Beautiful Woman

by

Jeanette Bennett

 

“Are you Princess Odette?” a voice growled.

Cynthia looked up into the yellow eyes with slender pupils. The creature’s thin lips pulled over the pointed teeth into a snarl. A Chedorian–they looked like the misbegotten love child of an goblin and a gorilla.

Cynthia swallowed hard. “My name is Cynthia. I portray Princess Odette in the Mermaid Water Ballet Show. Can I help you?”

The Chedorian’s stubby fingers shoved a piece of paper at her. “Can I have your autograph?”

Cynthia blinked at the grotesque face and realized the snarl must really be a smile. She forced one of her own back. “Yes, of course.”

She looked down to see the page with her picture had been carefully torn from a program. She pulled a pen out of her purse and took the page. Cynthia started to ask the creature its name, but then realized she probably couldn’t spell it. So she just signed her name.

Her first fan. Great! This wasn’t quite the way Cynthia had pictured it. But nothing in her life unrolled quite the way she had pictured it.

Cynthia had always wanted to be on stage. Pity she couldn’t sing, dance or act. However, she could swim. She could swim longer and dive deeper than anyone else she knew. These talents lent themselves to only one thing–synchronized swimming.

Fortunately synchronized swimming had come back into vogue. The Water Follies had become so popular that small-time imitators had formed. Cynthia worked in one. At least she got the lead in one of the production numbers. She played–well, swam–Princess Odette in the Swan Lake number. The ten minute piece featured her and six other girls dressed in white one piece swimsuits layered to look like feathers. They did movements reminiscent of ballerinas to the music of Tchaikovsky. She wore the crown, so that made her Princess Odette. Shame there wasn’t a Prince in the piece, just the seven swans. In two other numbers, she just swam in the chorus line.

Show business had brought her to this God-forsaken planet out in the middle of nowhere. These back-water colony planets were so hard up for entertainment that they would flock to anything that showed up. This colony had to be about the furthest one from Earth. It would be months, maybe years before Cynthia would see Earth again. It would be Christmas in a few days, her first away from home.

“Why are you away from your tribe?” the Chedorian asked.

Cynthia smirked at that, calling the troupe of performers her tribe. Most of them snubbed her. “I wanted to see something of this planet.” She almost added there wasn’t much to see, but felt that would be rude. It might be just a dusty mining planet, but it was his home. “I didn’t notice any Chedorians in the audience, just the human colonists. Did you see the show?”

“Chedorains are not allowed. I peeked in. Saw you dancing in the water. I found this program on the ground. I took out your picture. You are Beautiful Woman.”

That took Cynthia aback. She might be a hell of a swimmer, but she was no beauty–not with this nose. “Uh, thank you. Is that why you followed me and wanted my autograph?”

“Yes, names are powerful, as are images. I wanted something of your spirit.”

Okay, that made Cynthia feel creepy.

Just then the sound of an explosion came from behind her. Cynthia spun around, trying to understand what happened. All she could comprehend was smoke, screaming and blood. A small freight transporter flew overhead carrying Chedorians with weapons blasting.

“Fools!” her Chedorian hissed. He grabbed her arm. “Come! Run! Follow me!”

Cynthia felt herself being dragged into an alley between two sandstone buildings. She didn’t fight, but tried to keep up with the creature. They came upon a long legged beast with large ears and protruding lips. The Chedorian scooped her up, and jumped onto the four legged creature’s back. He sat Cynthia in front of him.

She noticed this animal had what looked like a bridle on its head. The Chedorian grabbed it’s reins and shook them, making a trilling noise. The beast lurched forward, running down the street. It wove through the town until it at last reached the wilderness beyond the buildings. That didn’t take long, for the town was not that big.

They continued on over the open country toward the nearby hills. Her rescuer kept urging the beast forward through the brush. When they at last came to the hills, the Chedorian steered it into a narrow ravine. He pulled on the reins until the steed came to a halt. It’s long grey tongue lolled out of its mouth as it panted.

The Chedorian jumped to the ground, and then reached up and pulled Cynthia off.

“Where are we?” Cynthia looked about at the arid gulch. Far cry from the Smokey Mountains back home.

“Safe, for now.”

“Why did you bring me here?”

“Because you are Beautiful Woman.” He pulled his lips back to show those sharp teeth again.

Cynthia swallowed hard and backed away. “You realize they will come looking for me. I don’t know what how you treat your females, but in my society abducting women is not tolerated. They will come after you.”

“Abduction?” The Chedorian cocked his head.

“I mean I know some societies think it’s quite all right to steal women, as some sort of weird marriage thing, but that is not allowed among my people. You will be punished.”

The Chedorian now backed away form her. “What? You think I brought you here to be my mate? We are not even the same species!”

“That’s not what you had in mind? Then why do you keep calling me Beautiful Woman?”

“Because you are. Your movements in the water are so graceful. A thing of beauty should be protected.” The creature suddenly got a sick look on his face. “Wait, do human males mate with everything they think is beautiful? By Grata, I would hate to see what they would do in a temple full of art treasures!”

Cynthia started laughing–partly out of relief and partly at the bizarre picture that brought to her mind. She collected herself and looked up into those yellow catlike eyes. “I suppose I should thank you then.”

“Thank me?”

“For protecting me from those bandits.”

The Chedorian shook his head. “Not bandits. Defenders. They want to protect our people. Drive the humans away. The humans capture our people. They force us to work in their mines.”

“Slave labor? That’s illegal!”

“Maybe for humans to enslave humans. Not for humans to enslave Chedorians.”

“What! That’s not right. You might not be human, but you are still a person.” Cynthia hung her head. “Uh, what’s your name?”

“Pada of the Thumo Tribe.”

“I’m Cynthia Swimmer. Yeah, that’s my real name. Ironic, huh. Old Cherokee name dating back to the 19th century.” Cynthia stuck out her hand. “Glad to meet you.”

Pada took her hand, then bowed and pressed his forehead to it. Not quite what she had in mind, but a greeting is a greeting. “I am most honored to meet you, Beautiful Woman.”

Cynthia forced a smile. Great. She had always wanted to be called that, but she had hoped it would be some good looking young man. Oh well, Pada seemed harmless at least. “You said the humans are enslaving your people? Are you a slave?”

Pada shook his head. “I am a shaman. Humans do not see me, unless I want them to.”

“You can make yourself invisible?”

“I can make myself ignored. I do not call attention to myself. I am unimportant to the humans. I do not belong to them.”

“Is that all you are to the colonists–property?”

Pada patted the beast that had brought them. “We are no better than dukors to them. Still we treat dukors better than humans treat us.”

Cynthia felt her face flush, though whether with anger or shame she wasn’t sure. “You must hate humans. Why don’t you hate me?”

“I hate what the humans do to us. How they treat us.” Pada smiled at her. “Yet you treat me with respect. Why would I hate you?”

Cynthia smiled back at the creature. “That’s awful. Somebody should do something to stop this.”

“There is something you could do, Beautiful Woman.”

“Me? I can’t do anything. I’m nobody.”

“Yes, you are, and it’s something only you can do.”

“Huh?” Cynthia cocked her head, wondering what she was getting herself into.

“Long ago there was another enemy who came from the skies. A great queen arose. She united our people as one, so we could drive them away. Once our enemy was defeated she took off her crown. She said she held too much power for one person. She threw her crown into a deep pool of water. She said one day in a time of great need a new leader would come to free our people. We would know them by her crown they would retrieve from the pool.”

“So why hasn’t someone just dived in and gotten this crown before now?”

“Chedorians are terrible swimmers. You can do it. I saw you do it in a dream I had last night. That’s why I came to find you.” Those alien eyes could look so imploring–right up there with a hungry puppy.

“Is this pool close by?”

“Not far from here.”

“I suppose I could look at it–as long as you can get me back in time for tonight’s performance.”

“Yes, I will, Beautiful Woman.”

__

The pond wasn’t very big, maybe only fifty feet wide. Around it a couple of scrawny bushes took advantage of the moisture. There wasn’t much vegetation, mainly because the area was solid rock, the plants growing in holes that had collected enough blow sand to form natural flower pots.

“Is this an oasis?” Cynthia studied the well worn path behind them.

“This is a Holy Spot.”

“So how do you know the crown is here?”

Pada walked over to the edge of the pool and pointed.

Cynthia came over and looked down. The water was so clear she could see down to the bottom. There catching the sunlight lay a gold crown. “It must be deep because the crown looks too small to fit on someone’s head. Do you know how deep it is?”

Pada shook his head.

Cynthia didn’t have a swimsuit and she knew her clothes would weigh her down. She could strip down to her underwear, or take off all her clothes. She balked at that. She looked at Pada. The Chedorian found her as sexual attractive as the dukor. She shrugged and striped off her clothes.

Cynthia looked around for a loose stone to use as a diving brick to help her descend faster. She picked up a large rock that still looked small enough to hold in one hand. She took a deep breathe, then dived in. The water felt cool but not too cold to Cynthia’s skin. She felt glad she didn’t need to worry about chlorine burning her eyes. She swam down toward the crown that seemed to keep moving out of reach as it sat there waiting.

Cynthia bolted forward and finally felt her fingers touch the metal. She grabbed her prize and dropped the rock. She then somersaulted in the water. Her feet landed on the bottom and she jumped, propelling herself upward. She kicked her legs, feeling herself fly toward the sun’s image contorted by the water’s prism.

Damn. Her lungs began to burn. She fought the urge to gasp for breath. She had gone too deep. She tried to kick harder, but her strength faded. She wouldn’t make it to the surface in time.

Suddenly it felt like oxygen had been pumped into her lungs. She felt herself recharged and swam with all her might toward the light. Cynthia broke the surface and gasped in that wonderful air.

She snorted water out of her nose, and swam to the edge, still clutching the crown. She pulled herself out and flopped on the warm rock like a seal. She gulped in more air and rested a moment.

Cynthia looked her prize over. Golden tendrils weaved around a circlet, looking very dainty and ethereal. “Got it!” Cynthia panted.

No answer. Where the hell did that Chedorian go? Cynthia raised herself up on her elbows and looked around.

Pada lay collapsed on the ground. Cynthia got up and stumbled over to him. She knelt down and turned him over. Pada gasped for breath. He looked up at her.

“I got the crown.” Cynthia pointed to where she had dropped it. “Are you all right?”

Pada nodded, and forced a smile.

Cynthia noticed he had the program page with her picture on it clutched in his hand. “What happened?”

Pada panted some more, catching his breath. He sat up looking exhausted, and smiled at her. “I gave you my air,” he rasped.

Cynthia remembered the sudden surge she got, just as her oxygen began running out. Pada meant that literally. He did say he was a shaman. He also said images and names had great power.

“Thank you, Pada.”

“No thank you, Beautiful Woman.”

“I have that crown for you. Now you can lead your people.”

“The crown was meant to be retrieved by the one who would lead.”

Cynthia shook her head. “I’m no leader. I’m just a swimmer. You would make a better leader than me.”

“My people are too divided. Each would want a member of their own tribe to be the leader. Even though I am a shaman and respected by all, they would still not follow me, a member of another tribe. We need an outsider.”

“Don’t be silly. What makes you think your people would even want to follow a member of the species they are fighting? Why would they follow one of the enemy?”

“Because they did last time. Queen Shadal was not Chedorian. She was a Penkan like those who attacked us. She was disgusted with how her people treated us and so joined our side.”

“I’m sorry, Pada. I’m no warrior. I’m certainly no leader. You have your crown. You’ll have to find some other messiah. I’m no Joan of Arc.”

Pada said nothing, but bowed his head.

Cynthia looked up at the sky. The sun was closer to the horizon. “You said you would get me to back to town in time for tonight’s show.”

“Yes, I will take you back, Beautiful Woman.”

__

The town came into sight. Cynthia suddenly felt joyous to be reunited with the flea-bitten water circus. She could pick out their ship sitting at the port. The piece of junk had never looked so good.

Suddenly fire shot from its engines. “NO! NO! NO!” Cynthia watched as the ship–her ship–lifted off. “How can they leave without me! Those dirty rotten S.O.B.s!” She looked over her shoulder at Pada. “This is your fault!”

Pada stopped the dukor. “I did not ask your people to leave without you. They are cowards to leave one of their own behind.”

Cynthia snorted, her anger turned away from Pada. “Wouldn’t put it past Mr. Wilkins, the jerk. He looks out for Number One, that’s for sure. Now what the hell am I going to do?”

“I can take you to the other humans.”

“They’re slavers! They have no scruples. I wouldn’t put it past them to enslave me. We’re far enough from Earth they could get by with it. At the very least they would probably ignore me. I don‘t trust them.”

“I could take you to my tribe–if I can find them.”

“Find them?”

“They will be hiding. Renegades attacked the town. The colonists will round up the guilty ones and kill them. And then they will kill ten Chedorians for every human injured.”

“What!” Cynthia stared at Pada.

“It’s what they have always done in the past.”

“That’s not fair! Some one has to stop them!”

Pada pulled the crown out of his satchel and held it out to her. “You could. I’ve seen it. Just like I saw you retrieve the crown.”

“I only was able to do it because you helped me.”
“And I will help you again, any way I can. I will willing give you my life, Beautiful Woman.”

“Why do you keep calling me Beautiful Woman?”

“It’s what you were called in my dream.”

Cynthia frowned. “That name sounds familiar. Something from my past–” Her eyes got big. “Oh my God! The Beautiful Woman! It was a title my Cherokee ancestors gave to a woman warrior. She was a tribal leader, the one who decided the fate of the prisoners of war!”

“The Chedorians are the Prisoners of War. It is you who will decide our fate.”

Cynthia made a face. “Give me that damn thing!” She snatched the crown out of Pada’s hand. She put it on her head. It would fit perfectly. “This is one hell of a Christmas present! Next year just get me a box of chocolates!”

Pada grinned at her. “As you command, Beautiful Woman.”

BIO:  Ink free for twenty years, Jeanette fell off the wagon two years ago, and has been on a writing binge ever since. The consequences of that spree is a series on time travel. It’s the adventures of Dr. Serendipity Brown, the 24th century inventor of Time Travel, and her assistant, Sherman Conrad, she picks up in 1985. The third book is on hold while Jeanette revises and polishes the first two books hoping to publish them.

Jeanette’s husband suggested she get on Twitter to promote herself. Publishers are more apt to pick-up someone who can already show they have a following. Problem was writing about herself was too boring. Instead she decided to Twitter as one of her characters at @Wendell_Howe. Dr. Wendell Howe is a Temporal Anthropologist from the 27th century who studies the Victorian Age first hand. The tweets are set four years before the first book, Walking a Fine Timeline. Jeanette was trying to show how lonely and boring Wendell’s life was before he ran off with Serendipity, but the plan backfired. Wendell currently has over 6,700 followers who think his life is exciting.

Ms. Bennett lives in the Scablands of eastern Washington State with five cats and Mike, her long-suffering husband. She is fairly sane and normally does not talk about herself in the third person.

http://twitter.com/Wendell_Howe – follow Dr. Wendell Howe on Twitter

http://wendellhowe.blogspot.com/ – Wendell’s blogsite explaining his world

http://scablander.blogspot.com/ – Jeanette’s blogsite with links to excerpt from her novels

http://victorianreferences.blogspot.com/ – Sources for Victorian Research: reviews and links to websites on Victorian history and culture

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11 Comments »

  1. 1

    Jeanette,
    I was mesmerized right from the start. Couldn’t stop reading and loved Cynthia’s ( Great name, BTW 🙂 ) way of dealing with such absurdity as if it were normal.
    I absolutely loved the creative interaction between her and Pada. And when she plops the crown on her head with that ( Give me that damn crown, I’ll take care of this) attitude, it was a perfect ending.
    Great writing!
    Happy Holidays!

  2. 2
    Laura Eno Says:

    Fantastic story! I was enthralled by your characters. Your bio was just as captivating. 🙂 I decided to follow Wendell.

  3. 3
    Kathleen Gilbert Says:

    Enjoyed reading your story very much. Your characters were wonderful too.

  4. 4

    Excellent story! Sci fi-paranormal-fantasy-folklore-insurgency all in one? Jackpot for us readers! I was so engrossed in the tale, I almost missed the 7 swans theme. 😀

    I wish you had gone on with how she led the resistance and everything, but that may be another story for another time! This is another brilliant edition to the set,

    Salutations to Sir Wendell 🙂 and have a great Xmas!

  5. 6

    Jeanette,
    What a delight this was to read. I feel you could turn this novella size. I couldn’t help but think of CS Lewis sci fi series (of which I can’t recall the name). Sci fi, fantasy with humor and life truths mixed in between.

    Well Done! I’m sure Wendell is so proud.

  6. 7
    jimcast Says:

    Jeanette,

    Thanks for writing this for the project! I like Jodi’s idead of turning this into a novella. . . what do you think? 🙂

    Jim

  7. 8
    Michelle Says:

    Hey Jeanette, That was great! So much of a journey, I agree it would be great as a novella size. xx

  8. 9

    Jeanette, this was awesome! SO clever for the 7 swans! I’m already a big fan of Wendell–but *wow,* after this your storytelling just amazes me even more. 🙂

  9. 11

    Jeanette,

    I am so sorry I just now got to this. I enjoy the tales of Wendel’s adventures already, and was pleased to be able to read what else you’ve tried your hand at. Best of luck in your publishing venture and thank you kindly for such a deviant story based on the swans.

    Carrie aka @shadowsinstone


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