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DRAGON BANNERS

Dreamed 1987/3/19 by Chris Wayan

1: THE DANCER Shell, a dancer I have a crush on. Colored line drawing. Wide-set dark eyes, long fly-away brown hair, wide smile, white shirt with green trim

I'm early for my contact improv class: no one's here yet but two drop-ins and the teacher. Carrie hands us a long questionnaire. We lie on the dance floor and scribble at them with pencils like kids.

"I promise I'll read it all. I want to know what you really want from this class, no matter what it is. You can put ANYTHING... last year a couple of lesbian dancers put "To pick up girls!" I liked that." I write all around the truth: I came to pick up girls too, but I'm a boy so it's not the same. I write about art and growth and health and all that shit. Fill the page with black bug walls.

Tor strides in. Jean the black-bearded Assyrian shows up too. A tough short clown named Marla. A tall shy woman with black hair who murmurs her name so low I don't hear it.

Then Shell comes in. Huge sleepy eyes, wide cheeks, sure of her allure--and right to be. And ready to tease me as always. I say hello, awkwardly. And try not to trip over my crush.

Carrie gives us a few stark movements. Minimalist. We have to combine them. I exaggerate my insectile emaciation, make a virtue of my awkward body.

Tor and Shell evolve a duet--God she's so beautiful. She's coiling around herself as if trailing gauze veils, but they're composed purely of attention. Both ours and her acknowledgment (just the faintest sexy tremor) that she knows we're all watching, all excited too. Liquid elegance. She's luminous tonight!

Her confidence that she's attractive--it's teaching me... what? Not the same confidence, I'll never have that. But hope?

We get in a group tangle. I zoom in and bump Shell and we whirl in a duet and leap up and down to the floor, I'm flirting with Shell! and then I get scared and zip out and look back from the corner where I fled... and Carrie looks at me disgusted and upset, miming CUT! with her hands and shaking her head and scowling at me... did I spoil it all by flirting?

It turns out she just thought we were all getting into a murky improv people heap... a classic beginner's error. Though I know it wasn't me, I keep feeling shaky for minutes. I risked flirting with Shell, got shy, and fled--and expected punishment for trying!

I'm mad at Carrie though. Why didn't she just yell "CUT!" to everyone? Why'd she expect ME to solve a group problem? That's her job! Another long experimental piece turns to mush, and Carrie calls a break and asks us for reactions.

Shell speaks up. "You could have been clearer about the groundrules for the piece, or at least less critical when we misinterpreted ambiguous directions." By the nods around the circle, I know I'm not the only one who agrees with her.

Carrie snaps "If you didn't understand me you should have asked! And you better get used to directors yelling at you! This is nothing!" What's with her tonight? My classmate Shell dancing, head back, tranced out.

At least Shell's defending herself. "You asked me. I said what I thought. Don't put me down for doing what you just asked for." She walks out to get a drink of water. And cool off in other ways too. It's a shame--Carrie's so much fun to play with, when she just lets herself be a monkey. Poisoned by teacherism.

A long sound-piece now; we chant a text Carrie brought, with Garcia Lorca and the Brooklyn Bridge in it... The concept is good but the poem's far too complex for such a big crowd of people to improvise on. We start stumbling and it all falls down. Audio gridlock.

An off night. Except for Shell. Hot, hot.

I get up my nerve and tell Shell, "You were beautiful tonight. You were dancing like a dragon."

Her eyes pop wide in shock. "Dragons are greedy monsters!"

And she walks out alone.

2: OVER HUMAN SOUP

The usual after-improv crowd walks over to Haight Street seeking late night Thai, Szechuan or Hunan food--Linda, Roxanne, Vera and I. Marla comes along for the first time. The Victorians on Waller street are already dark; no, there's one glowing magenta strip--a tall window hung with an Indian bedspread, lit from inside. Looks like a medieval banner. Magical, hanging in the dark.

Vera is warm to me, keeps hugging me till I wonder if she's coming on to me. Her warmth is nice but I'm not attracted to her that strongly. The thought sneaks through me that maybe I should ignore my obsession with Shell's glamor (or is it obsession? Maybe she's got what I need) and take what's offered me and be grateful. Nice safe easy sex with Vera? Get over my shyness. AND THEN WHAT?

Over "Human Soup" (as the menu spells it) Linda and I gossip. I let my breath out and ask Linda what she thinks of Shell.

"Whew... we both like her, don't we." I feel glad suddenly that Linda is tight with her boyfriend now. She's not shy at all when she wants someone. I wouldn't stand a chance.

Vera goes to the bathroom. I ask Linda what she thinks of her. "Yeah, I've noticed Vera seems interested in you, but I can't see much in common between you really."

Linda walks off at midnight to buy organic Earl Grey Tea. I keep forgetting this ain't the suburbs.

I drive Marla home on my way to the freeway ramp near the Civic Center. The Tenderloin streets are empty of cars, night life, people. But it's not suburbia's green sleep. These deep streets cut through towering apartment-strata, like Martian canyons with their dead rivers. A close, tense silence. Marla asks me to wait until she's inside her hotel. I do, wondering which holes in the canyon wall hide the danger she senses. She waves from the door...

I drive south out of the canyons, onto the humpbacked sea-serpent of Bayshore Freeway. Over the pass near Candlestick Park, the Bay opens up before me, with the full moon looming over the inlet. Freak weather: no solar sparkles on the bay, no waves, yet no still rippling sunken moon-twin either. A turquoise, a pale green internal glow like bioluminescence that just happens to be in a path straight toward the white disk. Never seen a glow like that, from underneath...

"BLARRRRRK!" The car passing me is angry, spurts ahead of me at 75 mph wanting to put a safe distance between him and the weaving drunk. Me! Blink and force my eyes back to the road. They want to follow that other path. Glowing like Shell. But here in the high-tech world I can't just follow my dream. Responsibilities. One and a half tons of steel responsibilities.

Wrestle the car home and plop into bed, exhausted.

3: THE THUG Ogre in a business suit downtown, with a dotted line showing the immense tower he wants to add to the skyline

A group of mobsters want to build a skyscraper in the City. In fact they're already building it before the permits are in. It's worth the risk; the property's the hottest in town and they've done all the bribes, after all.

The Planning Commission meets--and it turns out they can't be bribed. One of the builders has to testify for the permit; they all fear to do it. They send a sacrificial goon, a guy with no power, or brains, or polish. No loss. And who knows?

He has a friend who knows this Commission, and warned him:

"No matter what they ask you, tell the truth. NO MATTER WHAT! They know a lot about your friends and the only way to deal with them now is to be honest about who'll profit, who backed you, why you built it..." With great unease, the thug tells all. He's careful to be fair in allocating responsibility. Fingers no one, shields no one. As they watch the big lunk trying to do the decent thing, they begin to treat him courteously.

They deny the permit, but they say a remarkable thing: "We almost gave you the go-ahead, Mr. _____, because you made such plain and honest arguments for your interests. We wanted you to know that we said no because the technical data is so negative: you're erecting this tower for short-term gain, but we fear that in a year or so you--and we--will be stuck with a huge, empty structure no one has any use for. But you were brilliant; we almost ignored the hard facts and gave you the permit anyway."

And the deal is off. The mob is angry: their first really big erection, their chance to make a fortune in the open. But the thug has lost his fear of telling the truth. To anyone. Because they saw his desire for gain as honorable. They saw him as a decent man. Who knows where this will lead?

I wake and write the dream down. "I feel attracted to Vera's emotional and physical warmth... part of me will settle for anyone who'll have me. That big structure means involvment with Vera... and the mob is my ambition and sexual drive, pushed underground and trying to surface. And sex isn't forbidden: the Commission wants to grant a permit! Only what happens in a year or so? An empty erection, a vacant Shell...

But even my cautious Planning Commission was tempted--and praised my new honesty. I should propose another affair.

4: THE BARREN ZONE

I drift into a half-sleep and find I'm reading an Ann McCaffrey novel. A settled planet, in the far future, with areas named for small Earth countries from their ancient past--mostly English-speaking ones. There are two Scotlands, a Wales, an Eire, a Zealand, and many American state names.

The settled lands center round one part of the globe--the ancient landing site. And in the middle of the densest population, surrounded by a tight ring of the biggest cities in the world, is an irregular splotch of sandy cindery desert--originally a huge Hawaiian-like lava flow...perhaps the historic landing field, though no one's sure. But why's it still barren, right here in the heart of the world, sticking pseudopods into every City around it?

It's not normal desert. Plenty of rain. The land around it is green where parks have been left.

The Queen of the Cities veils her face out of doors to protect her skin from the sun and rain and wind. She comes to me, asking why these dunes from the Dead Zone stab into her cities. I don't know, but I know someone who may: the The Naturalist of the Dead Zone--a lone hermit in a shack built of deadwood, that rides the sand waves. I offer to lead the Queen to the Naturalist, if she likes.

We hike over damp dunes. Been drizzling, and the rain gets worse as we go. At last we reach the cabin. It's where I guessed. The hermit hears our steps and opens the door, lets us in, smiling. Warm room, I'm grateful. Filled with studies and samples and sensible gear. The Naturalist is a horse-faced ruddy-skinned woman, long and bony and jocular. And intelligent. Her name is Linda. She's been seeking an answer to the puzzle for years, but all she can do is confirm the Dead Zone makes no ecological sense. She agrees to lead us around the Waste, try to figure out why the land stays so bare.

I bundle up and borrow rain boots. The Queen in her veils and hood borrows a cape and galoshes too. Linda the naturalist waks bareheaded and in khaki shorts... Bare legs in the rain. BRRR! She's one extreme, the Queen's another; I feel between.

We hunt through the rain... walk a city street at the sand's edge. Someone recommends we go to an ecologist, an expert...

I recognize him. One of the mob's architects who designed the tower! I keep my mouth shut, but tell the Queen later--"I'm starting to think they may have caused the Barrens."

The Queen confesses she's always confused the Naturalist with a middle-aged woman who's a powerful realtor in the City, with similar toughness but more social charm, a slicker image. "She's a bit smug though; I'm beginning to distinguish them. I prefer your Naturalist."

5: THE YOUNG DRAGON

Now somewhere deep in this desert is a rocky sand hollow: the Dragon's Nest.

It's the ancestral home of the owner of this dragon-territory: all of Scotland-2, and several other lands acquired in various ways, scattered around the planet's curve.

The old Dragon, a golden-armored leader, has just died, leaving it all to her lone heir, her beautiful rainbow-scaled fluid coiling daughter, Shell. She's young and progressive, curious about the human world. Very intelligent. I instantly like this dragon! She expresses dragon's territoriality and acquisitiveness differently than most: a fierce resolve not to be cheated out of her ancestral territory, not to let the plotters steal it OR keep it barren.

Ink sketch of a rainbow-scaled young dragon at night under a crescent moon
She waits in her crag-nest castle for the mail delivery... expecting at least pro forma condolences and congratulations. But she only gets salutations from a few scattered cities and dragon nests. One moves her--and shocks me. It's from a human named Fandarel, of the Engineering Guild. This name sounds familiar--I realize he was a character in... THIS IS PERN! This is McCaffrey's dragon world, only a generation later: the human population exploded, cities developed, space trade boomed... and though dragons went on growing more intelligent, even became property owners, they just aren't needed as they were. City folk see no reason not to screw them just as they do each other. And all this happened within one human lifetime?

The Guild is one of the few that acknowledges her. Some may have forgotten, but most are waiting to see what will happen: will the plotters beat the dragon's daughter?

Her supporters hang the traditional red banner celebrating her accession--it trails thousands of kilometers into space, past the geosynchronous orbit of the ships that brought the colonists eons ago... out so far the centrifugal force of the world's spin holds the vast red carpet hanging straight out/up into the sky, hanging on nothing but its own weight and swing!

Orbital view of the planet Pern, with magenta banners rising from the surface around the equator. Caption: 'That was then'.
But there's only one... where the world should have bloomed with magenta banners, there's only one.

She reads the list of her lands and I'm surprised. They're all tiny nations... til I recall they're not the same as the Earth lands. I research the local Scotland, etc... Add them all up and find it's a significant fraction of the planet! No wonder people are trying to steal her estate! And for another reason: this lineage has always been the one to contact spacers when they land--the flag above the castle is their red carpet down, their fluorescent path. The sand's their landing beach.

The annual or generational trade ship comes into Pern's solar system. And finds... NO flags! None at all now... Saboteurs snipped its anchors and it rose and fled...

Instead, a brown flag rises from nearby, from a city. The star-traders are upset: the previous Desert Dragon was always very friendly; they were introduced to her daughter, on the last visit,and found her delightful. Why would another nest's color be going up? And such a disturbing color: like dried blood. The captain says "Dark tea-color. As if we're coming down to a house so poor all they have to offer their guests is tea. They'll be stingy." He decides to follow it anyway, despite the trouble signs. I'm shocked at the plotters' subtlety, to read the captain's mind like this. They caught his Haiku character, they anticipated his interpretation of their sign. He'll do business on their brown, weak-tea terms.

Orbital view of the planet Pern, with one brown banner rising into space. Caption: 'This is now'.
Meanwhile, back on the planet, a middle-aged woman who resembles the Naturalist (but isn't) chuckles and hikes out into the desert along a tire-tread track. It winds toward the young dragon's nest. But other tracks lie atop the tire marks: the huge 3-toed gashes of a mature dragon! I begin to wonder, not who this cunning land-hungry creature is, but WHAT. I'm somehow sure, seeing her fearlessly walk in the heart of a hostile dragon's land, that she must be a dragon herself, the subtle, selfish mind behind the sabotage... Slashing the banner loose with those great triple claws...And now in human form she's going to check the results of her ugliest trick: for as the Realtor, she sent the Young Dragon a present: a box of Earl Grey tea, a special organic blend. Special indeed: fatal.

She justifies killing the dragon: "Well, she'll either live as a zoo-animal, an anachronism, or at best as a person who's feared and suspected and whose territory is wanted. As either person or beast, she's better off dead than a dragon in a human world."

She reaches the rocky gate to the nest and peers across...

And a rainbow wing flaps lazily. Shell is very much alive. She doesn't drink tea! Dull brown stuff. She likes herbs with bright colors and sweet scents like hibiscus. Knows what she likes and doesn't use gifts out of politeness.

The smug woman retreats without a word. Not so smug for once. Shell, a dragon I met in a dream. Bust, facing left, dark hair, reddish crest, rainbow scales (green dominant), gold slit eyes. Background: rising moon.

She takes it out on the City Council and Spacers: when they come to her to buy land, she quotes impossible prices. They name a famous alternative site. She laughs. "We own that tract too." Well, they'll build over there, then. "That too." Then over there! "We own that too." Then across the desert near the spring. "We control all the wells in the desert." She simply ignores the Young Dragon's title to all this!

It all comes clear suddenly. She poisons the land, too! There's a desert here because her crew sprays some kind of DEFOLIANT on it! It'd revert to green if someone wasn't keeping it bare. Inject something in the wells, and perhaps she sprays something on the surface from the air, personally, in dragon form, most likely in the rainy season when no one would notice...Thus she can charge top prices for the little bits of it she lets go, nearest the developed area. If it were green, it'd be eminent-domained and made a park in about ten minutes. It's left to the dragons only because it's barren. Ye olde Dragon Waste.

Now that I know, I want to warn the Young Dragon. If the spacers go to her Nest to ask her about the Banner, the plot could still unravel...

and I wake.

I wake knowing I better not trust Carrie Anna! She'd rather lead a barren class, than a fertile one she can't control.

And I'd better look hard at the empty patch inside ME. That carefully maintained empty patch inside me!

Hiding a dragon.

Must I go on hiding? Can't I put out a bolder banner, a flag of passion? To welcome my fellow dragon, Shell!

Who thinks dragons are greedy monsters...



LISTS AND LINKS: dance - flirting - Vera - other worlds - the dragon-girl returns - dragons in general - royalty - home - eco-sabotage - mist and rain and waterfall spray... - healing from abuse - inheritances - orbital dreams - a McCaffrey/Pernese dream-poem: Love Song to a Dragonsinger

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