The ego-track of Neville Yeadon (continued):
The big voice has fallen silent. I begin to suspect, as the seconds tick by, that it has finished with me for the time being. I could call out to it, but I am reluctant to raise my voice, or to sound at all desperate.
And why this reluctance to yell? Dream-logic-cowardice. A fear lest anxious sounds encourage frightful events.
Not that I regard all this as a dream... it's too plonky-real for that... but the trouble is... better confront the sensation... that on some level I am used to it - that everything in this room around me, comfortable and tasteful and homely as it is, oozes more meaning than it should - that the... mood of the scene bathes it in a lantern glow of significant promise, an assurance that mighty things are in store for me, that I must scale scary heights and make precipitous choices - For heaven's sake why doesn't Big Voice come back?
Big Voice Dynoom has abandoned me. Left me alone to face the uproar in my mind. The yapping siege of unanswered questions. The vital, obvious questions that shriek their importance - Is any of this real or am I hallucinating? If it is real, am I alive or dead? Ought that Voice to be believed? If it ought, then why have I been brought to this planet, the seventh, and how was it done, and is it what regularly happens to knife-crime victims like myself -
All that is quelled, however, by a different, quieter, deeper aspect of my nature, who bids me relax.
Quite new to me, this underlying sector where calm reigns - and yet, immediately I am certain that it is a real part of me. It's as though, in arriving here, I have plonked onto a sort of mattressy local layer of self.
Every moment I reflect upon it, I become more aware of its power. I shall have to get used to being more than I was. Amazing, terrifying - or it would be amazing and terrifying were it not for that calm acceptance, reaching up, pulling me down to recline in a holiday from all the questions.
It inspires me to issue a confident command to those questions: "Vamoose! I'm owed some quiet. I have only just been snatched from (or perhaps through) the jaws of death. Give me a break, will you?"
In an attempt to ignore this plea, the old intellect twitters on with its habitual demands; but the mattressy layer somehow exerts itself to twirl a dial in my gabbling brain - to turn down the volume of obsessive inquisition -
Answers are over-rated, you know.
An un-Earthly thought, that; or at any rate un-Western. And not much like the old me. I don't reckon I have ever been the Zen intuitionist type, up till now.
Hey, what's this about "the old me"?
Is my familiar identity still in control, or...?
A sharper crowd of questions, the "who am I?" sort, which I like even less - a lot less - than the preceding "where am I?" chorus which was scary enough, bring me a step closer to terror. Doubting one's own nature - no, I'm not going down that road! Oy! Mattressy layer! Local me! Whoever, whatever you are - you're there, I can feel you - I'm not having this! Adjust and reassure me, please!
A yeasty, cheese-cakey sureness, grounded in the vast caress of some gentle infinity, wordlessly heeds my call by making me an irresistible offer of repose, assuring me that a life of comfort awaits me.
Bodily comfort? More than that, the promise hints, coaxing my eye to an area where wall meets ceiling. A transparent, rib-like structure protrudes from the framework of the room, to form an L-shaped window that is half a skylight. Through this I get a sample view of what's outside. I see a colourful tracery of walkways, some curved, some straight, linking and entwining globes and towers, like a fantastic evolution of the Brussels Atomium. And past all that, I see patches of sky. It's an intoxicating deep blue sky, caressing my soul, whispering to me that I'm finally home, under the forever-blanketing heaven of a huge world of endless fascination, endless good food for the eye and mind and being. It's what a world should be, robust and invulnerable to the stupidities of man, and to enjoy it for the rest of my native Uranian days all I need do is survive, floating upon my raft of status as a... mind-blown nebulee.
That word nebulee, though, is not itself part of the caress. It is a packet of meaning which has popped into my awareness from an earlier, general-knowledge store in the brain I now inhabit. But hey hey hey there goes it again, "inhabiting" - who have I become?
I have had enough of this. I lurch off the couch. I stand.
I nearly shout. I want that Big Voice to come back, that Dynoom voice, so that I can demand to be put in the picture. Again, though, I restrain myself; suppose I were to get what I asked for, would I really be prepared to swallow the truth in one gulp? Hmm... trouble is, Dynoom is on a different "side" from the mattressy laid-back influence. I can sense that much. Dynoom - so I'd be willing to bet - wants some action out of me.
Quite on the cards that I'll agree... just not sure how soon.
I totter to the window. I look over the high sill and see into a street. I catch a brief sight here and there of a dozen or so cloaked bare-headed grey-skinned pedestrians - and a glance tells me that they are human but a different kind of human from any Terran. All tall (how can they all be tall?), every one of them as good-looking as a film-star -
I start to hear voices.
From beyond the door, inside the house. Women's voices. I turn, uncertainly, and take some steps back from the window.
I don't yet hear the words distinctly but the timbre is more human than the resonant utterings of Dynoom, and I'm glad, though also nervous, to learn that the house most likely contains visible, normal people. Will they know - will they discover -
The door is pushed open at a moment which catches me standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. My face falls slack with mild confusion. My eyes dart vaguely over three figures - three young women, two of whom are known to the "local me".
The tall one, standing furthest back, says in a mild, off-hand tone, "This is a good day - he's standing up."
One of the other two more stocky girls (so - not everybody is quite so tall) squeals out, "Skimmjard, Daon N-Y!"
She's the visitor whom my local self has not seen before. I gape idiotically and do not reply. I just stare at the fluffy white tunic under her green cloak.
Both of the shorter individuals are green-cloaked and have just come in from the street. Equally instinctively I know that the strikingly beautiful lanky one, who spoke first, is dressed in ordinary house-clothes (light under-suit) and lives in this very house. She is my main protector, adds the prompter in my under-layer of mind.
Well, this is it - this is confirmation, that my trip here is of the mind only. These people recognize my bodily self; it's familiar to them, it belongs here; and that makes it certain that I've left my Earth body behind, dying on that London street. I've been transferred to a Uranian body. I knew it, really. Now it's proved.
Anyhow, a mind-flight counts as an escape, does it not?
And things could be worse. I'm encouraged to believe, from the kindly expressions on the faces of the trio, that I am among well-wishers. Confirmation of this truth wafts up, silent and sure, from the "mattress" of my under-self.
Nevertheless their kindness seems sort of unfocused. They're looking at me like one looks at a baby. Lacking any social expectation of me, they discount any possibility of communication with me. Even the new girl, who cried a greeting to me, did so out of excitement only. I wish I did not know all this, but I do - the certainty comes swift and clear.
I could shock them with a burst of speech, showing them that I can talk. I hesitate, though. Do I know enough yet, to make the move from which there'll be no going back? Besides, when I consider not only my relations with others but also the balance of natures within me, I realize that the articulation of words will necessitate a full take-over by my Terran self, and this moment may not be the best in which to make that play; it may risk a disturbance to the "mattress" too soon, when I need that calm layer's steadying influence.
"No use talking to him, Dittri," says the other short girl rather dryly. "Come on, let's get to work - I'll show you where everything is..."
"I'll leave you both to it, then," interrupts the tall one. "I'll be around for a while, if you need me for anything." And she steps out of sight. Now just the two... carers are left with me.
The impulsive Dittri walks up to me, and her mouth hangs open as she goggles reverently into my face.
"But, look, Zhavad," she says, "his lips quivered just then..."
"He's miles away. Get it into your head: he's a nebulee."
(They're standing on either side of me, and chatting to each other across me.)
"Yes, yes, I know that, Zhavad, but you see, this nebulee is the Daon, and so..."
"And so you're thinking, that that rank should wake him up with restored attention? No, my girl, just because he has been appointed heir to the Noad, doesn't mean he's going to be your practical hero. And if he were - if he did wake up - it might be fatal to him. Know what I mean, uh? It might prompt a counter-move by - you know who."
Dittri winces, gives a little shudder and yet still seems inclined to argue:
"But didn't you tell me earlier, he needs talk - "
"I didn't mean conversation," sighs Zhavad. "Yes it's good for him to hear words - they keep him this side of complete shut-down - but what you need to do, is not talk to him, just talk at him. Knowing you, I'd say you're well qualified. Give it to him full blast. Only," she admonishes, "don't wake him up, Dittri."
Dittri's hand flies to her mouth and her eyes go wider. "Yes," she breathes, "I had better be careful what I say."
"I was just teasing," Zhavad grins. "You needn't worry. Really, you're not going to work any miracles! Simply shower him with your prattle and it'll spread over him like an ointment, a film of words. That's all you can do for him, apart from a meal and a guided trip to the hredd every three days or so. Now let me show you where things are in this forgy house..."
They bustle away through another door while my mind scrambles to pick up the meanings of forgy - posh? no, 'foregrounder-ish' - plus hredd - luxury of a private bathroom - not the communal kind - and "every three days or so" suggests the Uranian body needs a lot less maintenance than the Terran -
Slow down, I tell myself. Heavy cultural and biological data slosh in the tankard of words which my poor immigrant mind can't gulp all at once. Must set the brew aside, to be sipped at leisure.
Out of the corner of my eye I notice a wall-mirror. While the girls are out of the room I could just step over to it and have a look... Now, it occurs to me, I have been assuming, without any warrant whatsoever, that I'm not terrifically different in appearance from my former self. No sooner has the thought presented itself, than I realize how pitifully naive it is. Heart thudding, I approach the mirror. I get ready to cringe...
Oh hectic galaxy... not only have I escaped death by being snatched from a dying to a living body, but also I have been given a second chance at youth. Staring at myself I see a slim, grey-skinned, fine-featured young man of nineteen or twenty Earth-years. My life lies before me. Gratitude floods me to such an overwhelming degree that I'm for a moment on tenterhooks lest my boggled mind pop like a balloon and the entire jackpot reality vanish and die. Get a load of this! I - am - young - and - handsome! Better not get too excited, a dryer thought warns. Everyone is handsome around here.
Hearing footsteps, I dart back to where I was standing before.
Zhavad and Dittri re-enter this room, Zhavad saying, "So that's that. I'll be back in an hour or so, to see how you're getting on." And she leaves me alone with the new carer.
Dittri, now that she has me all to herself, glows with bright-eyed compassion. "Let's sit," she says gently. She leads me to the couch, settles me there, perches herself beside me and smiles: "Ah, here we are, comfy as a pliff. This is nice, isn't it? Do you like my new white foib, Daon N-Y? I put it on especially for our meeting today." My unfocused stare reminds her that she herself must answer what she asks, so she continues, "I expect you do like it; I caught you looking at it earlier." At this point I stir, with a slight twist of acknowledgement that indeed I had noted her downy top. She, however, races on with, "But of course I'm talking nonsense; you don't ever notice anything, do you, Daon N-Y? You can't, in your condition; you're in a trance, a dream; and yet, blank-faced as you are, Nyav, you're the Heir of Olhoav - may the World Spirit help us! I'll say this because no one is listening: if only you could wake up and lead us! We all love the Noad but he's tired, he has given up... we'll always be loyal to him, but he has come to the end of what he can do. The last big thing he did was appoint you. That was clever - I suppose. At least we now have a Daon whom the Glomb won't kill... though I suppose I shouldn't be saying all this, but you won't tell, will you, Nyav? No, you won't - because you can't." She gives a sad little laugh.
On and on she burbles, while gobs of info bounce up from the pummeled mattress of my host mentality. I clutch at them as they slip by; I catch sniffs of them, but mostly it's like trying to read cue-cards that are too faintly printed and whisked away too soon. The meaning of Daon, though, comes through to me. It is the clearest, the most urgent datum. It is my rank; it is who I am: the heir to the city - a sort of second-in-command.
But so far, I gather, I have been a do-nothing Daon. It would seem that a nebulee does not care about such things: no urgency ruffles my under-layer of calm. If or when I succeed to the noadex the city will gain a mere figurehead.
Oh no it won't, not if I can help it! It really is high time I opened my mouth. After all, I was able, briefly, to speak to Dynoom when I first arrived here. I got away with that much, didn't I? I can dare the same with you, Dittri, says my impatient, fenced-in mind, fed up with being a dumb nebulee. More sternly I address myself: Speak up and take the
consequences, Neville Yeadon! You owe it to this new world of yours, to be frank, open and (if possible) deserving of your cosmic lottery win.
I therefore take a breath and prepare to announce myself aloud, in the Uranian language, but before I can loosen my tongue, a dreadful, indescribable thing happens. My mattressy under-self makes a snatch. It clenches around my Terran will. Not a syllable gets out.
I exhale in frustration. Of course I won't admit I'm beaten. I'll try again. Not straightaway, but sometime soon, I'll make a surprise attempt at the native citadel inside my head.
Glumly, meanwhile, I chew on what seems to be the general assumption around here. Dittri's burblings leave little room for doubt, that the people aren't expecting any more from me than that I exist for them as a symbol. I deduce, moreover, that my total unfitness for leadership is actually, paradoxically, the reason why I was given the rank of Daon, the rightful heir. Little by little I glean that this city is in the power of a usurper who would kill any competent Daon but who is content to tolerate my useless self.
I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. I have slept, but not well, because of the dream voice. "Dream" voice? Face facts, you Terran fool. The voice that droned and shouted so often during the night, I now realize, came from me. Has anyone, I wonder, been listening? How much have I given away? Better hope that the Daon's bedroom isn't bugged! Nothing precise can I recall about my nocturnal ravings - but I'd bet a large sum that they have blurted my identity. So, to anyone who has overheard, I'll surely have blown the gaff on my displaced Earth-mind, if Dynoom hasn't done so already (but Dynoom, I suspect, is playing a secretive game).
I heave myself to a sitting position. With a view to getting up, I first glance around the bedroom...
Oops, I am far from alone.
Five seated watchers along the wall opposite the bed, on a row of chairs which has been brought in, have been waiting for me to stir.
So that settles it - I've been heard, and they all know.
"Ahah," rumbles the big man on the left.
He has a commanding presence: an impressive middle-aged fellow, heavily built and almost a giant, with a shock of black hair and sideboards that come down to meet a tuft of beard. My under-self recognizes him: Barlayn Lamiroth, Noad (focus) of this city-state.
If only I could get my voice to work, frankly admit everything to him, beg for his help and understanding -
He adds, "Now we'll find out whether he'll talk when awake."
"Look - he's trying, Barlayn," says the slim blonde young woman to the Noad's left.
"I saw, he started," mutters the Noad, watching as I struggle in vain against the smothering inhibition. Like yesterday with Dittri, the grip of my inner censor will not relax. It won't let me mouthe a syllable.
"Then we're not going to treat him as some sort of spy, are we?"
"You can be too trusting sometimes, Gevuldree chremn," the Noad remarks. "But this time, you've reckoned true. From the way Nyav's eyes popped, I'm sure he's not acting. Besides, he doesn't have it in him."
"Then there's nothing we can do?"
"Oh yes there is," says the Noad. "We can disturb Dynoom. DYNOOM!" he cries.
Whereupon my five visitors, with tilted faces, stiffen as they await the Voice from the empty air.
"Present," comes the resonant reply as that Voice shoulders its disembodied personality into our midst.
Barlayn Lamiroth leans forward. His right hand reaches out towards a low table. All eyes are upon him as he presses a button on a box. "Listen to this, Dynoom, and shed light if you can."
My recorded voice gabbles from the box.
For the next ten minutes the assembled gathering is treated to my night-ravings. My skin starts to crawl as I hear myself spouting in two languages. Apparently my hours of sleep impel my subconscious to erupt in a hotch-potch of English and Lrisj - Terran and Uranian.
The story, in jumbled order, at length all comes out: my Terran name, my long-standing interest in planetology, the events that led to the knife in my Earthly flesh on a London street, and my amazement and confusion at the translation of my ego from body to body and from world to world. During all the time the recording plays, the Noad eyes me; then he switches off the gadget and addresses the empty air:
"Well, are you willing to brief us, City-Brain, on what is going on here?"
"You didn't have to bring your own recording equipment, Noad B-L; I was listening all night long." After this mild put-down, Big Voice offhandedly tosses a heavier verbal bomb: "From contact with a dimensional force I am prepared for this event, and so I am able to tell you what has happened. The Daon's body has received an Earthmind. That's to say, his brain now harbours a consciousness from the third planet."
These words are greeted by a stunned silence. It lasts for maybe ten seconds before it breaks out into a veritable cannonade of oaths -
"Flunnd!" "Blapers and pzish!" "What the bloonk - !" "Kranstoppol flenk! - how can you know all this?" "What's this vlunkpurry 'dimensional force' that informed you and not us, and why haven't we learned about it?"
That last and most incisive demand has come from the lips of the Noad.
"Hyala can tell you," said Dynoom.
Barlayn swings round to look at the calm black-haired woman who owns this house.
She nods, "I can confirm. A while ago, in this house, in my presence, Dynoom explored a dazzling, stunning presentation of the fates of mankind. It is called the Spinning Top - the Snaddy-Galomm. In it you actually see our ropey life-lines, as they bend and twist and nod at each other. Not a good sight for humans to mess with."
"I should say not," murmurs the Noad with a wondering shake of the head. "I'll accept you saw what you saw, Hyala, since you say so. I'll likewise accept, Dynoom, what you say... if I didn't dream it...?"
Flatly the Voice confirms, "I emphasize, we must henceforth accept, that Nyav Yuhlm hosts a Terran self."
"Very well," says the Noad. "Let us take the information as given. We must next consider what to do with it. Do we hold a council of war? Is this Earthmind the harbinger of further invasion?"
"I'd rather term it a reconciliation," the Big Voice answers. "And it's the only one of its kind; no more will come."
Ice-sharp, the Noad demands: "You sure of that?"
"Absolutely sure. If you insist upon knowing how I know, I could show you the Snaddy-Galomm..."
"Don't bother. Hyala's right. The less we Nenns tangle with Ghepion zones, the healthier for our souls." This is said with a tight smile. Next, though, the Noad's tone becomes more thoughtful, even a trace wistful. "On the other hand... it could be that this new arrival in Daon Nyav's head may have gifted us - on a human level - with an opportunity."
"A once-only chance!" pipes up the voice of Dittri.
The excited little carer is sitting at the end of the row, next to Zhavad. I mildly wonder at the inclusion of the two menial girls in this top-level discussion. But the Noad must, I guess, like to make his weighty decisions in the presence of plebeian witnesses, his conduits of news to the populace. I'm starting to get a feel for how this open style of government is supposed to work; awareness of it is part of the heritage seeping into my conscious mind from the native aquifer of ideas below.
"The event," throbs Big Voice in what sounds at first like agreement, "could be good for us - in theory."
"But...?" prompts Barlayn Lamiroth. "Go on - spare us your pregnant pauses. Tell us what's wrong in practice."
"Only that it looks as though the Terran mind has been arrested on arrival."
"Arrested by - ?"
"Its host, of course."
"You mean," says Hyala, "Nyav has suppressed it?"
"It seems that way, does it not? Is it not a natural reaction to clamp down upon an invader? Even if that invader happens to be... one's self."
"Now we're getting somewhere." The tone of the Noad's sentence is almost serene. "You're talking about a convergence?"
"I sense you've leaped to the truth, Noad B-L, the truth which springs from the fact that a soul is a fragmented thing, scattered, at any one time, in several bodies."
Silence falls while the group listens to their own reflections. The "multi-bodied soul" concept seems not wholly strange to them. Evidently it chimes with their habits of thought.
"Given such soul-dispersion, I expect you can guess what the Snaddy-Galomm showed me concerning Nyav Yuhlm. Here's a case where, instead of the sequential reincarnation with which we are all familiar, we actually see a merger of two contemporary psychic fragments, one Terran and one Uranian, into one and the same corporeal identity... so that the Daon of Olhoav now has two layers to his mind, one the helpless nebulee we already know, and the other the immigrant from Earth whose capabilities we do not know."
"And the one has 'arrested' the other," you say," remarks Barlayn. "But that can't last."
I sense an invisible 'nod' from Dynoom. "We must wait for the combination to adjust itself. When that process is accomplished, we can consider it to be, not an invasion, but a reconciliation. But in the meantime, the Terran intelligence is, as I put it earlier, arrested. Suppressed. Under guard - at least in the daytime."
I'm listening keenly to every word. At the same time, my thoughts are treading their own path. I don't altogether trust this City-Brain. All right, it/he saved my life, drawing me here from my imminent death at the hands of the Willun thugs on that London street. On the other hand, if, as it seems, there exist interplanetary resonances which defy my understanding, then could the Willuns have been part of it? Consciously or not, could their performance, their attack on me, and the consequent whack of my soul from there to here, have been somehow 'orchestrated' by Dynoom? Thoughts to make the mind reel. Impossible ideas to pin down. But encouraging a sense of entitlement. Given my suspicions, I needn't feel guilty if I ride easy for a while, like an expenses-paid tourist...
"It surely doesn't matter," opines the thin blonde woman sitting at the Noad's left, "if it takes a while for the Terran tongue to wag. We can still show Nyav to the people just as he is - "
Hyala interposes with a nod, "Enhanced but dumb."
" - And when folk learn what's got into him, they'll appreciate him the more." (Good for you, Gevuldree, says my entitled self.)
Barlayn Lamiroth stares at her with an ironical smile.
"Subtle statecraft, from a spouse who usually prefers to be left out of it."
Gevuldree shrugs. "This could be a boon for wirrips like me. Something to take our minds off the Glomb."
Hyala chips in with, "Let's start today. Release the recording, Noad B-L! Announce what's happened to Nyav, and then let's take him outside!"
"Do you women all feel this way?"
A row of eager nods swiftly make it apparent that they do.
"Hmm... I'm catching up," muses the Noad wryly.
"You see," says his wife, "it could work."
"It could work well," he agrees, "for morale. The arrival of a Terran persona: a thrilling piece of news from far away. Hmm, precisely what we Olhoavans need to remind us of the smallness of our troubles, of the limitless stock of marvels in the Universe... and meanwhile it needn't worry the Glomb, since our Daon (just look at that vacant face of his) is not a particle closer to effective leadership than he was before. Yes, we'll spread the news today, and bring him out tomorrow morning."
At last! I'm in the open Uranian air! Outdoors in a street on the giant seventh planet! Hyala herself (she's quite some Somebody, I gather) is holding onto my left arm and guiding my steps. This is just as well, since my legs feel so weak that I would totter if it weren't for her support. I guess that to take me out for a walk is a fairly unusual thing, and all these Nenns - these so-amazingly human Uranians - all unthinkingly trim and toned - perhaps don't understand that the muscles of a dozy nebulee need regular and deliberate exercise, if the nebulee is to be a public figure. I dare say the issue doesn't come up very often. Never mind, I'll see to it by and by; meanwhile the tremendous truth is, I'm here, I'm out, my eyes and brain greedy to absorb and to make sense of a Uranian city.
Once again I'm reminded of the Atomium. Not too literally; the comparison with that Brussels structure of tube-linked spheres will only fit if the model is stretched, curved and variegated a thousandfold. I'm amidst a soaring artificial jungle, a proliferation of intervolved geometrical forms, palaces and helical towers mostly linked not with tubes but with open walkways and skimmways, along which figures stroll and hovering canoe-like vehicles dart and sverve. I swivel and stretch my neck in repeated wonderment at the apparently endless richness of the city-scape's kaleidoscope of shapes and colours that loom above and around me. And yet I am not overwhelmed. The lights are not strong; there's a gentle, evening quality to the scene. Moreover, my excited immigrant self is steadied by my calm subconscious native self which nudges me to accept the entire fantastic scene as home.
Ah, some folk are stopping, staring at me. One by one, or in groups, pedestrians turn their heads at me. They're pointing; some of them bow or wave; now some "skimmers" - those canoe-like hoverers - decelerate or halt. Their riders have noticed me and they stop to join the other starers.
Some of the stares are prolonged. And they're not just for Hyala, or for the Noad who's also walking with us.
My knowledge-layer informs me that Noad Barlayn Lamiroth often strolls among his people, and he is always a welcome sight to them. But today the spectacle includes their mascot imbecile Daon: yours truly, now out and about: the unique do-nothing idiot who, in his sacred simplicity, merely needs to be.
(Hmm... I don't suppose Dynoom brought me to this planet just for this. But then, I don't suppose he was able to predict the firmness of the native grasp of my Terran self. Nebulee Nyav Yuhlm exerts a claw-like grip on Earthmind immigrant Neville Yeadon. It turns out that I needn't worry about deciding when best to speak out as a Terran: except at night, when my tongue is loosed in sleep, I don't have the option. I'm trapped.)
Now a cheerful-looking thirtyish man is coming forward from amongst the bystanders. He approaches and, with deliberation, says:
Hyala smiles, and likewise stretches her mouth around English syllables as she answers on my behalf. "Hello, Gengr Gilvar. Nice-wea-ther!"
I stare in dumb astonishment from one to the other. Does this outrage to logic make the whole thing into a dream after all? Ah, no - for then I remember that every utterance I make in my sleep swiftly becomes public property.
Enjoyably trapped, day after day, I soak under a running hose of pleasure, a continuous flood of touristic delight that so far has kept me contented with my lot.
No further word from Dynoom. I really must be a sad disappointment to that great city-brain. I'll apologize next time I get the chance, but, in truth, I simply can't imagine what he wanted me here for. I'll allow that the city of Olhoav is not free - so they say. It is bedimmed - so they say. But what am I supposed to do about it? I'm no resistance leader! Even if I were to emerge from my 'nebulated' condition, what could I achieve?
Besides, these Uranians are such a splendid lot, they can surely look after themselves. They all possess an upstanding dignity which, in defiance of mathematical logic, makes each individual of this race (while my eye rests upon him or her) seem taller than its average.
Ridiculous to imagine that these wonderful people could need need any help from an Earthman!
Consider the speed with which they are learning "Terran" as a hobby. I'm getting used to it. Today, in the semi-park called Ruvur, I'd willingly bet on the intentions of that group of young people who are sauntering in and out of view amidst the booths, shrubs and blue-barked trees that dot the lawn opposite to the bench on which we're sitting, Hyala and I. Well placed, those folk, to have spotted us. I'm fairly sure that they are headed in our direction. Yes, they're waving in greeting. Along the last stretch of curved path they stride, keen, I've no doubt, to practise their English.
They come forward with palms outstretched, fingers spread, a gesture which at first looks like they're offering to shake hands.
I notice they are aiming their outspread hands at each other. It's not hand-shaking, it's something else.
"Fine - day!" cries a young lad. "We - give - it - the - thumbs-up!"
A smiling teenage girl says to Hyala, "Skimmjard, sponndar H-M. We just want to greet the Daon." And then, sure enough, in English, "I - hope - you're - well, Daon N-Y. The - weather - is - fine, is - it - not? Un-questionably."
"Are - you - showing - off, Gowavwa Lael?" asks another girl.
One of the lads says, "Is - she - showing - off? Does - a - duck - swim?"
Another lad says, "That - has - let - the - cat - out - of - the - bag, Lrar Drur."
Amidst laughter, Govavwa with a droll expression says, "Plok! I mean - what's that Terran word - "
"Thank you, Zanadwa." Addressing the lads she continues, "You're - just - jealous." Then she looks at Hyala and switches back to Uranian. "Sorry! We're not teasing Nyav, you understand."
"I know," smiles Hyala, and switches to English herself: "you're - teasing - each - other."
I meanwhile ponder this alien moment. It gives me a hollow sense of being further from Earth than ever before. By this time so many of my nocturnal ramblings in English and Lrisj have been recorded and published and studied in a fever of fashionable interest, that English has become all the rage, and yet this only underlines how empty words and idioms are when the referents are not known. When these people utter sentences in "Terran", they can conjure it fully fleshed for me, but not for themselves - for them it's a game and no more. They're happy to play that game while lacking any true pictures, for example of what a duck or a cat might be, or what a thumbs-up gesture really looks like. I dare say they're making up their own referents...
Yes, it all just reminds me, how far I am from my old home.
But this is my new home, and it's worth the change - provided that I wholeheartedly so choose, and 'make a go' of it being my world.
I better had, because one thing is certain: there's no going back from it. At least, I jolly well hope not. There isn't much future in being a knifed corpse in a dingy suburb of London.
I catch hisses of in-drawn breath.
Lrar Drur whispers, "The cmem."
My eyes follow their gaze into the middle distance, and I see a... a sort of sequinned cloud oozing between the shrubs and tree-trunks three or four paths away. It's a puffing, boiling reddish mist. It's studded with fattish sparks that wink as the thing churns along. I look at it; and then I look back at my companions. I sense from their manner, from their resigned shivers, a kind of glum shrinking.
Hyala says quietly, "It's not coming this way."
"Do you suppose the Glomb is inside it at this moment?" asks Govavwa.
"No way to tell."
These experienced citizens are more afraid than I am. All right, I don't like the thing's slithery glide, but I can't bring myself to worry.
The cmem, whatever it is, is sinister, scary, even nightmarish. Yet my old Earth-mind, so accustomed to the degraded stink of Terran society, bestows a partisan love upon my new world. Here, it seems, even the monsters creep with a certain dignity.
It suddenly occurs to me, one possible reason why Dynoom might have brought me here: he wants someone who's not afraid of the Glomb.
But - whoops - just suppose that my immunity arises simply from the fact that I am too STUPID to share the fear which others feel?
Now, that - that sense that I ought to be more worried than I am - really does make me queasy.
And the awkwardness spreads through my mind and I begin to question anew my own behaviour, in particular my habit of talking in my sleep.
What possible reason can there be for burbling so much during the night? And doing it in two languages? Why should I be the Rosetta Stone that enables Terran lingo to be deciphered by Uranians?
Each time I've thought about this so far, I've assumed the answer lies in some sort of defusing mechanism, a process of tension-reduction, to lubricate the impact of one mind upon another.
Now, though, I try out a different idea. It could be a plot by the Snaddy-Galomm. The aim might be to turn me into a chute through which to pour knowledge from world to world.
But why? What use is knowledge of English to a Uranian? A curiosity, a fad; that's all it can be.
So, back to the main explanation: the noctural babble is my stabilization deal. It also has the merit, that in addition to ensuring my own equilibrium it brightens the lives of my fellow-citizens with a cute new hobby.
Dynoom himself has now formed this opinion. He is speaking to me again, at last, in the privacy of my bedroom.
"I had hoped for something more than this from you, Daon Nyav," the Voice says in a flattish tone. "Perhaps my gamble has failed."
My inability to reply makes me feel doubly bad.
"However," conceded the city-brain, "you have given our culture a quaint lift. A nine-days-wonder," he adds in English.
Whereas what you wanted was... what? Some powerful gimmick from Earth? Perhaps, a dramatic new Terran viewpoint to provide inspirational leadership against the Glomb? And the shrunken hope may still glimmer, that some time I may take control and worthily fill the Daon's boots.
I'm actually not in any hurry to assume command of my native self before my conscious mind has properly 'learned the ropes' of Uranian society.
The natural way is the long apprenticeship. I'll only become Noad when Barlayn Lamiroth dies, and that day is likely to be a long way off.
This relaxed approach appeals to the lazy side of me, but also, it's legitimate. My current subjection is not really a defeat, not the result of a clash of wills (a nebulee has no will in the ordinary sense of the the word) but rather a stabilizing reflex which, upon my arrival here, released a flood of automatic control, scheduled to release its hold when the right moment comes.
That's the distant promise.
And what, precisely, will mark this "right moment"? What will trigger the freeing of my tongue?
I feel in my bones that the release will occur in response to some special outrage, an event which unleashes in me some apt Terran response, a talent which justifies my presence here. Hard to imagine what that could be, since, as I've noted before, Earth culture has nothing to teach Uranians about how to walk tall through life. (Ah, but perhaps a Terran may teach them how to walk small, walk tricky... ugh, I hope not.)
Meanwhile my Earthmind glides serenely as a passenger, through yet more of my dreamlike days on Ooranye.
Could this be some sort of hint? Or is it that Barlayn Lamiroth just happens to have the time to be my escort today? Probably the latter, because, since I'm the official heir even though currently useless in the role, it makes sense for me to be shown things. Barlayn envisages, in his optimistic mind, that distant time when I supposedly take over. I guess that's the reason for the honour.
He's come in person to fetch me at Hyala's, and I gather from the chit-chat that I'm to be conducted on Zhavad's arm to accompany the Noad through quite a list of places. I can expect, therefore, to be taken through one urban vista after another, one imposing and incomprehensible edifice after another...
I suppose I'll manage. Recent exercise has built me up to perhaps half of what I should be. An improvement on the previous fraction.
Out we go. Along avenues and walkways, up and down ramps, and through side-streets. It's mid-day and the light seems almost bright to my dim-adjusted eyesight. We're seen from afar. Folk smile and wave at me like one does to a cute toddler who is obviously going to take a long long time to grow up, but they really love and respect the Noad. They seek to come close but take care not to crowd him.
Second, third, fourth day in succession the Noad fetches me out and brings me around the city. He must be determined that I get the feel of what it is to be Noad. When people come up to speak to him on practical questions, so that I hear a lot of stuff that's over my head, as usual I just let it flow, and every now and then the Noad looks at me, sees the same old vacant expression on my face, and with a tinge of sadness looks away again; but recently, moments have occurred when I've fidgeted slightly, and then his glance gets sharper.
I think he perceives that I'm getting tricky, that I'm starting to outwit the inner censor, in little ways.
We've strolled into that semi-park, that scatter of booths and bushes called Ruvur. Barlayn has taken me to the central circular clearing, which I didn't quite reach that time I came with Hyala. Right in the middle looms a steep mound with a spiral path affording access to the top.
Mooning vaguely at the scene, I suddenly hear the Noad say to Zhavad, on whose arm I have been leaning during the entire walk, "You may go. Better go that way," and he points. "Take the rest of the day off."
She disengages from me, leaves me on a bench and steps away out of sight, in the advised direction. Meanwhile the Noad settles on the next bench, at an angle from mine, and looks as though he's waiting for someone or something to appear from the other direction. What's all this about? A secret conference? Most unusual! And who could be about to take part? Certainly not I, of course!
An outbreak of sound, a wailing chorus, blares from somewhere close by: "OOOOAAAAOOOOAAYYYY," it yodels. And again.
The horror of it accelerates the thump of my heart. I clench my fist, and the Noad cryptically smiles at this gesture of mine.
"Let's get up there," he says, indicating the central mound. "I think you'll be all right to manage the steps. Grip the railing."
I follow him up, panting but persistent, and lean against the top rail as I retrieve my breath, while my eyes search the park below and I hear the OOOOAAAA-OOOOAAYYYYY once more.
Leaning beside me, the Noad remarks, "Rather worse, isn't it, to hear it in the daytime?" And he turns to watch my reaction.
Worse to hear it in the daytime? He appears to assume that I know to what he refers - but wait: I do know! I have heard the wailing in the past few nights. Then why was I so determined until this moment to brush it all under the carpet of ignorance? It's my trick, that's why. If a horror has dreamlike aspects, the trick is to encourage the idea that it really is only a dream, for that way I evade terror, and thus I diminish the possibility of panic - surely a sensible, practical attitude...
...but perhaps less sustainable in the daytime.
"Here they come," says the Noad.
Not exactly marching, for they're not in synchronised step, but nevertheless in closely kept formation, a chevron-shaped mass of people cross our field of view as they traverse the clearing from right to left, and as they walk past I hear from their collective lips a repetition of their distinctively eerie blast of sound.
My will darts through a tiny window-slit of opportunity which the shivery moment provides, and, having thus slipped past the censor of my controlling nebulee-self, clenches my fist again. Almost a free gesture!
"Almost did it, didn't you?" remarks the Noad. "Took advantage of a moment of near-panic, eh?"
Is this guy a mind-reader? No, but one might fairly call him a mind-detective. It certainly wasn't by accident that he reached his present rank.
"Next stop the Ktuss," says Barlayn Lamiroth.
Here we are in the Palace of the Noad. How much am I to be shown? Seems his stride is too determined for this to be a tour.
This looks like the main office where commands are issued... or were issued, in the days when the Noad was the real government. We're alone here. I see desk, shelves of books, an array of vid-screens covering one wall - but, interestingly, no documents lying about. He's watching me think... very well, I shall continue to ponder. They might be tidied away, those documents, but I think not. I think they do not exist. This is - and I guess always has been - a paperless administration. The minutiae of city management carry on by word of mouth. I raise my eyes to his and now I watch him, watch him conjecturing as he watches me.
Why is he showing me all this now?
...Ah, wait, here comes someone with a document. Was my "paperless" conclusion wrong?
The Noad takes five minutes to speed-read it. He smiles, hands it back. "A good slant on Hesk Vrend's reign," he says. The historian bows in gratitude for the work of praise and leaves us alone once more as he scurries off to put the monograph into the archives.
As noted above - a paperless administration. The only written texts are works of history.
"I'll put the sound on," says Barlayn Lamiroth.
He presses a desk-button. The screens on the wall emit a babble. More button-pressing; an image is selected.
"Venok Street," the Noad remarks. "You see a One-Face shuffling there."
Indeed, a chevron-shaped group is creeping across that view, and then I notice more of them on other screens.
"Like the one we saw in Ruvur," he remarks. "Imitating the cmem, maybe. Or attempting to surmount backgrounder status by means of an accumulation of personalities. Little minds pooling to make one big one. Forty wirrips make one forg, or some such nonsensical plok. Negates the whole point of their ideology, of course. They're supposed to believe that there's nothing wrong with the status of backgrounder. But then their stance always did contradict itself, on the one hand saying that a wirrip is a noble thing, on the other hand trying to stop any wirrip from really being one; it all amounts to a raving yowl. I sense a monster's birth-pangs, Daon N-Y - "
I have a general sense of what he's leading up to. Probably. In order to be certain, I could for him to finish what he's saying. But by that time, my nebulee-self will be ready with the censor - so I determine to anticipate. Now! Take the thing by surprise! I command the muscles of my right hand to perform a gesture of hope, a gesture which must count as code for announcing that I have reason to believe I shall soon recover.
The gesture that can do that job, is my hardest performance so far: a curl of the first four digits of my right hand - and a jut of the fifth -
The face of the Noad cautiously brightens.
"So that's the genuine Terran version," he chuckles at my thumbs-up.
TO BE CONTINUED IN
Uranian Throne Episode 12:
The City Cracks