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PRRL

Dreamed 19971/17 by Chris Wayan

Images from my dream: a starmap, Prrl the alien like a silver balloon, a pavilion in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, a very pregnant woman, and a green plastic stake.
The future. A galaxy-wide multiracial civilization. We don't think of other species as aliens any more, just people. Or so I thought... 'til I meet a true alien. Our first visitor from the Magellanic Clouds! He doesn't even look organic. Just a silver-gray balloon two feet across, bobbing around. His name is Prrl. He's an engineering genius--cheerful, can-do, smug, busy... and, it seems to me, a bit shallow. Sort of a beachball version of Isaac Asimov... Star-route to Magellanic Cloud.

His race rules the Cloud. They keep tame humanoids and other meat people as secretaries and support staff, freeing beachballs to do the research and planning. Prrl invites me to come see their society. On behalf of Galactic civilization, I accept.

In the Magellanic Clouds, I find Prrl lives in an engineering firm whose complex rivals a Galactic university in size and resources. Though the Clouds' population is smaller and less diverse, their technology's superior. Balloons really are geniuses. And maybe better than I realized at social engineering: the races who serve them are healthy and happy, at least on the surface. And smart! I start to feel intimidated and defensive.

Prrl more or less dumps me among his human support staff. He has so many projects--matters of real importance. I begin to suspect that I'm just an exotic pet or trophy, that the balloons see us Galactics as just a big, exploitable wilderness, not a potential trading partner.

His staff live and work a floor below the Balloon Level. I wonder if they're even allowed to rise above the Human Level. I go looking for Prrl, partly to test what rules apply to them--and to me. Ask casually where Prrl is--humans seem friendly but unsure how to treat me, as an equal or as a balloon. At last I just go upstairs, past the Human Level, looking for Prrl. I'm no one's servant or pet!

Prrl, an alien like a silver balloon. No one stops me.

Talking with him, I watch for signs he's trying to tame me--perhaps a subtle undermining of my confidence. Are the balloons socially sneakier than I thought? Or have they risen to rule through sheer overwhelming technical intelligence? I'm just not sure yet. As we talk, my insecurity rises--he really is so brilliant! I'm so used to being the smartest person in the room. Maybe it's brains alone that made them masters.

Night. I'm at a party. A flat with low ceilings and sliding glass doors out to a broad terrace with a view of the complex. Prrl arranged this party for me to meet more humans. He's openly eager to have me report to the Milky Way that humans are better off as servants to genius, than as leaderless creatures. And the trouble is, he makes a case. Larger and healthier than us, if a bit less diverse perhaps. Introduces me mostly to women--oh, he wants to lure me into identifying, the bastard is trying to tame me! Some of the women brush the ceiling, must be nearly eight feet tall. One thin graceful brown woman has to stoop. I think "how unfair she's confined to a level with such a low ceiling."

I introduce myself as "The wild human from the Galaxy." With a glint in my eye. Letting Prrl and his pets know that I know they're tame and I won't be a pet. And that our civilization may be behind them technologically, but only a few years out of billions--and we're a whole galaxy of cultures, not one culture in a small satellite galaxy, like theirs.

Still, I sound a bit hollow even to myself, trying a bit too hard to be deliberately casual to Prrl as if we're equals--when I really am intimidated. Prrl just tut-tuts my baiting him... urbane, overlooking my provincial manners. In their culture there are only two slots, balloons and servants; I don't fit either one, but he seems to be confident that if he gives me enough rope I'll tie myself to the other humans, prove I'm inferior. I could tolerate this if I were sure I could go home without Prrl's help. But can I? If they decide I'm just a curiosity like the Indians Columbus brought back, I could die here, a pet on display. A very pregnant woman.

And the humans--I'd feel they were my equals, these pets and slaves, without Prrl present. Bright, witty, curious, confident. Talk with a very pregnant woman taller than I am. She wears revealing clothes, turns me on yet confuses me since she's so late-term pregnant it's hard for me to think about sex with her; some primal part says she's someone else's mate. But here pregnant women show off, fertility's a badge of pride, as thinness and muscles are with us. I wonder if the owners arranged that, if they have breeding programs... ones so slick their humans don't even know. Even sex is suspect here; all my instincts have to be questioned.

Go for a walk with a few of them. A loop around a green oval game-field, a running track? They pass it by, but suddenly I excuse myself and run back to it, stung by an intuition I can't explain. Find the track around the edge torn up and muddy. It was smooth just a few minutes ago. A black man, the first truly dark person I've seen, is driving a road-grader around it, smoothing it again. I wonder what happened? Was it a statement of rebellion? I'm also uneasy--the first black guy I see is the first manual laborer? Makes me suspicious... and he looks at me like--I don't know. But he's holding a green plastic tent-stake, about a foot long, like an X in cross-section, pointed like a Phillips screwdriver but not terribly sharp.

Another man is walking across the field. He seems nervous. The driver leans out of his cab and stabs the walker! No... pins him down by clothes, with the stake. Didn't pierce any flesh. But creepy... A green tent-stake.

I decide the best defense is a bold offense. I walk up to him and say "I'm the galactic ambassador. I don't understand this custom. Can you explain it. Have I violated a taboo?" He shakes his head uncomfortably and says "Orders." And hands me a green stake! At least he doesn't snag me with it--reluctant to give me one at all, but it clearly means his job if he doesn't. And he dares not speak to me--forbidden.

Well--now I'm scared. If they let me see the punitive part of their system, they may not plan to let me go home.

But at least I get to walk back and pull out that green stake and hand it to a human in their genteel party and ask neutrally but loudly enough for all to hear, "What exactly does this mean?"

And, in a way, I enjoy that, throwing their slavery back in their faces. No matter what comes after.

And I wake.

NEXT MORNING

I write the dream down, then go to a matinee movie in a big theater. I'm pretty late from writing: most seats are full, just big flat padded benches in the front are left. And I want a real seat with a back, since my muscles are sore from gym. Blocked rows in the middle, I'm too shy to squeeze in front of people. There's a hole, seats missing right in the center.

As I sit at last, I realize ALL the staffers were black. All the working people, black. Disturbing--haven't I seen that pattern before? Somewhere unjust?

The film begins. It's the story of me and Prrl.

Do I have to sit through this again? How many times before I get it?

And I wake...

Images from my dream: a starmap, Prrl the alien like a silver balloon, a pavilion in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, a very pregnant woman, and a green plastic stake.
NOTES THE NEXT DAY

My friend Alder invites me to a stage version of Journey to the West, in Zellerbach Theater in Berkeley. The back hall, which I'd never seen, was laid out just like my dream theater; the seat-gap was a place for wheelchairs. Though I saw no backless seats and the staff sure wasn't all-black.

The play is of course a stage version of the classic Chinese novel about Tripitaka and Monkey crossing Tibet to bring Buddhism to China. It has close parallels with PRRL:

I walk out disoriented, full of flashbacks to the dream. Purely aside from the predictive touches, the dream's a warning. Discipline? My mind is a puffed-up and devious god who bullies the rest of me. I need to rebel, not obey better! JOURNEY TO THE WEST's message of submission, discipline, and humility is all wrong for me. I need to be wild--and seek wild mates.

How about you?



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