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A VALLEY NEAR HOPE

Dreamed 1984/10/17-19 by Chris Wayan
For the real Jamie and Lindy, Varitz and Jade, Boats and Wally, Shelley Errington... And of course the residents of Hope, B.C.

PREFACE (2001)

I dreamed this epic comedy on two consecutive nights. I know it seems like made up--even the waking-world scenes have such surreal, nonsensical touches--the mad dreamcharts, the monumental nonsense sculptures, the catacombs, the art improv, my time-disorientation. Nope! All real. I was working at Stanford University by day and dreamworking by night.

I changed a few names to protect friends' privacy, and put scenes in chronological order (I dreamed Part 3 first, bewildering me until the next night when I dreamed 1 and 2). And the dialog's reconstructed--I rarely recall exact wording. So yes, the raw dreams were certainly edited. But NOT invented. This isn't fiction. It's an epic dream with its own triangular logic and structure.

No, wait--tetrahedral. The Three Peoples are so dramatic, chasing and loving and fearing each other--Ants, Cyborgs and Unicorns, each embodying a way of life--all so archetypal it's hard to see beyond the triangle they define to the shadowy fourth vertex underground--the Sculptors lurking at the root of the inverted pyramid, who may have inadvertently caused the war between the three--a war I see in most creative people today.


Tetrahedon symbolizing the four species living in the Valley: Ants, Cyborgs, Atheleni, and Formcatchers.


OVERTURE A chart plotting dream-recall, full of red spikes and dips, and the black names of dreams.


All evening, I've been trying to draft a story out of my long precognitive dream, "Alp Vark, or The Goddess on the Wall". But now that I've buried myself (and the living room sofa) in notes, I feel discouraged. What's the point? No one'll ever publish this stuff, it's too personal. I lie back and spread the part about the unionizing crayfish over my face and feel sorry for myself.

Hmm. If I'm going to mope, I ought to write up a dream that fights the mood. Where's something positive?

I get up and spread the master chart across the rug. Dreams of hope, huh? "Auspicious Tractor-Hate"? Weeks, months, three years run along the foot. A wicked black sawtooth logs nightly recall--in hundreds of words, and thousands, up to "Sisters of the Interface", off the top. No, that one's too complex for me to handle tonight. Gold and blue curves of rolling averages; sharper red snakes of extremes. "Coyote the Trickster and the Pajamas of Instantaneous Translocation"? Too freaky, and no one reads Dante these days. Tidal waves mount where epic dreams cluster and peak in often-psychic spikes. "Dead Rights! Dead Rights!" Something upbeat like that. The titles of all the story-quality dreams are jammed in vertically, in fierce microscopic letters, as dense and dark as basalt columns. The mass oppresses me; must I net every dream? Obsessive!

I spin the chart aside and lie down again. A flicker of a pony gallops on indigo sky. I remember. I was a wild horse. My first memory! I was there, over and over, in a high red desert, in what I learned you call "dream", and I recall nothing else but that life til I was four. My deepest memories are not of this life at all. I came from there to here. Yet I worry about forgetting!

This crazy culture's getting to me. That's all. All you amnesiacs, you multiple personalities with memories like lace, thousands of holes you turn your eyes away from--don't you wonder what you do there?

Now I'm too mad to write. Temper temper. I lie back again and put the master chart over me. Makes for multicolored shade, with that big numerical serpent crawling across the sky, out of focus. Rest in peace. I close my eyes.

The horse reappears in the dark, but it changes. Three-legged, with a horn. Gestures with its head. A suggestion? What? S/he crouches; the silhouette abstracts into a triangle. Threes... Oh. The data pours from the other side into my undream mind. I say "Thank you" and sit up and write. People's reactions to my dream-tales just sorted themselves into three corners! Someone did a lot of work on this; I'm grateful.

Thumbnail sketch of tetrahedon symbolizing the four species at war in 'A Valley Near Hope': Ants, Cyborgs, Atheleni, and Formcatchers.
Three rival worldviews. So who to please? Who to offend? All three clubs feel too narrow to me. My dream-art is the harmony made by all three notes--story, vision, fact. That crowded junction is where I live. Can't I make them hear the chord? Oh well. I'm inventing a new form; of course people try to squeeze it into the forms they know.

I need a role model! A psychic storywriting sleep-and-dream researcher, right.

A new form appears on the veiny eyelid screen. An octagon! Oh, no! Five more aspects I've missed?

A red octagon appears in my vision. Oh. A stop sign.

A RED octagon. Oh. A stop sign! I'm risking another gut attack if I think any more. Remove that brain! Time to be a vegetable.

I open the Tao Te Ching on the coffee table, but tonight it nags not comforts me: I should be humbler! Gah. I'm too humble now. Lou Cicchone, psychic reporter; dream sketch based on photo of actor Louis Del Valle, by Wayan.

So instead I turn on the American oracle, and channel surf.

Hey, there's 'Seeing Things'! The only Canadian show down here in the States, and the only show about a psychic. My unconscious must have known it was on. Good!

Poor old Lou. Just wants to be a good bald reporter and get back together with Marge his separated wife... no, that sounds gruesome, and she's just a bit scattered. Here comes another vision. He jumps out of bed, runs across town... would he leave Marge for a phone tip? Nah, just visions! He defers to them so. No wonder she gets mad--and jealous of Redfern, the blonde prosecutor. Not that anything'll happen... he may be tempted, as they're forced to hide together overnight, but to a Wasp like her, he's neuter, with his ethnicity and his dumpy moustache.

Still, he laughs at himself. How often does a TV psychic have any humor? There's a lesson here for me, all right. I get my visions and I get carried away, babbling them to people I know will say "whaaaaat?" No wonder my body gets mad! And then trial separation, here we come. Oh well.

Whoops! I'm separating right now.

I stagger up and turn the set off before I fade completely. Thinking about how to be a better Lou, I stumble to bed.

I close my eyes and see an intricate dream-chart; time is the X axis, dream-recall is the Y.
Part One: INFERNO

CARRIED AWAY

Lou drives me into the mountains to show me his organic garden. It's his latest attempt to find a way to calm down, learn patience. You can't hurry vegetables.

I like the spot. It's in B.C., east above Hope. Beautiful peaks east, north, west. The alpine bench he tills drops away to the south... a grand view. We sit on the edge and picnic. The air's so clean I can actually taste the food. Canadian cuisine tastes like paper to me, back in town, where I'm all stuffed up. Or he picks lousy cafes, I dunno. Or New Vancouver's not San Francisco.

There's nothing like a mountain for letting you talk with your mouth full. I notice he makes even more noise than I do. Then he finishes a sandwich, with organic sand, courtesy of the organic lettuce, and I notice something odd. I hear him munching on! I'm about to comment when he says,

"I don't mean to be rude, but how do you chew so loud without moving your jaw?"

Slowly we turn... to see the third picnicker.

A monstrous Worm is heaving out of the tilled soil... slashing and hacking at his defenseless lettuce. Big hairy palps shove pieces into its vertical mouth. "Ogopogopogopogo..." it gurgles.

Lou gapes, stutters "Hey you--who do you think you are, huh?" and runs at the monster, flapping his arms. The beast turns faceted eyes on the little guy and to my surprise lumbers around and humps over the edge, down the slope, off to the south, fast as a horse. Lou stops running when he sees its speed. He looks at me.

Now I know who this Worm is and I'd rather let it go. I know the spiky lumpy line of that back by heart--the dream graph! The quest for total recall, total continuity between worlds. Catching every vision!

A chart plotting dream-recall, full of spikes and dips.
But Lou's jumping up and down now, frustrated that I haven't dumped my picnic plate and joined his chase.

I say "Let it go, Lou... If you grow stuff, you have to lose some." But he can't bear it, won't hear it. Every dream--

He yells "Wait here!" and starts the truck. It rolls a few yards then dies. No gas! I am almost relieved to be stranded up here. Not for long though. He says "I know!" and fishes out the reserve can. The monster is a speck down the valley now. He babbles "This truck gets lousy mileage in low gear, and I got further to go than one gallon could take me. So..." What?

He lugs the grimy can over to the drainage ditch on the cliff-foot side of the dirt road that tips down into the valley to the south.

I watch puzzled as he opens the can and pours the precious fuel down the dry ditch. It hisses down the slope, paralleling the creek but much straighter. He lights the match.

"DON'T!" I scream, but the stream of flame roars down the road, as far south as I can see. The heat is horrifying. The rocks start to melt. The stream is of lava now, oozing luminous red far down the valley. Lou grabs a tin washtub from the back of the truck, tosses it in, and climbs inside recklessly. He sails away down the creek of fire. I stand stunned. I can't believe Lou would cause an Inflammation of the Wilderness! A worm of lava fire, red and hot as my guts. Lou?

And yet that's Lou, that's Lou all over. Carried away again. A roadside ditch in Canadian mountains roars with flame. Dream sketch by Wayan. I jump as a voice says "Weird!" behind me. Hiking out of the peaks to the north comes a blonde WASP. Looks very professional. Familiar.

"How much gas was it?" she asks.

"A gallon."

"It doesn't look like a one-gallon lava flow. Five, maybe!"

How the hell can she tell? "I'd think he could go farther just driving with it." I say.

"On a slope, lava's been known to outrun trucks." She pauses, watching the flames billow, and adds "Still, he must have been in quite a hurry to run such a risk."

"He was chasing a thief, but I don't think that justifies setting a forest fire."

"You're from the States, eh?"

That startles me. "How'd you know?"

"Oh, you all worry about fire! Up here, we let them burn. Clears out the brush and prevents a wildfire later on. We all know how to ride lava, you learn how to make it in school." I'm stunned by the idea of letting fires burn, it's completely alien. Ignore Inflammations? But, but--I gape at her.

She goes on "It's basic survival. Marks your path for a rescue party. No... the risk I meant was... he's crazy to go in there announcing himself like that. Down there's Three Army land!"

"Three what?"

"Come on, everyone knows--Oh, you're from the States." She sits on the picnic spread. I do too. Slowly she tells me the legend, with voice and hands, clearly having fun. She looks properly witchy with the flames reflecting in her eyes.

THE LEGEND OF THE GUN NUTS TO THE SOUTH

"Once upon a time there were three symbiotic species who made their Valley a vast fair Garden. With all the misery in the world, the bigotry in the stars, even aliens came to learn their secret of cooperation. Now, all that attention made them self-conscious. They began to examine their own happiness, at first to help the others who needed answers. Perhaps one of the three was unique, a peacemaking race. They began to keep moral accounts, see who gave and received the most. The media love tales of trouble in paradise, and played up the changes. Seeing themselves on the news, they began to feel fragile, an enclave. The Valley of Three became a pressure cooker. They knew the heat was from outside, but there was no way to touch those who were hurting them. No one knows who started the fighting. Each claimed innocence, perhaps rightly: this was back in the News Wars, the days when researchers and dataleggers dominated the economy--setting up fights among small unimportant peoples, to spice up their reports, and keep the grants coming.

"Well, each of the Three assumed the others had betrayed them, and tried to drive them from the Valley. Since then 'tis centuries, but here they stay, warring forever in this land they've made a desolation and a name of fear.

"And the Moral," she says, "is, trim your Harmony too fine, and it turns to Discord." Thumbnail sketch of tetrahedon symbolizing the four species at war in 'A Valley Near Hope': Ants, Cyborgs, Atheleni, and Formcatchers.

I remember now. I was four when Gramma told me scary stories of the Three Hordes--the cold Machines who hate all Living Flesh, the soulless Killer Ants loyal only to the Swarm, the savage Gargoyles who kill with a Look.

"I thought they were from long ago!" I say. "I wasn't even sure they were real. I was scared they'd come get me in the dark sometimes, though, when I was small."

She smiles "Me, too." then blinks, turns, listening. She flattens on the alpine grass and gasps "Oh my god, he's provoked them! Get down--here they come!"

IN A DARK WOOD

I peer, puzzled, with eyes red from the heat and smoke... A gray snake of trucks and tanks is squirming slowly up the slope, tracing the lava. It's stopped flowing now, but the fire still boils up from the bed. The curve of the convoy line nags me. Where have I seen--?

A chart plotting dream-recall, full of spikes and dips.
"We have to hide!" she hisses. We don't have much time. And the meadows run open to the scree of the peaks. No cover but grass.

Scooping the picnic blanket up by its corners, silverware crashing, I run round the head of the curtain of flame and hide behind it. She whumps down beside me. I feel clever. But as the army rumble grows to a howl, the wall lowers; it's dying at last. The lead tank's turret looms over the sparks. They may see us!

The cliff is rotten with cracks, from the lava inferno. Shoving the picnic evidence before me, I worm into a crevice, choking on bitter gray dust. She squeezes in behind me, over me. We lie still as corpses, face down. I'm furious, humiliated. This is what armies are for. Lao-zi whispers "Merge with dust, merge with dust." trying I'm sure to comfort me, but the sermon makes me want to scream. Mouth of a cave with slightly luminous petroglyphs. Dream sketch by Wayan.

I don't. Fear holds me still. My childhood nightmares are on parade, ten feet away. As the convoy grinds by--who knows which army?--for a moment I consider looking. For a moment.

There's a sudden flappy thud, and the light dims, and the racket too. Someone dumped an old rotten tarp off a truck, right on us. Trust an army to litter. We needn't have 'merged with dust' after all; to humble myself that far was not required.

Oh well.

I start to move, deeper in the crack. It widens. The roar fades. We are in a tiny basin hidden from the column. Before us, the walls arch over, form a cavemouth. We look at each other. The walls are steep all round.

"Lead on, Macduff." she says.

"Actually, my name's Christophe D'Antais--call me Chris. A friend of Lou Ciccone of the Gazette. That was his garden up there."

"Virginia Redfern--call me Virge. I've worked with Lou."

"You're Redfern? He's mentioned you. Queen's Prosecutor, right?"

The tunnel is irregular but never blocked. The conversation fades as we sense this is a living lair. Deep scratches cover the walls, high as our heads. Claws? Who can claw rock?

They're not idle scratches. Carvings! Beyond daylight, they become elaborate, painted, deep relief, some figures free standing. The glowgoo smeared generously along the ceiling moonlightly reveals a long strange frieze of dancing people and... others. Tall beings with a silver sheen, long manyfingered hands, studded with techjewels, or third eyes; cyborgs? Delicate antlike bipeds with faceted eyes, of many kinds, a few with wings. Lion-deer jumpers, muscled, deep darkly rainbowstreaked... big foreheads, no hands. Telekinetics?

After a while I wonder. These graceful forms... the monsters of my childhood? The frieze is no Dance of Death, not at all.

But it forms a curve I know.

A chart plotting dream-recall, full of spikes and dips.
A sculpture of a seated woman on a pedestal; or is it an encased corpse? Dream sketch by Wayan.

Ahead, the hall widens into a workroom with a skylight. Scattered blocks of stone with heavy Michelangelo figures heaving out of them. A feel of massive power brutally opposed to my own airy fragile art-style, yet I like them. The same strength showed in their figures of the leaping creatures, harmoniously heavy. Unlike me, these artists accept matter's weight-- accept the world.

Redfern pokes me. She looks sick. Sweat drips from her. "Let's get out of here! You know where we are?"

"Yes." And I name it:

THE CAVES OF THE FORMCATCHERS

She whispers "Let's turn around, NOW--and get shot by the Army if we have to. I can't die like THIS."

Formcatchers do have an ugly habit. Artists, they're after pure form; and, artists, they'll do anything to catch it. People they find alone, they snatch, spray and cast in resin shells, stand them on pedestals. Use them as models, forever, sealed and slowly dying inside. These thick Rodins before us may be art--or lost picnickers.

Still, Redfern's weird. Sculptors are safer than tanks. "Listen. I walked into an Form Catcher studio once before, and lived. There's no trick to it: be a viewer! Be honest, appreciate their art! They live for it."

She points. "Look."

A bin. I walk over. She finally forces herself to come close, look at the human legs and arms and heads, shellacked and mummified... handy bits for anatomic study, when the master sculptors have all the whole victims booked up.

There's a grunt behind us and we both "Eek!" and hop. Through an arch looms a vast, toad-skinned, dusty boar, silent as a cat despite its half-ton weight.

Its speakerpore mumbles, tests, whuffs "You not same human couple I sketch. I go, get new block, return, they break shell, runned. You see them run?" A resingun nests in one tentacle, ready to hum and spray...

Yet the Sculptor's tone is so polite, so naive. I take a risk--wherever the victims are, they deserve a chance.

Dream: in the cave of the alien Sculptors, we find bins of shellacked visitors. And the Sculptors find us. Click to enlarge.
"They're... they're in there." I improvise, waving at the bin of dead. "They wandered in here, got absorbed by your work... became lighter, then broke up spontaneously when their attention split." What? Where'd that come from?

"Ah. Thank you. Common event? Enjoy work, maybe later you model. Care, focus, don't split!" It ambles over to the bin and rummages for parts. I'm sure now--the Form Catchers know nothing of us, nothing. They may think we like dying for art! It glides across the hall, bearing arms.

"Don't split, INDEED!" Redfern growls. A nasty sound, I bet she saves it up. Golden slit eye of a Formcatcher. Dream sketch by Wayan.

"I think the pun was an accident." I murmur. "Not a threat. If they understood us or our language that well, it wouldn't have bought my story. God, where did I get that story?"

We "casually" stroll on through the studio and emerge in a little solarium with a few bonsai. THE SUN! Peering down the deep stone lightwell, white and fuzzy through the greenhouse glass, it's still good to see again. A sculpture garden, some abstract--quite nice, with their trademark of heavy grace. My friend Mark should see this stuff.

Redfern pinches me. Hard. Still seething.

Dutifully I look for a small fissure, one the Sculptors wouldn't use.

She sees one first, climbs up and pops in, cursing, without looking back to see if I make it. Is it a crime that I understand the Form Catchers?

On we go. We're heading south, paralleling the Army road into the heart of their war. "Surfacing may be worse than the labyrinth" I think, then start worrying about the symbolic warning in that.

TWO RUNAWAYS

The path is rough, up and down--natural. Unused, I hope. Limeladen water chants pock... pock... pock... pock... Flowstone and curtains of onyx drape the walls. A broad cave opens, festooned with stalactite chandeliers and columns like fat robed humans, all wobbling in Redfern's pocket light. Astaire shadows ballroom-dance on the walls. We wind among the alabaster choirs, round a mirror pool. Redfern touches my hand, cups her ear and points silently ahead. Beyond a saddle of waxy rock I hear a faint chittering. Ants? We creep up and look.

On the north wall, there's a ledge angling up to a double archway leading into a wild fluted cavern beyond, faintly daylit. Before the door stand two slim winged figures with a light--young females of the Princess class! Infertile now, they'll become Queens if they live to mature--and are adept enough at politics. What are they doing away from their Court? They're not Army scouts, that's for sure. In the dream-caves, we meet two ant dancers, Cheimi and Rindei. They're small, graceful, more humanly readable than I expected. They hold hands, with an air of mutual protectiveness--and fear. Are they refugees too?

As they chatter and wave antennae and look lost, vague feelings stir that make no sense. I feel a desperate loyalty for my friend Redfern, the best dancer, best gossip, most stylish girl in the dorm, with that outrageous dye on her scales--scales? REDFERN? Could I be picking up the fringe of the Ant waveband?

Little feelings and visual blurs. The caverns are spooky and grim... and I have to eat raw food! Nearly as bad at home, though, these days. Stupid war! Cheimi wanted to dance "Snow Country", but they said the lighting cost too much power, even trimmed to a one-act... They pressure us to support their war effort... their dance... but they stifle ours. First they raise us to love beauty, then they forbid it!

But I don't regret. Losing home, agemates, all that... helped to make us conscious. And they were such fakes. Only liked us when we danced their hivy drone. How dull!

What a great ballet this adventure'll make! Caves and monsters...

I lose contact for a second in my surprise. They've started to be individuals! Drop-outs... I get a sharp flash of Cheimi sticking up the wax seal on her sleeping cell, as if she's inside molting... showing Rindei her ruse... no one'll disturb the hexagons for days.

Good for them. The bolster-in-the-bed trick!

I look at Redfern who's smiling. She's getting it too. They're teenage runaways, or near enough! I feel rather protective.

We climb onto the saddle and wave. "Hullo! You're refugees too, eh?" I say in my mildest voice. They start wildly. We're pirouetting on the lit stage, and Tall Figures loom out of the dark, up the aisles, to close the show...

Panic, excitement, loneliness, curiosity, concern for each other, and a deep wild emotion I can't place fizz through me--then it all snaps off like a light. They look down on us with inscrutable insect eyes, and turn away, snubbing us pointedly, into the bright cavern we can't reach.

I feel terribly wounded. Their openness alone, and now this classic insect indifference, more hurtful since I know it's a lie.

Redfern finally sighs, "Don't take it personally. They were just too new, too scared to be themselves with others yet." Me and Redfern peer through a cave-portal. Dream sketch by Wayan.

I nod, but I'm so disappointed, I'm shocked. Why's it bug me so? In any case, we can't follow; the arch is too narrow. The Princesses' way out is not for us. "Is that a message?" I think. "Nah."

Redfern chuckles. "You know, I got the oddest impression right before they went all snooty."

"I felt strange, but I couldn't place it."

"Breeding males, Princes, are a lot taller..."

"So?"

"So, height's THE main sex characteristic for them. I think we both looked male. Very male."

I snort "They're not stupid."

"Oh, they knew we weren't Ants, but didn't you see them as cute little nymphs? I did. Tell the truth now!"

I feel embarrassed. She's right, I did too. They weren't human but they were sexy--long legs, wasp waists, feathery antennae... and high school romanticism.

She giggles at my look. "No wonder they got shy. We were soooooo tall! Walking sex fantasies."

"They got embarrassed?"

"They were shocked... and turned on! So they did what I did in high school--played cool and turned up their noses." Redfern, of Canadian TV show 'Seeing Things', from photo of actor Janet-Laine Green

You did, huh? I think.

She laughs "I'm flattered. First time anyone's seen me as a big devastating macho hunk!"

That's what you find devastating? I think, and keep it to myself; she's quite cute from a Human perspective too, but I'm not, I guess, to her. Poor Lou, poor Lou. Oops! The Poor Lou syndrome.

The southwest end of the great hall has a serpentine corridor twisting up toward the light. Slow going, and tight spots, but that's good; useless to an Army. At a wide spot we finally make camp. I feel sad lying across the little chamber from Redfern--

"Goodnight."

"G'night."

Soon she drifts off and I'm left feeling sorry for myself. Until she starts snoring. She's unbelievable. Like a bloody walrus. I can't sleep, she's driving me crazy. I'm delighted. "A walrus, a duck, she snuffles like a truck" I chant happily to myself, relieved to find a flaw. Now I can reject her right back! I couldn't live with someone who make me want to stick silencers in my ears at night. But I'm bone tired and finally I drift off, faint voices chittering through the caves of my brain.

Deep in the night, I feel restless. The full moon is shining in. What? I went to sleep in a cave! Question that moon!

I must be undreaming.

FULL MOON, RED RING

I'm in a bed on Old Earth, in prespace days. Yes, it's an undream, the recurrent one: I feel sick and weak, a victim of one of their mass poisonings--what did they call it? Smudge? Slog?

Past midnight. Charcoaly sky. Stars smothered but the moon punching through. And I lie here, thinking. I'm recalling a story I liked as a child, by a Human called Clarke. It's fuzzy, as undreams are; I'm half inside the story. Such a beautiful green-grass world. Unicorn in green wood near stream.

Now... I'm there. My tail slaps a fly, and I stretch... I hear thoughts over the hill. I LEAP ten yards over the brook, and hop upslope, my great hind leg stretching pleasantly, and meet... the others. Eris, Aretenon, Jeryl... So beautiful and strange, the goldenfurred philosophers, sleek and lean, grazing on the tall grass, as they joke and sing fugues, lowering their horns unafraid, their minds warding off predators. (What am I doing here? What am I? This all clearly refers to my dreamside habit of incarnating in equine forms, but why are we three-legged hoppers?) Infinite emerald grass, pools and streaks of flower-flames where the soil changes. A deep unpolluted indigo sky ringed with firm cumulus, squinty bright. I'm strong and beautiful and not alone, and the world smells good.

Yet it's no utopia--not at all. We can link minds to speak, to heal our sick, but our abundance has lured a predator deaf to our thoughts--the jaws of a Malthusian squeeze. Healthy, we flourish, but, handless, we can't farm. Silverpelted winter gnaws us thin. We huddle in the chill wind--shared thoughts and warmth are a comfort, but no cure for famine.

Our fixed food supply has led to a war between subspecies over the best prairies--and to a new weapon, a mindbolt leaving incurable brain damage. Unused to power, we suddenly have enough to end our race.

Is the undream warning me about ESP? Hm... triggered by meeting the Ants? That intimacy did end up hurting. In that Old Earth bed, under the moon, I was sick from tech waste; another reference to misused power! I muse on the parallel, wobbling in and out of my unicorn body on the hilltop and my human body in the twentieth century night. How'd that Clarke story end?

A visionary discovers a semi-intelligent species with hands, and befriends them, opening a new world of physical progress that'll ease the food crisis and distract from the Mind Bomb until it's forgotten. They don't know, of course, that up the new road, too, lies a Bomb. The irony haunted me--their lyrical world, its renaissance through species cooperation, and the stark bass note: that minds have suicidal power, no matter how innocent a form the mind inhabits. The Greeks were wrong. There is no pure thought. No free lunch. Minds change the world--always.

After Childhood's End, I read less Clarke. His characters seemed to flatten. Only natural; I was unflattening. But one moment survived, and something brings it back in the brown urban moonlight.

Black unicorn herd with one stray, leaving a white unicorn-sized hole. Caption: 'There but for the grace of God go I.'
I remember Jeryl, sitting with Eris, her broken-horned mate, watching the victims of the mind bomb being taken out to pasture. One male peeled off from the herd. Big, beautiful, exotic, (he was of the other race, with a different pelt) he wandered toward her. She felt a twinge of desire, then shock. To think of exploiting an animal for sex! And then horror as she realizes she'd instinctively judged him an animal because no one echoed her unconscious call. She began to face, not just know, what their minds had done, as his shell stood lost before her and simple as a newborn. That moment of attraction, revulsion, and dawning guilt made Jeryl a victim of the mind bomb too--and a real person for me. The story still has power.

But why's it rising now?

Dawn. The undream scene shifts... but it stays cryptic, senseless, full of surreal distortions. I bike through an ecologically absurd forest of palms, pines, oaks, blue gums and rare trees from around the planet. An oval sunken meadow with no drainage, and then a big library. I walk in. Work for a while on a computer in the old stone part, then I walk through a gate into the new wing of humming hissing cement and glass.

POISON! But my undream self ignores my real self's screams about the toxins I smell, and I go down a bloody red stair, deep underground... (is this a metaphor for the cave and the dangers of the war? Or do the chemicals symbolize the Sculptors' resins?) to track down that story. Find an anthology of Arthur Clarke... but he omitted that story! (An undream symbol of irony? Clarke is perhaps a symbol of the way we discount and even forget the key parts of our undreams--and then call the fragments nonsense!) I dig deeper in the vaults. At last I find the original book I read, age ten. And there it is: the lead story. 'Second Dawn'. Unicorn girl drying her nails. How she holds the brush is a little unclear. Undream image mocking Arthur Clarke's sexism in his story 'Second Dawn'.'

And Jeryl never felt any of that.

They're postwar humans in fur suits. Aretenon's a scientist seeking redemption, haunted that his great discovery was used for mass destruction. Eris is a soldier with a war wound; he's lost his self esteem and retreated inside. His wife wants back the man she knew. Jeryl's a perfect 1950s woman, emotional, deferent, pretty, leaving policy to males. She's won over to the cause of symbiosis with the handed species by a glittering necklace. On the hill, she fears that tide of big black mindless males (hmm). Meeting the stray, she's shaken when HE doesn't notice or desire HER. This brief loss of her habitual feeling of beauty and its power over males is the only way the war touches her. "I don't want to see any more," she says. "Why did you ever bring me here?"

Yet near the end she has one flash of insight: staring at a curio, a glowing mineral that burned its finder, she wonders if the new path of material exploration has danger ahead they cannot see. She doesn't follow up her premonition: that would take a Curie, and Jeryl's only a woman.

I close the undream book. Radioactivity, unicorns, war crimes... sexism. Such a twisty parable, such flat characters! Clarke all over...

I feel shaky. How did I build MY complex memory out of these... cartoons? And WHY?

I feel an answer vulturing above my shoulders, but I can't bear to let it land on me in this toxic place. I climb slowly out of the catacombs and lay my tired noodle-body down in the hazy sun by a big fountain--a monstrous, hilarious red-painted doughnut urinating at passers-by. Goddess only knows what that symbolizes! I relax, tune out all but the water-shush, and try to face the meaning of the story--the one I created.

I am crying by a red fountain. Angrily, without much hope.

Home, through the artificial wood, as the sun reddens and goes under. I cook an herbivore dinner, lots of carrots--all my bodies love carrots. I lie in bed again, uneasy, staring at the gray face of Old Earth's still-barren moon, before the shining cities. Full circle! As I ponder what I've seen, the undreams start to fade into reality.

SECOND DAWN

And in the morning, which is whenever we wake up down here in the sunless moonless maze, I go on cheerfully enough, because Redfern snores. My undreams were fuzzy though, which upsets me. Something about unicorns and famine. I believe we're meant to recall our undreams--they're not just dull practice-times on the matterplanes, as some people claim. Undreams can be as vivid and logical as real dreams sometimes. At the very least, they symbolize our real lives in a powerful way. And I get great story material from them!

The crack twists but goes on, rising. Finally, light ahead--and a faint jet-thunder. We slink along the wall. Tunnel splits, one curving on into dark, one a small hole to the light. I peek round the lip. A sharp five-meter drop to a sort of foyer, sandyfloored, with a low broad arch opening onto a spectacular view. Cliff-cave! The Valley's still beautiful in a wild dishevelled way, stretching red and green, laced with irrigation channels and blacktop roads, scattered with glittering smashed silver jewelry where planes (and who knows what all) came down in no-species-land.

At the far end of this cave balcony is another tunnel mouth, much larger, and--MOVEMENT! I freeze.

They emerge from blue shadow. Three figures, like deer crossed with those chunky Chinese lion statues. They ripple velvetly, the colors of movie seats, dark green maroon blue and industrial gold, so brilliant I mistake it for clothing for a moment. How could that evolve? Their native fields must burn with flowers. I didn't expect the sharp unicornlike horn one of them sports, either. Why don't the others have them? Seasonal, or sexlinked, like deer?

But their aura's not deer. It's Tiger, burning bright. When they speak, I look for fangs. Flat herbivore grinders! Who are they? They're so familiar! My undream. Precognition? Maddening that it won't quite come clear.

Three Atheleni, leonine beings, in a cave overlooking a canyon. Red broken-horned Eris, blonde hornless Jeryl, and blue unicornlike Aretenon. Dream sketch (crayon) by Wayan. Click to enlarge.
The deertigers crouch and discuss the triangle orbiting the sky.

They speak quietly at first, and they're twenty yards off, but every nuance comes through: their thoughts boom out, fill the cave with echoing moods. As they speak, I know their names. And hearts. My dream was predictive! Or... telepathic? Were they near us as I slept? Blonde hornless Jeryl, an Atheleni, an odd mix of lion and unicorn; dream sketch (crayon) by Wayan.

Jeryl: "That's the fourth plane in our watershed in two days! The timecurve of their nosepoking is a steep-hyperbolic-sandbank. Getting too high-and-treacherous to jump if we don't hop NOW! If we let this tailnipping go on, we risk all-out war. Land-partitioning is all that's kept us from goring each other."

The cave fills with a jangle of vivid tree smells and musks--do they wear perfume too? Whew! Then I realize I'm smelling the air through her nose. Strong senses! I feel the plane-buzz tickle inside me... Sensual. I'm drowning in the waves of her personality, as strong as the scents. I suspect others drown too--and that she uses that. A born leader. Red broken-horned Eris, an Atheleni, an odd mix of lion and unicorn; dream sketch (crayon) by Wayan.

Eris: "We have to answer their threatcall somehow, but they're paranoid about us already. Reminding them we can trample their minds, even just a few pilots..."

His fur's mostly deep maroon, scuffed like old suede, and he radiates a fierce protectiveness. He's Jeryl's mate. Surprised me: I took him for female, for he's hornless. Now I see the stump. The war? Why hasn't he repaired it? Surely they could. Some kind of political protest? Brave, stubborn, brooding--his aura's as overwhelming as Jeryl's, but he holds back. Blue unicornlike Aretenon, an Atheleni, an odd mix of lion and unicorn; dream sketch (crayon) by Wayan.

Aretenon: "Yes. Will they run-off-tail-down, or charge? Jeryl, they get mating-duel-crazy when we wave our mindstrength. We're their deepest fear."

The one I first took for Jeryl's mate has known them both from birth. He's midnight blue, with a pale horn like a thought. Always the different one; a visionary, like me. Brilliant, and terrified: hates being up here where death is by chance. He needs meaning.

Jeryl: "So! How can we stop them? Ever since they sent that column out of the Valley after that fire-bug they've been getting crazier. We can't just let them crop-our-grass." She squirms right out to the lip, alarming me, and cranes her neck at the hissing wedge. It's coming round again. Her foxtail whips nervously. Predominantly mustard rust and green, she blends with the brushy rockface more than the others. Perhaps she won't be spotted. But I'm nervous. Maybe Redfern and I should retreat. If the cave's attacked...

Eris, heavily: "They just don't smell how hornless we feel when artifacts leap on us. Cyborgs have hands; they can't picture being helpless against things too heavy to lev and too dumb to take over..." He's met the Cyborgs! The peace talks? I felt it clearly this time: he keeps the stump to show them he hurts, that he's not the invulnerable, brainfreezing gorgon they expect. I watch Jeryl move and marvel at her beauty through married eyes. And feel... ugly.

Aretenon: "Big dumb things like bombs! Look, if that pilot's not prowling-our-herd-edge but on a bomb-run, and she smells us in here, we're carrion." I see and smell the roof cracking loose, the roar as light is taken away forever. He rides the fearwave patiently. Breathe deep, smell the pines and flapping yellow aspens. Calm down: they live, up here in the sun... in the war... you'll live too.

Eris: "She's testing us, but if we provoke their hysteria...! We're night-predators, monsters from their undreams, Aretenon!"

Aretenon: "So we're supposed to understand their fears, right, Eris? I do. I can guess how terribly the mindeaf would fear mental attack--I map it onto my fear of things. They can make analogies too! We don't sneak up Okanagan Ridge and give their sentries delusions. I don't want to foul the negotiation-waterhole, it's our only longterm hope, but those vultures terrify me. I have to bite-my-own-ears from mindjumping that pilot and--" I scuff sand with a forefoot.

Jeryl hops up by him and rubs him: "Well, please don't! I asked YOU up here because you've studied the wrecks. Can we swat that fly PHYSICALLY? Twist the controls, cross wires, snap 'em?" Aretenon's embarrassed: Jeryl still physically soothes my nervousness as if we were small... and I worry Eris'll think Jeryl's shifting-mate-loyalty to me... Since he lost his horn, Eris has herded his mare like his thoughts--overguarding. Jeryl, of all people! Jet fighter above Atheleni caves; dream sketch by Wayan. \

Aretenon: "Swatting steel flies... it's hard. They make the controls stiff, just so we can't lev 'em. Key circuits have twins, walking another path; they can take heavy kicks. If she does pounce, the only way to stop her before she bites is to kick her mind." I picture the plane's skeleton and nerves, emphasizing the math of flight, distracting them (and myself) from my shiver of response to Jeryl. Had the Old Carnivore eaten Eris, Jeryl and I would be mates; and we all know it.

Jeryl: "We don't NEED to stop her quickly. The view-I-send-out," (image of shaking her wet coat, drops of idea spraying everyone) "is that we nibble on her plane NOW, and keep browsing-the-soft-tips till she turns tail or crashes, or tries to bomb us. I want you to teach the lookouts what circuits to kick as soon as a vulture hovers-round-our-young. We won't often bite-so-it-bleeds, but constant small-bug-bites are maddening... and expensive. Remember, THEY have to reach in physically to heal their sick artifacts!"

Eris: "And they'll get the message we don't want to burn their minds."

Jeryl: "Twin-pod messages, I hope. We're not foal-snatchers-in-the-dark, AND we'll defend our grazing hills."

Aretenon: "It's a plan worth tasting."

A rivercurrent of conclusion sweeps the three and we, they slink into darkness. I stare at my forepaws. Fingers. Watch Redfern blinking.

I whisper "Why didn't they notice us if they're telepaths?"

"Maybe... they did?" she muses. "If they sense our feelings, the way we sensed theirs... they know we're harmless. So they ignore us. They do have a war on." Thumbnail sketch of tetrahedon symbolizing the four species at war in 'A Valley Near Hope': Ants, Cyborgs, Atheleni, and Formcatchers.

"Why are they still at war? They seem like decent people."

"So were the ants." says Redfern. "Who's to blame? I'm begining to wonder. The Sculptors? Disappearing people here, there... So A blames B, B blames C. Happens among the gangs in New Vancouver all the time." She really doesn't like Form Catchers. How can I introduce her to my artist friends?

"We can't get out here, so let's go on." I say. Her idea's logical, yet my intuition rejects it. "Take care, don't split." said the monster. Not exactly divide-and-conquer.

We are their deepest fear, said Aretenon.

We walk and crawl in spots along a low gallery with occasional windows overlooking the valley. This whole stratum seems soft, riddled with tunnels. The exits are always sunken in cliff caves, with harder strata overhanging.

"I just can't believe they didn't sense us." Redfern goes on. "I wonder if they let us hear them on purpose."

"I can't believe those feelings were staged."

"I didn't mean that! Those emotions were personal. It was embarrassing. I just wonder if they knew we were seeing their private stuff, and forced themselves to stay open. So we'd know who they were."

"Why?"

"Someone knows they're not monsters? Maybe we're meant to be go-betweens..." She seems apologetic, as if I'd call the notion silly. Head of Aretenon, a blue telepathic unicorn. Dream sketch by Wayan

"So, do you feel used? Embarrassed?" I don't think I do. I'm used to watching people without revealing myself. It's my ethnic heritage as a human nerd. Shit, I'm an Image Snatcher myself. Watch from my cave...

Sorry.

"Well... they're the ones who gave up their privacy. For peace? That Aretenon is a subtle one."

Yes. I am a subtle one. I think, then start as I wonder who I was just then. Redfern looks at me startled.

"Did you think what I just thought?" she says.

"Oh... probably!" I laugh.

THE HOPE SLIDE

Below us, the Valley, or a branch, narrows to a sort of pass where a massive landslide forces the road up nearly to our level. A small column winds up the switchbacks through the boulders heading east. Cyborgs. The leader's in the open, on a floatercycle, with white flags flapping from the handlebars. A peace delegation! Redfern and I fall silent as we see motion among the rocks. Ants.

"Fear your neighbor's up to no good behind the white flags, eh?" I think. Well, maybe they have good reason to keep watch.

How wrong I am. We gasp together as half a dozen ants surround the cyclist in a moment. Ambush! The entourage halts. We can hear the orders up here--the other Cyborgs back down the road a little and halt within view. The Ant commander, a big soldier-drone the size of a dog, gets out a screwdriver. Slowly, he begins taking his hostage apart.

I feel sick. My childhood nightmares were true. Torture!

What? Now he's reassembling him!

In a desert valley, an Ant scrambles the body parts of a Cyborg; dream sketch by Wayan
Oh. He's putting the limbs on all wrong. How embarrassing! Head to belly, leg to shoulder, hands to ankles. All the while, the Ant declaims "You son of a seely personne, I speet on your coconuts! Your fozzer was a hamstare, and your muzzer smelled of elderberries!" on and on from 'Monty Python's Holy Grail', sounding very pleased with himself.

Well, well. Even the soldier Ants aren't inscrutable. Hive minds? This is a pretty individualistic revenge!

Strange. In the vague Ant way I sense embarrassment from the soldiers up in the rocks nearest us. Some of them find all this just as tacky as I do. There may be a lot more dissenters than the two nymphs we met.

Holy Grail sings "Ze wrist bone's connected to ze nose bone and ze nose bone's connected to ze brake bone..." as he slaps epoxy all over the Cyborg's bolt heads so they'll be a bitch to get out, and slinks back into the rocks, leaving the hybrid Peacycle to be picked up by its friends (literally picked up; its legs are now on opposite ends of its body). To my surprise, the Cyborgs go on, the Delegate stuffed cursing in the back of a jeep, two attachés prying at the screws. Brave!

The pass is empty; show's over. We too go on. I guess by now it's inevitable that we'll see the Cyborgs in the next cave. What else?

PIRATE QUEEN
Jade the Pirate Queen. Dream sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.

What I didn't expect was that they'd see us. I'm so used to watching like an Form Catcher it's a shock when our gallery bends right into the middle of a Cyborg council.

"What the--"

"Who are you?--"

Bam! Prisoners.

Their leader stands up on the green table. She's a slow-talking woman who seems familiar. She's dressed plainly and severely for this crowd: a red scarf like a headband, Viking cow-horns, a slender scimitar, an armored miniskirt chainmailed in silver dubloons, stockings carefully cut into swiss-cheese patterns, and high-heeled sea-boots. I decide I better be very direct, under her withering eye. We're in the picture now, not viewers, and acting appreciative is not likely to get us out this time.

I say warily "We're from... Outside. We came in looking for a friend who disappeared--"

"A friend. You don't mean that pyro jerk do you?"

"Lou Ciccone? He was here? He's not a jerk, he just acts odd now and then 'cause he's psychic."

"Sure he was psychic." snickers an admiral to my right. "A psychic jerk! He's hunting worms with ESP in a war zone. The talent's wasted on him."

"What'd you do with him?"

"Got rid of him." snaps the Leader. "God he was dull!"

I feel faint. They kill people who bore them.

At least I know who's to blame for the war.

Seeing my expression, a one-eyed man to the left says irritably "We sent him through the Gate."

Whatever that is. "Oh," I say weakly. Lou must be alive at least: the guy's disgusted I could think otherwise.

"Look." says the Leader. "We ask the questions; you're the trespassers. How'd you get way down here?"

"Well... we've been underground, on the fringes of your war. We've met Sculptors, Ants, and Atheleni, but they all let us pass when they found we were civilians." Well, sort of. Details details. "By the way, despite that attack on your diplomat, I think most of the Ants want peace."

Muttered approval from a bunch down the left side of the table, led by the one-eyed Pirate. Abstract Expressionist paintings fluoresce behind him on the walls. They look familiar. Whose? Jade the painter. Dream sketch by Wayan; click for dream text.

"So you are experts in transpecies negotiation?" says the Leader drily. Who IS she? "Besides, Ants are no problem, they're just jealous. It's the damn Lions we can't trust."

The illogic of it stuns me. The Ants just raided them, and they worry about the Atheleni!

Then... click. I knew I'd seen those colors!

Jade Balanchine, the painter! She hired me briefly a few years back as her apprentice and bodyguard--her shows offended even her friends. A New Yorky character... playing world-weary, she ran mostly on pure rage and denied every drop of it. But then she paid me to handle that emotion for her! Boy was that job a lesson about my avant-garde ego... Bitter Jade, she signed her art. And was.

Now Bitter Jade's a pirate queen? Yipe.

She jazzes up the council grotto with a fiery speech. Her faction chants answers, like waves back-surging across a sea cave.

"Who were we?
    Rebels!
What did we fight for?
    Freedom!
What did they call us?
    Pirates!
Who gave us our home?
    We did!
Who helped us?
    No one!
Who can we trust?
    US!"
Well, she's sure freed her anger now. Just wish it weren't aimed at me. I liked her. I learned a lot from her vast canvases and vaster defiance. But... always Us against Them. And now, I'm Them.

Eye Patch says "We ought to try negotiating. This is just one more bit of proof they're as sick of it as we are. The Atheleni have honored our borders."

She says flatly "We don't know these two are who they say--even if they are, they could be fooled. Or mindfucked. You know what Lions do!"

I say coldly "As far as my loyalty goes, I'm not partial to any side-- I'm not a local. I'm from Old Earth, from California, if you remember that name. I'm a Hippie artist. Which makes me closer kin to you than anyone else on New Canada!"

One Eye gasps. No one but the Pirates remember they were rebels from ancient America! He makes his decision.

"Jade, I'm going to the Peace Fair if you're not."

'What?" she snaps.

"I'm going to New Vancouver." Sad, anxious potato; dream sketch by Wayan.

"I'm captain of this crew!"

"What's the fun of being a Pirate if you can't trash your leader?"

"You don't represent us all, Varitz."

"I represent me. Tigers or not, I'm going. I've shot at 'em, I can stand to talk to 'em. You coming?"

"Hell no. Back among those, those--" She sputters with disgust. All these years, and she still sees Old Earth as a bourgeois mass of--

"Couch Potatoes?" suggests a bald luminous man in checkered pants.

"Lumpin' proilliterates!" puns a spacesuit who obviously reads too much: I laugh, but I laugh alone.

"Tranked walruses!" says a punkette with checkered teeth.

"SoCred cows!" yells another punster from the back, getting a big laugh--no artist loves the Social Credit Party, and it does sort of wander about untouchably, breaking the china, crapping, mooing, eating things...

"Conformists." says a telephoto-eyed woman, frankly, sadly. "But, Jade, they offered to host it."

"So, if I come back with a treaty, you gonna honor it?" presses Varitz.

Silence round the cave, and an ionic prickle of tension.

"That depends."

"Are you telling this council that you think I'd sell us out?"

She stops and really looks around. The faces are turned to her. The support for her chronic scorn has ebbed. She says...

"No. I just aim to read before I sign. That's all. I don't think it matters; you'll find you can't get telepaths to respect us. But yeah, if you do, I'll honor your damn treaty."

I allow myself to exhale.

HERE AT LEAST WE SHALL BE FREAKS
Statue by Varitz, 'Portrait of Mom': pink dino in a tutu, bristling with nails. Click to enlarge


We follow Varitz. The pirate keep, called a seitch, is intricate and smelly. We pass a theater group barking and scratching and wearing prisms. The cyborgs don't look up. On a gooey wet-paint-smeared floor, thirteen artists hop violently to the noise of sea-waves of scrapmetal. Footpaint?

"What's that?"

"What? Oh. Gunk music."

An endless hall lined with huge baskets woven of colorcoded phonewire, shaped like mutant penises. I reach in; they cup hollow air as far as I can tell. At least they're not Sculptors' bins! I can't get over the feeling something intangible is stored inside.

"Do these hold anything?"

"Viewers' hands." says Varitz. I pull mine out sharply, stare warily at the basket.

"And your attention." he adds serenely.

We pass a small pink dinosaur in a tutu, hedgehogged with nails, labeled "Portrait of Mom."

We turn into a dark hall with paintings of cute little girls whose crotches are turning into fanged purple monsters. "How do you like these?" he asks.

"They're, uh, interesting." I say. Ant! sneers the spirit of the Cyborgs inside me. I say "It's important here to express yourself, huh?" Wall plaque saying 'If YOU don't express yourself, who CAN?' Dream sketch by Wayan

Varitz points at the wall. A warthog pronounces, in a Gothic speech balloon, "If YOU don't express yourself, who CAN?"

"In that case... I actually think this stuff is horrifying."

"Yes, isn't it?" he says. "They're my latest. I've been seeing sex as ghoulish lately. I sort of caught it, don't you think? See, I think I was molested as a kid and buried it. Now it's coming up."

I shiver. "I don't think I could paint like that."

"Acrylic's not hard; you might be surprised."

"I mean swimming in my sickest pain. Showing strangers my fears..."

He looks at me puzzled. "How else can you paint?"

My feet are sore and I'm rather dizzy from the melange of fumes when we reach a silver gate like a metal detector. No... a viewer? Clouds, a river, towers... Redfern exclaims "I know those towers! That's Stanley Park in New Vancouver..."

I know them too--no doubt about it. Each scraper's a spike on that damn chart back in my undream!

A chart plotting dream-recall, full of spikes and dips.
I tune her out as a breeze off the river comes over the lintel. It's no screen. This is real. Eye Patch and a couple of friends step through. A Gate! I'm impressed. And nervous. I've never been through one of these before.

I step through... A sticky hum and we're standing on the green by the inlet's edge. A filigree dome floats ahead, on a terrace over the water, filling the crook of the inlet's elbow. The conference pavilion. Two silver posts mark the door behind.

Out in the underworld at last! Open air.

Part 2: PURGATORIO

NEITHER RARE NOR WELL DONE

Herds of reporters thunder across the green, trampling the turf and bellowing. By the door of the dome, I see three Chinese lions ringed at a nervous distance by vicam crews. The delegates are cropping the grass. The tawny one crouches, tail switching, and the eyefleas draw back. She bounds over the human wall and dives into the water. SPLASH! The others follow, LEAP-PLASH! soaking everyone, creating great shouts and shots and shorting Channel 167's cam. Most of our tailers drift to the inlet's edge where the fun is.

Dream: the Peacetalk Dome in New Vancouver.
An odd couple ignores the general rush. Lou wanders over, looking in fine shape, and a short fat pink girl hides behind him. Quixote and Sancho. Well, Mutt and Jeff.

"How d'you do, Mr. Varitz? Lou Ciccone of the Gazette. Great to see you, Christophe! Oh, uh, this is Lydia Prine, my intern." Lou Cicchone, psychic reporter; dream sketch based on photo of actor Louis Del Valle, by Wayan.

"Did you ever catch your sand-worm?" I ask.

"Nah, you were right. It was too big and fast. Never had a chance." He gets businesslike and turns to One Eye. "So is your delegation planning to take the course?"

One Eye looks at me. I'm stumped. He says "Course?"

"In Human customs. No one told you? The University's offering it free to all the reps, so you'll be able to navigate through our social environment--cabs, tips, parties, flirting, credit cards, gossip, booze--the unspoken rules. It could be useful."

"I hadn't heard about it, but, yes, it does sound useful; I'm quite lost in your urban culture. How can we arrange to join?"

Lydia the assistant stares at me strangely with eyes like a cat, sunk deep in her puffy face. I suddenly wish I were ten miles away.

"Here, Mr. Varitz, let me give you Professor Errington's office number..." He rummages around in a pocket and scrawls an extension. "You can reach her most daylight hours."

"Thanks!"

"So where you staying, Chris? With Redfern?"

I wish he hadn't brought that up!

Redfern was nearly mute in the Pirate's Seitch, and as soon as we passed the Gate she walked off; said she knew someone in the suburbs she could stay with. Not even goodbye. Maybe she needed a friend in the dark labyrinth, but back in society she's ashamed to be seen with me! I'm hurt, but surprisingly unsurprised.

I control myself and say "No."

"You're welcome to stay with me if you like. A little crowded up above my folks' bakery, but..."

"Nah, I know how small that is. I'll just keep playing Pirate for the time being, if it's okay with them. Someone's rented hotels, right?"

"The government, yeah..." Lou looks a little disappointed. But his place is such a dump! And his folks downstairs nag. They're so Italian. Oops. "Well... see you at the talks, then." I hope I didn't just do to him what Redfern did to me. Poor Lou.

Lou hurries off toward the Ant delegates. Phalanxed in a circle, they're bravely clicking their cameras back at the reporters.

I hand the Professor's number to Varitz, who says "That sounded interesting. I want to learn how this culture works now. It must have changed some since the bad old days."

"You notice anything yet?"

"Well... yeah, for one thing, the media's much more restrained." Lydia, a fat pink earnest reporter's assistant. Dream sketch by Wayan, with apologies to John Prine

"Uh, excuse me..." I turn around. The Reporter's Apprentice is tugging at my sleeve. "I... uh... here's my phone number too. In case she's... busy. I could show you things. I know it's stupid but I, I really think you're cute, and..."

She blushes magenta, stuffs a slightly sticky chocolate wrapper in my hand. I try to think of a polite response. I'm not attracted to her at all, mildly repelled in fact. As she bumbles off, I find myself thinking "She seems none too bright, either." I start to feel guilty. Bigotry! Flabophobia!

On the other hand... I'm a famine-thin telepathic genius remember? Of course I want someone more like me!

Redfern? I'm certainly acting like her!

But... I have a right to say no! To be honest.

But the way to say no courteously can vary by culture. I can bear to cause pain, but not unnecessary pain. How do I say no HERE? I'm driving around blind.

I want that class. Fast!

I look at the reporter's card again... and notice the course title and number... BAR LIFE ONE. Well, that's blunt. Good. Bluntness helps. Already I've learned where the planet's social life centers.

That evening, I phone up Professor Errington from the balcony of the Pirate suite. The lights of the pavilion reflect in a bay of the inlet, making the great dome a blurry sphere; the half's become whole. A sign of peace. I hope.

I like Shelley Errington. She's like a little kid. Enthused. She doesn't just sign me up for the class, she tells me half her theory about the Three Species, though I'm pretty dreamy, staring out over the water, and her tiny blond image in the phone feels like one of those little angels that perch on your shoulder in old cartoons and give you good sense you ignore--Tinkerbell, Jiminy Cricket. Tinkerbell talks of hierarchies of dread. Each species dreads one of the others, though that species has only rational fear toward it. And it's equally dreaded by the third, though it doesn't fear the third particularly. Round and round... I find it confusing. She hopes to explain it at the conference.

"They're dreadlocked!" I giggle. She laughs politely. I feel stupid, then wonder if she's heard even of dreadlocks in this northern town.

"You want to go out for a walk, see the city?" says Boats, the pirate girl with checkered teeth. She's fingerpainting the walls. Blue, maroon gold green orange squares dance across the living room. Talent! I can't compose like that.

"Okay." I say, and tell Errington "I'll try to undream on your theory. See you in class."

"Undream?" I notice Boats never stops to dip her fingers in anything. No wonder her nails are so stained. They're nibs. Each finger paints a different tone.

"For me, undreams are real. It's my religion."

"Oh. May I ask more sometime? From a professional viewpoint as an culturologist..."

"Oh, sure. It's not secret." Boats is touching up corners. Stands back.

"Well, I'll see you tomorrow at the talks."

"You're going?" I ask, as Boats jumps around, proud of her work.

"I'm keynoting."

"Oho! Congratulations. Well, 'night." Tinkerbelle pops out.

Boats and I grab coats and head for the door. The night is brisk for a coastal town; the wind on the balcony had a bite.

"Lemme find a hat." she says. Good idea. With her punk peachfuzz haircut, she'll freeze. I'm glad for my hippie frizz. Eye Patch slaps me on the shoulder, laughs "Well! You'll see Boats on the warpath now!"

"?"

"She likes new men as much as she likes triangles." She comes back in with a Coustauque on and makes a farting noise at One Eye.

"I would have guessed she likes squares." I say.

"Have fun, innocent!" he yells, as we enter the lift, and drop.

Aretenon, a blue telepathic unicorn in a bar. Dream sketch by Wayan.

THE LION AND THE BARLICORNE

We walk around oohing and aahing. Lit scrapers are pretty at night, if you're new to them. We soon start focusing on the people, who seems to be using the peace conference as an excuse to hold a sort of carnival. Or else this is normal now. Has New Canada loosened up?

"Let's go in there." says Boats, and barges without waiting into a big lit place called the Glow Worm. Bar? Restaurant? I'm a little fuzzy on how to distinguish them. Club? (What exactly is a club? I know caves, gardens, astral planes.) "Are you sure we should before we've taken the class?" I ask, as the glass door swings shuts behind her. Oh well. In, in.

I'm not at ease in here. The plants calm me, but not enough. Boats is talking to several men in uniform already. Brown or blue outfits with long neck-ties. "Businessmen"? The Pirates' old demons! I feel jealous of Boats' guts. I go to the salad bar and fill a bowl with leaves and seeds. I feel safer with a prop in my hand now, like the others. I look around--

Hey! Two Atheleni! Jeryl and Aretenon by their pelts, one ruddy, one bluish. They're alone in a corner with an arc of empty tables around them and a wall of gawkers around that. They sit on the floor like huge cats, their heads at table level, lapping soup from bowls. Or drinks. I hurry over--old friends! Then I skid to a stop at the tableside and nearly trip, as I realize I've never spoken to either of them and they've never seen me. "I'm a groupie!" I think in shame.

I feel sick. They blink up at me.

"Hi peacemaker!" slurps indigo Aretenon, around his plastic straw. "You alone? Where's your mate?"

He knows me by my thoughts alone. What a relief! Till the question reminds me. "I don't have a mate." I say sadly.

"The yellowfurred human!"

"Red Ferns. The proper one." amplifies Jeryl with a glint in her huge black whiteless eye. "Told you they weren't mates." She butts Aretenon with her shoulder. They tussle.

The psychic spillover feels wonderful--my back loosens up. I was tense! They seem so relaxed. Where's Eris? Is that why?

The Canadians see monsters, quarrelling. The monsters sense it, and ham it up with growls. Through their heads, I feel the audience's alarm as the beasts roll on the floor. Down goes a chair. Embarrassment? Fear! It scurries a few inches like it's pixilated, then stops. Too big for them to lift with their minds. Jeryl tugs at it painfully with her teeth. I come round and pick it up.

Aretenon says to me "Sorry about Red Ferns. Her thoughts took you for granted so much I just assumed you were mates... Figured she'd lost her excitement about you 'cause of a fight or something."

"She never found me exciting." I say. "She just... took me for granted. Treated me like an old friend from the first word. She was open all through in the caves. But out here she doesn't want to be seen with me." My hurt flows out like tar and touches them.

Saddened, the lions lean against each other. I feel envious. A lover to touch without shyness. Yet I know they're not! Jealous of an illusion.

Jeryl crawls under the table and pops up by me. She leans on ME. I stiffen a second, then hang onto her and collapse.

I cry a while. "Thanks" I sniffle. Blue unicorn stares guiltily at overturned red chair; dream sketch by Wayan.

"Well!" she says. "You helped with the chair." As if that's comparable! I feel more embarrassed, now--crying on some stranger's shoulder. Or whatever bone this is.

He thinks you're being "icky sweet" beams the blue lion. A weird concept.What could be too sweet? Must be an omnivore thing.

"What? No, I'm an herbivore too. It's from tech culture." I got distracted from something important. "They make, uh, toy foods, just for taste--so sweet they rot your teeth. And a chemical aftertaste."

"Well, thank you for the most absolutely senseless explanation I ever heard." says Jeryl in my ear. "Poison food. Hunh. What a species!"

"We need that class!" growls Aretenon.

"So I am sweet with a fake aftertaste?" says Jeryl. Oh. That was it.

"No... I meant you were trying to comfort me by equating... letting me cry all over you with, with ME picking up a goddamn CHAIR!"

"We herbivores always hearten each other. We scare so easily you see--from the days before brains." says Aretenon.

" It was such a kind lie I felt pathetic."

"But we're as insecure with chairs as you are with love." says Jeryl. "We can't handle them, they're too heavy."

"I panicked." says Aretenon. "As the chair went over I was sure the Handers were going to kill us for breaking artifacts... for being wild animals." He lowers his horn absently, as if fending off a ghostly carnivore. He laughs. "Primal fear. Whfff. What a being can't handle."

Jeryl hears something in my mind. "Liars and Tigers and Chairs--"

"Oh, myyy!" squeaks the blue unicorn, tuning in. He slurps his 'soup.' I taste it faintly on my mental tongue. Oh, god. Coconut lemon amaretto chocolate gin brandy pineapple Kahlua. No such thing as too sweet! I hope he understands alcohol.

"Of course!" he snorts. "Fruit ferments. We can brew it. Now what I'd really like is... carrot liqueur. They're hard for us to juice, but it should be cost-effective with hands." He raises his voice, neck horn, expectations. "Be a great export item for handers; we'd pay plenty." He eyes the Businesshumans hopefully.

"Jeryl?" An awkward question surfaces. I push it back, but it won't go. "If it's not too personal... Aretenon is so easy with you; your relationship seems different..." They'd have picked it up soon anyway.

"We're out of the war zone." Jeryl chirps, evading. She knows what I meant!

I come out with it. "Have you changed mates?"

"No!" she snorts. "You really thought I'd left Eris?"

"Well, yes, I wondered. He's not here. Is he..."

"Brooding, of course! Eris only leaves the suite on official business. He can take danger, but he can't take being feared."

"He hides...? I don't get it. Seems hard on you, him hiding... does he leave his horn shattered, too, because he fears being feared?"

Jeryl chews an itchy spot on a foreleg for a long while.

"I don't think of it as cowardice." she finally says. "Politics. You have to do crazy things in politics."

"But it makes him feel ugly and unlovable... so YOU two have to walk on eggs?" Oops! I feel eggs squelching under my hooves--finding the image creepy. Getting eggshell slivers wedged up in the quick! Whffff, that could hurt. What a powerful human phrase! I refocus, and add "You have more fun with humans, even." Then I hear myself, and add: "I'm sorry. That was way out of line. I..." I pick at my salad, feeling ill. Wonder if it's sprayed. Probably.

But Jeryl answers me, musing. "Well... it's true right now that when he's not around we play more, we don't have to avoid getting turned on."

Aretenon adds sadly "Eris fears if we mate, we'll leave him, you see. That's old Eris. Good things scare him more than bad things."

"I'm afraid I do see... I give love that kind of power to scare me too."

"I wondered." says Jeryl. "You don't fear us like the Pirates and Canadians do, yet when I touched you, you flinched. Startled me."

"It's not you. You're so strong and beautiful.... I feel like--" like Lydia Prine did with me, I think bitterly.

"Huh! I feel a dull-embarrassing-pink-sticky-human. That's what you felt like, touching me, sharing your sorrow?"--for which I thank you.

Please don't I think back. Again she touches me and I feel her big heart beating.

It's proper for us... "unicorns"? Interesting legend! Aloud, she adds "You felt unworthy?"

I don't have to nod.

"Hoooooo..." Aretenon's falsetto reaction is like a fuzz pedal.

"Huh! You ARE like Eris." says Jeryl. "No wonder you're vulnerable to snooty Ants." Boats, a pirate cyborg with short green hair, checkered shirt, and colored pen nibs for fingernails. Dream sketch by Wayan.

The room is still. Aretenon's hoot scared the Canadians again. Only one thing moves--Boats is dragging two young men out the door.

I yell "HEY BOATS! Come meet my friends!"

She pauses. Trailing her finds, she approaches warily. Two of them? She must have given up on me, I think mildly.

"Hello." says Jeryl.

Oh, they're terrified! thinks Aretenon.

Both men have magenta cuboid portraits presumably of themselves on bar napkins, Boats originals all scrunched up now and blurring from the sweat of their nervous fists.

"Sit! I'd offer you a chair, but I can't lift the damn things." says Aretenon, trying to be casual. That falls flat. Boats maneuvers closer like a tug with skittery rafts trying to approach a pier... a current of fear screwing up the operation.

One of the men blurts "Scuse me a minute Boats I see an old friend of mine's just about to walk out the door, Larry? Hey Larry!" A short brownhaired baby-faced woman around the far corner of the bar is perhaps named Larry or of course Boats might have no taste in men to speak of.

"Hi... I'm Wally." says the braver one.

"I'm Jeryl, and the blue one with the horrible drink is Aretenon." Did she taste my human reaction to that stuff? Could be her. She's lapping straight aniseed.

"Boats. I'm a Pirate." she says, like waving a battle flag.

"Chris D'Antais. I'm not really a Pirate," I explain to Wally. "I'm a Hippie, a slightly related subspecies. I write stories based on undreams."

"Undreams?" says Wally. "Can you rely on that? What if they dry up?"

"Well, my recall's good. In fact I often undream I'm a writer who bases his stuff on my life here on the dream side. I like the symmetry."

"He accepts all factions. That's why he's a go-between." says Aretenon.

"What do you think?" asks Jeryl. "Oh, wait, you say, 'What do you do?'"

"I'm a chemical engineer, which is a meaningless term unless you are one, I'm afraid."

Jeryl says "I'm not, but I sniff the concept. You streamline physical processes, heat, flow, time... place the factory pipes just so, right? Like furniture arranging, or memorable speech."

He's surprised The Creature talks like this, but he covers it well, and says, "Basically. My favorite job was designing a whole brewery on Old Norstrilia. Black Swan ale. They sell it here, I can buy you one. Undercuts the other imports 'cause the plant is so energy-efficient. All me. Ta-da!"

"Beer was the one with... 'hops', right? That bitter herb you're fond of. I like the fizz, but it wasn't sweet enough for me. Bitter herbs bore me; guess we graze on 'em too much. Still... a brewery. Hmm. Could you brew beer from ... carrots?"

They'll get along all right, I think. But Boats and Aretenon... well, I haven't seen a Pirate scared before. She's sweating. Not a pretty sight, it's green. Aretenon, a blue telepathic unicorn, rears his head to impress a girl. Acrylic dream sketch by Wayan.

Aretenon is acting odd too--turned half away from Boats, he stares at her sidelong. Arches his neck, tossing his horn a little. It make him seem like a wild creature, a unicorn, quite alien and a bit alarming. Must he try to scare her?

She's cute! Are all the Pirates like this?

Is that what he's doing? Showing off his horn and profile, as if she's an Atheleni mare! He's a dumber flirt than me.

Oh! thinks Aretenon. It was unconscious. Is that why she's nervous?

"Tell her about it, not me." I snort.

"Tell me what?" says Boats. At least she's talking.

Aretenon hesitates. "I like your smell. It's very aromantic. Aromatic. Well, romantic too. I'm rather drunk."

"Well... thanks, either way."

"May I ask what it's called?"

"Spray paint."

A big segmented green worm is chewing across a leaf of my salad--for a moment I think "Ugh!" then calm down and decide it's rather pretty. Eye of the beholder, claw of the conciliator... what? "A line from the Poet with Hands." Oh. Spillover again.

"She's an Atheleni archetype." Jeryl's saying to Wally. "Her work's always popping up in my undreams. A human who's scared of her own kind, feels handless around 'em, so she wanders the hills like us. She sings of grass-and-bugs and psychology, and death a lot...
"Anyway, she dreamed of a worm, and chased it; it grew and chased her back. "'How fair you are'" she flatters it. But it knows. "Conciliation's claw," it calls her hypocrisy. She's ashamed. I say it to remind me of my own habit among Handers--people I fear. I flatter, and talk like a Hander, and act lovable."

It occurs to me I do this. It occurs to me my salad is clean enough to support a very healthy worm.

"So." I say to Boats, ashamed to be pushing her but unable to resist, "How do you like the Atheleni? Still terrified, or what?"

Boats answers me deliberately, very shakily, " Yeah, I AM afraid, and at the same time... fascinated. But I can't tell what's me and what's... his influence. I can't tell if he's getting into my mind."

It's not her mind I want to get into! laughs the horny one. My! I'm rather surprised. Is it Jeryl's surprise too?

"Coward. Tell her that!" I dare him, as before. I don't know why I'm doing this. Go-betweening has its limits. Are you flirting to break down walls or are you serious? Because Boats likes risk and may just say yes!

Boats punches me in the arm.

"You joke about this, Christophe, but you let him get into your head! Where do you go, off in his trance? Do you always know?"

I sit erect, startled by her anger. She's scared for me, too! "Boats, I wish I could explain why telepathy doesn't bother me, but..." At a loss, I invoke her god, "Maybe it's just individual difference. How about it, Aretenon? If you really don't have the nerve to compliment her out loud, at least tell us why the Pirates don't hear you but I do? We're the same species, really!" Aretenon, a blue unicorn, flirts in a bar with a cyborg artist named Boats. Dream sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.

The unicorn growls--I WAS blabbing his secrets, I guess--but he grabs the other topic with relief.

"Ships, you're not deaf, you point your ears away. Rebels are rebels. You fight to be different, grow thorny tips to keep out the herd... the majority? Yes. Chris has a character too, but fuzzy edges, like us." So you hear very well, and are nosy. "It may be your subspecies, what you call 'em, Happies?"

I say, "Boats, I'm just as terrified of the Busy Men you pick up as you are of your Mind Monsters. Yet this guy Wally is nice. I just have a lot of old propaganda that's all. And so do you." Wally and Jeryl look up, hearing his name.

Jeryl: I'd forgotten that. You were scared til you sat with us!

"You fear their herd?" adds Aretenon.

I have to be honest. I feel safer with you than my own species.

"Canadians don't scare me as much as most handers." he says aloud. "Unless we break things, and that's just our panic reflex! They stare, but they leave us room. They respect our difference. As they respect Boats."

"Boats, eh?" It's true she was instantly included. And got her pick.

"She's an original!" he says admiringly. And loudly. And plops his head down on the table in front of her and makes big puppy eyes. She hops back in her chair a little bit then gets her courage up and scratches under his chin.

He radiates. Shameless. Boats points her right ring finger, and extends the nail like a cat. She traces his profile in broad indelible purple on the formica.

Aretenon levs his glass and tries to drink sideways, cupping his tongue. It all goes up his nose. He sneezes, and sprays us all with flavors. Like a perfume shop. My eyes water. It starts eating through Boats' indelible ink. Little purple tentacles fuzz the design, like a cirrus contrail spreading, fading.

"Show-off." says Boats. "Fucked up your portrait."

'TWAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

Jeryl and I walk back toward the Atheleni hotel.

"He certainly found her cute!" I say at last.

"Would a human, do you think?" She jumps, says "Oh!" and hops in a circle, bouncing into me. "Sorry. I felt you as Atheleni. I meant, did you? Is she a fit mate?"

"Don't flatter me. Uh... I don't find Boats attractive, exactly, no. Her body's cute, she's full of energy, but her ink hurts my sinuses, and... her head looks like a green hamster. He sure went for her, though." I hesitate then blurt "Does he often come on so strong? To aliens? An enemy too."

"He amazed me. Such boldness in any area is out of character... Aretenon pictures disaster too well. Mmh. I have a theory."

We're walking along the water now. Brr. But the open space is grand--monoliths of light, half of them rippling. Blonde hornless Jeryl, an Atheleni, an odd mix of lion and unicorn; dream sketch (crayon) by Wayan.

"You have a theory?" I finally tease.

Jeryl shakes hard til her fur puffs out like a parka. "It could be taken as insulting to your subspecies."

"Oh, well, let's be enemies then."

"I... think it was her unique appearance. You see, with such short head fur, she looks more like one of us. The long headfur the other female humans in that waterhole all grew... it looks more like our tails. Very funny, with your eyes peering out of your asses, but not exactly... rrr. Romantic."

She waves her own tail apologetically, big and brushy now in the cold.

"I have long hair. So am I hilarious, is that why you wouldn't tell me?"

"Well. Only a little. I'm used to it now." I hope I'm only being teased. I can't test it since Jeryl changes the subject. She says very seriously, "I'm glad Aretenon found someone else to try to mate with."

"He'll stop pressing you." I hear myself say, then blush to hear my childhood belief that females find males as dull as mating and just want to be left alone.

"What?" Jeryl crouches on the sidewalk, blinks up at me. "Hoooooo! A mindeaf could tell I'd like to mate with him! But I don't want to hurt Eris, he's not himself now... that will take peace. Meantime, if Aretenon's got someone, he and I can relax, and Eris will cheer up when he sees it. Which would be good. Oh, he's grand when he's not brooding."

Oh Jeryl you silly romantic, falling for that old male pose. Brooding! A moment later I'm furious at myself as I feel Jeryl pick up a shade of my thought. More Nerd damage. "I keep knocking Eris. Jealous, I guess."

"Christophe," says the silhouette sphinx, "you're not anti-Eris, you're anti-male. Even anti-you. It's odd; you're so open to other species. You even get along with Imagemakers and no one ever accused them of being lovable!"

She leaps on a boulder by the path. I hover on the sidewalk, then follow. "You think you can't be grand!" she growls. "I can be--with MY faults! Why not you with yours?" She stretches and hops to the next rock, perching until she gnaws loose a thought.

"You're my first alien friend. The war's to blame for that! All my life..." She hops to the next rock and rears up to sniff in a tree. "You are why I'll climb the peace-tree and eat the fruit even if it's belly-ache-unripe. I will risk it, to rub flanks with you and those like you. You feel as big-mysterious-fun-scary as the steppes-of-space do, with our home-suns as tiny as lone-waterhole-trees-on-the-horizon." She blinks and breathes in the deep cold sky of spring. Amid my wonder I realize she was speaking pidgin Human before. This is pure Jeryl.

"The grandness-of-aliens steps for me in the same tracks as the grandness-of-gender. The wonder of males, your leaps-in-the-dark." And Jeryl leaps, a maroon blur in the city sky. "You're grand in your crazy love for those monsters carving art into cave walls. And for me. Even those damn ants! As grand as Eris who stays hornsnapped before all herds, to help free us all. And that's a high leap to match!"

My humanity has gone away and I'm sniffling again. I want to say you said something I needed to hear, thank you, thank you. But I can't, too choked up, so I hug her, and we curl up on a boulder above the water. "Jeryl, you're a poet." I finally say lamely.

"Whuff! Our culture's oral." Perhaps she is embarrassed too.

"It scares me to be called grand. I... if I see Eris's bravery as masculine, I worry I'll stop thinking of females as capable of equal boldness. Don't you worry you'll limit yourself if you worship males?" Face of blonde hornless Jeryl, an Atheleni, an odd mix of lion and unicorn; dream sketch (crayon) by Wayan.

"Limit? I have ideas that I can use, that please me, move me. They're our tools-clothes-toys; we've used them for a million years, as you threw objects and made fires. I have ideas; if I let them rule my actions, THEY'D have ME. Ha! Not Jeryl Hopeherd Atheleni! I lead beings; I can't let IDEAS boss me!"

I kick at a rock, to keep my toes warm."I'm scared of ideas; we're clumsy with them. They do own us. See, I was given a bad picture of males, so I adopted values I was told were female. The only other tool I had! Makes me put down males at the same time as I rigidly reject any image of gender at all."

"No magic-of-alien? No fun-differences... Boring, boring!" She stops and scratches. I feel no itch; she's just clearing her mind for a new idea. "Oh!" she says. "No wonder you crave contact with other species. Magic-no-guilt. New tools!"

I think that over. "Yes... I guess so. You just see males as magically different because it pleases you."

"Well of course. Exciting glow." A good point. She leans into me and sort of purrs. I stroke her, shy. "Why not?" she adds.

Well, exactly.

"Not," she adds acidly, "that Atheleni are unanimous. It pleases some to use gender to hurt."

I pull my hand away, feeling a sudden headache. No, not pain. Shame. A headshame. Spillover? But Jeryl's head is fine... oh. "I don't think I understand about Eris. I thought lacking a horn was like a broken nose or scarred face on a human--ugly, that's all. But the horn's more than pretty, isn't it. One of your gender ideas?"

"More than that. Mixed up with... adulthood, integrity?"

"'Manhood', maybe?" A term I haven't used in years.

"That smells, mm...." Jeryl gets up, tosses her head. "Yes, that's your word for the horn." She starts bounding astoundingly from rock to rock, hooves clacking. "Willingness to fight for a mate, and later on, ideals!" Almost yelling. She charges a car-barrier, neighing "Eat ivory, Kiulothe!" She slams to a halt, scattering gravel, and growls "Stupid ant-killer" and, shaking herself, comes back to our rock.

"So. Defending your choice. A hornless male can still mate, after all; just has to sneak around! Most females won't look at a hornless male; it disgusts them." She looks at me warily a long moment and shutters her mind from me. Does she think I'll put down Eris again, or think she's kinky, turned on by his mutilation? Or has she suddenly felt the lack of my horn? Like the long hair... Someone's burned her somehow, that I can sense in the shyness.

She says, awkwardly, "I'm called a beauty; as a couple, to most we are... grotesque. And to Kiulothe's party, Eris is a living surrender."

Ah, I think. She's been ridiculed--she's paid for HIS boldness.

She smells that and says "But his pain works! He has gotten further with the Rebels than all the proud ones. He's set himself apart--and THAT, the Rebels understand!

"Now I define MY self, my gender, by... I'm magnetic, yes?"

"Yes." I have to laugh. "Oh, yes."

"Partly my strong feelings. But partly... it's appearance. And I couldn't kick that away! Eris is doing something I doubt I could do." Cheimi and Rindei, two Ants, take a flash photo. Dream sketch by Wayan

Jeryl stops, looks behind me. Eyes widen, horrified. I turn to find a line of Ants chittering and staring. They inch forward. Jeryl's ears wave like radar.

I enunciate carefully. "You are alarming my friend. Please remember the truce." One pops a flash, and Jeryl nearly bolts into the oncoming headlights of the shoreline drive.

"Truce, yes." they chorus promptly. "You are known to us. You are the Go-between."

"Greeting. Do you recollect us? Me." A smallish Ant steps out with another at her side. I sense joy as she substitutes "me". I am me! "We, I, RINDEI AND I, are in the DISSIDENT Party." Proudly, very proudly.

Jeryl shakes. I hold her hard, my shyness overriden by fear for her. Feel like I'm gentling an animal! What's happening? What's so terrible about ants?

"The Atheleni is beautiful, as was said." pronounces an Ant.

"So harmonious."

Just look at them laughing!

"Living naturally, as a philosopher should."

I don't get it. They over-romanticize her handless life, maybe, but they certainly don't scorn her.

Jeryl hears me and thinks They make me dizzy! I can hear them lying. Under their surface thoughts another current goes in a completely different direction, and under that's another, and on and on. No CORE...

"We... I envy her this life, free of false show and deceit."

I laugh out loud. They're moth-silked courtiers, right out of Murasaki or Lady Nijo.

Jeryl bristles up double size, shakes furiously and bursts of light pop like popcorn, even the same sound. She's blowing out their stroboscopic flashes like a string of firecrackers. The first shots of Apocalypse! I shouldn't have laughed, I think, hunched in the flashing dark, waiting for return fire. She's unleashed the power the other species dread--

The Ants are silent.

No. I hear them now. They chorus subliminally.

Such power! Great One... Great One. Dream: three species who fear each other meet in the night.

Jeryl radiates murder. They laugh at my panic!

But they weren't being sarcastic! In the middle of all the danger, sadness floods me. Errington's theory is true. Even the Atheleni are caged.

The funny animal at the zoo! snarls Jeryl, and there's horror swelling behind her rage... a ring of Ants on tiptoe, tossing candy and little bits of praise into the Atheleni Cage.

Misreading people this badly would be embarrassing even in a human, but for a telepath... Willful! I get mad now.

"Well, why shouldn't they laugh at you, Jeryl? You misread them so blatantly, your paranoia's so ridiculous, it IS funny. A mindeaf could see it."

"Fear is pain; pain is not funny. Except to carnivores!"

"You knew Boats was perfectly safe, so her fears seemed ridiculous to you. If there is a level of laughter in these Ants, I can see why."

Jeryl looks at me like I'm a traitor. Then the ground under my mind tilts more, steeper and steeper til I can't keep my footing and I find myself walking away from Jeryl at a forced pace. I stomp through the Ant swarm indifferently, and then my dream mind breaks through. This isn't what I want to do! What am I doing? I try to turn and the wave of pressure is overwhelming from behind me. From Jeryl. Outraged, I spit her out of my mind and keep her out, the only way I know: refuse to do a thing. Total shutdown. A nasty discipline I learned in my undreams of relentless chronic illness: every impulse noted, weighed--and coldly deferred "for when I'm well." Gale-force passions roar over me, some of them my own. I just stand there, sullen.

At last I know it's over. I walk back toward her.

Jeryl looks at me with sick eyes. She knows I know. She's forgotten to be scared of ants. Too scared of me. Or of herself.

A figure splashes through the puddle of light under the nearest street lamp. A Cyborg. Small woman with jumpjets on her back. Built in?

"Ants!" she squeals in ecstasy, and rushes up to hug a bug...

The Ants yell "EEEEEEEEE!" and scatter. "PIRATES!"

"They're so cute!" says the pirate. Her eyes are big telephoto tubes.

I scream "Remember the truce!" to the darkness. Great timing, Cyborg! All three kinds, and me in the middle.

A lone brave flash pops. Little whispers, half speech half thought, reach back from the dark.

face of a cyborg with a videocamera eye. "Did you see the horrible Eyes on it?"

"It's as Dissonant as they said!"

A metal visor covers her head, a medieval tin can. She's bronze lightning bolts all over--paint, clothes, skin--on what turns out to be a purple ground, as she gives up chasing the cute little Ants in the dark, sighs, and slips through the lightpool under the next lamppost, heading for the delegates' hotels.

Jeryl is still shaking. She edges away from me.

I suppress my anger... "Can you tell me why you panicked? I don't--"

"I'm sorry, Christophe. I kicked you and kicked you.." She squeezes down between three big rocks.

"I know THAT. I want to know why you went nuts around the Ants."

"There's no excuse for what I did. The Cyborgs say it feels like being eaten." She hunches down in her sanctuary, like a huge ball of lint.

I reach out to calm her.

"Don't touch me!" She flinches away.

"What are you afraid of?"

"I'm afraid of your hands," she says, with her telepath's bluntness. Her retinas catch the harbor lights like an animal's as she stares, phosphorescent green. "I expect your anger to come out through hands-tools-things to make my body dead-thing-meat. I tore your mind just so."

I sense I must be equally blunt or lose a friend. "Jeryl, what you did was ONE BITE. Very close equivalent. Insulting, painful, but not goring me, not deep. I knew it was panic, not you."

She can't believe me. I feel it. She can sense my thoughts, yet doubts her senses and trusts her catastrophic expectations.

"I would rather have you hit me!"

What is this about?

She suddenly fishes in me again, hooks the bottom-dwelling rage at being mindfucked and pulls it up all muddy and squirming.

"All right all right, will that make you feel better?!"

Whap! Like hitting a dusty carpet. Fur flies.

I realize after a while I only slap, not punch, and avoid her face. I can trust myself more than I thought. No. Than SHE thought.

"Whuff!" says Jeryl as I whack her side. "Whuff whoof." So neutral after her fear before-the-fact. I trail off and actually pat her like a huge dog, completely confused about what we're doing. I supress a sick laugh.

"So are you afraid now?" I say drily, warily. Scared to feel anything. I may've lost a friend.

"Yes." She leaks dark seriousness as she looks inside. "I am. But I lost the stampede-edge of it. I hope." Ghost of her humor returns. "So are you afraid now?"

I grin. Baring my omnivore fangs.

"I really was crazy" she says sadly. "I even lost control of my... taking control of you. I've never done that before."

She doesn't know what what I did! Should I tell her? The part that fought her says "Hell no, save your defenses! You may need it."

But right now she thinks she went completely crazy, lost her psi, just from MEETING some Ants. Bye-bye peace talks! It'll mean a lot to her if I can show her she didn't lose control, I threw it off.

Besides, talking about it confidently may convince her my defense is so solid it needs no secrecy. She won't mess with my mind again! And that's good: who knows what I'd do, next time?

"Jeryl... you didn't lose control. That was me; I broke it. I told you I undream; well, I had a recurring undream I was sick, an invalid for years. That... changes your mind. Makes you cautious. You have to learn to just stubbornly stupidly endure longing and look at it before you act. And that breaks mindfucking."

"You're saying sickness gave birth to immunity as a colt?" Jeryl, for the first time, radiates doubt that she understood what I said. Or doubt that I meant it, that I told her the truth?

"Look... sick humans, and visionaries, and the powerless... we're more like you. We look hard at our wants because we can't realize them easily. Is it worth it, can it be done, where'd this urge come from, what is it really? So I just let your moods and commands blow over me like a storm-wind, I just went back to refusing to move..."

"Like the Handless Poet! Your immunity's an attitude, then? Not species-linked?"

"Well... a skill. Our feelings use our hands to change Things. So our hands understand Things: what you change, you know! But the minds, the feelings themselves, are often black boxes."

"Dark artifacts? Oh, a burrow."

A burrow? Night. A harbor. Jeryl, who looks like a tiger-striped pony, rears and challenges the moon. Dream sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.

"The squirms, no, squirrels. They go in, but you're too big... But that's crazy! How can fire, tools, starships, be an... open box, clear ice box?--"

"No antonym for it really--"

"--and, and yourself be a black box? You are in you, how can you be shut out of you?" There's real shock in her voice, at this alien image of Human minds. Flicker of me through her eyes, the night air squared to a black box around me, me a star-monster again.

Puzzled, I ask, "Why are you surprised? You can mess with Pirates even though they HATE interference; they still can't tell your intrusions from eruptions of their own stuff. They don't know their own minds!"

"I don't know. I assumed they just didn't have the ability to resist."

"Oh, I bet they do. I wouldn't mess with Varitz, for instance. He PAINTS his mind! Pull his demons up and he'd know 'em all, recognize your thoughts and shrug 'em off!" I picture Jade Balanchine, her bitterness jerking at her like an attack dog. "Not all Pirates are like that. But they could learn!"

I pause and stamp my cold feet.

"And so could you, toward those goddamn ants."

Jeryl shivers, then lets out a weird creaking laugh. She bounds down the avenue, belling a threatcall. "Come out and get me then, you flashpopping laminarbrained berrytalking BURROWERS!"


Later. We sit on our haunches like two big alley cats in the doorway of the Atheleni's hotel, leaning on each other. Quite a night.

Jeryl rouses her courage against the terror of artifacts and braves the doorman. "Has Aretenon of Atheleni checked in?"

The screen blinks. It says "One moment... No."

She pauses. Thinks. "Could he have gone to the Pirates' hotel with Boats?"

"What, let a Lion in? They'd throw a fit."

"Would they really attack?" Jeryl blurts alarmed. "Oh... 'nip a flank'-- emotional fuss! I hear 'throw' and thought WEAPON!"

"To Humans fussing is one. Mindfucking! You'd be immune, it's your home ground."

"I smell the analogy, thank you very much! Wonder where he could be? Hope he's not fighting."

I find myself thinking he and Boats could both be at Wally's. Odd.

They could, true. "Would you like to come up, meet Eris physically?"

"Well... okay."

Jeryl and I get up. My muscles ache. Jeryl says "Ow! I withdraw the invitation. You're a mess, go sleep."

I stroll the hundred yards to the Pirates' Hotel and slide a foambed from the wall. Boats is not here. The other Cyborgs are in sleep-equivalents or working quietly.

Luxury hotel: four-inch futons!

UNDREAM

I stare at the walls. They're covered with pictures of strange unicornlike creatures I drew from my dreams, back when I was very ill; they felt healing to me. So familiar I forget them. But they're there. Looking down at me. Subliminal healing?

My friend Mark Varitz comes by. Instead of painting, we rig up my two recorders into a crude mixing loop and try to improvise a surreal sound poem. Mark flexes a big scrap of plastic he found, generating a rhythmic "vvvoop", half thunder, half musical saw. I play my rubber-band koto--a shoe box with a comb taped at one end and a loose comb at the other. Eight rubberband strings stretched to instantly changeable lengths, by moving the loose comb. With the mike inside the box, the resonance is shockingly deep. I bend notes in a gummy minor scale, microtones dry and uneasy over Mark's thunder.

"I know, we need gongs next. Let's try the kitchen pots."

We pass pot lids back and forth, holding them to our ears and whacking till our hands hurt. I get inspired. "Hang on." I run into my closet and grab my old sneakers. My guess is right--they make great sounds on metal, not too tinny, but loud and rich. Jamie comes in. We're squatting on the floor surrounded by silver disks--beating the Revere ware with shoes.

"Aha! You have to join us. Would you get your journal, the one you were reading me the other day? You're perfect for a third voice. We're doing a sound piece."

"I don't know. I'm going dancing with Lindy later."

"Oh, come on." says Mark. "None of us know what we're doing. So what?"

Mark has a magazine article on Japanese art. He turns it sideways and begins to read. Sideways. Jamie and I open and read from each other's diaries.

She opens it to the Atheleni dream!

"Ants." says Jamie. "Cheimi and Rindei..." She goes on reading about herself and Lindy as ants. I don't know if she realizes. As I talk of my own insecurity, of how sexy I find them--and how immature.

Then she flips ahead to the pirate queen--who I compare to her Jamie's mom! "She reminds me of someone--Jade Balanchine?" Jamie gasps to see her mom's name in the dream. Oh god, that stuff about Jade's anger! Jamie worships her mom! She sure knows how to pick a page... An Atheleni, a sort of unicorn-tiger, amid the domes and spires of New Vancouver. Dream sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.

But that's what happens when you take the art-chance.

Later that evening, I'm emotionally wrung out. Snack, and watch TV...

Hill Street Blues. A perpetual sermon, this king of the copshows. Life is war, so toughen up or die. Face reality! Only it's NOT real. Really the average cop never fires a gun. In a lifetime. At least the other killshows are obvious fantasies, but this lie is so beautifully acted, it convinces. What a socially destructive show! Especially Furillo, oh so responsible--an insane role model. On MASH at least they were drafted into Hell; this guy chooses it. Fuckers even make you feel guilty for not watching it! With an effort, I sweep my dreams off my lap and change the channel. Bye, violence.

IN THE DOME

The conference dome. Noon. The preliminary speeches went off okay. The usual vague ideals. But everyone's wary; I'm tired of the fear. I can feel it. Bright sun through the stone lace of the ceiling warms the room, we should be relaxed.

No.

The vicrews are telefoting the Prof.

The Mayor speaks. "And now our own Shelley Errington of the University of New British Columbia, representing this great city and the peacemaking spirit that inspired us to arrange these historic talks, will address the assembled delegates..." a nice dramatic pause, I think "...on the topic..." now don't overdo it! "of... fear."

Ooh. I underestimated you, dear Mayor.

Shelley climbs onto the conference table. She clears the papers away with her feet. She rolls butcher paper out, covering the center with a huge diagram.

As she points and expounds, I shrink. No way they'll take in an awkward demanding chart like that. Oh, academe! As the vicrews' proverb goes (to the tune of Rawhide):

"Simple, tight 'n' sappy--
Keep da Tubers happy!"
Tuber's the new slang, backformed from the Universal Order of Couch Potatoes, and also they watch the Tube, you see. Not bad, for New Canada.

She had such a grand start too--appropriating the center of the Peace Table and all. But look at that chart!


	
   		
                                        ATHELENI 
               They don't fear the Cyborgs./ \ Individualists, they fear the Ants'     
                 Consider them paranoid,  /   \ conformity and technology. Hate        
               and tend to placate them. /  .  \ their snobbery, and are disoriented 
              Like their individualism. /   .   \ by their many-layered social          
               Jealous of their hands. /    .    \ hive-thoughts. Uneasily suspect the  
            __________________________/     .     \ Ants think of them as animals.   
               Dread the Atheleni as /      .      \_____________________________    
               mental manipulators. /       .       \ Ants find the Atheleni alien,
                Project their own  /        .        \safely so: they don't trigger  
                violent passions  /         .         \ distorted Ant sociosexual                     
               onto the Atheleni /      SCULPTORS?     \responses as others do.
                who can then    /          . .          \ Ants do see them as 
              secretly fasci-  /        .       .        \  animals, nostalgically 
                nate them as  /      .             .      \  pastoral, but sense
                symbols of   /    .                   .    \ (and almost worship)
                 emotional  /  .                         .  \ the depth of their 
                 freedom.  /_________________________________\  mental powers.
                     CYBORGS                |                ANTS 
        Pirates don't fear Ants; they act   |  Ants dislike and fear cyborgs as 
                patient and martyred when   | grotesque Ant-parodies. Emphasize their
            Ants mock them. The ants seem   | their inharmonious and mechanical aspects, 
             like the human societies the   | and try to humiliate them. Ants see Atheleni
         Cyborgs left behind: stodgy, safe. | as nature-gods, honest and pure.



Even the delegates are squirming. The Ants go marching two by two to the bathroom. The last one stops to tie his shoe and several cams find that more interesting than Shelley with her classroom chart. Dying on world vid; a hard way to go.

"Well, you better do something." a maroon grass breath growls in my ear.

"Me?" I blurt.

"I'm partisan," Eris mutters.

"Question! Question!" I shout, at a loss.

"Yes?" responds the Prof--as if it's a seminar! She looks relieved at the interruption--good, at least she knows she's boring a whole planet. Or two.

"I'd like to see if I understand you..."

I find myself climbing on the table and sitting in the center of the great diagram. Boats throws me a big green felt marker.

"I... ah... I've met all three species. I'd like to treat their attitudes the only way I know how--like my own. "

Good, good, says Aretenon. I glance his way. He is wearing a tablecloth, I think for a second. No. His fur is blue and white checked, like Dorothy's dress in Oz...

"I'm split up the same way as the Three--and I have the same attitudes toward my own other sides. I even meet them on other dream levels."

I grab the butcher roll and pull a big sweep like a banner off it. It settles to the table. I pause, unsure.

"Go to, go to!" calls the Ant of the Holy Grail, who's back from the bathroom. Encouraged, I dive in blind.

"Now the CYBORGS, the Pirates, are easy. They're Punks, Beats, the Boho Dance! The difficult people, who don't care if it comes out weird. Discord, clash, revolution! Give them a hand!" At peace talks between warring cyborgs, unicorns, and ant people, I dance on the table, acting out their three positions. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.

"What's this THEM shit?" yells the headbanded Pirate. "What happened to YOU? And what about FEAR?"

"Uh... when I get this way I feel... I feel..." I feel afraid to spill my guts on worldnet, is what I feel.

Show 'em. Ugliness. Your feelings, my broken horn!

I begin to dance on the charts...

My memories are hazy here; it always happens when I'm deep in the flow state--focused entirely on the one crucial thing. No attention to spare! All I recall are flashes, as I take on and act out the three facets...

(Pirate) Now admit it out there, Audience. You love seeing people risking total humiliation and getting away with it. You just don't want to admit you dig rebels. So the rebels get mad at you for lying, and they laugh at YOU, and you hate that because you sense they're right.

(Ant) You Ants are TERRIFIED of your Rebellion. You won't even look at it.You hide it in your deeper layers. Don't you think it gets squashed out of shape under all that weight?

(Atheleni) You ants make me dizzy. Your thoughts are layered and I hear all the different levels mashed together, from the outer conforming skin to the crosscurrents of doublethink and scheming you have to keep separate.

(Atheleni) I am scared among the Normals, awkward, and soulful like a wild animal. To survive I impress them with my intuition and depth and sensuality. I command attention.

(Ant) You act like we're dishonest because we have many levels of thought, and don't show them all. It's no different than chords in music. They confuse primitives who have never heard them, but one learns with practice. Civilization is sophistication.

I recall I leapt aside and faced my former position, as if arguing with the Ghost of Seconds Passed, and say

(Pirate) Krazy Kat used to brew up a bootleg drug called Tiger Tea, known to turn worms into dragons. Some friends pointed out sassafras tea had assertive qualities too, being nearly sixty percent sass. Krazy retorted: "Tiger Tea backs UP its sass, folks!" Now... far as I'm concerned, polyphony... (pause to let them anticipate, look for it...) is more than fifty percent phony. (This is the sort of line the tubers like to quote, so I repeat it, louder. Then:) Honesty without regret... that's Tiger Tea! Pirates and Atheleni!

Civilization is Lamination
Lamentation.
Lemmingnation!"

Several of the Pirates pull out saxes and back up my jazz rap.

(Atheleni)And you two, Cyborgs and Ants, who think you're so different... we call you both Handers. You use things--and so you grow a great fear--being used. Being treated the way you treat things.

(Form Catcher) I can shape any of you, become like any of you. So can other beings in audience who accept power of shaping. Power, and limits.

(Go-Between! For the first time, I speak as myself.) If you don't face your own fear the only ones to gain will be the Form Catchers. They won't even know what's been lost--they only see your shapes, not your feelings. You're the ones who care, in your different ways, about each others' opinions. About each other.


And things shift. I did it. As they admit their fear is mostly wounded love, outrage that they no longer trust each other... their ancient triangle mends. Slowly, all day, they shakily build a truce.

I suppose that should be the climax, but... I was distracted. Something personal came up. For as the Three crept closer to unity, my own fragmented psyche did the same. I become whole, but... confused: I can't seem to all three (four?) aspects in one body, can't see with all those eyes. No more risk of war, but now I have psychic indigestion: seeing things right and left... time blurred... I'm seeing multiple realities at once!

Part Three: PARADISO?

BAR LIFE ONE

Night smudges slowly in, like a log blackening on a campfire. The university's like a phosphorescent whale: my vision's still blurred. Brown ghosts.

I walk west to the night class wing. Two language classes, French and Chinese, fill the hall with murmurs. Plastic letters tell the building's day-function: DEPARTMENT OF ROMANCE LANGUAGES. Blankly I think Guess we do belong here. It is a language, and it is used for romance. I follow the feltpen sign, BAR LIFE ONE, upstairs. No other classes here, but I still hear muddy echoes. My suspicion gets stronger that what's gone wrong with me is time. Future and past classes whisper, scribble over now like layers of graffiti.

I see many timelines at once, in a brown hazy mishmash. Dream sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.
I reach the room I seek. Professor Errington isn't here yet, except in murky flashes. The dozen or so people already seated are mostly young humans, to my surprise; anthropology students interested in the topic I guess. Or they're shy. Or signed up so they could get a close look at us, who knows? None of the Three Army people are here solidly yet. The few aliens are Greenscales. Tourists I guess.

Where shall I sit? An overhead projector mutters in the middle of the room. No one sits near, as if it might pounce. More empties in back. But I find myself thinking fiercely "No more shyness!" and walk all around the room really seeing people, not dropping my eyes and sinking into myself as I always do. Looking for a seat in front--and near the girls who attract me most! But I can't do it, can't take the stress of all the eyes on me; I collapse at last into a seat near the projector and retreat into my notebook. I write "What does this projector mean? It dominates the class. A hole in the middle of everything. Is it a pun for projection, my assuming that other people find me silly? I can't seem to escape it." The fierce thinker returns--"No more notebook!" and I face the students again. Is my true love here? I try to focus on the faces. Four swim out at me, through the blur.

The wavy brownhaired tall girl has intelligence in her eyes, and craggy Atheleni stability. She'd be good for me. Then out comes the shadow. I see her secure childhood, her sensible future, and know she won't understand my inner strangeness, or the Ant-instinct to hide my my deviance from the human Swarm, any more than... a Form Catcher.

I feel a shock. I'm not waiting for her to accept or reject me. I'm rejecting her! How do I expect to find anyone like this?

The amiable blonde with her layered pastel shirts, kidding her neighbors? A ghostly sepia indulgence droops the outside corners of her eyelids like smeared make-up: she treats her life as performance and people as mere audience. A Pirate stealing attention, doing what she wants. I'd be a mind monster to her in no time.

I feel sick at my cold judgments. I never do this!

I never did.

The saurian face to the right--an alien? I cannot trust my blurring eyes. No, wait, she's human; they're freckles not scales. A copperhead, and striking. Her eyes hold clear, for a moment; then explode into layers of past, talking laughing always with people, expecting interaction, swimming gilled in a social sea, and I back up in panic to find my spine jammed in the hard chair back, and close my eyes. Ant-social. Normal on New Canada. For me? Hopeless.

My cattiness is making me suspicious. No one's good enough for me? This isn't perception, it's egotism.

The brown ghosts don't go away.

I force myself to peer through the black bangs round the downturned face of the shy girl with wideset eyes. And the blurring's different round her, it's watercolor, not muddying up her now, just adding: she's a romantic. The mixture of sweetness and fantasy warms me--a human Unicorn! She's the one I have to try. And as I choose, a wave of time possible ripples out from me... In it, I see I try to get her attention. And appall her. I'm uncouth from my long solitude, raucous and beaky as a macaw. She's an Ant Princess. I'm not Charming, and she won't kiss froggy Formcatchers.

A cold voice in me says this too is just a projection... yet the ghosts don't go away. I shoo them, and they stay. I realize, slowly, that is their answer. I can't see simply any more.

At the door, a whole busload of unicorns and bugs and cyborgs floods uneasily in. Musta been some ride! Also one last student. No... a visitor from the stars by her cautious zero-grav gait. A Pilot? I focus on her, tired. She's short, slight. Dark blonde, rough skinned. A scar. Wide strong Asian cheeks give her eyes a narrow wary look. Oh, the eyes! I can't look away. I meet a startling but haunted girl. Dream sketch by Wayan; click to enlarge.

Her eyes are wounds. Guilt and the pain of terrible alertness bleed out from wells deep as fourspace. I feel dizzy. But the blur is gone! Her pasts and futures are myriad, but all clear, like a tangle of bean-thread noodles, like her awareness. She is a psychic. Or a genius. Or both.

Her aura arcs to mine across the room. I gesture violently, as if my muscles were jolted to independence. She blinks and walks shakily over.

"Chris D'Antais."

"Beyatree Go-boom."

GUILTY SOULMATE

We talk simultaneously, half mind to mind. She has my affliction: she's time-unbound. Time washes her like waves, as it does me; sometimes up, sometimes back, often eddying, or pulling you under. We start to wash back and forth in phase, seeing pasts and possibilities with young and future eyes. But always guilt hovers, young or old. We're gifted: we're accountable for our gifts. It hovers round her almost blocking out the timeblur, like smog dimming clouds.

I blurt out, "You think you're unique? WE ALL DID IT. I, my guilt was... I caused the Furillo Disaster. I handled the Furillans' matterbeams-- the densest web anywhere, thick as lace... And I crossed two beams and... forty thousand people died. I blocked the memory, and most of my power... until you walked in. We're all guilty of it. You're not alone! All prodigies fail."

My truth doesn't comfort her. Her body's rigid, sick with guilt. And the brilliance that makes guilt almost logical. If you can do miracles, what are you when you fail, when you're merely normal? No standards; I mean, what is standard's not standard. I can't help her--I have no answer. I blanked my failure!

Slowly she images: "My crimes of the gift are different. I'm a Guide. A celestial navigator. I go Up There, into the Sea... I swim, I see... I seize the possibilities. But when I miss my way, people in my care can die. Not thousands once, but one by one and on and on, people I know, dine with, sing with. Try not to feel lonely with. I kill them one by one." Her pain flood is unbearable and I nearly back off. My chest hurts from crying I didn't notice. Or I'm in her skin; we slip in and out, the classroom of staring folk forgotten.

Through her eyes I see her timeblurs too, with the same brown sense of echo leaving us outside normal time, sort of spread round these strange flat people who all ride in one direction on a Titanic liner of consensual time--the Friend Ship. She's been so alone. But she can barely touch me. She feels dirty: guilt.

Jeryl gave unguilt to me; I must pass the gift on to Beyatree.

"How can we call ourselves failures for doing things badly? No one else can do these tasks at all. If we don't, who will?" No. Words don't reach. Not first. Jeryl broke through my guilt with feelings and touch. Thought came after. But Beya won't take those. Feels ugly, like Eris, or me. The guilt of difference.

Our timewaves reinforce, resonate. We float out over timedepths green as melons. The classroom beach, one local cove of phenomenal time, drops away. In space we float, learning each other's pain. I start to recall other times and roles she's played on the Great Sine Wave, and by seeing, slide her back to younger ones less armored in pain; I pound on her regressed shoulders, hold her patiently, start licking and masturbating her, yell "Cry! Get mad!", and nothing breaks through.

At last I give up. She is less old, and the memory of the first deaths is fresh, at the surface, but that's all I've done. I curl up tired under her, let her weight drape over me, flopped out like a starfish. Feels right to bear her a while. I pull her dangling arms round me.

Slowly she starts to growl, and holds me, rocking and yelling, loud. I can't tell if it's abreaction, sex, defiance, crying. The energy she held in as pain, no, we held in, blasts off in spherical waves like the hot blue shells of a nova. No idea what we're doing. I'm only sure that together we have a chance to heal. Though all around us is a time-foamed blur, she is real to me.

I can see.

SHRIEK GOGGLES

But that was a romantic statement. I still don't see anything but Beya. As long as I stay in my whole self, seeing time as the great sea, I see too much, and I'm lost in futurefoam and murky pastdepth. And so is she. We float confused as jellyfish.

I yell to the god who created us blurred.

"You want me to see in depth? THEN DO IT RIGHT OR TAKE YOUR STUPID EYES BACK!" Trapped in multispace, I barf up dimensionally polarized sunglasses.

And I am answered. I see clearly! Time is gone.

Why's it feel like disaster?

I look down on my body next to Beya. Oh. On my body next to...

I see myself, in the middle of my protest to my creator, start to yawn. My fear deepens and I scream silently to my body DON'T OPEN YOUR MOUTH! My mouth opens--and opens. Mouth opens--is SQUARE, creaking back--Horror, worse than blindness--mouth elongating to a rectangle-- brilliant yelloworange light inside--it can't intensify but it does to bluewhite suns--my jaw hinges wider and my head folds back--my head is a port of manifest light--and my face is gone. I have no me to return to.

"Oh no you don't!" roars Go-boom, "You're not leaving me now!" My head is gone, but she hangs on, stubborn. Out of the horrible hole something bursts, too bright in the savage gleam to look at. Small thing flaps like a woozy bird, orbits my body...

My jaw cranks slowly back down like an old convertible's wrinkled top. My face unfolds. My mouth shrinks to a rectangle and the fire fades. My mouth shrinks to a square and the light goes out--and my mouth stops there, open. The flappy thing is a pair of goggles. I sink back into my body. I take an awkward breath, through my... opening. My voice sounds normal, but the sounds are created as I think of them--like I'm a stereo, and my throat's a speaker.

"Well... I'm back."

Beya half-states "You're all right?" She snares the goggles awkwardly from the air, groping at their past and conditional images til she hits the present.

"You got your wish anyway. Try them out."

I put the goggles on. Future, past and now separate like book pages. I see!

Things are glassy worms, their continuous selves squirming through time, its bumps and tight spots, as bizarrely branched and tangled as the fumarole gardens in a deepsea rift. By willing, just as I create my speech, I can focus on any slice, any moment along a timeline worm. The void, this void itself once had a planet swing through it, for a moment. Its lifepath wiggles before me, a jumbo, a champion green worm. I reach for the moment its skin brushed this spot, and hitch a ride. Go-boom and I are standing on a sea cliff. An old deck chair lies beside us. We sit on it. I see its metal squirm back years to a mine, redden and disperse into the earth; I see the fat little creatures who lounged out here on it, and its busy future next year (this is the off season).

Looking futureward's like peeking from your eyecorners, all fuzzy and the angle aches; but I can do it a bit. Go-boom's about to yawn; I see globes of fire zooming up like headlights on every branch of time. Behind the wheel is Beya wearing shades, racing time and winning, with the top down and her mouth open.

Things happen around Go-boom.

Jeryl was right. I had to wait for someone like me. If you're different enough, those who are different from you lose their lure--everyone is. Likeness becomes all. Just one like me. No more bruising my aura on the others and being told I only love them for their bodies (true, I guess; their minds, like mirages, enrage me when I find they're not quite there). Even if I can only love psychic geniuses, I don't care. If they're the only four-dimensional people, and I need that... Now at least I know I can love.

I feared the distortion, the opening and destruction of my head, but it was like birth dilation. Scary, involuntary, seeming irreversible, a fatal change--but not. I look artificial now--and I can see. I rather suspect that once I face the rather pointed lesson there, I won't even have to keep my mouth open, goggling forever.

At last I'm seeing things.

Tetrahedon symbolizing the four species living in the Valley: Ants, Cyborgs, Atheleni, and Formcatchers.

NOTES, 2001 Thumbnail of Lou Cicchone, psychic reporter; dream sketch based on photo of actor Louis Del Valle.

LISTS AND LINKS:

INTRO: dreamwork - Alp Vark, Auspicious Tractor-Hate, Sisters of the Interface, Coyote Pajamas, & Dead Rights! - My first memory: I am three

PART 1: fire - the underworld - quests - mazes & labyrinths - home - monsters - artists - sculpture - a 2nd people-shellacker: Egyptian God - war - ant people - conformity vs. individualism - Cheimi the antgirl in human form - a dream of an Arthur Clarke pirate utopia?: Vertical Planes - unicorns - lions - telepaths - a life-changing Atheleni dreamlet: My Name Is Wayan - living with ESP - genius - chronic illness - robots & cyborgs - an earlier dream of Bitter Jade the pirate queen - a much later dream with Jade: Under the Masks - a mess of bizarre dreams of Mark the dissident pirate

PART 2: bar dreams - drugs & drunks - flirting - hands - I dream I'm the Handless Poet - racism, specism, etc - urge & impulse - hatred & loathing - gender - dating advice - fear - anger - politics - diplomacy - personality integration - creativity & the flow state

PART 3: guilt - genius - soul-mates - vision & blindness - many-world theory & probability sheaves - lifepaths - a 2nd dream of speakermouthism: They Don't Believe Me

Thumbnail sketch of tetrahedon symbolizing the four species at war in 'A Valley Near Hope': Ants, Cyborgs, Atheleni, and Formcatchers.
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