"There are a bear and a man riding a Giant Turtle,” a voice rang out early in the morning. Avi could hear the sound through the small window of the borrowed room where his sister still slept. Avi emerged from the house with a still glowing heart from the previous night's festivities. He let Carina sleep on. Avi met Bhoora and Rachit at the beach. They looked like they had not experienced the same joyful night as Avi and were eager to escape their floating turtle boat.
The islanders brought Rachit some breakfast and gave him a place to sit in the city square. Bhoora wandered down the beach, munching on what he could find on the tiny isle, followed by a dozen giggling children.
“I should have taken the faster route,” Rachit said as he stuffed his breakfast into his mouth. “That turtle had one speed, ‘snooze cruise.’” Avi laughed at Rachit’s words. “I thought Bhoora would wear a hole in the shell for all his pacing back and forth.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t like to be away from me,” Avi said.
“And apparently he doesn’t like to ride on the back of a giant turtle who travels the speed of driftwood.”
“Well, you don’t have to ride Rumble anymore. There’s a guy here who has a boat. He offered to take us to Tamesh city,” Avi said, hoping the news would cheer his cheeky friend.
“Just when I was getting fond of the turtle shell express,” Rachit said, sliding a fist full of water chestnuts into his mouth. “I guess you decided not to go after Zariah?”
“I—” Avi tried. The emotion was still too raw to discuss. Instead, he shrugged.
“Ok,” Rachit said. He was good at giving space when space was needed. “I think I’m going to need to take a nap.”
After he had finished his breakfast Avi lead Rachit to the home where he and his sister had spent the night. Carina was still sleeping. When Rachit reached Avi’s borrowed bed, he hit the pillow and was snoring in seconds.
The following days held celebrations, much like those enjoyed their first night. Carina and Rachit bickered like always, but Avi felt free on the island. He could imagine himself staying in a place like this, except it was missing something. Missing someone. He knew he couldn't stay forever, but he was happy there for the four days they made the island their home. As time passed, Rachit was increasingly grumpy, and Carina was still oblivious to the effect she was having on her uncle. On their final night, they enjoyed the Sabbath broadcast with the others from Jazira. Avi and Carina found a place on the beach to watch and listen to the borealis skies. The aurora cast across the clouded heavens in colorful array as the voice of the emperor invited them into a dreamy eagerness for the coming festival in the capital. They slept on the beach that night and prepared to leave the next morning.
After saying their goodbyes to Jazira, Avi, Rachit, and Carina climbed into the powered boat that belonged to one islander. Bhoora was the last in and obviously too large for the small craft. The grizzly unbalanced the vessel so badly that it took a few minutes to figure out where he should lay to avoid capsizing the boat. The four humans moved aft. With them seated in the stern, the boat could balance Bhoora's weight as long as he lay still amidship.
The boat splashed through the water as the engine roared forward. The spray that caught the wind cooled the breeze as the vessel sped toward its destination. The dolphins had been fast, but the boat was faster. In a matter of minutes, the distant shore came into sight. Another span and they were turning to follow the lake’s coastline north. Carina interviewed Jerry, the boat owner, about its propulsion system. Avi watched the shoreline closely, believing that he might spot Zariah. He never did.
“How will we get to Tamesh City in a boat?” Avi shouted over the sound of the motor.
“Tamesh City sits on the Zargus River, which flows from this lake. We’ll take the river all the way there.” Rachit explained. The boat bounced rhythmically as it turned into the headwind. Avi, who was leaning on the side railing, felt like he could fly.
The mouth of the river was as wide as the island they had just come from. The engine decelerated as the driver crossed from the lake to the river. “Here’s where it gets fun!” he shouted as he throttled back up. Now the boat motor worked with the current of the river, which increased their speed substantially. Avi gripped the railing tight as the boat slid serpentine following the curves and bends of the waterway. Bhoora groaned with the shifting momentum. Maybe he preferred Rumble the turtle after all.
As they zoomed with blurring speed, Avi noticed that the scenery was rapidly changing. What had been tall wood forest was now transitioning into shorter trees. Their branches hung heavy with all kinds of fruits. Among the sweet trees were people plucking basketfuls of bright-colored harvest. Some people waved as they sped by.
“They’re amazing,” Avi said, over the motorboat. “These fruit breeds, I’ve never seen before.”
“The Million Acre Orchard of Tamesh City,” Rachit said. “It's legendary!”
“Oh!” Avi said, not taking his eyes off of the rows of fruit-laden branches. “This is the million-acre orchard?”
“Look at all the frugivores,” Carina said.
“What’s a frugivore?” Avi asked.
“Well, there's a budgerigar, and over there is a group of brotegeris,” she looked around before spotting more. “Oh, wow. There's a Maned wolf. Those came close to extinction in Old Earth.”
“I mean,” Avi interrupted her lecture. “What makes them frugivores?”
“Oh,” Carina said. “They eat only, or predominately fruit,” Carina responded. The orchard was obviously an attraction for more than just people. They watched the plant and animal life with growing fascination as they rushed along the river.
Everyone in the Tamesh province had heard of the Million Acre Orchard. There were songs written about it, and travelers came from all over the world to visit. No tree in the orchard was alike. Every tree bears a unique fruit. The orchards took over four hundred years to cultivate according to the legends. Avi felt like he was in a dream. To see them with his own eyes was an absolute treat. With a smile, he said, “I'm getting hungry.”