SALIA AND CHUR
Dreamed 1989/2/25 by Chris Wayan
I'm in a science fiction novel written by an indirect, convoluted personality I can't quite fathom. I won't argue whether a character should understand her author, I'm just saying my author's prose doesn't make sense to me. So I prefer to ignore it, and just live our story. That's allowed--our author's not fussy.
I'm captain of a small trading ship. It's a small, fast, modern ship, built of tesselated rhomboctahedrons. No, I don't know what those are either. Probably just crunchy geometric nonsense. I told you--ignore our author! Just a word junkie. All she means is, our ship's a chunky angular little thing. Not pretty, but fast.
We're coming home from a hard voyage to a multistar system dominated by a infrared giant. There are only four of us on board, this trip. I'm Py, the captain. I never could describe myself--a tall woman who worries a lot, all right? Second: a very hairy, hunchbacked dwarf called Rosebush, who was raised traditional Inuit, though he doesn't look it. Third: the New Girl, who I'll call Salia (the i is a strong "ee" sound) for reasons that'll become clear. Fourth is Wayan, a shaman and shapeshifter, currently a shy, slender man.
We picked up the New Girl this trip. We were salvaging gear from a derelict alien ship, and we found her in cold storage! She's from the far past, maybe as much as 30,000 years back.
We all worry about her. She's eager to belong, but timid, even fearful, and not too verbal. Society today has strict standards--certain threshhold values must be met. With her Stone Age chrono-stigma, she may be judged too primitive or subhuman for legal personhood, let alone a crew certification. And we want her on this crew. She's sweet and smart and tries hard. She'll catch up--if she can stay.
We have a fifth crew member, Chur, but she's on ice. I told you this was a bad voyage. She was killed by a "bullet", a small chunk of metal sent smashing through her organs. A pointless dirtside brawl. Her death may be irreversable; we can't be sure till we land, but the readouts are nasty.
Planets! Some people like them.
We land on Earth at last and prepare to disembark and head for our in-port house. Time for the ritual celebration--we made it alive! Only we didn't all.
Except for the New Girl, we all have some Inuit blood of course, so we celebrate the Inuit way--eat a lot, have a sing, then have an orgy and sleep in a pile. Well, it's more structured than that, we pair off a different way each time to reduce prevent jealousy. Rosebush, being the traditionalist, is in charge of structuring the rite. I worry the New Girl will freak--maybe the ancients never fucked in groups, even those they loved and worked with. What if she leaves us? We like her despite her silence and shyness.
I'm supposed to start things off here on the ship by pouncing on the other crew members, catching them by surprise. They're close behind me as we head down toward the airlock, but there's a hidden swing-up wallpanel, here in the airlock alcove. Perfect. I swing up and climb in--and then find myself in a chill fog. Oh, gods! This is the storage locker we set to freeze Chur! She's right by me. I whisper an apology to her spirit if it's around, hoping she'll understand and forgive. She always loved the rite. I leap down on my crew and ignore the symbolism--Death jumping on them.
Later, at our crewhome, I find myself pacing while the others cook. The New Girl leaves the kitchen too, goes wandering through the library, in the maze of aisles between datacubes. I know she's worried about passing her Personhood Test. I follow her, offer to ask questions for practice. We sit and I begin. She answers readily, but always in single words or short phrases. Not enough! If she can't do better, prove her ability to reveal intimate things, she'll never get her certificate. We want her along, but will we have to treat her legally as a passenger--or a pet?
I think she misunderstands the questions--she mentions a "slave" once. I ask her and she says "I slave." I blink and ask again. And shiver as, at last, I understand.
In slow, careful pidgin, Salia explains she wasn't a passenger on that wreck we found her in. Nor crew. She was property. Cargo. She was a slave. There was a war, and she and others were TRIBUTE--to be used, abused and sacrificed if they didn't please. She was raped, tortured...
Her brief answers make sense now! The wary answers of a slave whose words may condemn her. Best to look simple, stupid... And despite her mistrust, no wonder she shows such warmth to us--no beatings, no rape, actual meals, a bed, reasonable work! She can't be sure if she's slave or free, but she recognizes kindness.
My eyes go blurry with tears and I kiss her forehead and say in pidgin so she'll be sure to get it "Salia, you're free. Slave... against law here!"
Salia says "slave, rope, gravwell, ah, cone, out..." and gives up. She grabs a stylus and draws herself for me, naked, curled up--no, TIED up. By someone who liked to tie up girls--and knew how. She draws superbly and has the com map her skin and shadows onto the drawing till it's photographically accurate. Bound, gagged, ready to use. Despite myself I feel my heart speed up--I wouldn't have imagined this could excite me, though I've imagined making love to her, of course, we all have--Salia's so beautiful. But not like this.
She's drawn her foot jammed into a strange cone, like the bell of a horn or a cornucopia. She points to the cone and says "Like, ah, gravity well... slave, hurt. Fly up, out, then not so slave, hurt less, cone bigger. Slow. Climb? Out, zero grav, free."
I embrace her. We'll just have to be patient, tonight. And every night.
But she wants to be with us. To climb out of the black hole, and heal.
I'm hiking up a sunny road in Half Moon Bay valley, up toward the pass. Gets steep, a gorge. Spectacular. The road turns and leaps across--a bridge or causeway built of MAGAZINES!
I walk across. Stop and look at some covers. Life. Interview. Notice a special issue of a magazine I've seen once before; it had the sexiest photos! Open this one, and my heart starts pounding--whew! Spectacularly beautiful women, naked and elegant. I take the magazine along. Says it's one of three. Keep an eye out...
I spot one of the others, and it's just as sexually explicit... yet not sexy at ALL! Puzzled why--are the models not my type, or is the attitude sexist, or what? I can't make out why one's hot and one's not--they both look similar on the surface. Now that I really look, MOST of the magazines on this bridge are about sex--and plenty are like this. Profoundly unsexy. What's going on here?
I stand, puzzled, halfway across the Bridge of Porn.
NOTES IN THE MORNING
And that bridge of sex magazines?!!
I have to go to Fry's Electronics for a computer part. It's my first time in this legendary Silicon Valley store, catering to hard-core programmers and computer builders. It has the strangest traffic flow of any store I've ever seen. They make it hard to reach the cashiers--you're forced to go through narrow aisles lined with hard-core junk food, and equally hard-core sex magazines! In a sick way I guess it makes sense. All the late-night essentials for those solitary, body-hating guys, the heroes of the computer revolution, staying up all hours to built the next generation of video games--fuel them with sugar and caffeine and fantasies of the hot sex and trophy wives they'll get when they're zillionaires...
And here I was wondering at the deep Jungian symbolism of a bridge of porn--when the next day, I had to cross it!
I watch TV. On "Star Trek, The Next Generation", the New Girl appears! Her name's Salía, with an accent on the i. She's an alien princess of sorts, with such a strict guardian that young Wesley Crusher, who's attracted to her, suspects she's something of a prisoner. He's right--she longs to explore the galaxy, but she has a peacekeeping job waiting for her; her office requires it. A slave of duty.
Wesley feels betrayed when he finds out Salia's a shapeshifter and her natural form is quite different--a small dinosaur, perhaps. He thinks she was just toying with him.
Untrue! Salia loves him, and he's not mature enough to see it. She WANTS to stay, and sail the stars with Wesley. But duty binds her. At least for now...
So what's my duty, before I can run off and find love, and play, and travel, and explore life? Well, the dream makes that pretty clear. All I have to do is heal from thinking I'm a slave!
Yeah, that's all.
But I can do it. I was frozen 30,000 years--but now I'm thawing out.
NOTE ON THE SKETCH
I wish I'd drawn Salia soon as I woke, but I didn't. The sketch is close--dark bangs, slightly aquiline nose, large solemn eyes--but I did it years later, using a still from "Star Trek" as a reference. So while I know the New Girl was the spittin' image of Salia, the picture's not evidence. (But art can be evidence for ESP. Al Davison, in his book Spiral Dreams, has a fine example: sketches by him and artist Sara Welponer side by side. Done years before they met, they show a distinctive dream-spook named Kolchec. It happens!)
Moral: Write it AND draw it. Explorers must record their findings. I did well to write the dream in such detail, but why didn't I draw it too?
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