The ringing sound again. It comes and goes. It has always been with us. Kapu has not returned from gathering wheat from the mill. I have sent three of my husbands in search of him. A week passes and I nearly give up. Kapu is always like this. He's the youngest of my husbands, nearly half my age. Yes, I live in a polyandry. Anyways, Kapu is a restless one. When the work becomes too hard to bear, he takes off on a wild hunting excursion in the savanna. I cannot follow as women are forbidden in the savanna. I am not sure why this is so, but it is so strictly regulated that an expedition is immediately sent to find and kill any women who choose to return. We do not question this. It has always been this way. KAPU!, I shout, and the ringing starts again. This is the longest he's ever been gone. A week. No. More than that.
I tire of waiting and return home. It's quite a home. Comfortable, refreshing, and nourishing. I guess you can call me spoiled. Most women at Lake Tititaca tend to be so. That's because we're a rarity. Yes, I've been told that the women of Tititaca are wonders of the world. I'm not quite sure why. I'm not allowed to travel outside of the lake. I'd be lucky to survive the first step outside of the settlement as a ring of militia surround the lake tightly, commanded to take out any women who dare leave. Leading an anthropological expedition anywhere but here would be out of the question.
I share this spacious abode, tightly thatched with bundles of dry grass with my sister. It's convenient that way because we've been close since birth. We share everything: wardrobes, husbands, cookery. Husbands... I guess you can also call our eternal rut a sororal polygyny. Two wives and countless husbands... Sounds like a group, an Oneidan, sort of. Except not really. No time for intimacy. The males are more like slaves. We're fairly occupied with child breeding. That's the deal. We're here to save humanity. I'll talk about that later. I'm not quite sure of the details, to tell you the truth. This time and place is rather absurd. I'm not even certain what time is, really. A vast river, flowing very slowly at the moment is what time seems to be. That definition is good enough for me.
Kapu? Well, he's out there salvaging from humanity at best, or removing himself from it. I'll miss him if he doesn't return. He has (or had) great cheeks. Cannonballs for calves. Lovely skin. Not even I have Kapus' skin. He consoled me when I was confused, promises me he would discover the secret of the universe for me. Always apt to prove himself worthy of my attention. Not that he needed to. None of the other men, and there are many of them, cares at all what I believe or think. They're all fixated on my productivity, if you know what I mean. If this were a wodabe, I guess he'd be the one I'd marry for love. Not that there's much of an opportunity for love in this world. It's too mechanical. We're like ants, struggling single-mindedly to survive. Humans are scarce. We have to try our best to replenish the population. But there's one catch. They say there are no women outside of Lake Tititaca. That this is the best we have. I've heard great stories of the past. Vast repositories of stone and steel alongside the shores and other waters of the world. The highlights of a great, perhaps universal culture, outlining the coasts as people are dependent upon water and being close to water helps. Well, Lake Tititaca is like that, except instead of water (well, we still have that), our resource is women. Around the fringe of Lake Tititaca is what remains of the past. A guild of salvagers, farmers, and a small military force. A rather puny oasis on the deserted desert that is the rest of the world.
What else is Lake Tititaca? It's a very highly elevated lake, I'll tell you that. High enough that one hears ringing in his ears now and then. High enough that many men who come here for the first time get high-headed and pale. That's what happened to husband # 24. At least I think he's #24. I lose track after a while. He had to divorce me because he'd get fainting spells while at Tititaca. A bookkeeper near the beach, he used to be. Perhaps the only one, as I have not met another. My favorite type of salvager as books are like doors, the only ones I have to the outside world. I miss him too, my only supplier of books, but it cannot be that he could stay. He'd have fainting spells by the dozen. It was hard for him to leave. Heck, it's hard for anyone to leave us women. Since we're such national treasures, they'd have to leave all their possessions they carried to Tititaca to us. Not even a Hopi divorce, I tell you, well, maybe half of one. They got to keep their unvaluables. Unfortunately, he didn't carry his bookstore along with him to lake Tititaca when we were married. Left only this ancient anthropological book about marriages. And left me with a few tidbits of the past, which I’ll keep forever, or until this river, called time comes to a stop.
I am amazed that men would voluntarily get married to us. It's like being an indentured servant with no pay. If they get divorced, they lose everything, well, all that's valuable. We're decent when we're allowed to be. The standard of living doesn't increase when they get married, but it decreases by 73% when they're divorced. We (the Oneiden-ish collective) get custody of the children, of course. Spousal abuse is punishable by death and they're often tempted because we annoy them to death with our constant jabbering, even though there's forty of them and two of us. Don't ask me why. Women just like talking. And men come and go at a dizzying rate. Hardly a month goes by without another marriage or divorce. It's a serial polygamy, I tell you. Not every man, though, gets to have the privilege of marrying us. There's a group of scientists with Kin diagrams and all that fancy shmancy stuff: all charts and facts and figures used to make sure we're not mingling with our own kin. We're rather endogamous because, although the women are certainly initially descended from ancestors from Lake Tititaca, the men are from all over, but there’s far less than there used to be, or so I’m told. I hear the scientists are there because of Incest taboo, I heard one of my more literate husbands call it. We'll breed deformed children and we can't risk it. Humans are too valuable a resource. Of course, they can't enforce marriages completely. Otherwise, they can't find anyone who'd be willing to marry us.
Ringing again. A musically gifted person told me that it was A flat, whatever that meant. “A flat what?”, I asked. Musicians are weird. Kapu! I see him in the distance! That's not all I see. A horde of men, trollying this great, colorful stone on so many logs, used as rollers. Must have been quite a climb, considering where we are. Kapu abandons his crew as they'll be up here eventually. Kapu runs the rest of the way, and hugs me, his body cold and glistening of sweat. Eyes bulging and short of breath, he tells me he has the secret to the universe. That this colorful rock fell from the sky, bright and burning, that a few days later, he went inside and the secret to the universe presented itself to him. That he rounded up and persuaded scavengers nearby to help present it to the women of Tititaca and here they are. The colorful rock is nearly here. It's not much of a rock. Nearly entirely hollow as there are ripples here and there on its surface, an interesting surface, shiny and malleable. It's large, nearly half the size of my straw-thatched house, but light, as these men, fairly weak from leading a life of scavenging, seem to be at ease with it. Kapu takes my hand and draws me, inside. I reluctantly trot with him, improving my gait as I realize my curiosity is getting the better of me, that I have nothing to lose. It is dark inside the rock. Kapu says he made it come to life once and bangs at the rock in odd places and curses. I take a seat on something shaped like it was meant to be sat upon and some lights flash from within the rock. It began:
"Ahem. May I have your attention, Ladies and Gentlemen? I am Eberhard Lightyear. I am on the Space Shuttle Lightbringer IIV. In less than twenty minutes, life support systems will fail. I better get an honorary Nobel prize or something for this. Too bad I won't make it to the ceremony. I have a short story to tell, starting with me, of course. I used to be happily married in a nuclear family in a monogamous relationship with my beautiful wife. Or at least, I'd better have thought she was beautiful because the plan was I was going to live with her for the rest of my life. Or at least, it was to be nuclear, but we didn't get that far. She was diagnosed with the XXA virus, quite a debilitating disease. Only women could spread this disease, we learned. DNA labs showed that it only bonds to people with a pair of X chromosomes. Spreadable by touch, breath, even intercourse! We discovered it too late. Thanks to the multi-quadrillion dollar intercontinental public transportation act, you can travel from London II to Neotokyo in an hour. XXA spread like the McDonald chain explosion from the 21st century, two centuries back. A week after the first ovaries were found eaten by the virus, a massive survey was inducted, the results of which were that nearly ten percent of the population had it. Massive efforts were made to quarantine the inflicted women, but they were futile, the efforts AND the women, from an evolutionary point of view. My wife was one of them. Men were neatly separated from most of the women and because of the belligerent nature of men, induced from millions of years of evolution, a world-wide civil war erupted. I am glad to be part of this expedition not only because we're here to find a solution to the largest crisis the world has ever seen, but because the flames from this civil war could be easily observed from up here. I am here to tell you, although you won't hear me because all the ground-based satellites seem to be out of orbit, no thanks to the civil war, perhaps. I am here to tell you that we have finished our research and I, Eberhard Lightyear, am proud to be the one, who better win at least an honorary mention or something like that at the next Nobel Prize ceremony, to tell you that this virus is easily debilitated by a ringing in your ears. It is incubated in the ears of persons who have two X chromosomes and is particularly susceptible to a ringing of the tone A flat. This ringing of the ears can be induced electronically, but is usually fatal, as the amount of decibels required to disable the virus has torn apart the greater portion of the life systems of this ship, which will fail completely very soon. I urge that you find a place on Earth where the ringing of the ears can be naturally induced, preferably in a tranquil place about 11,000 feet above sea level. Hmm... I think I know of such a place. It's name is right off the tic, I mean tip of my tongue. Well, I hope this helps. Otherwise, I guess celibacy will be in style for a while, from an evolutionary standpoint."