Siren traces the marks on Inyanna’s body. There are concave hollows in Inyanna’s arms, and there are connectors along her ribs that allow her to jack into her windbeast when she is in flight. Under Siren’s fingers, the patterns on Inyanna’s shoulders register as bumps—like tiny hills grouped together in circles that wind in and around each other.
“That tickles,” Inyanna says.
Her voice sends shivers along Siren’s spine and her fingers clutch and caress Inyanna’s skin.
“There is no one more beautiful than you,” Siren says.
She worships Inyanna’s body and follows the shape of muscle and bone with her hands. There is no fat on her body and Siren takes note of this too. Her fingers glide over her love’s hipbones, and she feels the muscles contract and hears Inyanna’s indrawn breath.
“There,” Inyanna says.
The shiver in her voice makes Siren smile.
“Here?” she asks.
She blows gently and watches Inyanna stretch and reach upwards.
In the moment when Inyanna reaches climax, Siren feels as if she has traced the road from Lower Ayudan to that place where the high gods dwell.
The Matriarchy had sent Inyanna to Siren with an express command. For all that Siren was one of the common, she had been and still was the best body cartographer in all of Ayudan. She could have become Qa’ta if she wished, but she’d always cherished the freedom that came with being common and no matter that being Qa’ta came with privileges, she couldn’t bear to leave her carefree life behind.
Inyanna was Timor’an–more than that she was gifted with insight and with the Matriarch’s blood. She would ascend to the Matriarch’s place if she could prove herself in flight. And there lay the heart of the problem–Inyanna was meant to fly and yet she could not.
“I tried when I was seven,” Inyanna said. “My cousins had all ascended to the skies by then. It was necessary to ascend into flight if I wished to bond fully with the pillor’ak gifted to me by my aunt.”
Siren hummed under her breath, she kept her eyes steady on the screen where colors fluctuated as Inyanna kept up her narration.
“I couldn’t ascend,” Inyanna said. “I tried to jack in, but the windbeast didn’t respond.”
A vivid splash of scarlet accompanied the agitation in Inyanna’s voice. Siren noted where the splash took place and mapped it onto the image that was growing under her hands.
“My aunt said there was something wrong with the pillor’ak and we sent it back to the home wood. A year later, I tried again. This time with a pillor’ak sent to me by my cousin.”
A riot of colors bloomed on the screen. A scream of emeralds and violets merged with red.
“It was me, of course,” Inyanna said.
There was resignation in her voice and onscreen the colors turned a pale waxy blue. The color bled from the right side of Inyanna’s brain. It bled into the tiny canals and crevices until her entire brain was blue. Siren made a note on the grid. The color had emerged from a tube situated where it should not be. Perhaps the tube was part of the explanation for Inyanna’s inability to fly.
“What does the map tell you?”
Siren had been summoned to the Matriarch soon after Inyanna had gone home. Dressed in the traditional garb of the Timor’an, the Matriarch was a sight to behold. She was impatient too, and her multi-colored skirts swished and jerked around her legs as she walked to and fro in front of the dais.
“It’s too early to tell,” Siren said. “I’ve noted an irregularity close to the parietal lobes. There is a protrusion there that bleeds blue when in a state of dispair.”
“Well then, do something about it,” the Matriarch said. “A simply relocation should be easy for the technicians.”
“I’ll see to it,” Siren said. “I want to record everything on the grid and conduct a thorough examination before I send her on to the techs.”
“You’re the cartographer,” the Matriarch said. “I trust this matter into your hands, Siren. If the Patriarchy should ever get wind of this, they will find a way to use it to our disadvantage.”
Technically, the struggle between Lower Ayudan and Middle Ayudan was at a standstill. Both parties had conceded to a truce and representatives were meeting in Aliette. A neutral city with a strong and wise leader at its head, Aliette’s policy of non-partisanship, made it the ideal place for talks.
Siren was well aware of the Patriarchy’s desire to keep Lower Ayudan in subjugation. It didn’t matter that they were engaged in negotiations towards Lower Ayudan’s autonomy, if the Patriarchy learned about Inyanna and her failure to fly, they would find a way to use that to their advantage. The talks were delicate in nature, tempers were high and the Patriarchy was not willing to concede its defeat so easily or to yield Lower Ayudan into the hands of the Matriarchy and her fabled Timor’an.
As she worked on Inyanna’s body map, Siren thought of a story passed on from generation to generation. An artist named Corazon had recently rendered the story on movable canvas so viewers would never forget the most essential parts of it.
In the first panel, Corazon had depicted a qa’ta shut away in her tower. Surrounded by the paraphernalia of her calling, the qa’ta sat at a table scribbling busily on a bit of parchment.
This was the first segment. Corazon had titled this segment “Thought” and it implied the Timor’an being birthed in the qa’ta’s mind.
The purists did not like this segment of Corazon’s rendering. They claimed that to say the Timor’an were first birthed in the qa’ta’s mind was equivalent to saying that the place of the Timor’an was due to the thought of a qa’ta.
In the second segment, an automated qi’ma stood by the qa’ta. The qi’ma stared at its mistress with huge eyes, for in this segment the qa’ta had evolved. Where, in the first panel, her form had been common, in this second panel, her features had taken on a definitive Timor’an cast.
There, for all the world to see, were the beak-shaped nose and the huge slanted eyes. Along the qa’ta’s hairline was a circular pattern similar to the pattern along the Matriarch’s own hairline. To enhance the similarity, Corazon had outlined the pinpricks in white and the pattern was startling against the qa’ta’s dark skin.
There was another change in the panel. Through an open window, the viewer could see the face of a windbeast peering in while the qa’ta scribbled away at her desk.
“The eye becomes . . .” Corazon had entitled this segment. There were some who claimed that the qa’ta was not becoming Timor’an, but rather, the qa’ta had once been Timor’an and was reverting to her true self.
The intense discussions kept Siren occupied for days as she followed threads of conversation on various screens in her workplace.
Between the second and the final panel, there should have been another, but the artist had opted not to display it, and in the last panel, the qa’ta fully turned Timor’an was shown on the back of the windbeast. The expression on her and on the windbeast’s face was ecstatic. Corazon had not turned away from depicting the thumb-sized holes along the Timor’an’s ribs. She had not turned away from showing the Timor’an jacked into her beast in mid-flight.
The entire set was stunning and Siren had lusted after them. Even incomplete, they had been far beyond her purse. A year later, after much scrimping and saving, Siren had finally been able to purchase a copy of the original renderings.
If she magnified it, she could see the paper on the qa’ta’s desk. The scribbles were more than just scribbles. They were a code that only another cartographer would understand. It was a subtle hint, a wink from the artist that said the qa’ta had been a body cartographer.
“Do you think the technicians will be able to fix me?” Inyanna asked.
She was inside the cocoon, and her voice came out as a muffled whisper.
“If I am doing this thing right, and I am too experienced to do it wrong, then they should be able to right the lines that went wrong and you should be able to jack into a pillor’ak and fly as you were meant to fly.”
Siren adjusted the gaze on the machine. The cocoon was one she’d had made after a visit to the Veils. She had watched the stoic Nahipan as they went about their business and had observed a cocoon which was put to use at certain intervals of the day.
Drawing closer, she had been surprised to see that the cocoon uncovered extraneous layers, laying bare the cords of muscle and the line of nerves underneath.
Fascinated by the cocoon, she’d obtained permission from the Nahipan’s chief technician and with his help she had managed to recreate a facsimile in Lower Ayudan.
It made her work so much easier, she thought.
“I can’t wait to fly,” Inyanna said. “I dream of it, Siren. You just don’t know how.”
“A little more patience,” Siren said. “If you grow too excited the screen explodes with color and I won’t be able to pinpoint where other lines might have gone wrong.”
Inyanna fell silent, but Siren could sense the impatience in her. Inyanna’s muscles twitched, the claws on her feet stretched and contracted and through the cocoon, Siren could hear the nervous click-clack of Inyanna’s fingers.
“Stop fidgetting,” Siren said. “You’ll mess up my data.”
The cocoon rendered every wire visible. There among the layers of muscle, Siren saw where they had been twisted into chaos. The damage was not limited to Inyanna’s arms, it was there too along the line of her ribs and in the paths that ran down her legs. If Inyanna wished to gain flight, it would take more than a simple operation.
“Were you able to see how the damage was done?” the Matriarch asked.
Siren shook her head, no.
“If someone had tampered with her, it could only have been while she was in the womb,” Siren said.
A cheer rose from outside, and Siren winced. While the representatives from Aliette had not yet returned, the news was positive. That, coupled with temperate days, made for a festive mood.
“It could be innocent,” Siren said. “There have been no other instances such as that of Inyanna, and she has reached maturity without trouble.”
The Matriarch grimaced.
“I don’t like the idea of someone tampering with the unborn,” she said. “It galls me to think we might be harboring a traitor in our midst.”
“It could be a fluke,” Siren said. “Perhaps her bearer was not receptive.”
She knew she was looking for excuses. It was a miracle that Inyanna had lived to maturity. Siren had seen Timor’an with their insides mixed up the way Inyanna’s was. Such brokenness only happened after a great crash and of the number Siren had seen only two retained their old vessels.
“She will need a new vessel,” Siren continued. “It will be the easiest way and the safest.”
“You know what it means,” the Matriarch said. “She will still be Inyanna, but she won’t be your Inyanna.”
Siren started. Her eyes met the knowing gaze of her Matriarch.
“Crippled as she is, she is still Timor’an,” the Matriarch said. “Do not think your attachment has escaped my gaze.”
What could she say in response to such a statement? Siren simply stared and waited for the Matriarch to continue.
“Anyway, it’s not our decision to make,” the Matriarch said. “It’s her life–her choice whether to cling to what is between you or to grab hold of flight.”
Siren marked the points of entry on the grid. This was the map of her love’s body. She noted down where the irregularities began and traced the path of the wires that have been so mixed and mangled there was little chance of restoring them to the point of flight.
The Matriarch suspected that there was a traitor in their midst. Siren thought that if there was one, then that one must also have the gift of cartography. No one else could possibly do such a deed without understanding the inner roads through which the wires traversed.
She sensed Inyanna before her love spoke, and in her heart she already knew what words Inyanna would say.
“It won’t be a goodbye,” Inyanna said. “Surely you understand, Siren. I can’t live without flight. I dream of it, I yearn for it, and if I don’t at least try, I will go mad.”
Siren nodded and continued with her work. Her fingers traced the image of her love’s body. Such beautiful lines, she thought. And inside she felt a little grief because Inyanna would probably forget her, and even if she did remember her new vessel would not be the one that Siren knew so well.
“Look at me,” Inyanna said. “Please, Siren. Just turn around and look. If we must say goodbye, then let us say it in the right way.”
“That’s unfair,” Siren replied. “Telling me we’ll say goodbye in the way lovers say goodbye to their Only. Am I your Only, Inyanna? Am I the unforgettable one?”
She saw the tears in Inyanna’s eyes when she turned.
It would be so easy to cry, Siren thought. But she had never taken the easy way.
“You are my only,” Inyanna said. “Even if it was never witnessed before the elders and the Matriarch, I will say it to you now. When I open my eyes in that new vessel, I will still know you.”
Siren’s laugh was short and dry.
“Let us say goodbye,” she said to Inyanna. “If you should remember after you are renewed, then I will say my words to you in front of everyone who will hear it. If you should forget, I will pack away my memories and not cling to promises you cannot keep.”
There was sadness in Inyanna’s eyes, and yet, at the same time there was relief.
This last memory, Siren kept with her as she packed her books and her charts away. She had asked the Matriarch to transfer to the tower in Ducligan where she could work in privacy and decipher the puzzle left behind after Inyanna’s successful renewal.
There was no doubt in Siren’s mind that a cartographer was meddling with the Timor’an. But to a purpose that could not yet be discerned. Shortly after Inyanna’s first flight, the Matriarch had brought another flyer to Siren. Like Inyanna, the tampering had started before birth. Thankfully, the flyer had not yet reached maturation and the tangles had not yet grown as complex as they had by her former love.
There were others as well, and Siren had collated the data sent to her. She would study the grids in the quiet, and hopefully she would find some clue that would point her towards whoever was behind these crimes.
Up ahead, she could see a flock of pillor’ak. The windbeasts whirled and looped in flight while the Timor’an shrieked their delight. Inyanna was up there. Not the one whose body she had traced, not the Inyanna whose inner map she knew so well.
A flyer detached from the group and swooped low. She could see ecstasy on that face, and the lines of that body projected utter joy.
“Goodbye,” Siren whispered. “Goodbye, my Only.”
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipino writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy. A graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop, Rochita was the recipient of the 2009 Octavia Butler Scholarship, and the first Filipina writer to attend Clarion West. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, and Weird Tales Magazine. In the Philippines, her short fiction has been published in Philippine Panorama, Philippine Speculative Fiction volume two, and Philippine Speculative Fiction volume four.
Rochita currently resides in The Netherlands with her husband and her two children. She writes a regular column for Munting Nayon, the Filipino-Dutch community paper, and is a communications volunteer for Stichting Bayanihan (a self-help women’s organization with the goal of empowering Filipinas in the Netherlands and helping Filipinas to integrate into the Dutch society).
Rochita says that her inspiration for this story is the above image, “Creation Of The Birds”, by artist Remedios Vario. From this link, it says that Remedios Vario is “considered one of the greatest surrealist painters of the 20th century.”