Raven Rocksong sleeps late. She has a long day of foraging ahead.
J. O. Quantaman (pen name)
1. Sleepy Head
Kung, Haida Gwaii: 7 May 2076
Raven Rocksong snuggles in warm blankets till sunlight falls on unsuspecting eyelids. Warmth preys on delicate skin. Eyelashes open. The glare overloads her retinas.
With sudden urgency, Raven sheds blankets like a snake's overripe skin, but the evening's cozy warmth has become an early morning chill. Her foot bottoms touch cold-cedar floorboards. She rubs bare arms and pimpled goose bumps. She exhales, half-expecting to see her breath.
From outside come vocal sounds of band members going about their chores. It means breakfast has come and gone. Crows are scavenging under the spruce trees, poking about ferns and fallen nettles. On the window glass, she notices dirt smudges and watermarks.
The glass is my chore.
Headpa will scold me for not
cleaning the glass that cost
four yellow-cedar carvings.
Raven tiptoes on frigid wood to the open-shelved dresser. It has a broad top that hosts a water basin, comb and hairbrush. She tosses cool water on her face. In the mirror she watches the droplets falling off smooth chestnut skin and dark-brown eyes. She contorts facial muscles and tries to look older than fifteen years, then hikes her nightshirt overhead and places it on the bottom shelf. She assesses doughy adolescent curves. This past winter her breasts have filled out, so the women in the sweat lodge have quit teasing her about "little girl" buds.
She picks up the comb and recalls last evening when Jade admired her jet-black hair. More than once he gaped at her vest which gave hints of emergent breasts. His eyes lingered. He acted goofier than usual. His fingers brushed her hair when he thought she wasn't aware. He's interested alright. Nice to know she has the leverage to reshape his goals.
Jade Runner has strong arms, large hands and dark piercing eyes. The gals flit about him like homesick gnats. A worthy catch he may be, but she dislikes the smell of fish that sluffs off his skin and clothes. The odor reminds her of life in Kung village, where nothing ever happens, except cooking fish and more fish for dinner.
Last evening she almost convinced Jade to take the astronomy course. She played on his fondness for gazing at the night sky. And who knows? She may like him better inside the megadome, minus his fishy odors.
She yearns to enroll in a study course inside the megadome. It will give her a useful skill as Goodma did aa a teenager. More important, Raven will get a chance to explore the city and practice speaking English with its brisk vowels and crisp cadences, so unlike the whoosh and hiss of Haida and its droll echoes of wind and sea. Folks in the megadome have better things to do than bake fish.
The problem is she still has to convince her parents. If Jade agrees to come along, he could be her watchdog and chaperone. In which case, Goodma might agree to let her go. As for Headpa, she'll need stronger arguments for him.
Headpa is the band's chief carver, whereas Jade's headpa is the band's chief fisher. Together they oversee the gathering of food and the making of worthy trade goods. Goodma plays a large role in the village sisterhood. She takes care of the village garden where she nurtures berries, foodstuffs, fibrous plants and herbs that yield healing medicines. Jade is the eldest son of his family and Raven is the only child of hers. Their families are pillars of the village, so a blood union between offspring has been planned and ordained. It's as certain as November rain.
She has been dangled like bait, while Jade has been pushed like an arrow at a tender doe. Once she becomes his dutiful sidekick, she'll remain in Kung for the rest of her life. Her dreams of adventures in freespace will never get off the ground.
— — — — —
Raven slips into Indian hemp pants. They fit snug at the waist and fall loosely around her legs. She bends down and grabs a long-sleeved tunic with its down-filled pads arrayed like a checkerboard. The tunic looks bulky and tends to hide her emergent breasts. But it's sensible attire for a jaunt in the woods. She fastens leg guards above her deerskin footwear to protect against the underbrush. A cone hat fits onto her head. Its all-around stubby visor blocks sunlight and deflects raindrops.
She bounds down the steep ladder to the main floor. Her bladder is crying for release, so her 1st-stop is the no-frills outhouse, which is so typical of Kung. Dig a deep hole—over it, spread a wooden-platform with a circular opening. People straddle the hole and drop their crap in the pit. Every week, fragrant herbs are added to mask the stench, without much effect.
Nature's call answered, she reaches for a handful of dried peatmoss. Yesterday's pile has dwindled to scattered crumbs. She scoops the last bits and realizes it's her turn to fetch more supplies from the longhouse.
— — — — —
Kung's longhouse has walls of redcedar logs laid one atop another. Raven examines the dried peatmoss still wedged between the logs. Last autumn she taught Kung's youngsters how to stuff the cracks. It's good to know their efforts have weathered the winter storms.
The slanted roof is coated with solar cells that drink in the noonday sun. A tall mast rises above the roof and holds the windmill blades whirling quietly in the breeze. On one side of the roof, a cistern stands on a flat wooden ledge. The cistern gives villagers water on tap, so long as nobody uses too much.
The longhouse is large enough to hold everyone in the village. It has a communal kitchen for feasts and meetings. It serves as the nursery and clothing manufactory. It laps up most of the Kung's electric juice.
Across the ceiling are florescent tubes that shed light for the cloth makers who work the spindle, the loom and stitch maker. Near the back wall are rows of drying bark and root fibers hanging in loose strands. When it rains too hard to go outside, elder women will splice and weave the fibers into baskets or clothes.
Granny Warm Bear squats cross-legged on a floor cushion. She's knitting the 2nd-sleeve of a Cowichan sweater. The old woman hasn't missed Raven's late arrival.
"Wonders never cease! The princess has awakened."
Raven cringes, knowing she deserves the gibe. Granny has a whole basket of raspberries for slackers. Her gibes can cut as deep as fishhooks, but they're seldom mean-spirited. Her large nose menaces like a hawk's, but the laugh lines on either side betray her jovial nature. She treats every kid in the village like her favorite grandchild.
Beside Granny in an ornate basket slumbers Crying Loud with uncharacteristic serenity. Ingrid is hunched over, guiding the needle bobber. Sad lines furrow her face like deer tracks gouged by a hard rain. She guides a broad cloth as her foot toggles the drive pedal. Last winter she lost her husband in a hunting accident. Ingrid glances up briefly from the stitch machine, her eyes unreadable and withdrawn, then resumes her task.
At the center of the room, a workstation sits on a small table cluttered with plastic reference cards. Edgar, Ingrid's son, peeks out from the computer monitor and gives Raven a confiding grin. She returns his smirk with a menacing scowl that sends him scurrying for cover behind the screen.
— — — — —
Raven hasn't forgiven Edgar. He's the reason she has lost computer access for a whole month. Edgar owns amazing computer skills, and she got herself sucked into one of his online schemes.
To be honest, she was as eager as Edgar to browse a forbidden website that promised realistic adventures inside a soupcan. More than anything, she wanted to see firsthand the strange place where spacers live and work. Edgar said he could sneak into the website without anyone noticing. She let him use her password to start the computer.
They opted to play a game called "Take No Prisoners" where "guardians" fought against alien lizards who had invaded the upper stories of a tall building. The lizards sported large crocodile jaws with rows of sharp teeth.
She and Edgar chose "guardian" personas and armed themselves with energy blasters. Edgar opted for a guy warrior that was armored from head to toe. To Raven's dismay the gal warrior wore tight stockings instead of leg armor. If that wasn't enough of a handicap, her glamour-puss alias wiggled too much when she walked. Raven needed quick fingers on the blaster buttons to match Edgar at killing lizards. She wasn't going to let a wimpy geeko score the most hits.
During the lull periods, they climbed countless flights of stairs. Raven soon lost interest in blasting away more lizards. She decided to explore one of the offshoot hallways.
Surfaces in the hallways and rooms came in multiple shades of gray, like bright icebergs floating on a dark sea. The walls and metallic gadgets were smooth, straight-lined and glassy as the surface of quiet cove. Some of the objects featured small blue or orange icons. But nowhere did she spot anything that resembled the burred-tan qualities of wood. Nowhere did she find subtle greens that evoke the moist scents of growth. It was as if spacers had gotten beyond objects made from living things. She examined every desk and chair, every cupboard and appliance. She tried to guess at the purpose of the metallic gadgets, without much success. Yet she fancied herself learning about spacer customs.
Oh, how I long to visit
and stay in the soupcans!
As she ventured down the hallway, she peered into open doorways. One room contained the dead body of a spacer who'd been mutilated by the lizards. She ignored the corpse, for it was just another cartoon.
She and Edgar shared a split screen that gave each character personal control of what they saw. Edgar could see her half of the flatview changing perspective as soon as she wandered away from the stairwell.
"You're goofing off," he complained. For all his bluster, Edgar was scared of being caught alone and getting ambushed by a pack of lizards. "You're leaving our guard down."
"I'm gunning for stray lizards who'd sneak up and attack us from behind."
She could tell from his half that he'd followed her down the corridor. His sightline shifted anxiously from front to back. His face grew pale after he spotted the mutilated corpse.
From the next room, a lizard head poked out, a spacer's limb dangling from its large jaw. Raven aimed and fired her blaster. The lizard glowed bright for an instant before it collapsed into a heap of charcoal.
She advanced along the corridor with Edgar on her heels. He uttered no further complaints. The corridor split into diagonal hallways, almost identical to one they were on. Both had smooth gray walls and occasional open doorways.
She glanced at Edgar and spotted a lizard creeping up behind him. "Turn around! Lizard on your tail."
Then she caught movements in the left corridor where she recognized another ugly lizard. Thumbing the blaster, she roasted the beast to chunks of charcoal. Meanwhile, Edgar had taken care of the one in the rear.
"Let's take the right fork," Raven suggested.
"OK, but don't go too fast. I'll be checking our backs. Those ugly things are tracking us somehow."
"They came from a distant star, so they hafta be smarter than they look."
Edgar nodded dubiously. "They're quick as diving loons."
"Natch. They've got an extra pair of legs."
They marched for several minutes down the corridor before they came to a wide-open floor space that extended to the left and right. It fronted an outside wall that featured a row of windows aligned side-by-side, each panel reaching from ceiling to floor.
The row curved inward in the distance which gave Raven a sense of the building's size. "This place is huge. Ten of our longhouses could fit inside."
"More than that," sniffed Edgar. "Twenty at least."
Raven gawked outside the windows and tried to grasp what she was seeing. The soupcan was well named, for it resembled the inside of an enormous tin can, larger than the width of Virago Sound.
Down below she spotted hundreds of garden plots hosting neat rows of plants. The odd human, out and about, looked no bigger than an ant. It was hard to tell which kinds of plants were growing. Copses of trees and water ponds were scattered beside the gardens. The surface followed the soupcan's curve until the trees and plants started to grow out sideways.
Above, a bright fiery glare spanned like a lodge pole. The light spewed out between silvery tubes that surrounded the glow within. On either side of the brilliant lance, Raven gaped at garden plots and copses of trees that ascended along the soupcan's curve until they grew upside-down. She reckoned the trees were held in place by their roots, but the gardens seemed to be clinging by magic. How did soil stay aground without drifting off? How did gardeners attend their crops?
"This whole soupcan is spinning," said Edgar, with highbrow smugness. "The spin causes a centrifugal force which keeps the upside folks from falling down."
"Yeh? I don't see any spinning."
"That's 'cuz you're spinning like everything else. You never notice the earth's spin either."
Raven hated it when he put on his smarty-pants. Edgar spent too much time online, looking up weird stuff like sentrigal force. Even so, it didn't make sense. It took all day for the sun to go from east to west. At that speed the folks on top would be dropping off like wingless flies, and the rain would be falling upwards.
But what the heck…
There's no way to count
the number of water droplets
in a clump of moist dirt.
Raven focused on the strange object in the distance. It looked like a six-bladed windmill whose blades didn't move. Its arms were thicker and heavier than the blades atop the longhouse. They appeared more like ornate redcedar bolls. Allowing for the enlargement due to the distance, the structure was of enormous size. Its arms extended the whole width of the soupcan.
At the intersection of six arms, the central brightness extended in a line to the building from which she gazed. She pressed her face to the window and looked up to confirm her hunch. She couldn't see the actual junction, but she followed the tubes far enough to know she was right. It meant this building was part of another windmill and she was inside one of its six arms.
Before she could convey her discovery to Edgar, the gaping jaws of a lizard engulfed her screen. Both halves of the flatview blacked out. Peals of derisive laughter came from the terminal. Then big English letters flashed across the screen:
You're Both Dead.
Combined Score = 17 Kills.
Raven kicked herself for not paying better attention. But she was pleased with the total kills. Having kept track of her scores, she reckoned she'd killed one more lizard than Edgar.
"Nine kills were mine."
"No way!" Edgar protested. "I got ten."
"In the corridor, I roasted two for your one."
"So what? I killed two on the stairway after you buggered off."
Edgar was lying. If he'd managed ten kills, the computer would've recorded more. But Raven didn't bother to argue. She knew if she pressed too hard, Edgar would mope around like a crippled moth for weeks on end. "Well, it was fun while it lasted."
— — — — —
Little did she know how prophetic her remark would become. The website had noted their incursion. Then it fired off a digital invoice to the Kung's SysAdmin.
My rotten luck!
Headpa is Kung's SysAdmin.
A week later, he noticed a debit of five crows that had been recorded while his daughter was logged on. Headpa confronted Raven and accused her of stealing from the village account. She tried to explain the website didn't mention any charges. Then she admitted how she'd found a way to reach the unauthorized site, so Headpa dropped all the blame on her lap.
Raven had only vague grasp of money; she'd never traded with coins or tokens. Kung's wealth circulated as favors among band members or as credits in the village account. Although Raven didn't know beans about money, she could grasp comparable values. Five crows wouldn't buy more than a few lousy sticklebacks. In other words, five crows wouldn't fill the bellies of Kung's mangy dogs. But that didn't stop Headpa from raising hell and punishing his own daughter.
Long Hand reproached her in front of whole village and then took away her computer privileges for a whole month. In private Headpa explained that he was responsible for Kung's finances. His position of trust didn't allow him to show favoritism.
"Did you ask Edgar?" Raven wondered.
"Yeh, I did. Edgar admitted he knew methods for entering forbidden websites. But he denied visiting anywhere that charged a fee. I suspect he was involved somehow, but Edgar and his goodma have already suffered a great loss. Ingrid is still mourning her partner's death. Their lodge is drenched in sorrow, so I won't fault Edgar without definite proof."
He stared and waited for Raven to respond, but she kept her mouth shut. She had no intention of crossing the great divide from adolescence to adulthood. If she tattled on Edgar, it would ruin her image among the youths of Kung. Adults and Headpa in particular were untrustworthy, for they held too much power. His judgments seldom meshed with her sense of right and wrong.
Even so, she despised Edgar for not taking his share of blame. Still, Raven could understand his family problems. She admired Headpa for showing compassion in this regard. Edgar, Ingrid and her partner had arrived in Kung after the Changeover, which obliged native bands to welcome all those who wished to live on the land. Raven suspected Headpa had begrudged their presence in village. If it had been possible, he would've turned back the clock to those days when the archipelago was home to the Haida alone. He liked to boast about the distant past when Haida war canoes raided coastal villages from Alaska to California.
— — — — —
Raven continues to gape at the flatview, but Edgar hasn't dared another appearance. He has a guilty conscience for sure. She holds the metaphoric axe over his head. With a mischievous grin, she ponders how and when to get her payback.
Then she recalls why she entered the longhouse. "The outhouse needs peatmoss," she remarks.
Granny looks up from her knitting. "Ha! About time you got caught with the dregs. Y'know where the peatmoss is."
Raven strolls to the bins where the reserves of peatmoss are stored. She pours handfuls of peatmoss into a handy bentwood box. The reserve stocks are almost depleted. She prays Granny hasn't noticed, otherwise the old woman will stick her with gathering peatmoss on top of her other chores.
Raven starts for the outhouse.
"Wait, Princess. You forgot…" Granny rises from the cushion of cedar boughs. Her aged knee joints snap and crackle. "Forgot clubmoss spores."
Granny walks stiffly to the wall cabinet and chooses a yellow-cedar urn. She tilts the urn and sprinkles powdered spores atop the peatmoss. "Don't wanna give folks a dose of fanny rash, do you?"
Raven smiles at the thought of everyone in Kung walking around, scratching their butts. "Sorry."
She carries the bentwood box to the outhouse where she lays in fresh supplies. On the way back, Headpa is entering the longhouse, so Raven ducks in behind him.
Headpa waves a battered teapot. "Warm Bear," his deep voice booms, drawing everyone's attention, "haven't you finished that sweater yet?"
"Humph!" hoots Granny. "Would've finished two moons ago if folks wouldn't barge in so often. I s'poze you want hot tea." Granny struggles to her feet and finds her balance. "Gimmie your pot, Long Hand. And go take that fresh one off the stove."
Headpa relinquishes the empty pot and follows her to the Franklin stove.
"Before you march off, you might share a cup with your daughter." Granny nods to the space behind his shoulder. "She missed breakfast and has a lot of gathering ahead of her."
Nonplussed, Headpa pivots full around. "Raven!" he exclaims. His vocal tone mellows as he scans her face. "You stalk like Raccoon in Bear's shadow." He retrieves the warm pot and holds it out. "Grab a cup, Daughter. I'll pour."
Raven grabs a tall wooden mug. It has Edgar's mark, and she grins at the irony. Once filled the mug is warm in her hands. She gulps down half of its contents.
"I'm cool," she blurts in English. She regrets the slip as soon as the words are out. Anger shows in his frown and livid eyes.
"That's city slicker's talk," he growls loud enough to sting her ears. "Just as well you're barred from the computer. Instead of spouting that lingo, you might do your chores and help prepare the evening feast for a change—" He sighs; "though I don't hold much hope. The older you grow, the worse your behavior."
— — — — —
Raven has grown accustomed to his harangues. At times she almost believes she deserves them. Headpa is so wrapped up in the symbollic pantheon of eagles, orcas, ravens, black bears, beavers and salmon that he ignores everything else. He's quick to condemn anything the falls outside of traditional Haida lore. He goes ballistic whenever someone tries to ape the "city slickers" of Tsawwassen.
It irks him when she skips out of doing her chores. Like last winter, she was supposed to sit for hours in the carver's hut and paint colored lines on bentwood boxes. After a week she'd grown bored to death. She couldn't see how the boxes would be more useful with colored lines or not. Raven gathered her paints and went outside where she painted eagles and ravens on every baidarka in the village. Headpa chewed her out, of course, but everyone else says her emblems are well done.
Headpa still mourns over the death of his older brother whose his name was Squirrel Ears. He was ten years older than Headpa, and he earned his name from the odd shape of his ears and his acute sense of hearing.
What else she knows about him is sketchy, 'cuz he left Kung before she was born. Raven has seen tears in Headpa's eyes when he tells of his brother's decision to go and work on a fish boat.
In those days, fish boats were still powered by fossil fuels. After the fishing season ended, Squirrel Ears took a job in Vancouver. This was before the Baker eruption and the great flood. He hooked up with a bad crowd and got himself cut in a barroom brawl. After which he spent two weeks in the hospital. Then things went from bad to worse. When the story filtered back to Kung, it came with Squirrel Ears' body inside a coffin. Headpa learned that his brother died of a drug overdose.
Raven knows there's some truth to his warnings of dangers that await natives who mingle with "foreigners" in Tsawwassen. But she doubts the city folk are as evil as he makes out.
Her goodma spent six months in Tsawwassen where she learned about horticulture. At the time, Nighthawk was not much older than Raven is now. She has never spoken of drug addicts or other hardships that accompanied her stay in the megadome. Indeed, Goodma's knowledge of healing herbs speaks for itself. When herbs are mixed with regular food, band members strengthen their immune systems, just like metics do when they take supplement capsules.
The Changeover has made a new pact with those living close to the land. Although Headpa won't admit it, he and have elders have received most of what they asked for. Aboriginal kids aren't forced to attend boarding schools. Native communities don't have to abide with the laws of city dwellers. Open-sea fish farms have been dismantled. Smallpox plagues no longer wipe out whole villages. Even the exposed western coastlines are being cleansed of oil residues, while the Asian debris on beaches and tidewaters is being collected and recycled. Some of the bands that abandoned their coastal villages have begun to return.
GREENS at the lighthouse are willing to help, but Headpa always refuses their aid until all other options have been exhausted. He sees rabid dogs behind every bush. He doesn't want adolescents succumbing to the lures of the city. That's why he has made spacer websites off-limits. Youngsters can only view educational websites that cater to aboriginals.
Raven has been denied even these. For weeks the other kids glommed onto tutorials about cooking fish, about weaving baskets from bark strips or about paddling a baidarka—the kind of stuff most kids learn before their sixth birthdays.
— — — — —
"Something kept you awake last night," Headpa is saying. "What was it, Daughter? Tell the truth."
"I went star gazing with Jade," says Raven, knowing it's the last thing he expects.
Headpa remains speechless for a good five seconds. A new record, she judges and files the lapse for future reference. The bewilderment on his face changes to the simple joy.
"Star gazing with Jade?" he echoes. "That's good, Raven."
He takes a deep breath, his eyes filling with proud determination "A fine young man, Jade. A clever fisher. Let's hope you behaved as a woman worthy of his home."
"He showed me how Big Bear circles around but always points at the North Star. We tracked two Frisbees and spotted Jupiter and Mars. It was fun."
He nods absently as if the details don't matter. "I'm proud of you, Daughter. Keep at it. Other young women in the village aren't so choosy as you. They've taken a liking to young Jade."
She crinkles her nose. "How's the orca coming?" It never hurts to show an interest in his work
"Another month before it's finished. There are small details to add. Delicate work yet very important. Without the final touches the orca would appear as dead stone, a mere shadow of itself—not the proud swimmer that's our spirit guide."
"Some spirit guide. One of those orcas scared me half to death. Its tail splashed my face and almost overturned the baidarka."
"Nonsense, Daughter," he booms. "We don't hunt orcas, so they no longer fear us. When they swim close, it's out of curiosity and friendship."
She has her doubts. Even Jade has shared her concerns. He understands the dangers of large sea creatures that can swamp a small craft.
Headpa turns to leave. "For me, it's back to the carver's hut. I wish you a good day's gathering, Raven."
She watches him go, thinking he's wrong to place so much faith in the old ways. Kung depends on megadome metics more than Headpa is willing to admit. Where would Kung be without the rainwater collector? Or the windmill and solar panels? Without the credit exchanges from GREENS at the lighthouse? Or the salt, rice and bright-colored cloths from the store in Masset?
— — — — —
Crying Loud awakes. She thrashes in her crib and lets out a piercing wail that befits her name.
"Headpa's loud voice wakes her every morning," laments Granny.
Laughing Bough, the infant's goodma, is nowhere around. She leaves her infant daughter at the nursery whenever she goes out with the fishers. Ingrid remains absorbed with her stitching. She has become more and more withdrawn since her husband's death. Granny shrugs and then returns to her knitting.
Approaching the ornate basket, Raven lifts Crying Loud in her arms. Sniffing for odors, she feels the infant's swaddled bottom. Thankfully it's dry.
Raven shifts from foot to foot, rocking gently. She rubs the infant's back and tender scalp until its yelps subside. After a while, she returns the infant to her basket and gives a colorful driftwood rattle. Crying Loud clasps the rattle in her tiny hand and begins to warble happily.
"I guess Laughing Bough is out fishing again," says Raven,
"She needs extra fish for her family while she's away," Granny replies. "Have you forgotten? Laughing Bough will ride with Elder Sophia when she goes to the megadome for laser surgery."
"Oh yeh. That means an extra stop at the lighthouse before we paddle to Masset."
Raven is supposed to gather enough salmonberries to go with the dried fish that will serve as snacks during the voyage. The added jaunt to the lighthouse means she'll need to gather twice as many berries. "I better start or I'll never fill my basket."
"Check the sunny places; you'll find plenty. And don't forget to forage for yourself."
"I ain't my goodma's daughter for nothing," quips Raven.
"Have you noticed we need more peatmoss?"
"Yeh." Raven grimaces. This extra chore is Granny's idea of punishment for sleeping late.
"You'll need a digging tool for uprooting." Granny gestures at the cabinet. "You can use the same tool for harvesting a bark wedge."
"All right." Raven resigns to the inevitable. She gulps the last of the tea. "One basket for salmonberries, another for peatmoss. I'll hook-up a back-harness for the bark wedge."
Granny's nods approvingly. "Don't forget to warn the bears."
"I'd rather sneak-up on 'em." Raven smiles impishly. "And bring you a fresh bear tongue."
"Crazy girl! Behave and come back in one piece."