A Symposium in Space
K.S. Trenten © 2019
All Rights Reserved
One: An Invitation
The invitation resembled an eyeball.
A floating, pink orb drifted up to the open panels of Pausania’s apartment and fixed me with its lidless stare.
I froze, unsure how to react. An unfashionable citizen of the Intergalactic Democracy, I still ran around in a vest with pocket protectors, unfamiliar with the latest technology. The bobbing globe made me think of tales of magic from Ancient Earth.
“Phaedra, beloved of Pausania.” A melodic voice, filled with sly suggestion, came from the orb. “I’d be very pleased if you and your lover would attend my symposium in space.”
“A symposium?” I murmured, confused by the archaic word. It conjured more images of Ancient Earth, but this time of our patriarchal past. An era when those who looked down at you were referred to as patronizing rather than matronizing.
Such barbarism was behind us. A new democracy had spread out from Ancient Earth, across space, freeing women from their former bondage to male thoughts and ideas.
The only problem was this democracy was dominated by the wealthy and the powerful, just as too many societies had been in the past. They controlled the spaceways, spamming the universe with their advertising. Their shining, three-dimensional billboards and oversized spacecrafts were everywhere, dominating the skyline.
It was more than a little annoying.
“A symposium is nothing more than a dinner party.” Melodic and laced with sarcasm, my paramour’s voice floated into the room before she made her appearance.
Swallowing a sigh, I turned to face Pausania.
She glided into the room with a lazy grace, loose leggings swishing around her slender limbs. As always, she managed not to drag the tassels at the ends of them across her floor. The pants matched the fawn-colored blouse she wore. Tawny beads weighed down the edges of the tunic.
Pausania’s attire was usually a compromise between fashionable and comfortable. Her blouse complemented her auburn hair, falling in thick, luxuriant waves over her shoulders.
Those russet tresses were coarser than they looked. They still yielded to brushes, combs, or my worshipful fingers. Tiny strands of copper mingled with the auburn locks, giving her head a halo’s gleam.
It wasn’t natural. Very little about Pausania was natural. She still made everything about her appearance seem artless and unfeigned.
A pity the same wasn’t true of her personality.
She stalked toward the orb, carrying a wine glass in one hand. It tilted precariously, threatening to drip its contents upon her elaborately patterned rug.
This irritated me. I’d got her that furnishing, saved up my meager pennies from poetry readings and space runs to see that she had something special to adorn her apartment. True, she’d never shown more than a temporary admiration for its beauty, but her casual contempt was like a slap in the face.
“Phaedra has no interest in your shallow attempts to feed on her emotions, Agathea.” Pausania waved a hand at the orb.
“Agathea?” I swallowed at hearing her name.
Agathea of one of the wealthiest, most prominent citizens of the Intergalactic Democracy. One who could arrange to have my poems broadcast over the biggest billboards that glowed in major cities on major planets.
“The Agathea?” I asked for clarity. “The third-time winner of the Tragedy award? The one who funds and owns most worlds’ rights to the image of Aphrodite?”
“Once again, you’re showing your naiveté, your complete lack of any galactic sensibility.” Pausania glanced upward at the ceiling. Perhaps she was asking the ancient goddesses to give her strength. “There’s only one Agathea. No one else can use her name without incurring a fine as epic as her tragedies.” She smacked her slim hand against her forehead. “Next you’ll be calling life givers women.”
“Huh?” I opened and closed my mouth. “Why would I call women life givers?”
“You may call it a lack of galactic sensibility. I call it a charming display of innocence.” The orb throbbed in midair, quivering with hungry intensity. “Pausania, I simply must have the two of you at my symposium.” A slight note of menace entered the voice. “Do you truly wish to shun my company? I’m collecting guests exalted enough to impress even one as cynical as yourself.”
“Exalted isn’t how I’d describe your collections.” Pausania waved her free hand in languid dismissal. “You’re all about the latest trends. You never touch anything that questions or casts them in an unflattering light.”
“Ah, but would I be inviting Sokrat if that were true?” A sly tone laced with humor emitted from the mechanical device.
I wondered if Agathea had given it her voice. What projected from the orb was such a caressing, sensual tone. It rivaled Pausania’s own for the levels of malice it could deliver, wrapped in a disguise of courtesy. I wasn’t used to this level of complexity in a simple communicator, but I was behind the times. Or so Pausania kept telling me.
Perhaps she was right. I had no idea who Sokrat was.
Pausania did, judging from the way her eyes widened. “Sokrat? How did you manage to persuade her to come?”
“I believe she welcomes an escape from the affections of her overly enthusiastic beloved. Thus she will be honoring us with her presence at this gathering, along with Aristophania.”
At least I’d heard of Aristophania. Her webcasts were hilarious, although Pausania and others muttered that she was quite dated and stale in her routines.
“Sokrat and Aristophania.” What appeared to be an eyelid lowered in a coy fashion over the orb while regarding Pausania. “You cannot accuse either of them of being simply what’s trending.”
“No, I can’t.” Pausania lowered her hand to knot it into a fist at her hip. “Which makes me wonder what you could possibly want with those two cantankerous old life givers. Not to mention Phaedra and myself.”
“I plan to reveal that to all of you…if you come.” The ball moved away to hover in the open window. “I hope curiosity will temper caution.”
The orb moved away from the window, gaining speed when it took to the sky.
“Impossible woman!” Pausania growled, shaking her wine glass at the departing silhouette. Sure enough, red liquid spilled out of it. “Thinking her wealth and power are enough to lure you to one of her dull dinner parties, let alone me!”
“You just used the word ‘woman’,” I ventured. “Didn’t you just chastise me for saying that?”
“Of course I chastised you.” Pausania ran a hand through her hair in a self-conscious gesture. “We’re trying to get away from a past dominated by men in the name we use for ourselves.”
“Why use it?” I asked. “If you feel the word is wrong, why do you keep using it?”
“Because I can’t forget it!” Pausania slammed the glass into the wall, heedless of the broken shards. They sliced her hand causing crimson wounds to bloom all over her smooth skin. “Men have committed crime after crime, started countless wars, preying upon one another along with us. We should never forget that, especially when we start considering offering them citizenship in the Intergalactic Democracy!”
Ah, so this was what bothered her. The possibility of men being able to vote once more in the Democracy, to have a voice in public assemblies.
Official herstory (intergalactic schools no longer used the word ‘history’, just as they no longer used the word ‘patronizing’) taught young girls that the beginnings of our democracy started with the colonization of other planets. Many of these off-world settlements had been started by women, hoping to create separate cultures apart from the patriarchy we couldn’t seem to shake off back on Ancient Earth.
Men had started a terrible war, decimating a huge portion of the population. In the end, Ancient Earth had survived. Humanity, to use another archaic word, had survived.
Most of those survivors had been colonists who were already creating revolutionary cultures, dependent on the terrain of their individual planets.
Those colonists never forgot Ancient Earth or the lessons they’d learned from her suffering. Men became less and less a part of the new worlds rising in power and prosperity.
Doctors learned ways to cultivate and clone sperm from existing samples which had been carried from Ancient Earth. A brilliant young scientist created something called sohm, a substitute for sperm which could be used to create a fetus.
Women could hand over their ova to a fetus creche, where it could be grown in warm fluid filled with all the essential nutrients needed to develop it. This was a much more comfortable way of having a child than going through pregnancy.
I wondered if we hadn’t lost something in abandoning the rite of childbirth. I’d never known my mother, not really. I’d been raised by Timea, my mother’s assistant, and a number of maternal substitutes.
My own mother had been too busy to bother with me. Donating her ova to a fetal creche had been her way of being gracious enough to offer her superior genes to society.
When I turned out to have little ambition worth notice, my mother lost interest in me. Timea had remained in contact with me before she died from space sickness, one of the few illnesses the doctors of the Intergalactic Democracy couldn’t treat.
Losing her made me think more about life and birth, the value of both.
What would it have been like, to grow inside another woman’s body, being nourished by her, my heart beating inside her? It sounded terrifying, being that close to someone else, needing someone else so utterly and completely.
Perhaps if I had experienced such closeness, I wouldn’t seek it with other people. I wouldn’t need them so badly.
Perhaps I wouldn’t have been desperate for any kind of affection I might get from Pausania.
“Men might have done those things to fill the emptiness inside of them,” I murmured. “A child could never grow within their bodies. Maybe that inability to create life became a void they sought to fill.”
“Men saw women swelling with life, only to be eaten with envy at the sight?” Men were always the villains of herstory as far as Pausania was concerned. “Don’t make excuses for them. Nothing can ever pardon them for what they’ve made.”
“What about what we’ve done?” I glanced at Pausania’s hand. “Have you even noticed you’re bleeding?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” She looked down at her bloody hand with an impatient irritation. “They’re only cuts.”
“Cuts hurt.” I shook my head. “Stop acting like what you do only affects you.”
“How dare you…” Pausania trembled all over. She took a long, slow breath. “Why are you complaining? Have I ever been ungenerous? I’ve done a far better job of taking care of you than you’ve ever done, Phaedra. Your pitiful attempts at self-sufficiency wouldn’t even buy you a short essay on the net!”
I swallowed, feeling myself quiver all over at this accusation. In truth, I wished I was more independent. My skills hadn’t been very profitable.
“One thing you have been blessed with is an abundance of good looks.” Pausania waved a free hand to gesture to my head, hips, and legs. “You won’t keep that blessing if you allow a sour attitude to show.”
“If I allow a sour attitude?!” I balled my hands into fists. “You’re lecturing me about sourness?”
“Now calm down.” Pausania tapped her finger against her lips. “No need to get upset.”
“Oh, really?” My temper flared. I shook my fist at Pausania. “Look at you. You blame men, Agathea, me, anybody and everyone else for your unhappiness. Did you ever consider that it might be your own fault?”
“I…I…” Pausania stammered. Her eyes widened and her lower lip trembled. “How can you talk back to your lover like that? Have you no shame?”
“Have you?” I countered. “Guess where the concept of lover and beloved comes from? Men used to take boys as their beloveds, centuries ago on Earth. This whole notion of a lover guiding and dominating a beloved was theirs.”
“Not entirely.” Pausania bit on her trembling lip. A bead of red appeared upon it. “Life givers have redefined this relationship, making it—“
“—even more domineering if we’re an example of this.” I took a step away from Pausania toward the door.
Part of me wanted to turn back. Part of me wanted to take her bleeding hand in mine and kiss it. Part of me wanted to apologize, to offer anything that might soothe her hurt.
I was beginning to wonder if anything I did would ever soothe Pausania’s hurt. Perhaps the only one who could heal Pausania was Pausania.
I needed to step back and let her do so.
I stared at the archaic wood greaves in the portal to our home. So hopelessly old-fashioned. One of the things Pausania and I had in common was we both loved ancient, traditional things for all their connection with a patriarchal past.
Why did those connections have to be so bitter?
“I’m going to Agathea’s symposium.”
I didn’t turn around. If I looked into Pausania’s eyes, I might still yield. I could end up apologizing and falling into her arms. Again.
Not this time.
“I hope you’ll be there.” I laid my hand on the door panel, a bit of the modern amidst the archaic. Touch sensitive, it made the wooden barrier slide open. “For my sake, if not for your own.”
I stalked out of our home and into the world.