Are you alright, Zin Zidel?”
She hadn’t realized the sight had brought her to tears. She wiped her eyes with the back of her wrist. “Shame on you, Smithlin Caust. You did not tell me it would take my breath away.”
He smiled his cheery smile. “Ah, but how could I? I only had words, Zin Zidel, and you would not have believed.” He chuckled. “The first people called it Arc Al’ek Zandira. They named it after one of the great cities of the home world.”
“And the first people built this whole…place? In one generation?”
“Yes, Zin Zidel. Much quicker. Within the first pass after they arrived.”
“And we can make the medicine here, Smithlin Caust? To heal my village?”
“We may hope, Zin Zidel, but we can only know what is known.” He smiled again, but some of the cheer was missing. “But we may still hope.”