A Hisa on Olympus
Dreamed 2014/6/15 by Wayan
I'm reading the book reviews in Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great. First I note a few I'd like to read, but after twenty reviews, I start to notice broad patterns. Walton reads with a writer's eye; she sees (and admires) structural things I don't.
She also tolerates (admires?) violence and ugliness I can't. I'm not sure that's a strength; she likes a lot of Gripping Dystopias I've tried and found dreary. She seems to buy the "veneer" theory of human nature--decency is recent, a mere skin over brutality. It's a common belief, but in her study A Paradise Built In Hell Rebecca Solnit debunks it in detail. In disasters, people self-organize and cooperate, quickly and efficiently. Only when the rules of business-as-usual resume--bosses and profits--do people start misbehaving again! Human nature, as we know and decry it, is a reaction to exploitation.
So a lot of Walton's reviews about "great" books leave me cold. More militarism, patriarchy, empire? Who cares how well-painted it is, if its view of human nature is false and it imagines nothing better than we have?
What I like (to read, and to write) Walton would probably dislike--or just dismiss as immature, wishful thinking. Unicorns in love, with pink wings. But then utopians often get mocked for building paradise out of chopsticks and duct tape. As if our present dystopia isn't equally flimsy!
I write this while sick again--fever, sweating, joint aches, shakes, racing heart. What has western medicine prescribed? Migraine pills! Which don't work. But migraines are common, so they'll try them on a headache. What WORKS is azithromycin, implying a bacterial infection, but Kaiser won't prescribe an antibiotic without a firm diagnosis. Which they aren't looking for. Surely it must be something common they've overlooked...
I'm a hisa. We look a bit like your Terran kangaroos, though we run, not hop. Upright like you, but forward-leaning, balanced by a long tail (prehensile at the tip). Long face, mobile ears. Brown coat on my back, cream countershading.
We lack your technology; we've never flown, let alone traveled space. To us it's heaven.
I've met a fair number of Terrans. Your people built an orbital station to trade with us. And our atmosphere's so dense that Terrans can breathe our stratosphere, so you've set up small trade stations on our highest mountaintops too; well above our comfort zone, so none of us minded.
I'm a well-known private detective--the nearest local equivalent of your Sherlock Holmes. Respected even by Terrans. Recently the manager of a Terran trade station hired me for a difficult case, waiving the usual tech-quarantine--the Prime Directive about altering native cultures. I've done local business with Terrans, but this'll be my first trip outside the hisa zone.
See, the crime-scene is a station--a small town, really--atop a high shield volcano much like Mount Olympus on your Mars. The crime was an elaborate break-in that clearly took a team. It's a mystery how they got in without cameras spotting them. I need to examine that perimeter and its tracks closely, on foot. How? Much debate and fuss... how to get me up there to investigate? Rig an oxygen mask fitting my long hisa head? Or can I drive a pressurized rover? Or run a robot explorer from inside the station? (I veto this last. Need to be there, touch it, taste the dirt.) All mean exposing me to offworld tech.
I don't recall whodunit. Or howtheydunit. What I do recall comes after I solve the case. (Of course I solve it! I told you: I'm the hisa Holmes.) But later...
A stubborn streak makes me go home my own people's way, not flying in the daily shuttle: I need to connect with the land and make my journey back down Olympus real, by walking all the way home. I flew up, reluctantly, because time was of the essence; but a technomagical flight BOTH ways would leave my memories ungrounded. Sacrilegious to a hisa--and just plain disorienting.
So I hike down the shield of Olympus--and that's an epic trek! Hundreds of kilometers, a week's walk even at our leggy people's fast pace. I do use an adapted breathing-mask and bundle up in furs, UV goggles and a ridiculous fuzzy hat. Humiliating and uncomfortable--our people hate clothes confining our own fur. Itchy.
But I have to. I need to walk. I can't hitch rides, not even with security guards in ground vehicles when they drop off my oxygen refills and bring me mail... let alone ride in their shiny, easy shuttles overhead.
An endless trek, risking high-altitude radiation, oxygen shortage, sunburned ears, embolism, frostbite, sore paws (dark basalt in that high-altitude sun gets hot)...
But I need to. To recover from that disconnected flight. To know where I am. And who I am.
TEN MONTHS LATER
Kaiser kept pushing migraine pills, though they didn't work. I got tired of not being believed, and dropped Kaiser. It took my new doctor three months, but after reviewing my scattered medical records and actually LISTENING to my description of (quite peculiar) symptoms, concluded I did have some infection, as I'd felt all along. I'm now waiting to see this health plan's only (part-time) infectious disease specialist. Ten-week wait! While I stick to my primitive protocols--diet, rest, herbs.
I plod down Olympus, step by step, while your shiny shuttles dart overhead.
I always liked it slow
I never liked it fast
With you it's gotta go
With me it's gotta last.
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