Ladybutt (joriejc2) wrote in paragraph_a_day,

Greetings and an update

First of all, greetings and salutations to our newest member, big_ragu! I hope you enjoy it here!

Second, I have completed chapter 2. The first 2 paragraphs you have seen already, but I polished them a little bit more. The rest is new. Cut for length. Thanks!

Chapter One is

Because the Gaians were limited primarily to the city of Gaia, and because paranoia reigned regarding undue pollution, only the infirm were allowed to use transportation machinery within the city limits. For those traveling to Foster City, Pax, or beyond, it was necessary to be transported more quickly, so they reserved the right to ride in vehicles powered by electricity. Why the Gaians were worried about these "clean running" vehicles polluting the air was beyond me. I tried to research the thing once, but my editor shot down the idea. I believed that the leaders of Gaia simply didn't want the Gaians to have the ability to leave, and I believe they were afraid of what the Burwadians would do if transportation was readily available, but maybe that's just a crazy idea. At any rate, I walked from my little office to Candace's home. It had all of the signs of a wealthy residence. There was an iron gate around the house, a fountain that enabled an irrigation system for ludicrously rich gardens, and doorknobs and other little accessories were made of copper. The house sat back far from the road as if it were hiding from loud noises or something else. I pushed a button on the intercom that was nestled in the front gate's corner.

"Name?" a voice said accusingly.

"Uh, yeah, I'm the journalist scheduled to meet with Artemisia?"

"Stand back."

I did what I was told. The gate opened. I walked down a gravelly path that was shaded by an arch of sharlen trees (the Gaians also referred to these as Burwadian Cherries). The path ended at a heavy door that was painted white, a sharp contrast with the cobalt house -- the wealthy Gaians had borrowed the look from the Burwadians. A door knocker in the shape of a Cootoo beetle begged me to make my presence officially known, but for some reason, my heart was making the same sound that I knew the door would make when I rapped it with the knocker. Why was I so worked up? I came close to turning around and retreating down the path that was laden with white petals, but just then the door creaked open, and there in the warm light of the day stood Artemisia.

She was smiling at me in a very strange way. Or maybe it was just my imagination. I was searching my mind for a clever greeting, but I was still unbelievably out of sorts for some reason.

"Come in," Artemisia said, still smiling.

She was wearing the traditional garb of a "laborer," which was quite similar to the simple, white, gauzey garments that Foster had seen when he first discovered the Burwadians. There were big pockets in the front to enable the slave to carry groceries or cleaning items, whatever was needed. The Burwadians were skilled in making clothing, but were not allowed to distinguish themselves by wearing any of their fine creations. Still, I found it strange that Artemisia was forced to greet people in her slave clothing. I would have thought her employers, as the Gaians called themselves, would have wanted her to look the part of an author when meeting with the press. In retrospect, maybe that just shows how accepting the Gaians were of their slaves' situations. There was nothing to be ashamed of.

Artemisia beckoned me into a small corner room. The walls were terra cotta. A round table made of the batchawu tree (akin to what Gaian architects referred to as Earthling mahogany) sat in the middle of the room, with two chairs made of the same material sitting on opposite sides. The chairs had intricate embroidered cushions, and the work was so beautiful I felt guilty sitting on them.

"Did you make these?" I asked, using my head to point at the cushions.

"Those? Yes. Many years ago. Before it was decided my creative juices would be better served flowing through people's brains instead of people's butts. If there's a difference."

I laughed nervously, perhaps because of Artemisia's joke, but more because I had finally managed to say something. I noticed a painting of Candace on the wall facing the door so that you couldn't miss her visage when you walked in. It became clear from the papers I saw strewn about and the readiness with which Artemisia helped me hook up my equipment that this was her meeting room, or rather the room she was allowed to use for her meetings, but it seemed like Candace still was determined that her presence had to be tangibly felt. Next to the portrait was a window that looked towards the pathway. I was sure this was not the best view in the house. And suddenly, my adrenaline morphed into pity for Artemisia, this powerful writer who yet had to clean house and do other chores before promoting her works, an action she was obligated to do so that her owners could get more money that would not be spent on her. It all seemed ruthlessly unfair.

Artemisia cleared her throat as if she was reading my thoughts and was uncomfortable with them.

"Have a seat, get out your recording equipment, and have some coffee," she offered.

Coffee, among other things, had been brought by the original Gaians, but had, like the Gaians themselves, changed over time. Instead of simply using coffee beans, which grew well in some places on Burwadee, the recipe had been expanded to include spices and other delicacies. It was an aristocratic beverage because it reflected ties to Earth, and because the ingredients were relatively hard to find. I was surprised Artemisia would be allowed to freely serve such a drink. I took a sip, relaxed, took a breath, and looked at my Ready-Pad to see what my real first question was supposed to be.

Suddenly, though, I felt that the questions that I had arranged were trite and meaningless. They were so run of the mill. Artemisia must have heard questions like mine a million times. I took a sip of coffee, trying to look like I was setting a mood or being pensive. I looked at my interview subject. Artemisia was not a full-blooded Burwadian; for reasons scientists could not figure out, the traits of the Gaians were dominant over Burwadian genes, even though the physiological make-up of both were remarkably similar. If there was any human blood flowing through a Burwadian, it would make itself visible in any number of ways. A half-blood would look almost entirely Gaian, with the Burwadian characteristics being limited to an ovular face or the most subtle of grey tones to the skin. A Burwadian who had Gaian blood further back would look predominately Gaian, but would carry enough Burwadian characteristics to make them targets in Gaian society. In the case of Artemisia, the media supposed she had a Gaian grandfather, making her one quarter Gaian. She had a Gaian face, but her eyes were violet, and she had the Burwadian dark circles around her eyes. She was tall like the Burwadians, but was not built like them; she had the physical make-up of a reasonably fit Gaian woman. She was aging like a Gaian too. Burwadians, once they have reached their adult form, do not age. They merely break down internally over time and hence might become hunched over or slower in movement. Artemisia had been a teenager when she had broken onto the writing scene. Now, at the age of 24, her face, along with the rest of her, had matured. Having begun with braided pigtails to accentuate the fact that she was a prodigy, Artemisia now wore her auburn hair at ear length.

“Maybe I should start this conversation,” Artemisia said to me suddenly. “You’re the most quiet interviewer I’ve talked to yet.”

I wondered how long I had been staring at her. What was wrong with me? It wasn’t like I was under the spell of “star power.” I had been dealing with intimidating politicians for the last two years, and had encountered other celebrities at political events. Never had I had any problem talking to any of them.

“I um…I’m sorry. I’m just feeling groggy today I guess,” I stammered and contorted my mouth into what I hoped was a smile.

Artemisia laughed. It was not a real “that was funny” laugh. It was a pity laugh. She was trying very hard to make me feel comfortable. The roles were supposed to be reversed.

“Well, like I said, I’ll start off the conversation, and maybe once you get going the coffee will have had time to kick in, and you’ll be on your way,” she said.

I nodded dumbly. I was disgusted with myself.

“So,” Artemisia said, mockingly putting her fist in front of my face as if it was a microphone, “What made you want to come here and interview me in the first place? You must have had a reason to come by here, unless you just wanted me to make coffee for you.”

“No…no, I didn’t expect coffee. I came here because…honestly, I don’t know. I felt like I had to talk to you, but as I sit here, I don’t really know what I was hoping to accomplish. I guess I thought that that would take care of itself.”

“Fair enough, fair enough.” Artemisia chuckled. It threw me off, that chuckle. It was the kind of laugh someone makes when they are hearing the same thing for the thousandth time. Yet I found it hard to believe so many people would have said the same thing. “Do you like my writing? What have you read? Maybe I can tell you what to ask me so you can get your story done.”

I was getting a little angry now, not only at myself, but also at her. I was mad at myself for being so vulnerable, so unprofessional. And I was mad at her for rubbing it in my face. She was two years older than me, I happened to know, but she acted like she was an all-knowing parent or grandparent even. I cleared my head and answered her most recent, condescending queries.

“I have only read one of your works completely, the most recent one…Thoughts on Fate and Other Tales. I have read bits and pieces of your short story collection, um, the one with the story about Parakusha and the marakini tree…”

“You mean A Deity has Spoken,” Artemisia said, smirking.

“Yes, that one. And I’ve read a few other poems. And honestly, even though I tried over and over again to read your work, it made me furious every single time. Absolutely furious.”

“Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Why does my work make you furious?” Artemisia at least was not being condescending anymore.

“Because you are Burwadian. You aren’t a full-blood, but I mean, look at you!”

“Look at me what?”

“You have a talent, obviously, but you are sitting there in a slave’s garment, sitting on cushions that you made for your owners, and you ARE owned, you’re forced to work your author duties around whether it’s time to clean your owners’ house, yet in your works it’s “oh, the Burwadians were just wild good-for-nothings before the Gaians got here, thank goodness for the Gaians.” I don’t get it. I find it infuriating.”

I felt like I was at a trip to the psychologist and that I had just had a major breakthrough. It was becoming clear to me that my hesitation had been how to present my frustration to a renowned author without being offensive. I guess Artemisia’s disarming, all-knowing chuckle had let me loose.

Artemisia crossed her legs slowly, sat back in her chair, and crossed her arms across her chest. Her smile had gone, but she was not angry either. Rather it was like she was looking at me…or through me…from across a crowded room. Her violet eyes made the stare seem more penetrating than it probably was. After what seemed like a long time, she said,

“I would like to work on a project with you. I have been waiting for the right type of writer, and I think you’re it. I want to write the story of my life so far, and I want you to help me.”

I think I almost fell off my chair. If I didn’t, the sensation was the same. I certainly had done nothing to impress her, and I was certain my little rant would have done nothing but offend.

“Are you joking?” I asked, not able to hide the frustration in my tone.

“Do I look like I’m joking?”

She didn’t. She looked more serious than I had yet seen her. I regretted asking if it was a joke. I cleared my throat.

“I would be happy to work on that with you. How do you want to…”

“Give me your contact information. I never know what my schedule is going to be from day to day. As you so correctly pointed out, I AM owned. But I will think about how often I will be able to work on this, and then I will call you with that information. We will go from there.”

I gave Artemisia the video-com number for my office. Before taking it from me, she said,

“I am trusting you not to speak of this to anyone. I am not doing this as part of my writing career so that I can make mon…so that I can earn money for my owners. This is for me. It is important that you not leak this to anyone, not anyone. Do you understand? This is not about my career, or yours.”

I nodded emphatically and tried to make my face into one that looked as trustworthy as possible. I was not exactly sure how to do such a thing. It must have worked though. She took the number from me and tucked it into a bag she had lying by her chair. Then she reached her hand out and shook mine.

“Thank you, and I hope to speak with you again soon,” she said, suddenly seeming very formal and serious. In the glassy cover that had been laid over Candace’s portrait, I saw a reflection of the real Candace, standing just outside the room where Artemisia and I had been talking.

“Thank you for meeting with me, and,” I turned around to face Candace, “Thank you for letting me have this time with your, with Artemisia.”

I was too embarrassed to look at Artemisia again. I had almost said “your slave” in front of her after ridiculing her for not being more sensitive to the Burwadian plight. Candace shook my hand and escorted me to the door.

“She’s quite a creature, isn’t she?” Candace said as I was leaving.

At a loss for words at the rhetorical question, I gave a sort of half snort that may have resembled an agreeable chuckle. With every step I took down the pathway, I heard the word “hypocrite” echo in my head. How could I have lambasted Artemisia when I didn’t have it in myself to correct a Gaian, to simply remind this attorney that her slave was a living being of high intelligence, not a “creature” Even domestic pets would be called by their species name at the very least. They would not be called “nice beast” or “nice animal.” No, they would be given an identity. What was wrong with me? That seemed to be the question for the day.

As I crawled into my bed that evening, I wondered when, or if, Artemisia would really call me to work on her project. I dreamt that I had turned around while walking down the path, and that I had seen her standing at the window in her meeting room, watching me go with a look halfway between disgust and despair.
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