uranian throne
- episode twenty-two

the golden cloak

robert gibson

For the story so far, see:

volume I: the terran heir
Dynoom; 2: Hyala;
3: the nebulee; 4: Exception
5: the lever of power;
6: the infrastructure throbs
7: the claw extends;
8: the brain-mist writhes; 9: the last card;
10: the londoner; 11: the terran heir;
12: the city cracks; 13: the validator rips;
14: the heartland beckons; 15: zyperan

volume Ii: the golden cloak
16: confluence at ao; 17: the scared logician;
18: the rash down-payment;
19: the non-dummy run ;  20: the immigrants;
21: the cincture.

[ + links to:  Glossary - Index of proper names - Timeline - Maps - A Survey of Ooranye - Plan of Olhoav - guide to published stories ]


The ego-track of Neville Yeadon:

The past few dozen days I've been so windlashed by events, that some moments I even find it hard even to remember where I am. 

That's a result of being so buffeted by mighty impressions, that even when things are quiet I get the lingering judders, like a cartoon character who continues to quiver, b-o-i-n-n-g-g-g, after the hammer has hit him on the head.

Right now, is a case in point.  Here, with my left hand clutched around the lowest baluster of the grand staircase of the Zairm, the distraction comes upon me.  I ought to be deciding how best to use the bit of free time which chance has given me today - should I make the most of the fact that I have the run of the Noad's palace?  Or should I choose to wander elsewhere in the great polar city (which I hardly know, never having got round to visiting Skyyon in the days before the Cincture brought me to the centre of decision)?  Yet - instead of concentrating on that question -

I tighten my hold on the baluster, otherwise I might keel over.  A gob of memory has plopped onto my awareness of the present, with such intrusive potency that it paints over what's actually in front of my eyes, with the result that, instead of the palace staircase where I'm standing, I'm offered a panorama of a recent round trip which I made with my fellow-organizers to take in the cities of Jador and Hoog.  The skyship voyage finished yesterday morning.  That's many hours ago, and yet I might as well still be on tour: my sight is hurled back amid the cloud-wrapped towers of Jador, the noble parks of Hoog, the jostling multitudes, the waving cloaks, the colourfully shifting perspectives of that tour; the orations, the enthusiasm! 

I myself didn't do much and I said very little; why my colleagues bothered to take me along, I can't imagine.  Oh but yes I can, though.  Must face it: as I tag along on these canvassing trips, I'm a sort of mascot.  A talisman for the gathering forces of Syoom.  This role of mine works in two ways.  First, my status as a Starsider symbolises our aim to dare the wilds of Starside.  Second, and perhaps equally vital, my status as a friendly Earthmind is seen as a usefull oddness that vaguely promises to trump the far more hostile strangeness of the enemy...  All right, all right, I accept it all.  The whirling vision fades.  My eyesight returns to normal as if the fate-wave has heard my acquiescent thought and replied, "See you don't ever forget."  Yes, yes, I know I'm in for it.

Today, however, I can rest and mooch.  Sunnoad Brem Tormalla is in a military conference with some omzyrs.  He understands that I know less than nothing about that side of it.  Thus left free, I might go and look in the palace library, which is reputed to have a unique collection of galaggastom vumana - historic handwritten journals, composed in a kind of rhythmic style half way between prose and poetry.  I've come across a few of these unprinted, irreplaceable books in my wanderings across Syoom.  I've learned to admire and value them while finding them hard to classify.  You can consider them as prose, yet their themes act like drawstrings to compress their style so that it gets as punchily figurative as poetry.  Powerful stuff, and I've been inclined for some time to try my hand at a galaggastom vuman myself.  Up till now I haven't had time, but today might be the day to start it.  I could get ideas for technique from others' examples...

No!  I can't resist the alternative.  That's to say, get out of the palace altogether, and wander through this Sunward polar city. 

I needn't go far.  If any V.I.Ps - the Sunnoad or any of my colleagues - want me, I can be reached on my wrist-transceiver.  But they shan't want me today...

...Memver Park!  Here I am, on the lower disc, the more populous part of Skyyon.  Blocked now from my sight is the flame-shaped Zairm which rears up from the higher disk, the underside of which is the now the ceiling of iedleis metal half a mile above my head.  Blocked likewise from any view of the city's rarefied upper reaches, I enjoy the intenser lights and hotter colours of the busier, nether districts - which of course are still raised above the surrounding plain. 

However, it's only a general truth that the lower disk is busier than the upper.  Memver Park itself is not crowded.  I stroll through it quite peacefully, finding nothing like the hum that pervades the bulging masses of structures around the park boundary.  I treat myself to contemplation while I can.  I tell myself I can have both vividness and peace.

All of a sudden I see, on a lush green lawn, an animal about the size of a walrus that is dragging itself along by its forearms.  Its eyes are so compellingly brilliant, that I am wary of looking into them.  I stare down, instead, at the curve of its thin-lipped mouth.  That's not good either.  This seems like a good occasion on which to practise the blinkered outlook necessary when threatened by overwhelm on this world, yet as the thing wriggles along I can't help but know what it must be: the "park oracle", the flac-flac undis, a creature without species.

The great Uranian cities like to collect sui generis beings if they can, for their parks.  Quite a few are said to be mind-readers.  I wish I had not come here.

"You haven't," it croaks at me. 

I put up my hands, I squeeze my eyeballs...

"Yes," says the flac-flac undis, "rouse yourself, Yadon.  You haven't come here; you're not here now."

Hit by these words I am forced to admit they're true.  I'm not really in this scene at all; I'm remembering it.  It was fifteen days ago that I strolled in Memver Park. 

Fiercely do I hope that the truth is more, not less, comfortable than the fibs doled out by lurchy memory.  Won't it be particularly nice if I turn out to be in the snug little "axil" where I've been lodged, the apartment at the junction between Tower Seventeen and Walkway Nine?  I like that place.  Those grounds reserved for honoured visitors are just what suit me: so peaceful, comfortable and convenient.  But the truth, now: I must face the truth wherever I am.  I glare at the false view of Memver Park and it wavers, it goes runny, yielding to -

Ah, so that's it.  I haven't descended to the lower city after all.  I'm still on the quieter, upper level.  All around me stretches the rarified districts of the palace, the skyship docks, and (just twenty yards from where I'm standing) the Pinnate Tower itself, the abode of the Wekkm: the Ghepion of Skyyon.  That's where I'm headed - or perhaps where I've just been: to visit the Wekkm, Skyyon's City-Brain.

I pinch myself, like one is supposed to do, the idea being that one never dreams that one is pinching oneself.  That way, I almost manage to shrug off the whole positional shock and accept the revelation that I'm up here and not (as I'd thought) down in the park. 

Actually the scariest aspect of it is that I'm not scared! 

Worse than being 'left in the lurch' is being left with the ability to lurch.

Well, get used to it, shrug at it, Yadon old fellow, and figure what to do with the rest of your day.

A few bystanders are close to me and I see some chatterers' moving lips.  Nevertheless the silence is absolute.  This must mean that I am in the peculiar muffler zone that surrounds the Wekkm. 

The zone's radius fluctuates according to the Ghepion's whim.  Today it must extend a bit further than when I was last here.  What matters, anyhow, is that I'm in it.  Now, the question is: have I just had an interview?  Or am I about to have one?  I doubt that I entered this zone just for fun. 

I pause to contemplate the Pinnate Tower, its serrations, its bristle of tines, its bladelike form knifing at the sky.  A voice interrupts my gazing.  A rasping voice inside my head, showing off a fluency in colloquial English.

"Well, whaddya skinnin' at me like that for?  Cat got yer tongue?  Get on with what you were saying!" it insists.

My mother tongue, ever since I let it loose in this world, has attracted a coterie of hobbyists.  Some are quite good at it, and total proficiency is child's play for the vast intellect of a Ghepion. 

"My apologies; I was distracted," I say, knowing that my interlocutor can hear me even though no one else can (the muffled zone does not affect its originator).  I now know that my interview with the Wekkm is neither past nor future, but present.  I am in the middle of it. 

"I understood that from your face," the Wekkm replies, switching from a snappish to a lulling tone.  "A retreat into memory is one of the ways you cope with overwhelm.  In fact..."  He pauses.  The pause doesn't fool me, for it's common knowledge among humans on this world that when a Ghepion pauses in its speech, it's theatrical, done purely for effect.  So vast a brain need never take a measurable length of time to formulate its words.  "In fact," the Wekkm continues, "in that direction, right now, lies your usefulness to Syoom."

"Are you kidding me?  My bouts of not knowing where I really am - they're useful?"

"Consider," invites the Wekkm, "how your inventiveness in matters of survival is likely to exceed that of ordinary Uranians - since you have already been forced to rise above the greatest shock of all: namely, a transition between planets."

"What you're saying," I say sarcastically, "is that I'm really important; that in the coming war against Dempelath I'll be not just a symbol or mascot for Syoom, but an effective doer."

"That's indeed the size of it," says the voice from inside the Pinnate Tower.  "Sorry, old man, you're not going to get the quiet life you want.  Now much as I am enjoying this conversation, it is time for you to go to Zdinth Hall; the Sunnoad messaged me a minute ago, that he and a lot of top brass are waiting for you."

"I'm going," I say, "but please do me one favour?"

"What's that?" asks the Ghepion.

"Cut out the colloquial stuff.  You're not as good at it as you think."  And, pleased (childishly or not) with that parting shot, I stalk off.

...And here I am, here I really am, about to climb the palace steps which lead shortly to Zdinth Hall. 

The guards don't challenge me - on the contrary they're the mandibles of destiny's maw, actually waving me in.  Tut-tut, it's best to avoid off-putting metaphors like that.  After all, these folk are most respectful towards me.  All recognize me as "Yadon the Cincturee" who is here to help Syoom during its latest hour of need.  And the more I good-naturedly co-operate the sooner that hour will be over. 

Through the double silver doors I go, then, and through the stunning vestibule with its pendent luminous mobiles kaleidoscopically projecting the history of Syoom onto each wall, and then through another imposing double door and into Zdinth Hall itself, or, as it's officially named, Norkoten Hall (most un-Uranian, that phenomenon of naming something after someone) stop chattering, mind of mine, and concentrate!

I'm facing down the long axis of an ellitical table.  About fifteen people are seated around in relaxed postures, apparently at a meeting that has not yet been formally called to order.  Some are snacking on plates of fruits and crispy meats.  My ears register a chattery hum.

The voices fall silent; faces turn to greet me.

"Take a seat, Yadon!" the Sunnoad calls.

I obey, and the chatter resumes.  My gaze roves around the company and I find I recognize almost all of these people.  Some are officials I know well, others I know by sight alone.  Sunnoad Brem Tormalla 80437 occupies a place close to the other end of the table, but not the actual head place which is taken, to my surprise, by one personage I've never seen before, although - oddly - during lulls when my ears catch a word or two of his I sort of recognize the fellow's voice.  I scrutinize this half-familiar person covertly.  Whoever he is, the tones addressed to him are suggestive of formal respect such as is due to a guest of honour.

Presently, footsteps alert me that another person has entered the Hall the way I came.  I turn and see a very thin, somewhat attractive, mature lady, approaching.  She takes the chair next to mine.  Here's somebody I immediately recognize, though two thousand days and more have passed since I last saw her.  What surprises me is that the others here aren't more interested.  She has caused nothing like the interruption in the chatter which marked my own entrance.  Perhaps after all I shouldn't be surprised: perhaps anonymity, or a pretence of it, must shroud Indan Orliss, head of the Bostanga Fom

Be that as it may, it's strange to see her here at all.  From what I've understood she and her organization like to keep their distance from the Sunnoad, the better to survey at long range any threat to him, and to deal with it, likewise, far from his presence.  For these reasons you wouldn't normally expect to see her at a summit meeting. 

Well, now that she's here, I have a bone to pick...  but I'm not sure how to start on it.  Besides, the meeting may be called to order any moment. 

I pass her a plate of klasts and, as she takes one, she shows she remembers me:  "Can you tell me, sponndar Yadon, what's going on?"

That's my opening.  I snap: "It's your job to creep around and know these things!" 

"Let me be the judge of my duties," she smiles.

"Sorry if I sounded offensive," I say.  "Fact is, one of your minions, or rather a couple of them, pulled a laser on me, some time back."

"Who were they?" she asks briskly.

"I'll just say, they were good people - which is what made it weird." 

"But if you don't tell me their names," she sweetly smiles, "how can I commend them for their zeal?"

"Sol Ostobon and Zadrun Mok," I smile back, "since you insist."

The names strongly evoke in me the memory of that bivouac on the plain, the strange towers, the Bruised Cloud, and my interrogation by those agents of the Bostanga Fom.  A sinister experience.  On the other hand, I did after all emerge from it alive, and my memory, thus encouraged, glides back further - and veers: for as luck would have it, during a random lull in the general hum of talk, I at last identify the tone of the chap at the head of table.  I mutter: "Abon Gnaa!"

Indan Orliss cups her ear: "What was that you said?"

I reply in an undertone, "Just realized where I've heard our guest of honour before - it's Abon Gnaa, the Voice of Yr's Noad Rael Odiram, broadcast that day in Vlamanor when Yr passed overhead."

Accompanying a movement of her eyeballs she murmurs, "You're right: that's the one.  I should have remembered immediately.  Flunnd! - I must be slipping.  The day the recordings of that pass became available, I viewed and listened to them, both image and sound.  The picture was that of his ruler, but the voice was that of Abon Gnaa whom I can hear at table with us now.   I should have known him straightaway; you beat me however." 

Tickled by my point-scoring, I say: "I had to see those recordings too.  Such a near miss!  How badly I timed my departure from Vlamanor!  If only I'd stayed a few days longer I would have been in the crowd when the colossus floated overhead."

"Galling it must have been," she nods, "for a Wayfarer to miss that."

"Which is why, as soon as I could, I, like you, felt I had to gauge the importance of the drama I'd missed, and so I played and re-played the recording."

"Ah well," murmurs Indan, "for you it was curiosity, but for me it was professional.  Either way - better late recognition than never.  Today the man is here and, I assume, still speaking on behalf of the dreaded Rael Odiram.  Soon we'll know why, or so I hope."

We both gaze towards the other end of the table, at Abon Gnaa consorting with the notables of Syoom.

"All friends together," I murmur.

"Indeed, but let's pay close heed to what happens after they've finished the dish steyaz."

The proverbial variety of Terran Esquimaux terms for types of snow, are no more numerous than the phrases used on the Seventh Planet for "diplomatic meal".  Of these, the dish steyaz is particularly laden with imminence.

"So, as I said, let us pay close heed," repeats Indan.

I nod, "We'll do our best to stay switched on."  And yet, what am I after all but a mere figurehead on the prow of fortune's flagship?  Why should I strain over whatever is decided here?

Nevertheless it's polite to look involved, and to say something intelligent if I'm called upon to do so.  How bad it would look if the Sunnoad, for instance, were to ask me something and I fluffed it!  It would be unkind of me to embarrass those who, with the best of intentions, have over-promoted me this far.

With ears pricked, therefore, I open a corridor of concentration in my mind.  I focus on trying to sort out what’s being said at the other end of the table.  With a bit of practice I find it’s not hard to clarify the voices into sentences which I can follow.

Abon Gnaa is declaiming:

“...My master seeks your aid, but on equal terms.”

Indignation stirs around the table.  One is not supposed to adopt a tone of that sort with the Sunnoad of Syoom. 

No whit abashed, the envoy continues:

“Rael Odiram, Noad of the free city of Yr, sovereign of the skies, seeks reassurance from you, Sunnoad Brem Tormalla, that our agreement – should we reach one – will not be nullified in practice by a clash of interest."

Brem Tormalla raises a hand to quell the murmurs.  To the envoy he crisply responds, "Be specific."

"Specifically, that you will not consider yourself bound by your duty to your own people, to take advantage of our need.”

Oh-oh, that’s blunt, even for a dish steyaz

Of course the point of such a meeting is to allow blunt things to be said without starting a quarrel; nevertheless I hear hisses of anger and the growled word "flunnd!"  The social temperature has dropped several degrees.  - Ah, but wait, it’s recovering.  Folk have noticed that the Sunnoad himself has sat back with a smile.

“I congratulate you, envoy Abon Gnaa, on your loyalty to him who sent you,” Brem Tormalla says.  "I also quite like your timing, inasmuch as we had reached a point which does require us to become more explicit.  Now with regard to the reassurance you demand: will my word be enough?”

“Sunnoad 80437 – it will.”

Slackening of tension all round. 

I suppose that Yr, though not strictly part of Syoom (since an aerial city can drift anywhere), shares much of the Syoomean respect for the Noad of Noads.  (Beautifully unlike what you get on Earth, this level of trust!)  Brem Tormalla’s expression, however, remains a trifle quizzical.

“I should like to know," he remarks, "why your Noad did not come here himself to state his case."

"Rael Odiram to come here, to Skyyon?" was Abon Gnaa's rather incredulous reply.

"Why, yes.  I would have thought it likely he would have met me in person, given that his need is great enough to prompt his unprecedented request for co-operation with Syoom.”

The envoy grimaces.  “Well, well.  You are determined,” he replies, “to make me say it.  Since you thus insist - I shall.  Know then, O notables of Syoom, that consequent upon what I have told you about the threat posed by the Grounder faction, Yr is divided against itself.  We have reached the point of civil war.  Our Noad, Rael Odiram, dares not leave the city.  In fact by this time he may not be able to."  Suddenly the envoy darts a piercing look down the table.  " – Does this sort of thing sound familiar to you, Earthman?”

Earthman!  All heads turn to face me! 

Brem Tormalla’s too.  They're all looking at me with some seriousness that contains (if I mistake not) some lilt of amusement.

Well, if they want me to talk back –

“I don’t know what stories you hear up in Yr,” I say to Abon Gnaa, “but I’m no ‘Earthman’.  I was born in Olhoav, on Starside." 

It's not enough.  I must continue.  I draw a breath and say more. 

"It’s true that I have a partially Terran mind, because my lives run concurrently instead of being separated by reincarnation in a scattering of historical ages, and one of these concurrent lives is, or was, Terran.  BUT - when you look at me, what you see is Uranian.  I am a man of your flesh and blood.”

Isn’t that enough now?  They all still look as though they’re waiting for more, as though Abon Gnaa’s point remains unanswered.  It's as though they expect me, from my Terran experience, to give some unique pronouncement upon the troubles of Yr.  Ridiculous.  I didn’t even hear what was said earlier about that city’s 'Grounder faction'.

No - but on the other hand, I can guess, can’t I?  In fact my ideas are galloping ahead, hurdling assumption after assumption and leaping from one guess to another, concerning the Grounder Faction of Yr and the atrocious plan on which they have set their sights.

Fact is, I sense the whiff of moral pollution, the tainted wave that the Spilth has splashed here.  And what is the "Spilth"?  Call it the label on an unopened parcel sent to Syoom from Dempelath.  Long may we delay the unwrapping of its context.  Confine your thinking within the limits of the immediate issue alone!  It's serious enough.

The aim of Yr's Grounder Faction is something far worse than the aerial piracy of which the Yrians over the ages have been intermittently accused.  They wish now to end the floating city’s age-long drift through the skies.  They intend to pick on some luckless town, some settlement to land upon and conquer – a plan quite out of character for Yr.

Out of character - once again I get the hunch of the Spilth - sure that the Yrian political illness exists in the context of a more widespread plague - while from snippets of recent news I gather that Syoom has suffered a recent rash of partisan politics -

Bury that smelly evidence in silence.  Don't encourage the phenomenon by paying it any heed. 

But can it be killed by being ignored?  It has leaked out, which is what comes of allowing the English language onto Ooranye.  So far and wide has the hobby-tongue spread, that even this Abon Gnaa fellow picked on me to comment.

I look for support towards the folds of the golden cloak, yet he, too, is inexorable.  “Your special circumstances, Yadon, are well known," the Sunnoad pronounces; "but though we accept you as one of us, nevertheless we await your fuller answer to Abon Gnaa.”

Under the pressure to say what I don’t want to say, my lip gets to curl. 

“I confess that I am Earthman enough to voice an elastic suspicion," I say, arch and sardonic, "that may stretch far enough to wrap that world’s evil with this.”

“Out with it then, Yadon,” says Abon Gnaa.

He's speaking Jommdan with an English idomatic construction, which brings it home to me that there’s no escape.  But help comes.  As often when I get desperate, a powerful picture flashes into my mind to give me a clear idea of what to say.

“Imagine someone with a stick, stirring a - an ant's nest," I say.  "None of you  know what an ants’ nest is, since your knowledge of English is merely analogical at best, but just choose whatever equivalents you like.  Dempelath, tyrant of Olhoav, has the stick,” I continue.  "We are the ants, and the stick with which he's stirring us is none other than his connection with the Snaddy-Galomm."

"The what?" interjects Abon Gnaa.

"I bet that none of you know what I'm referring to - except the Sunnoad.  He has heard of the Snaddy-Galomm.  He's read the crystal-message which I brought all the way from Starside to Syoom; as for the rest of you - "

“No!” they all say, or shake their heads.

“Well, if he sees fit, he can confide the fact to you,” I drily remark.  “Suffice it for me to say that Dempelath has used it to stir the world.  His intention is to bring the evil of Earth across the void to Ooranye.”

I've blurted it now.  Until this moment I had pertinaciously shied from the truth.

With a slow nod, the Sunnoad says heavily, “Show him the crystal, Yadon.”

I take from my blue Daon’s cloak the object from which, nowadays, I am never parted.  I hold it up to Abon Gnaa.

The envoy stares at it, his features frozen.  He would back-track if he could, but the Sunnoad gently commands, "Shunt it over to him, Yadon."

I do so.  It slides down the table.

Now it is Abon Gnaa who is on the spot.  All eyes are on him rather than on me, which makes a change I like. 

Morally the fellow now has no choice.  He must put the crystal to his forehead and endure the mental pounding which for a few dire seconds accompanies the reception of Dynoom’s fateful message.  I see him do it... Then it’s over and he doesn't wait to be told to return the crystal to me: he fairly throws it back along the table.  I have to put out my right arm to make a catch; not that it would have mattered if the unscratchable thing had dropped to the floor.  I indulge a rascally pleasure, remarking: “Takes some getting used to, does it not?"

"But what does it mean?" croaks Abon Gnaa.

"What you really mean," I reply, "is how are you going to cope with what it means?  Certainly it's not an easy brew to swallow."

"Yaaaergh," he exhales.

"I sympathise," I say; "it's hard to keep it wrapped, to stop it spattering all over the place and darkening one's whole life."

"Spilth," says Abon Gnaa.

"Quite.  I'll say it again: keep it wrapped.  Mostly.  Maybe not absolutely tightly wrapped, inasmuch as we'll have to take peeps at it now and then if we're going to fight it.  But perhaps we're in no danger of understanding it too much anyway.  Never, during all my days in Olhoav, did I comprehend the scope of Dempelath’s maleficence.  It was left to the city-brain, Dynoom, to figure out that the tyrant has achieved some sort of pulling-power with the fates’ meshed cyclone, the spinning-top, the Snaddy-Galomm."  I pause.

"And then what?" asks Abon Gnaa, and I sense that he's speaking for everyone around the table.

"The result has been," I say slowly, "that Dempelath has been able to introduce to this world [I experience a FLASH of metaphor and I let loose with Terran talk] some invasive species of ideas that shouldn’t live here, ideas as unsuitable as [FLASH] kudzu being brought from Japan to the West or as [FLASH] measles and smallpox being brought by Europeans to the Americas; you don’t know what I’m talking about – but I do.”

Whew - got carried away.  Sweat on my forehead.  Well, wasn't it necessary to find something solid to say?  Yes but I didn't expect all this –

Silence drags, and for the sake of the subdued company I must finish off with a gentler contribution.

“Common ground for all of us,” I say, “lies in the troubles which have recently begun to afflict Syoom.  A sudden plague of plagues can only result from one master plague propelling them to the fore.  We, its victims, must rally together, as brothers in arms.”

“Well spoken, Yadon,” says Sunnoad Brem Tormalla 80437 amid sighs of approval.

General conversation resumes, much to my relief.  I hunch in my chair and sneak a glance at my neighbour Indan Orliss, wishing for the nonce to confine my conversation to her, who I feel has become a friend. 

“You," and she gives me a light punch on the arm, "have brought here some qualities which Syoom needs.  But,” she murmurs, "you have a lonely task ahead of you."

I grimace: "How lonely?"

"That of the responsibility which accrues to the one who understands."

“What about the others here?  They've heard me and they have not shut their ears or their brains; they've joined in with the understanding...”

“At second hand, yes."

Meaning - not immediate enough, not fast enough.  "You're saying that as far as some emergency decision-making is concerned, it'll end up in my lap – "

"I'm afraid it will."

Ah, no.  “I don’t have it in me to command.”  Yet while I say this I nevertheless foresee what may happen.  For reasons of superstition and morale, the Sunnoad may put me in nominal charge of an expedition against the Grounders of Yr.  Oh boy. 


The Journal of Neville Yeadon, 10,545,951 Ac:

It's easier than expected, this business of deciding what to resist and what to accept.

I only have to stand back and look - and ask myself, have I, de facto, accepted? 

Answer: apparently so.

I did try, at first, to tell them (the Sunnoad and his omzyrs and all the top brass) not to put me in command of this expedition.  I put it to them as strongly as I could.  Yet here I am, living like a lord in the zarromzyr ("grand admiral"?) cabin in the flag-skyship Ruuzna Ptorrai, headed for a confrontation with Yr.

So much has happened during the past four days, I’d have felt crass trying to interrupt it all with my objections.  It was infinitely easier just to stand meekly by while Brem Tormalla collected a force of four great skyships - two from Skyyon and one each from Ao and Vyanth - summoning them together to form an aerial flotilla above the Aelv-Ej boundary this morning, with myself supposedly in charge.  And so here we are. 

Fortunately, the set-up makes only modest demands on my belief.  I've studied enough Earth-history for helpful analogies to come to my aid, to sustain my peace of mind.  As the German, Max Hoffman, sardonically told a group of touring officers, ‘See – this is where Hindenburg slept before the battle, this is where he slept after the battle, and this is where he slept during the battle...’ and similarly if all goes well my name will impress those who later visit the field of glory, whatever I do or don't do.  The legendary "commander" need only preside. 

At least I am not such a fool as to be unaware of my role as figurehead!  I know perfectly well who the real commander is.

A sort of diffidence restrains me from writing his name here.  His identity is obvious enough and, besides, I don’t expect anyone to read this Journal of mine - but somehow it would be in poor taste to ‘jump the gun’ explicitly.  For he is more than just the effective commander of this flotilla of skyships.  He is the Sunnoad’s inevitable successor. 

Brem Tormalla is ailing.  I have heard this from more than one source, and indeed I have lately noticed it for myself.  It’s no wonder he isn’t leading this task force: he has enough other problems to juggle: all over Syoom, unrest has erupted, as Dempelath “stirs the ants’ nest” from afar, though as yet we don't focus too sharply on what is going on. 

The least I can do is to try to be helpful any way I can.  Must play the game as it is played on this world - keep a grasp on Uranian principles of government - endeavour to be what they call 'renl'.

Still, the higher the political level, the greater the strain on my credulity as the Heir Question (as I call it) keeps needling me. 

I marvel at how the institution of the sunnoadex seems to function so well, although it couldn’t possibly work on Earth; in fact the sunnoadex is even more fantastic than the noadex.  A city’s Noad usually does at least have an official heir, namely a Daon, the recognized next-in-line, whereas a Sunnoad, the Noad of Noads, the focus and co-ordinator of all Syoom, has no equivalent “Sundaon”.  Madness, it seems to me.  I’ve never asked about it, because I don’t like to seem critical or stupid... but I do keep wondering.

How, in actual fact, are successors to Sunnoads chosen? 

So far as I’ve been able to figure it, only two ways exist.

One of them is the manner in which the current wearer of the golden cloak had it passed on to him from his bedridden predecessor.  Arad Thastu 80436 was unconscious and sinking fast but there was sufficient time, during her final days, to organize a thuzolyr-election: that knock-out affair with the mind-mirrors whereby a convincing successor was selected from the entire Syoomean population.  The land was at peace at that time, and such a procedure was practicable.  Brem Tormalla, by his merits, won, and thus became the 80437th Sunnoad, having beaten all-comers in a test of ability. 

You’d think that would be the natural way of doing it, preferably early rather than late.  But no!  On the majority of occasions, a new Sunnoad is simply named by the old one at the last possible moment.  Probably that’s what Arad Thastu would have done, had she been lucid.  And then all of Syoom would simply have accepted whomever was nominated by her “dying voice”.  Bizarre!  A procedure to invite chaos and disaster - or so one would think.  And yet in the judgement of Uranian history, it seems to work!

Better shut the notebook.  Put it in the drawer.

[A bit later:]  More to write.  A big (though expected) event.

The door buzzed and I let it open to admit the man himself, my fellow-Cinctee, the one who’s due to go far, and whom I would fear if my life's aim were to get in the way of his.  Fortunately, as things are, I can afford to be more relaxed than he: I know what my niche is; my ambition is merely to regain it; Oreneg Vadon by contrast is a younger man in a hurry to get a lot further.

In a formal tone he announced:  “Reports confirm, zarromzyr Yadon, that Yr has grounded."

"Thank you for the news."

He continued:  "The appropriate set of sealed orders has been selected.  Here they are,” and he passed me a packet.  His arm then dropped back to his side.  He stood respectfully motionless.  I sensed however that his stiffness of demeanour was quite illusory.  Lankily uncoiled, he seemed to stand taller that I, and liable at any moment to explode into action.  Nevertheless he turned to go.

“Wait – you must read them too,” I said.

"After you, then, zarromzyr," he nodded.  In his face I saw not exactly a smirk, more fierce than that, a glare of satisfaction, of one who knows that it is he who is the real boss, the real "zarromzyr" of this jaunt.  Which is fine by me; how long, I idly wondered, would it take him to realize that as far as I’m concerned he can prove all he likes?  He’ll certainly get ample scope when the Sunnoad accords him his “dying voice” – which I reckon is a virtual certainty.

Here, though, I knew I must go through the motions of command, and so I opened the packet, unfolded the paper and scanned the text. 

Oreneg’s eyes were on me as I read one snippet aloud:

“…The achromatic zone will be used to blank the intercommunication of the nemaean allies of Yr…”

Clear as mud, thought I.  Possibly “incomprehensible” was an exaggerated term but what I needed was a word like “dyslexic”, applied whenever my two sets of mental gears, Terran and Uranian, crunch clumsily together.  Perhaps "dyscosmic"?

“The secrecy of sealed orders," I remarked, glad that the cabin was soundproofed, "seems unlike the way things are usually done on Ooranye.  Here, you read this,” and I handed him the orders.  “It appears to be the complete plan of campaign.  You may give commands as you see fit, though you may route them through me if that helps keep everybody happy."

That was telling him!  Making it clear that I was perfectly well aware and quite content to know how things stand!  Happy, moreover, to continue with the charade of calling him my chief “adviser”. 

He took from me the now-unsealed orders and read rapidly down the page.

Then he looked me in the eye: “But, sponndar Yadon, it is you, none other, who have been appointed by the Sunnoad as this task force’s zarromzyr."

Was he saying, “So don’t try to get out of it?”  Unsure how to respond, I caused the conversation to sprout a new shoot:  “Pity that the Sunnoad could not appoint himself commander.”

Oreneg smiled, “Indeed, but the latest I heard, he has his attention taken up with the Noo Wallang.” 

I had not heard of these “mockers of fate”.  I said as much.

Oreneg shrugged.  “I know scarcely more than you do, and neither of us can afford to fall into any starraflenk right now.  With your permission, zarromzyr, I return to my post.”

“Permission granted,” I said with a straight face, thinking: avoiding the starraflenk, the grip-trap, the trap of trying to understand too much, certainly suits me.

The defence against knowledge has shifted only slightly.  Now instead of covering all the disturbance with the one word "Spilth", we're allowing some more particular labels, such as the Noo Wallang, whoever they may be, but we still aren't about to go beyond labelling.  It's just like the progress on Earth between two types of coastal defences, when a crude blank sea-wall is replaced by a more sensible, semi-porous porous barrier of piled boulders which allow the oncoming breakers to blunt themselves; the method has improved but the aim in either case is the same, that is, to keep at bay the assaults from the ocean, whether it be an ocean of tumultuous waters or one of lethal knowledge.


I wake, and stare at the ceiling of my cabin, feeling uncomfortable, aware of having spent a disturbed night. The dream didn’t help.  I usually forget my dreams, but no such luck with this one -

Rivers and streams are rare on this world; nevertheless I was standing beside a foggy stream bed, having just fought a duel.  My antagonist had been standing on the channel’s other side.  My laser bolt got him in the chest and he fell flat on his back and then slid forward, down the bank and into the mists, which closed over him. 

I waited, just in case despite appearances he might be still alive.  He was a bad enemy; I didn’t want him alive. 

After some minutes, with no sign of him rising from the stream bed, I went home, to a big house, I don't know where.  I waited, dithering, on the first-floor landing.  For some reason I was now expecting a guest.  Also for some reason, I didn’t have the light on, despite the lateness of the hour, evenshine having deepened towards night. 

Presently, though I heard no knock, I sensed that somebody had come in through the front door.  A head-shape in silhouette suddenly rose above the parapet of the stairwell, whereupon, terrified, I fumbled for the light-switch –

And woke up.  Now what the heck was a pesky dream like that supposed to mean?  Perhaps nothing.  Dreams are full of randomness.  It's like listening in on the babbling thought-exchange of the Universe.  Naught to do with me, in that case.  I just happened to tune in to a lot of cosmic drivel. 

I rise, I breakfast, and from hour to hour I drift, wide awake yet still unable to shake off a dreamy feel.  Perhaps it's because my duties on board this ship are so vaguely defined.  I envy the officers and sponndarou who are expected to plan and to prepare how we'll fight when we reach our destination, as we shall in a few hours more. 

We are headed for Oirr, that region of fantastically ancient ground-built cities which pre-date the dominant disc-on-stem design.  Soolm, Arn, Vus and Contahl were constructed before the energy-grab of the Phosphorus Era enabled Uranians to construct the twenty-five disc-on-stem colossi out of iedleis, the ultimate metal.  Soolm, Arn, Vus and Contahl are thus of more ordinary materials, not physically so durable.  Consequently they have had to be rebuilt many times since their origin, like a human body renews its cells. 

I have never visited Oirr, and I'm looking forward to doing so, although the circumstances are not ideal: it is where our present quarry, the City of Mists, has grounded under enemy control.  This is hardly the time to indulge in daydreams of wandering among those most-ancient cities.

Another reason why this is not a good time even to think about sightseeing, is that the news from Skyyon about the Sunnoad's health is bad.  Oreneg Vadon finds time to keep me posted: he tells me that Brem Tormalla is sinking fast, "burning himself out” in Oreneg’s phrase, “in the pressures of the Drall,” or, as I would put it, in the hassle of organizing a crusade. 

Well, one thing’s for sure, the succession won’t be like the last one: Syoomean society has no time for a thuzolyr-election at this juncture.  Instead it will be the “dying voice”.  I can only hope that Brem Tormalla, if he really is dying, has officially recorded his choice.  We don’t want fate to disappoint Oreneg a second time.

…Estimated arrival time: round about now-ish.  I know I’m important to these people yet they don’t seem to mind where I am.  My value as a symbol is valid wherever I happen to be or whithersoever I mooch in this floating ovoid hive.  Pleasing myself, I wander into the control room. 

Here at the very centre of the skyship, large telescreens, thrice man-high, give views of the outside in all directions.

In addition to these major window-equivalents, the walls have arrays of smaller screens, which link us with the other ships and with some bases in Syoom.  Every so often my glance sweeps these; I'm always relieved to see no image of Brem Tormalla, because "no pic" is "good news", since, according to the current arrangement, if he dies while we’re on this campaign the image of him will be transmitted to appear immediately "in the box", together with a recording of his dying voice.

Nobody talks to me; they all get on with their tasks.  Under no pressure, I nevertheless cannot afford to get woolly or inattentive.  I tell myself I must fix my juddery mind which keeps darting to and fro between dreams and memories, Uranian and Terran ideas.  I need to talk to another 'outsidery' sort of person.  Well, how about Abon Gnaa? 

I need only take a couple of strides to approach the nervy, mettlesome Yrian envoy, who, like me, is standing around uselessly. 

“This is an epochal alliance," I say.

Abon Gnaa turns to stare at me. 

I elaborate: "I mean, the alliance that you have made with us.”

“Perhaps,” he murmurs.

“Only ‘perhaps’?”

“Only if we win."

I’d better hurry if I’m to thrash anything out with him.  He's going to be in demand during the attack - he's our essential Yrian expert.  In fact, why isn't he already in consultation with the captain and with Oreneg Vadon? 

For look, here we are!  Our flight is at last bringing us into sight of the distinctive landscape chosen by the enemy for his descent from the sky.  I see what looks like a pair of mountain ranges and a flat gap between them.  Names which I've learned now come to my mind: the mountains are really a single horse-shoe shaped range called the Toomsut Solyairn, with peaks called the Rnung Tror, the “Crying Mountains”, facing each other across the end-gap, the pass into the land called the Glank, which our flotilla is on the point of entering.

We’re currently at about fifteen hundred yards’ altitude, level with the Crying Mountain summits.  But we’re steadily dropping.  Slowing, too.  I trust we aren’t so stupid as to rush into a trap.  Why, though, is this Yrian envoy looking so gloomy?

Abon Gnaa and I have one of the big screens to ourselves.  We stare avidly into it for the first glimpse of the enemy – if that's a permissible term.

I glance again at Abon Gnaa just when his mouth purses into a moue of distaste.  It would seem he’s now focused upon the closer of the two fortresses that are each perched on one of the Rnung Tror.  Its name is Therrold.  We're currently drifting past it at a distance of about five miles.  The other one, Kyaptha, is about seven or eight miles off. 

Why the repugnance? 

Abon Gnaa murmurs, “They shouldn’t have settled here.”

“Who's 'they'?” say I.

No answer.  I didn't speak firmly enough, I suppose; anyhow I can guess what he must mean: the people who settled this area should, in his view, have kept away.

The flotilla is going extremely slowly now.  I decide I may have time to learn more before the crunch comes.  More loudly I ask about the settlers of Glank:

“Was it their fault that Yr picked this spot?”

Abon Gnaa utters a derisive pfufff.  I notice, belatedly, that he’s a short man; perhaps Yrians breed short, to save skyborne weight.  Shortness does not detract from him; oddly it seems to give him a posture of authority, a bricklike firmness among so many taller men.

“Yr has passed over this and other areas more times than your histories will ever know,” he says.  “We have seen much that the ground-dwellers missed.  Many times we saw nemaeans fly here to lay their eggs.  It had already become secretly infested eras ago, when Nenns settled in the Glank.”  He glances at me, notes my startlement, and adds: “I have told the captain.”

I'm learning fast, but why is it that I have got so far while learning so little?  The terrifying answer is, that the connective tissue of cause and effect appears to be even weaker in my case than it is for most Uranian life – and that its alternative, the pull of fate, which works the other way, from effect to cause, is all the stronger. 

Consequently what I deserve, and what I get, are stretching further apart than ever…  Let it be so, if only the skin of dreaminess is not peeled to reveal a nightmare. 

Yes, be useful, Yadon, if you possibly can.  Look hard and intelligently, Yadon, if you dare.  You never know, you might get the chance to contribute seriously after all.  Look, skimmer-swarms are headed this way.  They're zeroing on our skyship from both Therrold and Kyaptha, and they shall catch up in a minute or so... 

…It didn't take them long: representatives from the garrisons of the two forts have been conducted from the reception hold up to the control room and are even now conferring with Oreneg Vadon and the captain and officers of the skyship.  I watch them at it; they’re standing so close to me that it would take me about three seconds to walk in amongst them, and I suspect, if I did that, no one would object.  That’s the crazy dreamlike thing: whatever I do (or don’t do), nobody objects. 

I don't wish to abandon the view from "my" screen or the chance of quizzing Abon Gnaa, so I take no more than a couple of steps closer to the dialogue with the Glankers from the forts.  The men, I learn, are called Tyogh and Cojild; the woman, apparently their boss, is Op Flallik.  I hear more distinctly their shrilly apologetic responses to sharp questioning by Oreneg Vadon.  What are they admitting, with their piping raspy voices?  Apparently they concede that Yr has made some sort of alliance with the nemaean pests; my native opinion leaps to side with Oreneg  and I prejudially condemn them for having settled in this insectoid-infested region.  Wait, though, objects my Terran self: perhaps I should look to my own guilt in not having done my homework: I ought to have learned the basic facts of this scene before we arrived here.  But - scrub that: this is not a homeworky world... 

It says somewhere in the Good Book that when you’re hauled up before the authorities, you should take no thought about what you should speak, for the words to speak will be given to you when the moment comes.  Now, who are “the authorities” for me?  Well, the fateful answer is that here on the Seventh Planet "the authorities" consist of whatever crux, crunch, zero hour or moment of truth may await you at the next crossroads of your life.  …If only I could know the worst and get it over with.  But at least a stream of information is flowing at me now.  In particular I hear of the Xombs, the cold-volcanoes strewn in mid-plain, and no sooner is the word in my ear than I begin to see them ahead, emerging from the haze of distance.  The scene has opened out.  The broken ring of mountains, the Toomsut Solyairn, has receded on all sides into invisibility, and smaller shapes claim notice: the Xomb ice-cones perhaps seven hundred yards high poking up out of the ground, and, on their flanks, the mottlings of human habitation.

Nobody shouts, or even curses sotto voce, but breath hisses out of our lungs.  The viewscreen is telling us which of the Xombs has suffered the descent of Yr.

“Woe to Addra,” I hear Op Flallik say. 

Abon Gnaa mutters, “The others are not thereby reprieved: subjection likewise awaits Suyit, Kuzub, Morch, Pummun and Umst - if I know my people.”

Across the diminishing miles I observe that the unfortunate Addra is the middle-placed cone of a group of six.  Unlike its fellows it is now topped by a point of brilliance: the intruding glint of our enemy.

Steadily growing in our viewplates, the cone's summit addition develops a sparkle, a coruscating, many-coloured belt which must be a wall around Yr’s middle. 

At another order from the captain one of the officers presses a stud.  Cross-hairs appear on the viewscreens, preparatory to the aim of cannon.  I wonder whether the people of Addra, who've had the back luck to be chosen as the footstool of grounded Yr, will escape collateral damage if and when we fire at the oppressor.  How dearly must our victory be bought?

A worse doubt occurs to me: can we win at all?

Our altitude has lessened to the level of our enemy and I sense the menace and power that seems to radiate from every portion of the structure of Yr, from the bowl-shaped keel lined with strakes, up to the scintillating belt-wall, and higher to the summit complexity of interlacing skimways and helical towers.  That urban crown is the part that looks most normal, but it is not very ordinary at that, for, nebulously prowling like dinosaurian ghosts, blurry patches of fog are on the move in the thoroughfares of Yr.  It is, after all, the City of Mists, reputed to possess a long-standing symbiosis with certain species of cloud.

Rather than worry about the mists, though, I reckon yet more dire is the vagueness that begins to smoke from the gun-ports in the scintillating wall.  These must be the nemaeans. 

We know that individual insectoid motions are random, but that does not reassure us, for every Uranian knows from the saga of his race that the swarms have a hideous power of combination.  I too, Starsider though I be, have instincts no less educated by history, no less apt to utter the warning shriek, This is what created the anti-fleet that doomed Fiarr Fosn.  These head-sized buzzers are what brought down the curtain on the Phosphorus Era.

I hear restless murmurs from some officers around me.  They're dismayed, I can easily imagine, at what looks like our drift towards disaster, but the voice of Oreneg Vadon rises above the uncertainty:

"Achromatic Zone - on!"

Instantly the scene on the viewplates becomes monochrome.  I remind myself of what I have been told about this: namely it's not a change in our sensors alone, it's an actual field-effect.  For miles around it acts as a chromatic suppressant which truly blanks out all colour; the range now includes Yr itself.  Yes, the City of Mists has gone grey.

"The nemaeans must now be in confusion," Oreneg declares to all of us, "because they communicate through colour-codes."  His words are heard both here in our control room and, by video link, in the other ships of the squadron.  "In a monochromatic environment they must lose the power of combination.  Next we shall attack Yr from above.  All ranks above ordinary sponndar must don special cloaks." 

As he speaks he himself throws off his usual cloak and takes one from an orderly.  Other orderlies are going round the control room handing out replacement cloaks.  One is proferred to me.  Acting with the sense of being in a dream, I obediently throw aside my old Daon's cloak and put one on which seems grey to me; not because it is a real grey (as worn by a Noad) but because everything is now grey in the Achromatic Zone.  What does it matter?  We'll all soon be dead, for the plan to attack Yr from above is suicidal.

Not that I have any right to criticize Oreneg for thus tobogganing down his chute of destiny – who am I to object?  On this monster of a world, it’s all too easy to get pelted into idiocy by a hail of fate-charged facts.  Right now I’m failing, just as he is, to get enough of the picture.  We're both floundering in our attempts to combine wide supervision and narrowed insight.  Even as this truth occurs to me, a watch-officer cries out: “Stolon outbreak, sponndar O-V!”

Whatever this may mean, an amazing change has abruptly spread over the plain – and Oreneg Vadon is ignoring it! 

He's ignoring that the ground has come alive with a nightmare rumpling.  All around the conic Xombs and as far as the eye can see, subsurface wrigglings are in evidence.  It's as if a horde of giant worms have joined the coalition of dread.  Here's the stage at which I drop the reins of rationality: the time has arrived for me to give up all attempts to guess my way to the sense of things; time to avert my eyes from the viewscreens and, instead, scrutinize people's faces.

The locals – Op Flallik and her companions – look sick but acquiescent.  It's as though they were saying, “Typical, ain’t it.  As if it weren’t not enough to have to face the nemaean insectoids that await us at Yr.  No, we have to be plagued by these animated roots too.” 

My crew-mates are less defeatist, more censorious.  The mood around me is dense with recrimination aimed at the folk of Glank.  Resentment is expressed out loud in edgy phrases which all boil down to, "How could you do it?"  On wings they spread in my mind to mean: "You must have done a deal with the nemaeans when you settled here; so you must know what they're like; so how could you betray your humanity by allying with them now?" 

But all Oreneg says is, “Prepare for ejection, everyone.”

More dreamy, dreamy movement as we troop in pre-organized formation down the ramps toward the skyship’s hold.  I am slipping so far, failing to grasp so many things, I wince in advance at how I'm setting myself up for the nastiest of jolts, but what can I do to stop this dream turning rough?

We pass a holocubicle in which a life-size image of Sunnoad Brem Tormalla 80437 has at last flicked on.  As we file past it, its clear meaning makes us bow our heads wordlessly.  Oreneg alone says out loud, "He was a great Sunnoad, but now is not the time to praise what is gone or to acclaim the new.  Remember, as we limber for the fight, we must forget rank.  The insectoids understand human talk, so we must take care in the heat of battle to address each other as plain sponndar - not to give them targets by our use of titles!  What do titles matter anyway?  Victory is all.  Without victory we cannot survive.”  I reflect that such Churchillian rhetoric is misplaced, since we are certain to lose.

Quietly, obediently, in the cavernous hold, we mount our skimmers in rows.  Nothing to do now, but wait for the floor-hatches to open.  Wait, in other words, to get tipped onto the streets of Yr.

Meanwhile we have viewscreens to watch - not that what they show will help matters at all.  I look around at my fellows in the grey-dappled, colourless light.  One thing this Achromatic Field has accomplished: it has made it easier for us to regard each other as plain warriors.  Our present colour-blindness obliterates  any visual distinction of rank, just as Oreneg has required.  Our replacement cloaks, stitched with the initials of our names, plus facial recognition, will either suffice or not, for purposes of command.  Eyeing the screenscape once more, I reckon we have about five minutes left.  That's how long we've got before our course brings us directly above the enemy...  What is there to say?

Dempelath would gloat if he could see us now.

It’s funny – I can see the odds against us, so why can’t Oreneg?  Perhaps because the current pulling him along is blinkered in a different way from the one that swaddles my brain.  So for him it’s acceptable that we are due to plummet - that the nether hatches are about to open and drop us onto the streets of Yr.  So what if we immediately shall have to engage, hopelessly, all the overwhelming multitudes of human Yrians and their insectoid allies?  The track of his life says do this, so we must do it.

I could protest.  I could raise my voice.  I could shout that all this is stupid.  What have I to lose?  Nothing - so why does my mouth stay closed?  I now discover the interesting reason: which is that rather than make a fuss, it is easier just to go ahead and die.

Easier to die than to contradict the experts?  Wait - heck, I'm an expert too!  In despite of everything, a force pushes me at the last possible moment to stand up, astride my vehicle, and open my mouth and allow what I think to cry from my throat.

“Pilots of the squadron, this is Yadon speaking!  Reduce altitude, and aim for the base of the Xomb!  Follow me, sponndarou of Syoom, when I give the word.  Rather than drown in the ocean of enemies that awaits us, we shall exit sooner and fight upwards with a boundary at our backs - you'll see what I mean - ”

I can't believe it: I’ve just gone against the Sunnoad.  For of course Oreneg is now Sunnoad.  As yet un-proclaimed, yet he must be the one.  I therefore, using my authority as zarromzyr to contradict his plan, am guilty of the unthinkable.

But wait, it's not quite unthinkable because Uranian history allows for Correctors.

Yes, it looks like that's the rare and solitary way I've picked: looks like I’m in the tradition of those who stand up to the wearer of the golden cloak and tell him he’s wrong and – by force if necessary – set him right; just imagine: "Corrector Yadon", that’s who I am!  The drawback to this game is, death is the penalty for trying and failing. 

On the other hand, right here death faces us all anyway, and that's the scintillant justification of my leap from figurehead to actual leader.   

The thread of a chance has emerged from the ooze of despair.  Whatever remains after you have eliminated the impossible must, however improbable, be the way to survive the battle.  Here my adaptation of Sherlock Holmes declares that what’s "impossible" is to call my fate-wave a liar.  Since it can't be a liar, what remains, however improbable, is - victory. 

The means of victory?  The thinnest of clues, which everybody else appears determined to ignore.  But at least nobody  has so far interrupted me, which is a good sign.  Nobody has put me under restraint or shot me, which are even better signs.  Now for the final peroration:

“Not being subject to your Uranian phobias (you've all heard, I know, of my Earth-tinge) I can, if necessary, order the unspeakable.  And because you will allow me this, we are going to win.  You'll soon see what I mean when we make a wide-beam attack at the join between the opposed forces of the stolons and the nemaeans.  Pilot, head exactly for the base of Addra Xomb.  Yes – keep that course – keep it exact.  On a count of three – two – one – eject!”

The floor falls away from under us all.  My necessary skills awaken.  Despite pitching trajectory and buffeting winds I manage with hand on throttle to achieve the vital minimum of control during the plunge to normal skimming altitude, and I get down without a crash.  Not all my followers are so fortunate – I see some dozens lie wrecked on the gralm – but most of them are hovering in readiness to follow the lead I must give them without delay.

My choice of landing, which must have surprised the enemy, has equally amazed my own side, who nevertheless have opted to be glued to my fate, otherwise they wouldn't have jumped with me; but they still don't understand, whereas I - I have a glimmering.  On this plain writhing with the tips of stolons, those root-tips, even as we watch, greet our arrival by extruding a multitude of sting-shapes, a hideous sight on which I'm pinning all my hopes. 

Meanwhile our enemies - Yrians and their unhuman allies the nemaean insectoids - spill down towards us from over the conical mountain's rim.  Our change of approach has surely delighted them; they must be thinking we've made things easier for them: rather than defend against assault from above, all they need now do is swoop to meet our attack from below.  The fools.  They're doing what I want them to do, though I admit that the numbers don't look good for us.  We could spit most of the human fighters from Yr before their balance recovered from their downward rush, but we won’t be allowed to, for each one of them is accompanied by a dozen cranial nightmares.

To have seen nemaeans in pictures is scant preparation.  Their three lidless eyes stare blankly as stones while their back-hairs quiver at propeller speed with a Doppler whine pitched high as they approach and low as they recede.  Their tactic is to smash our frail bodies with their rocklike impacts, though they can also kill with their teeth.  One of these creatures hurtles at me so close that I feel stabbed by the mere sight of it; my mind wobbles towards insanity.  Luckily my laser kills the thing faster than thought.  Then another attack, another escape which leaves me wondering how long I can be let off so lightly.  Why aren't we all broken already?

It's because their flights are disorganized.  I start to remember that it's the greyness of everything in this Achromatic Zone that robs the nemaeans of their power of combination.  Still, the disorganized threat is dire enough: sheer numbers raining chaotically down.  Besides, the human Yrians have now joined the fight too.  My sponnd-arm is almost wrenched in a laser duel with a warrior who comes at me on my right (his skimmer slicing the air as I dodge): I become aware that I again have out-fence and killed my foe but now his fourfold escort are hurtling at me, gnashing, and it looks like I can cleave two of them at most before my curtain falls.  So this is it; I brace myself to discover what death is like.  Yet for some flukey reason my time continues: two of the creatures have collided with each other while I dispose of the other pair.  It occurs to me, though, that I’m supposed to be leading, not merely staying alive. 

Well, here's a moment when nothing's coming at me; but I hesitate to make use of the breather to issue orders.  I hardly dare even to whisper to myself since the nemaeans' superlative hearing (it is believed) can even catch our subvocalizations...

Perhaps anyhow the scales have tipped - for we have begun to advance up the slope of the Xomb!  That can only mean that the stolons have played the part I hoped they’d play. Thanks to their subsonic interference, they have degraded sound for the insectoids.  As vital, this, as our Achromatic zone which robbed them of colour.  The pervasive nemaean hum has blurred - come to think of it - into a rougher roar. 

The stolons have thus given vital momentum to our attack.  Satisfied, they're now retracting, disappearing back into the ground, having splurged their crucial, once-in-an-era blast at their ancient enemies the insectoids.  Ah, the understanding that comes to me!  The pressure of my wave, force-feeding me with the insight that plant-life can borrow energy from its future!  How dared I thus count on this tying-up of loose ends?  No one will dare to ask me.  Fate-surfing is not for talk -

Unless, that is, Dempelath wins.  In which case, no more unspoken elegance of events.  They'll shrivel in the glare of exposure.

…Our upward surge has brought us at last into the streets of Addra.  We skim among buildings which appear not too different from Earthly houses.  Faces, wan with fear or shock, stare at us from windows.  Not one of these townsfolk comes out to help us in our fight to liberate them from the Yrians.  I guess a phobic horror of the awakened stolons has kept the population indoors.  Well, that’s their problem, and I dismiss the thought.  More important to me right now is that visibility has improved, despite all the buildings around us, because the swarms of nemaeans have thinned out, more of my followers recognize me, or rather recognize the initials dyed onto my cloak, and I'm more effectively leading, with arm-waving gestures which are of some use at last. 

We still meet with resistance when insectoids buzz at us from round corners.  Sometimes they're accompanied by Yrians: the killing in the greyness is a solemn but not a dreadful thing, a distasteful job, the remains of a sad dream which might have grown far worse.

The gradient eases; we’re almost at the volcano’s rim.  When we get to it, we’ll be in sight of Yr itself, nesting on the crater.  Here, if anywhere, is the place for a final counter-attack, the enemy'sa last gasp.

It comes.  The human foes are few, but the nemaeans are still numerous.  They storm around us mindlessly, no cleverer than the lifeless rebound of molecules in an excited gas.  It seems they'll never recover in time from the debilities of their damaged sight and hearing.

At last, quietness, the sudden blank silence of victory.

The slope and the town of Addra lie below us; here on the rim we can look back and see the battlefield clear.  If any foes are left, they are lying low and exhausted.  Meanwhile, ahead, Yr, balanced in its crater-cradle, towers before us. 

Pale splotches round the lower edge of its hull suggest that its descent has squashed Addra's crop, which consists of fields of crenth, the most concentrated and valuable strain of vheic.  The economic damage is considerable: but what really counts is Yr will not similarly squash the liberty of this land.  Having made the terrible mistake of abandoning the air and risking a battle on land, the grounded City of Mists must submit to the authority of the Sunnoad, perhaps for the first time in its aeons of history

Around me gather a small knot of my men.  We are still under orders not to reveal the identity of the officers amongst us - for it is likely that some of the insectoids remain on the loose, and until the Achromatic Zone is switched off and we are thus given the all-clear for communication, we shall guard our words.

A young fighter whose name I know to be Kusk smoothes his torn cloak amd remarks, in a sadly wondering tone, "I killed today for the first time, sponndar."

"It was my first battle too," I say.  "Death,” I add, “is a solemn but not a dreadful thing – on this world.”

He turns me a sharp look - he knows who I am - and says “Yes, sponndar?”  Young, interested, eager for truth, he's seizing the chance to converse with the Earthmind.

I improve on my statement: “On this world we all know we have other lives to come.  But - in addition to people, other things can die.  Things bigger than we.  Causes.  Cultures.  Entire civilizations.  No reincarnation for them.  They are mortal."

“That," Kusk nods slowly, "is why we are right to fear.”

He's quick to see the point.  I wonder what kinds of disturbances have filtered down as news to the common people of Syoom.  In other words, what damage Dempelath is doing, long-range.  It’s all so vague as yet but I have a strong hunch it will get more precise as time goes on.  Unless we stop it.  And stop it we must and will.  Brem Tormalla is no more, but Oreneg Vadon is no fool either.  With him as Sunnoad the great mission against the tyrant of Olhoav must have a likelihood of success.

Just as I think of Oreneg, he comes into sight, appearing from among a group of fighters some fifty yards away on the crater rim.  He is walking towards me.

The men around me withdraw a token distance, to allow a conference between myself and the Grardesh hero.  By now, they too must know who he has become.  But because the landscape is still grey, and secrecy still in force, they are careful not to show too much respect – yet. 

As the new Sunnoad approaches I feel like I'm inside an old black-and-while film epic.  I can almost hear the music.

Oreneg Vadon comes up to me, says "Look," and points.

I take out my pocket telescope and train the instrument towards the summit of Yr.  “What am I supposed to see?”

“The proff that you were right, sponndar.  The Dangling Rag.  Sign of surrender."

After a couple of sweeps I spot it: a pole with a downcurved top from which a sheet flutters.

“So that is that,” I say inanely, folding the telescope.  “Er... in which case, although I, er, Corrected you somewhat high-handedly, the outcome has justified my insubordination?”

Oreneg firms his lips.  "You sound hopeful, that you can be classed as... a Corrector?" 

I can’t read his expression at all.  Is the new Sunnoad really going to punish me for my intervention which after all did win the battle?  Quick: check: did I not do right?  Yes, certainly!  With anxious rapidity I go over it all again.  Our unexpectedly redirected landing was a valid and vital Correction to his strategy and though I don’t know how I had the cheek to carry it through, I nevertheless did so and here we are, victorious and alive.

Then why is so poker-faced about it?  He seems slow to admit my status as Corrector; or, worse than that, he looks about to deny it!  Perhaps he can’t stand the idea of it.  It does seem a blot, so soon in his reign.  But a Sunnoad ought to be big enough to accept that, surely?

He's shaking his head, and now I see a quite ruthless grin.

“Oh no,” he muses, “you’re not a Corrector.  In fact you’re the one person on the planet who cannot be a Corrector.”

"That's plok," I say, feeling death close, and reacting with indignation.  “You mean an Earthmind cannot participate in your institutions?  It didn't bar me from the dayonnad of Olhoav – “ 

Now he has tilted his head on one side.  I tell myself to stop blustering.  The grin has mellowed into a sadder smile.

"Wait just a moment," Oreneg says.  "I'm getting the signal from the Ruuzna-Ptorrai."

"What signal?" says I, feeling crossly obtuse.  I tell myself to shut up and not not interrupt his communication with our flagship.  Not surprisingly, he doesn't answer for some seconds.  Then -

"Ah, the surrender has been confirmed.  The skyship has received a formal message from the rightful Noad of Yr, Rael Odiram himself, who has now been released from imprisonment.  He says that Langhebli Dostomon, the leader of the Grounder Faction, in other words our main Yrian enemy, has been killed in the battle, and that the Faction’s entire organization is dissolved.  So our victory is complete."

Click!  No more greyness!  A never-to-be-forgotten moment of return to colour!  In a shock of dazzle and splendour, the sky, the volcano’s surface, the city of Yr, the plains of the Glank stretching away below, are all clad in their hues once more.  That includes us, our clothes, and, God help me, that cloak they put on me before we left the skyship –

Golden, the cloak.  Uhhhhhh..... it is not Oreneg Vadon after all, it is none other than Neville Yeadon of London / Nyav Yuhlm of Olhoav / Yadon the wanderer of Syoom, otherwise known as “me”, whom fate has chosen to make the current guest appearance in that variable spark that flickers through Uranian history in the long count of reigns.  I have never felt so small.

"So it's all up to you now, Sunnoad Yadon 80438," says Oreneg Vadon.



Uranian Throne Episode 23:   

On the Eve