Silver Crows

Miss Noy Khouvangsa was Lao’s first cyborgweaver.

She was made of silk. Her body tissues, corneas, and hair were constructed from the exudate of the remarkably industrious silk worm.

Nearly dead after a drunken smash while studying in Boston, Tufts University gave Noy spare parts made from the fibre she had been raised with. She was their creation, a walking example of cyber materials engineering married to medicine.

Her mother had woven miraculous textiles, as had her grandmother, whose mixed heritage of Tai Dam and Tai Lue expressed itself in Noy’s silk. Bathed in moonlight, her grandmother worked in the mouth of caves as American B52s dropped fire on the land outside.  

As the Mekong shrunk, its waters stolen for electricity, the women of Lao looked back to their lineage, rather than forward to industrial mediocrity, to make a decent living. Weaving their invocations to the spirits, they sold their woven stories to foreigners ignorant of silk’s power. Noy watched and learned.

The Parisienne designer Madame Claudine Duffilot a tiny, muscular woman with a mouth painted the colour of blood, employed Noy. Claudine knew that silk could be programmed, could be curved and bent and woven into three-dimensional forms, like carbon fibre, but at much less cost.

She beamed her ideas though intense visualisation directly to nanoprocessors set just above Noy’s elbow. The nanoprocessors articulated the silk muscles in Noy’s arms to render a replica of Claudine’s dreams on the clacking wood and bamboo loom.

petite bourgeoise with higher aspirations, Claudine struggled for authenticity. Photos of Noy at her museum-quality loom, along with the silk she made, were calculated by Claudine to provide the best marketing. She knew that the customers at the atelier wanted to think they were contributing to the poor, while spending a small fortune on a unique piece. The balance of decadence and guilt were as exquisite as the balance of warp and weft.

Madame Claudine’s fastidious designs were not seen on red carpets. Nor did she have a trademark, except the colour black. Her black silk skirts, highlighted with Noy’s emblems, slid under tables in elite hotels, held the breasts of merchant bankers’ consorts or draped the shoulders of political wives. Her name was not bandied about in magazines or TV talk shows. But if you had the money, you knew where she was.

Claudine had found Noy hiding her scars in a small café in Boston. Claudine longed to sell in America, though she disdained American vulgarity, the cheaply made brands at exclusive prices. But she had production problems. Her dream of authenticity had floundered on her own fastidiousness and pretensions.

When she met Noy, Claudine could relate to the sewing; the tiny, almost invisible stitches that decorated and contained Noy’s body. Claudine had started in the haute couture studios of angular gay men who designed clothes for women who looked like men; Claudine’s microscopic stitches binding the silk and lace of women who graced catwalks and who frequented parties that happened in private.   Claudine knew how achingly careful were the silk sutures holding in the silk parts. When she discovered Noy, her skills as a weaver immediately sparked Claudine’s instinct for the exotic, the ineffable sense that she had met an extraordinary creature.

Back in a small studio in Lao, Noy was an artefact inside the authentic. Claudine communicated directly to Noy, her voice translated into electrons that quantum-leapt to Noy’s muscles.

Working on a replica of a traditional Lao pha sinh, a tube skirt, Noy elaborately decorated the hem in black and silver, like the night sky. As she slammed home the shuttle, she sensed Claudine talking to her in that silly mix of French and English that seemed to please her. ‘Ma petite, I am in my atelier. Je vois des oiseaux voler. Ce serait parfait dans la soie, n’est ce pas? You agree, non?’

Noy envisaged birds of paradise.

But Claudine was in a Poe mood. “I want crows, Noy,’ she whispered, ‘silver crows in the moonlight.’

Noy’s reverie of plumage melted as the cold crept through her. Had she heard right? Crows!

Noy screamed ‘No!’ as she suddenly felt her body weaken. Her grandmother, also a shaman, invoked crows as a death totem. A crow made of silk was burned to bring death to an enemy. Noy’s arms, which could not refuse the command, grew heavy, her bones softened, her hair slipped out. Sliding to the floor, her eyes became unfocussed and her sight faded to black. As she died she was aware of her own voice calling to her grandmother to take her home.


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