Every day upon Ooranye, the sixth hour marks the onset of ayshine, our protracted "noon". During this period of maximum brightness, which lasts five hours, the suspended aerial micro-organisms known as the throom attain their glowing climax, the culmination of our thirty-hour diurnal cycle.
You on Earth might think our scenes rather dim even during ayshine, perhaps comparable to your summer dusks. We, however, are happy with this modest glow, which sufficiently illuminates the colours of our world.
The stroke of ayshine was a good moment for a particular young man upon whom fortune had smiled, to appear on the porch of his urban mansion in Rullud Avenue. Blue-cloaked Dari Clsar stepped forth and modestly hailed an expectant crowd. Hundreds of well-wishers responded with a roar of appreciation.
Dari Clsar was the lucky possessor of talents, skills and an attractive personality. When such a person achieves high appointment, it is traditional to regard the new rank as a fitting reward, even if it is merely a reward for being who one is. And so, embodying warmth and good humour, the all-purpose greeting-word "Skimmjard!" pulsed from a multitude of throats, while spectators raised both arms, creating a brief prairie-like ripple of sleeves in the nearby gardens and streets.
It was the sight of the blue cloak that had triggered their enthusiasm. Its cerulean hue proclaimed a message, popular and instantly recognizable.
Even without the heavy significance of his new attire, Dari Clsar would have attracted notice. He was widely recognized as an up-and-coming chirr, or vigilee.
A vigilee, in our Uranian cities, follows a highly respected calling.
The social fabrics of Ooranye have matured over such vast aeons, that an urban economy most of the time literally runs itself, so that during our hours of labour-duty the work-trance smoothly takes us over and we perform instinctively whatever is needed for the maintenance of our city. Occasionally, though, a situation arises which requires somebody to stay awake during work. Just as a human body occasionally needs deliberate medical care, so some hitch may arise in the functions of the economy, requiring a trouble-shooter who, rather than merely subside into the regular efficiency of the urban metabolism, can bring to bear the open mind of a conscious employee.
Dari Clsar had proved, in recent days, that he was good at this. Only a 10-day ago he had, with smooth flair, resolved a clash of resources to ensure a scheduled finish: thus the project for the refurbishment of the Pnurrm was concluded on time. More important was his style of action. During his stints as vigilee, he excelled in the knack of being in the right place at the right time, the skill which we call renl.
That ability to steer through life by weaving one's way through the traffic of events, without getting stuck in blind alleys, without stumbling or causing others to stumble, is the gift a Noad must have. Therefore the Noad's heir, the Daon, also has to have it.
Out of the mansion's front hall, a second figure now stepped forth. Grey-cloaked Noad Barlayn Lamiroth walked to Dari Clsar's side, laid a hand on the other's newly blue-cloaked shoulder and thus confirmed -
"Citizens of Olhoav, I commend to you your new Daon! Obey him as you would obey me; trust him as you have trusted me; and go spread the news, that my search for an heir is over, thank the skies."
The words boomed out over a crowd which was already dissolving in glad obedience. While the thousand or so witnesses thus fanned out to broadcast what had happened, Daon Dari Clsar turned quietly to express his thanks to the Noad.
The city-brain was watching all this, out of a crystal eye. No human citizen could have seen so much, and this was due not merely to the Ghepion's more powerful sense-organs, but to its recent experience. Dynoom's perception of the tableau, from the mural socket on the other side of the avenue, was much affected by the mode of vision newly granted by the Snaddy-Galomm.
In that fate-display, individuals wore their destinies in the shape of flame-like "hats", and the lingering effects of that style of vision upon the perceptions of the machine-brain caused it to see, quasi-literally, a pale cone of light flicker above the head of Dari Clsar. An aura of promise, a glorious potential...
At this juncture you Terran readers must permit us to utter a boast.
The sense comes upon us, every so often, that we - the Uranian Bards who spinn this yarn for you - have praised Dynoom's perceptions more than enough. With some irritation, then, we stress (this is our compensatory boast) that our own human vision can stand comparison with that of any Ghepion.
Admittedly we mortal flesh-and-blood Nenns can't see in all directions at once, but we can make up for this by using our imaginations. Furthermore we don't actually need any Snaddy-Galomm to help us picture the wobbling flames of destiny. We can quite well imagine the way they must flicker and swirl in dancing interaction throughout a crowded urban scene.
It's our story-telling vocation, to view our characters' shifting viewpoints as sparks in motion, in streams like the glittering swarms of skimmer-traffic superimposed upon the thoroughfares of a city at night; or by day, when the air's brighter background mutes the traffic-sparkle but the more figurative excitement intensifies, as during those hours of greater activity the urges and wills of the population scintillate the more.
So shone the moment of golden promise for blue-cloaked newly-promoted Daon Dari Clsar.
Imagine him at that instant of promotion, when, during that heartbeat of time, the dazzle was his, the glory of youth at the crest of opportunity's wave.
So much starker was the succeeding moment.
Announced by the briefest of whines, a laser bolt tore through the air and smashed into the new Daon's head, to splatter his brains over his front door and over the cloak of the Noad who stood beside him.
Reflexively, before even his awareness had comprehended the murder, the Noad had drawn sponnd from holster and was weaving it back and forth while he sought to peer in the exact direction from which the bolt had come, in case some movement might give him a clue, or a target at which to fire back.
No glint of sponnd-barrel could he spot, as he scrutinized the walkways that festooned the middle distance, nor any suggestive form that leaned against the railings. Some hidden marksman had done the deed. Some expert killer who might already have made nen's escape. The grim horror of the event settled upon the Noad, and upon all those present.
Bad though it was for every human witness, it was worse felt by Dynoom. All of the Brain's recent advances in perception were cast into doubt. The death of Dari Clsar seemed to give the lie to the fancied flame which, in Dynoom's mind's eye, had sported above the youth's head. That - an indicator of great destiny? Here the fellow lay, slaughtered. The fact loomed as a mocking question-mark over the Snaddy-Galomm.
Meanwhile the Noad, in blended shock - from the human loss and from the brutal defiance of his authority - ran without thinking to the side of the house and leaped onto his skimmer. The remaining bystanders drew back, stumbling in haste, to open a lane for him.
With ice-cold fury in his heart Barlayn Lamiroth became a projectile of vengeance that shot into the web of tiered streets from which the lethal bolt had come.
To follow the trail of murder in person and alone, without first issuing any orders, was to take a calculated risk, but for Barlayn the calculation was unconscious and too rapid for doubt. He instinctively raced to grasp some vital clue, a fading "now or never" trace that must be spotted during the moments before it disappeared.
He bulleted across Rullud Avenue and into the district beyond, where mediocre dwellings wrapped themselves around the helical towers and the spatulate landing-pads.
The scene was as bright and clear as it ought to be at this time of day, but something (sensed the Noad) had darkened the outlook. He assumed at first that the wrongness was in himself. He was aware of the obscuring film of rage that he must surmount if he was to think clearly, and in addition to the indignation and sorrow over the murder of Dari Clsar, there was the exasperation he felt because the search for an heir must begin all over again. How greatly he had been looking forward to being able to assume, "If anything happens to me, Olhoav will still be in good hands"...! - and now, as you Terrans would say, it was back to the drawing board.
However, in addition to all this frustration, and to the disturbing fact of the murder itself, Barlayn for the past few days had not been happy about the mood of the city: a city which he, as its Noad, knew as thoroughly as anyone could, and yet which had begun to disturb him in some manner which he could not grasp; all he was sure of was that something in Olhoav was profoundly wrong.
At this very moment, as he surveyed the loafers on the platforms, he sensed that a substantial minority of these dwellers in Xemb District were not sufficiently appalled at the news of the Daon's assassination. It was news which must already have crackled from transceiver to transceiver around the whole city, yet he saw quite a few people unmoved, and the sight of them, of their stances, their easy gestures, dismayed him with their lack of dismay.
Self-doubt cut into his other thoughts. Had he done right, zooming here alone? Well, he would not turn back. Yet, logically, perhaps he should. Suppose he were murdered too, with no Daon to succeed him: then the people of Olhoav, in the midst of political crisis, would have to obtain their next ruler by means of a thuzolyr-election to the noadex.
Such a tournament of talent-mirroring devices, involving a majority of the half-million population, would take a dangerous amount of time. Was it not his duty to spare them the possibility?
No! This constitutional dither wasn't the issue that gave him pause. The real anxiety must be different - for he was fairly sure that he wasn't going to be murdered. The plotters could have struck him down as easily as they did his heir, yet their marksman had targeted the younger man. Question: why shoot the Daon and not the Noad?
Answer: to put pressure on the Noad, evidently.
Barlayn Lamiroth skimmed some yards deeper into Xemb District. He eyeing the bystanders carefully, and they eyed him back. Since he wore the grey cloak of his office he must have been recognized even by those who had never met him personally. Yet it was a minute or so before one of the local men, on a platform which jutted ahead of him, made deliberate eye-contact.
Barlayn grounded his skimmer and faced the fellow, who stood within a knot of just over a dozen men and women.
They appeared sullen, some scowling at him openly as he walked towards them. He maintained his pace: he was the Noad and thus the spearhead of legitimate government, with a right to probe anywhere in Olhoav. His was the sovereign power over whatever lawlessness had taken root, whatever night had fallen. Night? The word nagged him as he strode. Couldn't be, shouldn't be night: these hours were those of ayshine, the brightest time of day... but of course "night" was a metaphor; but, but -
Barlayn's awareness brushed against something.
The idea of "night" had impinged with a touch that could not be concerned with the level of physical visibility, for light was in good supply; a different sense, renl, nonetheless allowed a hint of peculiar darkness.
He approached the figure who looked likely to be a spokesman: a burly, cloakless, leather-sleeved fellow with coarse though not ugly features, who tilted his head with a quizzical smile.
"Your name?" asked the Noad.
"You know what has happened?"
"The new Daon, so I heard just now, has been shot," said Threm Banu evenly.
Observing the absolute lack of deference in the man's stance, the Noad suavely remarked, "You would, I'm sure, be volunteering information, if you had seen any sign of the killer."
The moments stretched; as Threm Banu shifted his weight, boot-taps were the only sounds that came from him.
"Of course," the Noad filled in the silence by agreeing with his own words, "what I just said, goes without saying. But have you heard, or do you have, any notion as to who might have wanted Dari Clsar dead?"
"I have no answers for you, Noad B-L. That goes without saying, too."
"Actually," smiled Barlayn Lamiroth, "I'm not expecting answers, I'm observing reactions."
He saw them tense further as his gaze panned across the group. He had them guessing, and, having scored this much, he felt he might withdraw with honours.
He started to turn away, but froze when he heard:
"We can all guess why the lad was killed!"
Reversing his move, the Noad said: "Share your guess with me, Threm Banu."
"Well, igrul chozzuk..."
"Yes? 'The matter having been weighed' - what then?"
No twinge of foreboding warned of how current that phrase would become.
Bizzarely, at that point, Threm Banu and his companions clenched their fists and crooked their arms in unison - evidently a kind of salute - straight after which Threm shouted: "Dari Clsar was the wrong Daon!" - and thumped his fist back down.
"What is this?" demanded Barlayn Lamiroth in cold outrage. He raised the nozzle of his laser, to point at the spokesman.
With spit-flecked confidence Threm Banu snarled out the reply: "He was the wrong Daon because he was not the Weigher."
Revolutionists! Amid the downpour of impressions which sluiced through the Noad's head, he kept as priority that he must (as you Terrans would put it) "save face" at all costs. This was not the moment to ask things; later he might ask who the 'Weigher' was, but right now, being a Noad, he had a duty to follow a life-trajectory worthy of his rank.
What he had just seen and heard had made him instantly sure that he faced insurrection: perhaps not yet armed rebellion, but nevertheless an active conspiracy to force him to appoint an heir chosen by some faction prepared to murder. That being so, he was immediately ready to fight against overwhelming odds and to die, laser-sponnd in hand, there and then.
It would not be wasteful to lose his life for the principle that a Noad must never be coerced. A Noad can back down only if rationally persuaded: that was the tradition, with death the due that must sometimes be paid to keep it clean. However, the wily Noad still had the inkling that it would not come to that; at any rate not today; not here and now. For he was inclined to bet upon another, equally sound principle: that if the fight hasn't started, it's a sign that the opposition also has its doubts.
Look at them, stewing, reflected Barlayn Lamiroth in a flash of ironic amusement. I would guess that their movement, whatever it is, hasn't quite hit its full stride yet.
He began to make what looked like a kind of figure-eight motion with his laser.
One of the men in front of him cried, "Threm, beware - he's using reporzunt - "
The martial art which depends upon slowness can only be used amid a certain ideal balance of antagonistic forces. It is useless in battle or ambush. Furthermore it is no use against those people whose brain-limitation affords them immunity (so, Terrans, you need not fear). But in a culture of high intelligence it may turn out to be a most powerful technique. Barlayn Lamiroth was a twelfth-level reporzunt master.
In blade mode, he pressed the stud that switched the setting to slow-light, to maximise persistence of vision as his wavings wove sickle-shaped curlicues out of the brightness.
Threm Banu was forced towards a hard decision by the Noad's increasingly dangerous laser-passes.
"Let's get back," another of the rebels muttered.
Threm Banu blurted out defiantly, "I stand by my words. The only Daon acceptable to us backgrounders, is the Weigher!"
The Noad's brows went up. Did they expect him to disconcert him by uttering a taboo word out loud? If so, he'd speak the word himself. "'We backgrounders', Threm Banu?" he mockingly hurled back, pronouncing 'Threm' and 'Banu' as two well-separated words so that the hint could not be clearer: a so-called 'backgrounder' with two names? What humbug.
Meanwhile he continued the moves of reporzunt. The gang in front of him felt the power of it creep upon them, weakening them into helplessness - not by hypnotism, but its opposite, an intolerable wakefulness, an overwhelm of choices ("Should we move now - or now - or now - ") burdening each passing moment as the snaky volutes of laser light pressed on their nerves. Louts from inferior planets would have been unaffected, but this bunch of below-average Uranian wirrips were still sharp enough to get caught.
Then, to set the seal on the rebels' discomfiture, a dozen or so new figures swelled into view behind the glow-brandishing figure of Barlayn Lamiroth.
Barlayn himself did not turn his head, did not see his supporters' approach against the backdrop of streets and tiers; but he guessed it from the collapse of the opposition's morale, as those in front of him turned, scrambled and leaped to their skimmers.
Forthwith he snicked the catch on sponnd B-L so as to change the setting from slow-light to bolt mode. Without hesitation he fired at the head of Threm Banu.
The rebel slumped before he had a chance to get underway. The rest of the bunch sped from sight.
Grimly the Noad walked forward to ascertain the success of his shot.
As he reached the skimmer which carried the lax body of Threm Banu, other skimmers swirled around him and came to their separate halts; voices hailed him, one of them that of Tarl Feldek, a keen young zyr [officer, leader-of-133] with a gift for impudence:
"Looks like you saw them off, Noad B-L."
Stooping to feel the pulse of Threm Banu, Barlayn Lamiroth remarked: "Yes, this time I did."
"What have we here?" demanded another officer, Kveff Zairun. "A live rebel?"
Barlayn gave a pensive nod, satisfied that his marksmanship had not erred. The bolt had stunned, grazing the target's head. "We'll bring the fellow back with us and question him when he wakes," he said, straightening.
His eyes met those of a Wayferer, Sunwa Nerren. Black hair long and glossy, dark grey shade of skin, high cheekbones, a face of austere planes, all made her look, in his opinion, more like a Noad than he himself did, and those looks, he believed, were appropriate rather than coincidental; but he had always found it difficult to interest her in a political role. Her chosen life was the patrol of the wilderness, no matter how many times he had made clear to her that he would have preferred her skills closer to home. Now, though, by the way she strained as if to speak, and yet kept her lips shut, he wondered whether she might at last be ready to change her mind.
Back to the house of the late Dari Clsar, the Noad and his followers skimmed, with the senseless body of Threm Banu borne across one of the vehicles. Inside the house, Threm was set in a chair and bound, ready for interrogation.
Meawhile the Noad beckoned Sunwa Nerren aside and said quietly, "I must make one point clear: I'm not going to hold you to our arrangement. It hardly would apply, now."
With a brief grimace Sunwa began, "It still applies. A couple of days ago we compromised: I agreed to be the fall-back candidate if the choice of Dari did not work out, and so..."
"Ah yes," said Barlayn, "but 'not working out' was not intended to cover 'assassination'."
Sunwa shrugged. "Life is unexpectedness..."
Cutting through that generalization with a new edge to his voice, Barlayn said, "Listen: some rebel faction wants somebody called the Weigher (whoever that may be) to be appointed Daon. Anyone else I may choose is liable to be as much of a target as Dari was. I don't want what happened to him to happen to you."
"Nor do you want anyone to become an object for target practice."
"Of course not," he reluctantly agreed, seeing the trap she was setting for him, and unable to evade it.
"Yet," she went on remorselessly, "someone must run the risk of being chosen Daon. Why should I be denied that privilege, just when it becomes dangerous? Or just because you'd feel guilty, having first asked me?"
Just then he welcomed the distraction, when Threm Banu stirred.
Everyone in the room gathered round, but all gave way before a wan-faced woman who planted herself in front of the captive: Vreyr Glelm, mother of the murdered Dari Clsar.
Eyes blazing at Threm, this lady spoke to the Noad out of the corner of her mouth:
"Is this the grutt [miscreant] who killed my son?"
"Sponndar V-G," the Noad replied most respectfully, "I was just about to ask him that question."
"Well?" This was addressed to the man bound in the chair.
"I did not fire the shot, sponndar V-G," replied Threm Banu. "And may I also say, that no words are ever adequate for a mother who has lost her son."
"But," she insisted, leaning over him, "though you did not fire the shot, have you not aligned yourself with whomever did? And with whatever grutty big thing this is all about? Do you not share the killer's aims?"
Threm Banu shrank back in his chair but kept his nerve. In a raised voice he declared, "I did not share the placement of Dari Clsar in the firing line!"
Vreyr Glelm swallowed. She glanced from captive to Noad and back.
Barlayn Lamiroth wryly said, "That was clever, Threm. You see, Vreyr - " he sighed as he addressed the mother - "if you take the line that someone else ought to have been made Daon, then Dari was wrongfully appointed to that rank, and what happened to him is all my fault."
Vreyr contemplated the seated captive for some seconds in infinite and quiet disgust. Then she turned to the Noad with a hiss:
Just those two words, heard by all, sufficed for her. She swept out of the room, leaving admiration in her wake: admiration for her grasp of essentials; admiration for not having said, "Punish them", "Exterminate them", or any easy vindictive way out. Only - defeat them.
For that is the worst punishment for fanatics: to be compelled to see that their cause is lost.
Sunwa Nerren, like the others in the room at this point, expected the Noad to finish off the interrogation of Threm Banu. On an adult level she hoped the business would be short and efficient. On a childish level she wished it might take longer - for she jibbed at what was likely to happen afterwards.
The current of Duty was sucking her into where she did not wish to go:
Acceptance of the dayonnad.
Now that the honour had become most perilous, she would lose all self-respect if she were to back out.
Only one good reason remained for her to refuse it: personal unsuitability. But the Noad was supposed to be the judge of that. And he had judged her. Well before the present crisis had broken out, he'd told her she was suitable Daon material. So it looked like there was no way out -
Unexpectedly however, during what remained of the interrogation, one peculiar aspect of the proceedings hinted to her that perhaps she might escape the unwanted duty after all...
Barlayn Lamiroth said jauntily, "Are you a wirrip, Threm?"
"I am a backgrounder, yes. And proud of it."
Smiling around the room, the Noad said, "We'll take that as read, but apart from its naughty-boy shock-value what's the point of using that word to describe yourself, Threm Banu - you, a two-namer, an evident leader, surely the most un-wirrip of men?"
"Oh no. No, you don't," the bound man's speech turned husky. "You can't make a foregrounder out of me. I am a backgrounder born and bred."
"Then... your second name is just a..." the Noad coughed - "mistake?"
"As a matter of fact, it was, at first."
"Oh ho. So maybe your folks were flunnds."
Threm Banu flushed. "Some of that, yes, some of that. Backgrounders pretending to be foregrounders, yes, I admit it. To my credit, Noad, when I came of age I ditched the 'Banu' accretion."
In a puzzled and reasonable tone, the Noad said, "But now you've un-ditched it. You've re-acquired your second name. You're in foregrounder vein once more. Why?"
"In a completely different spirit!" retorted the captive with a sincere cry, and the quaver in that cry suggested to all who heard it the busy pumping, not just in the throat of Threm Banu but in a great many others, of a lever of vehement and passionate idealism which was to raise the hidden installer to power. "I have retrieved my second name," Threm averred, "not out of envy and not for social climbing but because I received the appellation from the Weigher in person, who told me the only true reason, which is that I am every bit as entitled to two names as anyone else!"
...Sunwa Nerren witnessed all this in rising astonishment. What could be the point of the Noad's line of questioning? What in the name of all the skies was he thinking of? Why, instead of idly asking "How so", did he not pursue the urgent, key question of who was this Weigher who had granted Threm Banu his second name, who in other words was behind the rebellion...?
And her astonishment brought with it a new hope.
Apparently incompetent Barlayn Lamiroth in reality must know what he was doing. He would not be who he was, if he did not. And in turn that meant - since his strategy was so much over her head - so much out of her orbit - that she could hope to claim, truthfully, "I am not the stuff of which Daons and Noads are made."
In which case, I can go on being Wayfarer Sunwa Nerren - in joy and relief at being out of my depth here.
"...which means, you see," Threm Banu was proudly saying, "that the Weigher has erased all distinction between backgrounders and foregrounders. The currents of Fate bear us all towards equally unpredictable ends. Any one of us might be spotlit by history. It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter who anyone is - anyone can dominate the story!"
Deflatingly good-humoured, Barlayn Lamiroth said, "Well, well. As if I didn't already know, that we are all of infinite worth. Or that it's impossible to be sure who's a backgrounder and who's a foregrounder, until the person's life-story is over and complete. We are of course all equal in that respect. But it seems your Weigher claims to be saying something in addition to that... something, ah, weightier... only the trouble is, Threm, you haven't really explained what that additional something is. Ah well. We must both make allowances here. We are both inexperienced: I at coping with rebels, and you at being one. I don't think we'll learn much more from your waffle, so I'm going to let you go now. - Loose him, Tarl," he ordered.
Watching the aide free the prisoner, Sunwa again felt that mixture of stupefaction and reassurance, in which she was happy for her common sense to be outraged, because the shock of it proved to her that she would never amount to a Noad. Almost she felt like winking at Threm Banu, who swayed a bit dazedly as he exited the room. He's as baffled as I am, thought she.
Barlayn Lamiroth wore his complicit smile. The advisers all looked non-committal, as they waited for his next move.
He turned to Sunwa and said, "I know what you're thinking; and yes, I admit it would be handy to know who the ringleader is. But..."
"But," she finished the thought for him, for he was looking hard at her, expecting her to respond, "you even more greatly desire that this Weigher should get the message that you don't care who he is."
The face of the Noad lit up with triumphant delight. "Ah, you get it; that is so good..."
Oh great skies above, he's right, I do get it.
"...That is so good, Sunwa," he went on, "that the force of the moment suggests I announce you to this company..."
No sense in fighting the force of the moment. "Go ahead," she said wearily; "I'm ready."
He gazed around the room. "Meet your new Daon," he said out loud.
And under his breath the Noad added something that sounded like an entreary, imploring the currents of fate to be kind to her. This prompted her for once to touch him, to squeeze his arm and whisper to him, "Don't worry about me, whatever happens."
The others pressed round her to congratulate her. Some embraced her. All of them seemed delighted. One of them said, "We must show her to the crowds, Noad B-L, as soon as possible."
"All right," growled Barlayn Lamiroth. For one grim-lipped moment his face fell. Then he forcibly relaxed and brightened. It was quite true that Sunwa must be publicly exhibited, for that was how to show that the right order of things still held sway; that although the Weigher can murder a Daon, he cannot kill the dayonnad. "I know it must be done." They all went out.
They skimmed in a group along the avenues to the wave-shaped Palace of Ktuss, the Noadal Palace that is the main residence of the city's ruler. On the metal clearing in front of the main entrance an apprehensive crowd, troubled by the death of Dari Clsar, gathered to see the two figures on the steps: the grey-cloaked and the blue-cloaked, Noad and Daon.
Plain targets, the two stood in view of all. Their calm defiance in turn calmed and reassured the people. Everyone present felt that each second gained was a bonus; each moment which did not bring another lethal shot was a moral defeat for the evil that had been let loose in Olhoav.
Sunwa turned to Barlayn: "You see, I've already lasted longer in this role than poor Dari." Her gentle tone meant: be comforted in your decision.
"Let's go inside," he said to her.
He touched her arm, but she did not budge.
"Your plan," she replied, "is to keep me safe within walls." He was silent, and she continued: "For me as Daon to cower indoors now would be pointless. And let me add, I've been doing a lot of re-thinking in the past few minutes. I've changed my mind about this new rank. You don't any longer need to feel that you've... er... over-ruled my previous love of life in the wilderness. Fact is, I now realize, my duties haven't changed all that much! With what our city has become, my new tasks are a continuation of my old Wayfaring in the unknown - so there's a cheerful conclusion! I can undertake a transect-voyage right here in wild Olhoav! We need data; so now let me go, Barlayn."
He did not gainsay her. She was, therefore, free to go; however, she did not depart just yet. She felt concern for the glum distress of the speechless Noad, his willpower boxed in by admiration and understanding. The man's plight was so evident to the new Daon, that she sought to add one more encouraging point.
"Out on the plains," she reminded him, "are no streets or walls with Dynoom-eyes to keep track of me, whereas here in the urban wilderness the opportunities for fruitfully recorded Wayfaring are, I now realize, actually better! And this is the hour for it: the really useful, essential hour. Best that you and I go on simultaneous tour, by different routes, to show ourselves to the people. Thus we may maximize our influence on this disturbed city."
"Agreed," he nodded, and bit back the word farewell.
"Then farewell, Noad B-L," the Daon said, and walked away towards her parked skimmer.
The crowd noted her determined step and made way for her; the Noad, however, made no similar move towards his own vehicle. Instead, brooding, he turned and walked into the palace.
Noad Barlayn Lamiroth made his way into an empty office off the entrance hall. He pressed a stud on the desk.
"What can I do for you, Noad?" asked a fraction of the attention of Dynoom.
"I'm a mere emotional human," grated the man, "so I hereby waste your time by demanding that you do... what you must be doing already."
His chest heaved for breath as he sought to continue; the city brain noted the evidence of stress.
Drawing on an archive of colloquialisms, the Brain then said: "Spit it out, Barlayn. I'm not a mind-reader. What's boiling in there?"
"Find out who the Weigher is! Bring me that datum as soon as you can! It's the most urgent request I can make... except for the request that you kill him."
"Right now as you ask," Dynoom replied evenly, "I check, and (this is most interesting) straightaway I find a significant blank space in my mental record. The shape, the orientation of this blank area suggests that I may have already made one failed attempt to kill the Weigher."
The Noad gasped, "What's this? Do you mean to tell me that you failed to get rid of one pesky murderer? And do you also mean to tell me that you already know who he is? And thirdly, can your record-wiping really mean what it seems to mean, namely that you, the super city-brain, are afraid?"
"You can undoubtedly say," agreed Dynoom, "that I am afraid."
"But..." The Noad tried to surmount his sense of nightmare. Cold prickles on his skin made it harder to think. "For a start, tell me who he is."
"A man called Dempelath. Or rather, in some respects, a more-than-man. I put it that way because he has plundered the mental resources of a wild simulator Ghepion, named Tyarn."
"Well - so we know something. Names, at any rate."
"It is, however, too early for us to classify these as exploitable data," the brain remarked in its driest voice, the colloquial mode abandoned.
"But it's something, isn't it? Impressions are coming together, aren't they? And you might get more if you de-blank your blanked bit!"
"I shall de-blank one such, for your perusal - if you really want me to."
Barlayn did not much like the way "one such" implied one of many, a whole series of censored events. Nevertheless he was in a hurry for information, and so -
"Go ahead, Dynoom."
A floor-level brightness appeared between the desk and the office door. It was a humpy glow, swelling into a mound of light with blurry shapes within it, which swam towards focus...
"An old image," commented Dynoom as the holograph took definite shape. "It's from about 3.4 million days ago, which means that about a hundred and fifty of your human lifetimes have flown past since then. Watch and experience."
The image leaped and wrapped itself all the way around the Noad who sat frozen in enthralled wonder. He had no time to question the means by which the effect was created, or to express surprise at the powers of Dynoom -
"Now I've triggered the sub-routine on full-kick, so sit back, Barlayn, and learn - since you asked for this - what it's like to be me!"
Indeed, in those moments, he almost believed he was Dynoom. He was gazing out through a public lens, at a deputation of six citizens including the Noad of that distant day. Their faces and the antique cut of their clothes seemed wholly recognizable, for although he had never seen the like, the vision daubed and smeared them with familiarity. What caused shock was their babbled entreaties as they repeatedly implored: "Kill Vogir Kritt!" No sooner had he heard this name than his mind was filled with the background to the plea. Henceforth he understood Vogir Kritt to be the master criminal of those days. The man had imported some frightful technology from a lost city deep in Fyaym; here was that perennial bogey which occasionally comes true in the form of the megalomaniac explorer, the power-seizing looter. The people cried, "Dynoom, kill that man before he kills many more!" At this point the vision attained its crux. Dynoom's voice, booming decisively, cast the deputation into despair. "I shall not kill your enemy for you. No matter how popular that move would be today, and no matter how justified in terms of today, I will not shed blood. For if I were to use my power in that manner, all that what would be remembered in after ages would be the mere fact that I, Dynoom, had destroyed a human life, for whatever reason, and so the image of me in your minds would be discoloured forever. Besides, even in your present desperation, would you really wish me to develop a taste for lethal solutions? Think, you people! Vogir Kritt will some day die, and then you will be rid of him; but I, Dynoom, will not die. So if I become a killer, you will have to live with me in that character forever..."
The office floor was smooth again; the time-vision had ended.
Barlayn Lamiroth sighed and rubbed his face while those images of the distant past hung around in his mind like gradually dissipating fumes.
It took half a minute for the immediacy of the vision to fade enough to allow him to regain proper sight of his real surroundings. There must have been no such delay for Dynoom, of course; the city-brain could switch such stuff on and off instantaneously.
To test this, he said, "Well now, Dynoom, it seems you didn't agree to eliminate Vogir Kritt; so that memory isn't too dangerous to keep fresh. Don't see why you ever needed to blank it out."
"Vogir Kritt? I don't know what you're talking about."
"Quite," nodded the Noad with a near grin. "Episode sealed off again. But what about the more recent blank? Your attempt to get rid of the Weigher...?"
"I may," conceded Dynoom, "as I mentioned before, have attempted such a move, contrary to all my principles, in a moment of madness. Would you care, Barlayn, to live in a Mad City?"
Those last two words, with their connotations of Oso, scourge of the Tin Era and an everlasting warning to all subsequent Uranians, caused the Noad to abandon the argument.
Dynoom had the last word:
"Besides, you, Noad Barlayn Lamiroth of Olhoav, together with your top advisers, form the cadre of lremd experts who ought to know just how to act, in your own city, jammed as you are so full of your resourceful civilization, which needs me less and less with every day that passes. What am I, after all, but a big brain with many eyes and ears? You have what I do not have - legs! So although I promise to bring you what news I can, you may well stumble into it first. And the threat of the Weigher is, by and large, yours to overcome."
It was useless to argue with the Ghepion when it was in this mood.
Lremd, thought Barlayn wryly in the silence after the big brain's speech. It was all very well, but... The possession of renl, the ability to be in the right place at the right time, had amounted, in poor Dari Clsar's case, to being in the right place at the right time to get killed. And can Sunwa do any better? And can I?
It was time to find out.
Uranian Throne Episode 6: