ELEVEN CENT ORACLE
Dreamed 1998/11/12 by Chris Wayan
I follow the wanderings of a tribe in Alaska that migrates south every winter, like birds--maybe as far as California. Since they can't fly, they wait till early winter, when the rivers freeze, so they can skate and sled south on them. Easier than the mud and rain of fall.
Two of them are Euro-looking guys with military manners and hairstyles. They go to sleep in the snow. Right in it--they don't build shelters but burrow right in and even tuck it over them like a blanket. Bare hands and heads, light clothing. Surely it'll melt to icewater and kill them. Insane! But the others treat this as normal. Not even Inuit could just lie down and sleep in snow like that. Maybe they're not human, but migratory birds in human form or something.
The migratory band reaches a big wooden lodge where they'll spend the night--except the two military guys, who sleep outside in the snow as usual.
The leader of this band is a dark lean fiftyish eagle-nosed woman in furs. As the group settles in, she looks around for the twins. Not her daughters--her nieces? Beautiful and as alike as twins, but I'm told they aren't really--just best friends. Small, slender, in light brown fur coats making them look like summer martens or ermines.
But they rebel. First they get very busy and make it hard for the Leader to find them, though without actually hiding. When she pins them down at last, they protest "modern conditions make these deprivations unecessary."
Something fishy here. The way they argue, they're obviously intelligent, even brilliant--it makes no sense for them not to see she's training them for leadership. Technology may ease their winter migration, but it won't solve and will probably inflame the social problems the tribe faces. By her aura, their tribal leader is a wise woman--so why are they rejecting training they'll need?
I wake from the dream, and to my surprise find myself hiking uphill on a crumbling old asphalt road. Up a knoll. A view of hills encrusted with freeways and houses. I don't have a dream-notebook or even a pen and paper-scrap to write it on. I pause before the knoll-top, and scratch words into the roadway with a big nail--outline the dream of the two Alaskan girls. They looked like me. Twin aspects of me? I analyze three positions that teens of different intelligence levels would take--dull obedience, rebellion for those smart enough to see the flaws of the system, and quick mastery of the system and freedom from it, for the most brilliant. From their first word the two girls in the dream showed such intelligence they HAD to be group three. So why did the dream make them act stupid with their aunt the leader? Felt inconsistent.
I pause, look up, feel suddenly stupid writing this on a road--a medium I can't take home! And several young men with beers are watching me from a rock on the knollside. I feel uneasy. They don't come over though, and I'm clarifying my memory of the dream by writing, so I go on... then get distracted by a golden flash in a pothole. Peer down. A penny. I reach in and pick it up. Not worth much, but I've been feeling poor, so every bit helps. Besides, it's lucky. I see more and more. Pick up a total of eleven scattered about the irregular bottom of the pit. Pull them out and examine. Not pennies, except maybe for the first one. They're larger, in fact quite large, of shiny copper, untarnished. Beaten into very thin coins, in fact more like playing cards with very rounded corners than coins. Tarot cards?
Slowly I realize it was no dream. You don't just wake up and find you're hiking alone. I have a memory gap. That 'dream' was real. That was my life. I look like one of the two girls because I AM one, separated from my twin. From everyone in my tribe! Scrabbling for small change on my own.
My viewpoint shifts. Silently I watch myself from heaven. Not a guardian angel exactly, but a man in an orbiting starship! A Terran. This is a low-tech world; the locals were quite primitive when we first came here a generation or two ago and though they've progressed, they still don't value learning much. We didn't want to ignore them entirely as if we were indifferent gods, or help them too much and destroy their self-respect, so we compromised: we set up a remote oracle, a speaker through which we'll answer questions, but only in trade for things or services. We hope to raise the value of knowledge itself, rather than supply too many answers.
The girl I was, with her eleven copper pennies, leaves the pothole, and hikes back down the road. And out of town.
And through the next, and the next, through eleven lands, across the wide world, to the Oracle. A brave act for a girl alone.
Though they're not legal tender anywhere on the planet, I urge our Captain to accept them and give her any answer she wants. The point was to make people give things they value for information, not to gain things of intrinsic value for ourselves. She's proved how much she values knowledge just by crossing a continent to see us.
The Captain's practical; she agrees.
The girl asks us the meaning of a cloth design she found: it's from Earth, stamped in red on cotton. Looks like geometric mice. The captain figures out that much on her own, but is stumped what the design means. The computer finds words, almost illegible, hidden in a small curve of the design. They confirm my suspicion it's a cubist rendering of a cartoon mouse. Mickey? No, the style is more like ancient Incan--I think it's a different mouse, different meaning. But what? What can we tell her?
For the first time in history, the Oracle doesn't have the full answer. Will we have to confess the truth--and show ourselves to her? I want to. She earned it the hard way. And I trust her.
After all, she's me.
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