Fiction / Rebecca Adams Wright
:: Yuri, in a Blue Dress ::
Today is the day 100 cripples the alien overlords.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
and today is again, for the first time, the day 100 cripples the alien overlords.
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.
One hundred human beings exit the sphere and array themselves before the great undulating swath of the alien army.
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.