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About the Author

Kameron Hurley is a Clarion West 2000 graduate. She obtained her Bachelor's Degree in History from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 2001. She will be pursuing her Masters in History at the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa in February of 2002. She sends much thanks to Patrick Weekes, Julian Brown, Miriam Hurst, and Bill Mingin for wading through first drafts of all her violent feministic stories. Including this one.

Deep Outside SFFH 1998-2002 pioneering online professional SFFH magazine - we made history!

If Women Do Fall They Lie

by Kameron Hurley

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They told me the vessel could dream. I told them that was no concern of mine because vessels are of the dirt and of the desert and live only to sweat and breed and die, and I am a teacher of men and androgynies and Kell progeny. I am a man of wisdom and reason and worth. Vessels are no longer my concern.

"But Kadru," they said, "she can dream."

I told them it was foolish to utilize me this way; I questioned their purpose.

It was not my place to question them, they said.

And they sent me to the desert.

If you have never been to the desert, you must know that the sun casts an orange shadow across the craggy red hills and sunken pits and gullies of this part of the world. The vessel's world. The red desert looks endless here, and touches the gray-blue of the sky in all directions. The agricultural compounds are here, stained the same color as the desert, and it is here the vessels grow the starches that feed the cities. Here the vessels labor until they are old enough to breed. When I stepped out of the transport vehicle and onto the red sand I thought of blood and remembered the fluids of the vessels, remembered their filth, their stink, and I hated the vessel that dreamed. I hated her because she had brought me back to this dirty terrestrial place. The dormitory mothers led me inside the compound. I traveled alone, and they did not understand this. They talked of the arrival of "the others." They expected the Kell. A man, they believed, was not sufficient to understand their vessel's complication. I was not angry with them. The mothers are vessels; cleaner, stronger, perhaps, than the younger ones, but still they exist only to work and sweat and die. They will never leave the desert.

The vessel was housed inside the cell of one of the dormitory mothers.

"She cannot sleep with the others," they told me. "She cries out at night and wakes them. It is because of the dreams." Their desert sculpted faces tilted up to look at me, and I pretended not to see the red dust crusted in the wrinkles of their dark faces.

There was no door to the cell. I saw the vessel squeezed up into one corner of the room, one sun-browned arm flung across her face; her skinny, scabby legs pulled up close to her chest. The brown sheet was rumpled. Her hair was black, straight, unwashed. I wondered if they had deloused her before I arrived.

"Leave me with the vessel," I said, and the dormitory mothers nodded and scurried back out to attend the vessels working in the starch fields and irrigation ditches.

The dormitory floor was hard and smooth. I stepped into the cell, stood only a few inches from the bed. A base creature, I thought. But she can dream, they told me.

"Vessel?" I said. "What do they call you?"

She lifted her skinny head. I wondered if the dormitory mothers were feeding her. She looked close to breeding age. The Kell would come for her soon.

"Daeva Four," she said, and her voice was soft, afraid, childish. "I am told that you dream."

Her eyes were not brown; they were black, black like the bottom of a deep well. Tears flowed out from the edges of her black eyes, made lazy lines in the fine coat of red dust on her brown face.

"What do you dream?" I said.

More tears. More wet. More base emotion.

"I dream of the ocean," she said.

Of course you do, I thought. That is where all your kind will end. But this vessel had never seen the ocean. The ocean was on the other side of the world, and none but the Kell and androgynies had ever seen the ocean. I had only read of it.

"And what does the ocean look like?" I said.

"It's all water," she said, "ditch water that's blue, not red, not brown, not muddy. All blue. And things live there, inside it."

"If you can dream, Daeva Four, then you can lie." The ocean was not so impossible a thing for her to believe she had seen. The Kell could have discussed it among themselves the last time they came to pick out the breeders from the ripened vessels.

But a vessel that could dream could do more than just dream. She could tell her own stories. She could lie.

I told her to tell me a story that wasn't true.

Her big black eyes stared up at me, and the tears ceased, and I watched as the watery trails began to dry on her cheeks. I wondered again if she had been deloused.

"You want me to lie?" she said, and there was awe in her voice.

"If you can," I said.

"Any lie?" she said.

"Any lie."

Her gaze met mine, that wet, onyx black gaze that was so repulsive, so other, and she said, "I'm a woman."

Some part of me recoiled at that word. "Who told you that word?" I said, and my voice came out loud, far louder than I expected, and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of apprehension. I did not allow myself to recognize why, not then. This was not just a vessel that could lie. She was a vessel who remembered a dead past.

"It's a word I dreamed," she said, and she pushed herself up against the wall, clasped her arms around her knees, hugged them closer to her chest. I saw the tears begin to return to her eyes. Not again, I thought. No more wet weakness.

"Fine," I said, and talked in a soft, even voice now, as I would talk to any other fearful creature. "Fine, it is a word you dreamed."

She dreams of oceans and -- I could not even think the other word without shuddering. Daeva Four could dream. Daeva Four could remember, and she could probably lie as well.

I knew I had to take her to the Kell.

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The vessel had not been deloused. I learned this from the dormitory mothers when I asked that they wash her and prepare her for transport. I went back to my vehicle and sprayed myself in anti-parasitic spray as I called the androgynies at the city center and told them Daeva Four could dream. They arranged a meeting with the Kell city leader Ro Bhavesh.

The dormitory mothers presented the washed vessel to me. I put her in the vehicle. I had to sit across from her. My skin crawled.

The vehicle closed, the steely compound gate opened, and I entered our destination into the navigation console. All this time the vessel stared at me. She began to cry. I ignored her.

I would need a bath and disinfectant rinse, and with that I would wash away the last trace of this encounter with the vessels and the desert and the dusty, wrinkled faces of the dormitory mothers. Ro Bhavesh would deal with this vessel. Daeva Four was a Kell complication, not a man's.

The Kell, however, still did not appear to understand that I was better utilized elsewhere. When our vehicle arrived, two tall androgynies met me on the landing space and said, "You're to take the vessel to Ro Bhavesh."

I opened my mouth to protest, but androgynies never meet the protestings of a man with anything more than stoic androgynous silence. I have much experience with this. I closed my mouth.

The sky in Sapan that day was lavender, the leaves of the slender trees lining the sidewalks an orange-peppered yellow. Tomorrow I hoped they would be green. The orange made me think of the sun in the desert. Here in Sapan the streets were white, the buildings blue and gray and deep green, and the vessel and I were the only things here that carried dirt and contagion with us. The city air ate away at that contamination as I entered. I felt the conditioning system pump air out around me and the vessel, the microscopic machinated nits devouring the dust and decay on my face and arms and clothing. The vessel scratched absently at her skin, as if she sensed the cleansing of her body's filth.

Clerks and officials and smooth-faced boys selling sealed containers of starches stared as the vessel and I passed. I almost hoped no one would guess that she traveled with me, but she stayed so close behind that she could belong to no one else.

I came to Ro Bhavesh's spherical white tower and was admitted without trouble. The vessel and I were ushered into the Kell's meeting room by two androgynies. We stood in front of Ro Bhavesh. All this time the vessel had said nothing, but when she saw Ro Bhavesh seated in the tall white sculpted chair her black eyes grew wide and she cried out, "I saw you in my dream!"

Ro Bhavesh smiled. I had seen few Kell smile, and when this one did, it struck me that seeing this Kell smile was very pleasing to the eye. The Kell are not so different from men in appearance, and all that separates them from us is their lack of fluid and excretion. No sweat, no blood, certainly no tears. The Kell are the ascendant; they are all that the base vessels are not and never will be. Standing before this tall, slender Kell, its face so smooth and impassive, the eyes without moist sheen, the hair orange and wrapped about the scalp with impeccable precision, I remembered that I stood now somewhere between Kell and vessel, between ascendance and baseness, and I hated this vessel again for her presence, and her dreams, and her lies.

"You say you saw me in a dream, vessel?" Ro Bhavesh said.

"I dreamed you, and you told me stories," the vessel said.

"And what stories did I tell?" Ro Bhavesh said.

"You told me stories of women," the vessel said.

I watched the smile fade from Ro Bhavesh's clean, ageless face. For a moment, I wondered if I should not have brought the vessel here. I wondered if I should have destroyed her in the desert.

"I apologize," I said. "I have heard no vessel utter such a word. I believed it would be -"

The Kell held up its hand. "Enough, Kadru. Am I correct in saying that you are intimately familiar with cases such as this?"

I thought of the desert, and of my youth - and again, my skin crawled. "I have. I excelled at the selection of breeders, laborers, and genetic flaws. I did my work well, and was rewarded for it. I enjoy my place in the city."

And if you send me out into the desert again, I will perish, I thought, but I did not alter my expression.

"What do you make of this vessel, then?" Ro Bhavesh said, and its gaze stayed on the vessel who stared back at it.

"From what she says it appears she is not a teller of lies or stories so much as she is a teller of past truth. Most vessels are incapable of lies -- past or present -- unless they are persuaded to believe them as truth, but I have known genetic anomalies who carry the past within them, passed down from one casting to the next. She is a fourth casting. Someone felt it necessary to continue the breeding and growth of this mix beyond one casting. Perhaps they hoped this genetic storage of racial memory would manifest itself." I hesitated. "She dreamed also of the ocean."

Ro Bhavesh looked at me. I saw only cold Kell calculation in its face, the efficient rational thought of a mechanized ascendant. "Perhaps, then, we should take her there, and discover how much truth of the past she knows."

My first thought was to question its use of the term "we." My second thought was to wonder why Ro Bhavesh felt it necessary to question a vessel at the ocean. Did it expect to receive different answers in Sapan than it would receive at the ocean?

"Ro Bhavesh," I said, "do you think it is necessary to -"

"You question too much," Ro Bhavesh said.

The voice was without emotion, without inflection, but I was chilled by it. Ro Bhavesh nodded. It was decided. I was to travel to the ocean.

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Ro Bhavesh led me to its private vehicle. It told the vessel to sit beside me and brought three androgynies to assist in our descent. We plunged away from Sapan and spiraled downward to the red-blue world below.

This place they call the ocean I had never seen before. Yes, I had read that it was a vast expanse of water colored by the photosynthetic vegetation that existed within it, but I did not expect that it made noise. I did not expect it to move. This colored water rippled and thrashed and moaned as if it were a living creature, condemned for all eternity to lap at the sand and feed upon itself.

In truth, I had never wanted to see the ocean. It was here the Kell brought the ripened vessels, and here the vessels produced, bled, and died. It was here Ro Bhavesh told the androgynies to land the vehicle. I stepped out last. We stood somewhere on the coast along a paved walk. In the distance, sitting low and gray along the earth, were the breeding compounds. They stretched out all along the coastline and behind us in

precise grid-like patterns. The only place one could look and not see these monstrous blemishes was the ocean. So I gazed out at the ocean, the vast roiling wetness that I knew did not end at the horizon.

"Have you dreamed of this place?" Ro Bhavesh asked the vessel.

The vessel stood beside me, and she, too, gazed not at the compounds but at the ocean. "Oh yes," the vessel said. "I see this place." She hesitated. "But when I see it I scream."

I still could not look at the compounds. I could not look at Ro Bhavesh. In the desert, it is the sun you notice most, that huge orange orb that blankets the world in orange light, but here it is the feel of the wind you come away with; it is the stink of the ocean you remember, the salty wetness that clings to your skin and clothing, a wetness you cannot wash away until you ascend to Sapan.

"And why do you scream?" Ro Bhavesh asked.

The vessel now turned to gaze over at me with eyes so deep and black, like staring into a hole in the sky. I turned to her then, to this thing that had brought me to the desert and the ocean in the same day. I had to look at her now because she knew the truth, and was not afraid to speak it. She was not afraid of the truth because she had nothing to forfeit by its telling.

"I dream that the Kell take me here," she said. "I dream that they put things inside me, and these things grow, and the Kell rip them out and put in more. And it happens every day. I can smell the ocean but I can't see it."

"She has most certainly heard the Kell say something of this place," I said, but the wind took away the words, and the wind caught at my hair and pulled it loose from the tight, efficient style I had carefully maintained. It is not Kell hair I have, nor Kell hair I ever will have. Ro Bhavesh said, "But you said you dream of women, a base collective term for those of the female sex."

"That's a filthy word," I said, and turned to look at Ro Bhavesh. "Why take her here? Why show her this place? This is an unnecessary measure, and dangerous. If it's the genetically passed memory the Kell want to replicate, initiate another casting. There is no purpose to bringing her -"

"Do you question the Kell?" Ro Bhavesh said, and I saw more cold Kell calculation behind its blank stare.

"I have never questioned the Kell," I said.

"You have not yet over-questioned," Ro Bhavesh said. "That is why you are still living in Sapan. That is why you do not reside here."

I could offer no reply to those words but silence. To speak more would be to admit truth.

"These are not dreams you tell," Ro Bhavesh said to the vessel. "These are the memories of a dead casting. How much do you remember?"

The vessel gazed up at Ro Bhavesh, and I saw the wetness in her eyes. "I dream about women and men and things that weren't people. Things like you that killed all the men. Made women into vessels. The smart women you find, the ones who can lie and dream, you don't call them women. You can't call them women because they aren't, really. They can't carry anything anymore. You fix that. You use them for cities. And you call them men."

Ro Bhavesh smiled, turned to me. "You wonder why we have these experiments, Kadru?"

"I do not question the Kell," I said.

"We bring this vessel to the ocean to empty her of her contents and mix those favorable things we find within her with those favorable things we have extracted from others. That is the nature of the project. They are the vessels that host those perfect biological organisms we employ against our enemies. But of course you understand this, don't you? You understand what you are?"

"Of course, Ro Bhavesh," I said, and I began to feel the apprehension again, the hollow stab in my belly of something akin to fear.

"Then the next time we tell you to go to the desert and evaluate vessels we expect that you will remember what you are, what you could be. This vessel holds more useful material for our cause than you do, Kadru. Do not question us. If you forget your place again we will forget it also, and remove you to the other function your people serve."

Ro Bhavesh stood flanked by its impassive androgynies. As I looked from Ro Bhavesh to the androgynies I felt a deep well of hatred for those things without a clearly defined sex. They were not man or vessel, and stood one step closer to ascendance than I would ever be. They would never fear the ocean.

The Kell would never transport me back to the desert of my youth. If I left the city I would be sent into the gray compounds. I would become a vessel for Kell monstrosities, Kell viruses -- Kell weapons of war. They had altered me, yes, but I could be altered again. I could become one of those base things again, one of those things capable of breeding, of production, a vessel of birthing fluid and death. Here was the truth of my existence. Here it was unfolded before me by a vessel that dreamed and lied and remembered. I hated her for it. I hated her because she told me a truth I had almost succeeded in forgetting.

"Empty her," Ro Bhavesh said to the androgynies.

I looked away, to the ocean.

"Kadru," Ro Bhavesh said. "Watch."

I looked back at the vessel, at Daeva Four, the creature with the brown skin and lanky black hair. I did not want to look into the well of her eyes, but that was where my gaze fell. There are days when I wonder if I ever truly returned from the depths of those black eyes.

They did not kill her. To do so would waste the vessel. The three androgynies extracted small vials of blood from Daeva Four. She began to weep. Tears tumbled down her cheeks and were swept across her face by the wind. I was brought with her inside one of the compounds. I stood and watched as she wept and the screaming began. They immersed her skinny body in an embryonic solution. They inserted the viral organism. They put her in a long, dim room with the others, a room of cells made up of transparent glass. I could not hear the voices of those vessels encased in the glass. But I could see them. I could see their lives stretched out before them, days of birth and blood and death.

The androgynies did not look back at Daeva Four, her skinny body strapped down to the soft silvery table that molded itself to her form. I did look. And I did not forget.

I walked back outside into the salty wind. I did not ask what the Kell would do with Daeva's fluid, did not ask what plan they had to create a creature that remembered the dead past of others. I did not question the Kell.

Now when they send me into the desert I look for the dreamers. I look for the liars. I look for the ones who remember. I do not question my place. I am a teacher of men and androgynies and Kell progeny. I am a man of wisdom and reason and worth, but my worth is measured by that which I am not, that which I will never be.

Sometimes I remember the lie I am able to live because I am able to dream. Sometimes I dream I am halfway to ascendance, halfway between Kell and vessel. I am a man, I say. There are days when I believe this is true. There are days when I believe the Kell cannot harm me.

There are days when I dream of the ocean.

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