Wednesday 10 February 2016

The City of the Blue Women

With the Chariot crowdfunding campaign closing in on its target in its third day, it's time to share some more excerpts. Here's Mentis, City of the Blue Women.

I created the Blue Women as part of my Atlantis when I was maybe twelve or thirteen, because when you are that age amphibious blue punk rock cyborg amazons who ride robo-sea dinosaurs sounds like a good idea. I still think it's a pretty good idea.

I wish I still had what I had written about them. I made them anew from memory for Chariot. 

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Ruler: Her Magnanimity, Eternal Pattern of the People, First Friend, Mêrina On
Government: Dictatorship and hereditary oligarchy
Population: 750,000+ native, 1.5 million slaves and unpeople, up to 50,000 foreigners

Mentis, isle of rough-hewn ancient towers that claw at the sky, isle riddled with burrowed out homes, serpentine twisting factories miles long that eat raw materials in gaping fiery maws, and shit out mechanical prostheses, energy weapons, gas canisters, fission bombs.

These are the tools of the Atlantean patriarchy.

But Mentis has no patriarchy. Nor is it a matriarchy. A matriarchal society assumes familial bonds, an assumption of the roles of the sexes. Mentis has none of these things. The Isle of Mentis has no males at all.

They're among the most dangerous and feared soldiers of the Black Sun. They ride huge, carnivorous sea beasts over the waves. They maintain a fleet of the fastest, most heavily armed sky-chariots. They control the most destructive artillery in the Twin Continents. They compose the bodyguard to the God-Emperor himself.

In the Halls of the Birthing Cups, the Priestess-Eugenicists, Mistresses of the Flask, engineer each new generation of Mentian women from conscripted ova married with drops of harvested blood, modified for purpose.

Each of these cold-blooded, blue-skinned women has a number for a name, tattooed on the back of her neck. Early on, the Priestess-Eugenicists altered the genetic foundations of the Blue Women, splicing the new Mentians with the creatures of the sea: cephalopods, marine reptiles, fish.
Iridescent blue skin, eyes of yellow, black or white, a musky odour, pointed teeth, the long black tongue, the cold blackish blood. These are the signs of the Blue Women. Occasionally, a Mentian has some inhuman physical quirk: suckers on her forearms and fingers; ridges of razor-sharp cartilage instead of teeth; gills; the ability to spit ink; patches of glittering scales on her shoulders or stomach. The Priestess-Eugenicists don't pay much notice to these things. Their focus is on the adjustment of physical fitness, intelligence, independence and will for the sake of the purpose into which each new Mentian will be decanted, decanted rather than born.

Despite being conceived under glass, any Blue Woman are is as capable of natural childbirth as any other Atlantean, or would be if an Atlantean male existed who was genetically compatible with her. The Blue Women are wholly alone. No male counterpart exists. The Blue Women are, more than any of the Atlanteans, post-human.

With its inhabitants designed from conception to their roles, Mentian society is of course rigidly stratified. The Blue Women are strictly divided into militaristic castes, without familial bonds. Mentians make strong friendships with each other, but not with outsiders, who their teachers instruct them to pity as merely human. Among Mentian children, the expression of emotions outside of patriotism, esprit de corps and loyalty are implicitly forbidden.

The few Blue Women who break their conditioning or flout their society's rules face brutal reprisals. But then, Mentis was always a brutal state.

Three cycles ago, the Mentians, although still the foremost weaponsmiths of the South, were very different.

The few historical documents of that time, all written by outsiders, none of whom were present, portray Mentis as a hard patriarchy. The Mentians, polygamists, treated their women as property from birth. Even the poorest Mentian man would have five or six wives; nobles and citizens could have as many as thirty, fifty or more. Girls and women were bought, sold and exchanged, and married off shockingly young. Most boy children they removed from their parents and sold to the slave markets, the better to remove competition for wives. Often the most vicious enforcers of this regime were other women, the head wives who ran households on behalf of their husbands.

With the insistence on polygamy, Mentian culture naturally tended to an extreme imbalance in the sexes: women outnumbered men thirty, sometimes forty to one. And it depended upon the women doing everything: manning the factories, catching fish for food, fighting in the army.

It was an outsider, a Chalid noblewoman named Mêrina, married as a lesser wife to a now-forgotten Mentian nobleman, who brought the change. Her sons had all been sold before they were each a few weeks old, her daughter given to another man in marriage at the age of nine. And, with the way that the culture depended utterly on the work of women, it became apparent to Mêrina that the men of Mentis, her husband among them, had made themselves superfluous. 

Strongly enforced social sanctions against men bestowing affection or tenderness on their wives proved only to be an asset to Mêrina's enterprise.

A society with a majority of women brutalised and turned against each other, and yet who were depended upon to be competent and efficient while others took the profits, was, it turned out, a society of women who weren't afraid to risk turning the tables. They were the workers. They were the providers.

The revolution took barely a week, and few of the men even put up a fight. With swift and lethal efficiency, Mêrina's women subjugated the men and the women who enforced their will.

The other Atlantean city states had, on the whole, been uneasy about Mentis and its institutionalised misogyny for centuries, but the isle's place as the primary source of weapons of war ensured that they would impose no sanction. Mentis was thought too valuable to merit anything other than the most delicate of treatment.

It was this same consideration of value that brought the God-Emperor Gwauxin III and his fleet of sky-chariots above the harbour of Mentis. Before the bombardment could begin, Mêrina paid obeisance, vowed loyalty, and promised the continued output of the arms factories, which had been run by the women anyway. Nothing would change.

One thing changed: Mentis closed her borders. Over the next few generations, Mêrina's new regime appropriated the isle's already prodigious science to ensure survival. The surviving men and their immediate male descendants remained, and carried on their lives as equal citizens. Meanwhile, the newly instituted order of Priestess-Eugenicists found a working, provable means of asexual reproduction within a few years. As they tweaked the genes of the Mentian children, they removed the male gender from the genetic pool. Over the next couple of generations the male Mentians gradually died off.

Mêrina died shortly afterwards but had, shortly before her demise, directed the occult scientists who served her to clone her a new body, soulless, into which her spirit could be transplanted. Mêrina, now Mêrina On, Eternal Pattern, continues this practice even now, rejuvenating herself every five or six decades.

The Atlanteans allowed Mentis to carry on. The weaponsmiths were still producing their tools of death and if no one could enter the island, at least trade continued.

Eventually the Mentians would open their borders. They had changed. Blue skinned, part other than mammal, numbered and stratified, they were the Blue Women as they are known now, inflexible yet capricious, near-emotionless yet ferocious, their society more militaristic than its predecessor had ever been.

The opening of the borders proved to be for trade. Like all of Atlantean society, Mentis needed cheap labour. And that meant slaves.

Nowadays, Mentis is the second largest market for slaves in Atlantis, second only to sybaritic Kudra, and the slaves of the Mentians, beaten, impaled, abused, used for target practice and eaten, arguably have worse lives than slaves almost anywhere else.

If you have the means to buy or sell, it's easy enough to visit the Isle, and many visitors and foreigners stay there. But they remain above ground, and, warned, do not investigate the factories or the labs.

If you go to Mentis, find a guide – the labyrinthine burrows and crooked towers are near-impenetrable – but don't expect to make friends. The regimentation of the Blue Women ensures absolute loyalty to their people first and the God-Emperor second, and it's a rare Mentian who will not betray even the fondest relationship with an outsider for the sake of Mêrina On – the First Friend of the Blue Women – or Oduarpa. Oduarpa is the God-Emperor for the Blue Women. He has been good to them, has supported them above any of the provinces of Atlantis. His personal bodyguard are Mentian. The Imperial Artillery Corps of the Black Sun are Blue Women exclusively. They are the providers of the most terrible weapons the South can bring to bear; they are the fiercest of the Black Sun's soldiers.

To travel to Mentis is to find an inflexible despotic government, a society so regimented that even free thought is anathema, where only the shape of humanity remains. But the people of Mentis have travelled abroad, and as the Black Sun martials its armies in readiness for the final reckoning with the White, the Blue Women are in the forefront.