Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

Bookmark and Share

About IGMS / Staff
Write to Us
Print this Story

Issue 12
Stories
Over There
by Tim Pratt
The Multiplicity Has Arrived
by Matthew S. Rotundo
Somewhere My Love
by Stephen Mark Rainey
The End-of-the-World Pool
by Scott M. Roberts
Hologram Bride: Part One
by Jackie Gamber
Folk of the Fringe Serialization
WEST
by Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card Audio
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
The Crack
by David Lubar
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Essay
American Idol
by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury

Hologram Bride: Part One
    by Jackie Gamber
Hologram Bride: Part One
Artwork by Julie Dillon

Between 1908 and 1924, over 20,000 Asian women immigrated to Hawaii to marry Japanese sugar plantation workers. Strong restrictions in immigration laws forced workers to arrange marriages on photographs only. The U.S. Immigration act of 1924 abruptly stopped these arrangements, but by 1930 picture bride unions birthed over 100,000 offspring--a powerful presence in what would become the 50th state of the union.

Mama Iris put her wrinkled hand over the words in my book and bent to peer into my eyes. "You're no longer a child," she said.

I pulled my book out from under her hand, spun in my chair, and pretended not to listen.

"They won't extend another year," she said. "You've known this day was coming."

They. The Alliance Government, she meant, and they were kicking me out. Tomorrow was my 20th birthday, and I would no longer be an Alliance ward. For two years Mama Iris had manipulated a loophole to extend my wardship in the orphanage while I taught Kindergarten, but those same two years I'd been repeatedly turned down for a permanent teaching post. "I don't see why they won't let me stay," I said, closing my book. "I'm a good teacher."

"You're the best teacher I've had for the little ones," said Mama Iris.

"This is the only home I've ever known, why doesn't that mean anything to them?"

Mama Iris sighed. "I don't know." She hobbled to the window and stared down into the street. Gray clouds crippled the sunlight, but it managed to squeeze through the dusty pane and deepen the furrows of her face.

She tapped her cane against the glass. Ash that had settled on the outside sill puffed into the air and sifted away. "The sickness will come to you out there, Karla. Tomorrow you will face the world without ventilated air, without breathing treatments. Without medicine."

"Are you trying to frighten me?"

Her knob of silver hair wobbled when she nodded. "I suppose I am."

"You needn't bother." I crossed my arms. "I know what you're driving at, anyway, and I won't do it. I refuse to let you peddle me away like some slaveship cargo to that horrid planet."

"That horrid planet is green and blue and full of life." She stuck the tip of her cane into a slate-colored button on the wall. My Repli-Chef. After an image shimmered into a cup of water, she popped open the door of the appliance and threw the water out onto my floor. "On Reisas, you can drink water from streams. You eat food that actually grows from the ground."

"Sounds savage." I drew up my feet into my chair.

"Savage?" Her watery eyes narrowed. I hadn't often seen Mama Iris angry, but she was angry now, and I could feel it all the way across the room. I wanted to shrink back, but instead I lifted my chin and stared right back at her.

"You come to this window and see something savage," she said.

Now I did shrink back. I avoided the window, and kept my shade pulled as a rule. I didn't want to see what she was pointing at. Whatever it was.

"Now, Karla Jean."

Both names. Double whammy. I slinked off my chair and moved slowly toward her.

"Tomorrow when they boot your tiny fanny out through the gates with 100 units in your pocket, what's your plan? Eventually, when your lungs start filling with Black Death and you don't have five units left for a one-dose needle, what will you do?" She clutched the sash and yanked it open.

Ashen wind blew in, scattering papers off my desk. I coughed, feeling the air like sticky fingers down my throat. "Close the window, Mama Iris! Are you crazy?" I tried to slam it shut, but she poked my belly with her cane and pointed into the street.

"Look there, Karla. Blink the dust out of your eyes and look."

I blinked. The metal buildings across the street were stained with death pallor, the road below was a river of monochrome gray, and even the clothing and facemasks of milling people were the same bland color as the air. "I'm going blind," I whimpered. "Close the window."

"I won't let you go blind, child. I want you to see."

I coughed again, and held my hand over my mouth, breathing shallow.

"A five-piece, mister, just a five," said a husky voice in the street below.

I leaned over to find the speaker. A woman in a thin, once-red dress clung to a lamp pole. Lacy gloves covered her fingers. She caught a passing man by his sleeve. "A five piece buys your dream girl," she crooned, and smiled with a curving mouth that once might have been pretty. Now black spittle gathered at the corners, and, when the man reached into his pocket, she coughed, spewing tiny ink dots across his chest.

The man grimaced beneath his facemask. "Get off the streets." He withdrew his hand from his pocket, empty.

"Wait. How about a half five?" She followed him around the corner where they both disappeared.

I turned from the window. "Please close it."

The sash slid closed. "I sent your hologram to the agency months ago, Karla."

I hugged my arms to myself, staring across at my slab of gray wall. "What you're doing to me is no different than what the streets would do to me."

"A Reisan has offered to bring you over. Would you like to see him?"

"No."

"He works with his hands. A carpenter."

I gritted my teeth and willed my insides to shrivel up and hide away, out of reach.

"Karla, they are a people very much like us. Like we used to be." She laid a hologram sphere on my desk.

"How can you call them people? They aren't even human."

"They're close enough."

"Close enough to breed with, you mean." I stomped to my chair and dropped into it, sending it whirling. The room spun around me, and I watched Mama Iris swim by, over and over, like a flash of pale lightning against the stormy sky of my lodging walls. "That's all the program is," I said. "They want us to think they're being kind, saving a dying people from a dying earth, but they just need us to widen their gene pool. They buy us to breed us."

"Karla!"

"It's disgusting."

Mama Iris stuck out her cane to stop my spinning chair. "Karla Jean Tremont, where have you heard such rubbish?"

"Everyone knows it." I glared up at her. "That Reisan freak wants me to plant his food and birth his babies like some barefoot, backwoods concubine, and you're going to let him!"

Mama Iris's eyes burned hot, and her fist clenched like she was thinking of hitting me. "You will meet me in my office at dawn with your belongings in a case that will fit into the ship's overhead compartment." She turned and hobbled toward the door.

"I hate you for this," I said.

Her hand paused on the sensor button. "I know." Then she swept her hand. My door whisked open, and she strode through.

My eyes turned to the hologram sphere on my desk. I already knew what I would see when I activated it. All Reisans had green skin, just like every bad Martian movie ever filmed. They had thick, spongy hair, unless they were bald, and immense blue eyes that were all iris and no pupil. They appeared to have arms and legs and torsos like humans, but whatever else they hid under their clothing I could only imagine. And I was going to be married to one.

I welled up out of my chair, snatched the sphere, and smashed it to bits against my wall.

And dawn came, despite my spending all night resisting it. I stood in Mama Iris's office, my eyes puffy and bleary. I didn't remember sleeping at all, but I must have, because green faces had haunted my dreams.

Mama Iris's computer display was clacking like a ticker tape, filling with lines of information about my husband-to-be. I didn't want to read it. I already planned to hate my life, and knowing what to expect wasn't going to change anything.

Finally the door creaked open. Mama Iris shuffled in followed by a green creature in an expensive-looking suit. My stomach lurched. He was even more hideous than my nightmares could manufacture. He was scrawny, with arms no thicker than a child's, and his face was lumpy with acne. His hair was marigold yellow -- was that a natural color? -- and it bulged out around his head like a mushroom cap.

"Oh, Mama," I groaned, clutching at her arm. "I can't do this. Don't make me do this."

Her eyes went soft and sad for a moment, and she patted my hand. "I hope one day you'll be glad for this. Not today, I know. But someday, maybe." Then she turned. "Now, Doctor Argess is here to make sure you're healthy."

"Doctor Argess?"

"Yes," the Reisan said, stepping forward to hold a silver stick toward my face. "Stick out your tongue, please."

I obeyed. "Yow nah ma hubban?" I asked, tongue flopping.

His face curled up in disgust. "Certainly not." The silver stick jolted my tongue and I startled. He looked at a blinking display on the stick. "No diseases, no genetic predispositions. Exemplary."

"I thought he'd be coming to meet me."

"And pay for two passages on the ship?" His eyebrows, or, the place where eyebrows should be, shot up, and he looked at Mama Iris. "Does she know how expensive she is?"

"She knows little of the program, but she learns quickly."

"Hm." The doctor dropped his silver stick into his suit pocket and turned on his expensive heel. "We must hurry." He disappeared through the door.

I couldn't make my feet move. I stared at Mama Iris, waiting for her to call out and stop this, or for the sky to split and suck me up, or anything, anything at all, to keep me from doing what they wanted me to do.

Mama Iris cupped my cheek. "Be brave. When you get a chance, please satcom me. Tell me I did the right thing."

The doctor was back, tugging on my arm. I wouldn't have thought he'd be so strong, as scrawny as he was, but my feet were moving fast to keep up. Then we were outside, and Mama Iris was waving from the window. I couldn't wave back. I almost couldn't breathe. I couldn't even cry.

At the docking station, the doctor prodded me toward a metal arch. A Reisan in a yellow uniform greeted us, and the doctor held out his silver stick. The uniformed one passed a white box over it, and when it beeped, he nodded. "Ragin Dar'el. Sherament."

"Authorized," the doctor interpreted, and pointed the tip of the stick at my left earlobe. "Cross the portal into the ship. Once there, you'll sleep." A sharp jab pierced my earlobe, and I gasped, rocking back. "I'll be beside you from now until I hand you over to your husband, who will be there when you wake up."

My earlobe throbbed, and I touched it. Something metal was stuck fast. My fingertips tried to recognize it.

"It's for the scanners. Permanent." He gripped my arm again. "Time to go."

"How long will it take?" I asked, hoping he would say a lifetime.

"Six days. To you, it will feel like tomorrow."

A line from one of my favorite books came to me. Tomorrow is another day.

I awoke groggy and restless. Something soft was under my head, but my back was stiff against hard cloth. A cot. A musty-smelling cot. I pushed up to sit.

Beside me, a black girl about my age was rousing, too. She blinked at me and rubbed her eyes. "American?" she asked.

I nodded.

"I saw you on the ship. Before I passed out." She fingered the metal dot in her ear. "I wonder if we're going to the same village."

"Village?"

"Are you going to Arway?"

"I don't know."

She yawned behind her hand. "My husband is a blacksmith. He looks strong in his hologram." She smiled. "He wrote me a letter with a poem in it. He's as nervous as I am."

"You don't look nervous."

"Neither do you. You look angry."

I turned my eyes to the room, now that my vision was clear again. The walls were white stone, with a white desk and chair near the door. I sat on a white cot, and the girl beside me was lounging on a yellow one. "No windows," I said.

"This is the recovery room. Didn't anybody explain this to you?"

I shook my head.

"It's to transition us to the atmosphere and sunlight. They gradually adjust the settings until we can breathe their air and tolerate the light levels of whatever part of the planet we're going to. I've heard they get so much sunshine in Arway they wrinkle like prunes in their old age. Isn't that something?"

"How long do we stay in here?"

She shrugged. "A few hours, I guess. I'm Shandra, by the way."

"Karla," I said. I tried to stand. My legs felt rubbery. I had to clutch the cot to keep from falling over.

"Careful. Go slow." Shandra eased her feet to the floor, too, and I noticed she had no shoes. I looked at my own feet. Bare.

"What happened to my shoes?"

"They incinerate them with the rest of your clothes, to make sure we don't bring the sickness with us."

I looked down at the baggy canvas dress I was wearing. When had they changed my clothes? I was about to ask when the wooden door of the room swung open. A chubby, white-skinned man chatted with Doctor Argess and another official-looking Reisan, dressed in something like judges' robes. Behind them, several Reisan men paced in and out of view. I caught sight of a wide-shouldered one, with thick ropes of emerald dreadlocks, and strong arms. Shandra's blacksmith, no doubt. His eyes were blue, like all of the planet's creatures, but they were soft and nervous-looking. He looked as utterly lost as I felt. I couldn't help but smile, a little. He smiled back.

I leaned toward Shandra. "He seems nice. I hope you'll be happy."

"Thank you. You too." Then she gasped quietly, and I turned back to see her gazing intently at a barrel-chested one with black eyes and a wide chin. He held out a red flower. A rose, I think, though I'd never seen a real one. She giggled, accepted the flower, and took his arm.

A throat cleared behind me, and I spun to face the Reisan who'd returned my smile. He stood six inches taller than me. His sleeves were rolled to his elbows, and he wore denim pants with a rope through the belt loops. A curl of green chest hair peeked from the collar of his shirt, thick like the kind on his head. "Tremont Karla?" he asked.

I nodded dumbly. He smiled again. He had elongated incisors, like a vampire, and each tooth gleamed white behind lips a shade darker than his green face. His nose was broad, but pleasing against high cheekbones.

"I am Ragin Dar'el. I am here to marry you."

"You speak English," I said, because I couldn't think of anything else.

He nodded. "And Japanese, and I am learning Spanish. I hope to learn all major languages of your earth."

"Why?" I hadn't even bothered to study my French lessons at the orphanage.

He blinked. Or, rather, a flash happened across his eyes that appeared to be a blink. He had no eyelids.

"Shall we go, then?" asked the white man, before the Reisan could reply.

A flash of terror must have passed over my face, because his forehead wrinkled, and he leaned toward me. "Are you ill? Your face has gone paler than a cloud."

I shook my head, because if I opened my mouth, I might throw up.

"You are afraid?"

I nodded. His voice was gentle and I hated that, because it was making me want to cry, and I was trying not to feel anything.

"You are not here by your own will, are you, Tremont Karla?"

That answer I had a voice for. "No."

His blue, pupil-less eyes searched my face, and then dipped toward the floor.

"Where's my luggage?" I asked.

"Luggage?"

"I brought a case with my things. Do you have it?"

He shook his head. "All things from your city had to be burned. The sickness is heavy there."

"Burned? Everything?" The tears I'd been fighting choked my throat. I bit my tongue, forcing them back. "It was just books! How could they carry anything dangerous?"

He tilted his head at me. "I have books."

"But those were mine. Mine." Now I had nothing this planet wouldn't give me. Inside, I officially withered. At least I didn't feel like crying anymore.

The ceremony was two lines. It took place in another white room at the docking station. Someone in a pink robe spoke sing-songy, and the Reisan men, there were 20 of them now, repeated the odd phrase.

Funny how none of the women made any vows. I looked around at them, mostly my age. We seemed to be an American group, though one olive-skinned woman was whispering in Spanish. She was probably praying.

Shandra wiggled her fingers at me, her face bright like a new bride's should be. When her husband leaned in to kiss her mouth, she giggled and kissed him back.

"It is done," said the green one beside me. "A carriage will take us home." He led me away without trying to kiss me.

The outside door swung open to his world. Heat and light slammed so hard against my eyelids I thought my face caught fire. I hid behind the crook of my arm. "What's happening out there?" I asked, unable to pry open my eyes to look.

"The carriage is waiting for us," he said.

"Is it burning?"

"No." He touched his fingers to my back and guided me outside. "It is our day," he said. My feet stumbled up a platform.

From the platform, I ducked into a rounded box that sat atop four wide wheels, and was pulled by two horse-shaped animals a fair shade of maroon. Inside the box I could open my eyes again, though they watered. "Is it always so bright?"

"Unless it rains. You should have been acclimated in the recovery room." He frowned. "Others from your country did not need so long as you."

He was staring at me. I turned my face toward the window. "I thought all Reisans had blue eyes," I said.

"What?"

"Shandra's husband has black eyes. Others had green or yellow eyes. I think you were the only one with blue."

"Blue Reisan eyes are rare," he said. "But your eyes are blue, too."

I glanced at him. His gaze was still scouring me. "Your hair is the color of rensisals . . . uh, sunflowers," he said. "Your hologram didn't show it well. You looked very gray."

"I did?"

He nodded. "Your skin is like vanilla ice cream. I did not know humans could be so pale."

I frowned. I knew I wasn't a stunning beauty, but I hadn't expected to disappoint him.

"Do I look like my hologram?" he asked.

"I don't know, I never saw it." I crossed my arms, and glared out the window. "I figured you all looked pretty much the same."

"Ah," is all he said, but I could feel the pain in his voice. Any other day, I might have felt sorry for hurting him. Not today.

Our travel fell into silence. I watched the landscape, helping my eyes adjust to the brightness. As they did, I was able to see the array of colors that passed. Fields of yellow and green went on as far as I could see. The sky was a blue like I'd seen in paintings. Trees huddled in groups of green and brown, dotted with flecks of crimson buds that opened to white blossoms. I'd only seen such rich countryside in photos in old books. My own earth had looked like this once, long before my time. Before Mama Iris's time, even. Before the rain forests fell, and the ozone was pierced.

At the thought of Mama Iris, my eyes filled with tears. Doctor Argess was right; it seemed like only yesterday when I saw her wave goodbye.

I felt a touch on my arm. A green hand offered me a handkerchief. I took it. I pretended my tears weren't there, and instead dabbed the cloth against my forehead, which had grown warm and sticky. "You have no fingernails," I said.

"Fingernails," he repeated, rolling the word around on his tongue. "What is this?"

"Fingernails," I said, and held out my hand toward him. "On your fingertips."

He inspected his fingers, and then leaned over to inspect mine. He reached out, curious, but I drew back my hand before he could touch it.

"What is the purpose of your fingernails?" he asked.

"I don't really know," I said.

The carriage lurched to a stop. I clutched at the seat to keep from sliding off. He swung open the door, jumped out onto the road, and lowered the platform for me to step on. I climbed down to join him.

When applause broke out, I looked up to see a crowd of smiling green faces. "Ragin Dar'el Karla!" someone announced. A musical sound, like a fife, pierced the air, and the applause turned into rhythmic clapping. Cotton-clad Reisan bodies stepped back to reveal a pathway to a small two-story hut with a shingled roof.

Bright pink flowers climbed the sides of the hut and met in a waterfall of color over the roof. An archway of woven wood stood against a slat fence. Purple and white blossoms dangled in bunches from the arch, clouding the air with an earthy-sweet scent. "This is where you live?" I asked, feeling as though I'd just stepped into one my student's fairytale stories.

"Karla!" I recognized Shandra's voice, but I had to step back onto the carriage platform and look over the heads of the crowding Reisans to find her. She was waving to me from the window of her own carriage. "I knew we'd both end up in Arway! I just knew it!"

"Come find me!" I called, but I wasn't sure she'd heard me. Her carriage was already disappearing into the horizon.

"Ragin Karla," came my husband's low voice. "We should enter now."

I made my way toward the home. As I stepped over the threshold, a chorus of shouts exploded, and I had to cover my ears. Green hands slapped my Reisan's back, and he shouted along with them in words I didn't recognize. Jolly faces peered through glass-less windows. Dried flower petals were tossed inside.

Bodies pressed so hard against the outside walls they creaked, and I was afraid they'd come crashing in. What had seemed a friendly party outside turned fierce. Feet stamped. Hands clapped. The fife screeched like a burglar alarm. My husband's arms bulged with trying to keep a stampede from swarming into the house, and I saw a leering yellow eye over his shoulder. I dove under a table.

Then I heard his voice in staccato words. A great sigh of disappointment passed through each set of lungs, and feet began shuffling away. The front door closed. The bolt slid into place.

"Wife?" he called.

I don't know why I didn't answer.

"Wife Karla?" He peered under the table. "Come out, please. It is safe."

I lowered my hands from my ears and stared into his blue, blue eyes. I didn't want to come out. Oh, but I didn't.

"You are hungry, I think. I will show you hotcakes, and then we will sleep."

"I know how to make hotcakes," I said. It was about the only thing I knew how to make without a Repli-Chef, except I called them pancakes.

"Then we will work together."

I was too frightened to eat. I crawled out anyway.

Night came, and I feared it. He stood in the doorway, watching me with that soft, nervous expression he'd had when we first met, and I'd smiled at him then, not knowing he would belong to me. Or rather, that I would belong to him. Fingering the metal clasp in my ear, I didn't smile now.

He unbuttoned his shirt as he moved toward the bed. He slipped the flannel from his shoulders and folded it neatly. His thick dreadlocks bounced against his broad shoulders, and his biceps clenched as he laid his shirt in a chair. He had a build that came from hard work, his muscles thick and strong, but not chiseled like so many statues I'd seen in books.

He sat on the edge of the bed, his back to me, and his shoulder blades shifted beneath his green skin as he removed his boots, one at a time. It was such a human sort of movement I forgot for a moment he was an alien creature from an alien world. Then he twisted to face me, and blinked lidless eyes at me, and I swallowed back an urge to scream.

He flinched as though I really did scream.

I looked away. "I came to this planet in a different solar system in six days," I said, as though he didn't already realize.

He nodded, and his head tilted a little.

"But we made pancakes on a stove we had to stoke with firewood, and we rode in a horse carriage, and you have oil lamps instead of electricity."

He nodded again. "We have technology beyond yours, but we know the arrogance of relying on it."

"You choose to live like this?"

"You were not expecting this, either. You regret your decision."

"It wasn't my decision."

"Ah. That is right." He frowned. He slid into the sheets and sat forward to rest his arms across his bent kneecaps.

"You're taking advantage of a planet that has no choice. You sought us out when it suited you, and you help us only to save yourselves."

I'd never seen an angry Reisan face, but judging by how his jaw tightened and his eyes simmered, I guessed I was seeing one now. "You presume much about my people," he said.

"A people can only be judged by its actions." I met his face like I always met Mama Iris's. Chin lifted, eyes steady.

"There is no need to anger me, wife," he said, and flattened back against the bed, turning away from me. "I was not going to touch you."

I awoke from a dreamless sleep. A shaft of yellow stabbed through the window and glittered the hairs on my arm like gold dust. I stretched lazily, listening to the cheerful whistles of unfamiliar birds.

Then a new sound broke through. A soft, grating sound, like wood against wood, maybe. I swung my feet over the side of the bed. I hadn't yet replaced my shoes, but the texture of the wood floor was pleasant beneath my feet, and I wiggled my toes.

I noticed a new dress over the back of the chair where my husband's flannel shirt had laid last night. My husband. Dar'el. I practiced the name in my head, formed the word with my lips. Dar'el.

There was a book on the seat of the chair with a handwritten note that read "For my wife." Seeing the word in print had more impact than hearing it, for some reason, and I picked up the note to stare at it, turn it over in my hand, read it again. I tucked the note into the cover of the book, and then leafed through the pages. I couldn't read the language, and it was broken into chunks of paragraphs with footnotes and digits throughout the text.

Next I pulled off my canvas dress, and stepped into the soft lace of my new one. Three pearl buttons clasped it shut against my throat. A satin ribbon drew it tight around my waist. It seemed too fine a dress for denim-wearing man like Dar'el, but perhaps it was a gift. A wedding gift. Like the book.

I was already in the doorway when I realized I'd thought of him as a man.

I carried the book toward the chafing sound into the backyard. I paused then, looking out over the green grass that flowed up and over a sweep of low hills in the distance. Wispy trees bent like ballerinas in the wind, reaching leafy arms in graceful arcs. I wanted to go there, to walk slowly among the trees, to feel the sun bake my skin and let the rough earth scrape beneath my feet. I was startled, because I'd never had such a thought before.

First, I had to discover the source of the gritty sound coming from the small shed behind the house. I crept toward the wooden structure and peered inside.

Through a haze of powder, I saw Dar'el bent over a slab of wood with his back to me. He was running a sheath of knobby paper over the wood, smoothing it in long, rhythmic strokes. He'd stripped his shirt, and pine dust clung to the sheen of wetness across his skin. For a moment, my breath caught. Then I remembered myself. I refused to be attracted to him. He was green and horrid.

"Dar'el?"

He cast a look at me over his shoulder. Then he straightened and faced me fully. Wood chips clung to his cheeks and to his green chest hair gone curly with perspiration. His eyes were wide and startled as they took me in.

"It's a lovely dress," I said, though I suddenly had the urge to cover myself with my arms.

He turned his eyes back to the slab of wood. "I was not sure it would fit," he said.

"It does."

He nodded, still looking away.

"And you've given me a book. I can't read it. What's it called?"

"It's a book of my faith."

"Oh." After an awkward pause, I smoothed my hands over my hips. "This dress seems awfully nice to be working in."

"Working?"

I crossed toward him, crunching wood shavings with my feet. "Won't I be keeping house, or helping in some way? Maybe I could learn to smooth wood, like you're doing."

"You would use your hands to learn a trade?"

"Of course. Don't the other women around here do that kind of thing?"

Dar'el drew the heel of his hand over his brow. "There are only three females in this village, and two of them arrived yesterday."

I frowned, trying to comprehend.

"You know the state of our people," he said.

I actually didn't. "What's happening to you?"

"For years our elders have been dying, with no babies to replace them. We have tried to undo the damage we have caused ourselves, but we can not mend all things without help."

"What kind of damage?"

"Advancements that have eaten away at Reisas, much like how your earth suffers, and chemicals that have eaten away at Reisans themselves."

"So," I said, curious despite myself, ". . . how are you trying to mend?"

"Many believe our low-technology course of action has helped reverse the state of the planet. Some governments have forced their citizens to live without electricity and common convenience, but it has not come to that in Flayete Region. There will always be those who can not bring themselves to leave the cities, but more citizens choose to settle into free land each year."

"Like you," I said.

He nodded, turning back to his sanding.

"So you're a pioneer." I smiled.

He paused with his hand on the timber. "As are you," he said, and the tips of his white incisors peeked out when he returned my smile.

A knock sounded on the door, and then a face poked in, surrounded by chunks of dark, springy hair that drooped into yellow eyes. Familiar yellow eyes. "Ragin Dar'el? Vech tet rushtamen."

"Tet turashtanet, Alen Ra'nen." He laughed, and gestured the Reisan in. "Karla, my friend Ra'nen."

"A pleasure," I said to the creature that resembled a green sumo wrestler. I was surprised the man could squeeze through the doorway.

"Pleasssure," the man echoed, his yellow gaze scorching down my dress. The skin at the back of my neck puckered. I scooted closer to Dar'el.

"Juresh tayet te reminot es?" Dar'el asked.

Ra'nen shook his head, but stuck out his fat hand for a shake. "Winish. Ken katet sho ranna mishaket es winish en vet. Soo venna tet fah."

Dar'el gripped his friend's hand around the wrist. "Ah, des. Des ret."

Ra'nen beamed brightly, then hiked up his trousers around his bulging belly and nodded. "Des ret, tet." He leered at me. "Pleasssure," he said. I'm sure I saw him suck a blob of spittle out of the corner of his mouth.

I looked at Dar'el, but he didn't seem to see it.

The fat Reisan squeezed back outside.

"He has invited the village to a dinner in our honor, and Van'el's and Shandra's. Tonight, in his barn."

"That's nice of him," I said, though I had a creepy feeling. "Are you going to be working long out here? I was thinking of walking in the hills across the field."

"How long would you like me work?"

I smiled. "No, I meant, maybe you could go with me."

"You wish me to join you?"

"That's what I said, isn't it? Is my English so bad?"

"For a moment, I doubted my own." Dar'el returned to sanding his plank of wood. "I will need half the morning to finish the bed frame for Dresh K'tarn."

"In the mean time, I'll learn my way around the kitchen, and the mystery of heating water for your bath when you're finished."

He paused and regarded me.

"It's the least I can do. You have been very kind."

"Do you mean it is the least you can do, or the most you can do for me?"

I couldn't hold his gaze. I turned for the door. "You regret your decision, too, don't you?"

"It was not my decision, either."

I was afraid to ask him to explain. He returned to his sanding, more vigorous than before, so he wasn't going to take the initiative. Just as well. I don't think either of us wanted to talk about it.

Reisas was blessed with two moons that turned layered shades of pink and gold as night fell. The landscape sucked in the moonlight like a desert drinks rain, and the whole area took on an ethereal glow. Dar'el's flesh effused with the radiance, turning a pale milktoast color that looked almost human. As long as I didn't look him in the eyes, I could almost pretend he was.

He walked me across a soft field of yellow grass that tickled my knees. "If I didn't know any better, I might think you're keeping me barefoot on purpose," I said.

He glanced at my feet. "I didn't put your shoes out with your dress?"

"I didn't see any."

He walked quietly for a time, and then he laughed. Or, rather, he squeezed his lips together, trying not to laugh, but it snuck out. "I thought it was a custom of earthlings to go without."

I smiled, too. "I thought it was some weird initiation ritual."

He shook his head, his smile lingering. His eyes had turned gold beneath the Reisan moon, and I saw them roving my face, searching.

Then his face turned away, and he looked ahead at the path. "There is the barn. Sounds like they started the party without us."

He was right. The ground was vibrating from staccato drums. When he opened the door, twittering melodies of what sounded like flutes and clarinets were so intense, I wondered if the village had hearing problems.

"Oh, Karla!" Shandra's voice managed to squeal over the thunderous music, and I peered at the crowd, trying to find her.

"Do you love this village?" Her hand found my shoulder and spun me around. Her face glowed like Dar'el's skin beneath the moon, and her brown eyes were wide, happy.

Seeing her face, I wished I did love it. I wanted to be able to smile like that.

"You're still angry," she said, her glow fading.

"I'm glad you're happy." I touched her hand. I didn't want to spoil things for her with my gloominess. "Are you going to dance?"

"Yes, I think so. Van'el went to find me a drink."

I regarded her bright face while her eyes combed through the milling bodies for a glimpse of her husband. Her expression struck a realization. "Shandra . . . do you love him?"

She turned, her dark brows arched. "Is that surprising? I am married to him."

"But you only met him yesterday!"

She smiled. She lifted a thin shoulder in a helpless shrug. "He's so gentle."

I stared, unable to process the thought.

"Did you know the only other woman in this village is such an old crone she hardly comes out of her shack?" Shandra leaned in to whisper. "We're the first young females some of them have ever seen. Can you imagine?"

I shook my head.

She smiled again. "I thought it would make Van'el hurried and clumsy. But he wasn't." She sighed, and touched her brown fingers to a hint of blush on her cheeks.

"Ugh! I do not want to know!"

Shandra laughed. "Come on, don't tell me you and Dar'el haven't . . ." Her voice trailed, and she blinked. "No! Didn't he . . .?"

I crossed my arms. "I didn't want to and he knew it. I don't want to talk about it."

She shook her head. "Amazing."

"Amazing for not sleeping with someone I don't know?"

Shandra saw Van'el coming and took a step to meet him. She tossed a look at me over her shoulder. "I didn't mean you."

I was just about to say something witty when I felt a yank on my arm so hard I thought it would pull out of the socket. I was dragged through the barn door, too surprised and fighting to keep on my feet that I couldn't get a good look at who was man-handling me. Until moonlight washed over the features of the chubby arm that gripped me. "Let me go," I said, recognizing the leer of Dar'el's sumo wrestling friend.

He pulled me toward a shadowed cleft between two field boulders. He wedged me in while I kicked at his chest and clawed at his face. Now I knew what fingernails were for. "Let me go!"

"Durashtatat," he growled, and gripped immense fingers into my hair. "Pleasssure."

I screamed and writhed. I was not going to let this fat freak have any part of me. I did not come millions of miles to a new home just to be ripped to shreds like could've happened on earth where I would have preferred it! I lunged at his face and bit hard onto whatever green flesh was closest to my mouth. I felt something soft. I clenched.

He howled. He yanked back, dragging me with him. He flopped to his back, and I landed onto his soft belly. But I was still attached, and the best I could figure, I was latched onto one of his many green chins.

"Karla!" I head Dar'el's voice and the soft thud of his hurrying feet. His hands pried me loose and drew me back, wrapping his arms around my middle. "Ra'nen! Ils a tet duran enem!"

"Let me at him!" I twisted in Dar'el's grip, trying to claw out Ra'nen's eyes. But Dar'el walked backward so I couldn't reach. Ra'nen climbed to his feet, his chest heaving. Dark blood dribbled from his chin.

He stuck a plump finger at me. "Human girl is my turn!"

Dar'el set me down, but guarded me behind him as he inched forward to hiss at his friend. "Sssshayan, Ran'en." He threatened a fist at the fat one's face, his nostrils flaring. "Ssssshayan."

More thundering footsteps gathered, and soon all those from the barn were crowding around, pointing or gaping. Shandra wedged through them to grip my shoulders and pull me back. "Karla, what happened? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." But I was trembling so hard I could hear my bones rattle inside me.

Dar'el swept a glare over the gathered Reisans. "Shayan! El yuritet!"

Now Van'el emerged from the wall of men, and moonlight bathed his face, his features pained as he looked from Shandra to me. "An. Anyetel arn reshtitet," he said.

"He says we have a right to know," said Shandra.

"Know what?" I stared at the faces around me, trying to figure out what was going on.

"I don't know." But her voice sounded as though she had a pretty good guess. She released my shoulders and hurried toward Van'el to wrap her arms around his chest. He hugged her and disappeared with her into the crowd.

"Know what, Dar'el?" I reached a shaking hand toward his arm.

He glared once more at his friend, and then guided me quickly across the field and toward the house. "I am sorry. It still does not give him the right to act like a . . ." He snarled, his face twisting while he searched for the word. "Mongrel," he finally said.

My feet stumbled to keep up. "You're scaring me."

He slowed. He stopped altogether. The crowd stayed back, a shadowed lump in the far distance. After glancing backward, he cupped his hand over my shoulder. His palm was rough through the fabric of my pretty dress. "Let us get inside. I will pour you a cup of seed wine."

My stomach turned to rock. Suddenly I had a pretty good guess, too. We went inside.

In the kitchen, seated in a wood-woven chair at the table Dar'el's own hands had built, I cupped my hands around my mug of seed wine and stared hard into his weary face. "You're telling me I'm supposed to be shared?"

He flattened his wide hands against the table, and sucked in a breath to speak. But he only shook his head, lifted his own mug of wine, and drained it dry. He drew his fist across his mouth. "Not one of us could afford a wife's passage for ourselves. When we pooled our money, we had enough for two."

"Two for a village of twenty men?" I stood, pressing my fists onto the table, clenching my fingers so hard it hurt. "Passed around like dinner plates? Taking turns?"

He reached for the jug of wine and refilled his cup. His hands were shaking.

"A five-piece buys your dream girl," I snapped.

He looked up. His brow wrinkled, and his blue eyes flashed with a lidless blink.

I laughed, but I didn't think any of this was funny. "Mama Iris thought sending me here would keep me from selling myself for medicine." Instead, I was to be passed around for free. I was so angry I didn't even have words for it. But I had a mug. I hurled it with all my strength at the closest wall. It didn't shatter, but it splashed wine and landed with a satisfying thud.

Dar'el startled. He came around the table, his green hands outreaching. I saw him close in, and just then I did want him to hold me. I wanted him to say he understood and he would fix everything. But instead I felt my upper lip curl. I recoiled. "Don't touch me."

He didn't. He lowered his hands. "Karla --"

"I won't do it. I don't know if the program people think they can force me somehow, but there's no way I'm going to do it."

"The administrators were supposed to have explained this. You were supposed to be a volunteer."

I gaped. "Are you kidding? Who would volunteer for that? What kind of animals do you think we are?"

"Not animals --"

"And what about poor Shandra?" I wilted a little, thinking of her. I had to sit again, because my legs went soft. "She loves him. She won't want to be with anyone else, either."

The chair across from me creaked as Dar'el sat again, too. "She loves Van'el? Is this true?" he asked.

"Yes. I don't suppose that means anything to you."

His jaw tightened. "Of course it does."

"But not to Arway. You didn't bring us here to love us; you brought us here to use us." I stood again. "You're more human than I gave you credit for."

He opened his mouth, but I left before he had a chance to speak. Whatever he had to say wouldn't make me feel any better, anyway, and couldn't make me feel much worse. I paused outside the bedroom door with my fingers on the handle. "In the morning, you'll take me to the processing station place and get your money back."

He stood. He turned to face me, his hand resting on the back of the wooden chair. "I do not think they will --"

"They'll have to do something, because they gave you the wrong girl." I opened the door and closed it hard behind myself. I stood, shaking.

I heard his footfalls through the door. He came close, and I whirled to watch the handle. He wouldn't follow me in, would he? My eyes searched the room for something weapon-like, but he only knocked quietly.

"Karla?"

I crossed my arms and silently dared him to come in.

"Would you mind me getting my pillow and my reshka? I will not stay."

His voice was soft and hesitant. Somehow, it cooled my burning anger. I considered. Then I clicked open the door. I glared at him so he'd know he wasn't in any way forgiven.

My expression was wasted, because he didn't even look at me. He went straight to the bed and pulled off his pillow, and then he knelt and searched the floor. He reached beneath the bed.

"What's a reshka?" I asked. Maybe if I helped him find it, he'd leave sooner.

"My book of faith. Like the one I gave you."

"Like a bible?" I remembered, though I hadn't read any of it. I didn't know the language, but I'm not sure I'd have read it if I did.

"Yes, bible." He held up the thick book he'd found beneath the bed. He stood and turned for the door.

"It talks about what . . . your God? In there?"

He nodded, and paused in the doorway. "The God of creation who made your world and mine."

"Really." I didn't think anyone believed in a Supreme Being kind of thing anymore -- but then Reisas was a strangely mixed planet of technology and simplicity. I supposed if any kind of mystic faith survived somewhere, this was as good a place as any. "So you believe in a big plan of some kind?"

He nodded again. "Yes."

"And your God, how would he feel about your village sharing me around? Would he approve?"

Dar'el stared hard at the floor with his pillow in one hand and his reshka in the other. Then he lifted his gaze to look directly at me. "No. No, he would not."

I had more I wanted to say, but he slipped backward through the doorway and turned into the small room off to the right. A living room of sorts, with a fireplace that wasn't lit, and a long couch of wood and soft cushions. I'd explored that room earlier, searching for the store of books he'd alluded to when we'd first met.

Was that only yesterday? Our first meeting? I was weary as though I'd spent countless lonely days on this foreign planet. I wanted to sleep, but not in the nice dress Dar'el had given me. I also didn't want to wear the scratchy canvas shift I'd been given. I would have to raid Dar'el wardrobe.

The tall wooden structure loomed against the wall near a floor-length window. As I came closer, I noticed intricate designs along the front panel, carved in relief to appear as a shower of tiny leaves. I had to touch the leaves because they looked so real.

I opened the panel to find an array of cotton shirts on hangers. All shirts were the same, collared version in three colors. I chose a blue one. The fabric was soft flannel, and the small buttons fastened smoothly.

When I closed the wardrobe, the falling leaves on the door again caught my eye. Such attention to detail. This was no piece of ordinary furniture, it was created to be beautiful. The realization made me examine the bed. I had to bring a lantern closer to see the headboard in the darkness, but I did find the same leafy pattern. Again I had to run my fingertip over the wood to remind myself they weren't real.

What other leaves were strewn through the house? My curiosity won out over my weariness. I carried the lantern into the short hallway that led to the kitchen. Sure enough, the same falling leaves cascaded down the backs of the kitchen chairs. More tiny leaves decorated the four corners of the kitchen table.

I wandered a little, searching for the pattern like a hidden treasure, and each time I found it, I smiled. On a small shelf by the front door. In the handles of the kitchen cabinets. I was working my way back down the hall when I noticed a glow coming from the living room. I paused.

Dar'el was on his back on the couch, one arm dangling downward. A quilt covered his legs and draped to the floor. There was no fire in the hearth. The glow that had caught my attention was the wash of pure moonlight through a large window, golden-pink, and so bright I almost didn't notice Dar'el's lantern still burning on the floor beside him. I set down my light and moved into the room.

He made a low sleeping sound. His reshka was open against his bare chest. His eyes looked open, staring right at me, and I paused, startled. But there was a dull film over his eyes, and when I wiggled my fingers, he didn't respond. So I knelt, lifted the glass cage of his lantern, and blew out the flame.

I looked closer then, as I knelt. I wanted to be angry with him still, but one dreadlock dangled down the bridge of his nose, and one arm rested beneath his head, showcasing the bulge of a strong bicep.

I stayed, watching him sleep, bathed in moonlight. Then I reached for his reshka. His limp fingers rested on the book's spine, and I had to ease that hand aside, laying it onto his belly, instead. I carefully lifted the book and closed it, and set it silently onto the floor.

He shifted. I looked back to his face. His brow wrinkled faintly, and then the filmy coating over his eyes split open and slid out of sight. He was awake. He tensed, watching me as though I might slash him through the heart.

I rested my hands on the edge of the couch to show him I wasn't holding anything sharp. "I was just moving your book. You fell asleep reading it."

He continued to watch me.

"And you left your lantern burning. I blew it out."

He narrowed his eyes.

"Are you cold?" I grasped his quilt to pull it over his chest, but he laid his hand over mine and stopped me.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I was in the hall, and I saw your lantern and then your book. I told you."

His grip on my fingers loosened. "You could not sleep?"

I could have, if my treasure hunt hadn't distracted me. "Did you make the wardrobe in the bedroom?"

He brushed the wayward dreadlock away from his nose. "The wardrobe in the bedroom? Yes."

"And the bed, and the kitchen chairs?"

"Yes. What time is it? Is it early or late?" He drew his arm from beneath his head and worked the stiffness out of it, then sat up. The quilt fell down around his hips. The top of his trousers peeked out.

"Late. You've only been sleeping a few minutes, I think. Dar'el . . .?"

He arched his spine to stretch, and kneaded his fingers against the back of his neck. "Hm?"

"How long ago did you make your furniture?"

He swung his feet to the floor, looking around himself as though trying to orient. The quilt stretched across his lap, and he jostled to loosen it. "Around the time I built the house. The wardrobe was the first and the rest came in projects after."

I smiled. "They're very beautiful. I found the leaves in the kitchen, too, and I had to touch every one because they look so real."

"You like the leaves?"

"Yes. In the orphanage everything was cold metal, and we didn't waste units on much decoration. Wood furniture is so rare I didn't really understand the difference until tonight."

"What difference?"

"The difference of things created by human hands." I reached for his fingers. "Or, Reisan hands. Or whatever." I turned his palm upward, and he let me. I traced my fingerpad over the thick creases and callousness of his skin.

"Karla."

I lifted my gaze to find his eyes. They were wide and frightened. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"What are you doing?"

I didn't really know. I released his hand and stood. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking, I guess."

He tried to rise, wrestling with the quilt to free himself. "You are not yourself."

"What do you mean?"

"To not think. It is not like you."

I watched him carefully fold the quilt, and felt each casual move of his arms as a stab in my chest. I'd wanted him to want me to touch him. It had never dawned on me he wasn't interested. "I'm sorry," I said again, and walked toward the hall.

"You are wearing my shirt," he said behind me.

I scooped up my lantern and peered over my shoulder. "I didn't want to sleep in my dress. Is that okay?"

He smiled. "Yes. You look better in it than I do."

I smiled a little, too, but I couldn't tell if he was just trying to make me feel better.

He took a step toward me. "Karla, I do not want you to leave."

"No, you're right. I wasn't thinking, and it's not like me. I shouldn't have woken you up."

He shook his head. "No, I am trying to say --"

Pounding erupted on the front door. "Ragin Dar'el! Farin et! Su en Baren Van'el!"

I startled, but Dar'el outright jumped. "It is Van'el." He brushed past me to move quickly to the door. He slid the bolt. "Jurnesh es nayata?" he asked, creaking open the door.

Van'el began speaking before the door was fully open. His color was pale, his black eyes wild with panic. Dark blood oozed from a cut in his forehead, and his shirt was torn away from another wound near his ribs. "Vaynar du eshua min eldradet! Kin laren . . . say rayin shurinel . . ."

"Shandra?" asked Dar'el.

"Ay. Resta may."

"What about Shandra? What happened?" I hurried toward Dar'el and clutched his arm. "Is she all right?"

"I have to help Van'el. You stay here." Dar'el tried to pry my fingers from his arm. "Stay here out of sight."

"Why?"

"No," said Van'el, and pointed at me. "They come next for her. Listen."

Angry shouts sounded in the distance. They were gathering, and getting closer. "What do I do, Dar'el?" I squeezed even harder on his arm.

"I will go with Van'el and make them think I have you. When they follow me, you go out the bedroom window and run into the trees. Go straight without veering until you find a small hut with a painted roof. There lives our Nanayant. She will protect you."

"What about you? What about Shandra?"

"We will find Shandra, and bring her to the Nanayant. Which is what we should have done in the beginning." Dar'el cast a dark look to Van'el, who lowered his head. Dar'el reached for a hoe handle resting beside the door, and looked back to me again. "You are strong, Karla. No matter what you hear, run for the trees and do not stop. Understand?"

"Yes."

"Go now and listen for the men to turn."

I hesitated, watching his face and suddenly wishing I'd let him kiss me a long time ago.

"Go, Karla."

I turned, lantern in hand, and ran for the bedroom. The front door clicked shut.

The bedroom window was already ajar. I pushed up the sash as quietly as I could. I stood listening, hearing angry shouts and the overwhelming rush of the oncoming men. Just when I thought they must be at the door, another yell broke out, joined by an echo of unfamiliar words. Pounding feet moved off, and the voices grew distant. They'd turned, just as Dar'el said they would.

I crawled through the bottom half of the window. I was mildly aware that my knee scraped something sharp, but I was on my feet and running for the trees without hesitating. I watched the forest shadows bounce closer and closer, trying to judge the distance. Several yards. Many running strides in bare feet.

I hadn't had a reason to run before, and by the time I hit the treeline, my lungs burned and my ribs ached. I paused to catch my breath and to listen for the sounds of the men. Moonlight helped me make out the shape of Dar'el's house when I turned to search. I saw the black rectangle of the shed. A dark shape moved between the buildings. Then a lantern light swung toward me and lit my ankles. A voice called out.

I'd been spotted.

. . . to be continued in issue 13 . . .


Home | About IGMS
        Copyright © 2022 Hatrack River Enterprises   Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com