The vermilion gas neared at walking speed. Hyala scolded herself for wasting moments. This was no time to stare dumbly. The blob spread across her field of view; the fat, billowing luminosity was a thing with no explanation, no counterpart in her knowledge... but never mind the "what" and the "how", she knew WHO it was.
She murmured at the carer who was propping Nyav's left side: "You can let go of him now, Zhavad. Go back and wait at the house."
The girl fell back, as ordered. The firm timbre in her employer's voice made disobedience unthinkable. Besides, it would be crazy to stay.
The arresters were
likewise keen not to walk any further with Hyala. No need to give a further push to a victim
already headed in the desired direction! Relieved to "bow out", relieved at not being called upon to get any
tougher with their odd prisoner, they stepped back.
Meanwhile the rest of the crowd gazed with perplexed admiration as the doomed couple - Hyala supporting Nyav - advanced to meet their fate. How far outside everyday experience was this spectacle of a young woman somehow robed with glory as she conducted the sacred imbecile on her arm!
It reminded the people of things they half-knew, or suspected; of old hopes and excitements, blurred in the drizzle of propaganda, now rekindled in a blast of subliminal splendour flaring from her whose name was almost identical to that of the First Sunnoad. And who might (so sighed the breath of legend) even be that person.
That stupendous possibility remained a mere whisper on the margin of consciousness, but it tapped into the fund of love and admiration which the healer had accumulated from among the common people of Olhoav.
Yet none of this could she rely on to save her. As she herself could tell, the crowd certainly weren’t going to rush to her support right now.
Instead, they began to shuffle aside, in resigned recognition of what must be. A gap thus opened in the throng. Into that gap advanced the billowing redness that swathed the Weigher.
More and more people, flinching from the impending collision of powers, scrambled to make way, found new places to stand, and held their breath.
The grandeur, the choreography of this showdown vastly irritated Hyala. A tyrant's set-piece drama! She hated to accord it any recognition. Throw away the script; a tyrant deserves no respect. Thus she tried to scoff -
Meanwhile the crowd's edgy shuffling opened for her a clear view, first of the base of the Tree, cleanly mortised into the metal avenue floor, and then of the tall figure of the Glomb himself. His outline increasingly defined as the core of the advancing mist, the hybrid Being steadily sauntered towards her, his flickering visage turning this way and that, to prompt one group after another to back further away under the pressure of that part-human, part-Ghepion glance. From dry throats in the crowd, downcast mutterings of "igrul chozzuk" rustled like fitful attempts to propitiate a prowling god.
Over and around Dempelath the red cloud billowed. Its variety of local densities, and the density-variations, were (Hyala guessed) clues to something important. Yet she hardly cared - she gave attention only to her defiance of it all, of what she dubbed "the script", this whole concerted business, the glowing pillars, the red cloud, the throng of spectators, the execution of Smevedem, all obviously set up for the Face's Big Moment. Pull a face at the Face! Why co-operate with this showy elimination of the Glomb's potential rivals? Why was she walking towards her doom? Why didn’t she make them drag her?
To preserve her own dignity, perhaps; which was all very well, but not at the price of affording him his! Not at the price of playing the game that would end at any moment when she and Nyav were hoisted to join poor Smevedem! Smevedem, who had murdered for the Weigher's sake and on the Weigher's orders, and who, for his reward, was reduced to a head on a spike.
Surely it was time to shout at the citizens. Wake them to their senses - if that was at all possible.
She halted, making Nyav halt likewise. She was in a clear space, about ten or
fifteen paces from the bole of the Tree. The crowd had
backed off from her as well as from Dempelath, and Dempelath had stopped too. She must speak. It was now or never.
Before she could frame her words, though, her enemy's hybrid mouth pursed, and the power in the Glomb's throat, which required no mechanical loud-hailer, projected a voice like an avalanche of ice-boulders that roared and echoed over the thousands in the throng.
"SMEVEDEM WAS S-W-I-R-L-Y! HE WISHED TO FLAUNT A BANNER. HE WISHED TO BE A FORG!"
The multitude responded, ahahahah...
That vast reaction made Hyala's shoulders slump. He's beaten me to it, she understood. Too late, now, for me to nail him for his hypocrisy.
"NO PLACE FOR SWIRLIES IN OLHOAV..."
And that was that, game over; Dempelath had laid out the catch-all line: yes, Smevedem, whom he'd just executed, had killed on his orders, but for the wrong reasons, which was why he had to die.
The people, realized Hyala, were swallowing the disastrous bait. Henceforth, anyone who did anything might be denounced. Show any initiative and you risked being classed as a "swirly" banner-fluttering fame-seeking Foregrounder...
Wait a second, hey, this was too much. Surely, she thought, he can't get away with stuff like this? What was the point of the Revolution, if not to allow wirrips the privileges of forgs? Instead of "no swirly banners", shouldn't it be "banners for all"?
In fact, now that the great hour of liberation had struck, it was surely supposed to be wrong for people to go on with their supine old backgroundish ways...
Quick! Yell to the people, that they're being had -
She might have time to get the words out. No one was within immediate reach to lay hands upon her. Her enemy stood
about an equal distance away from the Tree on its other side. If ever
there was a moment for an appeal to conscience and reason, this was it.
Only - her skin felt something - what was that tingle?
Although the Glomb had halted his advance, the luminous cloud around him had not ceased to creep forward, to bulge across the remaining yards, until its fringe, more tenuous but still slightly palpable, now curled about Hyala.
The airy redness encircled her, and – one mental whiff was enough. The permeation had begun.
When the cmem gets to you, you are not
permitted to avoid the knowledge of what it is.
The millions of free-flying convincells, intrinsic components to the substance of Dempelath, directed from their headquarters inside the Weigher's own skull, announce themselves.
The cloud you're in belongs to Dempelath's brain. It issues thence in uncountable sparks of conviction. Inside this ideological distortion field, this Zone of Redefinition, your opinions are no longer your own.
Mental twinges informed Hyala. She felt the snapping of old thought-patterns; felt their re-set at different angles.
Come to think of
it, Dempelath did have a point. Trace it backwards: since Smevedem was executed, Smevedem must have deserved it. And in any case one could hope that he died happy. In fact, he must have done. Both by assassinating the last Daon, and then by suffering for that crime, he had contributed to the great new order which would bring peace
and justice to Olhoav, and the knowledge of this must surely have brightened his last moments -
Do I believe this rubbish? Not yet. Rally, old thoughts of mine! Throw yourselves at the foul invader -
Sensing her resistance, the cloud locally densified around her.
It grew redder as it pressed in upon her. The enemy's assumptions squeezed harder upon her thoughts. She held out for some seconds, by clinging to an insight: namely that the stuff couldn't be unlimited, that only so much of it could be available, that while it densified around her it must rarify elsewhere... Dempelath could not employ more than he had! It could not be limitless -
Then - advised the next ripple - why fear it? Why not co-operate, why
not help him? Look up, see the remains of the man who fired the shot
that killed Daon Sunwa; the murderer's head adorns the Justice Tree; what
better justice could you desire? Ripple,
ripple, get the multitude to eat out of your hand. Give
them their show. Smevedem
killed Sunwa for the wrong reason, out of a swirly grab for the limelight, which shows he thought himself better than the
common people, and so he deserved to die; or else, Smevedem killed Sunwa for the right reason, which is that the Glomb ordered him to do it and then to pay the penalty, so that he is privileged to die. Pick either route. What matters is the conclusion.
It was all so right and proper, Hyala was almost ready to accept a metallic pinch at her armpit. Ready to be hoisted, there and then.
She must wait, though. Wait, while Dempelath made sure of doing a really thorough, skilful job of satisfying the people. Yes, she must understand, and be patient. In this affair of state, quite a performance was required. More red mist around her meant less for the crowd. That, in turn, meant that some parts of the crowd grew restive, less convinced... and although those parts could be given more of the red convincells, the re-allocation could only be carried out at the cost of lessening the hold upon other areas. Maybe lessening the hold upon Hyala herself.... Of course, she could be executed by force at any time. But it was the Glomb's preference to win all the way. He preferred to convince his entire public that all was for the best. To possess that total power was far better than merely to terrorise a crowd. Only a lesser ruler would need to drag noisy, struggling martyrs to their doom.
A number of the faces she glimpsed through the mist now appeared perturbed, as though they were awakening to some danger to her whom they still loved. Therefore, more redness, thicker cmem, was needed over that way.
But then, there'd be less of it to keep herself in line -
She actually sympathized with the Glomb's dilemma - so muddled were her emotions by this time.
Around her, the mist did then thin. This must be the re-deployment, to soothe those worried faces. Recovering a degree of control over her own will, Hyala immediately marched Nyav to the bole of the Vorratch.
She parked him there, murmured "Stay put", and retraced her steps. Now she and the nebulee were yards apart, two distinct poles of attention for the crowd to watch. With luck, this separately positioned variable might add to Dempelath's burden of calculation. But, could aught worry Dempelath? Through the mist she peered, to catch the horror's next move.
Dempelath took some oblique steps forward and towards Hyala's left. She responded by sidling to her right. He and she began to manoeuvre around each other in a complex, deadly dance.
Depending upon the moods of the masses around them, the Glomb had to vary his output of convincells, vary how densely he wheezed them out, and in what direction, while Hyala had to keep as far as possible in the mist's thinner areas. In those not-so-red volumes she could still think her own thoughts.
Like chess-players - we can put it this way to Terran readers - the adversaries sought their positional advantage as they wove their ways through the translucent red mist, each knowing that one momentarily-ideal configuration could decide an issue of life and death. The crowd shuffled vaguely in response. They did not understand; they had to trust that the great ones knew what they were doing. Some, not all, of the people's shuffling and shifting was controlled by Dempelath. By means of the cmem he could draw masses of citizens around him like a cloak. Alternatively, when it suited him, he could disperse them to open a way. His position was becoming stronger: time was on his side.
Hyala was aware of this too. Thanks to the unavoidable knowledge which came to her through the mist, she could understand every move from her opponent's point of view, and though it gave her the comfort of seeing his problems, the perspective did her no practical good. Dempelath could not lose this game. Granted, his dominance could never be total (because the red mist could not be at full strength everywhere at once). Granted, the Glomb had to keep his bases secure, had to wheeze out plentiful cmem over loyal concentrations which might otherwise fluctuate into knots of protest. Yet, whatever happened (and granted that some ways to win were faster and better than others), some mixture of violence and smoothness would ensure that the tyrant prevailed. His mists of confidence seeped into Hyala and wafted her towards despair, chanting the pressure-threat of enemy opinion poised to become her own; her compulsory share in the enemy's expectation of victory; the knowledge that her own despair was being read like an open book. Frustration intensified to the level of torture -
To her astonishment, there then came a reverse wave.
A spurt of ire - a frustration surging from Dempelath.
We have no direct insight into that Being's mind. His own private thoughts, as distinct from those weaponised thoughts which he imposed upon others, must remain forever a mystery. We think it likely that his human ego ruled the man-Ghepion combination, usually with ruthless calm, and with an awareness that he could afford to play safe. At the worst, if he were to miscalculate at this point, ordering the execution to proceed and then finding the crowd hostile to the idea, he might need to "back-pedal", re-define his command, pretend it was only meant as a test, or such-like excuse. It would mean a minor reverse, with compensation soon to follow. At best, however, everything might go right for him, so that he could "sweep the board". In neither case would he need to "lose his cool". So why did he do just that? What ignited his sudden exasperation?
Our guess is, that something about that crowd made him feel he simply couldn't ever get the right mix of control. If he held Hyala, he had to let something else slip, and vice versa; besides which, there was his anger at the slowness, the obtuseness of the crowd. Repeatedly he must dose the people with concentrations of cmem in order to suppress their out-of-date reverence for nebulees and healers -
The tyrant succumbed to impatience!
Hyala was immediately informed of this fury of the Glomb at his laggard supporters. And some advance notice, of the rebuke to be hurled at them, came to her via her immersion in the brain-mist. She barely choked back an audible chuckle at the gathering cloud of emotion. Evidently there was to be no more condemnation of uppity folk, oh no, rather the opposite: the thunderous burst of blame being prepared was meant to wallop docile backgrounders, those whose passivity risked letting down the Revolution.
"YOU CONTENTED LONK-PLAEN," the tirade began, roaring out of the organic loud-lailer formed from the Weigher's mouth. "ARE YOU AFRAID THAT IF YOU GROW UP YOU'LL BECOME SWIRLY, AND END UP SWINGING ON THE VORRATCH? NO, NO, BE AFRAID OF NARCOLEPTIC BACKWARDNESS INSTEAD! I WANT INTELLIGENT FOLLOWERS, NOT SLEEPWALKERS!"
Hyala was forced to admit, as the speech went on, that Dempelath's political mastery had not deserted him. He provided something for everyone. The sneering wake-up call to the lonk-plaen was both a reassurance and a goad. The call for intelligent support should be reassuring to those who had been uneasy at the authoritarian over-drilled aspects of the Revolution. The exhortation was a goad for the ones he wished to galvanize now. Be properly yourselves, the message ran. Don't be fooled by - and don't join - the pitiful dopey lonk-plaen clods, void of initiative, who let themselves be duped by over-contentment into deference and dependency and all that old-style exaggerated respect for nebulees like Nyav and famous healers like Hyala. Shake it all off with a rousing count-of-four -
ONE - PERCEIVE;
TWO - ADMIT;
THREE - RESOLVE;~
LAST - DOOOOOOOOOOOOO
And at that "last - DOOOO" the Weigher himself flung up both his arms. In communal frenzy, everyone in the crowd did likewise. Hyala herself that her arms had shot up with fingers distended.
The forgotten object, which she had been holding in her right hand, was thus released.
The dwallidee went spinning high. In a beautiful arc it shone. Attracting all eyes, it suspended all thought. No one moved to catch it. Only when it fell, and smashed, and shot out its etheric signal, did Dempelath understand in what way the stakes had been raised.
Within seconds, that understanding spread through the cmem, to be shared, in varying degrees, by all the folk around. A hush fell and pervaded with a silent awareness and a message of truce: wait.
Hyala took deep breaths, glad of the respite, though sick at the thought of what Noad Barlayn Lamiroth was about to plunge into, if he came. Would he come? Would tradition be observed? At whatever time of day or night nen received a dwallidee's call, a Noad was honour bound to respond. Straightaway, therefore, Barlayn ought to rush to the scene; but as for whether he really would - she could have bet either way. If he did come, he'd be here within minutes.
Those frozen minutes were compounded of garish dazzle: the reddened blobs of faces all around, smeared by ripple effects from the writhing cmem; Nyav leaning against the bole of the Vorratch, while over his head the bladed boughs dangled their corpse-loads of the condemned; and a few other lit features of the mostly-dark city, such as the nearby dome of the Menestegon, and the thin arch of a Meegn glinting in the black sky overhead.
Steadily, the faces opposite her grew tenser still. Eyes widened. Then the dreamlike scene woke to a raucous command from the Glomb to the guards.
"KEEP YOUR LASERS TRAINED ON HIM, BUT DO NOT FORCE HIM TO DISMOUNT."
'Him'? Ah, there, about five yards to her left, was the man. The Noad sat upright astride a skimmer. Hyala pictured how he must have bulleted up Otett Avenue. Openly. But having made his clearly visible approach, he spoke no word. His presence was message enough.
Dempelath wheezed out a thick waft of the red mist, which advanced upon the Noad.
The grey figure simply sat. Waiting, apparently, for the cmem to envelop him. Do not force him to dismount, the Glomb had ordered. That would allow him the most convenient chance to flee. However the Noad seemed uninterested in that option. At any rate, he did not move. Was this courage? Reckless fatalism? His face gave nothing away.
Meanwhile the mist, re-aimed at the Noad, consequently became less dense around Hyala; but still she kept in unavoidable touch - via the mentally porous cmem - with the flow of the enticing new promises and justifications now directed at Barlayn. You must admit, Noad Barlayn, that Dempelath has a great aim, he's going to make Olhoav great, he's going to give it a place in the sunshine of Syoom, he's going to make it the centre of the world. You have misjudged the Revolution if you think it's simply based on a desire to rule Olhoav.
Hyala could not bear this. "But why seek the life of poor Nyav?" she burst out, aloud. "I am your enemy, true - but he is nobody's enemy. Dempelath, tell me: why do you aim to kill a harmless nebulee?"
In uttering this cry, she was also informing Noad Barlayn of how matters stood. She craved moral if not material support from the Noad, the defender of the weak. Duty bound to protect a harmless nebulee.
The hybrid monster's reply penetrated gently through the mist.
"It's only his first life after all, Hyala."
"It's his first life but it's still his life! Why should you kill him?"
But she well knew why. Nyav Yuhlm by his very existence was some kind
of threat to the Weigher's hegemony. A nebulee's agrash soul was
inherently subversive. Being a traditional mystery, it was a
channel to many another strand of the former culture. And the superiority of that former culture was inadmissible.
Dempelath, his face with its coloured blotches swimming closer in the stained air, said quietly, "Death, in some circumstances, can achieve more than life." Hovering very close now, the Weigher sparkled so powerfully that again Hyala's thoughts veered towards acceptance of his point of view.
She tried to call upon the power and integrity of Sunnoad Hyala Movoun 1, but it was like walking on a treadmill. She had no purchase on her own mind.
Meanwhile the mist, now thickening around Hyala, thinned around Barlayn.
The Noad was able to break his silence.
"He's not going to kill any of us," he said dryly.
Hyala darted an amazed glance at her friend and ruler. The words he'd just spoken were so flat and sure, they ought to be triumphant also. But no, their attainment didn't reach that far; some counter-weight groaned at the end of the happy thought. The implication: the Glomb's not going to kill us because he doubtless has lined up for us some item worse than death.
Hyala turned her gaze back to the moving colours on Dempelath's kaleidoscopic face. There, a smile was spreading.
"You will make a good backgrounder, Barlaynlamiroth," remarked the tyrant, eyes flashing with glee as he fused the Noad's name into one word.
"As you will a foregrounder - Dem Pelath?"
Why didn't I think of saying that? wondered Hyala. Dem Pelath a Two-Names, a Forg himself - what a hit, and doubtless true! The backgrounder-style one-word name "Dempelath" had to be a fabrication. Revolutionary blah. Really the Weigher must have been a forg all along. A leader had to be a foregrounder - necessarily, obviously, by definition.
Yes, a superb hit! So why wasn't she elated?
"Feeble, Noad, feeble," was the airy retort from the Face of Power. "I play a bit with your name, and in retaliation you, childishly, run the joke ragged. Evidently you have yet to learn that the one-name two-name thing is all over and done with; that the new society I am building will take no note of how many names a person has. You ought to have figured it by now: it needs no word-count to tell that I with my single-name am on the way up, whereas you, Barlayn Lamiroth, are on the way down. Our paths crossed here, this one time, this sole opportunity for parley, which you have wasted with your point-scoring. Now I leave you, futile man, and I take my people with me."
luminous lips pursed once more into organic loud-hailer form, and a message of strange victory screeched over the crowd.
The meaning was not immediately clear, but the flavour conveyed through the cmem was that of an untimely dirge.
Barlayn steered over to Hyala, and dismounted. He put an arm about her, in quiet congratulation that she was still alive. And he, too, was defeated but alive. In melancholy relief they watched the crowd cloaking itself around the Glomb. The entire mass - the Noad's own people, but lost to him - began drawing away along the avenue, their victory chant continuing in diminuendo:
THE WEIGH-TREE / SLAY-TREE / SUMMON-TO-BLUR...
THE WEIGH-TREE / SLAY-TREE / SUMMON-TO-BLUR...
The walking river of people, percolating into side-streets, slowly drained from view, their ever-lessening chant leaving its echo in the mind.
THE WEIGH-TREE / SLAY-TREE / SUMMON-TO-BLUR...
In the wake of its tone, the dirge's sinister meaning took shape. Barlayn Lamiroth, as was right
and proper for the Focus of a free people, did not possess the
hypnotic powers of his great adversary, yet his intellect was no whit
inferior, and he grasped his own defeat with speed, insight and honesty. Thus he intuited how the Justice
Tree must "pluralise" itself into the brains of countless citizens, becoming for each imagination a totemic indoor plant, its poisonous perfume blurring old definitions,
its sap dissolving old loyalties, until out of the mess would emerge a new allegiance coagulating around the Glomb, in Olhoav's impending Dark Age.
THE WEIGH-TREE / SLAY-TREE / SUMMON-TO-BLUR...
Meanwhile, as the chant faded below audibility, solitude remained around the literal Justice-Tree with its floodlit dangled corpses. Hyala, having escaped death herself, was struck with pity for so many individual life-stories which had ended hooked on the sickle blades. So must all, whether in death or in life, render up their flow, blurring into the spate of Dempelath's triumph. It is a law of nature, she mused, that tributary streams end in a greater torrent; but as a healer she was alert to how the seductive pull to unity, "the Oneness thing", can oppress.
tried to shake off the desolate mood, lest she seem ungrateful for her own unexpected survival. "You tipped the
balance, Noad B-L," she said. It was her way of praising him for
saving her life. "But for you, Nyav and I would be swinging up there."
Barlayn nodded sombrely. "The thought of what might have happened, puts a better light on this..." He looked at Hyala.
She, peering into her rescuer's face, sharply comprehended:
"You don't like the way Dempelath also seems to prefer our escape."
"Indeed not." Disengaging from her, he growled, "I see a Ghepion linkpoint over there - will you wait with Nyav, please, while I go and give Dynoom a piece of my mind." He mounted his skimmer and floated to a nearby wall at the avenue side, where a button quietly glowed alongside a voice-grid. He jabbed at it.
"I hear and see you, Noad Barlayn," came the smooth words.
Caustically, the Noad asked, "How closely have you been following events, Brain of Olhoav? Does your supervisory vision extend to the 'Justice Tree'? To its recent crop of fruit?"
"My eyesight does extend that far," agreed the unruffled voice of the city-wide computer. "Your next question may be, Why did I not try to prevent those executions..."
"My next question," grated the Noad, "is when are you going to make some effort to overthrow Dempelath?"
"I am not able to touch the Glomb," said Dynoom. "The most I might do, is seek to undermine his power by attempting to eliminate all his henchmen and chief supporters. But you and I have had this conversation before. Suppose that I were to go on that sort of killing spree, you would eventually find yourself ruled by such a worse monster that you would end up sighing for the good old days of Dempelath."
"Aagh... you're immoveable," Barlayn sputtered. "Look, while you're being so scrupulous, think what may happen - what almost did happen - to Hyala."
"Hyala?" The brain's voice took on a new, shocked edge. "What do you know about her?"
It was Barlayn's turn to be surprised. "What is there to know," he asked, "apart from what everybody in the city knows - that she's one of our best people? If someone like that can get dragged to the Tree..."
"But she is safe now?"
the moment. But only because Dempelath was unable to coat everyone with a like
thickness of propaganda, and I think the setback has caused him to change his plans. A
short while ago he certainly did intend to have her killed."
A scraping noise, a sound of strange agony, issued from the orifice of the great machine. "That, I did not know." Another scraping. "I am not omniscient. My receptors do not pervade all the space in Olhoav! I cannot hear every word spoken! Furthermore, my powers have decreased..."
"What's this? What do you mean, 'decreased'?"
"Less nutriment remains in the wires for me nowadays. For example, I find I can no longer project warning images as efficiently as I used to. I now probably could not even frighten the henchmen of the Glomb. You humans must help yourselves."
Barlayn said in gloomy disgust, "I guessed it would be something like that."
"Wipe the sneer off your face," advised Dynoom, "and consider, in comparison with my limited scope, how advantageous is the position of you mobile folk. You can walk, run, congregate; you can live, even under the sway of Dempelath."
"If you can call it living - at the whim of a power-mad half-human."
"Let him gloat his fill. He likes it, and thus it gives him reason to spare you. And your diminished lives will still be far better than no life at all. Try it out... Appreciate what you've got. Forget your rank. Forget the past glories of Olhoavan history and culture. Forget civic pride. Walk; eat; love..."
"I'll start with the first of those," said Barlayn drily, and strode away from the wall.
A trace of a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, since, jarred by the City-Brain's advice, he had lit upon an idea.
Uranian Throne Episode 9: