TANE LAY ON the top of the hill and gazed up at the twin Moons of Sewan. Below, people from the military base were returning to their domestic cubes for the night.
Just a bit longer, thought Tane. He searched the night sky for signs of a returning ship. Somewhere above, war raged across the star systems. Federated Earth and its ally, the Sewan, fought against the Dark Cloud and its soldiers. His dad was up there, in the thick of the fighting.
‘Come back safe,’ Tane whispered. ‘One day we’ll go home. We’ll go surfing. You promised.’
He heard someone coming. It was Ula, a Sewan girl. Human-like in shape, she had thin fleshy tubes on her back and scalp that waved in the air.
‘Your mother was worried,’ she said. ‘They will be closing the security gates soon.’
There was a flash of light. The air quivered and the earth groaned.
‘A ship!’ cried Tane. Together they ran to the spaceport. Maybe Dad’s home, thought Tane.
But it was a hospital ship. Ambulance craft arrived to take the wounded to nearby medical cubes.
Tane stood, not speaking.
Ula laid a hand gently on his shoulder. ‘You worry your father is among them?’
‘Let us find your mother,’ said Ula. ‘She will know by now if he is.’
They made their way to the domestic cube that Tane shared with his mother.
‘He’s not on board,’ said his mum, hugging Tane. ‘I got a message an hour ago. He’s safe. He’s about to go on patrol.’ She shuddered.
‘It’s okay, Mum. He’ll be okay,’ said Tane. He wished he could believe his own words.
‘I will leave you now,’ said Ula, who was standing at the door.
‘Will I see you tomorrow?’ asked Tane. Of all the humans and Sewans he’d met on this planet, he got on with Ula the best. He’d been surprised at how easy it was to be friends with an alien.
‘Of course,’ she replied. ‘I have something to show you.’
‘What?’ Tane asked.
‘I’m not going to tell you,’ she laughed, knowing it would drive him mad.
When he closed the door, the ground shook as the hospital ship took off, heading back to the war zone.
* * *
‘Where are we going?’ asked Tane for the third time that morning. ‘You’re going to tell me now, right?’
‘No,’ she answered. ‘It’s fun not telling you.’ Ula laughed as he chased her through the base.
Beyond the base lay a forest of strange plants. Many metres high, they had leaves like feathers from a giant bird and flowers that changed colour whenever the breeze moved them. When Tane had first arrived on the planet, he’d wanted to climb them. Ula had stopped him. ‘Do not go near. They are always hungry.’
Today Tane walked carefully through the forest, stepping only where Ula stepped.
‘These plants are guardians,’ said Ula. ‘They look after our sacred ground. That is what I wish to show you.’
The sacred ground was a field of purple reeds that stretched to the horizon. Ula raised the tubes on her head, and from them came a tune. Tane had never heard anything quite so beautiful and sad. As Ula sang, the reeds began to vibrate and filled the air with humming that matched the song. Tane wished the song would never end. When it did, it felt like he was waking from a dream.
‘This is our remembering place,’ said Ula. ‘Each reed represents a life lost to war, a reminder that peace comes at a cost.’
Tane looked out across the reeds and felt very small. ‘Thanks for showing me.’
‘You are welcome, friend Tane,’ she replied.
Together they turned and started back to the base.
They were nearly home when Ula stopped suddenly. ‘Over there,’ she whispered, pointing.
Near the edge of the forest was a dark patch that seemed to suck light from the air.
‘Dark Cloud soldiers?’ gasped Tane.
‘Only one, I think,’ said Ula. ‘It is watching the base. We must let … ’
Suddenly the darkness moved. Tane saw its true form rushing towards them, like an armoured cockroach. It was coming fast, too fast for them to escape.
Tane activated his emergency beacon to signal for help.
Ula didn’t run. Instead, she began to sing, but the noise that came out of her tubes was harsh. It made Tane feel sick. The soldier slowed as if he were trying to run through water.
‘Run, Tane!’ cried Ula.
But Tane knew Ula wouldn’t be able to hold off the soldier long enough for help to arrive. Tane grabbed a stone.
‘That won’t stop it,’ gasped Ula, trying to keep her song going.
But Tane had a plan. He threw the stone, but not at the soldier. It hit one of the guardian plants. The plant thrashed in rage. Vines reached out, searching for whatever had caused it pain. It found the soldier.
Tane and Ula didn’t wait to see what happened. They fled to the base and to safety.
A patrol, sent out in response to Tane’s beacon, found signs of a struggle, a wounded guardian plant, but no trace of the enemy.
‘You did well,’ said the base commander. ‘Brave kids. That was quick thinking from you both.’
Tane’s mother, on the other hand, looked furious, and only after both Ula and Tane promised to be more careful did she start to relax.
Over a lunch of pancakes covered with syrup Tane said to Ula, ‘Tomorrow is Anzac Day. Do you know what that is?’
Ula shook her head.
‘It’s a day when we commemorate those who have fought to keep us free,’ he explained. ‘Like your sacred place.’ His voice shook as he thought about his dad.
Ula nodded. ‘It is a good thing to remember.’
‘Would you like to come to the dawn service?’ he asked. ‘If you can wake up that early,’ he added, grinning.
Ula waved her tubes in indignation. ‘Of course I can, but can you? You sleep so much I am always surprised when I find you awake.’
* * *
Just before the twin Suns of Sewan rose, Tane and Ula made their way to the parade ground. A sleepy and sombre crowd gathered in the darkness. The Last Post was played and wreathes laid.
Ula and Tane climbed the hill and looked back down upon the service.
‘I hope one day your father will return to you,’ said Ula. ‘I have relatives who also fight. I hope I will see them again. But whatever happens I will always remember them. My people sing songs of remembrance. These songs travel amongst the stars, forever and for always.’
Below, now that the service was over, people began to return to their cubes for breakfast.
Ula reached out to Tane. He held her hand. It was smooth and warm.
She began to sing. Tane felt the hairs on his neck stand up. He couldn’t understand her words, but he felt their meaning as they rose like the suns, filling the air around them. She sang of battles fought in the name of freedom, of friends long gone but always remembered.
The song ran through him, filled him and then soared into the sky.