Thursday, January 31, 2013
I should have known better. I did know better. And yet, I was completely stupid anyway.
I am so mad I can’t see straight. Plus I'm scared. And depressed. Bitches. Those fucking bitches.
Just another day in paradise. I was working on the presentation when Imdiko Weln brought Mom back to the room. She was crying. Sobbing her heart out, and he couldn’t calm her down. The instant she walked in, she shot across the room to me and collapsed to her knees in front of my chair. Wrapping her arms around my legs, she pressed her face against my thighs and shook with despair.
“What the hell happened to her?” I demanded. I wished I could stand up to confront Weln, but Mom had me pretty much pinned down. I stroked her hair, which someone had carefully braided for her. It looked pretty. They’d even woven a couple of yellow ribbons, her favorite color, into the plait.
“Matara Shalia, I’m sorry. None of us can get her to stop crying, so I brought her back here.” Weln looked devastated.
“But what happened?” I pressed.
He hunched his shoulders. His gaze dropped to the floor and he refused to look me in the eyes. “You know the women she usually eats lunch with? Mataras Deirdre, Patty, and Fran?”
“Yes.” I had a bad feeling, remembering the blatant snub the night before. The Pageant Trio had made it plain they weren’t my biggest fans. I was also shocked to know it was already past noon. I’d missed lunch myself. Whatever had gone down, I should have been there to head it off.
Weln swallowed hard. It was obvious he was having trouble sharing whatever he needed to say. I guess he thought I wouldn’t like it.
However, I do like Weln. He treats Mom like a queen, even though she’s given him hell on occasion. So I said, “I won’t get mad at you. Please tell me what happened.”
“She went to sit with them, like always. I kept my distance, since they’ve made it clear they don’t like Kalquorians much. I didn’t hear what it was they said to Matara Eve, but she suddenly started to cry. I went to her immediately, Matara Shalia. I wanted to see if I could help her.”
“Of course you did. Then what?”
“As I came close, I heard Matara Patty say, ‘Everyone knows what a traitor your daughter is. She’s a hellbound slut, consorting with the enemy. How many of them has she opened her legs for?’” Weln cringed as he spoke the ugly words. He looked ashamed for having repeated them.
My veins turned to ice in that instance. Mom moaned against my leg. I couldn’t say a word.
“I got her out as fast as possible, Matara. Eve kept asking for you. She wanted to know you were all right. That no one had hurt you because of the accusations.” He finally looked up and locked eyes with me. “I am so sorry I didn’t get her away from them sooner.”
“That’s okay, Weln. You did your best.” My voice seemed to come from far away.
The other Earthers knew I was friendly with the Kalquorians. And as I’d feared, they had immediately supposed the worst. They’d tried and convicted me without asking a single question. No doubt they wanted to pass sentence as well.
How long until someone knocks on the door with a blaster or knife in their hand? How long before they put a noose around my throat and hang me from a tree with a sign that reads Whore nailed into my chest?
The worst part was that those bitches made Mom cry. She was scared for me. And I am scared for her, since with her dementia, she is so much more vulnerable than I am. If she got hurt because I’d kissed Dusa or because I was working with Nang ... to make things better for their sorry pageant bitch asses, no less! ... I’d never forgive myself.
Mom kept crying no matter how we tried to calm her down. We finally called her specialist Dr. Ginna to ask for help. Minutes later Dr. Nayun himself was at my door. I was so relieved to see my big teddy bear of a Kalquorian dad. He gave Mom a sedative and we put her to bed. She should sleep the rest of the day, so Weln reluctantly went back to his other duties.
Nayun sat down at the table with me to talk. He was both disgusted and upset to hear what had transpired. “We keep seeing this,” he told me. “The least little bit of kindness passes between Kalquorian and Earther, and the majority of your people turn against that person.”
“Has anyone been hurt?” I asked.
He patted my hand. “No, Shalia. Simply ostracized, though that is bad enough.” His eyes narrowed. “Have you heard anything that would make you in fear for your life?”
I shook my head. I was a little relieved to hear that friends of Kalquorians were only ignored, not attacked. Still, I realize I have put Mom in a bad situation. Her mental state is such that she doesn’t need to hear how awful her daughter is. I never again want to see her come running to me, bawling like that.
I have made a big decision. It hurts me to do what I must, but I can’t be selfish. I have a responsibility to my mother. Her welfare is ultimately my burden, so I will bear it. And once I stop crying, I will take it up.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Ooookay. Not sure what’s going on with the P.T. I went to the rec room and picked up Mom, as planned. We went into the main dining room after I peeked in the Kalquor-friendly one and didn’t see Dusa and Esak. I figured I could claim curiosity if anyone saw me do so.
Maybe not. I followed Mom towards her regular table with the three Fabulous Ones. They looked to be only halfway through their meal, but at our approach they all got up and left. The looks they gave me were pretty scathing too. Well. Guess nosiness when it comes to the Kalquorians is greatly frowned upon.
I noted glares coming from other Earthers at nearby tables. I was really persona non grata. Me being me, I almost ordered Kalquorian food just to spite them all. But I reconsidered. After all, I don’t want my poor mother to catch any flak just because I’m not bigoted against the aliens. So I ordered meatloaf for us both, the highest rated item on tonight’s menu. It wasn’t bad at all. The Kalquorians are getting the hang of Earther food.
When we stepped off the shuttle that took us back to our room, Dusa and Esak were waiting. I invited them in. Delightfully, they’d brought refreshments; a sweet juice for Mom, a bottle of cab for me, and something of theirs called dlas. Mom settled down with her cup and knitting after checking her latest project against the circumference of Esak’s head. Looks like my favorite Nobek is getting a warm cap for the winter. In soft lilac.
I thought about telling the guys how I’d been snubbed at dinner, but they looked pretty tired and out of sorts. No wonder they’d brought alcohol to relax with. Dusa discovered one of the women he’d been keeping tabs on had committed suicide. He thinks if he hadn’t had a rest day yesterday, he might have saved her life. He was taking it particularly hard, and Esak was obviously worried about his Dramok.
The agony in Dusa’s eyes couldn’t have been more obvious. “She took too much medication on purpose. Why would she do such a thing, Shalia? I left a message telling her what I told you. About how we wanted to make her safe.”
“It goes back to what I told Nang yesterday,” I told him quietly. “We’re terrified of you. Of what will happen under your rule.” I lowered my head. “A lot is my fault. I made those vids telling everyone how Kalquorians wanted to rape us. Enslave us.”
Esak clenched a fist around his glass. “Neither of you is at fault. Dusa, you do your best to calm Mataras, but they are too frightened to hear. Shalia, you only made the vids you were told to make. What could either of you have done different? Nothing.”
We were a pretty morose group except for Mom, humming and knitting. Dusa and Esak didn’t hang around for very long since they had to go back on duty in the morning. Especially Esak. With those two gangs requiring so much guarding, security has become an issue here at the academy. He’ll be pulling double shifts for a little while.
As I walked them the three steps to the door, I dared to take Dusa’s hand. “Please don’t blame yourself. It could be you’ll have to see this happen again and again. I’m afraid it will affect you emotionally.”
He grimaced. “I hope not, Shalia. It hurts to know there might be nothing I can do to stop Mataras from hurting themselves.” He found a hint of a smile for me and squeezed my hand. “Thank you for being concerned about me. It helps.”
He shot a glance at Mom, and I turned to see why. She was deep in her own little world, not paying the slightest attention to us. When I looked back at Dusa, his face was right there. I had an instant to register his breath on my lips before his mouth found mine.
The kiss was barely half a second in duration, just a quick brush, really. Yet heat zapped through me at that sweet instant of contact. I forgot how to breathe.
“Good night, Shalia,” Dusa whispered. With a slight smile, Esak bowed to me and followed his Dramok out into the night.
It’s crazy. It really is. But my lips are still tingling from that kiss, as innocent as it was. And I’m a ticklish, aching mess inside. How I’m supposed to get to sleep now is beyond me.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Wow, it’s way past noon already. I’ve been working on Nang’s presentation all morning and half the afternoon, it turns out. It took my stomach growling like an enraged bear to draw me out to the dining room. There was only half a dozen of us in there eating at that time of the day, the midday meal rush having come and gone. So no P.T. to endure, though I missed eating with Mom. She was having outdoor activity time when I checked on her. The Kalquorian minders have their wards doing rubbings in the memorial garden, of all things. You know, where you take a piece of paper, lay it on some textured surface, and color over it with a crayon or coal? It actually looked like fun, and Mom showed me at least a half a ream of her work. Names of the dead from the marble, flowers, and lots of leaves. She was having a blast, as most of them were.
Being in the garden reminded me of when I was here last. You know, in the arms of a big, strong alien, being kissed senseless? Oh man. Now I have that nagging warm ache in my guts again. Until Dusa, I never knew a kiss could be so amazing. If he walked in my door right now, I’d be begging him to do it again, and damn the consequences. So what if he ends up wanting sex? I’ve gotten through it before. It would be worth it just to taste those lips again.
I wonder what he and Esak are doing right now. They’re probably out there in the wide, doomed world, saving humanity. Meanwhile, I have to get my raging libido under control and put my brain back to work.
I have a headache. So far I’ve been gathering information and composing an outline for my presentation. I’ve read over Nang’s reports, which he sent to my handheld with a nice message thanking me once again for my help. He’s invited me to dinner too, asking me what favorite food I might like the cooks to prepare as a token of his gratitude. He says they’re making a real effort to make foods familiar to Earthers, so he’s sure they’ll be able to cook me something special. After the issues they’ve had with chicken, I’m not so sure Thai peanut noodles would be doable, so I’ll just raincheck on the offer.
As for the incident reports themselves, I can see the trouble the Kalquorians are having. A lot of the time they are running into immediate hostility from Earthers, which they correctly diagnose as being based in fear and anger. Such a response spurs them to try and comfort (once they are sure the Earther is disarmed and not a danger). It turns out the Kalquorian idea of comforting women is extremely hands-on. Grabbing, subduing, petting, holding the upset person close to their bodies so they feel safe and protected ... the very things a woman who fears being raped is not going to go for. No wonder things are going badly between our two species.
Of course there was a Bible left in here from the bad old days of only three months ago. I’m going through, pulling passages to better explain the beliefs that shaped our lives. You know, I’ve never paid much attention to the scriptures before. Having them shoved down my throat at every mandatory service by a stern, judgmental priest kind of made me tune out from an early age. But I’m finding verses that talk about God’s love for us, his compassion for his creation. Where were those stories? Why am I only now hearing about this kindness? The only lessons I remember hearing, even as a child, was how we had to act a certain way or be victims of the Almighty’s wrath. To follow the Holy Leader without question as he was the mouthpiece of God, or we would be cast into hell.
I know the state religion had been pulled together from three older ones: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This was the Ultimate Truth of God, the final word at last made whole. What I didn’t know was that the ugliness I rejected, the fire and brimstone warnings shouted by red-faced priests, is only a small part of the whole picture. From what little I’ve read today, there is a lot more to the story.
Well, it’s something to think on later. Right now I’ve got work to do, and then I pick up Mom and take her to dinner. It’s so good to be productive again!
Monday, January 21, 2013
Another interesting day with new developments. I’d better start from the beginning.
First of all came the move. Mom was doing her usual routine at invalid daycare, which kept her out of the way. I was so ready to get out of Medical with all the antiseptic smells and my claustrophobic room. But when Dr. Nayun stopped in to say goodbye, I was suddenly all weepy and stupid. I’m going to miss seeing the big guy every day, even if he is a bit too much of a nanny. It really was like losing a dad again.
“Shalia,” he said quietly, his big hand rubbing my back as he comforted me. “I’ll be checking on you each day for the next week to make sure you’re all right. And you can always stop in for a visit.”
“I know,” I blubbered. “But you saved my life. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that.”
He smiled and pressed his warm palm to my cheek. “Seeing you healthy again is all the thanks I could wish for. Now don’t forget, plenty of rest. Let Dusa and Esak do all the lifting and setting up. Make sure you stay hydrated...”
Etcetera, etcetera. I hope he has another patient or two to baby like he has me. The poor man is probably lost without someone to hover over.
He left, incredibly busy again now that they have those two gangs to mend. There are a bunch of Nobeks in the medical building presently to keep the would-be troublemakers under guard. I’ve asked what will happen to the gang members, but no one is really saying anything for sure. Apparently, they’re too violent to be sent to the colonies, but no one wants to put them in a Kalquorian prison either. The matter is being turned over to the Galactic Council, which is ultimately in charge of the survivors of Earth.
Dusa and Esak showed up to take me and my meager belongings to the new quarters Mom and I will share. One of the academy’s scattered dorms is where we’ll be making our temporary home. There are only a dozen other people in the building I’ll be living in, other Earthers friendly to Kalquorians.
“We keep friendly Earthers separate from the rest of the population. That way we can visit without getting any of you ostracized from the greater number,” Dusa told me in the small shuttle that took me from Medical to the dorm. It’s too far for me to walk in my condition. I was relieved to hear a shuttle would pick Mom up every morning and drop her off each evening. That certainly makes things easy.
“It’s too bad so few recognize the good you’re trying to do,” I said.
“It does make things difficult. Earthers are more likely to run from us than accept help.”
“Sounds like someone I know.” I grinned at Dusa.
He laughed. “I would never wish illness on any of you to get you to come in, even though it does make things easier.”
The dorm isn’t bad. It’s kind of like a mid-price motel room. Two double beds, a desk and chair, a small table with chairs that we could eat meals at if we didn’t go to the dining hall, a closet, and a bathroom. It’s enough for me, Mom, and her yarn.
“Shuttle service to take you to the dining hall and Medical is on this schedule,” Esak told me, bringing up a list of amenities on the new handheld I’d been provided. “Emergency contact can be accessed by pressing this button. As long as you have the handheld on you, you can be tracked by our monitoring system.”
“That’s kind of creepy,” I said. Electronic stalking. I felt like a dog on a leash.
“Your whereabouts are only accessed to keep you safe,” Dusa said. “You’re not a prisoner, Shalia.”
“Yeah, I get it.” It was still freaky. That brought a thought to the forefront. “So I could just walk out of here at any point? Leave the Academy grounds?”
Esak gave me one of his probing stares. “There are patrols around the perimeter and vid surveillance. You can leave, but you’ll have to check out for our records and your own welfare.”
“Where would you go?” Dusa asked. “There’s nothing but starvation, sickness, and danger out there. Ultimately, you cannot stay on this planet and live.”
I shrugged. “I have nowhere to go. It’s just good knowing I could leave if I really wanted to. Otherwise, this would feel like a prison.”
Dusa scowled, but Esak nodded with an understanding expression. “I can only imagine the strain of your position, Matara. I too would be suspicious, given the circumstances.”
“Many Earthers are suspicious. They are badly frightened, and we have no idea how to alleviate that.”
Startled by the unfamiliar voice, I gasped and turned to the door that led outside, left open because of the rules that stated no Earth woman could be left alone with a single Kalquorian or his clanmates. A big man ... a really big Kalquorian ... stood there.
Dusa and Esak bowed. My young Dramok said, “Greetings, Commander Nang.”
“Good day, Dramok Dusa, Nobek Esak. May I come in, Matara Shalia?”
I blinked. I had no idea who this guy was, but apparently my friends did. So I said, “Sure.” I wondered how he knew my name.
He entered the little room, having to duck just a bit to get through the doorway. Given that the standard height of a doorway is over six-and-a-half feet, that meant the guy was around seven feet tall. I’d never seen anyone so big.
Dusa took care of the introductions. “Matara Shalia, this is site commander Dramok Nang. He’s in charge of the rescue operations in this area.”
I almost stuck my hand out to shake from sheer habit. But instinctual fear kept me from doing that. It’s not that Nang looked mean or anything; it was just that he was so damned large. Overwhelming.
He looked to be in his early 40’s. His face was lined though his body had that muscular build of the typical Kalquorian. It was a handsome face, with years of experience etched into it and a scar that went from one corner of his mouth to the bottom of his chin. A far cry from the open innocence of Dusa. Even the ever-guarded Esak appeared to be a teenager next to this guy. Nang looked like he could be a real hardass.
I settled for, “A pleasure to meet you, Commander Nang.”
He bowed deeply to me. “I am happy to make your acquaintance. May I?” He motioned to one of the chairs at the dining table.
“Yeah, fine.” If he was having a seat, that meant he planned to stay for at least a few minutes. I sat down too, but on the opposite side of the table. No way I was going to sit right next to him. His size really intimidated me.
Nang smiled pleasantly, and I relaxed a little. He had a nice smile. He wasn’t nearly as frightening with that expression on his face.
“I’ve been looking for an Earther who can help me with the problems of distrust between your people and mine,” he started. “I had sent out instructions for anyone on my staff who met such an Earther to bring him or her to my attention. This morning, Dusa indicated he thought you might have the knowledge and skills for such an assignment.”
I looked over my shoulder at Dusa, who brightly smiled at me as if he’d done something I should praise him for. It was all I could do to not scowl.
I turned back to Nang. “I’m not sure I follow you, Commander. I’m not an ambassador or anyone of particular note to my people. I just make films. Made films,” I corrected myself.
He leaned towards me, folding his arms on the table between us. “Exactly. You made propaganda vids that helped move your people to follow their government. To accept your leaders’ dictates, no matter how unpalatable. You know your people’s psychology. You know how they think. That is exactly what I need.”
“To do what?” Nevermind how well the aliens had treated me. I had no intentions of producing vids for this man, citing what good guys the Kalquorians really were or how we should all flock to Kalquor to bear their children. Some other Earther would find a blaster and kill me in an instant for treason. If I was lucky.
“I need you to talk to my men. They have no idea how to approach Earthers without frightening them. There have been instances in which interactions between our races here on the grounds have resulted in the women feeling they are being approached ... inappropriately.” Nang reddened.
“You mean, they think they’re being pressured to have sex,” I said. A mean part of me liked to see such a big man squirm.
“Exactly. When I go over the incidents with the accuser and accused, the stories match up. But what we Kalquorians see as attempts to care for Earther women’s needs, they view as improper.”
“So what do you want me to do?” I asked, trying to get a firm grip on his request. “Make a vid? Go around talking to your subordinates?”
Nang smiled wider, his expression hedging into real hope since I wasn’t refusing outright. “I was thinking a live presentation to as many of my men as possible. The presentation would allow Kalquorians to ask you questions on the spot if they are confused about a particular issue. We could also vid record it to make sure everyone assigned here who missed it sees it.”
I mused. “So you want me to tell Kalquorian men how Earther women think and feel. What our mindset is when we speak to men, and specifically to our supposed enemies. How to approach us in such a way that will cause least offense.”
“Or no offense at all, if possible.”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “Don’t bet on it, Commander. We women were taught any and all approaches from men were suspect. Our religion brainwashed most of us into taking apart every instance of interaction with males, whether Earther or alien. Men often used our fear of being accused of inappropriate behavior to blackmail us into their beds.”
One of the men behind me ... Dusa probably ... gasped. Nang’s mouth hung open in shock.
I wasn’t finished. “Add in that most Earthers believe Kalquor blew up our cities and destroyed our world on purpose because you are hellbent on making all the women your sex slaves. Each woman thinks she is now destined to become the breeding bitch to a clan, which consists of three men. It’s an idea abhorrent to everything we were ever taught. Are you getting the picture, Commander?”
Nang leaned back. He closed his mouth, and his jaw tensed as he ground his teeth together. His forehead furrowed in half a dozen deep lines as he digested what I’d said.
Now that he knew what he was up against, I told him, “I’ll do it.”
His eyes widened. “But you just said--"
“I know what I said. I just wanted you to be aware that no matter how nicely your men approach Earther women, many will be frightened and ready to take offense.”
“Then why bother?” His grumbly voice was gentle. He gave me a look that said he really wanted to figure me out.
I smiled. “Because every little touch of consideration, even if we women won’t admit to it, goes a long way. Approaching Earthers in a way we feel is appropriate might make things easier not just on your men, but on the women you’re trying to help.” I studied my hands, clasped tightly on top of the table in a single fist, the knuckles whitened. “If you know our pain and how to handle it, some of us might begin to heal.”
Nang said, “I had heard stories of how Earther females were treated. The tales were so shocking, I thought they had to be rumors. We revere our lifebringers on Kalquor, and it is unfathomable that women would be handled so terribly.”
I wasn’t so sure how much truth was in that statement, but I let it go for now. “Our religion made women second-class citizens. It described us as helpmates to men, but we were little more than servants.” I chuckled without the least bit of humor. “I made so many vids on the evils of Kalquorians, detailing how you wanted us only for breeding. I always found it ironic that that was our main function in our own society.”
“I would be in great debt if you will help. What do you need from me?”
I thought about it. “Can I see the reports of improper behavior being leveled at your men? If I had specific examples, it would help me form a better presentation.”
Nang considered. “They are supposed to be confidential to protect all parties. I can remove the names however.”
I nodded. “That will work. When did you want to do this?”
“As soon as possible, but take whatever time you need. I place it in your hands.”
I had another thought. As little as Kalquorians know about how our minds work, I had to admit my own ignorance in reverse. “I’ll put together a first draft. Then you can go over it and tell me how to best present it to your men. I don’t want them to not understand or be offended in any way.”
Nang looked pleased. “Thank you, Matara Shalia. I would be very glad to work on this project with you.”
I asked a few more questions, we exchanged some pleasantries, and Nang left. I also put in to have Dusa and Esak approved for private meetings with me. It’s just too hot to keep my dorm room door open when they visit. All hail the luxury of air conditioning. Maybe I’m borrowing trouble by allowing the privacy, but I think the boys are pretty much harmless. I feel safe around them. As long as I don’t start kissing Dusa again, that is.
We three had a nice day, walking around the Academy grounds (away from where my fellow Earthers tend to congregate) and talking. I even listened to some of their favorite music. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, though it was loud. It sounded kind of tribal. Dusa and Esak are thinking about making their own instruments and getting a valit (literal translation: howler) ... the person who did all that screaming ... to join them. Maybe even play for others. I hope they do so in a closed venue. If other Earthers hear it, they might think the Kalquorians are going to do blood sacrifices in some pagan ritual.
We ended the day by going to the semi-private dining room where we’d had our date, taking Mom along. She seemed quite happy she could order Kalquorian food without being chastised for it. Esak tried some broiled chicken and gave me a taste. It was very good, and Dusa confirmed he’d told the cooks my tip on how to not char it to death. Look at me, I’m doing good. Dusa ate something called grul. It looked like bright red rocks, and the boys told me under no circumstance was I to eat it. After my experience with bywes, I was more than happy to agree with them.
They have to work tomorrow, so I’ll start on my presentation. I’m looking forward to some constructive activities.