August 3, 2009

The Winter Life

by Luc Reid

You are a male of the species called "Comminglers" in the local Earth language, because while humans pass meaning by outward signs, your people entwine your sense feelers and exchange memories and ideas directly. You are three months and seventeen days old. You may expect to live about another week, possibly ten days, before you die of old age.

You were born in October, which because of where you are stationed on this tilted planet means that you have only ever known winter and an icy late Fall. Your first weeks of life were spent exchanging memories without stop with other members of the tiny clan--46 Comminglers, no more--in order to learn to think, care for yourself, and fulfill your hereditary role of data sphere queryist. You answer questions by manipulating the data sphere and communing through its port. "What is the structure and purpose of the human sense of taste?" "What is the history of enmity between the humans of Israel and the humans of surrounding Arabic countries?" "What is the quality of the experience of existing in summer?"

This last question haunts you, although it was asked long ago, days. You know, from the sphere, everything there is to know about summer: the temperature variations, cultural adaptations, responses of plant life, and so on. But you will never know summer, even though you remember it from others' memories. Your people are rarely concerned with such things. They do not travel. But then, your people have evolved to exchange memories with thousands, tens of thousands, not with a mere 46. There are vast empty places inside you, shades of experience you cannot find among your few fellows.

You query the sphere, a question for yourself only. You receive times, societal rules and behavior norms, place names. You connect with the human dataverse and exchange information, financial promises, plans, clearance from the government of the Earth clan called Chile. Then you shoulder your data and authorization pack and leave the vast tribal room. On your way, others try to commingle with you, but you give each only the faintest idea in response to their questions.

"Where are you going?"
"Why are you leaving the room?"

"I will tell you when I return," you intend to them. You do not contemplate the date of your return. It is in two weeks.

March 17, 2008


by Luc Reid

You know that you are related to the Trians who own you, though your body is much smaller and your three legs longer in proportion. But you are a Secret-Runner, and your kind, as far as you know, is always property.

You are on a strange planet, you're told: Earth, the human planet, but you never see anything except Secret-Runner nests and the long, narrow, smooth tunnels bored beneath the ground from one Trian habitat to another. The tunnels are narrow ovals in cross-section, tilted to one side, a perfect shape for you as long as you are moving at top speed, your three legs out like spokes, spinning from one foot to the next, moving so rapidly that the world is a blur. But if you are tired, or simply want to stop for a moment to remember who you are, then the tunnel is cramped and uncomfortable: you can't stand on all three legs, you're forced to lean, and you feel you can hardly breathe. Better to keep moving and not think.

Because you can see nothing when you spin, you're taken by surprise today when the walls of the tunnel are no longer there, when you're tumbling helplessly through space. You crash into a wall of dirt and rocks, and pebbles rain down on you.

"Got it!" says a human, the first one you have heard with your own membranes, and you try to look up, but the light is blinding and painful. You're thrown into a cage, and the cage is covered.

You know why they've broken into a tunnel and taken you, because you have only one purpose. The long, complicated message-secret you were given this morning, which one of your Trian owners throbbed to you over nearly an hour--that's what they want. They must know that you have been conditioned, brought up, even bred for secrecy, so they must think they have some power that will break your conditioning. You are frightened to imagine what it might be.

The cover slips, and you see it is now less bright outside. Thousands and thousands of pinpricks of light gleam far above you in a soft, black sky. You have never seen anything farther off than a few dozen meters. Now you are seeing what you know must be stars, they are light years away.

Do you wish you had never been captured, now?

February 8, 2008

Of the Third Sex, in a Park

by Luc Reid

You are a bearer, of the third sex, contributing no genetic material to the children you've carried. You live in a town that is mostly humans, hardly any of your People. Your last marriage ended when your husband was killed in a road accident, and your wife withdrew into herself and became a Silent, speaking to no one, looking at no one. All you have left of your husband is a poem he made for you out of braided fiber one long winter night. It isn't a very good poem, but it's wildly sexual, and you have always loved it.

Your four children are all gendered and don't like to spend time with you, because they think you can't possibly understand their lives. Three of them have adopted human ways, and the other is studying to be a god-caller, climbing to the tower in the ugly, human-built temple on the edge of town every morning to bellow to the heavens and bring luck, rain, money, healing, peace, victory, love.

Your skin isn't as green as it used to be; it's taken on a grayish tinge. Your fingers used to be very nimble, and you learned a little bit how to play the human instrument called the piano, although you needed to play with little pieces of felt stuck to the keys so they wouldn't hurt your fingers.

You are in love with a human, and you don't know what gender it is.

The human you are in love with sits on a bench in the park in a bulky coat with a herringbone pattern, cooing to the pigeons. Sometimes the human brings bread and tears off tiny pieces to throw to the birds, but usually not. It is a very old human, with a face as wrinkled as a male's retracted crest, and skin thin, almost translucent. Its face is transformed every morning with a beatific smile when you come down the path in the park, but it never speaks.

Today when the human smiles, you smile back, although your face was not made for that human expression. Without speaking, you sit on the bench with the human. Today it has brought bread, and it tears it in half and hands the larger half to you. For a time, you both feed the pigeons, who are greedy and ungrateful.

"What's that around your neck?" the human says, pointing to the poem. You bend forward to let the human look. You can tell from her voice now: she is a woman. And now that she is an old woman, she's a bearer, too.