“We Come Together,” intoned the High Parsa of Kromer.
“We Come Together,” replied the congregation.
“We come together to Bear Witness. For one of our Young Ones now reaches for Higher Things. We come together to Celebrate.”
In the audience, I jotted down another note. The Savvatrians were a complex people, and xenopological studies were already detail oriented. I couldn’t afford to miss a single moment, especially as my partner was up on the stage, dressed in brightly colored strips of fabric, feathers, and leaves.
Paula had volunteered to partner me in our immersion study here on Savva after my former partner dropped out of the program to get married. Well, not dropping out permanently, she just had to spend a year on hiatus while her family got her ready for her big week-long wedding. Surbhi had sworn she was coming back. I hoped so, xenopology was a career that was built to make the researcher lonely, a stranger in a land even stranger than them.
I blinked, letting my lenscam snap a picture of the stage. Paula had been invited up to the front, where she was reciting her qualifications for Savvatrian Adulthood, in the form of interpretive dance. Most of the Savvatrian rituals required dances, but only the rare rite of passage that moved a child into adulthood used an individually constructed dance. It was why Paula had petitioned the High Parsa for the right to study and apply for adulthood, we hadn’t seen it yet, and with a race as slow-growing as Savvatrians, we’d be here another fifty years before we got to. The High Parsa was glad to show Paula the steps to take in finding a mentor, but that mentor hadn’t let me in to see Paula’s lessons, and Paula herself hadn’t wanted to show me her practices. I’d helped her sew the costume, though, since that would usually have gone to her family, and they weren’t here. It was interesting watching her design it, the way the disparate parts could come together into a cohesive whole that mimicked the bright plumage of the avian-looking Savvartians.
The dance was amazing. Paula’s limbs flowed like water, arcing through the air like a glider, one of her hobbies. She couldn’t fly like the Savvatrians, but she came close. Then her legs slid to either side, and she fell into a split that made my thighs hurt to watch. Her back arched and her braids rattled with the sounds of beads, ones of metal, ones of glass, ones of bone, and some of the shiny corn-plastics we could make with our port-printer. The port-printer was important, since it could replicate a full evidence kit in half a cycle, but that didn’t stop anyone from using it for small luxuries. Paula snapped her legs together in front of her as she rose into a half-circle back-bend, then raised one leg vertical. I watched in stunned amazement as she moved seamlessly into a handstand, seeming to defy several laws of physics and her own human biology. Her dress began to shed of strips of color as she danced on her hands. I'd helped her plan for that, the dun and navy strips that looked like a juvenile designed to come free easily, but I'd thought she would pull them off with her hands, not trust to centrifugal force! I gaped at her whirlwind shape, legs spinning, body jumping, ending in a flip that landed her on one coiled leg, the other out low and her hands thrust behind her. I didn’t know what I’d just seen, I wasn’t sure I would ever know, really know, what the Savvatrians had seen, but the audience around me was cheering loudly. We were swept out into the square, where a feast waited, and Paula was congratulated.
I took as many notes as I could, snapped at least a hundred pictures, and interviewed seventeen people in between eating and dancing. It was a rite of passage for Paula, but in many ways it was a passage for all of us, moving us further into the future, where Savvatrians and humans live and work together. Where a researcher from Brazil can become a Savvatrian Flight Dancer and her partner can be themself.
That’s the thing about Savvatrians. I wanted to study them because they, like me, have no gender. Every rite that is celebrated is celebrated the same. Those who reproduce are honored, but they don’t reproduce by mating, so they never developed a culture that divided by seed and soil, sun and moon. There is none of that curious duality between ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’. There is only the Congregation, and the rituals of life that draw them together, binding the society like the edges of fabric come together as the thread pulls taut between them.