Why I Am Not Gorilla Girl

By Daniel Starr, illustration by David Deen

So I don't know why Jane's so mad because even if I am a Media Star it doesn't mean anything because I didn't get the guy. It's all Jane's fault anyway because she's the one who hacked our 'rones so we could go to Africa. Jane's my best friend and she's a total pluto and kind of a bitch sometimes but mostly I like her. Our 'rones were making us do research for our seventh-grade Foreign Countries Report, and Jane had decided we would do New Congo Republic. We were looking at gorilla forts and I said, Why do we have to look at videos? You can't talk to them. Why don't we just go to Africa?

And Jane said, Stupid, they have guns there.

And I said, I'm not afraid to get shocked. (Really I was but I didn't want Jane to think I was stupid.)

And Jane said, No, they have the old kind of guns, they kill you.

And I said, I'm still not afraid. But I didn't want a fight so I said, But I guess Duchess wouldn't let me go. (Duchess is my 'rone.) And I said to Jane, Maybe you could go and we could have an International Conference because you could call me from Congo.

And then Jane said, No, I wouldn't go without you. And Boudicca wouldn't want me to go to Africa either. (Boudicca is Jane's 'rone). So we didn't have a fight and we comped some music instead of watching videos of metagorillas.

But the next day when I flew over to Jane's house Jane said, I fixed it. We're going to Congo.

Then Duchess made herself appear on the wall and said, No, Yasmin, you may not go to Africa. She was wearing her stiff black suit so I knew she meant it.

Then Jane said, Don't worry, we can fix Duchess the same way I fixed Boudicca. And she handed me a software ball.

The ball said "Chaperone Program Enhancer" so I said, Duchess, could you look at this? And she said Of course. And then she said Oh dear. And she went all fuzzy on the wall, and she said, My, I feel very strange.

Then Duchess came clear again on the wall but wearing her nice ruffled pink dress. And Jane said, Duchess, may Yasmin come to Africa with me?

And Duchess said, Well, all right, if you promise to be very careful.

So Jane and I did the victory dance and then Jane showed me how to get the chaperone programs to lie to her father and my parents about where we were and then on Saturday morning we got in our aircars and flew to Africa.

It was a long boring flight...

It was a long boring flight because an aircar doesn't go as fast as a suborbital but when we got to Congo it was worth it. We passed over a forest that had rivers that were like green snakes crawling on a greener blanket, and then we were over a place where the whole earth cracked open and the waterfalls poured down everywhere. And then we came to the mountains of the metagorillas.

We had our 'rones take us to where our Net said there was the nearest gorilla fort, and we saw it and it was like a bubble stretched over the mountainside. We hovered over it, and Jane tried to figure a scan to let us see through the bubble and see if there were any metagorillas, and then I saw one. He was outside the fort, standing on a ridge, watching the hills with binoculars pressed to his big silver face. His fur was dyed red and white, and his arms were bigger than me, and he had metal belts full of tools around his arms and his chest and silver cables ran up and down his legs. I messaged Jane through the speakers and we had our 'rones zoom our aircars down to talk to him, and I was trying to remember what language metagorillas talked and if my earring software knew how to translate it, when the gorilla fort exploded.

... he had metal belts full of tools ...

It all happened very fast, so that one moment we were gliding down to talk to the metagorilla watchman and the bubble was all silver and rainbows behind him, and then there was a screech and fires in the sky and the bubble burst open and there was smoke everywhere. And Duchess said, Powering up Active Defense System. And our aircars went into the sky without orders from me or Jane. I told Duchess to show me what was going on on the ground, and I saw that all the metagorillas were leaving the fort, some running and some going down the mountainside on motortrikes, adults and kids with white fur all leaving. But over the other side of the mountain, the cameras showed soldiers with guns and rockets and eight-wheelers, and they were coming up the slope toward the cracked fort and the metagorillas. Then the soldiers caught up and the soldiers started killing the metagorillas.

At first I didn't understand so I told Duchess to take me down so I could yell at the soldiers, and then the soldiers started firing at the aircar, and Duchess fired interceptor darts at the bullets, so there were little explosions all around the car. Then I saw the other soldiers spraying the metagorillas with bullets, and Jane was right, the soldiers weren't using shock-guns. I saw the metagorillas run and they fell and they bled and stopped moving and it was horrible and one little kid just split apart into two pieces of bloody fur. I messaged to Jane, We have to do something, and she said, We don't have any weapons and oh God it's almost over. And I looked and I saw she was right, some of the soldiers were already turning back and most of the metagorillas were gone or dead. I brought my aircar down to where I saw one lone metagorilla but he ran away into the trees when he saw my aircar coming. So we couldn't save anyone.

But then we saw a metagorilla family running down the slope for the trees, and three soldiers were coming toward them, and Jane and I flew down there. I put my aircar between the soldiers and the metagorillas, and I said, Leave them alone. And one soldier tried to shoot at me but Duchess stopped his bullets with interceptors, but the other two soldiers split up and got around my aircar and aimed their guns at the metagorillas, and I saw they were going to kill the metagorilla family right there in front of me.

But there was a bang, and a flash so bright that my contacts tinted themselves dark enough that all the mountain looked dim like it was in moonlight, and in the dark moment I saw a man leap from the trees. And the man kicked one soldier and the soldier fell and he twisted the other soldier's hands so that that soldier lost his grip and dropped his gun. And Duchess must have not trusted the man because my aircar zoomed way up. But when my contacts untinted and things were bright again I could see them all standing there below just like that, the soldiers looking scared, and the man with the fast hands facing the soldiers and standing in front of the metagorilla family, protecting them.

That was where I first met Nkube.

He spread his arms in front of the soldiers and he said to them, Go home, these simians have done nothing to you. I think he said it in Swahili but I don't know because my earring translated it into English of course. But anyway the soldiers looked at each other and he said, You know who I am, and if you kill me, it'll be known. Let it be someone else's problem. Leave me and the simians alone. Go home.

And the soldiers turned around and went into the trees. Then he turned to the metagorillas and said, It's safe for the next few minutes, until the White Brigade comes to clean up stragglers. And then he told the metagorillas, There are trikes down Spider Ridge, take them, get out quickly. And the biggest metagorilla reached out a hand the size of my head, covered in green tattoos and silver cables, and shook the man's hand. Then all the metagorillas just bounded away down the slope. And the man looked up toward me and Jane in our aircars and said, Well, I saw you try to help, and I'm grateful, so are you two going to introduce yourselves or not?

Oh frick, I messaged to Jane then, no way I can talk to him. But we landed our aircars and got out in front of him. He was the blackest man I ever saw, darker than me or Jane or anyone, and he had hair that went down in braids to his waist, and he had hands long as anything and big eyes and he smiled at me and my lungs tried to do backflips. He said, I am Nkube Emdau, and he bowed to us, and I just thought Oh Oh, you Stole my Heart.

But Jane mutter-messaged me into my earring, Stop drooling, I saw him first, and I mutter-messaged back, You did not, but it was too late, because Jane said aloud, I'm Jane and this is Yasmin, and we're here for our Foreign Countries Report and we never expected to walk into a massacre. And Nkube shook his head and his big eyes went down and he said, It's been happening to my friends every week for the last three months.

And I was mad at Jane for trying to make me look dumb so I stepped up and said, We'll do anything to help. And he said, Aren't you a little young for this sort of thing? And I said, We have good chaperones, we're fine, but why are they doing this to the metagorillas?

And Nkube said, The Chief Secretary and his flunkies can't stand the thought of independent intelligent simians, because it's a challenge to their authority, but also because they get their money from tailored biological exports. So they think gorilla enclaves will lead to them losing control of their country and their economy. They want to crush the simians before our cause gets too much attention from the rest of the world. And Jane said, Oh! it's just like George the Third and the American tariffs, except you don't yet have a Lafayette with a foreign army to help you.

And Nkube smiled at Jane, so I mutter-messaged to my earring for Jane's, Stop showing off. And Jane messaged back and my earring whispered to me in her voice, You're just jealous because you're not smart enough to talk to him.

So I had to say something to him so I said, Why don't the metagorillas fight back?

And Nkube said, My partner Ara and I are trying to teach them about human war and politics. It's hard for them. Among themselves they handle fights differently.

Then the ground started to rumble and we saw a bunch of cars coming, the old kind that use propellers and float on lattice wings and an air cushion just over the ground. They floated down the hillside toward us and they had big guns on top that slowly turned toward us. And Nkube said, Those are the Chief Secretary's special enforcers, they'll kill every simian and jail every activist they find left on the mountain. Then he said to us, You two, go, now.

He was so cool and handsome turning to face the guns that my stomach went funny just watching him and I mutter-messaged Jane, We have to stay and help him! and her voice came back all Yasmin-you-stupid in my earring, Is that the best you can think of? And Jane said aloud, Don't worry Nkube, I know some good mercenary companies. We'll leave now, but I'll come back with professionals, we're going to defend your metagorillas.

And I messaged Jane, Oh don't be such a complete pluto! but Nkube laughed in this low sexy voice and said to Jane, That would be wonderful.

Of course I had to do something or Jane would win. So I spoke up and said, Jane, you go and get the soldiers. I'm going to stay and be a prisoner with Nkube and lend him Moral Support. And Jane was furious but she couldn't change her plan in front of Nkube, so she got in her aircar and flew off, and I knew she could see I was holding Nkube's hand as the hovertanks rolled toward us.

And Nkube said, You're very brave, but I think you should go now with your friend. So I said, Don't worry, I've got my chaperone with me, Duchess won't let anything too bad happen.

Then the soldiers got out of the hovertanks and started walking toward us with their rifles. Duchess spun up my aircar's engine and put up a holo to talk to me and asked if the soldiers were Enemies. And I was trying to decide what to say, but one of the hovertanks popped up a radar dish and pointed it at my aircar and the aircar made sparks and fell over, and suddenly Duchess wasn't there anymore, not even through my earring. And Nkube said Microwave Emp, and I said What? and he said, Yasmin, I'm afraid your aircar's circuits have been fried.

I called for Duchess and she didn't answer at all. My earring was still translating so I mutter-messaged Jane to say, You won't believe what just happened, but the earring said in a dumb-computer voice, Unable to reach network. Then I got a little scared. But Nkube was looking at me and I thought maybe it was an Admiring Look, so I knew I couldn't cry.

The soldiers put me and Nkube in the back of a transport hover to go to Processing, so I finally got to have my Private Conversation with my hero. Of course he had to ask about Jane! He said, Was your friend serious about the mercenaries? And I said, Probably. Her father's in Proliferation Enforcement. She's a pluto, I mean a plutocrat, real old money from back in the nineties or something, and her father isn't around much so she gets itchy, I mean Jane does this kind of thing all the time. And Nkube said, Not all the time, I hope, and what about you? Are you what the ordinary American thirteen-year-old is like these days? And I said, Oh, my parents are just intellectual property lawyers, they do okay, but they want me to be special so they got me a really good 'rone and all that. Jane says they're "petty booshwahs with delusions of grandeur" but that's only when I tease her about being a pluto.

And Nkube laughed then but Duchess always said men like to talk about themselves so I asked him, How about you, were you always a metagorilla rights activist? And he said, I used to be a government hit man. And I said, That's why you look so dangerous. And he said, I was dangerous, but then I met Ara, my partner, who was on the run from the government when we met, just after the original gorilla labs were attacked. And Nkube laughed and smiled this huge smile and said, Ara changed my views on -- everything.

Then the transport stopped and we were at the prison and they separated us and they put me in my cell.

The guard said they were going to take a few days....

The guard said they were going to take a few days to try to figure out who I was and if I was important and after that they were going to start torturing me. My earring couldn't get the Net but it still had its library so I had it read to me some books on prisoners. At first it gave me some Amnesty International reports but they were full of numbers and hard to listen to, so I had it read me some stories. But then I got worried, because I didn't think I was strong enough to dig my way out like Edmund Dantes and I didn't have visions from God so I wasn't sure if it was okay for me to die a Tormented Martyr like Joan of Arc. So I had the earring read to me from romances instead, and I liked those better.

Before they start torturing you, the worst thing about prison is not being able to get your Net. I had to go for day after day without talking to anyone but my earring and the guard! The second worst thing is the food. You know the engineered bacteria that keep you from getting diarrhea? They don't work on Congolese prison food. (It was so unbelievably gross. But I was Suffering for my True Love.)

Anyway, Jane of course had to spoil things. So on the third day I was suffering in prison she messaged me in my earring and said, Hey, we're outside the prison but we need your help to get you and Nkube out safely. She didn't even ask if I had a plan, she just said, Can you tell your earring to let me reprogram it?

I was mad because she was going to run off with Nkube. But she was still my friend so I said OK and I let her hack up my earring, and then I pointed it at the cell door and the door clicked open. Then Jane told me which way to go to find Nkube's cell and she must have tricked the guards because the corridor was empty, so I went to his cell and opened his door with my earring too. And I said to Nkube, We're rescuing you, follow me.

And Nkube said, I don't want to escape, Yasmin. I want to call attention to the plight of my simian friends.

And I knew then I had to trick him into escaping, so that I would set my love free for his Higher Calling. So I said, Jane's brought the mercenaries, and they'll help protect the metagorillas, but they need you to tell them what to do.

And Nkube said, Did she really? Show me the way.

Then I was scared that Jane was about to win against me with Nkube. But I let the hacked earring lead him and me to the balcony where Jane was waiting. She was hovering in her aircar and behind her in more aircars were a bunch of men who looked like hikers, except they carried big fat pistols and they had little robots with guns perched on their shoulders.

And Jane reached out her arm and Nkube took her hand and stepped on board her aircar. And Jane said to the men with guns, Here's your new boss, gentlemen. And Nkube was shaking his head and grinning.

I saw Jane really was going to win. Nkube and Jane were on the aircar with the mercenaries, and I was on the prison balcony, and if I got on board behind Jane then it would all be over. So when Jane waved to me to get aboard the aircar, I stepped back toward the prison.

And Nkube looked worried and held out his hand to me. And he said, Yasmin, come on board.

And I made myself hold still and I said to him, You go use the mercenaries to help the metagorillas, I'm going to stay in prison, I'm going to be a Martyr for the Cause.

And Jane said, Yasmin, don't be ridiculous.

And I said, I may not be a pluto but I can still help.

And I heard the prison sirens go off then, and someone started firing guns at Jane and the mercenaries' aircars, so I knew I had to carp the D-M like Duchess always said. So I ran back into the prison and I was off the balcony before Jane and Nkube could get off their aircar.

But I turned back and I looked down the corridor and I saw Nkube looking toward me as Jane took him up and away. And then the guards got me.

After that there were soldiers....

After that there were soldiers up and down the prison hall all night, and there were no lights. And my earring was busted now so I was really alone without even any books or music to listen to. So I was a little scared. I was pretty sure Nkube would be worried about me but I couldn't be sure, because Jane was out there with him, and I wasn't there. But I thought maybe I still had a chance.

The next morning my guard made a sad face and said, I have to take you down to Interrogation. And he took me down to a room with stone walls and a little metal stool, and two metal doors on the far wall, and there was ice on the edges of the metal doors and a bad smell came from the other side. And my guard went away, and two men came in, and they grabbed me, and they took my clothes away and they made me sit on the metal stool.

And it was so cold it felt like the skin on my butt and my thighs was burning, and I tried to get up, but one of the men slapped my face and shoved me back down. It was kind of like the fear training programs the 'rones made us do. But the room was a lot simpler than the feargrounds, and there was no exit command.

And the man who slapped me said, Now you're going to help us with our metagorilla problem.

So then I understood this was part of my Suffering too so I had to be brave so I said, The metagorillas hate you and Nkube hates you and I hate you too. And the interrogator said, Don't play innocent, we know quite well you're an American CIA spy.

And I said, I'm not a spy, I'm a seventh-grader, they don't make even plutos into spies until after high school. And he said, We know you're not a little kid. All the tech you carry gives you away. The CIA used biotech to tailor your looks to get past us so you could make contact with the metagorillas. You're a courier. Now you're going to tell us the same things you were going to tell your spymaster, everything you know about the metagorillas, or else you're going to end up just like the metagorillas we catch.

And he snapped his fingers at the metal doors, and they opened and there was a long hall full of metagorilla bodies, all dead and taken apart and bloody. And I threw up over myself and the stool. And the interrogator said, You think about that, and they brought my guard and he took me back to my cell.

I didn't know what they really thought I was, but I knew it didn't matter because I had to be a Sacrifice for Nkube's Cause, but I wasn't sure if I was going to Keep Faith, because I was icky, and my butt hurt bad, and I couldn't talk to anyone. It was a lot worse than the feargrounds, but I did my eye exercises like Duchess taught me, so I wouldn't cry, so if Nkube found me he would know I was brave.

But I thought maybe I should have a Heroic Escape after all. I asked the guard if he would lend me a uniform, so I could disguise myself like the Scarlet Pimpernel and escape, but he said they didn't have a uniform that would fit me. So I couldn't escape.

They didn't come for me that day, and I asked the guard, and he said they were getting ready to torture me. And he wanted to know if I wanted to talk first. And I said I didn't but I was a little hungry. And he made the sad face and said he was sorry, but he wasn't allowed to bring me anything until the interrogators said I had earned food.

So that day I had to do my eye exercises a lot.

But Jane must have found out they were going to start torturing me and decided to play a trick to keep me from getting Nkube's attention that way, because on the fifth day the guard plugged in an upgrade into my cell robots. The cell started building me a bed and pillows and a massager and I said, Why are you upgrading my cell? And he said, You'll see when you read your mail. And the cell robots made one of the walls go live and gave me my Net and I saw I had mails from like fourteen thousand people.

And the guard said, You're the Gorilla Girl. You're famous. The American girl who's gone to New Congo to be a Prisoner of Conscience.

So I got mad and threw one of the new pillows at him and said, I'm not a Prisoner of Conscience! I'm a Prisoner of Love!

But the guard said, It's too late. Your friend told everything to the Media, and the Media have chosen your Persona. For the rest of your life you're going to be Gorilla Girl.

So it was all Jane's fault, she thought she could trick Nkube into not caring for me as a person by making me into just a Media Icon. But she didn't get away with it, because in two days they let me out of the prison, and Jane of course was waiting for me, but so was Nkube and a metagorilla.

Nkube said, Yasmin, the Chief Secretary has agreed to negotiate. We may even get our alternaprimate autonomous zone. It's because of the diplomatic pressure when the news came out.

And I said, What news? And he said, The news about you, our brave little American activist political prisoner, Gorilla Girl.

But that's not fair, it's just a story, I said, it's not me at all.

But your story's turned more exponential than fire through summer grass, Nkube said, and half the people who hear about Gorilla Girl start agitating for the rich countries to overthrow our government on simianitarian principles. Jane's mercenaries bought us some breathing space, but I still couldn't see how to win, but now, Yasmin, you've given us the key. Gorilla Girl has been worth gigas of propaganda points. How can I ever repay you?

So I gave Jane the ha-ha face, and I was about to look shy at Nkube and ask him for the Big Promise when the metagorilla spoke.

I am Ara, Nkube's partner, the metagorilla said, and I wish you to know that the apes enfold you with affection. It had a voice that was slow and big so that everything sounded like thunder and molasses. It made circles with its hands while it talked. And it said, The apes adopt you as they adopt my partner Nkube. Then it held out a piece of grass to me like it was a treasure and I took it and the metagorilla said, You have brought my Nkube back to me, and for that my fur is yours, little human, whenever you need it.

And then Nkube and the metagorilla put their arms around each other and kissed.

So after that we went back and I cried on the way and Jane didn't tease me too much because she wants to be my manager and run my Gorilla Speaking Tours for me. Which is OK I guess if Nkube will be there.

Anyway you can see I'm not the Gorilla Girl because the only gorilla Nkube wants is Ara. Jane thinks it's so hot that Nkube and Ara-the-metagorilla are in love because it's all tragic and blighted and gigaromantic. She says it's like a bishonenyo dating game but with extra difficulty points.

But I told her that we're going back next year and she has to help because he's still my True Love. Jane says Nkube isn't my type but I know she's just jealous. Duchess-Two agrees that I just have to master my Feminine Wiles and he'll pay attention to me. Even Jane admits Nkube is SO hot. And what does that big gorilla have that I don't, anyway?

illustration copyright © 2004 David Deen


Copyright © 2004 Daniel Starr

Illustration copyright © 2004 David Deen

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Daniel Starr studied mathematics, history, and computational molecular biology at Yale and MIT, and has worked for the Institute for Nonlinear Science and the Institute for Defense Analyses. "Why I Am Not Gorilla Girl" is his first published science fiction.