Yuri, in a Blue Dress

Fiction / Rebecca Adams Wright

:: Yuri, in a Blue Dress ::

04:03:24

Today is the day 100 crip­ples the alien over­lords.

***

05:05:17

She descends the stairs inside the chrome sphere with the oth­ers, rank and file. She presents her palm to the palm-scan­ner and her eye to the iris-scan­ner and the cleft of her body to the labi­al-scan­ner. She walks nude through the sphere’s nar­row inter­nal cor­ri­dors and a series of advanced dig­i­tal imag­ing sys­tems. She takes the brit­tle black pill an alien gives her and cracks it in her hand. The sound of nine­ty-nine oth­er num­bers crack­ing their pills at the same time is the sound of a steel ship rend­ing. Nanobots swarm over her body. These bots keep her warm and allow her to breathe on the planet’s sur­face, but they also keep her tame. If she tries to rebel in any way, they will lock. She will be trapped inside their armor with her­self.

***

06:16:45

One hun­dred human beings exit the sphere and array them­selves before the great undu­lat­ing swath of the alien army. They stand on ground so hot and scarred that with­out the nanobots it would melt the skin from their flesh and the flesh from their bones and their bones last of all. The sun ris­es over a denud­ed atmos­phere and burns in black­ness. Earth is dead and flak­ing. Earth is a Hiroshi­ma shad­ow.

***

06:17:53

The alien com­man­der, as it does every morn­ing, deliv­ers a kind of instruc­tion­al talk to its sub­or­di­nates. One of the num­bers is always killed dur­ing this talk. As far as 100 knows, there may once have been a mil­lion num­bers. Even a bil­lion. It is pos­si­ble that every per­son on Earth was spared the plan­e­tary eco­log­i­cal holo­caust and impris­oned in the sphere like her­self, just for the pur­pose of being stabbed or flensed or flechet­ted or liq­ui­dat­ed dur­ing one of the commander’s talks.

If not for the killing, the instruc­tion would be silent and dull. The aliens do not speak in a range that humans can hear; the commander’s voice reg­is­ters to 100 only as a jumpy and uncom­fort­able feel­ing in her mus­cles.

***

07:39:08

The talk has end­ed with the cre­ma­tion of 22. The aliens stir his ash­es with a kind of glow­ing plas­tic stick. If any­thing is gleaned from this, 100 is not aware of the les­son. But she is still alive. The nanobots march her away from the vac­u­ous yel­low eye of the sun and back into the pro­tec­tion of the sphere.

***

07:50:36

100’s nanobots are scur­ry­ing off her limbs and into their ster­il­iza­tion recep­ta­cle. She pass­es back through the dig­i­tal imagers and into the patrolled cor­ri­dors. She is about to get her chance.

***

07:50:37

One of a hun­dred thou­sand alien sub­or­di­nates stum­bles on—does it mat­ter? The aliens can trav­el faster than light. They have the tech­nol­o­gy to move through time. They pack unimag­in­able weapon­ry into a sphere for con­quer­ing worlds. They like to put big things in box­es. The sub­or­di­nate drops a sin­gle palm-sized machine onto the ground and 100 instinc­tive­ly picks it up

 

06:16:45 (-)

and 100 stands before the alien com­man­der. 22 has not yet been liqui­fied, but 100 has been gone a long time. The commander’s mouths move and she feels twitchy inside her mus­cles. The alien ges­tures to its expan­sive army in a way that even a human can com­pre­hend.

No,” 100 says, “there are not only one hun­dred of us against you,” and here come thun­der­ing the armies of 1876, 1918, 1580, 1066, 2078, 1209, and more—hordes of mount­ed Sioux and Ger­man fox-hole infantry­men and Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors and Nor­man invaders and Amer­i­can Lunar rifle­men and fierce-faced Mon­gol cav­al­ry with their hair float­ing in the near-vac­u­um of this rav­aged Earth and their bod­ies pro­tect­ed by clones of the very last nanobot retreat­ing from 100 in a nonex­is­tent future. 100 attacks with the weight of human his­to­ry

 

07:50:37

and a Greek pha­lanx and some Con­golese free­dom fight­ers with AK-47s are crush­ing the last pla­toon of alien sol­diers at the exact moment when, of course, 100 is not around to catch the machine as the alien sub­or­di­nate stum­bles in a nonex­is­tent present

 

07:50:38, also for­ev­er

and, because 100’s armies were plucked from cru­cial moments in a nonex­is­tent past, this past was changed and a sequence of events occurred that led to her, Yuri, stand­ing here right now in a blue dot­ted dress on a road above a swath of wav­ing green rice. She smiles into the mid­dle dis­tance at a man named Kojiro who is pick­ing his way through the crop to her side. She inhales the scent of grow­ing things that flows down from the moun­tains on a late spring breeze because no aliens have ever arrived at all. There is no com­man­der with unin­tel­li­gi­ble twin mouths. Or per­haps there is, but it has nev­er plot­ted a course in its death-bear­ing sphere to this blue-skied, agrar­i­an plan­et now called Aarde, which is won­der­ful

 

06:16:45 (-)

but 100 stands before the alien com­man­der. The commander’s mouths move and she feels a rest­less twinge inside her mus­cles. The alien ges­tures to the mys­te­ri­ous palm-sized box in its hand, a ges­ture 100 does not com­pre­hend.

What are you say­ing?” she asks. Yes­ter­day 22 was pressed to death between two glassy rocks—is she today’s 22? She sweats inside the nanobots that con­fine her. “Is that some sort of weapon?”

The alien’s mouths smile in a mock­ery of human con­de­scen­sion and the com­man­der rais­es the box

 

04:03:24 (-)

and today is again, for the first time, the day 100 crip­ples the alien over­lords.

***

05:05:17

She descends the stairs in the chrome sphere with the oth­ers, rank and file, a bee spi­ral­ing in cir­cles inside an alien hive. She presents her­self to the scan­ners.

***

06:16:45

One hun­dred human beings exit the sphere and array them­selves before the great undu­lat­ing swath of the alien army.

***

06:17:53

The humans stand frozen in their nanobots. The alien com­man­der is engaged in a ruth­less instruc­tion­al exer­cise.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

Yuri” was my response to a par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­ap­point­ing SF/action film in which I watched a bunch of white, male char­ac­ters shoot their way through an alien inva­sion in a vari­ety of flat set­tings. The movie offered no char­ac­ter­i­za­tion for the pro­tag­o­nists, no moti­va­tion for the inva­sion, and no attempt to com­ment on the vio­lence por­trayed. With “Yuri” I knew I want­ed to try to find a way to tell a sim­i­lar­ly apoc­a­lyp­tic inva­sion sto­ry that nonethe­less addressed the com­pli­ca­tions of meet­ing bru­tal­i­ty with bru­tal­i­ty. (I didn’t think it would hurt to offer up a female per­spec­tive on such an expe­ri­ence, either). This sto­ry was also a struc­tur­al experiment—I want­ed to dis­cov­er if it was pos­si­ble for me to tell a char­ac­ter-cen­tered nar­ra­tive inside a series of short, sharp, non-chrono­log­i­cal scenes.

Orwell’s 1984 was a strong uncon­scious influ­ence on this work. The con­clu­sion of “Yuri” is bleak, but I’m not at all sure that means Num­ber 100 has failed to resist. Though her attempts to over­whelm the alien force with mil­i­tary might have cer­tain­ly failed, the unlike­ly pock­ets of paci­fism her actions have opened in Earth’s his­to­ry allow her, like his “thought­crimes” have allowed Win­ston Smith, a tran­scen­den­tal and human­iz­ing moment. In that one place out of time—or in the loop of time—Number 100 has a name and a home. She has love. She is a per­son. Human dig­ni­ty in the face of help­less­ness and hor­ror is a top­ic I return to often in my writ­ing, and I hope “Yuri” suc­cess­ful­ly rais­es ques­tions about the mean­ing of such dig­ni­ty under the shad­ow of aggres­sion or impe­r­i­al force.

 

Rebec­ca Adams Wright is a 2011 grad­u­ate of the Clar­i­on Sci­ence Fic­tion & Fan­ta­sy Writ­ers’ Work­shop and a for­mer Zell Writ­ing Fel­low. She has an MFA in fic­tion from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan and has won the Leonard and Eileen New­man Writ­ing Prize. Her sto­ries have appeared in Amazon’s Day One and in Dai­ly Sci­ence Fic­tion mag­a­zine, and her non­fic­tion has appeared in Children’s Lit­er­a­ture in Edu­ca­tion.