Most unfortunately for the regime, the Rip was caught live on TV.
...Mere minutes before, a watchful, powerfully built adjutant named Frondur Stackham, authoritatively attired with the Glomb's insigne on
his sleeve, while supervising spectators in the park at Ruvur, had caught himself wishing that the show were safely over.
Now hold on, he told himself, shouldn't he have absolute faith in his leader? Especially after the confident rush of the preceding days? Days during which Dempelath's engineers had pushed towards this deadline, by which televisual receivers were to be installed in all public places. And it was done! Stackam had had his doubts at first - in fact he'd been one of two staff members who'd dared to express their doubts to the Glomb's own face.
Klamin Soong, crazy fool, had done most of the talking. "Glomb-D," he had risked saying to Dempelath, "we're riding the crest of destiny, but isn't that the very kind of wave-of-fortune thing we aim to abolish? Waves go down as well as up! Didn't you say we deserved a securer system - "
"Do you happen to have learned," said Dempelath with an ominous smile, "that the Terrans, when they're feeling clever, play a certain game with their rulers," - and pale lights swam over the Face's skin - "a game called... Gotcha!"
"No!" tore from Klamin, "no... agh... ghaaa..." and he sank twisting to the dark Menestegon floor.
Stackham had looked down at the burnt corpse. Then he had passed a hand over his own brow as if feeling it ignite likewise. Too late to wish that he'd at least attempted to say something to defend his companion. In any case, it would have been no use.
"It's sad," the ruler had gone on to remark, "how slow some people are to realize, that whatever game is played against me, I must win. You might ask, 'Why is this principle so all-embracing?' And then I might answer, 'It is because my chief function, my role, my duty as a ruler, is necessarily to win.'"
A pause; then, full of calm concession, the voice had soothed:
"I agree that our Terran-style TV network, set up at such short notice, can only amount to a sketchy derivation from the nocturnal mumblings of an Earthmind; even so, the technical opportunity seems too good to miss, would you not say, Frondur?"
Bowing his head, because the lights on Dempelath's skin were swirling in that urgent spiral which demands conviction, Stackham had responded submissively, "We are headed towards a triumph, Glomb-D."
Only, he did retain one atom of underlying spirit.
It was wise and true enough to say that, in agreement with the tyrant, he envisaged the great televised Validation ceremony planned for 10,538,700 Ac as a propaganda triumph. It would surely clinch Dempelath's control over the city of Olhoav - provided that all went according to plan.
Stackham's one tiny self-assertion was to have used the phrase, "headed towards a triumph", rather than, "bound to triumph".
To be "headed toward" a thing is not to rule out being diverted from it at the last moment.
A fine nuance, a nice distinction, but, after what had happened to Kliman, not to be elaborated out loud.
Dempelath, however, was not fooled.
"Your confidence in me is not absolute, Frondur!"
Stackham shuddered at a wisp of red mist curling towards him. "It w-will be, though," he stuttered.
"That is true." And the mist touched the man, who became still. "Lo! it is done. You are an idealist worth saving," the Glomb chattered on, "for I have gauged that even when you fail to believe, you wish to believe..." The voice receded, and the cmem withdrew to re-enter the glowing head.
Frondur Stackham rubbed his eyes as he sought to resume his work -
Thenceforth without further question the plan had gone on.
And when the day came and the hour approached, in every octagonal plaza, semi-park rotunda and zoalsh, groups of citizens were encouraged to gather in front of tripodal sets. The TV screens were all switched on to show the scene in the Zveggh-Yerrand. There, the Daon, Nyav Yuhlm, was to be presented with the Constitution to sign! Whereupon he would be Daon no longer, becoming instead the Validator, the ticker of laws, the stamper of rules! A choreographed event, to make unforgettable the moment of transition to a new society.
Ah, henceforth, what a ride that would be, what a voyage in a Ship of State powered to defy all the old currents of destiny! Flouting those currents, steering athwart them in the name of the will of the people! Which is to say, the will of the people as embodied in the will of the Glomb.
So here I wait, thought Stackham, in front of Stand Ten in Ruvur, sniffing it all in advance. Everyone here is aware, in greater or lesser degree, of the significance of the occasion. A varied lot we are: young and old, wirrips and forgs, trancers and chirrs, but we'll all (I reckon) ride out the wave, if it permits us to keep our balance - though I must not put it that way aloud, no! Mustn't talk of fate-waves any more.
...Other, simpler hearts worried differently.
A child, goggling at the screen, piped up:
"Mother, is that the Daon?"
"S-s-sh, Cheem Eem," whispered Uofanna Eem, "we've been told we're not going to call him that any more. He'll have a new title, Validator, any moment now... meanwhile be a good little girl and stay quiet, will you? Just watch. This is a special moment. This is history being made."
Round-eyed Cheem Eem obediently watched, unable to express, even in thought, the real reason for her attempt to break the silence, namely her nervous insight about certain tense fellows standing at the corners of the group: four nervy hulks with the orax on their armbands; peering about, shifting their weight...
The trouble was, the orax insigne, the white grey-bordered heptagon, meant (so Cheem had learned) that life was easier when the wearers weren't irritated.
Especially was this apt to be true when they'd invented funny names for themselves. Names with alien-sounding syllables. She didn't know that the oddness came from a fad for half-Terran sounds; nor could she have grasped the link between that fad and the regime's political strategy, which favoured disconnect from tradition; nor did she yet have a clue as to what History was. But she could certainly whiff nose-wrinkling change, and, from frequent observation, conclude that arm-banded oddly-syllabled folk were apt to be most touchy when their orders weren't quickly obeyed.
On the TV screen, meanwhile, Nyav Yuhlm sat up straighter while the image panned across to the visitors who were approaching him.
A big man leading the delegation held a thick stick, no, a tube, a scroll. Now his hands worked upon it and it began to unscroll...
Stackham trembled. This new TV technology... what a way to capture history! Viewscreens, old-style, were all right, but - city-wide live-news-networking was something else again. A crazy risk, in the adjutant's opinion. Not even the Glomb could alter the fact that if anything went wrong, if anything or anyone in the picture did not co-operate, did not match with what ought to be, the wrongness would be transmitted in real time, irrevocably to all. Yes, crazy it was, by normal criteria; but of course who was he, Stackham, to question -
Then he saw the worst was happening. He blinked, appalled. It was true. On screen, visible to all, the Daon (curse him) had risen and grasped and ripped the document in his hands. The ex-nebulee, the Earthmind hybrid, had torn apart the great Scheme of Rules which he was supposed to sign - and here in the park, and doubtless all over the city of Olhoav, a great gasp and whistle of shock went up from the mouths of citizens, who next were jarred back into an even more shocked silence as they heard the Daon accompany his action with words - live, irrevocable - "I WILL HAVE NO PAPER-PUSHING ON OORANYE."
It was a moment when outrage itself was frozen and benumbed. And then, in unison for countless folk, the slump of shoulders, the whoosh of breath released.
So that's that, thought Stackham grimly. A nullified event. No Validation, no Validator, no -
No picture. The image disappeared from the screen.
But in the blankness that was left, the remembered after-image of scorn, of Daon Nyav Yuhlm holding the torn fragments of paper and uttering his rejection of all that had been planned, would never be wiped from the record in people's hearts. Love him or hate him, support him or oppose him, his position henceforth was utterly clear. Stackham figured all this out in an instant. It chimed with his forebodings. What a setback for the Glomb, what desolation for those who'd been looking forward to the celebration which had been planned...
Thoughtfully the adjutant patted his cloak, where a certain envelope of instructions still filled his inside pocket. The envelope he had been due to open after the Validation... but what could he say, now, to this gathering of people?
It turned out that he did not need to find his own answer.
After mere seconds the screen flashed to life again: now with a different background. No longer did it show the Menestegon's summit penthouse, the Zveggh-Yerrand; nor anywhere else beneath the Menestegon dome. Rather, the scene revealed was a mile away and more, a dais in the great hall of the old Palace of the Noad, in the midst of which sat Dempelath the Glomb.
Fortune must have given another lurch: the ruler's face was good-humoured, aglow with confident triumph.
"My loyal people," he smiled, "I hope you will forgive that dismal charade. Believe me, I thought long and hard till I realized that no other way existed to demonstrate, once and for all, that the Daon is useless for our purposes. He, poor man, will never adjust to a new age. He has fled, he is gone, and that is for the best..."
Stackham, watching spellbound, rejoiced: How could I have ever doubted?
"...Whether, at some stage, it may be worth our while to recapture him," Dempelath continued, "and bring him back for study and partial rehabilitation, is a matter we need not concern ourselves with now. Today we have more important things to do than to bother with those who cannot keep up with progress. Today we institute a mighty renewal of society. A society which will belong henceforth to us, a society to be governed by our choices, our rules - not those of the unhuman currents of Fate which from time immemorial have swirled us helplessly around on a planet ruled by a callous, uncaring World Spirit! You will now follow your local adjutants to a place of meeting. There you will be given your first lesson in civics for the new age. And by the way," a corner of the Glomb's smile quirked further upward, "we may as well thank the Daon in our hearts, for it is to our benefit that he has so clearly proved we can afford to forget the likes of him. Our culture henceforth must be built by the likes of you. Go to it, my people, my fellow-citizens of the new Olhoav."
Magical, thought Frondur Stackham. Brilliant beyond hope. I should have guessed, that Dempelath had planned it this way all along. And so the stuff in the envelope won't go to waste after all. The follow-up (so I'd thought) of the Validation - it's actually no follow-up, it's the main thing. Now to make a start on it...
Stackham made signs to his colleagues at the other corners of the assembly. When they nodded, he announced: "People, follow me. We're making our way to the induction point..." and he began to lead the way.
"Mother," - that obstreperous child could be heard again - "what happened to the Daon?"
"He escaped, dear," said the woman.
Stackham scowled. "Sponndar Uofanna," he warned.
The woman blanched. "Sorry," she said. "I used the wrong word. He didn't 'escape'. He fled."
The ego-track of Neville Yeadon:
I cry out, "Who's with me?"
I step further from the couch, to make it doubly clear that I'm not going to lie down again. I turn full circle to sweep my gaze over all the people in this room. Their frozen faces thaw as I watch; their expressions come alive with a message of plain, unmistakable delight! Shouts hit my ears: I, and I, and I am with you. Some stretch their arms as if to plead that I believe them. Others, less hesitant or less humble, surge forward.
Almost within touching distance, they brake to allow me a yard or so of space. We all read in each other's faces a conviviality of shared relief. What a marvel it is, the way folk will gather round as soon as you can finally just bring yourself to make a longed-for stand.
Somebody goes so far as to touch my sleeve. I glance round and my eyes encounter a steadfast grey scrutiny, belonging to the bullish bulk of the "General", or omzyr. I hope the reason Thergerer has strolled up is that he's going to give me the advice I sorely need.
"We are not strong enough, Daon N-Y, to take over the city," says the omzyr with quiet certainty. "So instead we must quit it. Fast."
"No time to pack?" say I, lightly.
"No time at all. We must entirely get out of Olhoav before we can think about how to recoup. We may find helpers in the lands around, but only if we reach them alive."
"Yes," I agree, "I suppse we'll have to flit, since Dempelath must certainly take the view that I'm no more use to him now! By the way, omzyr, I'm glad to hear you say 'we'."
"I always was loyal," the General gives back.
"Everybody's loyal to someone or something," I remark with a slight skeptical lilt.
"I," says the General, "was steadfastly loyal to what you're supposed to be."
"Hm, all right, I'll swallow that rebuke - and I'll assure you that what I'm supposed to be shall henceforth align with I am." My voice has risen so that others overhear and I get more shouts of approval, a tumult with maybe a dash of humour in it, which provokes me to glare around. I realize that it is necessary to say more, say it all and say it clearly.
"Because of what I've done," I proclaim above the hubbub, "I, and equally you if you follow me, are now openly declared enemies of the Glomb. He has the city in his grip and we must fight or sneak our way out of it. The knowledge I seem to have," and I knock my head with my fist, "tells me that Olhoav has a multitude of exits." Eager nods, more cries, keen attention... I continue: "I vote we flow out of the city by many different routes, as from a sieve, assuming we aren't looking for a big fight at this stage."
Thergerer, at my side, spreads his thin smile of approval. "We can always hope. The sieve idea, yes, it's good; I don't know what vote means - "
"Ignore it. Terran idiom." More sprinkles of laughter greet this. The people are intoxicated, euphorically on edge, and Terran lingo to them is a debonair joke.
" - but anyhow," the General continues, "we need to agree upon a meeting-point outside. How about the smurtu-oyor? You won't know it, Daon Nyav, but any one of us can guide you there."
I draw breath and say to all, "That's it then. That's where we head for." I reach - astounded at myself - for a holster that swings at my hip. From it I draw a hand-weapon the size of a pocket-torch, a standard Uranian weapon the touch of which my Terran self has avoided till this moment. Newly employing my dormant native memory in this regard, I press a stud. In a moment that I shall forever re-live, the laser blade hisses out. The room's little crowd, in immediate response, second my move with their own photon-swords: an out-swished forest of brandished brilliance held vertically aloft dazzlingly illumates the room, which simultaneously resounds with a unanimous cheer.
Or perhaps not quite unanimous: I detect another sound: a closing door. The elevator! Someone has made a dash for it. Those of us who heard it, Thergerer and I and several others, whirl to see, too late, the orange light that indicates the cage's descent.
Thergerer says in a tone of frustration, "He was at the back of the group. Name of Threm Banu. It seems that what you've done for us, Daon Nyav, didn't work for him. I should have expected this - he's a fanatic for the Glomb - "
I shrug, "All I mind is - can the fellow disable the elevator when he gets down? Trapping us up here?"
"No, no," several assure me. Thergerer elucidates, "Not without the connivance of Dynoom - and the city-brain is still on our side, albeit largely quiescent nowadays."
"Then let Threm Banu rejoin his boss," I say. "One more Glomb-stooge is small loss to us." In my own ears my tone sounds full of contemptuous bravado. Which seems to go down well... my followers respond by jabbing towards the ceiling with their unsheathed blades...
Scary, the dark exhilaration I feel. It's as though, while my muscles tense to initiate the move to action, my morals have undergone a sinister shift - but an inner voice whispers to my conscience, Carry on! This is no time to argue yourself out of a capacity for killing. And it's true: what's got into me is something I have to have. The enemy, I remind myself, is out to kill or enslave me and my friends and followers, and against that threat self-defence is a right. Thus far I've always believed. Furthermore, on this planet full of first-lifers, where the majority can look forward to a second incarnation somewhen further down history's timeline, death is not even the end of the mundane. Death means a lot less here than it does on Earth.
Holding the incandescent sponnd-blade aloft, I conclude my speech:
"We shall scatter, leave by different routes, and rendezvous at the smurtu-oyor!"
Wherever that is. Never mind where it is. One thing's for sure, I'll get nowhere without the support and guidance of those in this room.
I sheathe my laser and the rest take their cue from me. Walking towards the elevator shaft, with Thergerer at my side, I turn in a full circle to look at all the eye-witnesses of the Rip, whom that deed has impressed and persuaded to join me, and who are now moving with me. If only their loyalty could have meant that I might similarly count upon the entire city! Thergerer says not, and I have to agree with him. He's the nearest this place gets to what I understand as a "military man", and therefore he should know the chances: if he says we can't stay in Olhoav and must flee to the wilderness, then that's how it is. Besides that, I myself have seen and heard and learned enough, to know the odds. I am very much aware that Dempelath has his own wide following, cowed or deluded though it be, and on top of that formidable popular base there straddles the hybrid's fearsome self, the man-Ghepion whom I cannot meet and beat, either in single combat or in battle, in any way that I can at present imagine.
Yet in the long term I must win or die; for me there's no going back to that in-between status which I had enjoyed. I have been robbed of all choice in the matter, by those who depend on me and who have, in effect, commanded me to take command.
Well, what a relief that is! Thank goodness for compulsion! If the possibilities hadn't so narrowed down, I'd be dithering or agonizing now. Instead of which, I accept my fated appointment as something which must be borne. The leadership of all forces hostile to the Glomb, is mine; end of question.
The elevator cage awaits me; I step in, as do Thergerer, Lanok Ryr and five others - as many as can fit. As we start to go down, I raise a hand to salute those who wait in the front of the queue for the next descent. Oh - blast - one of them is Dittri, pushing to the forefront...
The idea of that girl accompanying me into danger causes a twinge I could do without. Were it not for that, I might be getting used to the battle-readiness-thing, might accept with a fairly whole heart (no matter how amazing it is for me to discard my civilized inhibition against bloodshed) that I could be moments away from mortal combat. So scrub this newest picture of that girl cut to pieces - a picture so sharp, it threatens to pierce my moral coccoon. Outpace her, lose her, winkle her out of my mind! Fortunately we're all leaving Olhoav by different routes. I and my immediate companions won't need to wait for any of the others...
We emerge from the elevator on the Menestegon ground floor. Empty, it appears. Thank goodness Dempelath chose to watch the TV from the Ktuss and not from here. Even so, he might return any time. With one accord the eight of us rush for the entrance. No hope of stealth; our boots clatter over the floor as we run.
We pass through the lobby and out onto the steps. A TV stand has been erected in the plaza but the spectators have dispersed. We are noticed by stragglers, but nobody jumps at the sight of us, and it's beginning to look like we may be lucky.
I ask, "Vehicles? Skimmers?"
"Parked ready," assures Lanok Ryr with a quick tooth-flash of glee.
"And a devil-may-care smirk too?" It's my way of saying, "Careful of over-confidence! Are you sure?", but then I wonder if he's learned what "devil" means.
"It's my smirk at Devil Dempelath," he responds. "We're on the right road at last, Daon Nyav." He points across the open plaza; we set off, risking the lack of cover.
unspoken agreement we maintain a dignified stride: running would be faster,
but walking is warier as we cross the open space, on the look out for
enemies in the surrounding jungle of towers and walkways, the
edifices that dangle like fruits, and the floor-level mounds between. My knotty worry about Dittri has loosened, although I am careful not to look back as we approach the opposite end of the plaza. I assume that the next elevator-load must have descended by now, and she may already be out of the building...
"When we get the skimmers," I say to Thergerer, "how fast can we get to the Rim?"
"If we don't encounter opposition... and there's not much traffic at the moment... maybe four or five minutes. But my guess is, we may have trouble at the new Tamol Street chasm."
"That's where I'd station a nyzyr if I were the Glomb."
"We'll deal with that if and when we come to it." It's the kind of thing they want me to say. Solemn old Thergerer approves.
As for the rest of them... I hope I look as keen as Lanok Ryr. Come to think of it, that springy young warrior, so full of evident appetite for the challenge ahead, is someone who appears to have changed sides twice in a fairly short time. Well, and so what? How dare I carp at that? Small wonder that others wobbled during my own dubious and unhelpful days. Having emerged from a state in which my identity floated in a limbo of nebulation and languor, it's up to me to be a Daon worthy of the name: in which case I won't ever lack for support.
A warning voice snaps at my attention:
"Movement in the skimmer-park."
"Back!" orders Thergerer in a reaction faster than mine. To the man who had spoken, he says, "Did you recognize anyone, Ardain Irill?"
"It looked like..."
A figure rises into full view, and then more appear: a dozen or so armed men, who have been seated or crouched among the skimmers. "Yes," says Thergerer, "our friend Threm Banu has summoned a force to, er, checkmate us here. Including, if I mistake not... yes, that's Blos Nogar, all right." To me the omzyr explains, "One of the best sponndarou among the Glomb's henchmen."
"Looks like we'll have to fight for these skimmers," I say, it being my role to say it before anyone else does.
I draw sponnd, press the stud, and out swishes my laser-blade again: sponnd N-Y, dubbed with the honorific initials of its owner; a weapon which I must now think of in a certain way; as a part of me.
It's all so simple now. I trot forward, and so do the others, and so do the enemy towards us.
The hope I must have, is that my Uranian persona has had some training in the art of laser-fence. (Surely he - I - must have had that chance. His - my - long bout of nebulation didn't happen to an uneducated man.)
Eight of our opponents are advancing; the others are waiting. (Out of chivalry? Fair play? It seems that although we're outnumbered, the opposition prefers one-to-one.) Amid hums and sparks of other clashes, Blos Nogar comes at me.
The redoubtable Blos Nogar... what can I do but take a stance and ludicrously hope for the best? A peculiar "surfing" sensation takes hold of me. Time itself alters its rate. It meanders like a sine wave while the laser-blades waggle and threaten. Then those bars of brilliance smite together with a hoarse, crunchy buzz, I parry with a twist of mine, disengage, and clash again and slide and whirl to disengage yet again; after which on a third attempt, taking advantage of a trough in that dreamy subjective time-rate, I dodge past the guard of Blas Nogar and spit him on my blade.
Yes, the man's dead. I, Neville Yeadon, have killed a man, and if I let the horror get to me I'm done as a leader.
It's like the blade has reversed to pierce me with the knowledge; threatens to gash my moral coccoon -
The other duels continue while I stand appalled. I am in a different, motionless fight for the approval of my own conscience. A tricky struggle that I have to win. John Carter didn't know the half of it. In order to triumph as the best swordsman in two worlds, it's not enough to weave a web of steel: a web of excuses is also a must.
I hop onto a passing analogy. You don't need to balance the moral budget. Supply-side economics: supply-side morality: the end, the future gain, may justify the present means. If, that is, those means allow you to borrow enough -
Gazing down at Blas Nogar, whose corpse lies dappled with flickering illumination spilled by the other duels, I wish the man better fortune in his second life. This thought is based is on the assumption that he was a first-lifer. He probably was; most Nenns still are, at our early stage of history; that's one of the things I learned in my recent studies... But if on the other hand he happened to be a second-lifer already, why, then, I've just sent him on to a different kind of existence altogether. (Which is, after all, what will happen to me when I die. No ordinary encore for me; I'm already on my second bite at the cherry... after which I shall have to face the transcendent unknown.)
I become aware that the fighting has ceased. Three of the enemy are dead. Five, it seems, were wounded or disarmed and have fled. Of my little group, Ardain lies still, but the rest of us are alive and triumphant. I ask, "What do we do with our fallen one?"
"I'll take him to his home," says a lad. That leaves us numbering six.
The rest look at me for orders.
I sense a pride in them, mingled with sympathy. They perhaps understand that what I have gone through is serious. Thergerer says softly, "Think of what defeat might have meant, Daon N-Y."
"I know, I know," I say. "Well, here are our skimmers. Let's head for the rim. And like you said, we'll watch out for the Tamol Street chasm."
We mount the skimmers and I find I can work the controls without trouble. This is a relief but not a surprise: an adequate provision of native facilities for my relocated Terran consciousness is what I've learned, by this time, to expect. Onward and away! We speed as fast as we dare along a meandering ribbon-like elevation. Within minutes, following the turns of the route, we reach the quake-chasm, the zone of damage at Tamol Street. And we find that it's no trouble at all! Over we go without opposition! I must admit, this makes me feel warmer towards Thergerer. I like him better for having got it wrong.
Meekly he remarks, "Now we've crossed the district boundary between Jihom and Xemb, we'll soon have a fairly straight lane to the rim; another couple minutes should see us out."
He's right this time. First comes the straight bit, then - I see a notch in the avenue's end, the buildings get smaller, and the sky opens out above us -
We surge into spaciousness.
I boggle at the sweeps of colour and the distant downy glows strewn under a royal blue bowl of sky. I hear joyous cries of "Eyey!" Lanok, his skimmer zooming past mine, joyfully asserts, "We're out! The horizon smiles! The wilderness beckons!"
Yes, we are finally out of Olhoav, and I feel my sense of wonder renewed, almost as if it is only now that I am seeing the world.
However, no wilderness is visible yet: what I see are are cultivated fields, rippling all the way across my widened view. The almost dazzling, orange-yellow glow of cultivated vheic plants, like tubular paper lanterns tossing in the breeze, is a gorgeous sight especially for my Terran self which up till now has only known the spectacle via the inner eye of a memory belonging to my submerged native self; now with it shining at my naked eyes I can't resist the urge to stop and hover and gaze.
others stop likewise, and I can sense that they are scarcely less
wonder-filled than I. They doubtless realize that we are history-makers. Or, at any rate, trying to be. Or preventers, I say to myself. Preventers of the wrong kind of history...
Directly underneath my hovering skimmer, there peeps a promise of that true wilderness which lies beyond the cultivated flaon-scrorr. Another "first" for my naked eye. I look down at the bare patch of purply-brown and see a promise of that immensity of plain which will surround us as soon as we have skimmed a few miles further. To be sure, when I think about it, I immediately know about it, since my native mind is necessarily familiar with the cork-like world-ocean of gralm - but, again, to "see" a thing in my usurped memory is hardly equal to this new direct experience, as I hover in the open, eyeing a preliminary patch of that splendour which must soon stretch before me to the seventh world's far-flung horizons. In this, and a few nearby patches, I note the gralm's authentic colours: blue-brown-purple for the most part, with some orange and black; none of it yet dominant here so close to the city where much of the ground is covered by the golden crops.
Another wonder - which I see as I swivel - is the city I've left.
It is the first time I have seen Olhoav from outside. The others in my band are likewise gazing at it and the thought occurs to me that they may be giving me credit for a practical motive for having stopped here - namely, to wait for our companions who were supposed to be leaving by different routes.
If so, it can only be a brief wait, in the hope of an off-chance, since this spot can't be the rendezvous-point, the smurtu-oyor.
I say, "Well, doesn't look as though any of the others have emerged yet."
"Unless," says Thergerer, "they got out before we did. Or simultaneously with us but via a different exit, out of sight. Still, not a bad idea to wait some more moments here."
"Another half-minute," I say as though it had been my idea all along. It seems reasonable to balance the risk of enemy pursuit against the gain of an early rendezvous with some more of our forces.
I use that half-minute to run my eyes over the stupendous urban mound from which I have at last emerged. I goggle at Olhoav's age-accumulated swell, its shapes and linkages reminiscent of a giant organic molecule. Some marring of the whole, some dimples or saggy lines, I guess to be results of the great quake. Poor lonely Starside metropolis! Riven by ice-quakes - subjugated by a tyrant -
"Time we continued on our way," I say. "Thergerer, lead us on the route to the smurtu-oyor."
"Taquotal" ["I obey"], the General formally replies.
He sets his skimmer into motion, and the rest of us follow him, weaving along paths between the vheic-fields. We pass close to some farm buildings, close enough for me to observe that they would resemble those I saw in my life on Earth, if it weren't for their extremely rounded corners and their tapering walls. I would love to turn aside and get to know the Uranian farmer's way of life. But my goal draws me on.
An advance image of our goal, the smurtu-oyor, is building up in my mind's eye. Courtesy of my native memory-store, I imagine a zone of dense vegetation taller than meadow-grass, but shorter than forest trees. It will soon come into view and when it does, I shall see - I know I shall see - a swaying, county-sized mass of stems.
Meanwhile the farms are fewer and further spaced, the fields rarer; we're out of the flaon and into the scrorr, where the cultivated area has dropped to less than that of the wild, so that over half the land is primordial cork-like gralm.
Past one final outlying field we skim, and then - here we are, here it is, projecting to meet us, a promontory of the oyor, the grass forest, the one closest to Olhoav, the one named smurtu.
It's as I previewed it: though I might add that it's more like an extra-tall reed-bed than anything else. A reed-bed with no river beside it, for this is not a world for rivers.
"Here we wait," says Thergerer.
We all hover, a couple of yards above ground, within a stone's throw of the oyor. I am silent. I experience a premonition of momentous change.
Wherever my eyes come to rest, I am aware of the sweeping vastness of gralm, of oyor, of sky... and it behoves me to remember that my native self once allowed his mind to be blown by the wilderness. Yet, renewed nebulation is not the threat that unsettles me now. I shan't be caught out that way a second time. What's blowing into me this time is a crazy comparison which I hope is good: the idea of a young nobleman, as yet un-outlawed, looking at Sherwood Forest, and he doesn't know, but he senses, his future identity as Robin Hood.
Ridiculous! I'm not going to be any kind of Robin Hood. I may hide in this oyor forest, yes, temporarily. But some day I shall return to rule the city of which I am Heir.
Olhoav, not any oyor, is my heartland. Fate, do you hear me?
The chatter of my waiting companions sounds a cheering note. I hear Thergerer reflect out loud, "A good place, this. No doubt, here we can recoup."
"You can say that again," says Lanok Ryr. "Best say it with a devil-may-care smile, though," and he glances at me sidelong. Oh yes, I used the word "devil" myself, a few conversations ago. I'm vaguely wishing I had been more sparing of Terran terms.
"Main thing is," the General opines, "to make the Dempelath-dovul care one day."
Another voice corrects him: "Devil, not 'dovul'." It's a youngster full of banter. I feel like saying shush, shush...
Thergerer responds, "Thank you, Kyf Thann, and while you're about it you can explain what exactly the word means."
"Certainly, omzyr," replies Kyf. "A devil is a Terran force of some kind."
"Forget that," I intervene. "We have troubles enough." They agree, laughing at my unwilling, perfunctory smile. They're so happy to be in open revolt at last, so overjoyed at being led by their rightful Heir, that their impudence overflows, not really in any disrespect to me but on the assumption that my spirits must rise with theirs; yet I find myself thinking how much more happy they would be if they were led by the Noad himself.
That is a thought to chew on. Might it be feasible at some stage for us to raid the Husnuth Building, to free Barlayn Lamiroth from stasis?
Ah, but if we did manage to pull off that coup, Noad Barlayn would be revived only to resume his count-down, his slow sure dying from the Sixty Days' Disease...
Which suggests that, for the foreseeable future, the anti-Dempelath Resistance will have to make do with me.
And they're not fools, these followers of mine. They must know I'm no match for the Glomb, not yet, but they are they sticking with me because of the exotic Terran aura I possess, which I suppose is a kind of mascot to them; hence their playful bragging display of English vocabulary and idiom, learned from my nightly sleep-talk; a smattering without understanding, but it wafts the hope that I shall eventually come up with some sneaky Terran gambit, the equivalent of a miracle.
Come to think of it, that's more or less what I've been counting on, myself, up till now.
Here as we hover and wait for our companions to attain the rendezvous, I begin seriously to wonder, whether perhaps my Terran self has completed its play.
It's as though I'm hearing a whisper from among the reedy stems, "You don't know it yet, but you shall know, that all you need is here. You don't know it yet, but in the plains and the forest, the mighty wilderness, the heartland of this planet, you can and shall forget your injection of 'Neville Yeadon'. You needed the Terran veneer for a while, Nyav Yuhlm, in order to wake from nebulation and to escape from captivity, but, for the future which awaits you, your Uranian self will be enough."
In accordance with this sussurrus of prophecy I sense a rocking, a shift inside me, as if I were a dinghy in which rower and passenger were changing places.
But can't I hover in front of a grass forest without having to suffer some heavy identity crisis?
Anyway, what's all this thinking for? I am the Daon; I must lead; I shall lead, naturally, in the tried and trusted way. Ride the currents of fate, in which fortune favours the bold, and the good beat the bad, fair and square: that is what to do. All the inner bother has come from thinking too much about a possible need for sneaky Terran gimmicks. Must cleanse my thoughts of such stuff. No dodges now. Let everything be above-board.
Of course this world has its own pitfalls, and of course one must learn to walk the tightropes, and of course my opponent, Dempelath, is anything but straight-forward. And, one could make a case that such a villain will need to be beaten at his own game. Still, that line of thought leads onto a perilous ledge. Better not to outsmart oneself; better, rather, to hope that he may outsmart himself in the end. Who knows, perhaps he already has. Perhaps our escape from Olhoav was permitted, unwisely, by him. He may really think I could still of use to him, no longer as a tool but as an outlaw bogey, with which he can threaten his public and keep them in line.
"Look at that crowd!" exclaims Lanok, wrenching my thoughts back to a present sight. A multitude of skimmers are pouring into view around the neighbouring smudge of field.
Thergerer turns his face at me. He wants the Daon - me - to produce words. Words for the occasion.
I manage: "Looks like hundreds! It seems that we have more supporters than we knew. The dissident population has escaped en masse, under cover of the confusion we caused."
It's the right thing to say - it impresses them, I think -
Well, so here are yet more followers, more folk who will oblige me to lead. They swarm about me, they land and alight. They are taking station in a zone of which I am the focus. Just like combat, this, in its slowing of the time-stream. Moments cram minutes. Doors of decision snap and swing. My uncertain, queasy Terran conscience tries to balance it all. On the one hand there's my reluctance to be responsible for drawing these folk into an existence of exile and poverty, where they'll have to scrabble a living in the wilderness, with no sure hope of return to their homes. On the other hand, in the un-Terran, purely Uranian compartment of my mind, destiny's wave utters the demand: let them flow with it and like it!
Another difference between my mental compartments: the Terran inner voice urges me to recognize the longing face of a girl in the crowd, whereas, in the Uranian compartment, that problem is borne away, on a wave which neither of us can stop, a wave which, I suppose, must divide me from her. For, as Daon, I must do things from which little Dittri cannot distract me...
I nod towards a little pleat in the border of the oyor about a hundred yards away. "Is that a path?"
"One of many," Thergerer agrees. "The interior is riddled with paths and clearings."
"All neatly cut and maintained, it seems. By... native inhabitants?"
"No - an oyor keeps its own sharp limits, Daon N-Y."
I lift a quizzical brow: "Can a grass verge trim itself?"
"Grass is just grass - but collectively, Daon N-Y, the giant bukarna grass of the oyor does shape itself and needs no trim."
"You mean, this one is not inhabited?"
"I mean, even if it were empty of humans, the oyor would still keep neat. Yet the inhabitants exist, all right." He looks at me as if wondering how much comprehension to expect from me. I shrug and reassure him:
"I must already know all this, somewhere," and I tap my head. "But anyhow, it's time we went in, is it not?"
Thergerer replies, "We're ready to go where you tell us, Daon N-Y."
but, some ways of telling will prove better than others. I, hovering by the forest
entrance, opt to gloss the way.
"As the Terran poet says," - say I with raised my voice - "if I can quote from memory -
...And all within were paths and alleys wide
With footing worn, and leading inward far;
Fair harbour that them seems, so in they entered are."
Whereupon, setting an example, I enter upon the crisp neatness of path, saying, "Let's get in there and make ourselves a home."
Remarkable, this path. At a constant width of five yards it cuts its way through the dense mass of bukarna stems. I see it extends as far as a fork in the route some two hundred yards up ahead; I head straight for that, glancing back to confirm that my company is following me in a line.
I can't hear much talk behind me. I guess it's maybe a day of discovery for most of them too. Perhaps it's just as well nobody asks me to continue with the verses I quoted. To go into detail about what Spenser's hero and heroine find amid the "paths and alleys" of their Wandering Wood, might be unwise...
Diary of Uofanna Eem, Olhoav, 10,538,700 Ac:
My daughter asked me just now, "Mother, why are you starting to keep a diary today?" As though it weren't obvious.
I'm afraid I was a bit short with her. (I wonder how often I fail like this. After all, isn't it my job to educate her?) "Do you mean to tell me, Cheem," I snapped, "that you didn't get any of the great thing that has happened? Were you asleep at the meeting where Frondur Stackham showed us the great invention? No, you weren't asleep, I saw you staring, as he showed us the great plan."
"Mother, you keep saying 'great'," objected Cheem. "But nothing much happened."
"Nothing much!! How can you say that? Everyone was amazed!"
Cheem just smiled at this, the cheeky squirt. "What's so good about ticking a box?"
Her pert style defused my annoyance and I hugged her. "When you're older," I assured her, "you'll look back and be thankful you witnessed the day things started to go well."
So now let me write my own appreciation of what happened when Stackham took us to the Induction Room.
It was an ordinary office, just one of those set aside for use by the Gohik Urgraon in their co-ordination of city-repairs after the Quake. Chairs, desks, shelves, a chart-screen, and that's about all.
While we were finding our seats, most of us were ready to follow any lead. I heard
neighbour Zemed Merr remark quite loudly, "The city will be better off
without him." I guess someone must have expressed to him some unease at the
Daon's departure. Fact is, every one of us felt that the loss was strange. We were in sore need of guidance.
Stackham, as soon as we'd all scraped and jostled into our places, walked over to the chart-screen. He said, "Now, people. A new age is upon us. Listen while I tell you we shall re-tool our way of life."
That's what we needed. No lament at what the Daon had just done, no dismay that the Heir of Olhoav had ripped up our Constitution and fled our city. Instead - words to inspire us; to promote trust in a new promise; to re-tool our imaginations. Serious but up-beat.
Though for a while I didn't understand much of what he was saying, I accepted his assurances. Especially the one I liked best: namely that we didn't have to absorb it all straightaway, so long as we got the point at the end.
I thus relaxed into a state of anticipatory bliss. Stackham's grave and expert tone soothed me with a masterly admixture of Terran prose. Among these preliminaries which so nourished my soul was an account of a marvellous invention called "Insurance", full of gravity and promise.
"...And the great thing about it is, provided it's available, not having it can be as useful as having it. If you have it, you can get paid for a misfortune, but on the other hand if you don't have it, you can use that too - as an excuse not to do something you don't want to do, or don't know how to do, as in, 'sorry, I can't help you, my insurance doesn't cover me for that'...
"All part of the trove of Terran techniques which the Daon's Earthmind has imported here, and which have proved too much for the recipient brain's sanity. He, poor man, as an individual broke under the strain. We however are many and strong, and we can exploit the nous of Earth for our own purposes. We shall use it to defeat our age-old oppressors, the Currents of Fate."
Our pulses quickened further. The climacteric approach of the main point enthralled our attention.
"Those cursed currents!" mused Stackham. "Ridden by an elite few, the protagonists, shall we say, of history's stories - the (let me say it out loud) foregrounders, whose elite flair, called renl, gets them to suitable places at suitable moments that suit their privileged plots - those currents have, let us admit, played their part with a certain splendour, enabling foregrounders to achieve tasks which often needed to be done. Well, we must do them too - a different way! Our aim must be, not to neglect those vital tasks, but to extirpate the pernicious grace which elevates their performance above the background level. For though renl seems very fine, nevertheless in its advanced form it is a restrictive, first-class ticket to a Destiny beyond the reach of ordinary folk. Such tickets are inevitably reserved for the few. Justice therefore demands that their use be abolished. We must bypass the currents of fate, so that we backgrounders take over the foreground, the most vital tasks and the greatest feats; and do it so that no matter what destiny may demand, rather than obey it we accomplish our aims our way!"
At this point, my neighbour, Zemed, put up his hand. A brave thing to do, thought I, just when the exposition was in full flow. Stackham, though, seemed to welcome being interrupted by the question:
"Sponndar F-S, don't high-grade tasks require a burden of responsibility so heavy that it could not be reasonably imposed on those not braced by fortune to bear it?"
"Ah, what you're asking is, how can we ordinary folk cope with greatness? I'm glad you asked me that, Zemed." Stackham really did look glad, as though the question were perfectly timed. "I have reached the very point at which that question needs to be tackled. True, we who do not ride the waves of destiny cannot bear destiny's load. But here's the point: there are so many more of us backgrounders, that to share the responsibility amongst ourselves results in such a low percentage for each individual, that it is tantamount to a zero responsibility - that is, to avoiding responsibility altogether. And how exactly, you may ask, is this done? There - see!" He flung out his left arm. "Behold the clincher!"
We focused, more intensely than ever, upon the chart framed beside him.
"Feast your eyes on that," he said, and I examined section after section on the chart, each containing a blur of questions in small print. Beside each question was a little square... like an empty box...
I've had to interrupt my account in order to put Cheem to bed. She's so abnormally sharp, I haven't yet found a way of explaining tact to her! Never mind, in the great days to come I shall paper my walls with the great design, to keep us Plan-aligned.
Now back to my narrative. I'd truly reached the point at which I could sense the trickle of destiny, descending at long last to our level.
Stackham put the tingle into words:
"Imagine you're on a task-force, reconstructing a district after the quake. You are part of an effort to co-ordinate materials, labour, schedules. If you were a foregrounder, you would simply saunter into the job. You'd be bolstered by your forgy destiny so as to be able intuitively to snatch solutions by being at the right place and time, and afterwards you would saunter away again. And conversely if you were one of the many backgrounder 'extras', you'd be content with that subordination. But - henceforth things are going to happen in a different way! The liberated you, the ordinary person who at last can crawl out from under that old pretentious system, will be able to enjoy your rightful share of achievement in a set-up operable by all. It shall be a system both just and workable, both common and equitable, based not on Fate but on - wait for it - RULES!"
We gasped with wonder as he went through the specific process. Quite lucidly he showed us how life's tasks could be subdivided and cleared with no initiative from Fate; in fact, with no initiative of any kind; merely requiring one diagrammatic idea. I rather fancy I could sense the defeated agony of fate's invisible swirls, writhing in the room like tormented snakes, each braid unravelling in despair at the news that renl is yesterday's mode, and that tomorrow belongs to -
The ego-track of Neville Yeadon:
After so many forks in the grass-forest path the conclusion is inescapable: we're skimming through a network of hexagons.
It's like journeying through a diagram of beehive-cells, where after six turns you will find yourself back where you started. If you don't want to do that, if you want to get somewhere different, you have to branch onto an adjoining hexagon. That's what we're doing every two or three straight "runs".
What we see of the enclosed areas - the "cells" circumscribed by the hexagons - are masses of grass forest. The stems are stronger than reeds, yet more flexible than bamboo. At their most dense they're as opaque as thick fur. However, the density varies a lot, and we pass some areas which would be relatively easy to stroll through. We don't try, because, riding our skimmers, we have to keep to the path.
I suppose the entire oyor is accessible, more or less, if you're prepared to go slow and spend the time. Even in the thickest parts a man on foot might just about manage to push his way in among the stems, if for any reason he was desperate to hide...
There's so much I desire to know about this forest. I don't just say this as a Terran, but as an excited Uranian as well. Here is mystery enough for any citizen of Olhoav. None of them can claim to have thoroughly explored any of the oyorou, not even this closest one, the smurtu-oyor. And here am I, a Terran with the responsibility for leading this group of exiles! Leading them, in a world I don't know, to a place I don't know. Well, that's responsibility for you! The demands of fate, I suppose one must call it here. The tossed coin spins: greatness on one side, ignominy on the other. It spins, fanning waves against me, buffeting me towards a breaking -
- point, after which Daon Nyav Yuhlm slumped for a moment against the forward deck of his skimmer as though he had been shot by some poisoned dart.
At the sudden, completely unexpected collapse of its rider, the Daon's skimmer wobbled. Astride the vehicle next in line, omzyr Thergerer tautened with dismay. He strained forward to lay a hand upon the unsteadied stern.
Then he relaxed as he saw his young leader's back straighten.
"I'm all right," said Daon Nyav with a reassuring glance over his shoulder. "I just had a double-take, that's all."
Thergerer was too relieved and respectful to inquire the meaning of that English phrase, but the Daon affably went on to explain:
"Delayed-reaction jolt, in other words. It's like: first you see a thing, then you really see it."
"Ah," the omzyr said. "A jolt, yes, for a Terran mind..."
"...Prone to sudden gulps of understanding," amplified the Daon with a hand-wave of assent.
"Pity they can't spread it evenly. A steady dose of apparng..."
"I believe you're right there," the Daon agreed. "Terrans, by and large, lack apparng. They're a complacent lot, and pay the penalty, now and then, by being shaken."
"As is the case with your other self?" probed Thergerer, reassured at the other's conversational tone, and seeing a chance to fathom the nature of his double-minded leader.
"My other self..." mused the Daon. "Yes, it's been a while since he's had scope for complacency..."
Then, as Thergerer wondered at "he", the other, musing in satisfaction, closed his sentence with:
" - I think he's going to enjoy semi-retirement!"
By apt coincidence, it was at this moment that both men saw a pale patch widening between the forward lines of russet stems, as if curtains were being drawn aside. The brightness beyond the patch was comparatively green and spacious.
Nyav first, and then the long line of refugees, floated cautiously into a clearing. They halted, and hovered to gaze at the open acres: a homely area, scattered with shrubs, huts, lawns, a few trees, and over a hundred people who ceased activity in astonishment.
Then came cries of recognition from some of the inhabitants: firstly those who were refugees of previous standing and who knew some of the arrivals personally. Others, attired in fabrics woven from oyor-leaves, were plainly not exiles from the city at all, but true natives of the forest. These also, feeling a kind of allegiance to Olhoav's Daon, soon joined in the running forward and the cheering - excitement which increased at the sight of the Daon's blue cloak.
The next thirteen days passed swiftly and successfully for Nyav Yuhlm. He felt exceedingly blessed. From the loyal acceptance he met with, both from the long-standing and from the more recent forest-folk, on top of the strokes of luck he had enjoyed to bring him this far, he knew himself to be a staggeringly fortunate young man. Amazing, how over his short life the currents of fate had wafted in his favour! One 'misfortune' after another had been turned to good use. The list unreeled before his mind's eye. His early psychological abuse by Dempelath had led to that Wayfaring trip, in which the personal catastrophe of nebulation should have ruined his life; instead it had eventually prompted the Noad to appoint him Daon, precisely because an apparently incapacitated Heir would be the only kind whom the Glomb would not feel bound to assassinate. Thus disability became advantage. Next, the city-brain, Dynoom, had concocted a fantastical plan to bring an Earthmind across the void, to usurp the consciousness of Nyav Yuhlm by that of the more tricky and potentially powerful Neville Yeadon. Seemingly a dire threat to one's being - yet now where was that Earthmind? Relegated to a veneer, a handy mental layer, a patina of special education.
By means of this fluky chain of events, Nyav while hardly yet an adult had risen to the rank of Daon, while acquiring, if not earning, the love and respect of his people.
The thirteenth day after his arrival began quietly. He awoke in his allocated hut in Adnust, the village in the clearing. He was brought a breakfast-platter by the caterer on today's rota, a fellow named Neb Mer, who also reported what the look-outs had seen, or rather, not seen.
The folk of Adnust maintained a rota of scouts on the borders of the grass forest, to keep watch on the edge of Olhoav: as usual, no signs of ominous activity; no indications of enemy action. The regime, it seemed, had forgotten the exiles.
Daon Nyav Yuhlm emerged from his hut and mounted a drallg, a beast of burden like a cross between two Terran creatures, a stubby caterpillar and a lizard. He rode among his people, exchanging words here and there. It had not been hard to adapt to life in the oyor. He shared in the duties of carers and cultivators. He monitored the children's games. Most often he witnessed that game called sklobbul played among the giant grass stems - a hide-and-seek game in which the diffuse consciousness of the oyor was reputed to join, to the extent of a shuffle of leaves or a playful swaying to close a gap. (One could never be sure it was safe, but neither might it be safe to ban such a traditional pastime, lest it turn out to possess an adaptive purpose.) He lasered the pestiferous mnortz whenever he saw one of them lying in wait on the horizontal upper leaves; he reported on any fomnads or "pawn-clouds" that might be gliding low over the oyor; he did not disdain to dig for foobafods. Mid-morning he paid a visit to Gevuldree, wife of Noad Barlayn Lamiroth. She, who had been born in the farmlands of the flaon-scrorr, had adapted well to forest life.
Passing him a cup of leaf-brew, she remarked that the hut she was in reminded her of the wooden house where she grew up. "You can hear the occasional compacting creak here as well. I love this place."
"I'm glad you've settled, Gevuldree." He knew better than to say, glad you're happy. The willowy, blonde-haired, grey-skinned woman was an embodiment of patient, background courage in the face of tragedy. What could one say to a woman whose beloved was doomed either to stasis or, if he awoke, to the Sixty-Days' Disease?
She may have read the Daon's thought; she said, "That's to say, the place does for me what place can do."
He nodded, and judged that he had been given the latitude to say, "Even if your husband could be rescued, it would necessarily be for a short time only."
"But it would be worth it!" she insisted.
Nyav raised his eyebrows at this tone of certainty.
Gevuldree remarked by way of explanation, "What grieves me most is that I have not even cleanly lost Barlayn as I would have done if we had been parted by straightforward death: his continued suspended animation, in some laboratory stronghold in Olhoav, is far worse than if he were restored to me alive for his final few days."
"So you are definitely telling me," said Nyav pensively, "that if it were possible to awaken him and get him out - "
"He and I could then face his doom together. And when the Sixtieth Day claimed him, we could say a proper farewell."
All very well, but... Nyav had his own necessarily more selfish slant on this. He, as the Noad's Heir, silently weighed the burden of becoming Noad himself, against the solace of a short preceding period in which to imbibe the wisdom of Barlayn, if the rescue were possible.
Meanwhile the 'almost-widow' sighed, "Then when my own time is up, who knows? I might meet him again in the second life."
"People say that hardly ever happens..."
"Small the probability may be, but don't tell me it is non-existent."
Nyav Yuhlm ached with admiration and pity. But also, the woman's words laid a fuse...
After he had bidden farewell to Gevuldree, the Daon ambled towards the far side of the clearing, the boundary where, since yesterday afternoon, his skimmer had been parked.
He was seized with a keen desire to explore beyond the usual daily round of his small domain. He might, come to think of it, shoot right through the forest to its other side.
Should be interesting, and, perhaps, a way of avoiding today's forthcoming encounter with his erstwhile carer, his little admirer, Dittri. Every day so far of his sojourn in the forest, the girl had found some excuse to edge respectfully up, to enquire if she might help in any way, if he needed anything.
If he had dared, he might have shouted bitterly, "Yes, girl, I do need something - to whit, I need you - or rather I need first to divest myself of the dayonnad, become an ordinary man, responsible to no special destiny, free to plunge at will into the bliss of a carefree backgrounder life with you and your fuzzy glow of warmth and love which I dare not touch."
Dittri was quite a problem. Unless, of course, his fate could curl into the role of grass-forest chieftain, some sort of petty ruler sunk in sleepy-souled exile.
If that really was where his duty lay, then the serene Dittri would be his perfect mate.
In which case, the sooner he secured her the better, lest she change her mind... for surely, eventually, her tranquil loyalty must be repelled by his coolness. The question would not go away. Maybe, though, it need not be answered on this particular 10,538,713rd day of Era 89, in which case he might dare to postpone his decision for a little longer?
...Enjoying the peace and solitude of the further reaches of the forest, the dappling russet-and-green vertical stripes on the bukarna stems, beneath the rustlings of the swaying leaf-tufts above his head, the idly skimming Daon felt drawn to the dreamy irrelevance of the oyor. He was exhilarated by its indifference to man. These grasses, he guessed, would outlive man. Uranian humankind - the Nenns - knew in advance the length of their species-lifetime: knew that they had about six-sevenths of their course still to run. So his Terran self had learned while browsing in the holocube library of the Zveggh-Yerrand. Yes, approximately 86,000 human life-lengths (7.2 million Terran years) remain of humanity's sojourn on Ooranye.
It was an awareness hard-wired into native brains, and Nyav Yuhlm, now that his Uranian mind was back in full control, had fully re-acquired this characteristic, and hence, while awed at the stretch of promised future, was not surprised. Yet a ghostly remnant of his Terran reflexes added piquant startlement at such a stretch of life. It was made marvellous not only by its stupendous length but also by the pinpointing of its end. Thus his sense of wonder was nourished twofold.
...The hum of a skimmer, though faint, is unmistakable. He heard it clearly enough to draw the right conclusion. Well, well, he thought. Quite a little tracker, she.
The interruption to his solitude had come at the point where the path promised to debouch into the open plain. Here he might accelerate, if he was determined to avoid being me. But no - no undignified flight. He would not be pressurized: he would stop, dismount, relax.
So he stepped down to stand beside his hovering skimmer, and studied the landscape which he had come to see.
The other skimmer also came to a stop. He heard its pilot alight. Footsteps approached over the gralm.
The girl came to stand beside him.
They remained silent for a while as they both gazed over the plain, towards a mast which rose about a mile off, mid-way between the forest at their back and two other oyorou in the further distance.
He turned his head and smiled at her, feeling none of the irritation or frustration which he had expected to feel. How had the situation turned pleasant?
Perhaps because their currents had twined together, bundled into unity by an omen which attracted the attention of both of them.
The surveillance mast out there must, he guessed, be Number One in the series. The much more distant example he had encountered on the fateful day of his nebulation had been Number Twenty-Two: a newer structure but essentially similar to this. And because it was the same sort of thing, it was unsurprising that his nerves tingled at the prospect...
"Yes," he replied, "that's my next step. Dittri, you know this can't go on."
"What can't, Daon Nyav?"
"You putting me to shame."
She kept her nerve and coolly said, "Really? How?"
"With your patient loyalty! That's how."
"But what should I be, other than loyal and patient?"
"Hrummm... look, I must take some action that befits a Daon. Because that's what I am. You must see that. Rather than run to seed in this forest without first having struck back at the Glomb, I must at least make the attempt to carry out something effective! But before I do..." he turned fully to face her.
She put her hands on his shoulders, her face a nose-breadth from his. The sentence he'd started, she gently took over. "...You're going to thank and praise me with kind words, but there's no need," she said. "I learned a good Terran phrase which I'm going to say right now: I am quitting while I'm ahead."
No, thought Nyav. I can't do it. Leave her with no more than this? She deserves more than memory.
And maybe, just maybe, so do I.
With passion he broke out with, "Look here, I know you'd be the best - "
The girl chuckled. "'Hold it right there,'" she quoted.
The witty use of English overwhelmed him. "Ah, flunnd," he swore. "I'll admit it. I want you to accompany me. Come on, let's go."
She asked no questions. She dared not risk spoiling the moment. Quickly she re-mounted her skimmer while he straddled his. Side by side they hummed away, towards the mile-distant mast.
They spoke no further word as the mast rapidly grew in their field of vision. During the minute it took to get there, Nyav experienced the passage of moments in an accelerated stream. The pressure of the flow of events now was roaring down its gully of narrowed fate. He had, he realized, mis-read the peace of the past thirteen days. Such peace and quiet was not the new normality; it was merely a case of a rapid advance needing to pause while the supply-train catches up with the front line... and the catch-up had occurred, the next advance was imminent. Military metaphors of this sort crowded his brain. They spurred him as he dismounted, as he reached for the mast's rungs.
He hauled himself up from rung to rung... looking down just once, to wave at Dittri's upturned face.
Apparently the old televisual surveillance structure was about twice as tall as the newer and more distant one he'd climbed on the day of his nebulation; but eventually he reached the top, about forty yards above the plain.
He peered into a polished concavity and saw, via two-way TV screen, into the surveillance room in the monitoring centre in Olhoav.
Without delay, words appeared on the screen. Words which must be from Dynoom.
SPEAK. I CAN READ YOUR LIPS.
He need not 'beat about the bush' in any communication with the colossal city-brain. "I wish to attempt an attack on the Husnuth building. Can it be done? I want to rescue the Noad from stasis. Give me your reaction to this idea."
YOU CAN TRY.
"Huh - that was a Ghepion-shrug if ever there was one!"
DAON, LISTEN TO MY FEARS. I DREAD LEST HYALA BECOME INVOLVED.
"Hyala? My friend and ally, the healer who lodged me... I would not that she came to any harm, certainly, but why should she get involved?"
I LEARNED FROM THE SNADDY-GALOMM THAT SHE IS NONE OTHER THAN THE RETURNED SECOND-LIFE SOUL OF SUNNOAD HYALA MOVOUN.
In the silence of astonishment, Nyav Yuhlm's blood rushed to his head. Staggered by the idea that he might have met the First Sunnoad in person, he felt the mast itself swaying. Is this claim at all possible, he wondered. Theoretically, the answer had to be yes. And if anyone could be certain of such a thing, apart from Hyala herself, it would have to be Dynoom.
HAVE YOU GRASPED WHAT I HAVE TOLD YOU?
"I suppose so." Trickles of rumour, thought Nyav, which I may have picked up subliminally, during that time when I was in no condition to assess what I heard... "But why hasn't Hyala herself... No, wait, I see why she couldn't risk announcing the truth. She would not risk the enemy knowing."
BESIDES, SHE CAN HARDLY FACE IT HERSELF.
"Still, if she's the First Sunnoad, she must face it, and what's more, if she is that she, no power on Ooranye can or should prevent her from doing what she thinks is right. And yet," continued Nyav, arguing with himself, "I see that we must keep her out of this... But meanwhile you, Dynoom, you can still help my plans."
ALL THE MORE SHALL I HELP, SINCE IF YOU DON'T RESCUE THE NOAD, EVENTUALLY HYALA MAY TRY. IT IS INFINITELY BETTER THAT YOU ARE THE ONE TO TAKE THE RISK. DON'T BE OFFENDED - BUT YOU ARE EXPENDABLE; SHE IS NOT.
"I'm not offended at all," said Nyav sincerely. As he said this, his awareness was stroked, patted by a touch from that light shawl of extra consciousness draped over his native self, as if Neville Yeadon, Londoner, had developed parallel hunches concerning Hyala Movoun. Strange! What in the world could a Terran know about Ooranye's First Sunnoad?
Shrugging off that bizarre thought, Nyav Yuhlm concentrated upon the task at hand. He must compose a plan, to include whatever Dynoom might care to offer, for an attack upon the Husnuth in Olhoav...
...and when eventually the Daon climbed back down to the ground, Dittri took one look at him and then turned her face away. Her idyll was over, she could tell - not only from his far-gazing expression, but from a huger, wider psychic wave-front, fate's invisible power sweeping her man out of her reach.
The people of Olhoav before Dempelath's rise to power had been accustomed daily to spend hours accomplishing routine tasks in a smooth, emulsified "work-trance". By contrast with that, the Daon now slid into an unsmooth, staccato "adventure-trance", flashed with episodic highlights.
After the dialogue on the mast, the next he knew he was at the corner of a vheic-field in sight of Olhoav. A gathering of his followers were showing him a group of three prisoners, allegedly captured spies.
"Listen to this one," Thergerer advised him. "Says he is Oa Garar, the 'Chairman of a Committee', whatever that is..."
Oa Garar was hefty, broad-faced, nonchalantly ignoring the lasers levelled at him and his two companions. His arm casually rested upon the skimmer which he had been forced to dismount.
"It seems, Oa Garar," the Daon found himself saying, "your boss thinks we're worth watching."
"Just in case," sneered Oa Garar, "you yalolums might prepare some Vanadium-era bombast."
Thergerer explained to Nyav, "Apparently, yalolum is a new pejorative term for dissident exiles like us."
"Then we'll take it as a compliment," the Daon grinned, knowing full well that the word must derive from yalul, decay, "and we'll deal one last wallop before we decompose. Unless," he added with a wink at Oa Garar, "you Glombers rot before we yalolums do."
That quip went down well with his followers. "Maybe they'll be too busy filling in forms to notice!" jeered one.
"Ticking boxes!" cried another amid laughter.
"Anyhow," said Nyav calmly, "time will tell who wins this culture war. Meanwhile, omzyr Thergerer, you will detail a few guards to go back to Adnust with these prisoners. After they've been confined in our village for a couple of days, we'll let them return to their beloved boss - or they can stay and spy some more if they wish; it will scarcely matter by then. The rest of us - we know what to do..."
...Infiltration, that was the first part of the plan: the reverse of the "exfiltration" by which they had escaped Olhoav. Their aim now was to re-enter singly, then form up once more at a rendezvous point close to the Husnuth. There, in sight of their goal, they might see more precisely how best to carry out their attack.
...The next episodic highlight:
Nyav halted his skimmer above a deserted wedge of city floor close to the rim in Fraonj District. So far, all had gone well with him. No one had challenged him - the tyrant of Olhoav could hardly ensure that his city bristled with guards all along its circumference. Rather, the city's defence lay in depth.
He caught sight of a movement: a swirl of cloak half-hidden beyond an ornamental column of stone...
...Now he had joined the slim figure in the penumbral shelter where she, obviously, but inexplicably, had been waiting for him. "How did you..." he began to ask.
"I am not quite alone," Hyala whispered.
"Now you're making me more nervous."
"I only mean, I have helpers, and minutes ago it was reported to me that some... yalolums," she smiled, "were returning."
"Uh... but..." He swallowed at the brave sight of her. Awe flooded him. The vision of a beauty and a dignity so full-circle exalted, it merged into a gentle kindness. No strain on her part but plenty on his: he must endure the receiver's overload, the helpless longing to be worthy -
She helped, "You mean, how did I guess you might come this way? It's the most direct route: almost line-of-sight to the Husnuth. You see, I know what you're about to attempt, Daon N-Y. If anyone can do it, Earthmind, you can."
Even at the calmest of times, the emotional impact of Hyala Movoun upon Nyav was bound to be considerable; today, amidst his perilous mission, her presence put him in desperate disquiet, while additionally, from his Terran basement, seeped a baffling whisper, I don't care how, I just know she's Rosamund - accompanied by a panic of inferiority.
Nyav shook his head to clear all this stuff; he couldn't afford crazy nonsense just now.
"I'm no longer in Terran mode, Hyala. That alien part of me has been... er... swept under the carpet. All right, I'm still fluent in the lingo, but let me put it this way: Neville Yeadon is no longer boss. Were you hoping for some Earth-style coup by any chance?"
"Whatever most helps you to survive, that's what I hope for, Nyav," she said, "and if there's anything I can do to help rescue Barlayn - "
"I may get back to you on that offer," he evaded. (Oh no, you fount of splendours, you are going to stay safe. Besides, I sort of agree with that funny voice inside me saying this princess can't be won - whatever a princess may be; for never could I live up to the honour, and I doubt whether anybody could.)
He took his leave; his craft slid away...
...Hyala meanwhile, her posture bowed, spoke to a panel on the adjacent wall. "Dynoom, he did what you wished: he refused my help."
"Do you blame me for insisting?" came the melodious reply.
"No," she answered wanly. "Compared to the things I had to do at the end of my first life..." And she fell silent as she fuzzily remembered, through the dreamlike smear by which one recalls a previous incarnation, the horrendous decisions she made, aeons ago, at the end of her reign as First Sunnoad...
...Nyav meanwhile, borne on by the blast of destiny, reached the disused rostrum known as the Ghnoyngh.
The rendezvous appeared successful: he noted several of his followers, scattered among the citizens going about their business around the heap known as the Husnuth.
From his vantage, Nyav had a good general view of the porous institution which he intended to raid. No other building in Olhoav resembles it. Terrans might liken the Husnuth to a roughly pyramidal mound of giant paint-pots, connected by ramps and corridors. Object of constant curiosity to the citizens, the research-complex attracts sightseers, especially in troubled times: it is natural for folk to wonder, nervously or hopefully, about what new bane or blessing may issue from its laboratories.
At this period the entrances had to be open, guarded but not locked, so as to permit the passage of scientists. Each guard wore a brown arm-band with the Glombs's orax insigne. The time had now come for the Daon and his followers to don the same. Disguise and deception were vital because an
immediate frontal attack was out of the question: even if a forceful surge were to get them
past the outer defences the enemy would have time to call upon
reinforcements and, after that, there would be no chance left to fulfil the mission by discovering the stasis chamber where the Noad was held.
Nyav nodded a signal; he saw Thergerer nod back, good old Thergerer who had devoted himself, during the course of a long career as omzyr, to the arts of urban defence against nomadic pirates and wilderness clouds - skills not quite relevant to the task at hand... Nyav put his armband on, Thergerer followed suit, and those in the band who were watching him presumably did the same. Then, for the less disguisable, more famous Daon, a quick smear of wunn-juice to blur his features. The effect, unfortunately, would dissolve in a few minutes - but it should work, insisted the fate-wave; it all should work: initial disguise; penetration of the scientific stronghold; play it by ear till a well-placed order or inquiry reveals the location of the stasis chamber; and lastly, a swift attack, a rescue, and exit amid the confusion. Assumption piled upon assumption. Who's that cackling? Nobody visible is making that noise: it's from within. Be quiet, Neville Yeadon, you pesky Terran ghost. Laugh at our waves of fortune, would you? They are no laughing matter; they are the ways things get done around here...
...A swirl of luck favoured him at his entry point: the guard accepted his insigne without question, picking on another for his random check. Gifted with an advanced sense of direction in three dimensions, the Daon then explored, losing and regaining the sight of his companions, the members of the group pretending not to know one another. Signs and noticeboards on the orange walls, and the glint of apparatus seen through open doors under ceiling glare, hinted at overpowering complexity, with no general plan of the building to guide the uninitiated. Luck gurgled away. He was lost. He was bound to be lost. What did he expect? That corner-laugh in his brain resumed...
Still, his spatial awareness remained, and it was as good as that of a top-rank Terran footballer who can visualise the pitch as if from above (hey Neville Yeadon, thanks for that comparison; you too - because you're stuck in my head - must want to get safely out of this).
Of course he dared not ask the way. But he could waylay a scientist to ask, "Has there been any disturbance in the region of the stasis chamber?"
The man's reflexive glance revealed the general direction.
The corridor widened and became a flight of steps. Nyav descended into a great hallway amid a busy crowd. Raising his eyes to the other side he saw his destination proclaimed in flashing letters: STASIS CENTRE. AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY. The sign extended over several windows and a door guarded by a nyr of twelve men. Other sponndarou in greater numbers thronged the hallway, rendering the Daon's mission all the more hopeless.
He glanced right and left, and saw, a few yards away, the same conclusion on the faces of Lanok Ryr, Thergerer and two other of his followers, Laar Thonost and Drayf Ollomb. This looked like the end of the road. He might conceivably talk his way past the section entrance but any attempt to get the Noad out would bring instant overwhelm. So it made no sense to advance any further. And yet his legs still moved, he still walked as though assured of success -
Not compelled, he was quite free to retreat if he so decided, it was merely that he could not muster the belief to make that decision, so he must smooth his face, accept his trajectory, pretend it was his own idea and trust that it was about to become his own idea.
Rubbish, scoffed the Terran corner-voice; it's not yours, it's the wave's idea. That wave of fate is using you. It led you here by a false promise, and now you're being diverted, tossed somewhere else -
(Be quiet! Stop criticising! Destiny always uses its subjects.)
Nevertheless he was aghast at this roller-coaster wave (thank you Terran Neville for that description) especially now that he sensed he was on its downward plunge, having turned from the stasis section, his course funnelled towards areas of unrecognizable purpose.
Here were fewer guards, perhaps because this 'restricted area' had not been publicised and the Glomb preferred not to draw attention to it. Here fate force-fed Nyav with the resolve to smash his way in, to let Dempelath know he'd been robbed. One unique chance to enjoy such an advantage of surprise...
...He was in a chamber of nested pipes and a trough in which a peculiar tool or weapon lay half-covered in a watery film. Time had absolutely run out. Shouts came from the doorway and a glint of sponnd-blades. At the other, further door, Thergerer and Lanok hesitated - he waved them on - he would follow - but, first...
He reached his right hand into the trough and grabbed its strange developing thing: an opalescent plastic toy (like a half-melted fake Terran pistol). He tore it out of its birth-place and stumbled after his companions.
A couple of scientists in the corridor called out his name - the wunn-juice he'd rubbed on his face must have dissolved, leaving him recognizable. The men read the situation and, drawing their lasers, urged the Daon to run, calling to others to help, and promising that they would cover his retreat. Some however supported the guards who rushed into the corridor from both ends. After that it was a rout. Two of the Daon's band, Trinz Merr and Zemed Basnaff, were killed in the chaotic escape from the Husnuth, and the rest would not have got out at all if it had not been for sacrifices offered in the civil strife ignited by the raid. As it was, under cover of tumult the raiders escaped from the building, from the city, pursued only by their sense of failure...
And the last "episodic highlight" of the enterprise came when he was resting that evening in his village home. Crushed by despondency he shambled to the window and checked that the curtains were drawn. Then, hoping desperately for one bit of compensation for the costly fiasco of the failed raid, he drew his one mysterious item of loot from the folds of his cloak. Turning the pistol-shaped item over and over, he rattled it beside his ear -
Stupp. Stupp. Stupp....
A self-identifier; a recorded name. And that was all. No clue as to what the thing actually was.
In his grief at the deaths his raid had caused, Nyav Yuhlm sought a way to cushion his conscience against the reckoning. Could this piece of plunder be a justification, this weird object from the chamber of gadget-growths? One might hope that it had been valuable to Dempelath. It might even turn out to be a tremendous find, though it looked like a lightweight plastic toy.
In the end, Nyav felt bound to seek absolution from elsewhere. He would borrow an excuse from his other world.
Here it came:
My personal debt, like the National Debts of Earth, can be shunted forward by borrowing, deferring, cheating - till I grow better able to pay.
..."You want me to stay?" the girl asked, her eye-lids three-quarters closed as she tried to believe her ears.
"Dittri, the fact is, I need you," said Nyav.
Shaking her head she replied, "You've got me..."
Then they were in each other's arms, and he let go of all thoughts of Hyala Movoun. Dittri was the woman for him: she was loving, she was a radiance to drown discontent, and she was here. As for the other one, the reincarnated great one, the First Sunnoad - let her live with her greatness, and let her grow, as she must, into the principal remaining hope for those living under the tyranny of the Glomb. That struggle was no longer much to do with him; "Daon" Nyav was finished as a force in Olhoav.
I'll keep the title rather than upset my followers, but from now on I'm a village headman, no more...
...The village of Adnust lacked any mirrors of glass, but the inhabitants nevertheless fulfilled the requirements of a wedding ceremony by scraping a patch of ground clear of gralm to uncover the reflective ice. Standing in front of this natural mirror the lovers spoke their vows.
Amid the euphoria of the moment the bridegroom nudged a thought at his Terran self: see, this is a world where things go right!
In truth he had surfed onto a smoother wave, one which promised a quieter existence. Challenges could still be discerned through his fog of wedded bliss; the material standard of living was poorer than that in the city; hunting the pransdrugh for meat and the gloggadoa for defence were dangerous activities; but by and large, life in the oyor seemed as good as it was likely to get - certainly a vast improvement upon Olhoav under the Glomb.
For a few score of days, the Daon kept a rota of observers watching the city for signs that the regime might be preparing a counter-stroke in retaliation for his raid. Afterwards he relaxed his vigilance. Dempelath, apparently, did not want involvement with outsiders, not even to conquer them. Whatever evil stew the tyrant might be cooking, it burned low and the lid stayed on.
The happy days rolled by in their hundreds and yet more hundreds. Two children were born to Nyav and Dittri. In accordance with immemorial custom, father and mother listened with extra care for each baby's first sounds, those vital first sounds whereby, on Ooranye, you pronounce your own real name before you learn to speak. The boy, squirming in his cot, uttered a wheezy, gurgly "Tsritton". The girl, four hundred days later, formed the syllables that fixed her as "Idova Sganna".
One name for the boy; two names for the girl... Nyav felt a brief anxiety over this difference. Would jealousies and quarrels ensue?
Calm! The whole wirrip-versus-forg thing had been on the way out even before the flight from Olhoav. It had fluidised, become vague, and declined from destiny into mere fashion. Fashion rather than destiny had determined whether, like Lanok Ryr, one changed from one name to two, or, like Thergerer, from two names to one. For each type of change, motives abound, thought Nyav, and my children will choose what they like.
As it turned out, never did he hear any talk of Tsritton as "backgrounder" or his two-named sister Idova Sganna as "foregounder". Occasionally they squabbled, as children will, but on the name-status issue peace reigned between them, the peace of innocence, with no awareness of any significant distinction between one- and two-named persons. In the bucolic culture of the oyor, such things could not matter. We're all backgrounders here.
In fact, much of the time Tsritton and Idova did not even seem to understand that "Daon" was a title rather than a part of their father's name.
The evidence that clinched Nyav's trust in this egalitarian idyll came to his notice when his son and daughter grew into the hobbies stage.
Both of them developed an entirely innocent fascination with the lore of the tribes of the oyorou - lore which might have ruined their peace, but did not.
He long remembered the day they told him what they had been doing. They'd dug into the underground ice-fissures that linked one oyor with another; they'd explored the roots that ran along them; they'd talked with tribesmen about sagga laffa mannag, the superstition that the oyor were capable of thought and had communicated with Nennkind in precyclic days; they'd compiled lists of persons' names and theorized about which betokened a precyclic origin. "Look, Father, see the patterns in these names!" Names: so often a loaded topic on Ooranye: and yet nothing in their rummaging or listing of names sparked any query concerning the explosive issue of two names versus one. Right, that's that! thought Nyav with a string of sighs of relief.
He was so elated, that he soon relaxed so far as to let his dormant Terran consciousness out on a leash, indulging Neville Yeadon in an occasional few minutes of dual-control.
Nothing went wrong; the Terran side of him seemed to share his happiness and quiet, occasionally sharing perspectives and comments which, in driblets, helped the Daon to maintain his reputation for being in some way special and deserving of the rank he held. Otherwise the Yeadon personality was quiescent, content perhaps to rest and dream as the days rolled on in their thousands.
But all waves are finite...
It needs to be emphasized, that his time in the forest amounted to a quiet life only in the sense that former ambitions had gone to their graves, the memories of Olhoav's power struggles having softened in time's haze. Rural existence nevertheless brought its own dangers and excitements. They were part of the natural order - no revolutionary surprises involved - but no less strenous for all that.
Nyav Yuhlm, it turned out, was an effective hunter. Was this because his time as a nebulee had left in him a special affinity with the mysteries of the wilderness? He sometimes idly wondered.
Be all that as it may, he became a dangerous foe to the monstrous gloggadoa.
Terran readers need to imagine a torso like that of a brontosaurus, but without legs, and an equivalent neck though with no mouth on its head; the suckered mouths are on the ends of dorsal tentacles which at rest stick up like spines. The gloggadoa moves by squirming like a snake; it crushes to pulp any living thing that stands in its way. After the crushing, its spines bend sideways and down, whereupon the mouths ingest the pulp.
The hideous monster is not only fantastically dangerous in itself but also the cause of destructive stampedes on the part of other creatures of oyor and plain.
Nyav's reputation as a slayer of the gloggadoa was born on a day when he unexpectedly faced one alone. Rounding a grass copse he encountered it unexpectedly; the mouthless head turned and saw him, and he knew he must fight or die before the other huntsmen in his band could possibly catch up with him.
He ran to the beast's side; it squirmed to block his way; he altered course and ran towards its chest. It could not writhe directly forwards while oriented full length: so either it would have to manoeuvre its bulk against him - which would take a bit of time - or (if it decided to get him quick) it would have to bludgeon him with neck and head. Looking up into the looming eyes, Nyav guessed the secret of its power: its mindless joy in destruction. That, he thought, excuses a like response in me. Rather than rely on projectile bolts, he stood his ground with laser in blade-mode.
With a combination of rare luck and skill he decapitated his foe as the neck swung.
Hardly believing his victory, he watched the head roll on the gralm while the immense body stood headless. Speed and skill had won the day for him, and no other way could it have been done, so he'd had no choice, but, as soon as he heard excited hails from his companions in the hunt, the awareness clanged in him that the feat would become legendary.
Sure enough the tale spread throughout the lands of the oyorou, amongst all the farmers and gatherers oppressed by the gloggadoa. It became one of his duties thenceforward to lead community expeditions from far and wide against those dreaded tornado-like destroyers and flatteners of fields.
The hunt gathered alongside the vitreous grove of Oculd. Here, amid the Hillocks of Kalnd, men and women from Adnust and from neighbouring oyorou, plus some of the farmers from the flaon-scrorr around Olhoav, floated to a halt beside the glittering spikes of harubhru-trees.
They dismounted, exchanged greetings, chatted and lounged beside their hovering skimmers. Cloaks flapped in the breeze, brightly colouring the jovial encampment.
Daon Nyav Yuhlm gazed with fond pride over his people. Cheerfully they anticipated the imminent expedition against a particularly malevolent creature which in recent days had been flattening crops and damaging grasses for scores of miles around. Nyav's family were present with the gathered hunters, for neither Dittri nor the children could be kept away. Tsritton and Idova doubtless relished the variety of names here assembled; some of whom, such as Snovonvon, Deeklemel and Pranvoiut, seemed as though they might belong to previous cycles... Nyav's glance veered to note the bittersweet contentment of Lanok Ryr and Gevuldree, holding hands as usual. In their companionship they were enjoying a measure of contentment, although by their own lights of honour they could not marry while Barlayn Lamiroth lived in his state of living death. On wandered the Daon's glance, round to the crystal grove itself. Fuzzy white lights pulsed in the boles of the harubhru; perhaps sentient, perhaps even intelligent in its unknowable way. Or, perhaps not. Let mysteries be. To "solve" one is merely to uncover another. Our lives, mused Nyav vaguely, are the leisurely drift of motes across a luminescent stage, wherein all griefs flow towards their extinction in the last triumph of destiny.
His eye caught a dot approaching from across the plain.
Too far to guess who the skimmjard might be. What could be deduced from the bearing? A bit off for the smurtu-oyor. From some farm community, then, in the flaon-scrorr? Maybe, but farmers usually didn't skim so fast. They preferred to observe while they travelled, whereas this fellow's priority was top speed...
I know, thought Nyav with a sinking of the heart. It is coming from the city.
His companions made the same deduction, and instinctively withdrew, to leave him in a private space.
The oncoming courier, discerning the Daon's blue cloak, adjusted course. He arrived, a blunt-featured and wordless fellow, probably chosen from the dimmest backgrounder ranks, leaving no chance that he might read and understand the message he'd carried.
In fact the clown did not intend to wait for a reply. He passed a scroll to the Daon and then began to turn his skimmer.
"Hey, you - not so fast," said Thergerer, and stopped him by laying a firm hand on the vehicle's backrail.
Nyav look interrogatively at Thergerer.
"This fellow," the omzyr said, explaining his action, "is assuming that the sender doesn't require an answer."
In other words, that I shall have to do what's asked of me, the Daon reflected. "Yes - keep him here while I read this!"
The gathering was quiet, watching Nyav as he unrolled the message while its bearer looked impatiently back towards Olhoav.
Below the lines of print dangled a jewel-like seal. It teased Nyav's eye with its beauty while he scanned the words.
Day 10,543,596 of the Actinium Era.
From Dynoom to Daon Nyav Yuhlm.
I have discovered what Dempelath is planning. It is infinitely worse than anyone has feared so far. If left unchecked it will rot the entire planet. Neither my powers nor yours, nor your fellow dissidents, can avail. We have all been fools. Without delay you must seek help from the heartland! Organize an expedition, from among your people, to Syoom.
Take this letter with you. The crystal appended will communicate to you the nature of the peril. Hold it to your forehead and you will receive a message mind-to-mind. This is necessary because words cannot capture the nightmare; you must share my thoughts. And then take it to the Sunnoad, and get him to do the same.
Do not delay, even to reply; we have all wasted time enough. GET HELP FROM THE SUNNOAD.
...Nyav looked up. Folk were eyeing him with curiosity and yet - none seemed wholeheartedly keen to learn what he had just read...
Without a word he held out the message to Thergerer.
The omzyr took the paper and read it through. Omzyr and Daon then exchanged looks. "Well?" asked Nyav.
"I think," said Thergerer with pursed lips, "that Dynoom perhaps doesn't...er... know us plains-dwellers intimately."
Nyav smiled, "As the Terrans say - you can say that again."
The omzyr relaxed as though reprieved... "We're not doing it?"
"How can we?"
The idea that they might cross the thousands upon thousands of miles that led from this isolated spot on the planet's Sunside, all the way to the heartland of civilization, was preposterous.
It was not simply the distance involved and, in a general sense, the perils of Fyaym. The main, specific obstacle had never been discussed, at any time within living memory. The unspeakable Zyperan, of a nature more frightful than a million gloggadoa, was rumoured to lie athwart one or another of the routes to Syoom - and that rumour was enough.
Dynoom should have known better than to ask.
Preposterous and yet, reflected Nyav, another voice inside him whispered with other-worldly curiosity - that perhaps the crystal seal might convince, if he did as he was asked: if he held it to his forehead.
Hence - since he declined to be convinced - he made sure he did not perform that action.
"Let's draft a reply to Dynoom," he said to Thergerer. "We owe him that much. We'll do it now. Others can get on with the hunt. Lanok can lead them."
Lanok Ryr, excited and honoured by this appointment, departed with the eager expedition, leaving dire business to the Daon and the old omzyr.
The crowd having gone, Nyav commanded the messenger to wait while a reply to Dynoom was composed...
The reply was never sent.
The first delay came when the messenger from Olhoav, who had refused to dismount from his skimmer, seized the first opportunity to zoom back where he came from. Thergerer angrily drew sponnd, with a questioning look at his leader; Nyav shrugged and shook his head.
Daon and omzyr returned to their drafting, but the composition of a written reply seemed less urgent now. Somebody from their own community would have to convey it to Olhoav and it was not obvious how that could be done without undue risk to whomever was asked to take it. The longer the minutes dragged by, the more they even wondered whether they need respond to Dynoom's demands at all.
Next, utterly eclipsing any concern for dealings with the city-brain, shouts came from other skimmers in premature return from the hunting expedition. Their babbled words made Nyav reel and his sight darken.
On the hillocks' far side, the hunters had met their prey far sooner than expected. A thunderous stampede of terrified creatures had announced the gloggadoa immediately beyond. In the ensuing melee, eight villagers were caught and killed, and the Daon's family were in the path of destruction. His children survived in the shelter of a mound; Dittri however was trampled into a formless meat jelly.
That night, in bed alone, stupefyed with horror and despair, Nyav heard a voice whisper in his brain.
I can help you, it said.
Oh, go away.
No, really, I can help you.
Why? What can you do? What's so great about you, Earthmind?
I know, I know, I am merely the other you. Still, why not listen? What have you got left to lose?
It's more a question of what my children have left to lose. I can guess what you're about to recommend. You'll be causing them to lose their father as well as their mother.
Ah, but you're not a great deal of use to them in any case, are you? Not as the wreck you are.
Quiet, you -
I'm going to be firm with you, Nyav. You're a splintered wreck. Do as I suggest, and at least you will become whole. Be what you ought to be, what you naturally are: a wave-rider, a mission-finisher.
Nyav hated to reply. Intensely hated the idea so much that he suddenly thought:
Just do the thing. Get it over.
On that impulse, he peered into the darkness to where, in the corner of his bedroom, the orange glow of the lambent seal indicated the letter from Dynoom.
He groped, fumbled, grasped the seal and clapped it to his forehead.
The ego-track of Neville Yeadon:
It's like seizing a baton from a doddering conductor, and it's just as well I did. Nyav couldn't take what Dynoom has to tell.
I can hardly endure it myself, but the yuck flavour is not such a shock for a Terran, so I'm the one who can get this most vital and urgent message to Syoom. It must be done! The only sensible option now is to go right to the top. Dynoom's absolutely right, that dealing with Dempelath is now a matter for the Sunnoad himself.
To convey the message, I'm back in the will's saddle and I intend to stay that way.
My excuse gets stronger the more I consider. It's not only that my native self can't cope with the horror in the city-brain's message, it's that the journey which I - we - must take is one which Nyav couldn't face even commencing.
For me on the other hand it's a liberating though daunting prospect, far more enticing than the idea of staying here to wallow in sorrow's swamp. Doubtless there's something grim on the route to Syoom, something which has barred others from taking it, but the bogeys of Uranian tradition do not terrify me.
I've left some written messages: to my children, to Thergerer and Lanok and Gevuldree, and to Dynoom. Will folk think badly of me? Or will they feel unspoken relief when I am gone?
Now, what shall I take? The obvious things: laser, rations, torch, the missive from Dynoom. A packed, provisioned skimmer and a determined will - these I will set against the perils of Fyaym.
Come to think of it, I shall also take the artefact I grabbed from the Husnuth, during that failed raid so many days ago. The stupp. Might as well. A loss to Dempelath; possibly important; possible usable.
I'm just about ready to go. First, though, one last silent goodbye - I must see where Dittri fell. I hear they have marked the spot with a mound of gralm...
...What's this - lights beside the mound? A couple, keeping vigil.
They've seen me!
Lanok comes forward and explains, "We didn't wish to wake you..."
Gevuldree chides him, "'Wake'? Do you really think he had a chance of sleeping?"
I feel I ought to be honest with them. I tell them where I intend to go.
Incredulity greets my words.
Gevuldree starts to say, "But don't you think Tsritton and Idova..."
"Need a father? Even more than that, they need a world."
"Do you really mean," demands Lanok hoarsely, "that your journey is to preserve the world?"
"Sounds absurd," I admit. "So absurd that I've told no one, though I've left letters..."
"Letters?" gapes Gevuldree. "How can you..." She falters.
"You were about to say, how can I be so inhuman as to leave my children without saying goodbye?"
She looks closely into my face. "I was going to say that, but now - I see."
Perceptive woman. Wishing that Lanok might understand it too, I put it into words:
"I refused one wave that beckoned me, and the next thing I knew, Dittri was killed; if I refuse again I hate to think what the next lesson would be. No, it is destiny that is inhuman, not I."
Lanok nods, "And you are afraid of good-byes, lest they shake your resolve."
"Shake hands all round," I suggest with a lopsided grin. "It's the Terran way."
"Oh," they both say. Perhaps at that moment they guessed who's in charge in my head.
Leaving them there in the darkness, I skim away. Skim with my dark thoughts, voyaging alone, to do what has never been done.
And if I am to succeed, I had better hold fast to the real reason.
I am not undertaking this odyssey simply to evade the dagger of grief that orbits my awareness and swoops and stabs, swoops and stabs -
The real reason (if only I had admitted it straightaway, Dittri might still be alive - but shut that, shut that!) - the real reason, I at last know, is, as I hinted to my friends just now, the basic law, the way of this world:
All right, wave, all right, I ride you. In return you'll sustain me, eh? Feed me with hope or vision, feed me with something, wave!
A modicum of light, as the hours pass and the air begins to brighten towards morningshine, reveals the wild and eternal vastness of the plain over which my vehicle steadily arrows and hums, on the long long journey towards the more distant shine, hidden from me here by the curve of the world - the Sun which I have never yet seen from Ooranye.
During my new life on this vast dim planet, I have on occasion experienced homesickness for Earth. In particular I have had wistful memories of the bright sun and blue skies of Earth. I know perfectly well that such thoughts are useless, and that never again shall I see a splash of golden sunlight through spring leaves.
On the other hand - I am headed at last for the sunward side of this world, and though what I'll see there won't be the close sun of Earth, it nevertheless will be a distant sight of that same sun.
And so if I succeed I'll see sunlight again. I won't expect the day to be much brighter in the Sun-facing lands (if I ever get to them) than it does here on Starside; most of the light around me will still consist of the eerie and ubiquitous glow that comes from the air, which I have now got accustomed to, most of the time - but still, the Sun is something to look forward to: a symbol, perhaps, of that mighty civilization which so far has been only a name to me; the glow that beckons me to the heartland of Ooranye.
Uranian Throne Episode 15: