uranian throne - episode five

the lever of power

by
robert gibson

[For the story so far, see: 1: Dynoom; 2: Hyala; 3: the nebulee; 4: Exception]

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 for the refurbishment of the Pnurrm.  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, walking to Dari Clsar's side, laid a hand on the other's newly blue-cloaked shoulder, confirming the appointment. 

"Citizens of Olhoav, I commend to you your new Daon!  Obey him as you would obey me!  Trust him as you have trusted me!  Now go and spread the news, that my search for an heir is over, thank the skies!" 

The glad words boomed out over a crowd which was already dissolving happily as its members rushed away in excitement to spread the news, while Daon Dari Clsar turned to express his thanks to the Noad.

The city-brain was watching all this, out of a crystal eye on the other side of the avenue.  Dynoom's perception of the tableau was much affected by recent experience in the mode of vision granted by the Snaddy-Galomm, in which individuals wore their destinies in the shape of flame-like "hats".  The lingering effects of that style of vision upon the perceptions of the machine-brain caused it, quasi-literally, to see a pale cone of light flickering above the head of Dari Clsar.  The glow was a visible aura of promise, a message full of glorious potential... 

At this juncture you Terran readers must permit us, the Uranian Bards who are spinning this yarn for you, to utter a boast. 

The sense comes upon us, every so often, that we have praised Dynoom's perceptions more than enough.  With some irritation, then, we stress - this is our compensatory boast to set the record straight - that our own vision can stand comparison with that of any Ghepion

Admittedly we humans 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 which flicker and swirl in dancing interaction throughout a crowded urban scene.  Our story-telling vocation accustoms us to view our characters' shifting viewpoints as sparks in motion, in glittering streams like the lit swarm of skimmer-traffic superimposed upon the tiers and thoroughfares of a city at night; and by day, although a brighter background somewhat mutes the literal traffic-sparkle, the figurative flashes nonetheless intensify, for those are the hours of greater activity when characters' urges and wills scintillate the more.

So shone the moment of golden promise for Daon Dari Clsar.  Imagine him at that instant of promotion, when the dazzle which belongs to youth at the crest of opportunity's wave was his during a heartbeat of time. 

So much starker was the contrast with the succeeding moment.

Announced by the briefest of whines, a laser bolt tore through the air and smashed into the new Daon's head, splattering 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.  But as he scrutinized the walkways that festooned the middle distance, he saw no glint of metal sponnd-barrel, no suggestive form leaned against the railings.  Some hidden marksman had done the deed and then had easily made nen's escape.  The full, grim horror of the event settled upon the Noad, as it did upon all those present.

Dynoom felt it worst in one particular sense.  All of the great brain's recent supposed gains in perception were now cast into doubt.  The death of Dari Clsar seemed to give the lie to the conical flame which in the mind's eye had sported above the youth's head.  That fancied flame, an indicator of great destiny?  Hardly!  There the fellow lay, slaughtered.  A most serious question-mark to loom over the Snaddy-Galomm.   

Meanwhile the Noad, suffering the blended shock of human loss plus brutal defiance of his authority, ran to the side of the house and leaped onto his skimmer.  The remaining bystanders drew back to open a lane for him, as 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 too rapid for doubt.  He reckoned that the prize for prompt action might be some vital clue, some "now or never" trace that would fade within moments.

He bulleted across Rullud Avenue and into the district beyond, where mediocre dwellings wrapped themselves around the helical towers and the jutting, spatulate landing-pads.

The scene was as bright and clear as it ought to be at this time of day, but the Noad sensed that something had darkened the outlook.  He assumed at first that the wrongness was in himself, an obscuring film of rage that he must surmount if he was to think clearly.  Apart from indignation and sorrow over the murder of Dari Clsar, he also felt exasperated that the search for an heir must begin all over again.  He had so greatly looked 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 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.

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.  He could not prove this.  But his sight of them was enough: their stances, their easy gestures... their lack of dismay. 

Self-doubt cut into his other thoughts: had he made the right move, zooming here alone?  Well, he would not turn back.  And yet, logically, perhaps he should.  If he were murdered too, with no Daon to succeed him, the people of Olhoav, in the midst of political crisis, would have to obtain their next ruler by other means: they would have to undertake a thuzolyr-election to the noadex. 

Such a contest, 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 chance of that?

No!  This constitutional dither was the wrong worry!  The real anxiety was different - because 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.  And why?  Why shoot the Daon and not the Noad?

To put pressure on the Noad, evidently.

Barlayn Lamiroth skimmed some yards deeper into Xemb District, eyeing the bystanders carefully.  Since he wore the grey cloak of his office he must have been recognized by many.  Yet it was a minute or so before one of the men on a platform which jutted ahead of him made deliberate eye-contact.

Barlayn grounded his skimmer and faced the man, who stood within a knot of people. 

The group, just over a dozen men and women, appeared sullen, some scowling at him openly as he walked towards them.

He maintained his pace.  He was the Noad and therefore the spearhead of legitimate government, with a right to probe anywhere in Olhoav, into whatever night of lawlessness had taken root.  Night?  The word nagged him as he strode: this couldn't and shouldn't be night; this was ayshine, the brightest time of day... but of course "night" of lawlessness was a metaphor; but, but -

Barlayn's awareness brushed something peculiar.

The word, the idea of "night" impinged just then in a sense that was more than metaphorical.

It could not refer to the level of physical visibility, of course.  Light was in good supply.  But - another sense, renl, allowed a hint of what was wrong.

He approached the figure who looked likely to be a spokesman.  The burly, cloakless, leather-sleeved fellow with coarse though not ugly features, tilted his head with a quizzical smile.

"Your name?" asked the Noad.

"Threm Banu."

"You know what has happened?"

"The new Daon, so I heard just now, has been shot," said Threm Banu evenly, with an absolute lack of deference in his stance.

Suavely the Noad remarked, "You would, I'm sure, be volunteering information, if you had seen any sign of the killer."

Threm Banu shifted his weight.  Boot-taps on the pad-floor was the only sound that came from him.

"Of course," nodded the Noad, answering himself, "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." 

At this they tensed further.  His gaze panned across the group.  He saw enough to be satisfied that he had them guessing about how much he could glean from them, and from this he gleaned a sufficient ascendancy, that his judgement told him he might withdraw with honours.  

He started to turn away, but froze when he heard Threm Banu say:

"We can all guess why the lad was killed!"

Reversing his move, the Noad in a hushed, growling tone invited: "Share your guess with me, Threm Banu."

"Well, igrul chozzuk..."

"Yes? 'The matter having been weighed' - go on!"  No twinge of foreboding warned the Noad of the impending currency of that phrase.

Threm Banu and his companions at that point performed a bizarre act.  They clenched their fists and crooked their arms in unison - evidently a kind of salute.

"He was the wrong Daon!" shouted Threm as he brought his fist back down.

"What is this?" demanded Barlayn Lamiroth in cold outrage.  He raised the nozzle of his laser.  It now pointed at the spokesman. 

"Dari Clsar was the wrong Daon because he was not the Weigher." 

Revolutionists!  This was not the moment to ask who the Weigher was.  Amid the downpour of impressions which sluiced through the Noad's head, he retained the priority of awareness, that at all costs he must (as you Terrans would put it) "save face".  Actually he had little choice.  Being a Noad, he had a duty to ensure that his life-trajectory was worthy of his rank. 

What he had just seen and heard had made him sure, in the space of an instant, that he faced virtual insurrection: not yet in the form of armed rebellion, but nevertheless an active conspiracy, to force him to appoint an heir chosen by some faction prepared to resort to murder.  That being so, he was immediately ready to fight against overwhelming odds and to die, laser-sponnd in hand, there and then - to lose his life for a principle, the sound principle that a Noad must never be coerced; a Noad can back down only if rationally persuaded. 

Death was the due that must sometimes be paid to this tradition.  However, the wily Noad also had an inkling that it would not come to that; not today, anyhow; 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 brief flash of ironic amusement.  I would guess that their movement, whatever it is, hasn't quite got into 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, "Watch out, Threm - he's using reporzunt - "

The martial art called reporzunt which depends upon slowness can only be used in certain ideal situations where the issue depends upon a balance of antagonistic forces.  It is useless in battle or ambush.  Furthermore it is no use against stupid people, whose limited brains afford them immunity against its subtlety (Terrans, if ever you consider learning it, our advice to you is, don't bother).  But in a social conflict in a culture of high intelligence it may turn out to be the most powerful technique.  Barlayn Lamiroth was a master of reporzunt.

In blade mode, he pressed the stud that switched the setting to slow-light, whereupon the sponnd emitted sickle-shaped curves as he waved it around, causing persistence of vision to make curlicues out of the brightness.

Threm Banu now must make an extremely hard decision, as to when best to respond to the increasingly dangerous passes which the Noad was making with his laser. 

"Let's get back," another of the rebels muttered.

Threm Banu blurted out defiantly, "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 stress them further.  He'd speak the word himself.

"'We backgrounders', Threm Banu?" he mockingly hurled back.  In making that reply, he took care to pronounce 'Threm' and 'Banu' as two well-separated words.  That way, the hint couldn't 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 the technique creep upon them.  It threatened to weaken them into helplessness.  Not by hypnotism, but by means of its opposite, an intolerable wakefulness, an overwhelm of choices ("Should we move now - or now - or now - ") burdening each passing moment, the advancing snaky volutes of laser light pressed hard on their nerves.  Louts from inferior planets would have been unaffected by such sophisticated traps, but a 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 against the backdrop of streets and tiers behind the glow-brandishing figure of Barlayn Lamiroth.

It was a fair guess that this evidently purposive formation of oncoming skimmers consisted of followers of the Noad, catching up to support him.

Barlayn himself did not turn his head, so he did not see them, but he saw the effect of their imminent arrival: a collapse of his antagonists' morale, as the men 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 that masked his serious side: 

"Looks like you saw them off, Noad B-L."

Stooping to feel the pulse of Threm Banu, Barlayn Lamiroth remarked: "Yes, this time, they've left me this bit of floor.  It might have gone the other way, but I sensed it would not."

Meanwhile a brief investigation satisfied the Noad that his marksmanship had not erred.  The bolt had stunned - grazing the target's head. 

"What have we here?" demanded another officer, Kveff Zairun.  "A live rebel?"

"We'll bring the fellow back with us and question him when he wakes up," Barlayn Lamiroth said, straightening.  His eyes met those of a woman, Sunwa Nerren, one of his best advisers.  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, but he had hitherto found it difficult to interest her in a political role.  Her chosen life was that of a Wayfarer... exploring and patrolling the wilderness... but he needed her skills closer to home, and she must know this, especially now.  By the way she strained as if to speak, and yet kept her lips shut, he read her state of turmoil. 

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 you said I was at the top of your list, and in the end 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 full of the unexpected."

With a new edge to his voice Barlayn said, "The situation at present, I now gather, is that some faction wants the Weigher (whoever that may be) to be appointed Daon.  Whomever 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."

"For that matter, surely you don't want anyone to become an object for target practice."

"Of course not," he agreed, unable to evade the trap she was setting for him.

"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?"

He really was trapped.  Just then he welcomed the distraction, when Threm Banu stirred.

Everyone in the room gathered round, but all gave way before a woman of drawn face who planted herself in front of the captive: Vreyr Glelm, mother of the murdered Dari Clsar.

Eyes blazing at Threm, this lady addressed her words to the Noad:

"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 said, and leaned over him, "though you did not fire the shot, have you not aligned yourself with whomever did, and with whatever group of grutts planned whatever big thing this is all about?  Do you not share their 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 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:

"Defeat them."

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 see that their cause is lost.

*

Sunwa Nerren, like the others in the room, now expected the Noad to finish off the interrogation of Threm Banu.  On an adult level she hoped the business would be short and efficient, but on a childish level she wished it to take a long time - for she jibbed at what was likely to happen afterwards.

The current of Duty was sucking her along to 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 merely to ensure that it was foisted onto someone else. 

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, before the present crisis broke out, to be suitable Daon material - so it looked like there was no way out -

However, during the interrogation, a 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.  Why?"

"In a completely different spirit!" retorted the captive with a sincere cry, working that lever of vehement and passionate idealism which was to raise the hidden user to power.  "I have been re-named with my second name not out of envy, and not for social climbing, but because I received the appellation from the Weigher himself!  He it was who told me the better reason, the only true reason, which is that I am every bit as entitled to two names as anyone else!"

"How so?"

...Sunwa Nerren witnessed all this in rising astonishment.  What could be the point of the Noad's apparently incompetent line of questioning?  What in the name of all the skies was he thinking of in idly asking "How so"?  Why did he not instead 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.

"...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 use 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 faint 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, you know, even more importantly..."  And he looked hard at her, expecting her to respond, so she felt she had to.

"But," she finished the thought for him, "you even more greatly desire that this Weigher, whoever he is, 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, Sunwa.  That's so good..."

Oh great skies above, he's right, I do get it.

"...So good," he went on, and his face fell, "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 calmly, wearily; "I'm ready."

He gazed around the room.  "Meet your new Daon," he said out loud.

Sunwa detected that under his breath the Noad said something else - that sounded like he was entreating the currents of fate to be kind to her.  This prompted her for once to touch him, to squeeze his arm and whisper, "Don't worry about me, whatever happens."

The others pressed round her to congratulate her.  Some embraced her.  All of them really seemed delighted.  One of them said, "We must show her to the crowds, Noad B-L, as soon as possible, to show them that although the Weigher can murder a Daon, he cannot kill the dayonnad."

"All right, I know," said Barlayn Lamiroth.  "I know it must be done."  He could not prevent his unhappiness from surfacing for a grim-lipped moment.

They all went out and skimmed in a group along the avenues to the wave-shaped Palace of Ktuss, or Noadal Palace, the main residence of the city's ruler.  On the metal clearing in front of the main entrance an apprehensive crowd gathered to see the two figures on the steps: grey-cloaked and blue-cloaked, Noad and Daon.

Plain targets, the two stood in view of all.  Their calm defiance in turn calmed the crowd.  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 and, with gentleness in her voice, said, "You see, I've already lasted longer than Dari Clsar did."  Her tone meant: be comforted in your decision.

"Let's go inside," he said.  "And plan."

He touched her arm, but she did not budge. 

"Your 'plan'," she replied, "is only to see me safe within walls."  He was silent, and she continued:  "For me as Daon to cower indoors now would be pointless.  And let me explain to you why you needn't think you've... er... over-ruled my previous love of life as a wilderness-Wayfarer.  Fact is, I now realize, with our city become a sort of wilderness, that my new tasks are a continuation of my old!  So there's a cheerful conclusion!  So, next, I'll undertake a Wayfaring-style transect right here in wild Olhoav!  One from which you will garner a significant datum, I hope, some way or another.  Now let me go, Barlayn."

He did not gainsay her.  However, she did not depart just yet.  The glum distress of the speechless Noad, his willpower boxed in by admiration and understanding, was so evident, that the new Daon 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, in my opinion... the really useful, essential hour.  Best that you and I go on simultaneous tour by different routes.  Show ourselves to the people and maximize our influence on this disturbed city.

"Agreed," he nodded.  With a strong aversion to adding the word "farewell", he said no more to her.

"Then farewell, Noad B-L," she said, and walked away towards her parked skimmer.  The crowd noted her determined step and made way for her respectfully; the Noad, however, made no similar move towards his own vehicle.  Brooding, he turned and walked into the palace.

*

Noad Barlayn Lamiroth made his way to an empty office off the entrance hall and 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 the breath to continue.

The city brain noted the evidence of stress and, to pull its sting, drew on an archive of colloquialisms.  "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 orientation of which 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; to think past the cold prickles on his skin.  "For a start, tell me who he is."

"A man called Dempelath.  A more-than-man, in some respects.  He has plundered the mental resources of a wild simulator Ghepion called 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 you - if you really want me to."

Barlayn did not much like the way this implied a whole series of censored events, but since he was in a hurry for information, he did not take back his request. 

"Go ahead, Dynoom."

"Stand by..."

A floor-level brightness appeared between the desk and the office door - a glow that humped 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, "from about 3.4 million days ago, which means that about a hundred and fifty of your human lifetimes have flown past since then..." 

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 experience - since you asked for it - 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, the vision daubing 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, so that 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: the megalomaniac explorer, the power-seizing looter.  "Dynoom, kill that man before he kills many more!" came the people's cry - at which point the vision attained its crux.  Dynoom's voice boomed out decisively, casting 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, 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, and 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 their immediacy to fade to a sufficient extent, for him to see his real surroundings properly once more.  He shrewdly suspected, though, that it had been different for Dynoom.  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."

"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 in your memory?"

"I may," conceded Dynoom, "as I mentioned before, have already made an attempt to kill the Weigher.  It's possible that I might 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 in it:

"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."

A finality of tone signalled the end of the conversation.  It was useless to prolong a dispute with the Ghepion when it was in this mood. 

Lremd, thought Barlayn wryly in the silence after the big brain's speech.  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.

Continued in

Uranian Throne Episode 6:   

The Infrastructure Throbs