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Some Origins of the Fire

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From Plato on, political philosophers have declared political liberty as fundamental a human necessity as air and food. Yet women, it seemed, did not require it. Women, it was said repeatedly, were, by nature, desirous only of staying home and raising children. And a good thing too, the philosophers added; otherwise the family would fall apart, and civilization itself would be threatened.

-- Vivian Gornick

Love withers under constraint; its very essence is liberty; it is compatible neither with obedience, jealousy, nor fear; it is then most pure, perfect, and unlimited, where its votaries live in confidence, equality, and unreserve.

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley


1.

Women have a choice in Luna: wife, or whore.

You make that choice by the time you're fourteen, maybe fifteen. Sixteen is really pushing it. Girls that age ought to be, ought to be-- How many times have I heard a man telling me what a woman ought to be?

Back when I still thought I had to choose... I chose wife.

My mother had died in a measles epidemic when I was young, and Father worked long hours, shift after shift, to keep the two of us in air and cubic. (There were no unions in Luna. Not then.) He was old-fashioned, being a transportee, and thought I was too young, and I worried about leaving him alone. So I was months and months past my sweet sixteen before I was opted. Our neighbors were starting to think there might be something wrong with me. But I wasn't afraid; I couldn't wait. Oh, I was already green with jealousy of all the girls in my warren, and in my classes at school. Already ruling their own roosts, or queen of their own pack of personally devoted knights...

I was married at sixteen, and pregnant soon after that. I divorced my husbands just after my nineteenth birthday.

(You can read about all this in most of my biographies. There are quite a few by now. Some nearly canonize me as the saintly, passionate Mother of the Revolution. Others are full of nasty libels and unimaginable defamation. Although somebody had to imagine it to begin with, I suppose.)

Most of them tell it like this: It all began when young Wyoh announced her divorce, moved to Hong Kong Luna, started over as a Free Woman, and got involved with the Party.

(That's how it usually goes, anyway, in the books about Mannie. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of them end up being a lot about me...)

But it didn't start there. Not with my first baby, the one I never even got to see. Not with my husbands and their looks, their silences, when I told them I didn't want to try again.

It started when I was born female.

It started when they told me I had to make a choice.

2.

Here's a story that isn't in any of those biographies.

Growing up in Novylen, I knew a girl named Kacy Choi. While other girls in our warren were getting married, Kacy's parents sent her to Earth on a science scholarship. Biology, I think, or Cyborg technology-- I don't remember. Kacy was beautiful even for a Loonie, and had been informed by many a generous tourist that she was especially 'striking' and 'exotic' by earthworm standards. In short, Kacy was looking forward to taking Earth by storm.

("Make fun of tourists if you like," Kacy said once to me, "but there's only one of our ways they need to pick up quick as far as I'm concerned." And where Kacy was concerned, oh, they picked it up quick-- A drink, darling? Coffee... tea? Dinner, bao bei? Dessert, then? You like that dress in the window, Gospazha? Would look good on you. Or off you. No? How about the shoes? The necklace? No? Why not?

Not that Kacy-- or I-- said "no" much in those days. Realizing that you could say no-- that came later.)

Don't get the idea that Kacy was a silly flirt. She wasn't, not by any stretch of the imagination. No, Kacy was clever, definitely book-smart. Hard-working and determined to succeed. Like all Loonie women-- you know the saying. She was her own mistress.

She nearly starved.

We met up for lunch one afternoon, a few weeks after she got back to Novylen. It was a wonderful afternoon, at first. I was newly married and chin-deep in bliss, and Kacy was so glad to be home. She was even managing to laugh at herself, a little. I suppose the several rounds of drinks helped-- not to mention the food. You see, Kacy knew the chef at Novylen's nicest Kongville-style sushi joints, and he liked Kacy. So Kacy ate for free. That was how it worked.

It had been months before Kacy realized that the earthworm men... weren't going to pay for her lunch. They just weren't.

"They expect you to pay for everything yourself!" Kacy told me. Once I heard the same indignation from a tourist fem who didn't understand why Loonie men wouldn't help her down a ramp. (Don't get Mannie started on that.) No, not indignation. Bafflement. The same sort of reaction you'd get if gravity turned upside down or lunar rock turned into green cheese. "Everything!" Kacy said. "Everything! Lunch, books, shoes, drinks, even transit pass..."

I remember this clearly: the last thing Kacy said to me as she hugged me goodbye. She said she was glad to be back in Luna, where things were free.

Even as a girl I knew quite well-- there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Nothing was free. Not really. Which meant Kacy wasn't as free as she thought, was she? I couldn't stop thinking about it on my way home-- drifting down the main Novylen drag and along the lesser corridors, picking my way through the smaller warrens-- I'd never felt claustrophobic before. Not in Luna. Starved, she'd almost starved. She'd been joking, but she'd said it. Like a pretty bird let out of its cage, not knowing how to fend for itself. Not knowing how to do anything except sing for its supper.

For her supper.

My stomach churned. I told myself it was the sake, told myself it was the fish, but I loved Kongville food and I'd never had a problem holding my liquor before.

You learn to suppress the urge to upchuck as best you can in Luna, believe me. Losing your lunch in one-sixth gee is no day at the spa. It makes those times when you can't fight it off-- oh, about ten times worse.

Lucky me, I managed to make it all the way to the bathroom before I threw up everything I'd eaten. Choy Lin and Choy Mu were both out at the office, and I... I didn't know who else there was to talk to. I had no female relatives in Luna, and hardly any female friends. It's hard to find women to be friends with, when you have so many men trying to be your friend-- and theirs.

And I just... I couldn't stop thinking about it. No such thing as a free lunch. No such thing. I'd known that, every Loonie did...

No such thing as a free lunch. Which meant Kacy wasn't free. And if she wasn't free-- then none of us were free, and what was I going to do about it?

(As it turned out, I was pregnant.)

3.

Lenore-- my wife Lenore-- is like my husband Mannie in a lot of ways. She's a cynic, though she would call it being a realist. She's never believed in much. But she believes in Davis Family. That was the reason why I stepped back and let her name Stuart for opting. (Though I know it surprised Mannie.)

I loved Stu. We all loved Stu. But I had been divorced. So had he. Which meant that out of all the Davis spouses, I was the one who could best understand what he really needed. He needed to hear the proposal from someone who believed entirely. Someone who had no doubts.

Oh, I knew there had never been a divorce in Davis Family. (And still hasn't been.) And I love them all so very much, my husbands and my wives, and I know they love me dearly as well. And I knew there had never been a divorce in Davis Family... but if you've ever lost like I had lost, my first child and my first marriage...

Yes, the separation was my decision. And I knew I could do it again, if I had to. That didn't make my choice to join Davis Family any easier.

When you've been hurt like that-- Let's say it's hard to really believe in what you know. Hard to reach out and take what you've always wanted, when you never thought you'd find it in this life.

That unshakable faith, that perfect, confident knowledge. That he belonged somewhere, no doubt about that, but was still free, still always his own person-- that was what first attracted me to Mannie. There was no jealousy in Davis Family, no possessiveness, no ownership. Mannie loved his family, and they were his rock. That was what I had needed so badly, and that was what Lenore could offer Stu.

Every revolution needs its true believers.

4.

I was in L Room of Raffles once with Prof-- it was just a few days after we (plus Mannie and Mike, of course) had declared Revolution. Prof was explaining something to me. I don't even remember what I'd asked, but Prof loved to talk, loved to teach. We had been drinking through dinner and sweets, and we kept on drinking afterwards. (Food riots. Cannibalism. One in seven chance. Vodka on room service. Yes, please.)

The biggest problem that we would have, Prof said-- the biggest problem would be convincing the Authority that Luna was no longer simply Earth's satellite. That we were not chattel. The hardest part (Prof could always see so far ahead!) would be convincing them that they were better off dealing with Luna as an autonomous equal-- that a democratic relationship built on mutual respect was in everybody's best interests.

"Hear, hear. Luna must be a Free Woman!" I said, and I drank to my own declaration, finishing my glass.

When I looked back at Prof, my head spinning just a bit, he was staring at me, and a smile I couldn't quite read was spreading slowly across his face. I thought he was laughing at me, and I could be a bit oversensitive in those days, so I started to scowl-- I'd met too many men who felt it was great fun to twit a Free Woman about her choices.

Prof only smiled, though, and raised his glass. "A charming notion, dear lady. Quite apt," he said. "To Luna-- she must be free!"

5.

I had a daughter. I named her Mychelle Paz Davis.

We are not yet entirely free.

But we will be.