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Dreamed 1996/7/15 by Wayan

(back to part 1)

I jump for joy on the deck, as Atoll steers and Leaf sprawls, confidently marking our chart--shy no more.

dancing for delight, amid the iridescent flying fish

We sail southwest at first, through the settled isles.

Joyous days! Pale blue sky, green water, clouds reflecting the land- and sea-colors on their shaded bellies, white as shells above. I can breathe free, swing my tail without some boy grabbing it and sniffing at my girl-flower.

I can plant my hind legs far apart and stretch and HOWL, and my mom's not here to hiss and bat my whiskers and tell me I'm unfeminine.

Cares drop away under the horizon, with the mainland. Tired at night, but a good tired.

I can't recall exactly how those birds looked, just huge and sort of prehistoric, so I drew them like giant brown pelicans, the most pterodactylian birds on the sea-coast where I live when I'm human, on earth.

I also left off all the rigging on our boat--there were lots of ropes, but when I woke I couldn't figure where they all went--they just looked cluttered. I just didn't want you to think it was some senseless dream-boat. It was properly rigged.

It's just my memory that isn't.

No. That's not true. I remember the essentials. Exploring vast horizons. Friendship. Rebellion.




Leaf and Atoll seem happy too. Atoll sings like a spirit all day--new songs! I curl up happy next to them in the hut at night, or on deck if the stars are out. When the moons are up, the mast shines like a wish-bone. Why can't I sleep? What's my secret wish?

I love sailing with them, I wish I could forever. I wish I could express how much I love Atoll and Leaf--my aunts seem like that only about their mates. I wish I could marry them, marry them both. But our tongue lacks any word for it, our grammar won't say it.

Moonlit deck. We all nest together, purring in a great coil of rope. Only I wake up, suddenly very aware of my girl friends snuggled up to me.
Do I want to marry at all, is that the root of my rebellion? I carefully paddle around that snag of an idea--unthinkable in our village. To marry is our sacred duty. We have to have our four children--one for sickness, one for the sea, and two to carry on. Even though sickness takes so few, now that we know biology.

We'll smell as popular as citrus if we find the ruins--enough to choose our own mates, not settle for arranged marriages. I want that more than anything--not that there's a boy I love, but I have to find one who'll let me travel and break custom and do things with my girl friends too. The freest life I can imagine... with the mind-tools I was given.

Until we found... what we found.

Sleepless, I stare across the predawn sea toward cumulus hinting at land ahead
Leaf, the lightest, up the mast, spying reefs and passages.

As the ocean turns so blue it's almost black, miles deep, and the swells stretch so far apart they're like horizons, we get a bit subdued: it really IS a small boat to go so far into the deep.

Most explorers sail much larger, better-crewed ships. But we gambled a tiny one was better for our quest: we're stalking an old myth of a labyrinth of reefs and channels, whose heart hides a secret: huge, alien ruins rising from the water--an ancient, drowned, high-tech city!

Weeks pass. At last, far to the southeast, we find a promising tangle of reefs, never charted. We squirm through narrow turquoise passages for two days, mapping carefully. On the third day, great rocks rise from the water.

Shaped rocks.

Eroded concrete columns!

The legend's true. What a find, what a find!

Many walls are still intact, rising from the shallows. One great hall's nearly complete, though it's open to the sky. Its oval wall cups a wide pond, like a sky-pearl in the Queen of Clams.

The ancient gate is now a cliff-lined narrows. We glide through the arch with just paws to spare--glad now our boat's as small as a clitoris. No boy-size ship could have gotten in.

We chose right!

Our boat just slips through a slit in the rocks, into the heart of the drowned city.
Munching a cress leaf, I muse on the legend of magic shoes that can walk on water.

The pond is rain-fed: brackish but drinkable. It's choked with a green weed we've never seen. Round leaves. It smells like a giant watercress. Tastes sweet and spicy--real crop potential! Is it a feral survivor from an ancient alien garden?

A new species as well as a new land! We put samples in a water-gourd to take home.

One of my sandals falls overboard, but the leaves are so thick it can't sink. Bladders on the stems make them nearly as buoyant as kelp-trees. The sandal bobbing on the water's face reminds me of that old legend of a shaman who could pull fish from the air and walk on water. Here, the soup's so dense you almost might.

Could the old myth have been handed down from this place? From the aliens, even? Who were they, I wonder? Wonder-workers, certainly. Why not levitating fish-wizards?

Hmm.. I just thought of a delicious eco-niche. Even fish-multiplying shamans need someone to eat their miracles! Or they pile up and stink... I'd be useful, as a miracle-eater--like a shrimp grooming those pesky parasites off bass... cleaning up those unwanted wonders, that annoying abundance!

Maybe there IS a free lunch.

(Uh-oh, eco-heresy again. Leave THAT fantasy out of my logbook!)

I sprawl on a great lilypad, letting an ancient wizard conjure a rainbow of fish right into my open mouth.
Motion in the water! I panic for a moment. Wait, I'm an explorer, a biologist... Be brave. I lean out over the weed and look closely. It's a creature nearly as big as Leaf, with wrinkled skin, pale periwinkle-blue. A freshwater porpoise--and a SECOND new species! Its shape is very strange: instead of a sleek smiling spindle with a tail, its dwarfed body splits into long flat eely legs twining thru the pondweed. It looks like a chromosome, so we name it Blue Genes.
I drop to all fours and hiss, and Leaf climbs the mast in panic, as we spot a fierce, blue, toothy creature.
Are its skinny twining legs an adaptation to the dense weed-forest? Our distant relatives the treecats are smaller than us, the better to climb and slip between trees. Their cramped environment leads to a cramped brain, too--small thoughts!

I've always suspected that ports and shores, where worlds and eco-zones meet, places with choices and elbow room, are the richest niches for big brains and new thoughts. Here we're on a shore of time, where the present meets a deep current upwelling from the past. Fertile water! I suspect if we stay here long, we'll find things to really stretch our brains.

And then the boys we'll really think we're plain! Swollen brains, ugh. They'd rather have a swollen flower all the time.

Gray, catch yourself! Do you think they're opposites? That's how they talk. I want both. Brain hot with good ideas and girl-flower hot with good desire, thank you. Opposites? Sssssssss.

You can sail away from home, but they stow away inside you, those village voices. Relatives. Remoras. Pry those suckers loose!

Prying remoras off each other. Talking remoras. They say, in native glyphs, 'Be good! Go home! Get married! Have cubs!'
One advantage of being an unpopular girl is that you have time to read a lot. Deep in my memory-pool are the tangled stalks of a thousand legends and dreams--and they tell me this whole scene's ominous. What a conveniently opaque pond--in any epic, it'd exist to hide some kind of dragon--a porpoise-eating monster who'll see Gray the fishergirl as a new flavor. Big jaws will erupt from the water--the plot just requires it now! Treasures have guardians. There's SOME reason no one's returned with news of this place.

But I don't WANT to be a free lunch! I hate literary tension! Adventure is more fun when it's just squid ink on bark. I want my happiness risk-free, thank you.

Me on my stomach in the meadow, reading a round book, another at my side. A butterfly hovers, lured by the color illustrations.
Yet the ancient storypatterns nag me--the deadly quest, the forbidden castle, the frightful guardian... so I tense for the white explosion. But nothing attacks.

Yet my dragon-bell keeps bonging--I'm SURE there's a monster hiding here! Is this only fear? Or... memory? Did I dream of this place? I do dream the future, now and then. Maybe I KNOW it's a dragon's lair. I don't have intuitions this strong for nothing.

I picture a sea-dragon swallowing Atoll, as Leaf jams an oar down its throat.
At last I get tired of dangling on the fish-hook and propose we land near the only standing tower. If the monster won't come to Gray, Gray will come to the monster!

Leaf is scared, but reluctantly agrees. Atoll steers us through winding channels in the pond-jungle to a little beach on the far side, under a fallen part of the wall that looks climbable.

We're going dragon-hunting.

I cringe on the prow as fantasy monsters erupt from the water
I hop into the shallows, startling a pink waterbird.

We land on a beach of rubble across the pond. Fern-trees loom, twitching like the tails of giant green fishercats curled up dreaming, with just their rumps sticking out.

So tropical and mysterious. Like nothing back home--though we can't get the discovery-credit for them, they're known from plenty of nearer tropical atolls.

Still, they're new to me. And so beautiful.

And O! The magenta toothed herons! And great dragonflies, twice the size of home. Little skittery lizards I can barely see, they're so fast. Just green on green.

Above us is a low crumbled spot in the wall near the ruined tower. It must be taller than any tree in the world! I want to climb it and see what the builders saw, so long ago.

Leaf's the lightest, and the best climber, so she goes first up the wall. At the top she hisses in wonder, and won't tell us what's there, even when Atoll, guarding the boat, complains.

She'll only whisper "Just come see for yourself."

I scrabble up to the low point.

On the far side of the wall is a broad stone terrace just above the water.

And on that terrace...

Leaf and I scramble up the overgrown wall; Atoll, straddling the bow, toes in the water, asks what we see.
A dragon in red sun-goggles emerges from the silver clam.

...a giant silver clam, with crystal eyes! It's nearly as big as our fishing ship.

A sky-boat!

No barnacles either--it's no relic of the city-builders, but a living ship! Someone from a farther isle than ours has landed on this shore. Are they the ones who built the old city? Can they conjure fish and walk on water?

I have to meet them, these sky-sailors. I scramble down the far side of the wall, and sidle up to the glittering shell. Leaf, always shy, stays up on the gap. As I reach the clam, one eye blinks, becomes a door.

And a monster crawls out! Big, scaly, with spines and sharp jaws--the dragon I foolishly insisted we find.

Now what have I gotten us into?

I stand my ground--and the monster speaks. He (she? But he looked bold and toothy like a boy, so I'll call him that. Maybe they have other sexes. I thought it'd be rude to ask) he isn't that big a dragon, and not especially fierce. Friendly, in fact. I have a wonderful talk with him, over tea.

He's a lot like us--a tourist enjoying the romance of the ruins. His people usually travel alone, in these little clam clouds. They're legendary on many worlds, and sensible people always deny they're real, since a swarm of little sky-boats skipping around senselessly, never trading or swapping data with the local elders--well, it's economically absurd.

But profit's not everything. Once you get to know a dragon, their skittishness DOES make psychological sense. They're easy-going, they can't stand quarrels, and they won't take orders. So when they just can't agree, they LEAVE, and each do what they please. So most of their vast population is scattered around this galactic arm. Oh, they pretend to be traders and scientists and explorers, but really, the wind that blows them isn't profit, or even curiosity.

They're just out for some emotional whisker room.

Like certain unpopular girls.

Tea with the alien dragon, sitting by his saucer. Leaf, shy again, hides behind her tail.
I sure like this dragon. His story inspires me to steer my own life, not follow my village's tradewind. I was bred for meekness, but now I know we don't HAVE to obey the elders. Other lives pull and tickle me, like my girl-flower in heat.

But this itch is deeper. My freedom is itching.

The dragon shows me a microbe living here in the pond. Says it's his gift to me, a souvenir--a third species of life we can claim credit for. "It's already infected you. It's not harmful, though. You'll get a bit more sensitive to ultraviolet--you may burn your nose when the tropic sun is high, so learn to wear a hat. But in exchange, the microbe lets you control your own fertility! You'll only get pregnant if you will it, and mate over and over for days."

Giggling, I raise my tail to the sun and let its sperm-rays thrust inside me, confident I won't impregnate: a dragon in me gobbles up its sperm. I wear a wide hat, like the ring round a gas-planet, like a flying clam. Its brim bears glyphs saying 'Enjoy the warmth, but don't get burned.'
It does something else useful if I ever sail in the sky like him--something about falling freely without getting sea-sick? No, I've forgotten, it made little sense to me. No matter, I guess, since I'll never use that feature. Because... I turned down his offer to go along with him and see the galaxy.
Offered the galaxy, I picture a husband I don't want, versus a silver clam with me at the tiller, or me shining at alien parties, landing on other worlds, and being loved by a dragon. But then, my dragon kissing a girl of his own kind, me as his alien pet. And Atoll and Leaf, who I'd never see again.
Oh, I was so tempted. He was sweet, not like the boys back home. But I have to go back for my friends' sake--and out of a stupid sense of duty to my people. Our peninsula is so overcrowded, due to our Sacred Obligation to have four cubs. No doubt it made sense back before biology, when we didn't understand sanitation, and half our cubs died--but now? This bug will let us choose our own fertility, and it's the ideal contraceptive: built in, so the husbands can't take it away. Can't make us obey!

You know, I suspect the dragon didn't "find" this bug, but cooked it up somehow, after hearing my story. A very kind trick, if it is one.

So we set sail...

Next: Part 3: BACK

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