Drabblecast 401 cover by Tristan TollhurstWomen and Aliens Month continues with Part 2 of “We Who Stole The Dream” by James Tiptree Jr., aka Alice Bradley Sheldon.

If you have not heard part one, you can find that here.

Sadism, slavery, power and oppression… are we ever truly innocent? Or is there the potential of cruelty in all of us?

You be the judge.

 Story Excerpt:

An alarm shrieked and cut off, all colors vanished, the very structure of space throbbed wildly—as, by a million-to-one chance, the three most massive nearby moons occulted one another in line with the tiny extra energies of the cruiser and its detonating missile, in such a way that for one micromicrominim the Dream stood at a seminull point with the planetary mass. In that fleeting instant she flung out her tau-field, folded the normal dimensions around her, and shot like a squeezed pip into the discontinuity of being which was tau.

 

Voila (part two of this story is printed in full below):

Drabblecast 401 – We Who Stole The Dream Pt. 2

 

We Who Stole The Dream Pt. 2

by James Tiptree Jr.

An alarm shrieked and cut off, all colors vanished, the very structure of space throbbed wildly—as, by a million-to-one chance, the three most massive nearby moons occulted one another in line with the tiny extra energies of the cruiser and its detonating missile, in such a way that for one micromicrominim the Dream stood at a seminull point with the planetary mass. In that fleeting instant she flung out her tau-field, folded the normal dimensions around her, and shot like a squeezed pip into the discontinuity of being which was tau.

Nearby space-time was rocked by the explosion; concussion swept the moons and across the planet beneath. So narrow was the Dream’s moment of safe passage that a fin of bright metal from the cruiser and a rock with earth and herbs on it were later found intricately meshed into the substance of her stern cargo hold, to the great wonder of the Joilani.

Meanwhile the rejoicing was so great that it could be expressed in only one way: all over the ship, the Joilani lifted their voices in the sacred song.

They were free! The Dream had made it into tau-space, where no enemy could find them! They were safely on their way.

Safely on their way—to an unknown destination, over an unknown time, with pitifully limited supplies of water, food, and air.

~

Here begins the log of the passage of the Dream through tau-space, which, although timeless, required finite time….

~

Jatkan let the precious old scroll roll up and laid it carefully aside, to touch the hand of a co-mate. He had been one of the babies in the amlat containers; sometimes he thought he remembered the great night of their escape. Certainly he remembered a sense of rejoicing, a feeling of dread nightmare blown away.

“The waiting is long,” said his youngest co-mate, who was little more than a child. “Tell us again about the Terran monsters.”

“They weren’t monsters, only very alien,” he corrected the child gently. His eyes met those of Salasvati, who was entertaining her young co-mates at the porthole of the tiny records chamber. It came to Jatkan that when he and Salas were old, they might be the last Joilani who had ever really seen a Terran. Certainly the last to have any sense of their terror and might, and the degradations of slavery burned into their parents’ souls. Surely this is good, he thought, but is it not also a loss, in some strange way?

“—reddish, or sometimes yellow or brownish, almost hairless, with small bright eyes,” he was telling the child. “And big, about the distance to that porthole there. And one day, when the three who were on the Dream were allowed out to exercise, they rushed into the control room and changed the gyroscope setting, so that the ship began to spin around faster and faster, and everybody fell down and was pressed flat into the walls. They were counting on their greater strength, you see.”

“So that they could seize the Dream and break out of tau-space into Terran stars!” His two female co-mates recited in unison: “But old Jivadh saved us.”

“Yes. But he was young Jivadh then. By great good luck he was at the central column, right where the old weapons were kept, that no one had touched for hundreds of days.”

A co-mate smiled. “The luck of the Joilani.”

“No,” Jatkan told her. “We must not grow superstitious. It was simple chance.”

“And he killed them all!” the child burst out excitedly. A hush fell.

“Never use that word so lightly,” Jatkan said sternly. “Think what you are meaning, little one. Jailasanatha—”

As he admonished the child, his mind noted again the incongruity of his words: the “little one” was already as large as he, as he in turn was larger and stronger than his parents. This could only be due to the children’s eating the Terran-mixed food from the ship’s recycler, however scanty. When the older ones saw how the young grew, it confirmed another old myth: that their ancestors had once been giants, who had diminished through some lack in the planet’s soil. Was every old myth-legend coming true at once?

Meanwhile he was trying once more to explain to the child, and to the others, the true horror of the decision Jivadh had faced, and Jivadh’s frenzy of anguish when he was prevented from killing himself in atonement. Jatkan’s memory was scarred by that day. First the smash against the walls, the confusion—the explosions—their release; and then the endless hours of ritual argument, persuading Jivadh that his knowledge of the ship was too precious to lose. The pain in Jivadh’s voice as he confessed: “I thought also in selfishness, that we would have their water, their food, their air.”

“That is why he doesn’t take his fair share of food, and sleeps on the bare steel.”

“And why he’s always so sad,” the child said, frowning with the effort to truly understand.

“Yes.” But Jatkan knew that he could never really understand; nobody could who had not seen the horror of violently dead flesh that once was living, even though alien and hostile. The three corpses had been consigned with due ritual to the recycling bins, as they did with their own. By now all the Joilani must bear some particles in their flesh that once were Terran. Ironic.

A shadow passed his mind. A few days ago he had been certain that these young ones, and their children’s children, would never need know what it was to kill. Now he was not quite so certain…. He brushed the thought away.

“Has the log been kept right up to now?” asked Salasvati from the port. Like Jatkan. she was having difficulty keeping her young co-mates quiet during this solemn wait.

“Oh, yes.”

Jatkan’s fingers delicately riffled through the motley pages of the current logbook on the stand. It had been sewn together from whatever last scraps and charts they could find. The clear Joilani script flashed out at him on page after page: “Hunger … rations cut… broken, water low . . . repairs … adult rations cut again … oxygen low … the children … water reduced … the children need… how much more can we… end soon; not enough … when….”

Yes, that had been his whole life, all their lives: dwindling life sustenance in the great rotating cylinder that was their world. The unrelenting uncertainty: would they ever break out? And if so, where? Or would it go on till they all died here in the timeless, lightless void?

And the rare weird events, things almost seen, like the strange light ghost ship that had suddenly bloomed beside them with ungraspably alien creatures peering from its parts— and as suddenly vanished again.

Somewhere in the Dream’s magical computers, circuits were clicking toward the predestined coordinates, but no one knew how to check on the program’s progress, or even whether it still functioned. The merciless stress of waiting told upon them all in different ways, as the hundred-day cycles passed into thousands. Some grew totally silent; some whispered endless ritual; some busied themselves with the most minute tasks. Old Bislat had been their leader here; his courage and cheer were indomitable. But it was Jivadh, despite his dreadful deed, despite his self-imposed silence and reclusion, who was somehow still the symbol of their faith. It was not that he had lifted the Dream, had saved them not once but twice; it was the sensed trueness of his heart…. Jatkan, turning the old pages, reflected that perhaps it had all been easiest for the children, who had known no other life but only waiting for the Day.

And then—the changed writing on the last page spoke for itself—there had come the miracle, the first of the Days. All unexpectedly, as they were preparing for the three-thousandth- and-something sleep period, the ship had shuddered, and unfamiliar meshing sounds had rumbled around them. They had all sprung up wildly, reeling in disorientation. Great strainings of metal, frightening clanks—and the old ship disengaged her tau-field, to unfold her volume into normal space.

But what space! Stars—the suns of legend—blazed in every porthole, some against deep blackness, some shrouded in glorious clouds of light! Children and adults alike raced from port to port, crying out in wonder and delight.

It was only slowly that realization came: they were still alone in limitless, empty, unknown space, among unknown beings and forces, still perishingly short of all that was needful to life.

The long-planned actions were taken. The transmitter was set to send out the Joilani distress call, at what old Jivadh believed was maximum reach. A brave party went outside, onto the hull, in crazily modified Terran space suits. They painted over the ugly Terran star, changing it to a huge Sun-in-splendor. Over the Terran words they wrote the Joilani word for Dream. If they were still in the Terran Empire, all was now doubly lost.

“My mother went outside,” said Jatkan’s oldest co-mate proudly. “It was dangerous and daring and very hard work.”

“Yes.” Jatkan touched her lovingly.

“I wish I could go outside now,” said the youngest.

“You will. Wait.”

“It’s always ‘wait.’ We’re waiting now.”

“Yes.”

Waiting—oh, yes, they had waited, with conditions growing ever worse and hope more faint. Knowing no other course, they set out at crawling pace for the nearest bright star. Few believed they were waiting for anything more than death.

Until that day—the greatest of Days—when a strange spark burst suddenly into being ahead, and grew into a great ship bearing down upon them.

And they had seen the Sun-in-splendor on her bow.

Even the youngest child would remember that forever.

How the stranger had almost magically closed and grappled them, and forced the long-corroded main lock. And they of the Dream had seen all dreams come true, as in a rush of sweet air the strange Joilani—the true, real Joilani—had come aboard. Joilani—but giants, as big as Terrans, strong and upright, glowing with health, their hands upraised in the ancient greeting. How they had narrowed their nostrils at the Dream’s foul air! How they had blinked in wonderment as the song of thanksgiving rose around them!

Through it all, their leader had patiently repeated in strange but understandable accents, “I am Khanrid Jemnal Visadh. Who are you people?” And when a tiny old Joilani female had rushed to him with leaves torn from the hydroponics bed and tried to wreathe him, crying, “Jemnal! Jemnal my lost son! Oh, my son, my son!” he had smiled embarrassedly, and stooped to embrace her, calling her “Mother,” before he put her gently aside.

And then the explanations, the incredulity, as the great Joilani had spread out to examine the Dream, each with his train of awestruck admirers. They had scanned the old charts, and opened and traced the tau-program with casual skill. They too seemed excited; the Dream, it seemed, had performed an unparalleled deed. One of the giants had begun questioning them: arcane, incomprehensible questions as to types of Terran ships they had seen, the colors and insignia numbers on the Terrans’ clothes. “Later, later,” Khanrid Jemnal had said. And then had begun the practical measures of bringing in food and water, and recharging the air supply.

“We will plot your course to the sector base,” he told them. “Three of our people will go with you when you are ready.”

In all the excitement Jatkan found it hard to recall exactly when he had noticed that their Joilani saviors all were armed.

“They are patrol spacers,” old Bislat said wonderingly. “Khanrid is a military title. That ship is a warship, a protector of the Joilani Federation of Worlds.”

He had to explain to the young ones what that meant.

“It means we are no longer helpless!” His old eyes glowed. “It means that our faith, our Gentleness-in-honor, our Jailasanatha way, can never again be trodden to the dirt by brute might!”

Jatkan, whose feet could not remember treading dirt, yet understood. A marveling exultation grew in them all. Even old Jivadh’s face softened briefly from its customary grim composure.

Female Joilani came aboard—new marvels. Beautiful giantesses, who did strange and sometimes uncomfortable things to them all. Jatkan learned new words: inoculation, infestation, antisepsis. His clothes and the others’ were briefly taken away, and returned looking and smelling quite different. He overheard Khanrid Jemnal speaking to one of the goddesses.

“I know, Khanlal. You’d like to strip out this hull and blow everything but their bare bodies out to space. But you must understand that we are touching history here. These rags, this whole pathetic warren, is hot, living history. Evidence, too, if you like. No. Clean them up, depingee them, inoculate and dust and spray all you want. But leave it looking just the way it is.”

“But, Khanrid–”

“That’s it.”

Jatkan had not long to puzzle over that; it was the day of their great visit to the wonderful warship. There they saw and touched marvels, all giant-size. And then were fed a splendid meal, and afterward all joined in singing, and they learned new words for some of the old Joilani songs. When they finally returned, the Dream seemed to be permeated with a most peculiar odor which made them all sneeze for days. Soon afterward they noticed that they were doing a lot less scratching; the fritlings that had been a part of their lives seemed to be gone.

“They sent them away,” Jatkan’s mother explained. “It seems they are not good on ships.”

“They were killed,” old Jivadh broke his silence to remark tonelessly.

The three giant Joilani spacers who were to get them safely to the sector base came aboard then. Khanrid Jemnal introduced them. “And now I must say good-bye. You will receive a warm welcome.”

When they sang him and the others farewell, it was almost as emotional as on the first day.

Their three guardians had been busy at mysterious tasks in the Dream’s workings. Old Bislat and some of the other males watched them keenly, trying to understand, but Jivadh seemed no longer to care. Soon they were plunged back into tau-space, but how different this time, with ample air and water and food for all! In only ten sleep periods the now-familiar shudder ran through the Dream again, and they broke out into daylight with a blue sun blinding in the ports.

A planet loomed up beside them. The Joilani pilot took them down into the shadow-darkened limb, sinking toward a gigantic spaceport. Ships beyond count stood there, ablaze with lights, and beyond the field itself stretched a vast jeweled webwork, like myriad earthly stars.

Jatkan learned a new word: city. He could hardly wait to see it in the day.

Almost at once the Dream’s five Elders had been ceremoniously escorted out, to visit the High Elders of this wondrous place. They went in a strange kind of landship. Looking after them, the Dream’s people could see that a lighted barrier of some sort had been installed around the ship. Now they were awaiting their return.

“They’re taking so long,” Jatkan’s youngest co-mate complained. He was getting drowsy.

“Let us look out again,” Jatkan proposed. “May we exchange places, Salasvati?”

“With pleasure.”

Jatkan led his little family to the port as Salasvati’s moved back, awkward in the unfamiliar sternward weight.

“Look, out beyond—there are people!”

It was true. Jatkan saw what seemed to be an endless multitude of Joilani in the night, hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pale gray faces beyond the barrier, all turned toward the Dream.

“We are history,” he quoted Khanrid Jemnal.

“What’s that?”

“An important event, I think. See—here come our Elders now!”

There was a commotion, a parting in the throng, and the landship which had taken the Elders away came slowly out into the free space around the Dream.

“Come look, Salasvati!”

Craning and crowding, they could just make out their Elders and their giant escorts emerging from the landship, and taking warm ritual leaving of each other.

“Hurry, they’ll tell us all about it in the Center!”

It was difficult, with the ship in this new position and everything hanging wrong. Their parents were already sitting sideways in the doors of the center shaft. The youngsters scrambled to whatever perches or laps they could find. The party of Elders could be heard making their slow way up from below, climbing the long-unused central ladders to where they could speak to all.

As they came into view Jatkan could see how weary they were, and how their dark eyes radiated excitement, exultation. Yet with a queer tautness or tension stretching their cheekbones, too, he thought.

“We were indeed warmly received,” old Bislat said when all had reached the central space. “We saw wonders it will take days to describe. All of you will see them, in due time. We were taken to meet the High Elders here, and ate the evening meal with them.” He paused briefly. “We were also questioned, by one particular Elder, about the Terrans we have known. It seems that our knowledge is important, old as it is. All of you who remember our previous life must set yourselves to recalling every sort of small detail. The colors of their spacers’ clothing, their ornaments of rank, the names and appearance of their ships that came and went.” He smiled wonderingly. “It was . . . strange … to hear Terrans spoken of so lightly, even scornfully. We think now that their great Empire is not so mighty as we believed. Perhaps it has grown too old, or too big. Our people”—he spoke with his hands clasped in thanksgiving—”our people do not fear them.”

A wordless, incredulous gasp of joy rose from the listeners around the shaft.

“Yes.” Bislat stilled them. “Now, as to what is ahead for us. We are, you must understand, a great wonder to them. It seems our flight here from so far away was extraordinary, and has moved them very much. But we are also, well, so very different-like people from another age. It is not only our size. Their very children know more than we do of practical daily things. We could not quietly go out and dwell among the people of this city or the lands around it, even though they are our own Joilani, of the faith. We Elders have seen enough to understand that, and you will, too. Some of you may already have thought on this, have you not?”

A thoughtful murmur of assent echoed his words from door after door. Even Jatkan realized that he had been wondering about this, somewhere under his conscious mind.

“In time, of course, it will be different. Our young, or their young, will be as they are, and we all can learn.”

He smiled deeply. But Jatkan found his gaze caught by old Jivadh’s face. Jivadh was not smiling; his gaze was cast down, and his expression was tense and sad. Indeed, something of the same strain seemed to lie upon them alj, even Bislat. What could be wrong?

Bislat was continuing, his voice strong and cheerful. “So they have found for us a fertile land, an empty land on a beautiful world. The Dream will stay here, as a permanent memorial of our great flight. They will take us there in another ship, with all that we need, and with people who will stay to help and teach us.” His hands met again in thanksgiving; his voice rang out reverently. “So begins our new life of freedom, safe among Joilani stars, among our people of the faith.”

Just as his listeners began quietly to hum the sacred song, old Jivadh raised his head.

“Of the faith, Bislat?” he asked harshly.

The singers hushed in puzzlement.

“You saw the Gardens of the Way.” Bislat’s tone was strangely brusque. “You saw the sacred texts emblazoned, you saw the Meditators—”

“I saw many splendid places,” Jivadh cut him off. “With idle attendants richly gowned.”

“It is nowhere written that the Way must be shabbily served,” Bislat protested. “The richness is a proof of its honor here.”

“And before one of those sacred places of devotion,” Jivadh went on implacably, “I saw Joilani as old as I, in rags almost as poor as mine, toiling with heavy burdens. You did not mention that, Bislat. For that matter, you did not mention how strangely young these High Elders of our people here are. Think on it. It can only mean that the old wisdom is not enough, that new enterprises not of the Way are in movement here.”

“But, Jivadh,” another Elder put in, “there is so much here that we are not yet able to understand. Surely, when we know more—”

“There is much that Bislat refuses to understand,” Jivadh said curtly. “He also has omitted to say what we were offered.”

“No, Jivadh! Do not, we implore you.” Bislat’s voice trembled. “We agreed, for the good of all—”

“I did not agree.” Jivadh turned to the tiers of listeners. His haggard gaze swept past them, seeming to look far beyond.

“O my people,” he said somberly, “the Dream has not come home. It may be that it has no home. What we have come to is the Joilani Federation of Worlds, a mighty, growing power among the stars. We are safe here, yes. But Federation, Empire, perhaps it is all the same in the end. Bislat has told you what these so-called Elders kindly gave us to eat. But he has not told you what the High Elder offered us to drink.”

“They said it was confiscated!” Bislat cried.

“Does that matter? Our high Joilani, our people of the faith—” Jivadh’s eyelids closed in sadness; his voice broke to a hoarse rasp. “Our Joilani… were drinking Stars Tears.”

*** The End ***