uranian throne - episode nine

the last card

by
robert gibson


[For the story so far, see: 1: Dynoom; 2: Hyala; 3: the nebulee; 4: Exception;  5: the lever of power; 6: the infrastructure throbs;  7: the claw extends; 8: the brain-mist writhes]


diners ignoring the cmem

Dynoom felt no qualms about his dismal advice to the Noad.

For it's not as though I were any better off than he.  We shall both have to accept a diminished way of life, and, arguably, I come off worse as a Ghepion than I would as a man.

Reduced rations of power; sensory extremities benumbed; awareness smudged by mind-ache - amid the cowed darkness of Olhoav, the life of the city's artificial intelligence was at least as shrunken as that of its human ruler.

Dynoom's wits nevertheless remained sharp enough to identify the salient fact from the confrontation at the Zedmaiol Vorratch:

The tyrant had retreated without losing face - had actually tightened his hold on power. 

The pattern became still more evident during the ensuing days.  The city-brain kept as good a watch on events as nen could, switching from sensor to sensor in order to keep as close a track as possible on the movements of Dempelath.  Thus the mobile viewpoint of Dynoom shadowed the tyrant's writhing cmem as that cellular mist glided up and down ramps, along walkways, across bridges and through bedimmed streets. 

By means of this pursuit and surveillance, a picture was built up, district by district, to gauge the smear of influence of Dempelath's luminescent patrol.

Even those bystanders (perhaps a majority) who managed to retreat out of close range at the first glimpse of the vermillion glow were unable to evade the ideological perfume which lingered in the air after the cmem had passed by - and which Dynoom could "sniff" from comments overheard: a heightened sense of "backgrounders to the fore"; a squeal of triumph that everyone, or else no one, was central to a story-line.  Such, now, was the fashionable tinge to thought: a muzzy belief that the age-old inequality between bit-players and protagonists had somehow been erased.

Another sign of the enemy's success was that, for the time being, the Revolution became less bloody.  No further corpses were added to the object lessons currently dangling on the Vorratch.  The ones that already swung there were left to continue their slow gyrations in the breeze (the dead bodies of Nenns do not decompose unless they are buried in the gralm), but the Weigher evidently considered the present number to be sufficient.

All in all, thought Dynoom, the regime's record was impressive.  Of course that didn't make it likeable, and its slogans were apt to give one a mind-ache; yet at times the city-brain was tempted to settle for the easiest option, of accepting the Revolution in its own terms.

Drowsily, the Brain relaxed its hold on its sub-centres, and began to murmur excuses.

"A right of revolution," the argument ran, "must always exist.  The good of the majority comes before allegiance to tradition.  Of course this is only true if we're talking about something greater than a mere brief-season majority; the grand, all-time mass-verdict of humanity is the only credible 'weigher'.  But that is precisely the case with backgrounders; viewed across history's entire sweep, they are bound by definition to outnumber forgs.  Hence if the interests of those two groups ever clash, as regrettably they may, one ought then to be on the wirrip side.  It's admittedly peculiar that the present revolt is headed by a foregrounder, but so what?  Leadership has to be a foregrounder thing; so it's no use carping when you get a revolutionary boss from the overthrown class."

Aglow with that inner peace which comes from resignation of responsibility, Dynoom "stretched" and asked nenself:  Now what? 

All active options were unappealing.  Amid the quiet darkness, there seemed nothing left to do.  There'd certainly be no point at all in trying to foment counter-revolution against the majority mood.  On the other hand, to support Dempelath would be distasteful.

Wearied by human politics, Dynoom felt tempted to mimic the enviable human ability to sleep

I'm not a man; I can't really sleep, of course, but -

Some analogous retreat to low-functionality, equivalent to a lengthy coma, would be a handy way to miss out on the Dark Age.  Set the inner clock's alarm to ring after a few million days, in a future, one might hope, in which Dempelath and his tiresome Revolution would be forgotten.  Only, would it work?  Dynoom was not sure of being able to re-awaken after such mental self-surgery.  Besides, suppose, in that future world, Dempelath were somehow still around?  The creature was no longer merely human, after all. 

All of a sudden it was born in upon Dynoom, that he did not really mean any of this.  He did not seriously intend to "sleep".  And when he - nen - it - asked himself/nenself/itself why the idea was a morally impossible fantasy, the answer came.

What kept him loyal to the present age was concern for Hyala.  Knowing who she really was, the Brain had no heart to abandon her.  Rather, she must be watched over - protected - as history's most treasured human personality, whose random reappearance at this particular time was a unique, unrepeatable boon, which to lose would be madness; so at the helm of the Brain's thoughts now wheeled the idea, I must stay awake for the sake of the reincarnated soul of the First Sunnoad; must keep my eyes open for her, must continually ask, How might she be defended...

The wheel of awareness turned further: its pointer swivelled past stay awake for the sake of Hyala Movoun, all the way to the yet more emphatic pin your hopes on Hyala Movoun

Terran readers note: the currents of fate are real here.  Whatever may be the case on other planets, we Uranians are not blown from behind by causation, we are sucked from ahead by destiny.  It might be interesting to ask the same question about Earth; we are open-minded about Earth.  Different worlds may have different weather systems, in aetiology as well as in meteorology, and we can only say that conditions on our world leave no room for doubt.  Uranian destiny-force is a power which Dynoom knew from nen's own experience.  Just as the highest stalks in a field are most bent by the wind, so the most salient foregrounders are those most buffeted by fate's breezes; and Dynoom was thoroughly, unashamedly, a "forg". 

*

Safety in numbers?  The trouble is, she stands out too much.  She could never blend into a background.  Then how about safety in matrimony?  Entwined in a safe enough weave...

By stages, Dynoom developed the hope of a marriage between Hyala Movoun and Barlayn Lamiroth, a hope based at first upon the dramatic way in which circumstances had recently thrown them together, doubtless bonding them emotionally, and mantling them with an exceptional combined aura.  We who tell this story to Terrans may as well add that the couple's age difference (in your terms, the Noad was in his mid-forties, Hyala about eighteen) would hardly have mattered even on Earth among two such exceptional individuals; on our far wiser world it mattered not at all. 

The advantage of their union would be, that each would become both stronger and safer: stronger as a twined double cable is stronger than either single component; safer as binary stars so absorbed in mutual orbit, that they'd pose no exterior threat to out-flare the Glomb.

The idea grew more attractive, the more the Brain pictured it.  Hyala and Barlayn, together, safe and sound!  As for believing that it would actually happen - it was, at first, a matter of wishful thinking.  Dishonest?  Not necessarily!  Powering one's fancies, by selective picking of the evidence, can bring worthwhile results!  Even a human, thought Dynoom, can to some extent choose nen's thoughts, and I ought to do better in that line.

So, although Noad Barlayn Lamiroth continued to meet many citizens in the course of his duties, and did not appear to spend more hours with Hyala than he had before, yet those hours which he did spend with her were festooned with airy significance in the multiple eyes of Dynoom.

Then on 10,538,542 Ac, the Brain's spadework in the sands of of gossip turned up a more solid chunk.

Of all the occasions on which we Uranians eat, the best-loved is the sanungi stillig ost, the "meld-cheer marriage meal".  It is not usually announced as such beforehand, because prior notification would anticipate its burst of joy and thus mar the spontaneity of romance.  Yet it is usually possible to make a reasonable guess.  When the word went out at three days' notice, that a social gathering would take place at Gstatt's top-ranking Zoalsh on 10,538,545 Ac., and that among those present would be the Noad himself, the city-brain metaphorically pricked up its ears.  A prestigious zoalsh - in Terran terms, a restaurant/hotel/social centre - is precisely the sort of scene where one would expect a noteworthy sanungi stillig ost to take place.

Gstatt, a friend of the Noad, had acted as host for him before, but this time, to judge from the deliveries of supplies and the arrangement of decor and furnishings, the preparations were more meticulous than ever.  From linkpoints across the street and inside the zoalsh itself, Dynoom kept watch and drew hopeful conclusions.

The day came, and guests arrived from various districts: from Occoz, still loyal to the Noad; from Jihom and Arar, which had gone over to the Weigher; from Flettrim, a region divided, its darkness yet streaked with laser-fire.  One cultural memory remained common to all: the reputation of a zoalsh as a haven for free speech during periods of despotic rule.  Not even Dempelath had shown any sign of violating this custom - so far.  Confidently, therefore, the clientele strode to the venue. 

As they crossed the threshold their gaiety was measured by Dynoom, whose rapid flicks of behavioural vision calibrated each guest's brightness of eye and gustiness of lung, to gauge their elation at the moment they pushed through the welcoming swing doors of the zoalsh.  Understandably they were cheerful upon arrival: this place was supposed to be a surviving niche from a happier past.  But also (the city-brain judged further from their body-language) they were hoping for news to lighten the gloom of the future...

Once they were all in, Dynoom next cast the invisible net of nen's perceptions from linkpoints on the walls and chandeliers of the main dining room, from which vantages it was possible to survey, overhear, and attempt to imbibe the mood of the gathering. 

Among the chattering groups, and the staff carrying trays bearing drinks and starter-snacks, it was possible but not always easy to track Barlayn Lamiroth as he circulated among the guests during the minutes before they all took their places at table.  This first phase - the Noad weaving among his people with a word or a nod here, a sentence there, continually the Focus, as always - had somewhat of a "working-lunch" aspect to it whenever the grey cloak was tailed by advisors.  Dynoom tried to follow what was said at these encounters but it was not possible to overhear or lip-read more than the occasional word.

A man with a particularly harried expression muttered a report to Barlayn Lamiroth, "Noad B-L...  vault... results," whereupon Dynoom underwent a paleontological urge to reconstruct the full skeleton of the conversation from its scattered verbal bones. 

"You wanted the vault-survey results, but..."

"Give," said the Noad. 

[Yes, thought Dynoom, give the latest - update us on the pressures fingering up from the ice beneath us...

"Lights down fifty per cent.  Otherwise normal."

"Cracks?"

"No larger - yet."

Barlayn Lamiroth gave a slow nod, and sighed inaudibly.  "We'll keep our eyes on it, Surveyor N-G." 

Oh those lowest vaults... thought Dynoom... further down than I can now reach... down all the way to the metal bottom, deprived of light and heat after the power-drainage caused by the Revolution, and thus left without means to lubricate the crucial interface with the sub-surface ice: abandoned therefore to the mercy of the slow, slow stryegn-strokes, the blind churn of creatures who 'swim' through our planet's frozen crust.  We're now without means to 'slip the grip', to melt the ice's wrenching hold upon the foundations.  Hence one day we will find that Olhoav's structural strength has been overcome by the mindless enemy. 

"But, what can we do, Noad B-L?" fretted the Surveyor.

"Do?" smiled Barlayn.  "Tell the Weigher to undo the Revolution, to re-institute the work-trance, to restore our economy, to resume light and heat at their former capacity..." - and with a touch on the arm took his leave of Nuth Geven and proceeded to the next encounter...

...Dynoom meanwhile reflecting upon the Noad's sardonic response, considered:  Even if we subtract the irony, and suppose we'd gain a hearing, why should we try to explain all this foundational stuff to Dempelath?  I say let the day come, when the city splits beneath us like neglected paving is broken by an upward-forcing tree.  I meanwhile direct my thoughts elsewhere. 

The general chatter was lively, much of it political, and Dynoom's early impression was that the guests, snugly relaxed in the sociable warmth of a zoalsh, appeared unafraid to say what they thought about the Revolution, so long as the line was never crossed between mere grumbling and exhortation to resistance.

"...You hear some stupid rumours," said one young woman sipping from her first glass.  "I've even heard it whispered that a new Daon will be named.  As if the Noad hadn't learned the lesson, that no Daon is allowed to live nowadays.  As if he'd condemn another poor flunnd to death."

"Some grutts talk trash because they have nothing better to do," shrugged her male companion, before reaching for his first refill... 

Mention a hot topic, call it trash, thus make it safe?  But this one surely is trash, anyhow, judged Dynoom.  That first speaker was right: the Noad could not possibly be so irresponsible as to ignore the terrible lesson of Dari Clsar and Sunwa Nerren.  Barlayn Lamorith cannot intend to announce another heir...

After a few minutes the Noad turned to head for the top table, and this was the signal for a general drift by all the rest towards their places.  Servers brought dishes heaped with klasts, the crusty meat-confections of Ooranye.  Others came with bottles of myyix, the thick glowing cordial.  Uranian cuisine lacks the bewildering range of Terran, and the ingenuity of our cooks is devoted to minuter variations on fewer themes...

However, the significance of our meals is far greater than yours.  Your world knows the joys of conviviality up to a point.  It is the immense and shining importance which the simple act of eating together in fellowship holds for us, on our huger, dimmer, more vastly mysterious globe, that you will never know.  Our get-togethers (which are rarer than yours; our metabolism is so much more efficient, that we only need to eat one third as often as you do) are bound to symbolize the hearth-glow of civilization surrounded by the darkness of the unknown, for our faculty of apparng never lets us forget that our home is an untameable giant planet.  Therefore the term bejeh, which is shared by our three main languages, and translates to your term "cheer", is the word that most warms our hearts.

Frankly envious of the diners, Dynoom watched and listened...

...and yet the envy made no difference to nen's steadfast hopes for the welfare of Hyala and Barlayn.  If anyone had asked, "Do you wish you were human?", the great Brain would straightaway have answered, "At moments like this, I do".  There was no malice in this wistful emotion.  It had crept into its value-circuits during aeons of evolution, and had developed in practical sync with the need to empathize...

If only they would get on with it! 

No overtly romantic, archly knowing looks, no winking pleasantries marked the mood... but the Noad and Hyala were seated close to each other at the top table, and there was another figure nearby who looked likely to fulfil the traditional ceremonial role of Staunch Woman.  It was looking hopeful. Ah, something was about to happen.  Hyala Movoun, seated directly opposite the Noad, had scraped her chair backwards... was standing up...  This looked like it.

...Except that the main speech was usually given not by the bride but by the Staunch Woman.  Still, thought Dynoom, it appears that the person chosen for that role - presumably that tall, willowy, straw-haired girl, sitting next to Barlayn, named Gevuldree, who looks like she'd snap in a breeze - isn't really up to it; I expect her duties will be limited to thanking the staff and leading the applause.  Kind of the Noad to give the honour to an obvious backgrounder.  Merely unfortunate that Hyala is consequently going to have to do most of the work...

"Bejeh-kveff!" Hyala began.  "Partakers of cheer!"

Boots stamped and hands clapped (except those of Nyav Yuhlm the nebulee who sat in perpetual dreamy inertia next to his protector).  Lungs around every table bellowed one burst of enthusiasm.  Hyala then stretched out her arms, and was rewarded by attentive silence.

"How do we do it so well?" she continued.  "How do we forget all our worries within these walls?  Well, not quite forget, but - float above them!  How, eh?  Be patient, now, and I'll tell you, only, there's a price to pay, as I'm sure you'll appreciate: you don't expect the wisdom of decency to be easily communicable.  Luckily the Noad has given me permission, a one-off permission, to be rude enough to say the words out loud, backgrounder and foregrounder!"

Even the listening Brain was shocked, and many faces blanched, but only for a moment.  Then the kind of laughter broke out, that meant they were letting her get away with it.  She, standing there radiantly, she was Hyala, and she held the throng in her spell. 

"Yes, it's a job," she went on, "especially nowadays it's a job to put over the message that humble participation is valuable; that in fact it's so essential, that there was never any need to point out that a backgrounder is every bit as important as any foregrounder.  Never any need at all!  It's just belabouring the obvious!  Backgrounders don't need fame to make them great in the records of eternity.  Their soul-stuff is already etched as deep as any!  And none of you should need me to tell you," her tone plummeted warningly, "that it is better to be obscure and decent, than to be famous for the wrong things."

An intense, awed silence held sway as Hyala paused for breath.  Dynoom, panning his secret view across faces taut with emotion, totted up the reckoning: that quantity of respect for the wisdom of the bride, plus so much for the daring content of the speech, so much for the importance of the occasion, and so much for the solace of hearing the truth in the context of the times... truth spooned out in a heavier-than-expected dose!  But isn't it time that silly wirrip Gevuldree did her bit... and not leave Hyala the whole time in the firing line?  Come on, Staunch Woman, be traditional, take over and do your bit.

The city-brain had become, in nen's own fashion, "jumpy". 

Not that there was any official reason to be anxious, just because the air beyond the glass of the window had begun to brighten with a splash of vermillion.  A few of the diners noticed the tinge almost as promptly as Dynoom did, and they weren't outwardly fazed.  It was known that Dempelath did not interfere with what went on in a zoalsh.  Certainly, up till now, he has never interfered with people at a zoalsh meal, nor given any sign that he ever will.  Many a time during the past fifty days I've seen diners here ignoring the cmem as it passes on patrol.  Perhaps the Weigher weighs the value of this last safety-valve for dissent, and dares not shut it off; more likely, he enjoys the thought of dissent confined to a sanctuary, especially a traditional one - preferring, wherever possible, to bestride rather than to erase a tradition -

Yet, as round the adjacent street-corner the glowing mist of the cmem edged further into view, Dynoom was irrationally glad at the thought that Hyala and Barlayn were about to about to fortify each other with the marriage-meld.  For Skies' sake, get on with it, nen silently implored, by now as impatient as any red-blooded human.

Hyala's lips, however, quivered without sound.  She also had noticed the reddish mist, and it seemed to have caused hesitation in her.  Well, thought Dynoom, I dare say if I were human, and a woman, I wouldn't want the sight of that thing out there interrupting my wedding announcement.

Tension thickened in the air... and then, from one of the other tables a brash woman's voice, cutting across the developing mood, brayed out a witticism:

"Hey, Noad B-L, let's invite Dempelath in to sit down with us!"

In that instant Barlayn Lamiroth, and possibly quite a few other people, revised their low opinion of Bizzid Folomm.  If the brassy alapatea never did anything else for the rest of her life, she would still not have lived in vain.  Her appallingly crude and insensitive joke was just what the gathering required to dispel its paralysis of foreboding.

Resuming the merry business of the occasion, Hyala spoke on - delightfully to almost all; the only being to whom her words came as a pile-driven shock, was Dynoom. 

"Let us propel," she archly cried with lifted brows, "in the best Revolutionary style, a backgrounder to the fore!  Come, let us witness the meld of our Noad, Barlayn Lamiroth, with... Gevuldree!"

Everyone but Dynoom was expecting it.  In unison the guests shot up from their chairs to peer for the best view of the couple, who were making their way to the zoalsh's main wall-mirror.  In front of the glass, Gevuldree and Barlayn, bride and groom, took their place in accordance with immemorial custom to utter their marriage vows; for though we Uranians do not need mirrors for vanity we do require them for ceremony.  What, though, of poor Dynoom, the giant Brain who had never felt so stupid in its aeonian life?

During all the time I spent assuming that Hyala was the bride and Gevuldree the Staunch Woman, the converse was true, so what kind of idiot does that make me?  A new-fledged idiot, that's what - for in the old days I would not have made such a laughable blunder.  Concern for individuals has made me stupid; ah, well...

The "ah, well" inner shrug was squashed into a tiny instant of time.  The giant Ghepion's brain was capable of a much faster mental gear-change than that of any human.  It now commanded itself to swivel:  MOOD, ABOUT-TURN!  An emergency "smelled" imminent.  The cmem roiling in the street outside was coming forward.  Its redness squirmed obliquely closer to the window, evidently sidling at the zoalsh entrance's swing doors, as though Bizzid Folomm's bad-taste joke about Dempelath coming in and sitting down with the other guests were about to become hideous fact.  I knew it, thought Dynoom.  Now that Barlayn is committed to a nobody, we lose the prospect of the combined strength which we would have had with Barlayn-plus-Hyala.  Forfeiting that, we lose a vital restraining influence upon the Glomb.  Barlayn and Gevuldree: what a waste!  I see now, they love each other - but what a waste!

The cmem had now flowed right up to the swing doors and they began to creak slightly inwards under its pressure.  The guests who were sitting closest to the door looked sick with indecision as they gazed at the first airy redness seeping in.  Scared to get up, scared to stay where they are, thought Dynoom, who just then felt very close to human styles of nightmaring.  It was not - the Brain well understood - a physical fear.  Not like during the executions of recent days.  No, this was somehow even harder on the stomach... an organ I too possess, it seems, in a figurative senseHow else am I able so clearly to match these people's strongest feelings?  For just like they are doing, I am watching Barlayn Lamiroth with a desperate hope as he comes back from the mirror to the table.  Unlike they, I am angry with him for letting us down, for putting his private happiness before the good of Olhoav; but like they, I look to him as our only legitimate leader, and I will continue to do so until utterly swamped by despair.  But what can he do?  Nothing that I can imagine.  So why not despair now?  One reason: I have been fooled once already at this event.  Now please, Barlayn, please, I implore you - fool me once more!    

The Noad stood for a moment with head bent and a slight puzzled frown puckering his brow.  "Bit breezy in here," he murmured, staring at the front entrance.  "No matter."  Suddenly he turned to Hyala and boomed out, "Many, many thanks to my kaparinvonv for her splendid speech, which I won't try to match..!"

You'd better match it, thought Dynoom.  With an out, and promptly.  The cmem is blowing in faster.  It's covering one table already.  And the Weigher himself isn't inside the brain-mist, which somehow makes it worse - it's entirely projected, an invulnerable monster.  Do something, Noad.

"I'm a happy man," Barlayn Lamiroth continued, "and a more private man than I was before.  Times change, don't they, people?  I intend to join my wife in her obscurity!" 

Some of the guests laughed at this pleasantry; as for the rest - Terran readers may think of a tennis audience to help them imagine the to-and-fro of turning heads as folk tried to keep watch on both the Noad and the region of the door.  The mood of brittle cheer had so far not given way to the nightmare rapping for admittance.  But all sensed that the Noad was running out of moments.  What would happen when the red mist pervaded the zoalsh?  Nothing would happen - and therefore everything would happen.  It must not be, it must not be!

"I'll still be your Noad," he continued, "but titles aren't so important now.  Except one, of course.  This is a good moment to acknowledge that History has given its verdict.  'Glomb' has overtaken and superseded 'Noad'.  My rank diminishes, his increases in importance with every passing day.  Let it be so!  I am happy," he emphasized to the widening mist, "as a more private man.  'Noad' is not nothing, but it's heritage only, and it trails a long way after 'Weigher'.  I repeat: let it be so.  And to make that heritage-picture complete, Olhoav might as well have a faded Daon as well as a faded Noad, so, exercising one of my remaining privileges, I now appoint - Daon Nyav Yuhlm of Olhoav!

After a stunned silence which lasted a couple of seconds, the audience lurched up, some tipping back their chairs with a crash, others stumbling over those same chairs as they charged at the vermillion-clouded entrance and through it, out into the street.  Their one idea was to spread the news: a Daon! a Daon!  Olhoav has a Daon once more!  Within a minute the dining hall had two-thirds emptied. 

The only figure unmoved by the commotion was the new Daon himself.  With the same vague, dreamy expression on his countenance that he had worn ever since he became a nebulee, Nyav Yuhlm remained seated on the chair next to Hyala's.  In his realm of dilute cosmic consciousness, no particular issue could ever impinge.  He vaguely comprehended some basic words, but he had certainly lost all grasp of social ideas, and so could not be moved by the powerful positivity of traditions, nor by the cultural hunger for the return of an institution in abeyance, nor could he therefore share the sudden elation of ordinary folk galvanized by the touch of that life-line’s unexpected return, the crackling, tension-busting symbolism of the dayonnad’s resurrection -    

Meanwhile the Noad’s eyes and Hyala’s met.  Their mutual glance said: here’s as good a moment as any.  Barlayn then thumbed a sign to Gstatt. 

The restaurateur nodded, slipped out of sight through a service door and re-appeared almost immediately with a cloth package draped over his arm.  This he handed to the Noad, who opened it and shook out a cloak of bright blue stuff, the cloak of the dayonnad. 

It was indeed a perfect moment for the first of the returning guests to catch Barlayn Lamiroth in the act of fitting that bright blueness around the new Daon’s shoulders.  The sight inspired some folk to dart gleefully outside again, to hail passers-by with more shouts and gestures, to repeat and embellish the news, before again rattling the swing doors to barge enthusiastically back into the zoalsh.

They were even more cheered to find that the red mist had utterly departed.  Its convincells must have fully absorbed the meaning of the event.  Wish I could do the same, thought Dynoom, crushingly aware of nen’s own dullness.  But everyone else gets it, so I suppose I also eventually shall

Barlayn Lamiroth, perhaps, had an inkling of the great machine-brain’s glum sense of inadequacy.  While the dining hall was filling up again, the Noad made use of a moment when he was not widely observed: he tilted his face up to the chandelier which dangled closest to his position, and he gave it the slightest nodding glance, together with a palms-up gesture.

His wife, placed next to him, and attentive enough to notice this by-play, said:  “Does that mean your promise stands, Barlayn?”

“My love, it does mean that.”

“So then, I won’t ever hear, on some awful day, you asking me to release you…”

“…From the simple life?  No, dear.  That’s what you saw me signal just now: ‘I’ve done all I can; now it’s up to you, Dynoom.’”

*

The unforgettable sanungi stillig ost at Gstatt’s Zoalsh had been a joyful wedding-banquet for the participants and the guests, but for Dynoom it had been a day of getting things wrong, with two great blows dealt to nen’s confidence, arising from failure to guess the identity of the bride, and from slowness in grasping the import of the new Daon.

However, although able to suffer humiliation as well as diverse other human emotions, Dynoom was more adept than any human at tidying up those gushing mental streams.  Self-command allowed the giant Brain to sort and re-route feelings in accordance with what nen wished to feel. 

It was time to roll up one’s metaphorical sleeves and get on with it.  Not only to learn from, and compensate for, past failures, but also as a matter of urgency to fend off a glowering future, Dynoom ordered nenself to experience a day of getting things right.

The great Ghepion’s first move was to forgive nenself.  It was not too surprising, after all, that a computer who had spent all nen’s eon-long life looking after a city in the mass, should turn out to be slow on the uptake with regard to human relationships.  So, getting the women mixed up was not too bad.  The slowness with regard to the Daon was less easy to forgive.  It boiled down to a matter of historical dynamics, which was supposedly Dynoom’s special field.  Still, the appointment was a surprising coup by Barlayn Lamiroth.  Besides, though tardily, Dynoom had now caught up with its rationale and – in the days that followed – was able to grasp the situation better than anyone.

On the simplest level, the wisdom of the Noad's promotion of an imbecilic nebulee was obvious enough.  Such an heir could not possibly rouse the envy and malice of the Glomb.  In that respect, Nyav Yuhlm was the safest possible choice - the least credible rival to anyone's ambition.

Harmless but not pointless.  For, in a more subtle sense, the profoundly popular appointment filled an instinctively perceived need.  Right from the first moment of the announcement, the crowd who heard it knew, deep down, that here was a safe, inert, structural backstop, preventing, or at least retarding, any further decay of the polity of Olhoav.  Salvaging what could be saved, but at the same time admitting - by the way it had been done - that nothing further could be done to recover what had been lost, the appointment of Daon Nyav Yuhlm gave society a breathing-space in which to adjust to its lowered level of existence.

A breathing space, no more.  Dynoom reflected on the political question with cold realism.

The latest manoeuvre by the Noad had halted Olhoav's institutional decay for the duration of the Noad's own lifetime.  This was a considerable achievement.  However, it would not outlast him.  Upon the demise of Barlayn Lamiroth, Daon Nyav Yuhlm would succeed to the noadex.  Think of that: Noad Nyav Yuhlm.  An imbecile agrash nebulee, incapable not only of the focal role itself, but of appointing an heir to it.  Under normal circumstances there would be ways round the problem but in a culture already weakened by tyranny the noadex of Nyav would deal the death blow to the polity of Olhoav.

Dynoom continued to pursue the thought.  Something must be done.  No chance of available help from Syoom umpteen thousand miles away.  Help must be sought from closer - in a sense - but also from further.

Realism grew colder still, as the numbing awe of the utterly fantastic last resort drew Dynoom into a folding of mental wings, a huddle of concentration.  Like an underground river finally breaking surface, the plan spurted into open view: a plan revealed by the abandonment of all pretence that there could be any other way.

It took Dynoom four days to screw up nen's courage to the point at which nen could take the crucial step.

Being (among other things) a powerful computer, nen could have completed all necessary preparation within microseconds, but nen judged it best to do it the hard way, with the Ghepion equivalent of tears and sweat.  So: four days.

During that time, with a mounting fervour of mixed emotions, as if carrying out a farewell tour, the urban brain's sensory awareness seeped through the fabric of the city to listen and gaze from every point of surveillance, in a blaze of apparng, of context-awareness, of "look at it this way while you can".

Did this include a pretense of being forced, of "Now look what you're about to make me do"?  Self-knowledge came in answer to the question, "Why all this pervasive so-called last-look tour?  Physically immoveable, I'm a permanent fixture; I'm not going anywhere; so what's all this farewell mood?"  No, the reply came, it's not that sort of good-bye, it's just my psychic run-up to the unique chasm ahead of me, with its two great rims of Before and After.  I don't really dread the jump - I actually savour it - it's what I've been wanting ever since the humans' refurbishment of the Pnurrm demonstrated that I am redundant as an urban maintenance utility - but still, what I'm about to engage in, learning by doing, and being pulled by so doing, well, it's tough on the soul - tough to explore that bulge up ahead -  

The streets and towers of Olhoav had disappeared.  Another vision replaced ordinary sight: a bulging, spinning, half-flattened spheroid, floating in colourless no-space.  Some effortful strain, for which Dynoom had no word, must have produced this outcome; you can't analyze how you approach the Snaddy-Galomm.

It's no joke, or in a way it's a terrifying joke, to find yourself in the thing's presence.  Dynoom's soul quailed before the roiling, bloated fabric of tornado-tubes - signifying the currents of fate - which made up the body of the "Spinning Top".  Neither spatial nor temporal in itself, the meaning-dimension nevertheless has to encode distance and duration, and does so in its destiny-diagram by means of various twistings or shadings, or separated mutually inclining pointers, all coruscating in continual flux.

Dynoom, however, was not confused!  Understanding came of itself, for it was not possible to keep out of the game.  To see it is to become sucked in, become a committed part of it.

Most relevantly of all, he (the more he gazed at the vision, the more he felt himself to be a "he") recognized the pairs of flame-hats worn by all the little human figures riding the tubes.  The two incarnations of each Uranian nod towards each other across their separations of time.  Since scale is no object - you see what pertains to you, and immediately zoom into it - in no time he saw the 'first-lifer' Barlayn Lamiroth's flame's tilt towards his future second life, the 'second-lifer' Hyala Movoun's backward tilt at her past first life.

He also saw what he had come to see - the two lives of Nyav Yuhlm. 

He had so peculiarly hoped that there would be something special about them, that the hope became the proof and the impetus behind his whole action in coming here.  And it looked like paying off!  Those particular two flames were so close to each other, they partially overlapped!  How could that be?  This world could not contain two incarnations of the same person simultaneously!  Far, far ahead of his own conscious understanding, Dynoom projected his plea:

World Spirit, may I reach out and pinch those flames into one?

You may, came the eerie, voiceless reply.

How? cried Dynoom.  In abrupt terror at his own idea, he felt himself to be shivering like a beast.  How can you grant my outrageous request, when I do not even possess any arms or hands with which to reach out...

That's right, you don't have hands, but reach with them anyway.  Your own deeper self is doing all the talking, and the permission to do the impossible therefore comes from you.  But - once only, mind!  You'll get away with it once.

You say I am doing all the talking, but why is this permission accorded to me at all?

Already a low laughter had crept into the code of the twistings, and now the mirth twinkled into visibility.  You're being co-opted, the flashes said.  Just the once.

And are reasons not needed?

Reasons?  Sounds like you're shrinking from your own resolve.  Go on, go on, obey your braver self, reach out and pinch.  Science's rules can never be broken, but destiny, ah, that's different, destiny is a living thing; you can take it by surprise; not often, not never, but once.

Reach? cried Dynoom.  Reach?   But -  But - (he could hope that he was merely arguing with himself, and not, in fact, really, actually talking back to the Snaddy Galomm) - all this is metaphor-speak, is it not?  Or do you seriously, LITERALLY mean I can stretch out and touch YOU?

Do it, Dynoom.  Because of a fluke, a sport, an odds-defying overlap, a cosmic lottery-win producing circumstances which you won't believe, you CAN reach and crush together and fuse two lives of sponndar N-Y across a void between worlds, bringing help to Olhoav.

Now.

This.

ONCE.


CONTINUED IN THE FEBRUARY ISSUE OF TALES TO ASTOUND:

Uranian Throne Episode 10:   

The Londoner