She was born in the moonstar’s shadow, when the storms of Satlik raged their worst. Because of this, Jobe was different. The family never spoke of it, but everyone knew Jobe was special. So Jobe came to know of it, too. She had a destiny beyond that of Choice, beyond that moment when she would finally have to decide for Reethe, Mother of the World, or for Dakka, Father, Son, and Lover. For the others it was easy, but not for her, not for Jobe.
So she was sent to Option, the island of learning, to decide her gender and become who she must be. And slowly, ever so slowly, Jobe retreated from the world, from the time of decision. Then the ultimate cataclysm wracked the planet, threatening all her people had struggled to create—and Jobe came forth at last to fulfill her destiny and begin the quest that the moonstar had set for her so many years ago . . .
“Reminds me of the work of Ursula K. LeGuin [sic], in its exploration of gender and sexuality, and of the work of Theodore Sturgeon, in its lyrical style and endless pondering over the mystery of love. There’s also a touch of a ‘hard’ science fiction writer such as Larry Niven, in a section which describes the terraforming of the planet in a detailed, realistic style.” —SFF Chronicles
Previously published as Moonstar Odyssey
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"I was born —
Whenever a new person comes into the world, the gods, Reethe and Dakka, hold their breaths. They fear the ones who do not know who they are to become, for whenever one of these is born the gods come close to death. These are the persons who, when offered the Choice between Reethe and Dakka, between female and male, are most likely to choose neither; and whenever there is someone who does not accept the gods within herself then the gods die a little. And so the gods hold their breath at every birth. Who will this one be?
Look at her: the infant is an adult going through a process. The child is a lesson that the future one is learning. Cherish not the child so much as the adult she will become. Try to see the person she will be. Start with respect for the moment of her birth. Let her enter this world gently so that she will not be frightened by this new place in which she finds herself. This will set the pattern for a life — if she is born not knowing fear, she will not be frightened later on in life by all the other new things she will encounter. Birth is not a mother's moment — it may seem that way, but it is not her triumph — it is the new person's. We have not met the new one, but it is her needs that predominate.
Think of her: she exists only in present, she has no past and knows no future, she is timeless; she is a tethered link to some wondrous unknown person — messiah or thief, we have no way of knowing — unnumbered years along the path; but at this moment, now, she is only small, defenseless — a victim of events. Birth is her universe, an explosion of her universe; it happens and what is not-self begins to take shape. We must not separate this person from her oneness with the universe too forcefully or she will never feel part of it again, and yet it is all too easy to do just that. She exists only as a moment of sensation, easily terrified because she has no memories against which to measure now.
Every sensation is new — and if it is intense, it will be difficult to assimilate; it will imprint as pain, and all similar sensations ever after will resonate with that memory. There is no way to warn this small core of future-someone's past of what is about to happen. There is no way to prepare her beyond the natural ways of Mother Reethe, but those alone should be enough — if we listen to the guidance that the goddess has given us in our hearts.
Perhaps there should be a better way to come into the world than one that is fraught with so much possible pain and fear and terror, but perhaps there also is no better way for a person to be born than to come from the belly of another. It is the most intimate of all relationships, forging a bond of caring and interdependence between the two that will be as long as life. The new person will need someone to reassure her while she is discovering how best to become herself, to reaffirm that all her options are valid and that all experiments, even the failures, are necessary if learning and discovery are to occur. The birth-mother is entrusted with that mission, and it is not a mission to be taken lightly. We must not accept responsibility for another person's life unless we are also willing to accept the burden of her pain; else we injure not just the adult whose child we hold within our bodies, but the gods as well.
We cherish our small persons because we want to believe that they are parts of us; but let us put aside our own needs for the moment and consider her needs first — let the new one be a person for herself before she has to be a part of someone else's identity. These small innocent ones are gullible — they have an eager willingness to accept what we will do to them. They believe that what they see and hear us do is the way of all the world, the only way; they believe it because they have not yet learned there is an otherwise. Let us not damage them in sureness born of their acceptance, for in truth, we damage our future selves.
So let us learn from our children, and let us not be too certain of our truth — let us always question it, for only in questions is the growth of wisdom. Let us look at birth through the birthling's eyes, and let us orchestrate the moment to alleviate us — let us reward her need. We can see this truth tested every time a child is born and confirmed each time a small one smiles.
Let a mother squat to deliver — not only because this is the easiest position for her, but also because it is the easiest position for the new person to slide down the birth canal. Let the Healer and the other parents keep close, but let it be the new one's bless-father who keeps her hands ready to receive the small one. Let the room be dark and quiet, let the waiting hands be warm and caring and ready to support the small one's back — it will be curved at first; let her straighten it when she is ready, there is no need to rush. And now, as she comes out into the world, let the mother lie down on her back, and let the small one be placed gently on her stomach like a lover, here the two of them can caress each other, meet and rediscover one another through their touchings. They are lovers; they have been for months, but only now do they meet, embracing silently in the dark. Let the small lover be caressed and welcomed into the world. And if this is done properly, then the new person will not be startled or frightened and she will not cry — crying at birth is an ill omen, it speaks of terror and pain: here is one who has been hurt by birth — and she may be hurt by the rest of her life as well. Instead, soft sighs speak of love. Let there be silence now while the birth-mother whispers and gently reassures her little lover who has just begun to learn, so that her learning may be in joy. Let the first sigh be the child's, let her breathe gently; let her lungs taste the air because they want to, not because they must, not because they have been forced. Let the umbilicus remain until the new one has become sure and steady in her breathing, let her keep this link to her mother until she no longer needs it and only then let it be served; there is no need to rush, the small one has plenty of time, a whole lifetime, in which to learn and grow.
And always, let the mother's smile be the brightest light in the room; let the child's sighs be the loudest sound. Let the two of them grow closer for as long as it takes for both to relax. As the mother holds the new person close to her, as the small lover lies softly on her breast, let her feel that she is not an owner, as of an object, but a guide, a teacher, an equal partner in discovery, one who is perhaps farther down the path a bit, but no less an innocent in the eyes of Reethe and Dakka. Let the two, mother and child, be partners in that journey, let neither be beast nor burden; neither belongs to the other, for all of us belong to the gods first.
Leave the new person curled, arms and legs beneath her; let her uncurl her spine when she is ready. Let her stretch when she wants to, tentatively, for she is exploring a space vaster than any she has previously imagined. Let the mother's hands move slowly over her, not just as a massage, but as a caress, a communication of touch, a language of lovers, a reaffirmation of lovers. The mother makes love to this tiny person with her touch, and this is as it should be, for this is the only language this small one knows yet, but she knows it as an expert. The reassuring language of touch, stroke, caress, and gentle warmth. They have been more intimate than any other lovers have ever been or could ever hope to be. One has lived inside the other, and now that intimacy has been transformed into a larger one, an intimacy to be shared with the rest of the world, let the lover who carried soften the other's way into this world by using this familiar language to ease her transition. Let the new person be reassured that this new place is a good one.
And now, let the Watichi offer a gentle prayer — that this new person may travel through the pains of life as she has traveled through birth — with love and support, and that she will come out on the other side as she has come through birth — with a smile. It is a fortunate omen when the new one smiles at birth and a common one too; we can be proud that such is our way that our new ones smile so easily.
Now, let the child be bathed by her bless-father, gently dipped in warm oils, an almost-return to the gentle amniotic world not ten minutes lost, dipped and dipped again, a warm return to the sea of Mother Reethe, until she is relaxed and ready, yes, ready to explore some more of her new place, dipped and raised easily so she learns gently of the weight of herself, dipped and raised so she learns gently of the weight of the rest of the world. Then, finally dressed in warm blankets and returned to her mother, who has also been cleaned and dressed by the circle of well-wishers around her, the new person is again with the person who has given her a first place to grow and who will now help her through some of her future places. Let them smile and rest now, like lovers after their labors of joy. They are now and always will be the most intimate of lovers — the memory never completely fades; just as new person's entrance into the world, we restate the essence of our gods with every life we bear.
And like our gods, we too hold our breaths until the time when both we and the new person discover who she is to be.
— in a hurricane."
"There was howling winds and bright flashes of lightning, and I am told that I screamed with fear and pain for hours afterward. It was more than four months before I smiled.
"I remember nothing of this, of course; I learned it only many years after as a special confidence of Sola, the deviate. My birth was a day of storms and other ill omens, and I believe that my life has been darkly colored not just by my own pain, but also by my family's knowledge of my uneven beginning.
"I was born too soon — my mother stumbled while running for the shelter. There was no Watichi with her to chant and pray. The bless-father had died in a boating accident, and I was born in no shelter at all, with loud flashes all around.
"Hojanna had to lie on her back, while Grandpere Kuvig yanked me from her womb, stripping a veil from my face and slapping me to make me gasp for breath — there was not time for anything more while the weather raged around us; she cut the cord almost immediately and wrapped me in her coarse storm-jacket, still covered with the blood of my mother's pain. Then, as the trees continued to crash around us, they stumbled and ran the last half-kilometer to the shelter.
"There is no way to go back and undo the damage done to your birth. I was born and I was here. There were no songs, no prayers, no reassurances until long after I had already learned that this new place could be hard and cold and uncaring. By then it was too late for reassurances.
"For a time, I was called 'the dark child.' I did not know of it until Sola told me, and yet I knew somehow that there was something about me that set me apart. It was the family's intention that I should never know that there was anything different about me, but that is one of those things that you cannot keep secret from a person. I could not help but know that somehow I was special. I could not help but sense a perceived 'inferiority' somehow, and I cherished that knowledge as if it somehow also made me superior to the others by making me different.
"It was vague apartness, not one that I could define or describe, and perhaps one that I was not even consciously aware of until I could step out of myself and look back. It wasn't until the time of Blush and thereafter that I realized what it was that made me so unlike my fellow small victims of Entropy — they at least moved with the knowledge that they would be somebody someday; not even Entropy could destroy an identity once established. But me, I moved tentatively, cautiously, unsure that I would ever be anybody. Where others might be souls, I might be only a small smoldering core of fear, easily extinguished and forgotten.
"So when Sola told me the facts of my birth, it was not so much discovery as confirmation of something I had known for all my life already, that I moved in a vacuum created by the held breaths of the gods.
"And yet — even with that terrible knowledge — my early life was filled with joy — wistful, perhaps, muted, like haunting chords on Dakka's pipes — but all of the days were signposts by Choice, but by how I learned to deal with it.
"I was born, I was here, and I had to make the best of it."
Three days after the storm, a Watichi's sail was sighted on the horizon. Grand-Uncle Kossar raised a flag of welcome and the craft turned and headed inward toward the island. A Watichi is a holy person, a voice of Reethe and Dakka in the world of the commonhood; she owns nothing of her own, she has no need of ownership — being of the gods, she trusts her life to their winds; they will provide for her. And indeed, it is a blessing to give food and shelter to a godvoice — it is equally a sin to refuse her needs. (There have been Watichi who have sometimes lost their sense of god, and that is why Watichi are forbidden — like perverts — to stay more than three days in any one place without permission.) This Watichi was on her way from somewhere in the past toward somewhere in the future; she was on a pilgrimage of purpose specific only to Watichi and beyond the simple understanding of the commonhood.
She was tall and bony, her skin was pale as a painted piece of parchment. Her hair was white and floated in a wispy cloud around her head — was she old? Or just albino? Her eyes were red and hollow in their sockets — she looked haunted and she twittered like a bird. Her hands would flutter in the air before her as she spoke. Her voice was like a child's high-pitched piping. Her robe was spotted with brown and yellow stains, and she smelled not of the sea, but of decay and illness. She spoke of omens she had seen, but her very presence was an omen in itself.
She put three poles in the sand and stretched a silken cloth across the tops to make a shade; then she laid a woven mat beneath the shade and sat herself upon it. Then she waited. Soon the family began to lay their gifts upon the mat before her. It did not matter that Kuvig and Suko disapproved of Watichi's legalized begging — they called it "spiritual extortion" — Grand-Uncle Kossar still believed and she insisted on the rituals. Tradition must be honored. She laid out a spread before the Watichi of the family's finest wealth, the softest clothes, the sweetest wines, the richest dishes in the household, a feast of offerings. The Watichi rejected most of them and Suko did not know if she should be relieved at that or just insulted. This Watichi seemed beyond the comprehension of the pride of well-made objects; wealth was like sand to her. She tasted at what pleased her, but the only object that she took was the gauzy scarf of scarlet silk that little Dida laid before her in imitation of her elders. ("Hmph, a modest Watichi," said William under her breath. "Wonders will never cease.")
Finally, the Watichi spoke of Reethe and Dakka, and the coins that bear their visages. "We toss the faces and we cast the runes by their expressions. We learn not of the past, nor of the future, but of this moment — now — in which their currents intersect. Three days ago, I saw an omen." The godvoice wavered, her hands crept toward her heart and throat. "I did not understand it then, but an otter climbed aboard my raft and told me to sail west. I came here, and now I understand that it is not necessary for me to know the meaning of the omen, merely to report it. This omen was for you and I am just a messenger."
She lowered her head and fell silent. The family, seated in a circle on the sand around her, waited. Kuvig laid out three coins before the Watichi. Two of them showed the smiling face of Reethe, the third grimaced with the frown of Dakka. "We have had a birthing here," said Suko. "And a storm."
"A birth omen, then — a strange one, though. I saw a boat, an empty craft with broken mast, torn sails, desolate in shape and manner. She was old and gray and listing on a glassy sea. She looked like a boat of death lost over from the years of plagues. As I turned my sails toward her, suddenly there came a bird — large and white, like none I'd ever seen before, too big to be a gull, too sweet of voice. Her cry was something joyous. She came from the east, as if created from the Nona moondrop, flying out of it as I turned to watch. She flew above the boat and toward the moonstar up above, she circled beyond. She disappeared beneath the moondrop of the Lagin. The last cry that floated back to me was neither joyous nor despairing — only questioning. But she still flew — and I saw hope. When I looked down to the sea again, the phantom boat was gone."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Moonstar"
Copyright © 2014 David Gerrold.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
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