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[2007: JAN-FEB] Second Life

Julia Harden

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Second Life

'The sweet vanilla-lemon scent of the M'ara grove calmed him as he went, cloaked and hidden, to the clandestine meeting of the New Poets Guild....'

"That's how you ought to begin it," she said, langourously stretching out her furry paws, her tail waving mildly in amusement. They were standing at a railing near the Academy campus, looking out at San Francisco Bay. It was nearing sunset, and the red glow of the sun traced a path across the water, shimmering and dancing in the tides and waves of the bay. "Slowly and gently," she continued, "building to the climax. Like your imagination making love with the story." She placed one paw on his arm, and turned and looked at him, her eyes shining.

Cadet Carmody was struck again by how beautiful she was, this felinoid, M'Renn, with whom he had shared his classes, his meals and his bed for the past few weeks. Her intelligence was remarkable, her intuitions uncannily accurate. They'd spent several weeks at the beginning of the term noticing each other, each looking to the other, wishing, as they learned later with bouts of laughter, that the other one would say something, do something to move things along.

The opportunity came with sighs of relief on her part, and mild trepidation on his. He'd become, as a linguist, interested in Caitian history and poetry, and as a term project he was given a paper to do which would explore the nuances of that history and its place in the overall scheme of Cait's acceptance into the Federation. "The Caitian Revolution," she'd called it, when he had come to her for advice and help. It seemed natural to ask her, after all, she being a native of Cait, and he being frustrated trying to find a way to express that history in vivid terms, so that he might make a decent mark in his class and gain a professorial ally in the process.

They'd met then, regularly, talking long into the night. The conversations at first were purely historical, as she'd told him the facts of M'Reve's life and times, and how, as the Lord High Poet of the Empress M'Rel's didactic reign, he merely copied what had been done before, refusing to take the long creative strides that burned in his heart and brain.

And then the story became more personal. As M'Reve's daughter came to him in supplication, pleading with him to open his heart and mind to the wonders of creative imagery, to those younger than he who were already experimenting with meter, verse and subject, in spite of the laws prohibiting it, she left him with a folio of papers, etched with the musings of a younger generation, weary of didacticism and the constraints placed on the imagination, stoppering the impulse to grow and live and reach for the stars.

M'Reve condemned her, and bid her be gone and never, ever speak of it again. Tears flooded her eyes, her love for her father uppermost and her sadness for his limitations part of her feeling, too. And still she hoped, beyond reckoning, that the folio of poems would touch his heart and unstop the wellspring he was holding back, allowing it to gush out in a torrent of frenzied new work, full of feeling and bright new ways of expressing what was truly in the Caitian breast.

And as the story became more personal, so did the relationship between Cadets Carmody and M'Renn. Of obviously different species, Terran and Caitian, there was some hesitation as to how to proceed, each feeling awkward in this new experience, each wanting to explore this new territory, to break the bounds of tradition and expectation, to boldly go, as it were, into a new and profound social experiment, personal and yet deeply meaningful in a wider arc, reaching for the stars in toleration and acceptance. To boldly go where neither of them had gone before..

The nights spent together became longer and longer, their physical proximity closer and closer. She, resting her paw on his leg as they spoke of the legend of M'Rex, the first felinoid to take to the sea. Rough and hearty, he spent years ravaging the coasts of Ferasa, enriching himself and his gradual followers, often taking the women he desired while plundering their husbands' riches. As the years passed, he became a symbol of the freedom that the Ferasans so achingly desired. He sailed by the moons, the twin moons, using the eclipsing black C'thar as a means of gauging distance traveled, while the lovely golden M'Hett the Eclipsed he used as a light in the darkness. As great as his riches were, more profound grew his legend until his name was upon every lip in the kingdom, bold and hearty and romantically rich beyond any reckoning. And at the very end, as befitting one larger than life, he sailed to the East and became lost in the mists of history.

M'Renn's eyes became wet as she recalled it all, hearing the stories as she nursed at her mother's teats. Carmody, feeling that connection with her, moved closer to brush away her tears. Before long, they were embracing, all facade of culture and difference gone, moving in the delight of a freedom come full circle. They were complete, in each other and for each other. In that merging bliss, a blessed sleep came, and they dreamed of the high seas and the great golden moon.

"Once more, M'Reve looked about himself before gliding into the trees of the M'ara grove. He had nearly half a kilometer to go before he would find the small encampment where the others were gathered. There were spies everywhere, he knew, even perhaps infiltrated among the members of the New Poet's Guild. But he hadn't been able to resist, even at the risk of his career and reputation, after he had read surreptitiously the pieces contained in the folio. Such fire there was! His long-simmering creative drive, kept carefully hidden beneath the exterior of rules and regulations for the benefit of the people, came exploding out until he was nearly consumed by it. To meet these young people, to hear their poetic voices singing and clamoring for the freedom to express themselves, overwhelmed him.

"Before he reached the encampment, carefully plucking his way among the hidden roots and tussocks of the M'ara grove floor, he heard these sweet voices in the night, first a funeral dirge for the reign of M'Rel, and then a softly whispered chant to the moons of Ferasa. A voice was raised extolling the virtues of M'Rex the Fearless, and as he came nearer, the trees themselves seemed to become more fragrant, as if enlivened by the urgings of the poets..."

Morning light came streaming into Carmody's cramped room. M'Renn, waking from her peaceful and satisfied sleep, stretched her sinuous body and began licking her fur. She looked to the cadet sleeping beside her, and smiled at the progress that they had made. Through all of the nights together, the talking and lovemaking had continued, and now the tale was nearly complete.

Gracefully and quietly, she slipped from beneath the warmth of the covering on the bed, and stole quickly from the room. Already she was envisioning the consummation of the story, both with M'Reve and Carmody. A revolution was in the making on both counts, and she shivered with the anticipation of it.

Throughout that long day, she debated the best way to bring the story to fruition. The fevered passion she shared with the young cadet made talking about her planet's history difficult at best. Though she had no deadline to meet with him, there was one for the thesis, and it was approaching quickly.

She found a console, and quickly sent him a message to meet him in Golden Gate Park, where they could sit among the trees and the sculpted grass and flowers, as she finished her tale. He replied in the affirmative, expressing his passionate wishes to see her again so soon.

The sun was low on the horizon when she saw him waiting for her. He had plucked some flowers from a basin near the edges of the park, and these he gladly and sweetly proffered her as she came next to him, bending to catch the masculine scent of which she had grown so fond. They embraced quickly, and as they drew apart, he opened a pouch and made a small dinner for them, cheeses and fruits and the milk that she craved. They ate in silence, the golden rays of the sun lowering over the glistening surface of the bay. She was content, only with this, and she thought to herself that she could live like this, for the rest of her lives, being herself and being allowed to be herself without the false entrapments of having to live for someone else.

They finished their meal, and disposed of the residue. Sitting closely, touching without shame, she began the final piece.

"M'Reve sat quietly in the large house that had once been the opulent dwelling befitting a Lord High Poet. It would be only a few moments until they came to get him, to complete their purge of anti-government sentiment that had swept over the populace at the publication of his last, and greatest, poem. He marveled at their efficiency in rooting out and silencing discontent. He marveled at his own previous role in helping to silence the people. In that marveling and in that role, taken willingly, there lay his greatest regret.

"After that meeting in the M'ara grove, ablaze with the need to speak freely, he feverishly wrote and had published his first great Renaissance poem, a ballad of the life of M'Rex the Fearless, that undaunted Ferasan who dared to take to the sea, placing it before the public as a reminder of what they were and what they could be. Retribution was swift in coming at the hands of the Empress M'Rel, as he was summarily stripped of his title and his income, urged to recant amid the laughter and derision of the assembled Ministers of Culture.

"But it was too late. His inner fires, already burning brightly, were fanned to a white-hotness by the actions of the court. He returned to his home and immediately set to his task, the writing of a poem that would induce the people to action, to revolution, if need be, against the tyranny of the didactic way. For days and candlelit nights on end, he wrote and thought and hit upon the symbolic logic they would understand, the eclipsing moons of Ferasa. For therein lay the natural description of the yoke of tyranny under which they all labored. Black C'Thar, the oppressive regime, continually eclipsing M'Hett, the golden light of the people."

For his part, Carmody was well-taken with the story, so much so that it didn't register in his mind that M'Renn had stopped speaking. She had moved closer to him on the quiet bench in the park. Fully dark now, by the light of the Earth's single moon, he looked to her and saw a shining wetness in her eyes. Smiling, she drew her arms about his neck, her tail waving slowly back and forth. "Revolution," she whispered. "M'Reve helped us reach to the stars. That poem, 'Second Life,' resulted in M'Reve's execution, and brought about a reaction so swift that the Empress could not recover, and she and all her Ministers of Culture were thrown down and exiled to the farthest reaches of the planet. Ferasa, which we now call Cait, began her second life. The arts and sciences flourished, and the people pushed themselves to discover new and better ways of living, pushing and reaching out beyond themselves into the great unknown sky, beyond the moons and the preconceptions of the didactic way. We mixed with other cultures, and found heir ways to our liking. And now," she said quietly, "we join with others , as I have joined with you, in bliss and certainty. I am the revolution that M'Reve started so long ago."

Carmody smiled, and nuzzled her face. The story was perfect, the ending perfectly woven. "What do we do from here, then?" he asked.

Her laughter warmed and surprised him. "I think," she said, " that we ought to go and finish typing it up. You wouldn't want to start a revolution by being late, would you?"

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