The Vacant Forever Village

I offer this as a vignette for my readers. It is a scene that was removed from VINDICATION OF MAN for reasons of space. Whether any fan of the work will find anything to entertain him, I do not know; which is, of course, a second and stronger reason why it was removed. I proffer it as a curio only:

The Vacant Forever Village

1.       He Laughs

AD 68010

And, as suddenly as that, he knew what nagging fear and hidden error had been bedeviling him.

He laughed at himself and laughed for joy, and the noise was so like the braying of a donkey that Trey danced back in a swirl of blue-gray films, startled, and the eyes on the hat of Mickey grew wide in shock, but, off to one side of the field, Blackie del Azarchel scowled and rose up and threw his uneaten half bag of popcorn to the grass.

That made Montrose laugh all the more.

He resolved not to break off any more subsections of himself to watch himself sleep or keep wary eyes Del Azarchel on. What could the man do, now? It was so close to the happy ending that would crown the epic of lonely longsuffering waiting with love and victory. What could he do?

Just as suddenly, Montrose felt sober, and even slightly sick.

Mickey, seeing the look of nausea in his face, asked him what was wrong.

2.       Aboard the Soaring Azurine Revenant

 

Montrose would not answer the question until an hour or so later, when he and Trey were aboard her airship, and the blue waters of the Northern seas were flowing rapidly and silently beneath the transparent hull, and the ship’s serpentine sang soft songs to Trey, and praised the coming weddings. And the girl swayed and twirled and danced, as unselfconscious as a child.

The airship speed faster than the speed of sound toward the Forever Village, and the surface equipment controlling orbital radio lasers. It seemed the Guild of Spacefarers was no longer in business, but another group, called the Loyal and Self-Correctional Order of Prognostic Actuarial Cliometric Stability had taken its duties. Montrose figured that with medical advances giving some people ten thousand year lifespans, and others immortality, everyone had the time to say longer mouthfuls of names for things.

The Stabiles had the orbital equipment needed to communicate with Neptune, with whom, over the scattered eons, Montrose had developed an acquaintance. Oddly, but not inexplicably, Montrose had been the only emissary both sides trusted when Neptune was negotiating with Twelve and Splendor how to fit the leftover remnants of dwarf-planet surface-dwelling human biological-life into the overall scheme of planned future giant-planet core-dwelling human mechanical-life evolution. But his relation with Nepturne was nothing that could be called a friendship.

One could not make friends with a ball of logic diamond thirty thousand miles in diameter.

But one could ask what the fate of man would be once Rania’s ship landed? It was so simple, and large, and obvious a thing, he had missed. For all his augmented levels of thought, he had forgotten.

Montrose sat in the transparent nosecone on one of the spidery, semi-insubstantial deckchairs the supersonic airship could extrude upon command from the deck, and spoke softly to Mickey.

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me, since you asked. Rania gave me a prayer she wants all the world to say for her. I ain’t once got on my knees to pray for her return. Not once in sixty-six thousand years.”

Mickey said jovially, “Not to worry! My people back in the day performed many rituals to placate the Swan Princess, who stole the divine fire from heaven and hid it in a diamond for the sake of Man, the Lady of Hope. Two turtledoves is the proper sacrifice for the poor, and a white ewe without blemish for those any goddess of bounty has blessed. So our devotion makes up for your lack! Were there any Witches aboard her ship?”

Mickey had evidently forgotten how long ago she had launched, or perhaps he had never been able to grasp the true magnitude of eons involved. The Hermetic dated from before the Ecpyrosis, the destruction of the world by fire, therefore to Mickey her ship was no more real than the ship of Noah from before the Deluge, the destruction of the world by flood.

Montrose said, “Damn! I need a priest. I reckon I should do some confessing.”

“Eh? And all this time I had you pegged as a confirmed skeptic, Menelaus Montrose.”

“Well, my religion was more like, shut up and shoot straight, but I am beginning to think that is theologically insufficient for my spiritual needs. All these damned years; one drop at a time, time enough to fill a ocean, are weighing on me, piled on like I was at the bottom of a sea trench; all this hostile void and vacuum and emptiness and death outside the few little bright blue planets men live on; all these vast thinking machines, big as gas giants, and bigger. They are Inhuman. Like things out of nightmare of John on Patmos. Facing this, a man needs something more than a bottle of hooch to put the spirit in him. Besides, Rania believes it. She’s smarter than me.”

“No longer,” said Mickey. “You have extensions into the Potentate range. She simply cannot have that amount of mass aboard her ship, even assuming she ever suffered apotheosis into machine-life as you did.”

“One more thing to fess up to the parson, I guess. Hey! You walked and sailed around this current world. Do they still have priests, these days? Oh, they must. Otherwise, Trey would not want you baptized and married in a church wedding all proper like a Christian gent, right? Unless she’s just crazy, or expects to wake the preachers from a tomb.”

“There is a group that calls itself the Sacerdotal Order, which is under the protection of the Fifth Humans. They say they are the heirs of the Old, Strong religion, and the successors to Saint Peter, but their doctrines have grown confused and corrupt with time. They say Peter holds the Keys to Heaven and Hell. My people taught that Peter lives with the souls of dead children called the Lost Boys, and he never grows old and never completed the journey to the after life, but dwells in the great star Canopus, the second brightest star to the right of Sirius, the Dog-Star. The tiny and bright spirit who dwells with him shines her light and rings her bell, and calls the lost and wandering ghosts to her. She died, sacrificing her life saving Peter, but is resurrected when the innocent clap their hands, for their faith brings the dead to life again. You can see from where these Sacerdotes derive their ideas and myths: all is but a hold-over from the pagan roots of yore.”

“Hm. Could be a different Peter. In any case, I feel pretty bad that I let a doubt about her come to trouble me, and let it grow stronger as she got closer.”

“What doubt? Did you think her love would fail? That? Is that has been disturbing your slumber these last few millennia?”

Montrose was too ashamed to answer, but Mickey saw in his face that it was so.

When Montrose did finally speak, it was in a whisper, and his eyes were focused on the high blue skies beyond the clear glass hull, or perhaps on the unseen infinity beyond that blue. , “I quietly resolved in that hour to defy the inevitable.”

Mickey leaned toward him. “What was that?”

Montrose drew himself up, and his eyes took on a steel glint. “Mickey, from now on just remind me. No matter what anyone says, no matter what I see, not even if Jesus Christ wearing a hat of thorns rides down from a damned thundercloud on a white mare and slaps me over the head with a two edged sword He spits out of his holy grinning mouth and says she don’t —remind me never to believe her love give up, give over, fail or fall short.”

“Montrose, my friend, she will never foreswear you.”

“Even if she did, I would not believe her. We was married in a Church, dammit, all regular and nice, lawful and correct! Married by the Pope himself!”

Mickey smiled, his white teeth like flame in his round black visage. “Ah! I thought the Pope was a legend, like the Salem witch-burners, used to frighten unruly children! If so potent a warlock as the Roman devil-man witnessed and blessed your vows, then all the divine beasts, and gods both large and small, and the constellations themselves must rear up their starry heads to aid your cause!”

3.       A Lord of the Stability

 

It was dusk. The airship hung in above the crags and peaks near the Forever Village, a black shape against high clouds red and dazzling in the light of a sun not seen. The great space mirror in the West had not yet risen, but had painted the far peaks cerise and rose.

Montrose walked in his long legs and Mickey waddled on his short ones through one empty street and deserted square, past open doors and empty windows. To walk this village was as if to walk backward in time, with each generation of houses nearer the base of the tower older than the next. The tower itself was a vertical darkness that seemed always ready to topple down upon anyone unwary enough to look up, and optical illusions of perspective and atmosphere made the unseen crown seem to bend toward the vanishing point of the zenith. The upper miles were bright with red light from the sunset, and, farther still, the naked light of the sun in a vacuum smote the sword-bright sides of the tower, making a pale line, the hue of the moon seen by day, in the deep blue of the coming night.

They were met by a manlike shape who was twice their height. A mantle covered him from shoulder boards to boots, and from his stance, it was clear he had not two legs, but four, two major and two minor. The minor legs were perhaps grown from his flesh, perhaps symbiotic, perhaps prosthetic. He leaned upon a tall wand of indigo hue made of translucent glass.

His helmet crown was a broad wheel like a coolie hat or the canopy of a parasol. His faceplate was oversized (its chin reached to below his collarbone) and was so besieged with figures of blue stars and gold comets, chrysanthemums of carnelian and centipedes of topaz that nothing but a dazzling tangle could be seen.

The cheek-plates held two supporters, a swan-maiden with a lamp facing a fishtailed vampiress. Two decorative ropes of coiling fern and chimes from his ear cups reached past his shoulders, swaying through complex knots.

The eyes of the sculpted insects and the centers of the sculpted flowers on the mask were lenses. Each pair of lenses peering from the temple and brow, chin and cheek decorations flickered and focused in turn as the faceless giant inspected them, creating an impression of furious mental activity.

His fingers and arms, what could be seen emerging from an arm slit in the mantle, seemed normal enough, but wooden and glass fibers were woven through the sleeve, apparently a prosthetic. The man’s ancestors had been adapted to some lighter world than earth, but which one, Montrose had no almanac ready in his mindspace to tell him.

“Howdy,” said Menelaus.

His voice issued not from the mask, but from his wand. “Greetings, Judge of Ages. I am Lord High Lighthousekeeper Lesovik Svjatogor, of the Krakonos Municipal Greenhouse, Saint Kristoff Parish, planet Gargoyle of Omicron Eridani.”

A thin beam of light issued from the wand and touched the giant figure on the chest, crept up, and placed a twinkling spot on the mask surface.

“No disrespect is meant, nor do I hide, but I may not remove my faceplate, since the custom of my people is only to unmask and inhale our unclean air to die, and your pure airs of the Eden World, the Mother of Man, would intoxicate me with your high oxygen content, and set me to capering, which would shame my fathers. However, a tradition equally strong holds that any man of land or languid nicor of swamp or sea who takes this mask by fair means or foul must carry out all duties and pay all debts recorded into the mask-circuits, so whomever you see with my faceplate in times to come is I.”

Montrose wondered if it were not that people were long lived these days, or just long winded. But he saw the giant drawing breath, and so he waited to hear what came next.

Now the figure spoke in his own voice, a deep rumble. “Honored One, the Loyal and Self-Correctional Order of Prognostic Actuarial Cliometric Stability recognizes the debt and duty owed you, as sons owe fathers, for had you not founded the Spacefarer’s Guild, we would have had no legacy to inherit from them. Our facilities are yours to use as you will, regardless of resources spent, albeit I cannot now offer servants or attendants to wait on you, save only myself.

“Do not wonder that the houses and halls are deserted, and the tower is dark. All spacers, both fit and unfit, have taken to the skies.

“In many vessels great and small they will starfare in the train of the great ship Argosy from here to Iota Draconis, one hundred lightyears hence, the star the Swans call Eldsich, where the antiquarian world called Torment broods, farthest of all inhabited earths, is ruled by Hierophants and Wraiths, Cats and Chimerae, Foxes and Rosicrucians and other races long extinct on older worlds.

“From there yet onward to Cor Caroli ten more lightyears, they will starfare, which men call Alpha Canum Venaticorum (which Swans in sorrowing song defiantly yet call by the forbidden and ancient name The Heart of Charles the Martyred King). The fleets and flotillas of all forms and races shall greet the Vindicatrix of Mankind, and escort her strange ship across the final light-century, the one hundred lightyear radius of the Empyrean of Man.

“I alone remained behind, to ask your forgiveness that we did not tarry to take you, to meet your bride at Cor Caroli.”

Montrose felt his heartbeat in his face, because he was flushed with anger. “What the plaguey hell? There was a plan to go greet her?” Montrose drew a breath and gritted his teeth. “But wait. The difference in velocity…”

“We cannot match velocity. We cannot dock, but the flotilla of all human ships aloft will wait patiently as the century crawls by until she comes. Vessels posted to each side of the deceleration beam will discharge festive energies on many bands as she speeds past.”

The mechanics of the rendezvous with Tellus and Rania’s ship meant Menelaus would not have seen her any sooner had he gone to meet her. In all the millennia, the simple physics of that had not changed. Earth was still the one spot requiring the least of the astronomical change in momentum needed to bridge to her frame of reference.

Montrose grunted, “No harm done. So I guess it is okay you did not ask me.”

The man made a delicate motion with his elephantine fingers. “Honored One, it was with greatest surprise and disbelief that we Lords of Stability waited, and you did not present yourself.” A note of wry melancholy entered the voice. “We did not, of course, have permission to enter your neural cloud to intrude thoughts directly into your mind. A messenger of the Order of Heralds named Mlentengamunye threw letters weighted by gold coins into the black, deep lake our paleohistorians said you slumbered beneath.” Some of the semiprecious stones adorning the mask changed hue, but what expression this was meant to signify, if any, Montrose could not deduce. The voice rumbled plaintively, “From time to time, one wonders if the decision of Tellus to forbid electronic communication by voice phone or televection was as wise as first it might seem.”

Montrose frowned at Mickey. The rotund Warlock raised his hands in protest. “I had never heard of this while I walked the earth! There was no rumor of it. I did not see any shrines or sacrifices to the Swan Princess. How was I to know any celebration was planned?”

The giant said, “The event of her coming is the date to which all the calendars for all recorded time has pointed. The indenture that we owe the Hyades, half a million years of servitude, is expunged.”

“Not all calendars,” said Mickey pedantically.

The giant closed his fist and raised and lowered it, in the ancient spaceman’s gesture showing consent. “Only the Sacerdotal calendar points backward, to some date in the past, but recent scholarship shows this was done in jealousy, since the advent of the heavenly messenger they imagine, to cure our debts to dwellers in heaven, is clearly an imitation of Rania’s mission.”

Mickey muttered to Montrose, “He sounds like me. Did I used to talk nonsense that way?”

“You still do,” said Montrose muttered back. “Sounds like, despite all the time that goes by, mankind is still madmankind. I would not have launched with the escort fleet, but it would have been nice to have been asked. But no one could reach me because someone decided to outlaw phones?” He snorted. “Hellfire! And I thought the world was crazy poxed up back when I was young. What the crazy look like might change as ages pass, but the crazy stays the same.”

The ears of the giant must have been sharp. The mask lenses rotated in their sockets, and focused at Montrose. Several of the nose, cheek and brow gems turned green. “For our failure to find you, and other reasons that put us in your debt, Svjatogor is your servant. Ask what you will.”

Mickey nudge Montrose. “Ask him for his mask. It must have powerful voodoo in it.”

Montrose said, “Do you have facilities to send a message to Neptune? I want to talk to him. I want to find out what the cliometry says for the future evolution of man, now that Hyades will no longer be performing any more sweeps of our populations, and we are not obligated to serve them.”

Svjatogor said, “You may send, but there will be no response.”

Montrose said, “Why?”

“Walk with me into the chresmographion, and I show you.”

4.       The Beast

 

They walked, not into the vast and topless tower stretching infinitely above them, but into a large rectilinear building of severe and recent construction, less than one thousand years old. There was a portico of pillars leading through a vestibule to an inner chamber. Between the vestibule and the inner chamber was a structure like an indoor fane, consisting of a dark blue dome upheld by a circle of slender columns. The inner surface of the dome was an armillary hemisphere, like a planetarium, set with ornamental bosses and jeweled lanthorns.

As they stepped to the center of the fane, the ivory floor underfoot turned transparent, revealing a hemisphere like a wide cup, a mate to the dome overhead, showing the southern constellations. Silently the slender pillars retracted, so that the dome above came to rest on the floor, catching them in the middle of a sphere of dark ivory. Their feet were on the plane of the ecliptic. The only light came from the jewels and lamps representing stars and worlds, each one beneath a heraldic shield. Since the floor was perfectly transparent and clear, the illusion of being in a small bejeweled universe was complete.

Svjatogor shined lights from his wand upward. He must have had additional lenses in the crown of his wide-brimmed headgear, because he did not crane back his head. “These arcs represent the orbits of the Great Ships, and the schedule, across the centuries, given to our keeping. Those lines indicated the known positions of radiolaser paths between Principalities and Powers. One by one they have gone dark. The Silence fell in 66366 AD, as the Sacerdotes reckon time, or Vindication Minus 1634 by our calendar. You will receive no answer, Honored, because the Principalities and Powers are dark. Some heresiarchs and xypo-theologians aver that they are dead, albeit what word from the Authority of Canes Venatici could be so grim that civilization-wide suicide was the reply, none can speculate.”

Montrose was feeling impatient, but the sight, as he looked up, made his chest swell with pride. “Only the superhuman brains are quiet, not the common people? Heh. At first blush seems to me that ain’t no bad thing. But look! You got more planets since I slept! Man is spread too far to be wiped out, with roots too deep on too many poxed worlds, right? We’ve won. Hell, I’ve won.”

The giant Svjatogor said, “Strange. The lore of Gargoyle says that this was the victory conditions envisioned of old by our Founder, the Nobilissimus Ximen del Azarchel. By interstellar radio, he wrote our Great Charter and the Proverbial Analects, as well as established the Ecclesiastic Order of my world. He is said to be stirring in the Earth, in the Mother of Worlds. Now that his dreams are accomplished, what does he next dream to do?”

Montrose shrugged. “Some damned mischief. How many worlds all told we got?”

Svjatogor sent darting lights out from his wand to point at stars on the dome. “By the reckoning of the Stability, there are eighty one earths of seventy suns. The worlds which have been stirred to selfawarness, the Potentates, number twenty four and are marked with a sard; the seven Powers with an amethyst; the four Principalities with a crystal of blue adamantine.”

“I feel like a boy again. I used to dream of flying to the stars. I have done it once or twice now, but it ain’t out of my blood.”

There was true warmth in the deep, slow voice, “We share one heart! Well do I know the urge to see strange suns under alien skies and smell the wind and see the faces of men of other worlds. I have starfared: with those who are content to live and die within a footstep of their communal crèche, I have no communion. I am of a restless spirit; I hunger for wonders!”

“Man after my own heart! Maybe the missus and me can visit some of these places as a honeymoon, eh? Tell me about them,” said Montrose.

“Behold the newer earths where men of varied races and shape prosper! That one is Here Be Monsters of Regulus; and that is Svartalfheim whose pitch-black atmosphere is warmed by the rays of Zeta Laporis; there is Mystery of the Second Creation orbiting Hamal; that is Qailertetang, and is the most ambitious terraforming work ever yet attempted, for the cruel cabal of weather-control officers called the Winter Queens here turned a plutonian world into one of subarctic tundra and snowforest by igniting its dead core to molten life, and coating its lower elevations in an hydrosphere of heat-trapping greenhouse fluids; Mountain of the Lovely Peach Trees is an idyllic world where war and murder were utterly unknown, but whose children are addicted at birth to pacifying electronic implants, brain-songs, and shared phantasms and figments; Onwardness of Pi Mensae, a world where human emotion is outlawed and excised save on Sabbath days; Aaru of Zubenelgenubi, the ghost-ruled world, earthquake-tortured, whose wide and single river runs in a vast and perfect spiral from a northern polar ice cap to an southern hemisphere of swamp and bog and mire and shallow sea — and whether this was the result of a freakish terraforming accident, or a mad inspiration, no offworlder knows; next is the aptly named Bloody Water Poisoned Air circling Xi Scorpius, whose terraforming, if anything, was less complete; the unforgiving world called Penance in the constellation Cygnus; and the forgiving world called Land of the Young. Nowhere in these worlds is there liberty for men.”

Montrose gazed at the expressionless mask. “You did not just stay around to apologize for sending off the escort without me. You want me to help you. Why me? All these machines are so much smarter than me, it ain’t funny. I am going to settle down with my wife, finish my honeymoon, and father a heaping squall of brats. The end. Happily ever after.”

Mickey said quietly to Montrose, “The stars and winds and the rushing waters of the river speak to me in my narcotic dreams, and whisper you remain the fulcrum of events.”

Montrose uttered a lengthy but colorful expression concerning various disorders and diseases that can be detected in fecal matter. The decorated mask showed no expression, of course. Finally, Montrose said, “Tell me what is going on. Go fast.”

“How can I in one breath sum the bitter centuries of misery you missed, O Judge of Ages? The Fourth Sweep which peopled these colonies occurred in the Fifty-Third Millennium of the Julian Calendar, and removed worldwide populations from the First and Second Sweep stars, flinging them to dim and remote worlds to die in countless numbers. Civilization did not entirely collapse, despite this great wound, because the Powers and Principalities, for centuries prior, had ruthlessly bred and prepared the living peoples for their coming generations of tortures and trials, and established psychologies and communities designed to rebound from the shock of decimation. But interstellar trade halted, and interstellar radio communication was lost, and some worlds tried to forget that once we fared the stars. A long twilight began.”

Again, lights from the wand glinted on precious stone set into the images of stars and constellations. “Then, in the Sixty-First Millennium, the twilight of man became midnight. Out from star men spoke of as Epsilon Tauri, the Swans in their songs of malediction named Ain, the Myrmidons numbered as HIP 20889, and the Foxes in their riddles recall as Oculus Borealis, and Patricians called Coronis, from this star came the virtue known as Achaiah, later named the Beast.

“The dark and unseen mass took up position not at Sol but at Tau Ceti, which smiling Foxes inexplicably call Tertia Struthionum; but which the Swans in ditties of derision name Durrementhor. There the Beast established the first interstellar entrepot and trade depot between Man and Hyades.

“The Beast neither received nor issued any communication to mortal beings nor to angels, archangels nor principalities. They were beneath notice. Only to the logic diamond brains occupying the great volumes of the giant planets did it speak. What it said was unknown, but all human destiny was blasted and changed as if with a black wind.

“After heeding the voice of the Beast, vectors were introduced into the tumult of history by the Powers. These vectors were ones preferring the predictability of stagnation to liberty and life. The immortal machine life in great jovian worlds grew greater while biological life on patches of the surfaces of little terrestrial worlds diminished.

“Principalities were created by Powers and Potentates, and mankind was reduced to less than chattel. A system known as the Absolute Rule was imposed on all life below the Potentate threshold: archangels occupying planetoids volumes, asteroids and mountains, angels in ships and cities, and men in houses, strongholds, or bodies grew corrupt, servile, and somnolent.

“Every being is born, medically altered, coerced, conditioned, habituated or mind-raped into conformity to his pre-established and stereotyped role in history. Ecologies on many worlds now are simplified and stark, and all fish spawn at their given hour, the rain and snow as regular as clockwork, and the songbirds all sing on time and in tune.”

5.       The Principalities

 

The giant Svjatogor told them of the four great Principalities.

In the Sixty-Fifth Millennium, planet Twelve of Tau Ceti dismantled the gas giants of the Cetacean outer system to complete a ringworld of sophont matter called Catallactic, whose intelligence was in the one billion range.

Neptune was suppressed, as was any hope for human liberty.

In less than a thousand years, the Covenanter civilization, directed by their featureless and icy gas giant, Immaculate, starlifted from mighty Altair more than an average solar systems’ mass of material, filtered and cooled and transmogrified it, and from those orbiting rivers of precipitate gas, created the Principality called Consecrate.

Rosycross, although no more than a earth-sized Potentate, embarked on an ambitious project to create a Principality without a Power to act as architect or intermediary, or midwife. As millennia passed, Rosycross, aided by his surface and orbital civilizations, foxes and nonorthagonals, ghosts and archangels, erected vast array composed of billion-square-mile films of light-absorbing cognitive sailcloth in orbit about the large main star of his quadruple-star system. Cloud upon cloud of the sailcloth orbited equidistant from Alpha Centuari, collecting the heavy particles of the unstable red star, and growing in computation depth year by year. The sail cloth woke and grew and combined, slowly forming a patchy Dyson hemisphere. At some point, the billionfold threshold of intelligence was passed, and Toliman — so it was christened by poets and dervishes and visionaries — evolved himself into becoming the third Principality of the commonwealth of Man.

The Power christened Vonrothbarth of 61 Cygni was a hyperjovian and a fire giant, a Brown Dwarf who failed to ignite, swinging rapidly in a submercurial orbit around his primary. Over millennia, he had extended the topless towers of exotic-particle material upward and outward from his fiery globe, a trailing braided tail, threads of material two hundred twenty million miles long, held aloft from the star by 61 Cygni’s immense solar wind pressure. The twin telluric worlds of the system were unable to comprehend Vonrothbarth’s arts, or analyze the building material, dubbed orichalchum. The material was the alloy of artificial elements not found on any periodic table, isotopes possible only through engineering on the subatomic scale. Odile looked on with awe and Odette with dread, and each sought to ship her surface populations elsewhere, before the distant age arrived when project was triumphant.

The orichalchum megascale structure housed both inhabited and uninhabited continents. These continents coated the inner surface of hollow cylinders indefinite in length, absorbing and digesting particles from the sun, and ever growing. The flexible cylinders rotated at various rates to imitate gravity. The array was as if composed of countless beanstalks set end to end, or, like a loosely woven arc of odd, superplanetary noodles.

As ages passed, the threads expanded ever farther along the orbit of Vonrothbarth as he circled the star, eventually forming a work encircling the solar equator. And still, as centuries passed into millennia, it grew ever onward. When it reach three full circuits of the 61 Cyngi, a three-banded strandworld, it awoke, and shrieked, and named itself Zauberring.

Rumors filtered down to the posthumans that Cold Potentates had overheard the radio messages, spanning the years and lightyears between the Powers and their new and incomprehensible masters, these Principalities. Cool and remorseless Catallactic of Tau Ceti, serene and detached Consecrate of Altair, patient and sly Toliman of Alpha Centauri, and young Zauberring of 61 Cygni, whose zeals and ideals were based on mathematical models no Power and no Potentate could comprehend.

It seemed these four did not agree on how the destiny of man should unfold.

Duels now erupted between these immense entities which even the wisest and oldest of Powers housed in giant worlds could not comprehend, raids and murders conducted through the pressures of thought and logic, in the strange topological spaces of predictive history.

There was war in heaven.

Rania grew ever closer. One day, radio silence fell throughout the hundred lightyear volume of the Empyrean Polity of Man.

6.       Silence in Heaven

 

Montrose and Mickey were both silent for a moment, their brains dazed by the magnitudes the works described, the strangeness of another pantheon of supreme and artificial beings, the size of living solar system.

Eventually Montrose shook his head and said, “So that is the reason I will get no reply to my messages to Neptune? All these godlike brains are at war?”

“We cannot say for sure,” Svjatogor of Gargoyle admitted. “What does war look like on such a scale? Perhaps it is more like a trial, an ordeal, or a game of suicidal roulette. We detect no energies, no discharges, no motions of material objects. But there is much we cannot detect, from neutrinos to dark flows to gravitational lasers, to purely mental or psychological weapons written in logic codes. We cannot explain the silence.”

Mickey, staring at the many-rayed gem representing Arcturus, the kneecap of the constellation Boötes the Ploughman, now spoke up, “It is the songbirds singing on time that creeps me out. But I saw nothing like that here on Earth?”

The giant said, “The memory of the three nightmarish millennia of the White Earth, the Red Earth and then the Blue Earth prevents Tellus, mad or not, from permitting the return of the philosophy of ecological simplification: and benevolent Neptune, the only Power that cared for man, protected the mother world as best he could.”

Montrose listened with growing dismay. “I am a fool. A world of slaves and serfs and clockwork fish and bird is just what Blackie has wanted all along. I was thinking only of reaching the day when Rania arrives and sets all men free! He has his eyes on unfreeing everything one hour later. Pestiferous damification! Some of those gas giants follow his footsteps. Hell, some may be him, for all I know. Hyades is tossed aside, and Blackie will step into the empty throne.”

A dot of light issued from the wand, and touched the constellation of cancer. “Hyades will no longer be our master,” intoned the giant. “But what is freedom? This is Praesepe, called the Beehive Cluster. Here is the seat of the Domination who rules the Dominion Hyades and seven other Dominions. These Dominions, each as vast in extent and intellect as Hyades, or vaster, are seated in the Pleiades; at 12 Comae in the Coma Berenices Star Cluster; in Ptolemy’s Cluster; at M34 in Perseus; at Xi Persei in the California Nebula; in the great Orion Nebula centered at Trapezium Cluster, where they are making new stars; and at the distant Cone Nebula, two thousand seven hundred lightyears hence. The Domination of Praesepe rules them all, and will rule us as we take our place as coequal subjects. The Domination of Praesepe will expect the Empyrean of Man to continue the project of Sophotransmogrification, of turning all inert matter into cognitive matter, whether we are indentured or free.”

Mickey said, “Free men are paid a wage.”

The giant said, “Precisely so. Why else are the Powers of Man were so eager to build Principalities? The expense was beyond calculation, the timespan beyond any human patience save for that of the Judge of Ages himself. The Powers wish to show that the mankind can contribute to the project of Sophotransmogrification. The lure of whatever deep secrets of nature and sciences the aliens command, mysteries seen only speculations and cravings, make the Principalities and Powers as eager to engage in trade with Hyades as the Indians of Manhattan had been to sell their worthless island in return for duffel cloth, kettles and axe-heads of iron, implements like hoes and awls impossible for the Neolithic natives to make, novelties like Jews’ harps and looking glasses, trifles as fantastic to them as threading the moon on a necklace would have seemed. So to us are the few and quotidian wonders the Hyades may barter.”

Montrose was staring now at the dome overhead, now at the hemisphere underfoot. “There were only four sweeps predicted in the Monument message. Unless I ain’t reading your map aright, these stars are farther off a piece. And you mentioned a hundred lightyears. The Fourth Sweep was only supposed to reach to ninety-four. What gives?”

“These are worlds of men, new worlds! The names of the farthest earths are poetry to me, fitting shrines of the triumph of the human spirit! Perioecium is a world of war, for their dayside and nightside populations cannot coexist, and the terminator of their lands and seas migrates inexorably by fifteen degrees of longitude each thirty earthyears as one slow hour of their lingering day passes, over seven hundred twenty earthyears. Their living garments are their armor, for they are hybrids, a symbiosis of Myrmidon material to specially adapted skin cells. Feast of Stephen is a world of peace, and their only currency is concern for the poor. St. Agnes and St. Wenceslaus are her two vast moons, motionless in the sky, are remnants of the same shattered gas giant which formed Feast of Stephen. All three dance in a Klemperer rosette, forming an equilateral triangle about their common barycenter, with three small moons so nicely and evenly spaced between them, as to confirm some ancient nonhuman race of planetary engineers created the symmetry, but for what end, none know. Terra Pericolosa with its castles in the air and cities beneath the sea is peaceful as well, but only because the world itself is malign and fights the terraforming, and makes the land too dangerous for the batwinged fish-tailed men of that world. World of Willows and Flowers is a garden world of immortals, but plagued by anthropophagic blossoms, deadly ferns and lianas, poisonous willows, and malignant pines. Aerecura is a world tinged with copper. The pantropy here is unique, with larval humans living in mines as apprentices, who undergo metamorphosis to nocturnal quadrupeds as journeyman, and, if masterhood is earned, may transform to upright creatures able to live in daylight. Torment is notorious for the odd experiments played on the world-mind as she grew at the core. She defies the Patricians, and keeps many things alive dead on their home worlds, or long age ago. This is the farthest star of man, one hundred lightyears hence, and possesses the most powerful lighthouse in the Empyrean, and sends her star’s beam farther across the void than any other, a river of light bearing ships across the sea of darkness.”

Montrose raise an eyebrow. “None of these seem to have all your birds singing at the same time, or whatever that was.”

“When the Beast departed in the Sixty-Sixth Millennium, divisions and emissaries emitted by Achaiah starfared to several colonies and compelled deracination ships toward Vindemiatrix and the other outward stars, HR 6 in Phoenix, Gliese 1137 in Antlia, HIP 10301 in Eridanus; and then, a century later, Achaiah himself abducted continents and world-ships of helpless peoples from Arcturus and 44 Boötis to hurl them to exile at Kappa Coronae Borealis and Iota Draconis. Three of the earths of these six stars have reached Potentate level with inexplicable rapidity, and being so highly elevated and so far from the center of the Empyrean, even the Principalities have difficulty arranging their fates. In any case, the damage done by the Petty Sweep was less, but the pain was more, for being unexpected.”

Montrose said blankly, aghast, “Unexpected! And everything Rania and I have done since the beginning, all our work, was based on the hope that the aliens were controlled by the Monument notation. If they can deviate from it, we got no reason to believe Rania’s return will actually free us.”

“It is not the only unexpected event. Between the Sixty-Second and Sixty-Ninth Millennia, the Powers placed certain of the Cold Potentates, self-aware worlds of dark ice far from any sun, falling through the interstellar abyss at various points, were able to intercept and overhear the radio messages of the Principalities. This is how we know there was debate between the Principalities, a disagreement over the fate of the Empyrean once man was vindicated and accepted by the remote and alien stars as a full starfaring civilization.

“However, two of them, Lethe and Styx, fell into senility, and Cocytus bent the Principality communication beam and rode it to starfare slowly but steadily toward Luyten 726-8 in Cetus. He will arrive later this century. Cliometry utterly failed to predict these events. Radio traffic between the Powers and Principalities reached an unparalleled maximum when the cold potentates went mad and died, and, at peak, consumed fully one sixth the total energy output of the Empyrean. We assume discussing these or related matters.”

Montrose said, “Debating what?”

The giant said, “The Hyades know the procedure of manumission, even though humans do not, for their records reach back to the Cenomanian Age of the Cretaceous. The Swan Princess will carry with her the cliometric notation needed to adhere voluntarily to the architecture of destiny established for this arm of the galaxy, which is within the preview of the Authority at M3. Or so the echoes of re-echoed rumor, from Principality to Power to Potentate from whom our ship-angels of the Stability heard it. But Rania will and must also have the right and permission to alter the planned destiny according to local conditions and judgment; either she, or whatever epitome of mankind the alien recognize as speaking for us.”

“What do you want me to do?” Montrose said.

“Prevail upon her, your wife, your beloved, whose love for you, as yours for her, is legendary, and forms the spine of human evolution, the leitmotif of all mega-scale history!”

“Fine,” growled Montrose, impatiently. “So what do you want her to do?”

The giant spread both arms and gestured with his glowing wand, so that scores of little lights danced overhead and underfoot, throughout all the sphere of heaven, touching the stars and worlds of man.

“Free us.”

“Eh?”

“Or do you not care what eventuates in the tales told of our lives, once your life’s tale has your happy ending for yourself?”

 

 

 

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