Wednesday, 16 May 2018

"What was better: bombs or developers?" from today's story: "Elegy for a Planet" by J.A. Pak. With today's story, Writing In A Woman's Voice will be on break until May 23, 2018. Happy days to all. 

Elegy for a Planet

by J.A. Pak

The planet was thick with ice. Milky white. Like the fairy tales she’d once loved, ice queens ruling over white sugar kingdoms—her kingdom was below.

She’d been watching the small planet rotate for days, her yacht its only moon. Why did she fight so hard to reclaim it? She had no idea. Ten years of maneuvering through petty government bureaucracy for the deeds to a solid snow globe. It wasn’t the principle—that was the story her press agent had sold to rally public support. Not that there wasn’t injustice. There was a human-shitload of injustice. And it was galling how the government still (after over two hundred years) refused to admit it had stolen the planet right from under her family.

Her family begins with matriarch Karali Bai. That is, the myth of her family begins with Karali Bai. Obsessive, single-minded Karali Bai. Karali Bai who needed a crazy dream to make her life feel real. Perhaps that wasn’t fair, she thought. Who knew why she needed a crazy dream. The crazy dream that was now a funny little nursery rhyme, although, these days, few knew who Karali Bai was or what the rhyme was all about.

Karali Bai’s dream had been to recreate the Origin Planet. As exactly as was humanly possible. (Well, that was the original madness. How do you recreate a planet that’s now myth’s exhalation?) Karali Bai’s first step was to find the right-sized planet. Which she finally did, hidden inside a neglected part of the galaxy. The planet was poor in resources, the atmosphere so thin, it was mostly passing whim. Karali Bai registered her claim, named the planet and spent the rest of her life terraforming it.

Her daughter continued the work. While the planet churned and percolated, she traveled the galaxy, combing every DNA museum and research center for authentic flora and fauna. She’d have to choose wisely. The only instructions her mother had left was “no Homo sapiens.”  Homo sapiens had been the Origin Planet’s plague. Even the family was forbidden, living on a space station far above, affectionately nicknamed the Ark.

She wondered: was the planet Karali Bai’s offering? Atonement? And why would Karali Bai think she was the Homo sapiens to make such an astonishing gesture? Narcissist? What was it that she was really making an atonement for?

It took three more generations to turn the resource-poor planet into a beautiful swirl of blue and white. Nature was taking root and the planet was happy.

A beautiful scientifically-engineered gem always attracts attention. Karali Bai’s planet was declared the most stunning planet ever terraformed. Every travel site listed it as the destination of the century (the fairytale rain forests, pristine oceans untouched by man, savannahs on which mythical creatures roam, a once-in-a lifetime experience not to be missed). Cruise ships clogged the orbit, their passengers livid because they were refused entry. Developers demanded rights. Her family refused again and again, and this led to the inevitable: eminent domain. ‘Each and every successfully terraformed planet is precious and necessary for the well-being of the human species.’

Resource-poor planet. It was greedy the way we categorize planets, she thought. Greedy the way we see each other. How we plunder another human being’s dream for something as superficial as a two-day vacation. Was she down there? Karali Bai? Was she haunting the planet? Was her soul the lingering milk of ice? Did the Karali Bais lure her here, thinking she would understand? Was there something expected of her?

Each successor of the planet took the name Karali Bai. Re-dedication. Re-birth. The last Karali Bai planted three bombs and destroyed the planet. Herself too, the Ark diving into the boiling blaze. The many-generations of research and technology exploded all over the atmosphere. It must have been a spectacular funeral pyre, she thought.

The last Karali Bai was convicted of ecological murder. Tried in absentia because of the collective, hypocritical outrage. There were many instances of women living in extreme conditions, whether social or environmental or economic, who killed themselves and their children to escape suffering. After all, why would a mother want to abandon her children? The defense pleaded insanity. Legal discourse was no place to understand re-birth. And a show trial needed easy lessons, easy condemnation. Show trials were release valves, she thought, a way to place collective guilt onto one poor defenseless woman. The prosecution even resurrected the original Karali Bai as witness against her. Shameless.

Was it so strange, she wondered, what Karali Bai had done? Did it matter whether a planet died in a couple of days or a couple of millennia? What was better: bombs or developers? The quick death or the agonizingly slow? Wasn’t love a better reason for death than corporate profit? And if Karali Bai had been insane, surely she was driven to it by the thought of the never-ending invasion of silly tourists and their insatiable need for souvenirs. The planet would have been picked dry in less than a decade. Homo sapiens were scavengers by nature. Shortsighted, efficient scavengers.

She sighed, the sigh booming through the yacht and alarming the staff. If the Karali Bais thought she would be their successor, they would soon be bitterly disappointed. She’d been a Mistport Minnie her entire life, her singular talent buying and promoting retail fantasies. Terraforming planets was beyond her meager talents. And her ambition. The best she could do, realistically, was establish a small estate on the ice surface—the luxury-end bio domes were amazing these days. But that would eat into her entire fortune (bio domes were notorious money pits). Her younger self would not have hesitated. But now: she would turn ninety this year, entering the first stage of middle age; it’s in middle age that the future becomes concrete, burdensome, constricting, shaming.

Unless you were Karali Bai.

What would she find if she were to thaw the planet? What was hidden in those milky layers? In her? How could you be so fearless, Karali Bai?

For now she would remain inside her yacht, the orbit home, for home was something she’d lost long ago and this was as close to a homecoming as she would ever find—

And then she laughed. 

Karali Bai, Karali Bai,
What planets do you grow?
Karali Bai, Karali Bai,
What madness do you sow?
Take a planet and make it glow,
Light some bombs and make it blow.
Karali Bai, Karali Bai,
What madness do you grow?

* * * * *

"Elegy For A Planet" was first published in The Fem Lit.

A recipient of a Glass Woman Prize, J.A. Pak’s writing has been published in a variety of publications, including 7x7, Unbroken Journal, Joyland, Queen Mob’s Tearoom, Luna Luna, etc.

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