[For the story so far, see episode one: Dynoom.]
The dwellings of Olhoav are scattered over a gently curved rise, the so-called Hill of the City. From afar it does have the appearance of a natural hill. A low one, it seems, with an outline that appears, on closer inspection, notched and serrated. In fact the main curve is none other than the mounded substructure of the city itself: an aerated wodge of rock and metal cells, overlaid with some stone blocks and slabs but not enough of them to look heavy (it has been calculated that if the impossible were to happen, and the planet Ooranye’s ice-crust were to melt into an ocean, Olhoav would float).
However, the above remarks do not prepare you for the urban silhouette when you see it for the first time.
On your approach, as your eye measures the city’s rise over the giant world’s distant horizon, your sight is smitten by three giant soaring half-ellipses, hoops of metal a-glint with shiny grey studs, arching over the upturned-saucer shape of the Hill. These apparently flimsy lobate structures, the Meegn, reach a mile into the sky. They trace what would be the surface of a semi-ovoid force-field, a shield in the form of a half egg standing upright on its long axis. In truth, however, there is no force field. Olhoav does not have the power.
Yet long experience has taught the citizens that the Meegn silhouette is a deterrent to the gneh-ou, the predatory clouds.
As for why the gneh-ou avoid the Meegn: the right answer, on this baffling planet, is to shrug. Doubtless after much trial and error, the people of some distant age must have stumbled upon their workable defence. A search through the city records might possibly uncover that episode's history, but it would be descriptive only: mysteries on Ooranye grow too tenebrous for the human mind. However, you Terrans need not worry your heads about this. Rest easy, you who have been nurtured by a far smaller, childlike world! Your 'problem-solving' makes good enough sense where you are, while we, in our huger, elder arena, wrestle the Fates in different style –
Hyala Movoum gazed upon a sliver of the Meegn through the skylight of her lounge. (Lounge? she mused – it’s more like an interview room, today.) Her thoughts wandered in Uranian fashion, skirting the blank spaces in her understanding in the hope of intuitive reward. Why had so many people flocked to her, during the hours since this morning? (What a day it had been! nor was it over yet.) She was placidly aware of her own great beauty (a marvel even by the standards of our world) and of her unusual gifts; still the question remained, why this degree of popularity?
The answer came in a blend of sight (the silver Meegn’s slash across the sky) and memory (of the day’s civic celebrations).
Life in a far outpost, the better it gets, gets closer to a melancholy knock against a cultural ceiling. In our exile we have achieved an adequate existence, but when our expectations, encouraged by such partial success, try to soar, they shove in vain against the Unanswerable. We’re stuck, plain stuck, on the dim side of the world. Starside can never equal Sunward civilization.
Doubtless that was the underlying cause of the unrest in the bashful young man seated opposite her right now –
The fellow did not say so, of course. He’d never be able to articulate such a motive for his visit. But his discontent was obvious. He shifted in his chair, twining and untwining his fingers, with a restlessness which he expected her to cure. Yes, he – like so many others that day – was counting on some magic of her reputed wisdom, to chase away the pesky spirit of unease which buzzed in him during days of festivity.
Many others were like him: spiritual sufferers who came to Hyala for help. Around two-thirds of them were men (for some reason, women tended more to accept reality as it
was) yet no breath of scandal had arisen
from these male visitors who, one by one, quite openly entered Hyala’s house at
a late hour. To categorize Hyala Movoum, we might borrow your
Terran word “saint”, for which we have no equivalent on Ooranye.
“Now then, Karph,” she leaned forward, her kindly curving lip unwittingly igniting adoration in the youth. “You’re not alone – many of us, at times like this, feel jangly. It’s natural to become dissatisfied with our lot when those moments stab us - those moments of regret we all know: futile, useless regret at having been born out here on Starside. But actually I should not say ‘we’: for I personally do not share this feeling. I can empathise with it but,” she paused, “it’s not home-grown in my heart.”
“Please tell me why,” breathed Karph, on the edge of his seat. Might his unease be on the brink of de-mystification to a blessed plainness? He was rapt in the hope...
“Geography is not Fate,” Hyala crisply began. “Suppose that you, Karph, had been born and bred on Sunside. Suppose that you had been raised in the very thick of Ooranye’s highest civilization, in the most advanced area of Syoom. You imagine, don’t you, that everything then would be different? I tell you no, it would not be significantly different at all. On the contrary, you would feel pretty much the same... yes, I mean it! Do you think I’m exaggerating?”
Karph, desperate not to miss a single illuminating syllable, parted his lips to shape the plea, go on.
“Ask yourself,” Hyala continued, “what does it matter, whether the ceiling of our capability is a hundred or a thousand times higher than our everyday reach? If you lived on Sunside you would still be aware, just as much as you are now, of the dark context which hems in all human life on this giant planet: the sheer size of Ooranye, the immensity of its challenges, the stark truth that most of it must always be unsuitable for Man… all of this must create for you your own personal frontier, wherever you happen to live. Therefore what is the point of envying the Syoomeans? None at all; you might as well remain content as an Olhoavan.”
Blunt, obvious stuff, yet for him it was like listening to a song.
“Thank you, Hya – er – sponndar H-M,” he murmured, almost addressing her familiarly. Barely in time did he remember to use the honorific-plus-initials format, so wonderful was her speech. Self-evident, too – he might have saved himself a visit by thinking the answer up himself and reciting it all to himself; only, if he had said it, it would have sounded trite, not strong, whereas from the lips of Hyala Movoum it became a resplendent truth, an infinite comfort compared with what those same words would have been in anyone else’s mouth…
That was her magic.
As for how she managed to add such value to simple statements – well, Karph simply accepted that ‘she was she’. With hurried thanks and awkward bow, he retreated to the door. He was aglow with one idea: to get out. He must retreat from the overwhelming presence of the beautiful sage in order to digest what he had gained from her. Get out, get out, he repeated this to himself, all the more urgently as, with one last blink in her direction he was shocked to recognize lines of weariness in her face. Normally she has no lines; she’s no older than I.
At the door, he raised a hand in farewell. “I will tell my family and friends what you said.”
The faintest of smiles from the seated woman: “More a case of reminding them, Karph.”
She added to herself, as the door closed behind him: if only people could remind themselves, I’d get to bed earlier tonight.
Nevertheless, on a day of unsettled souls, it was not reasonable to expect folk like Karph to restrain themselves from spreading the news; they always went ahead and told their family and friends, that Hyala Movoum was the one person able to give them what they needed; hence she must accept her widening renown. One thing might have hurt her –
What she dreaded was a jeer, a particular taunt. It hadn’t happened yet. She prayed to Thremdu that it never would. But well she knew, her reputation was vulnerable to one species of opprobrium. It was a thought that made her spirit cringe… uniquely defenceless against that one singular threatened shaming, to which her clients and beneficiaries were quite immune. That brand of mud could never stick on simple folk like Karph, whereas Hyala was wide open to it because -
Because of her name.
Her two names, rather.
The majority of the Uranian population consists of unsophisticated “wirrips” (“one-namers”), or (more cruelly) “backgrounders” – in other words, the ordinary folk of the planet, who each have one name only, not two: because their first utterance, as new-born babes, is the single word which, recorded by birth-witnesses, counts thenceforth as the person’s identity.
The minority of foregrounders, on the other hand – those people who are likely to achieve personal distinction of one sort or another – utter two words in their primal breath: two words known clearly as such because they are separated by a pause.
They thus grow up with two names. Like – “Hyala Movoum”. And that is inescapably that. Such double appellations are entered into the city’s records. Which need not pose any problem, except –
The tradition of record-keeping, whereby track is kept of the ‘two-namer’ or ‘foregrounder’ minority, means that their previous lives, unlike the mass of wirrips', are historically traceable. Those foregrounders who have lived an earlier incarnation can be publicly identified with their earlier selves.
And that can cause embarrassment, if –
Hyala flinched from the thought-train.
Coincidentally, at that moment, she heard the door’s buzzer. Relieved at the interruption, she pressed a stud on a lampstand, which activated the “enter” signal. Then she turned to receive her latest visitor.
The grey-cloaked figure of Noad Barlayn
Lamiroth took a step into the lounge, and swirled to a stop while one hand still rested on the doorknob.
Being a Noad, he was a supreme exemplar of that life-steering quality called renl, letting you always know, by body-language, how things stand. During the present eloquent pause the message was, “I have allotted you a minute or two.”
This, then, was a “flying visit”, though with Noad B-L the minutes could turn out to be dense-packed in the extreme.
“I hear reports,” he said, “that you’ve spent today putting heart into people. I came to thank you, Hyala, and to offer you something in return.”
She sensed what was imminent. The offer, which was about to be spoken, would only be spoken once. That made it easier for her. The Noad was giving her a moment to collect herself. That was good, too. She gave him his cue: “Say on, Noad B-L.”
So there it was. The opportunity to become the Daon, the Noad’s heir.
For a split second she toyed with the breath-taking prospect. Daon Hyala Movoum of Olhoav. But no matter how she revolved it in her imagination, the title betokened no more than an unreal splendour.
“Heartfelt thanks for the honour, Noad B-L, but it’s not for me. My inner compass is steering me on a different route.”
“In that case,” said Barlayn Lamiroth with a slow nod, “you do right to refuse – as I did right to ask.” His tone was equable, his mien untroubled, as he turned to leave. “Until we speak again – skimmjard, sponndar.”
“Skimmjard, Noad B-L,” Hyala called after him, and murmured, as he disappeared, “lremd, lremd, balanced, balanced! I must balance as finely as he.” She unclenched a fist and passed a hand over her face. (It is not often that she, or any Uranian, actually utters the word lremd, the adjective from renl, the knack of steering oneself through life. One isn’t even meant to mutter such basic things. Terrans, you will do well to remember, if you ever set foot on our world, that many of our words are for thinking, not saying, and that they thus provide examples of when to keep your lip buttoned.)
I made the correct decision, Hyala thought. I’m surely right not to regard myself as Daon material.
Yes indeed, she was certain that she had responded wisely to the great offer. But she felt some palpitations from it. To quell these, she reflected upon the efficiency of the Noad. He had probably guessed what her answer would be. Though he had felt bound to ask, he was probably glad now it was over and done with. Now they both knew where they stood and he could go seek someone else to be his heir. She meanwhile could concentrate on her next case…
…Which, to her surprise, consisted of a double visit.
One client was a thin-limbed youth, similar to Karph in age and build, but whereas Karph had been merely diffident, this next young fellow with his long, over-dreamy face, seemed quite vapid. The other visitor, broader of feature and about three thousand days older, showed some family resemblance to his companion.
In manner, though, the contrast between the two men was stark.
“I am Dempelath,” the older man announced, transfixing Hyala with eyes that blazed unaccountable fury. She hardly managed to repress a shudder at the transformation of the tone of the evening; it was as though a sudden negation of reason, a mad hostility, had caused the physical temperature of the room to drop. She would have asked him to leave, only she had no excuse to do that: he was formally correct; he tossed a generous handful of glowing phials into the donations basket by the door; he bowed and waited for permission to sit. Therefore she felt compelled to accord the normal courtesies.
“…And this lad is my ward, Nyav Yuhlm.”
“Brothers? Cousins?” asked Hyala, pumping effort into calmness. She was determined not to flinch at the controlled combustion of the other’s rage. It was better not to look at those eyes. It was easier just to listen to the voice, which was not out of the ordinary.
“First cousins, though I am a one-name and he is a two.” Dempelath now put on a smirk as if to say, See how little I mind, that I’m a mere backgrounder while he has full-blown two-named foregrounder swank. I a mere one, he a two – and I don’t care a rag.
At this point the younger man opened his mouth and croaked, “But… I may not be a two.”
“I’m getting round to that,” his guardian responded with a finger-flick that clearly said let me handle this. To the woman he continued, “I’ve brought him to you, because he is in the grip of fear.”
With an inward sigh, Hyala understood.
“Fear,” she summarised, “that he may be not Nyav Yuhlm but mere ‘Nyavyuhlm’?”
“Precisely. You guessed it.” Eyes now glinting his satisfaction, that the conversation was proceeding exactly as he wished, Dempelath continued: “You must know, sponndar H-M, that our traditional ways of doing things, in our namings of people, leave room for error…”
The very topic Hyala least wished to hear. The issue touched her own inner fears about her own name. While the voice hammered on, it was as much as she could manage to cope with the emotional pressure, yet she continued to listen with precision and with outward calm to every word – whilst wishing that she could have had a more easy-going visitor, this late in the evening.
“…Who knows how frequently a baby’s first utterance may be inaccurately recorded? Taken to be two words when it is actually just a slurred and protracted single name? And when and if that happens, the family, of course, will be motivated by wishful thinking. Being human, they will hear what they wish to hear and believe what they wish to believe. They’ll be moved by their desire to conclude that their new arrival is no mere one-name wirrip like me, but on the contrary a high-status two-namer like, for instance, you, Hyala Movoum.”
His voice had sunk to a wavering drone while his young cousin gazed at him with a sunken expression. Then, at the point when the long sentence was brought to a close, with the utterance of Hyala’s name, the speaker’s eyes blazed anew. The crackle of such sudden resentful force made the room seem to quiver. Meanwhile the youngster, whether Nyav Yuhlm or “Nyavyuhlm”, looked sick.
“So you’re concerned,” prompted Hyala.
She spoke with a dash of irony. Surely she must be addressing some sort of maniac. Perhaps in order to be more positive about it one might say: here’s a challenge for a soother of minds…
Dempelath nodded, “Concerned enough. I have conducted some experiments, in an attempt – forgive my bluntness, sponndar H-M – to some shed rational light upon this whole foregrounder / backgrounder business.”
The tension in the room went up a further notch, at the sound of those words which are dirty when spoken out loud. Hyala kept her composure but she sharpened her manner – now grimly certain that she faced someone who did not feel bound by the social decencies. “What exactly did you do?” she demanded.
“Oh,” replied Dempelath airily, “so far, I have merely outlined some hypothetical stories. In sessions with Nyav and some other volunteers, I have explored possibilities involving various degrees of adventure, peril, fame, achievement – "
You actually tried to make a test out of it, you cold-blooded – Hyala hunted for a seldom-used word...
" - and I have observed their responses," the man continued. "That’s to say their blood pressure, speed of reaction, pupil-dilation… with doubtful results in Nyav’s case. He was rather traumatised, I regret to say, when he learned that his readings match those of the typical one-namer, rather than those of the two-namer whom he is supposed to be (really, Nyav, you know it is best not to obsess over these matters)… whereupon, sponndar H-M, having heard that you’ve been helping many confused people today, I brought him here.”
The word she badly needed was "on the tip of her tongue". Not “maniac”, no. That – she now saw – would not do. Something else, the most apt of descriptors, if only she could remember it! Nothing technical; a short word, though rarely used, but now was the time to apply it to Dempelath, and in summing him up it would help her envisage how to deal with him, it would illuminate the attitude she ought to to him – only what was it? Maddening that she could not nail a term just one or two syllables in length! Her mind rummaged in a blur of speed as she riffled in vain through her store of knowledge for the verbal match to Dempelath’s gimlet-eyed stare, that commanding glint which seemed seated at vehicular controls behind the man's eyes. Whatever it was, it enabled him to manipulate the powers of expression and tone and, thereby, the emotions of those on whom he experimented: his cousin and who knows how many other people… And the word Hyala sought might also denote the reckless voicing aloud of the foregrounder / backgrounder taboo distinction, that ought never to be made explicit lest civilization be torn apart by the awakened envy of bit-part “extras” for the spot-lit fortunate few. Oh skies above, how do you describe a person who behaves like this? WHAT WAS THAT WORD? She shook her head in utter frustration.
Meanwhile, lest poor young Nyav conclude that she was denying him assistance, she had better give one of her reassuring mini-lectures, like she’d done with Karph, to shrink the youngster’s anxiety, reduce it to a dot in the wider picture.
“Nyav Yuhlm,” her voice rang, “remember that all this naming-business is mere custom. No rule has been set in stone. Human society is not officially ordered in compliance with any one-name/two-name distinction. Nor does one need to obsess about one’s status, using those words which are not considered polite,” she added with a look of prim reproof at Dempelath. “Our individual names, it is true, are the precious identity-tags of our souls – the first words we utter in the moments after we are born – but this has been true since our species began, ever since the first Nenn emerged from the Lake of Dmara; in other words, long, long before there was all this fuss of a division between – ” (she coughed in distaste but took the plunge) “foregrounders and backgrounders. The division only began to be felt in Era Fifty-Nine during the bedimmed time of poverty after the depredations of the Foam. It was in that unfortunate age of dearth, when the remaining spoils of destiny seem to be reserved for the ‘spot-lit’ famous few at the expense of the obscure multitude, that the gulf between those two classes of plot-line became tangled with the one-name two-name divide. Our assumptions have run in the consequent groove ever since.”
She was performing her trick of telling people things they already knew but telling them afresh, in a tone of serenity, in such a way as to convince them that they were being gifted with the proper truth for the first time. Unfortunately in doing this she herself had to break the taboo, but she did it excusably, temporarily, with a spiritual doctor’s authority to examine the soul’s private parts.
It seemed to work, just as it always did. It was almost too easy. The boy mumbled his gratitude. As for Dempelath – he gave no trouble. He nodded courteously and rose from his chair, steering his younger companion towards the door. “We won’t need to take up more of your time this evening, sponndar H-M. Thank you for the solace which I now see in my cousin’s face.”
In response, she smiled; she was, for the moment, fooled as she sighed: Thank the skies that’s over!
It was then – as the door closed behind them – that the technical term, for which she had been rummaging, finally came to her.
The word was “evil”. But now that it had come, she was doubtful whether she needed to use it. For really she had no hard evidence that Dempelath deserved to be called evil. Perhaps what she had just seen were merely the stress-signals of a conscientious man, intelligent and ambitious despite his single name, discharging himself of a difficult responsibility. Well… actually, no, let’s face it, he’s worse than that. Arrogant, envious, offensive –
That had better be all. Such cheap, uncouth or common badness, she could cope with. The occasional bouts of self-indulgence, selfishness, general moral weakness… she could help people to balance their stances against those. But as for evil – which can’t be dismantled into such components – evil the force – the mystery – definable only by the rejection one must hurl at it –
Hmm, that might be too much, especially as she had her own worries. Anyhow, the pair were gone. Phew! Were they the last of the day’s lot? It is getting wearisomely late. I know the Noad expects me to give of my all, but I could do with some sleep, truly I could…
That (it turned out) was not yet to be. A few breaths were all she was allowed to take before…
The final visit of that evening was announced by a gentle flicker in the apices of her lounge’s hexagonal ceiling.
“Skimmjard, Hyala,” a voice murmured through the room, coaxing itself into her ears from all directions at once.
It was a sound unmistakably familiar to any citizen of Olhoav.
“Skimmjard, Dynoom,” she responded in mild surprise.
Like all citizens, she had had occasional visits from the urban Voice, visits which usually weren’t ascribable to any known cause. Olhoavans were accustomed to such apparently random encounters, and it was quite standard to remain ignorant of their motive and purpose. Whether such voice-overs sprang from a statistical motive in the depths of the great Brain, or from simple loneliness (the Ghepion equivalent of “dropping in for a chat”) nobody really knew.
It did not occur to Hyala that the machine was on her list of suppliants.
Nor did it tell her this straightaway. It began by asking politely how she was.
Hyala was tempted to seize the opportunity to ask for help with her own problem. For here, maybe, was a stroke of luck, nicely timed after the fraught dialogue about names. Yes! Just what she needed – the attention of the one Being to whom she could confess her dread concerning her own name – if only it could understand –
“I don’t suppose, Dynoom, that you know what ‘embarrassment’ means…”
“Not from personal experience. I have observed its effects, though. Blood to the head. Hesitant speech.”
“Well, now you can listen to my hesitant speech.”
“And empathize, if you can… with what creeps into my mind, when I reflect…”
“Reflect on what, Hyala?”
“Ah, what’s the use…”
“Come now,” said Dynoom, unexpectedly warm. “You have started to tell me. Finish it.”
“…That my second name is just one small phoneme away from that of the First Sunnoad.”
There, she’d said it out loud. She felt her cheeks burn. No human was within earshot, and she’d anyway done nothing wrong, and yet it was as if she had been caught thieving, or unmasked as an impostor.
Dynoom’s voice murmured around her, “Hyala Movoummm – shall I voice your creeping thought? Here it comes: ‘is it not possible,' you wonder, 'that my parents, and the other witnesses at my birth, misheard, or could not believe, that my infant lips actually mouthed the “n” and not the “m”, so that they failed to see or admit the stupendous truth, that I am, truly, the reborn Sunnoad Hyala Movounnnnnn?’”
“That’s how to rub it in,” she said, bitterly.
“I have had a long age,” commented the Brain, “in which to learn human psychology.”
“By observation, I dare say,” Hyala snapped. “But can you possibly understand the real force of the shame I could so easily be condemned to feel? The heroine of all history, Sunnoad Hyala Movoun 1, the First to wear the golden cloak, the pivot of humanity’s destiny on this planet – her achievements and defeats, her triumphs and sorrows, even her faults, have been reverenced, Dynoom, since long before even you came into being; all the peoples of both hemispheres of Ooranye have remembered Hyala Movoun 1 for all their days. To live with the possibility that I might be accused of impersonating that person – ! Pretending I’m the return of her! It’s a burden, Dynoom, that almost crushes my every move; it’s a self-consciousness I can’t get rid of; it makes me snigger at myself whenever I try to achieve anything, whenever I try to do anything good! And that’s because I can’t help but anticipate the sniggers of other folk; I flinch in advance from the moment that they’ll start to say, just look at our Hyala’s efforts to please… you know what she’s trying to make us think – ”
“All in your mind,” said Dynoom. “Your exterior self is genuinely good – doing nothing but good.”
“That’s what racks my nerves!” cried Hyala. “It fulfils me to help people – but what am I doing, what am I really doing? Is it the fraud in me?” Her voice shot up in a despairing race between sob and laugh.
“Fear no ridicule,” soothed the circumambient Ghepion. “Forget the past greatness of Hyala Movoun. You can look to your own great path.”
“Great path,” she echoed.
“This very evening,” explained Dynoom, “you can do something which she could never have done.”
“…because there were no Ghepions in her day.”
“You can help me.”
Hyala pressed a hand to her forehead. “Is this a joke? Sorry…”
“I tell you, human, you can help me – I, Dynoom, ask it of you.” Its sensors watched the seated woman quiver; watched her regain control of herself; and concluded: this person is suitable.
Its voice edged caressingly closer to the woman as it went on: “You will understand, I hope, that although my physical self and my general attention are more or less everywhere in the city at once, my particular attention hovers.”
“I understand,” gulped Hyala. “So… this is private, between you and me. What do you need me to do?”
“Let’s say,” the answer came, “that I am about to put forth a fingertip of my mind, to touch something singular, possibly dangerous. While attempting this, I want the moral support of a moral Being. Yourself.”
“You mean – you want me to hold your hand!” laughed Hyala, dizzy with sudden merriment. “You’re full of surprises this evening, I have to say.”
“That’s because it has been a day of surprise. Successful renovation of the Pnurrm has been carried out – without me. I am thus proved to be purposeless.”
“What? No! That can’t be true.”
“It’s not going to be true. Hold still, Hyala. Think of me, and be ready to talk again to me, whilst I reach over the distance that is no distance, during moments of no-time.” The voice of Dynoom became gravelly as it petered out...
Hyala sat petrified. Think, just think and be ready – was that all? She felt all of a sudden as though some cold cloud had taken position above her head. She would have been happier if it had literally been a real cloud, one of the baneful sky-creatures occasionally known to ooze through a ventilator shaft. Unfortunately the situation allowed of no such swapping of unknown for known. Dumbly, yet certainly, she was aware that what hovered over her was the invisible bulge of an Event, something large, too large, for her. She could but hope that it would relate wholly to Dynoom and not at all to herself – nor to the other folk of the city. Let the Ghepion fight its lonely battles. Let inhuman destinies sort themselves. She wished Dynoom well, but its friendship was an over-strenuous thing for a human mind.
More moments ticked by and she partially unfroze, shifting in her chair. How long, she wondered, was the ‘no-time’ going to last?
Without warning the answer came. “Thank you for sitting with me,” the ambient voice said. It had become flatter somehow, a grey, appalled voice. Hyala gained the impression that the dangerous thing it had just attempted, whatever it was, perhaps hadn’t turned out well.
“Anything else I can do for you?” she asked with effortful sweetness in her tone.
“That will be all for now.”
Grumpily exhausted, while sure that Dynoom must have discovered something it did not wish to talk about, Hyala muttered: Right, now at last I can get some sleep.
Continued in Uranian Throne Episode 3: