MISFITS ON MARS
Dreamed 1986/11/20 by Chris Wayan
My godmother was blunt as usual. "So you still don't ask anyone out? Well, but who do you meet in Silicon Valley? Librarians, business types, students, computer people, a few writers. How the hell are they going to make sense of you? Of course you're shy. You need other artists. Take a class, meet some interpretive artists, actors or maybe dancers, if you want to find someone you can share with. Creator types like writers and painters are egocentric."
"Thanks a lot!"
She waves her arms and laughs. "No insult intended! Creative people mine the world or they mine themselves. You do the second one. Not good, not bad, just solitary. You're married to a solitary craft. So, don't look for a girl who's like you--one ego in a couple's more than enough! Find an actor. Forget the clichés, they're the sweetest people I know. They have to be, their whole art is empathy--getting inside others, working together."
So here I am, every week, driving to the City to a contact improv class--half acting half dance--offered by the Hotfoot Dance Company. I got terrified, and had fun. I became people. My godmother was right--a lot of these actors and dancers are attractive in a way none of my other friends are. A sweetness and humility the lone creators lack. Their respect for their bodies is infectious too. I'm taking better care of myself, noticing my appearance--clothes that fit, washing my hair, even dyed it once! Back to the blond I was before I got sick and lay around indoors for seven years, ugh.
I'm learning too. I learned I hate acting! Faking feelings. Submitting to the group purpose. I don't WANNA be selfless; this is the first self I've ever had. Won't give up my new toy. Love the people, hate what makes them lovable.
And the dancers are all so damn sexy!
I rebel by showing up late as usual. The hill down toward Haight is so steep I just have to run, my feet slap-banging like a truck dieseling down. Left toward Ashbury, on Waller. The church. I clump down the boardwalk to our rented classroom, wondering who'll be there tonight. Lisa? Will I get up the nerve to ask her out afterwards? I've never done that in my life! But really that's why I picked this class, the riskiest sounding I could find. Fear that we'll look stupid is as common as sweat, here, so my extra phobia about dating hardly shows. We're here to terrify ourselves.
Hope she's here.
I rush in, and stop confused.
The hall is filled with tables and candles and prefab chicken. Our teacher, Carrie Anna, is sitting on the stage, furious.
"The church double-booked the room by mistake, and the Hashbury Improvment Association is pre-empting our class!"
Nothing we can do. Fifty landlords filing in, and only three of us, a record low--looks like the other dancers had good intuition tonight. The third person's an old friend of Carrie Anna's named Tom. I'm disappointed we won't get to work together: he feels subtle, thoughtful. A possible role model? Rare for me to feel a man's aura that's okay.
Tom goes home, but Carrie Anna and I walk down to a cafe on Haight, and talk, over herb tea. I like her. She tells me the inside story of her show, "Cactus", its hasty birth and collaborative squabbles. What'd it want to be, a musical, a play, a dance? A story, a dream, or a string of images? "What'd you think of it?"
"Mostly I liked pure images outside the story: those beautiful hornytoads, and the rollerskating cactuses, and the wagonladies who looked like birds in those strange bonnets. You set it up as a dream--she spends three nights alone in the desert--but dreams make emotional sense; this changed moods at random. And then trailed off as her grandpa died. But those flashes, when the story disappeared... for me they glowed, stood out like the mesas on the backdrop. Which looked great by the way." Am I being too harsh on her baby? The story just flailed around and stopped. I thought it was intermission till everyone left!
"Actually, images like that are what I always see first. But that off-key feeling was intentional. I wanted to jar the audience."
But I can't get clear what her intention was. Why jerk us around and leave us hanging? The heroine becomes a cactus and never wakes up. Meaning what? Maybe nothing. Maybe Carrie Anna is just a dancer before she's a playwright. Anything for a striking effect!
She wants to take it on the road after rewriting. Wonder if she'll focus it more? It falls apart now.
But then, I've been told that about my own stuff.
We compare diets, a safer topic, and she tells me how she offended all her doctors by healing her broken foot herbally, when they just knew it needed surgery. I cautiously peek at the customers. Here I am in the Haight! Big blonde (near metal-shiny, does she shellac?) doing Marilyn Monroe under an immense fern, with a crewcut shaded Eighties Boyfriend. A saintly-looking pair of Sixties survivors who Carrie Anna hails. "Hey, I just got a new day job, running the SF branch of the anti-food-irradiation campaign."
"Oh yeah, I've heard of that. Now they want to poison you without even telling you."
"Yeah, nuke it dead, but don't mention it on the label." Carrie Anna looks at the menu. "I wonder if the cheesecake is any good?"
She orders cheesecake, and tells me about her old friend Whoopi Goldberg. Most of the locals thought she'd be back after The Color Pickle, excuse me Purple. (Pickle Family Circus poster.) "But I knew down in my gut Whoopi was GONE! Her friends act surprised, but they'd dump the City and grab the money too--if they were offered it."
"Yeah" I grouse "but now she gets to be a prop in a movie starring a phone booth or something. Why not hold out for fun parts, stories she cares about? She can't need the money that bad."
"Don't knock it til you're offered it! Besides, think of the audience. Millions. Fame really is power."
But power for what? No wonder I fear audiences. THEY MIGHT LIKE ME! I don't want that booth to eat me. All those calls.
"I want to move!" says Carrie Anna. "Let's walk down Haight, see what's open. There may be someplace to dance." She takes the lead down fabled Haight. No, I put her in that role, as I do with my friend Linden, too: San Francisco jungle guide.
The Haight freaks are out parading. A lot of them have nice auras, much softer than I expect; several women attract me. But I'm still timid. A bitter guy starts haranguing us without warning, bullying with his scary field. M.A. just ignores him. When he drops back I find I'm shaking. Could I live here, with no shell?
Funky old bookstore. Used hardbacks to the ceiling. The man at the counter reads Varley's "Titan". I get a burst of confidence. I keep thinking everyone I meet in the City is a wizard of sociopolitical sophistication and I'm a hick. But here's one of the mythical SF booksellers, kin to Ferlinghetti et al, and he's reading my kind of corn.
We wander, using book subjects as keys to each other's character. She grabs old musty things and show biographies (Frank Capra) and theoretical things (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Hmmm, Carrie Anna's a self-improver! I prefer concrete things, and fantasy and sentiment. I'm a self-indulger. Each a hard discipline if you have the opposite habit...
She finds Lennon's "In His Own Write", an original, and I chant "Quobble in the Grass" delighted we have a treasure in common, and she tells me a funny story of meeting Lennon on poppers in her New York avant-garde days.
"I've never done amyl nitrate." I say, feeling stodgy. Don't say I never do anything. She slaps a Hotfoot Contact Improv Class ad in the window, absolutely on automatic, and we head down toward the T-Bone. "I came to class geared up to dance," she says. "I gotta move!"
"Point the way." I say, jogging behind her, excited to be in the land of my hippie ancestors. "Is that the Fillmore?"
"No, it's free." she says. "Til ten."
The door to the T-Bone opens just as we come up. The bouncer glares. "Three dollars." He is a spheroid.
M.A. works on him. "JUST FOR DANCING? There's no live group yet!"
He scowls. "Three dollars."
Pictures of Jupiter and Saturn from the probes hang all around the bouncer and the alcove beyond. We can just peek into the main room. Near-empty. "It's always free before ten on Tuesday! Check your calendar."
He's not buying. "Three."
"Well..." she says.
"Well..." I say.
"I know this place that's definitely free. Past that Ger-Mex chili joint Ach Ach Ach. The dark building there. Night and Fog. It thinks it's punk."
A couple of multicolored girls, one feathered one not, go by us and pay their three. I have an urge to pay up and follow them rather than go to a punk place. Never anyone I'm attracted to. (Godmother talking?) But Carrie Anna is my guide; if she says this is a ripoff, okay.
Lightning flashes and I flinch. An electric bus passing; the overhead wires spark white hot.
"The doorperson's a friend; even if there's a band, I can always get in free. Except last time they had a fill-in; the bastard actually tossed me out!"
Yow. It's a jungle, I knew it. I will follow and obey my guide. Or the snakes sparking on the wires, the sharks in the doorways and the scorpions in the glances will recognize me as defenceless. And get me.
We pass the black curtain. Night and Fog. It's like a burned out dinette; spray the fifties with soot and you got it. The 80% male lean mean black suits stand at the bar or the back wall lined up like a firing squad and don't talk. Or dance.
"They try to look cool here but they're uptight really." says C.A. "Our whole class came down here once and no one else got out there so we started doing contact improv on the floor, pyramids and whirling and tumbles you know, and they got scared, they didn't know what to think and finally someone came over and said "You can't dance like that." They asked us to leave! Now they just put on their worst records when I come in. So don't let them intimidate you--they're so cool they can't move."
And somehow though logically the moral of her story should be that I should feel inhibited in a bar where they bounced my teacher and have a right way to dance, I am reassured and I stop worrying about the watchers on the back wall. I jump around insanely and spin and do weird Thai mudras and mime and they stare. I notice them nudging each other, and I enjoy the fact we're attracting attention! Revolutionary for me. I get wilder, and exhaust myself after two loud fast stupid songs. Carrie Anna dances on and on. I lean on a four-foot amp. How can she do it? She comes over and yells "It's good for you to push! Builds endurance!" I get up and dance on, feeling strong everywhere but my aching lungs. That's the bottleneck now. The usual one, in the mind, is gone.
They won't dance, so we use the whole floor. I'm a red burning tornado with an icy ache down the center funnel as I suck in cold air and turn it to flame in the muscles...
Outside. The midnight City fog's intensed to rain; the street colors are stained dark, deep. My brown down coat acquires black leopard spots, swelling as the puffy coat shrinks. We hurry down the street, body engines overheated. I worry. Getting wet equals a chill equals a gut attack the next day! Ridiculous--the truth five years ago, not now.
We pass the Red Vic theater, and shelter below the marquee. Carrie Anna scans the calendar, making a tube of her lips like a baboon. She gasps "'The Misfits'! I've wanted to see that for years!"
"How weird--I just saw Arthur Miller interviewed about that script last night! Did you see it? Really creepy."
"No. What'd he say?"
Well... he talked about the wild mustang scene--"
"What's that? I've never seen the movie, just heard it's good."
"Monroe and Gable are out catching wild horses, and she finds out they're getting ground up for dogfood and she's horrified, she hates him for it. He lectures her, compares it to how she danced in a girly bar--" I try to do Gable doing Miller doing Montana cowboy. "'I walked in and raised my hat cause you were a lady. You loved to dance; it was other folk turned that into something shameful. Same with me. I love this land. This is what I do so I can live out here. Used to be they sold them horses to tame; but there's no market now. I'm doing the same thing, I haven't changed: it's the world that's changed.'"
"So what'd Miller say that was so weird?"
"Well... he sided with his cowboy. Called her unrealistic. He used the word compromise a lot. But she was only selling out her... self-respect, I guess. Gable was trapping wild horses knowing they'd be butchered for dog food. He was killing off the wilderness he wanted to live in. Miller seemed to be saying you can draw a line around yourself and ignore how others use your actions... that realism means drawing that line.
"It all resembled their real lives together just a little too much. Marilyn was being exploited, made to dance, and Miller played the gentleman loner who could save her--by respecting her when all the other men just leered. And she's the horses, too; the movies sure ground her up and sold her as meat! He got old and set, and sold scraps of his moral vision to the Hollywood meatgrinder--and talked about compromise. I think Whoopi's phone booth ate him!"
We walk back toward our cars in the rain. Maybe that crack about her friend was a bit unfair. I do get carried away. Judging Arthur Miller is arrogant enough, but doing it based on a film clip and one interview...
Saying goodbye, I feel awkward, cold. Walking away... I come back and hug her warmly, grateful for a whole evening of new adventures and she gets very businesslike and says "Bye" and drives off.
Did I offend her? I must have! Not necessarily. Maybe. On and on.
Storm deepens. I wrestle the car south on 101. One rainwiper breaks. Drive on, peeking through the top of the window, where the heavy brow of my Neandertal-era Volkswagen bus leaves three inches of dry pane.
I make it home, strip off my damp clothes in the hall, exhausted. Bed warm.
"But--" says Silky. "What?" "I'm hungry. I want yogurt." It's so late. I can't go to the store, I'm warm and sleepy. Out of the rain. "It's good to push." says Carrie Anna.
Into the goddamn rain and night, feeling virtuous, to the all-night Safeway, the yuppie one in Menlo Park. Things come out after midnight. Upscale derelicts: obsessive programmers with their rectilinear moves, well-dressed coke heads, both types with jangly neural fields beating round them. Silky whispers "And you think you can't live in the City because of the freaks!"
A huge tub of yogurt--Mountain High, from the Beatrice conglomerate. Part tapioca at yogurt prices but no gelatin at least. Best I can do.
Next door's the salami corner. Grisly. Marbled like the zits on the nocturnal shoppers. "Nitrate city" I mutter, and notice a geek looking at me uneasily. Hey, I fit in. A guy who talks to meat.
I crave pineapple. The canned stuff's metallic, but they have dried slices, and the bulk bin's label says they're only fruit and juice. No sulfur dioxide, like in the brand-name bags nearby. But... the bin's not where it was. When I find it, the contents label has been removed. I can't be sure. Even at Co-op it's sulfured. The question I have to ask myself is: do I feel lucky?
I drop the tongs.
Tortillas. Corn, water, lime, and an inch of fine print. Toss. Nice green cukes. No, that glassy shine is wax. Best cramp generator I know. Bread... WHOLE WHEAT in big letters. The tiny ones say "Whole wheat flour, enriched flour..." Right.
But I did need the yogurt; still glad I came. I eat some at home and collapse into bed.
I wake up on sand. Red sand. I'm on Mars, on the shore of a not-dead sea! The Mare Amargosis, or Anorexis or Angerensis, something like that. It's Latin for the Sea of Anxiety. Desert to the right... a dike keeps the sea in place. Pale gray rhomboid crystals on the dike show it's a natural extrusion. A strange feldspar? Galena? Fluorite? I heft a crystal. Too light to have lead in it. Wait, Mars has low grav. So I wave it around, and it's still very light. Not galena then.
I'm on my bike. Cross railroad tracks behind the dike. Chain link fences up ahead. Sign. "Nitrate Mine State Historical Park." What the hell kind of nitrates? Haight St. burnouts--amyl nitrate? Safeway with its nitrate-laden food? American poisons, anyway. A guy creeps out of a crack in the dike and opens his coat to show me... a small air tank! He leers. I'm stumped.
A Crone appears. "Beat it, creep." she snaps at him. She looks at me. "Kid, never buy street nitrates. And don't pick up crystals either. Nitro's unstable, it tends to explode, in case you'd forgotten." She looks me up and down. "If you came up here to fill some bottles to deal yourself, don't. Eight people blown apart this year--so far." She walks off but turns. Snarls "And I have to mop up the sausage!"
I park my bike at the mine mouth, very very carefully. People are entering, paying $3 for the tour. I don't want to. Carrie Anna breaks out of line and climbs the dike, heads north along the top, waving to me. I follow. Up here, the murky avocado-colored sea looks strange, threatening; these Martian lowgrav waves are high as walls. Or is this rough even for Mars? They get taller and slap each other... a jostling crowd of glass army tents. I'm getting nervous. We're at a low point half a mile down the dike now.
The sea attacks. The waves mass and rear into a huge muddy beast, storm the dike and break over the top, a foot deep. I lean and wave my arms crazily, trying to keep my feet. We're trapped in a grotesque dance. The water roars over the broad dike face and starts flooding the desert beyond. I'm terrified. WHAT IF THE NITRATES REACT? Carrie Anna steps on something loose and flails as the current knocks her down instantly. I dive at her and grab a hand and we're scrambling through the flood toward the high part of the dike. Bitter minerals burn like lye, in our faces, in our eyes. We crawl out to shore, the breach roaring behind us, a lagoon filling to our left.
"Thanks." she says. "That was exciting! Great exercise! Lots of new material there... Oh, shit, what time is it? I have to meet a class, I'm late! Gotta run!" And she jumps up like a deer and sprints along the dike and around the lagoon. In a minute she's lost in the rusty sand.
I notice I believe her--she wasn't upset, she did have a good time--she's just abrupt because she's fanatically busy! No time. I won't worry about her brusque side again; doesn't mean a thing.
I follow her trail slowly and soggily across the desert toward the blobby outbackish hills. Ahead I see a dome. Now, with the crisis past, each step's a strain: thin air. Sand turns to weeds, then playing fields and garden plots.
I know where I am now. This is the great back yard of the oldest human colony on Mars. And I half-belong. I came to Mars with a fresh group of colonists, dissident intellectuals, who are founding a new dome several miles to the south. As I seemed to grok the oldtimers best, I ended up as liaison. I may settle in the Old Dome, if they invite me; I like them.
Girls' air polo teams are sweeping across the next several fields like herds of wild horses. Only faster--forty or fifty KPH at least. Not just the grav, they're fit as greyhounds, and exercising fiercely in the crisp Mars air--air so thin I strain just to walk. Stunning sight--bodies tumbling, long legs shooting, blue tunics against the rosy Martian sky, hair flying, breath steaming like jet engines. Is that Sabina tackling Lori? Contact airpolo's a rough sport. That could be Lisa. So far and fast I can't tell. Here and gone. I feel like a sludge tree. A lean girl passes who I know I know, by her black hair and Native American face and blue eyes.
"Hey Silky, aren't you afraid you'll have a heart attack?" I'm not entirely joking; they worry me!
She flaps her hands, out of breath, and runs on, after a hundred-meter kick, into the tangle of her polo sisters.
I enter the dome. I bump into a thin elegant man, middle aged.
"Tom! I haven't seen you in a while."
"Let's catch up over tea." His quarters are on the rim, with a fine view. He brews the herb tea, and as the mixture slowly boils (the boiling point's too cool here to just steep your leaves; you have to cook the hell out of them to get a thing) I mention the girls' recklessness. He says, "If we don't push ourselves, we'd never be able to live in this air at all. That's why our dome's unpressurized: we could keep our homes warm and earthick, but then we'd be trapped inside. We could never breathe out there if we didn't breathe it all the time to keep in training." Footsteps outside.
"Exactly!" yells Silky. She runs in, lopes to a halt. "Dad, I'm takin' a shower."
Brrrr! Chill fog roars from the alcove. Cold shower, in this icy air... But I suppose they're right. Makes you generate your own energy.
Tom says "Do you think people as new here as the Intellectuals could settle the outback? If they were scattered, with just the tools they could carry, could they forage, build, survive?" He pauses. What's he talking about? He adds, oddly, "They are very bright."
I say flatly "They'd die." If this is an Old Colonist political proposal it's a horrible one. "Don't even bring it up! You'll outrage them. I know you feel they're over-protected, but that's way--"
"US propose it? They're voting on it!"
I told them what the Old Colonists thought, but this is insane! Suicide. Has to be a study, hypothetical. "They can't just stroll off into the Martian desert..."
His sick look tells me they are.
I run out. The Old Dome is long, low, its stone foundation half-melted by time: a rebuilt Martian ruin. I never thought much about the natives. Nomads today, they survive without much technology.
Well, maybe the dissidents can too.
Sure, and hackers eat rocks.
I climb the sandstone wall and look across the desert. Scattered like salt grains on a rosewood table are little silver dots of shelter. The exodus has already begun.
I jump down and jog, pushing myself like an Oldtimer, three miles across the desert to the Northern Hills. The first camps are on their lowest sandstone terrace, the Knees. They've stopped the lagoon's spread at last; alkali broth laps their feet. Inlets wind up the box canyons. Cliffs of ochre rock swell as I near; in these hills, and beyond, in the Deep Desert, the Natives live. It is said they are so small they call us the Giants. I can see us: big, touristy, stupid, with loud voices. What made these playwrights and filmmakers think they can survive in the wilds anyway? Someone else's wilderness, too.
As I hike up a bouldery, day-old bay, I can't find a thing that helps me judge scale: nothing's familiar. Ochre and pastelpink crags, the purple sky of afternoon, white alkali crystals already heaping up on the shore, dirty jade water sloshing... What's the right size on Mars, really? Are we Giants?
And then a bald blob-peak above me suddenly grows a little tuft of hair: four natives watching me from the cliff's edge! Thin, graceful, they look like the Oldtimers will, generations from now--that antelope shape, all lung and legs. They wear short yellowish tunics, fringed, like the buckskin jackets native to my own Earth continent. They look female but that could be just my Earth eyes. Everything here lacks reference.
They lean on tall slim spears, topped by leaf-shaped points that blink spectra in the sun. Crystals. Nitrate crystals? Could be. Explosive spearpoints! Better be polite.
Though I can see them so plainly, I still have no way to tell their size or distance. I flash into a vision: Tom and Silky and me leaning on the rocks by the bitter fjord, as knee-high Martians climb up us like hills. Dark they are, and golden-eyed. The leader stands on my thigh, her face at my eye level, looking sharply at me with unreadable eyes... and I realize I'm attracted. From her aura, it may even be mutual. But what's the use, if they're going to be this small? ("Small"... Age, maturity, intelligence? Am I an incompatible giant? Are they the girls of the class, the City, who?)
The vision suddenly reverses as I see one of the Earth Intellectuals' camps up ahead, at the canyon's end. Giants! Projected on the stone wall, big as a drive-in, are the figures of two of our party. But not... images. Figures. The real thing. To Native eyes, we out-of-towners are two-dimensional!
One of the figures is Marilyn Monroe. She just had to leave that honkytonk planet where they made her dance, and make a clean start in the desert.
The other is... me. But I look wrong. Oh, no. I am Frank Burns from M*A*S*H*. I can't be. Miller, maybe, but please, not FRANK! I watch stunned, as he whines "But Marilyn, Hotlips honey..." and drools and weasels... and she snaps "Really, Frank!", scorning the weasel act yet accepting it... and him. "I know you men are like this, I can't expect anything else, but WHY ARE YOU SO SLIMY?"
What a dynamic! I do this? Even the natives turn and vanish from the ridge, grossed out by the Giants.
I feel like crawling back into the Sea of Bitterness myself.
Now just a minute. Let me be Frank... I'm Marilyn too, with low expectations: no wonder I don't look hard for lovers. I anticipate rats. The "They're all the same!" game. Can't I aim higher than Frank?
The first image in my mind is Captain Kirk! Not too big a step. 2.5-dimensional! Ham instead of rat.
I focus on Frank's rodent face... and the petulant look fades. He begins to mug. Kirk! It's working!
The vast Marilyn turns to me. "Never mind Frank," she pleads. "The natives and the settlers are killing the horses! You have to save them!"
The Sex Goddess praying to a mortal? I don't like this.
Well, I can't just ignore it.
What horses? That was Earth... no wild herds here. "Humph!" says Silky in my head. Oh.
The wild polo girls. A horrible vision of the Settlers rounding them up in their animal forms, not understanding, penning their own kin, slaughtering them, selling them as meat.
But the villagers! How can they do it? THEY KNOW!
"What shall we do, Captain?" says Sulu.
"My tricorder show a Native village over that ridge." says Spock.
"Then," I sigh, "we climb." It's a lung-aching hike up and around the flank of the Bald Knob. At last, the hidden side of the range appears, lower but still wild shaped, like melted dormitories, and a desert plain beyond, red and lichen-green under the huckleberry colored sky. Nestled in the valley below is a huge Native camp. Tall lean tipis. Beautiful shapes. Roses are painted on the sides. We walk down the slope into the village.
"The people are our size!" gasps Sulu.
"M'narra," a woman greets us, passing with a gourd of pulped roots--pseudocarrot pulp is their staple. "Of course we are. You crossed San Brunette, the border ridge," waving up at the bare knob. "You're in our country now."
A crack in the side of the biggest tent opens, and a sharp eye beckons. The others do not see. I slip to the crack and the clifftop scout leader, now wearing the feathers of a princess, pulls me in and down into her embrace.
"Why do you paint roses on your tents?" Spock asks the pulp woman outside. "You're footloose nomads; you don't grow flowers, let alone Earth flowers."
A tent flap flips. The Captain's backside, disappearing! Into the biggest tent. I raise an eyebrow. At least I think clearly in this thin air, being Vulcan. When the Captain's brain gets starved, his gonads take over.
"We're the Zelazny tribe." The native woman says. "Means 'avant-garde' in your tongue, I think. Innovators? Improvisers. Our totem is the rose. We saw one once. New, alien, beauty." She turns away, distracted by a friend.
"M'narra! Did you hear the rumors? The Earth ham actor lies with the Horse Princess!"
"Without passing the Guardian?"
"Yes, the big coward!"
I snap "Follow me!" and scurry round the big tent looking for the door. We must warn the Captain he's broken a taboo. If we outrage the natives they'll never listen to our plea from the Sex Goddess. And the girls will die.
The main doorway has embroidered images of bones. Inside hang dim tapestries of Saturn, Jupiter, Earth from space.
In the doorway lolls a fat squat monstrous man in a loincloth. He reads a novel and trims his immense hoofish nails.
I try to squeeze by and he blocks me with a bull-leg.
"M'narra." he says.
"We must go in!" I snap. "Our captain's in there. We bear tidings from the Sex Goddess."
"You can't enter the Princess's tent 'til you've dealt with me."
"And who the hell are you?"
"Silly, I'm a Martian bouncer." Sulu groans and laughs.
"You're round enough all right!" I snap. "But nobody will get that except old sf freaks, and I want a broader audience."
"Put in a bibliography" he shrugs and goes back to buffing his claws. "'Red Planet' by Heinlein, what's so hard?"
"Flat characters, it's a kid's book, is what! I got literary pride."
"But Red Planet got you." says the Bouncer. "You WILL put in a list! You can't run. You're doing 'A Rose for Ecclesiastes' right now. And Star Trek, and Philip K. Dick's 'Martian Timeslip', Leguin's old favorite! And Bradbury, and more Heinlein coming up. A whole flood from your past." He snickers and buffs the stumps of his two severed fingers too. "Look, kid... Either fight me to enter the Princess's door, and change the world, or beat it, and accept Ecclesiastes. But don't mock your roots." And he goes back to reading 'Titan' in the doorway. "A challenge!" yells someone across the way, and swift as lemmings, the Natives gather behind us, waving carrots in the Martian air and murmuring "Rooooots!"
Sulu says "Sir, this is my job." Facing the Martian he says "I meet your challenge."
"Duel!" the natives hiss. "Duel! Duel!" The chanting rises. Why do my roots have to be pulp?
A referee appears. "M'narra." she bows. "This duel must be fair and equal. You, Sulu, give me your left hand." She pulls out a knife and prepares to cut Sulu's hand. The bouncer doesn't offer his.
"Uh... m'narra. If I have to swear a blood oath, what about him? I don't trust your bouncer."
"Oath? I don't trust either one of you! I just make things equal. He only has eight fingers, so I'm cutting off two of yours."
Sulu yanks his hand away. "The HELL you are!"
The ref slashes at Sulu's hand and we cover her with four phasers. She freezes, then says coldly "Give me your hand."
"Get out of here before I blast your head off!" Fencing is one thing, but cold-blooded knifing really shakes Sulu. The hysteria in his voice sinks in at last: the ref backs off, glaring.
The Bouncer won't budge, and we can't just shoot him. Finally, we back away, across the main square, and confer. Crazy Martians. As we huddle there stumped, gossip rustles around us like finches in brush.
"They declined a challenge!"
"They don't know our customs..."
"C'mon, some things are universal. All challenges must be met."
Now wait a minute... All challenges must be met? What if there's nothing to gain? These people are nuts. I'm not joining this Improviser tribe.
A fanfare sounds, and two tribal Secretaries emerge from the great tent, for their lunch break, in high heels and chic minis and color-matched lunch pails. They stare at us, one whispering "...declined a challenge!" and walk off through the puddles from this morning's tempest, find a dry spot to eat in the thin sun, and stare at us, gossiping.
The bugle sounds again, and Captain Kirk emerges from the tent, the Princess at his side. Grumbles ooze from the crowd and build.
"Hi, Silky." I say, not really surprised.
"Cowardfucker!" yells someone from the back. Silky gasps, and her eyes brim with tears she shakes off.
"We weren't just fucking!" she yells back. "We were planning a revolution!"
"Just?" I blurt. "It's more than 'just fucking' to me!"
Hoots from the crowd. "Unjust more likely!"--"Space slut!"--"Trekkie tart!"--"Wait'll the Chief hears about this!"
"What the Chief thinks no longer matters. Kirk has brought me the word of the Sex Goddess. She confirms what I've been saying: we must stop hunting wild horses. Our friends the old aliens tame the ones we sell them, but the new ones, the Intellectuals, grind 'em up and eat 'em!
"I will act as regent til my child has grown--our child." She beams at Kirk. Ah! 'Friday's Child', I forgot that episode.
"Flatfucker!" yells an old woman. "He's only 2.5!"
Three long-robed figures push toward Kirk, jeering. My mental alarm goes off--no one here hides their bodies like that. It's unnatural.
We pull phasers. Kirk shoves Silky aside into the crowd. They surge away from her as if she's a grenade! The assassins leap--one at each of us AND ONE AT HER.
The backwash of the phasers scorch us as the knifers die instantly. Singed bystanders wail. Silky gasps, still unbelieving. One of her own people... We and the crowd bristle at each other, scared: phasers and explosive spearheads pack such overkill at this range.
"HEY! Lemme through!" squeaks an odd voice. A dwarf, the tribal jester by his outfit, squeezes out through the crowd around the body of Silky's attacker. "Not now, Alexander!" two natives snap as one, and cuff him aside. He struggles to his feet and zips through their legs to my side.
"Uh, I know this is a poor time to interrupt..."
"No, we're only having a war!" I snap.
"I believe I've found something that might resolve this."
A warrior shoves him away again, but the Jester persists, tugging at my velour cuff. "I know none of you want to be distracted right now, but this is important."
I force myself to listen. "I found this in that one's robe-pocket." Little gold-red-silver paper, proclaiming SNICKERS. A candy wrapper!
"We never buy those!" the Horse Princess points out. "We support Mars Bars."
"Then it has to come from the Intellectuals, fresh from Earth." I say reluctantly. "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
"Why would they want to kill our leader?" says a young Martian male. " To keep her from protecting the horses?"
An old woman yells "Once they've eaten them, are we next? Do they want the wild range for themselves?"
"The Intellectuals... our enemy's in our own camp." muses Spock, more greenish than ever. For once he's shaken. "How can I logically oppose the most rational people on the planet?"
"Down with the Intellectuals and their Snickers!" yells a young scout girl with one feather. "Send 'em back to their soggy little world!"
"Yeah... " I say.
Silky yells "WHOOOOOPIEEE!" and leaps over the crowd toward me, soaring in Mars grav. At the top of her arc she explodes. Her neck snakes out, body swells and blackens, black ponytail flashes into fire, limbs shoot out like pouncing cheetahs, caramel skin grows ebony fur. A wild mare slams in the dust beside me, lowgrav-pirouettes and rubs me. "I love you, Captain!" she says. "But I shouldn't call you Kirk now--you're 3-D, I can tell."
"Only for a while. I can't keep it up..." I start crying. Hide my face in her mane. Cry into long gold satin. I stop, surprised. Soft. Her mane and tail are glossy, blonde. Bright as Marilyn! She's always been black. What's happened to her?
The wind rises. I cough as the sand flails our faces. Dust storm! The villagers leap into their tipis quick as prairie dogs. Red grit swirls into a solid wall. The soundtrack starts wailing
Duuuuuuuust in the wiiiiiiiind
All we are is dust in the wind...
I lose sight of the others in the Ecclesiastical dust storm, except Silky, whose shiny mane's a beacon. Eye of the cyclone!
And then the ground drops away.
I hang onto Silky with all my strength as the red siphon carries us over the brick desert and milky sea. Silky snarls "Dust in the wind? They really lay it on, don't they?!" She starts countersinging
Sisters, lovers,I join in:
And in time,
We drown the soundtrack! And the fatalists' vortex begins to unravel.
A pale surface comes up and we land with a thump in coarse sand. The winds unwind. As the grit curtain drops and the light returns, the horizon creeps out yard by yard. Where's the twister brought us, Oz?
I nearly faint. There's no mistaking it; I've been dragged to this place in my mind a hundred times since childhood, when I read the scene in 'Have Space Suit--Will Travel'. The sunlight isn't. Spotlights from the roof a mile above us, hard as stars.
We are on trial--before the Galaxy.
Around us, the representatives of every intelligent race in the Galactic Confederation stare as if we're bugs. Ten minutes allotted to the question of whether a minor race will live or die. The Assembly's cyber Speaker says in a terrible Biblical voice:
"I am the Stars--the Great and Powerful. Who are YOU?"
"I am Silky... the Small and Meek. I come to ask..." Silky starts to speak of the wild horses' plight. Doing pretty well, I think.
But one by one, without any fuss, the stars go out. The spotlight of attention drifts away.
She moans. "We've lost already. Horses have no standing: we fail their definition of sapient beings."
"But they... we are!"
She says quietly "Not by Heinlein rules."
I blink and go back to the childhood books--and I understand. 'Star Beast.' The legal definition of a person is a creature with speech and hands! Every intelligent species has some way to communicate, but without hands, what good is talk? If you can't build a civilization, you lack the power to resist other civilizations--and the law is practical. It acknowledges as people only those who may defend themselves as people... And that's the sum of Galactic wisdom: Don't hit people who can hit back. Realpolitik. Heinlein, Kissinger... Attila the Hun.
I close my eyes, thinking of Silky, draggled from the tornado, head down, a whipped animal. Her last hope is broken. What can I do for her now? I open my eyes to a shock. She glares at her judges, head up. Her mane and tail burn clean gold in the remaining spotlights. How does she manage it? I'm a mess!
And at last I catch on.
Well, use your insight in a way realpolitikers understand.
I shout "I have hands, and I will be heard. I accuse the Intellectuals on Mars of slander as well as genocide! They've told you the Horses of Mars aren't people, in hopes of denying them a fair hearing. Now my friends have shown great restraint with their pushy neighbors, refused to fight back in kind, trusting the justice of this assembly. But they can fight back; they are people under your constitution. We can prove, here and now, that they meet both halves of Heinlein's Law."
A commotion among the legislators to the right.
"Afraid to test it?" I shout. "Give me a blackboard with the operative line of your Constitution on it--written nice and big please!" Five second pause. This is it. Turn out the lights? A fog appears, firms into a plastic wall three meters high and wide, and I know we have a chance. They're intrigued. The Assembly Speaker has politely written in English, not Assembly Language: "...ALL CREATURES WITH LANGUAGE AND HANDS..."
"And a big red feltpen." I say.
Only a half second delay. Got 'em hooked!
I toss the pen at Silky's forefeet. She prances back, playing afraid. Now that I know, I can see she looks nothing at all like an Earth horse--that spectacular color contrast, like shiny black lacquer with gold trim--because she combs and shampoos her coat, and dyes her mane and tail blonde! Without hands. The hell with hands!
The felt pen rises; the cap pops off. The sound splinters through the translators into a million little clicks and thuds rippling down the arena. She glares at the Constitution, and the felt pen dives at the crucial line like a furious wasp. She slashes at 'HANDS'! Bloody magenta jags. Awkward letters straggle across the margin, replacing 'HANDS' with 'THE'... 'POWER'... 'TO'... 'CHANGE'... 'THE'... 'WORLD', stroke by stroke.
A flock of angry mutters sweeps round the assembly. An Ice Queen, translucent green and blue, summons a mike-spotlight. Humanfaced, emotionless. "I move that the Chair stop this animal show and get on with our agenda. Telekinesis indeed! Even if such a talent existed, which it can't, would it first appear in a simple creature like this? They shame our Assembly with this trick."
The soundtrack sings faint as a fruitfly in my ear:
Your mother's ghost stands at your shoulderAnd at last, I see Silky mad enough to fight. "TRICK?" she neighs. "Name your test and we'll see who's lying. I can move up to a kilo with a thought. You couldn't move a hair on a horse in heat, you snotty little icecube!"
Face like ice--a little bit colder--saying to you
"You cannot do this; it breaks all the rules
You learned in school."
The ice queen won't even look at her.
Silky rears up and screams, shoots the felt pen across the arena at the Galactic, who sits frozen as Silky marks red lipstick on her pale mouth, shocking smears like blood on a vampire's pale...
Uproar! The hall fills with shrieks and squeals and buzzes, like the jury in Wonderland. The galactics are nothing but a pack of cowards! Fear what they don't understand.
On the other hand, we've been noticed. They'll have to vote on it now. Dare they unpeople people they're afraid of? Heinlein's Law may favor us now.
A wind rises. Tornado! The bastards are copping out. Just sending us home! Over the roar, Silky yells "Well they were disappointing! Guess we'll have to save ourselves." She's still confident! What a change from the old shy days. A minute later we thump down on the sands of Mars.
"Even if I blew it, and we're gonna be hunted, I'm glad to be back in the desert." says Silky as the horizon clears. "There's no place--"
"Don't say it."
But the horizon has gone terribly wrong. All is changed. The toxic salt lagoon is gone, and the vast hills are jumbled. Intellectuals wander dazed among the boulders.
One shambles up to us, haunt-eyed.
"What happened here?" I ask.
"All the rivers ran into the sea; yet the sea would not fill. To the place from where the rivers come, there they returned again. The... the winds went toward the south, and whirled around continually...
"And it's geologically impossible!" he whispers. "This world is dead. There is nothing new under the sun."
Silky sniffs the air and starts laughing and laughing. "We did it after all." she says. "With no help."
I smell only that mineral stuff. Nitrates?
"Not so dead any more." says Silky. "I know how the horses did it. Watch." And a yard-high boulder, seamed with gray veins of nitrate, explodes into vermilion sand. Toxins turned to energy!
The lost intellectual stares at her. "No, Mars is stable!", he yells, buttoning up his coat of science against the rising wind. "One generation passes, and another comes; but the earth remains forever."
"Oh, yeah?" Silky turns human and starts hopping around. She tries a handstand. "Welcome to the new world!" she says, coming down plop. "Lively enough, I think. Tell your friends to feel at home. Stay as long as you like. Do behave."
And so I moved to San Francisco, and tell my dreams, and live my dreams.
And you can live yours too, it seems.
This dream was a mad careening tribute to every science fiction and fantasy book I ever read. Starting with...
I struggled to express this intricate dream in several media--as plain text, as a picture-story, as comics (just too hard!), and as a bas-relief painting/sculpture in two parts:
|This dream-planet is holy--and through its holes, carved by jigsaw and ancient catastrophe, you can see Red Mars, the rusted Mars of now. If you swing Misfit Mars aside (for the Mars of Mares, like all planets, hangs in space on a silver hook), these words appear:|
Mars was green.
Mars is red.
Mars will be green again.
We will not abandon
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
LISTS AND LINKS: bars, clubs, etc - dating advice - dance - only in San Francisco - a dream of Whoopi Goldberg - a cult of Marilyn Monroe - a dream of Arthur Miller - Silicon Valley - weird nocturnal creatures - Mars - cute babes - royalty - Silky - deserts and oases - aliens - Philip K. Dick - MASH dreams - Star Trek dreams - another Zelazny dream - movie dreams - horses - shapeshifters - Oz - trials and judges - politics - power - animal rights and uplift to sentience - revolution - Look ma, no hands! - pessimism and doubt - self-respect and pride - transcendent dreams - bibliography (on dreams, not old sf/fantasy--for that, you got what you got.)
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