THE DEER PARTY
Dreamed 1986/4/10 by Chris Wayan
THE HEX DRIVER
More computer hookups are going in Stanford's main library where I work. But the lines have to go downstairs, and the floor's concrete. Power drills shriek, the bone sound of a dentist eating into your teeth. But the men don't wear earplugs, so it can't be dangerous, right? I stick to my terminal, the only one free, and tough it out. No one else dares to use the new ones in the renovation zone. "Only noise." I think smugly, as I lose my high-frequency hearing.
"Macho!" growls Silky, my anima. Well, yes, but I am so rarely. Can't I push a little?
The new station's smooth and white and modernistic, adjustable everywhere. Ergonomic. I play with all the little cranks and knobs, whee. The height adjuster sure is stiff. I crank harder... CRUNCH! The desk breaks. Two parts fouled. Assembled wrong?
Or was I bad?
I better fix it myself--crawl below, find the screws have little hexagonal holes, not slots. One of the electricians has a toolkit--I ask him and he says "Oh, a hex driver! Yeah, here." It fits perfectly.
As always when I use tools with esoteric male names, I feel a sly liberation: I'm crossing into boyland, the Old Country I never knew. My current body is male, but I was raised outside the role--all sisters in my family. "Hex Driver!" How witchy. The men have their Craft, too. I crank and pry with the key and the desk goes right back together.
"Let's go home," says Silky inside. "Our head hurts." Uh-oh. True. So that's why I'm not macho more often.
Sweet sunset on the hills as I cross the Oval and zip between the red gum trees in the Arboretum. Big owl or a redtail hawk high on the dead tree, watching us squirrels and bikes and cars forty meters below in the blue shadows, like a snorkeler gazing godlike down at fish flowing through gnarled mysterious reefs, doing those incomprehensible fishy things. Business things.
Through downtown, past the Varsity, the dinner-jazz spilling out of the plaza into the street. Back into the trees to Byron Street. I swerve my bike round the dead Fiat we can't get anyone to tow. Marianne strolls out of her cabin holding a soggy burrito and I nearly bump her. She says "The China Syndrome's on tonight. Is it worth seeing?"
"You've never seen that? It's powerful. Don't think I can bear to watch it again though." Seeing Jack Lemmon killed again for trying to stop a meltdown will just upset my stomach. Or am I strong enough for thrillers now too? All that realism, and me with unicorns plastered all over the walls.
"Oh hell, I'll watch a little." Two hours later, I'm watching the credits... Don't get sick at all. It seems more Hollywood than I recall--of course the accident looks small now, after the real ones.
Lay out notebook, pen, spare pen (I'm terrible on pens), and dive into the Other World.
We're on a windy slope in the East Bay. The red smile of the Golden Gate sticks out a foggy tongue. The Cal campanile is below, a steeple of the other men's cult, the cult of information. We're past the Lawrence labs, up where the university fades into rye grass. Before me is the security gate of a long low white factory carved into the ridge. Vast, clean, it's built to impress with sheer scale and blankness. I know these buildings--like mushrooms after a rain, they're heaving up all over Silicon Valley. I am the future, says the White Factory, and I am unknowable. Not a Black Box, like past hi-tech has been to outsiders--a White Box, cleaner, safer--and secreter yet. Whiteness blinds.
I have the old passwords, but are enough of them unchanged so we can get inside and shut the plant down? The rumble's audible now, like a giant gnawing bones. No plant could stand it long; it'll crack like china.
The passes don't work. Syndrome gets desperate. He ducks under the gate. I yell "NO!" and wait for gunfire. Silence. He makes it inside! I follow, not caring if the factory calls the cops--we could use 'em. Jack finds the off switch, but it's locked. A whirring scream like dental drills is rising. "We have to get out of here!" he shouts. "Maybe fifteen minutes before it blows!" He runs out to my car and turns the key and it wheezes. Again. Chug chug wheeze. It won't catch. We're trapped here. He drags me out to the road, waves at cars. "We have to find a phone booth and call The Owners--maybe they can turn it off!"
"What if we can't?" I say, surprised at my own calm.
"At least we'll be away from it when--"
Whoosh! the cars go by. Drivers see a foaming madman and a hippie, and gun their big rich Piedmont cars... We are trapped here.
I think dully "This is what they call an 'idiot plot', isn't it? We have to be idiots for it to go on." I get very slow and angry. "ONE phone call to the new managers and we're in the clear!" I walk back from the road to the security booth and find a phone abandoned down in the corner under the tumbleweed and newspaper, a phone from the days of human guards. Jack was too hysterical to slow down and peer into corners. I make the call. I walk out of the booth, to my car, and try to start it, tapping the pedal, working at it patiently. Way out of tune, but enough juice in the battery to turn over still. I wait for it to catch. No. No, no. No. No. No. Yes. I idle it for a long minute, ease it into first and slowly drive up to Syndrome, open the door, wait while he tries to hurry in, and drive slowly, slowly, softly away, and row me softer home
than oars divide the ocean,
too silver for a seam--
or butterflies, off banks of noon,
leap, plashless as they swim.
Emily Dickinson, "A bird came down the walk"
Morning. I work on a story, "A Valley Near Hope." Rewrite the bar scene, where Aretenon, a furry telekinetic herbivore, tries to flirt with Boats, a bohemian cyborg, by shaking his horn and mane as if she's a unicorn too. Alarms her where he longed to charm. Done it myself so much, it should have been obvious. Yes, the scene's stronger now--it needed more misunderstanding.
Midday, work in the Stanford Library. In the afternoon, all us peons walk up to the Tresidder Cafeteria for a break--Gorey Caine, Belle Orinoco and her shy friend Darryn, a shitworker in the Hoover Institute (not a neofascist Fellow) and Tina Bluesoup. As we pass the clocktower on the way to Claw Fountain, a tall girl in running shorts streaks by us and we all gape. Small torso like a child's, and long deer legs--and shorts so short her ass is bare.
Tina giggles. "You better go ask her for a date, Chris." What? Something shifts inside. If Tina can tease me like this about my sexual hunger it mustn't look so terrible. Or I'm the only one terrified...
Then she adds "Someone should tell her she shouldn't go out like that!" I can't read her face. Twisted. With laughter, offense? Protective? Jealous that men give showoffs such attention?
She had a nice face (too), that deer-girl, but with blinders on: eyes and aura aimed straight ahead. Was she deliberately flashing? Naive? Runner's trance? DOES she know what her other end is up to? Perhaps they're independent.
On Tresidder Terrace, beneath the trees, we sit in the white steel chairs and talk as the sun slants under. Belle has a raw tofu concoction she wants us all to eat. I hate raw tofu. Old stale smelly raw tofu. Unecological to throw food out, so we must be convinced to eat it. Bacteria colony tofu.
Jays raid the sandwiches. I eat big stiff romaine leaves, whole rye bread, sunseeds, yeast broth as always. The jays ignore me since junkfood's available. Gorey cracks jokes and I try to top him. Friends, talk, food, the terrace. Why do I never come along?
Hey wait a minute, I'm bored! I'm doing mental somersaults to amuse my friends, like Gorey, who seems to have no other social skill. If he falls alone in a forest, does he joke?...
I'm not ME. Boring boring. Friends on a pedestal! With a plaque that says "Keep 'em smiling." Not again. I'll go back to eating lunch alone, and dreaming, or reading, or writing. Their terrace is not for me.
Going home I stop by Recycle Books and browse for science fiction. Pull out one called "Dreamrider", by Sandra Miesel. The tale of a shy academic who becomes a shaman--lured in by an otter who keeps recurring in her dreams till she can't say no. An otter with spacetime theories about dreaming that resemble my own! We psychic dreamers are birds hopping from branch to branch of time's tree. How can I resist? I take it up to the front. Their bookbuyer says "Cash or credit?"
"Credit" I say, working the wrinkled bookmark out of my wallet, and stare a second at Recycle's unicorn logo on the top. Huh! I carry around my totem! It's the only part of the slip unbattered, still pristine. Such unconscious care!
He subtracts the price from the long column of buys and sales printed on the back of the mark, and I carefully fold my amulet away.
Read a bit, but the book opens in a sad society and I get blue. Body wants to move and stretch but my brain's too groggy to crank up. I pull the robin's egg quilt over my head and slip through the brainwaves, down into blue.
I'm in a tale of the future, set long after the eco-crash. "Dreamrider", maybe, or Ursula Le Guin's "Always Coming Home." People are cautious now, after disaster.
The story unscrolls on a screen. An interactive novel! First one I've read. It has an unexpected author: the White Factory. Centuries, and still it sprawls like a fogbank atop the Berkeley hills east of Angel Island. Since its former products are useless, the mainbrain has turned writer to earn its current. I'm glad it didn't blow.
"The main events of our tale take place around the world in Africa and Arabia, but first," says the Factory, "I'd like to point out some popular misconceptions about my country, California. First, the Desert was never poisoned, for it was never heavily settled. It's quite livable. Second, there are two deserts: not only the well-known Low Desert, dry since the last Ice Age and a nice place to retire, but also millions of hectares of so-called High Desert, really a grassland, well-watered by snowmelt from the spectacular Sierra and Inyo and White ranges scarping above them."
Decent prose for a machine.
"Almost none of the State's toxic to live in any more--great recovery since the Crash. If you want opportunity, now's the time to come."
This is an ad! They're putting ads in my DREAMS now!
"On the other hand, there's too much sentimentality about Africa. Le Guin's 'Home of Man' characterizes its history as 'an interplay, a color quilt of town and rural ways.' Nonsense. Ancient Africa was an exploitive, violent place, and all the colonial and postcolonial and crash wars have been downplayed in the sentimental glow about earthy good sense and Low Tech roots and so on. Africans are no better than Californians."
HOSTILE ads! Crazy factory. Oh, I see its point: just as rational, high tech, mystical, isolated California went from trendy to toxic (or just maligned, now?) so the love affair with emotional, low tech, practical, social Africa may be just another trend. A subtle insight about post-crash bias for a machine to make. But only a machine'd be dumb enough to open a story with a sociopolitical harangue! The White Factory's got some narrative skills to learn. Is there a fast-forward? No... Ah, never mind--here comes the STORY at last!
Suburban Jerusalem's now a quiet interracial fruit-growing district. Mostly Humans, all of course taking The Drug to mask their wargene, freeing the recessive Gandhigene. But there's a large minority of Otter People, gengineered long ago, breeding true now, sharp-eared humorous fishers, traders, whiskey brewers. "Straight out of the shaman's world in 'Dreamrider'" I think, in a flash of lucidity. But I suppress it. The story, the story!
The Otters live as equals; the land is truly shared. Coexistence in the Mideast at last! How many thousand years? Having two intelligent SPECIES has made lesser divisions seem trivial, I guess. What's to fight about, with no one to call "other"?
The question still has, unfortunately, an answer: the Deer People.
Created just 20 years ago, in the agro labs here, they're the first real genework attempted since the great days before the Crash, when the Otter People were made. The Deer symbolize a renaissance, for some. They're sterile as yet, and their numbers are small; this is their only community.
If you can have a community that's all adult. No more have been grown in a decade; certain Humans are getting scared they'll be squeezed out by new species. The gengineers don't want to provoke violence or backlash legislation; so they've put the Deer on hold. After all, they've got the basic pattern; they can polish it and wait.
But the Deer don't agree! They are grown, they are people, and they have no fawns. Their species may live, the gengineers' way, but what about their feelings? Political agitation comes hard to them, but gingerly, slowly, they formed the Deer Party. They started to talk of the right of all people to raise their own children. The gengineers warned them to lie low a few more years, but, fighting their own shy nature, the Deer have chosen to advertise their plight. I see their letters in the Times, arguing that as timid herbivores they're inherently no threat. Crepuscular as they are, they've been almost invisible, till now, but they're opening their dances and private rituals--so Humans and Otters'll see them as PEOPLE, with a longing for children, family, community.
One day, I'm out walking through the old shabby neighborhood just east of Balboa Park. The sun's easing redly into the Mediterranean like an old human into a bath, and the slight haze filters all glare. Colors loom near.
I see them, four of them, on the street... gliding like fog, hooves ticking faintly; stopping to rear upright, whispering, as eerie as that cave-painting in all the art books when I was little, the staring horned half-man: Le Sorcier. Long arrow-heads, branching antlers, alert alive ears. They bound through the park over the spectral-green lawn polarized in the westering sun. A car passes, and they freeze to taxidermy. Brown statues below the gray stone of the Arafat bust. Dark eyes dart warily. Stubby fingers beside their split front hooves, but not much else has changed. Their ancient grace is intact; brains haven't killed it. Surprise! The humans will have to look elsewhere for the source of their ugliness. We humans, our ugliness, I mean.
I long to speak, but their nervous glances at me show the ancient desire to be an invisible breeze--background--safe. I force my legs on round the corner. I stop, turn back, turn around, turn back, and go round the corner again, heart pounding. They're a brown blur far down the street in the pale green dusk. The world tilts on quickly into night. I follow, afraid I'll scare them, yet curious why they're braving these human streets.
They head for the local shop-street. Straight into a storm of eyes! This is extraordinary Deer behavior. What's drawing them here among the Omnivores? When I turn the corner near the theater, the Deer are gone. I stand beneath the Varsity's marquee, undecided. It's a very old movie palace, with a café in its courtyard, and through the arch and the trellised vines, I hear music. Soft drums and rattles. Strange, most evenings it's amplified jazz. I feel my way through the sinuous entrance bower, to the edge of the patio. It's a Deer ceremony.
Blue satin sheets frame a wood altar-stage. Lit from below, they look like windows into a predawn infinite sky. The stage is dark before the blue. Hooves on wooden drums, and a washboard rustle of rubbed palm-fronds. Soft ring of an antler harp, strings strung every which way, like flightpaths in the branches of time's tree. Or neurons in a gengineered brain.
Flashlight beams crack on and sweep the courtyard in hungry circles, fast as firelight. Two figures leap from the dark. A wild story-dance begins in white tableaux, all stroboscopic hints. The gray-white stag and the red doe build a pas-de-deux of scary intensity. Each move has the abandon of orgasm, panic, death-spasm. I'm in a cold sweat.
Try to calm down, I tell myself. Watch their technique!
What body separation! Maybe that's their magic. Each muscle has a life of its own. A world-class ballerina might match them--these beginners improvising a tradition. Instinct! Wild deer had to have this grace--living on perpetual alert, blending into the windsway of leaves and shadows by moving only what must be moved, doing only what must be done. Just the opposite of Humans, who move their bodies in one piece, saying I Am, stamping their prints on the eye, memory, world.
The Deer People deserve to be; we need them. They need to learn to teach, and we need to learn to learn.
"Are you saying this is how the Deer feel about Humans? But why do I feel so... "
"They are not Human, or Otter. They are... the other species."
"WHAT other species? And stop using italics like it's some Dark Secret--you're not cranking out Gothics, even if you are a factory. Besides, your italics print abominably."
One comes forward and walks by me. A flashlight blast shows me a leathery face whorled like a fingertip--gaunt, strong, frightening: Human.
"You might call them... Wolves."
"But they're Human. Just..."
"To you. They seem Otter--to Otters. Already some are born as Deer. In the power of these rites is the Mark of the Wolf."
"Oh, cut the Gothic! 'Mark of the Wolf'! Just gimme the facts."
"YOU ask ME for facts?" prints the White Factory. "After knocking my preface? Your bigotry's as thick as your primate skull. I can coexist with organics, why can't you accept us?" A fifty-microsecond pause. "Oh, hell, facts, then! In decent prose--for a machine.
"The Lone Wolves were born when thinking was. They'll appear as long as self-aware beings roam this world. They link us Talking Beasts with all the others. They can be known to all times, all cultures, all species, by the fact that they function as PRIESTS."
The printout window spreads up my visual field; the dance is getting squeezed. "Priests"! Damn program. "Check your dictionary! Priests, wolves, I'm getting random terms!" Talk about garbage out!
"No error. Priest, shaman, prophet, spirit guide. All tribes in history agree: shamans are a separate race. I suppose YOU want references."
"No no, I believe you." I blurt, but it's too late; scholarly citations swarm up my visual field like a poked anthill, and I'm pushed outside the story, looking at print again. Oh, I asked for this, getting snotty with an AI. Factory's revenge! The screen blurs into... my notebook, beside my bed, dawnlit.
I take a breath, hanging onto the dream, and reach for the pen, my arm cringing in the cold air. I write the dream down fast (still takes an hour), then scrawl a sudden, insistent guess--
|The Deer People's blue antler dances and political protests = my "horniness" protesting it's like that sexy runner Tina disapproved of. Are horny people second class? It also echoes that bar scene I'm writing for A Valley Near Hope, where Aretenon, who looks much like a Deer Person, just confuses the cyborg girl he's trying to flirt with.||Maybe my particular horniness alarms women who expect a human courtship style. I seem odd and animal--but my deerlike history has made my body language different.||I don't get that "Shaman = other species = priest = wolf" business, though. I write dreamstories, I even have some psychic dreams, maybe, but I'm not a shaman!|
At work, a postcard appears in my box. A book's being held for me at the loan desk, "as per my request".
I didn't request it.
The request has my signature.
It's not my hand.
I go to the desk. The book is "The Language of the Birds." About humans and animals talking. About shamans.
I open it at random and get something called Medatia's Story: "Shamans are a separate species. They live in the spiritual houses of all animals, including humans, and take their forms; but they are their own breed. Shamans are the priests, the messengers who link all the others."
I close it, disturbed, and go back to my desk. The book looks at me. I crack it open again. "Sioux Metamorphoses":
With powers you know nothing about
I made them come to life.
With powers you cannot understand
I made them walk.
UNICORN TAG is a set of dreams of hoofed animal teachers who dragged me (kicking and screaming!) past simple dreamwork into shamanism. 1: The Deer Party 2: Ariane's Honeymoon 3: Everest Marathon 4: Who'll Be My Love? 5: Dreamrider 6: Half Shaman, Half Statesman 7: 8 To A Horn 8: Black Magic 9: Misfits On Mars
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