The Web of Aoullnnia – Chapter 3


As I stated in my last transmission I am a straylkha player. What is straylkha? In your terms it must be classed as a ‘game’ or ‘sport’ though the term rather sticks in my throat – we call it a sridrillya, a classification which includes what you would consider to be ‘art’, also ‘religion’. With few exceptions sporting and artistic figures of our era are not what you would call ‘professionals’ and certainly most of us straylkha players would have nothing but contempt for the commercialism of sport in your era. Thus I have always had an official position as a yatthin cultivator but the work is not onerous and leaves me as much time for training as I desire. In general today only persons in penal stations work really intensively unless they expressly wish to.

Straylkha is played in a vast inverted cone, a third of which lies underground. A straylkha cone is always at least 200 metres high and the important ones at Lunkod and Gabellyia and other sites on the major circuit are 400 or 500 metres high — this is the height above ground level. The cone has transparent sides and in them are the tiers (seats) for the ordinary spectators. Two intertwining ribbons of track in the form of a double helix wind round the inside of the cone interspersed with various switches, junctions and other obstacles. At the summit are the scatterers which take the players down to the starting position underground at the apex of the inverted cone.

The rules are extremely complicated and cannot be gone into here: players wear so-called ‘Surger-forms’ which give off electric sparks during certain manoeuvres. Straylkha supposedly originated in mechanized mefam group dancing where the gear enabled the dancers to throw off coloured sparks from their ankles or helmets. In the beginning straylkha was just display, a sort of mechanised Morris dancing, and it never completely lost this aspect since even today famous masters put on ‘solo-flights’ where they only compete against themselves and the whole interest lies in the intricacy and grace of the manoeuvres. Ordinary second-level training schedules when executed by someone of the calibre of Dryallkhin are closer in spirit to the very finest of your ballet performances though as far as we are concerned they far exceed them in artistic finish and inventiveness. For all that, straylkha quite soon merged with speedway, skateboarding and similar pastimes to become a typical mefam competitive sport. At its peak, during the classic era of Lilstrom and Petaya, straylkha combined the aesthetic and celebratory aspects of dance with the excitement of your Grand Prix racing. Even in duals or team competes during the classic era no player would have dreamed of executing an ugly manoeuvre (such as a ‘side-streak’ or ‘overcut callipse’) simply to get ahead of a competitor — apart from anything else, even if he won, he might well get ‘showered’ with dirty water by the straylkha-weirth (or ‘connoisseurs’) at the end of the game, a disgrace he would find it very difficult to live down. In recent years straylkha has become much more competitive and the great mass of spectators, the ‘tiers’, understand very little of the finer points of the game and only want danger and excitement, the more the merrier. However, the straylkha-weirth who ultimately control the game, see to it that decent standards are maintained at least at the important sites of the major circuit, especially Lunkod and Gabellyia.

I originally applied to join the Y-57 Cluster because it had an excellent straylkha tradition and I especially wanted to train under Sambord, one of the most highly regarded players of the Magnatte era. Sambord had already undergone rejuvenation when I first met him and was no longer the dashing player who had twice been victor in free-style duals at Lunkod. Nonetheless, I considered it a great honour to get the chance to train under him in the Sinkiang style he invented, now not much practised. As often happens when one approaches well-known players Sambord started by ‘playing hard to get’ and, having given me a chance to show what I was capable of, he dismissed my style as execrable. I was not allowed in the straylkha cone for a whole year except for the beginners classes (which he did not take) although I already had years of experience. But I expected this and was content to bide my time. Eventually I gained the confidence of the master and became one of his favourite pupils. I only wish for the sake of my teacher – who has long since taken ultimate retirement – that I were a more gifted player than I actually am since his chosen style is now on the decline. I made a good impression on the straylkha-weirth during my first appearance at Lunkod because of my clear positioning and flowing movements but I have not realised this early promise and certainly will not now. Nonetheless, I am a player to be reckoned with and have one strayll-sri to my credit which is more than can be said of anyone else in my cluster.

To be accorded a strayll-sri is in a way the greatest honour that can be accorded to an individual player but, curiously enough, many of the best players never obtain one while it is often accorded to relatively unknown persons such as myself. The term is Katylin and means literally ‘beyond-skill’. As in certain other activities it sometimes happens that a player performs far above his normal level for the duration of a single game and in this inspired state can overcome players who are far superior in ability and experience. Even if a player on such an occasion does not actually win the dual, his performance is always full of hrytha, that unique combination of grace and ferocity that the strayllkha-weirth especially prize.

A strayll-sri dual where both contestants are in the required state of mind is a very rare event and is eagerly awaited by straylkha enthusiasts: if there is so much as a suggestion that one of the duals taking place might end in this way, spectators will abandon the other cones and flock to the cone in question even if the players are totally unknown. Once the straylkha-weirth declare that a strayll-sri is taking place by discharging a double burst of purple and violet smoke from their pistols all other cones are at once closed down, no one is admitted and all filming of the event is banned. The excitement throughout the sporting precinct when this occurs is indescribable and communicates itself even to those who cannot get access to the cone itself — people rush off to hire skilther and watch the event from the air if at all possible since, once the strayll-sri has ended, there will be no record of it.

My own strayll-sri came about because of a ridiculous incident. There are various more or less select suites and ‘clubs’ at Lunkod where well-known straylkha players relax between events, meet straylkha-weirth, discuss recent contests and so on. Though not counted as a high-ranking player I was nonetheless known to the straylkha-weirth as one of the best remaining exponents of a now rare style and for this reason allowed to frequent the prestigious Dryalkhin Suite whenever I wished. Excellent skihl is available in unlimited quantities and there is a superb view over Lunkod. One afternoon I settled down in an alcove overlooking the pleasure city, sipping the green frothy liquid, and meditating on the tactics to adopt in a forthcoming contest. From time to time I glanced out of the windows, taking in the various buildings, the blue-domed Temenoi that went back to the Typhen era, the dance-halls, devilion-fighting stadiums, Hymen-Bowers, the Mintar Lake with its cluster of orange Hydrophylias on the southern shore. Beyond the city itself were the runways and landing-grounds for skilthers and the Field of Aretho above which zinn-coursers flying their bat-like craft with mechanical claws tore at each other in the time of Aruella. (Today zinn-coursing is banned and has been replaced by the much less dangerous sport of sky-tracing.) In the distance were the jagged mountains of Mommerall, some of them capped with artificial snow.

We give considerable attention to privacy in our society, and if someone chooses to sit alone in one of the smaller alcoves it is understood that he or she wishes to be alone, or is expecting an intimate or friend, and in such a case no one will come to sit beside him. Not only that, groups of people will avoid choosing a table nearby unless the place is full which it practically never is. On this occasion I was irritated to find that a group of young players whom I had never seen before at Lunkod were inconsiderate enough to choose a table right behind me even though the Suite was half empty. They were obviously inebriated already even though it was the afternoon and they talked noisily whilst indulging in a certain amount of horseplay. I could not understand why they had been allowed into the Suite at all and went over to ask one of the overseers if they had the right to be there. He said he was not sure himself but that for the moment there was nothing he could do about it as they must somehow have been cleared at the entrance.

I returned to my seat and tried to pick up my previous train of thought, without success. Everything about these youths annoyed me, their loud voices, their dreadful Glaciolyian accents, their demonstrative gestures and pretentious language, larded as it was with recondite sytraykha terms which they presumably thought was the way to speak in such a select ambiance. A slightly older mefam seemed to be their leader since they all regarded him with deference and hung on everything he said. I even found the physique of this person objectionable: he looked somehow angular and ungainly without having anything exactly wrong with him healthwise.

I ignored the group but could not help hearing what they were saying despite not paying any attention. Eventually their leader started holding forth on the subject of my chosen style, Sinkiang, saying dismissively that this so-called difficult style could be mastered in a few weeks by someone with a sound modern training and that Sambord himself would have found it difficult to qualify for Lunkod today, so much had straylkha progressed in the last few years. This really was too much for me and I got to my feet and went over to the table, seizing the young mefam by the end of his long hair (itself a serious insult) and hauling him to his feet. The insults we use in our era would mean nothing to you and I shall not bother to transcribe them but suffice it to say that I did not spare him. (We tend to concentrate on a person’s physical appearance or lack of social status when trying to wound someone.)

There was dead silence in the Dryallkhin suite after this outburst and one or two senior players came across to try and calm me down and prevent a full-scale fight erupting. The young mefam for his part simply flicked my hand away and, looking me straight in the eyes, asked if I was myself a straylkha player. I answered that I was and as it happened a personal pupil of the now retired master he had just been insulting. I added that even though he was an unknown player that I had never seen on any cone of the major circuit I would nonetheless be prepared to demean myself by challenging him to a distrayn-dual. These are private contests where the opponents wager large quantities of darksun-credits (roughly our equivalent of ‘money’). Dyrithan — to give him his name which I only got to know subsequently — gave a little laugh and said I did not know who I was dealing with. We insisted that the two straylkha-weirth present witness the agreement and we had all the details transcribed on memorial at once. I wagered what was for me a vast sum — virtually all the credits allocated to an individual of my status for a whole year — and Dyrithan did likewise. We agreed at once that there were to be no safety nets in place and that all the obstacles should be given maximum charge to make them more difficult (and thus more dangerous also). The contest was to consist of three separate events: each of us would meet the other in his named chosen style while the third contest would be free-style and judged by well-known experts. As I expected Dyrithan chose Lilyakin as his style while I naturally opted for Sinkiang. I graciously accorded my opponent the maximum time to renew his acquaintance with my chosen style by making this contest the second of the three: it would take place six days before the end of the Lunkod season with the free-style event due to take place on the penultimate day. Dyrithan at first said he did not need so much time but eventually gave way on the insistence of the witnesses. We separated in silence and I left the suite, leaving Dyrithan to his supporters who admired him all the more because of the wager.

One of the straylkha-weirth who had witnessed the agreement accompanied me out of the suite and said he hoped that I had not been imprudent.

“Why should I have been? Even if this fool were a budding mirage he could scarcely learn Sinkiang in four weeks. In any case I have never seen him: he has not been on any of the major cones.”

“No. But he has performed many times in Glaciolyia and is regarded as a promising player. Perhaps, for reasons of his own, he has been holding back from appearing at Lunkod. Still, as you say, with your training and experience….”

When the day for the first leg of the contest came round I was in good spirits and quite confident of giving a good account of myself. I do not take to the modern Lilyakin style but I can put on a very decent performance in it nonetheless provided I am in the right frame of mind. I was given red as my colour and this was a good omen: I have done most of my best performances in this colour though the majority of players prefer green. Crouching in the straylkha pits waiting for the blast of the starting pistol I felt sure I would give this upstart a hard time even in his own style. The crack of the pistol rang out and we both burst through the white steth at the apex more or less simultaneously. I had decided in advance that I would have to attack all out right from the beginning to have any chance of keeping in the game and accordingly on the very first circuit which most players take carefully, sounding out the strengths and weaknesses of the adversary, I accelerated into an audacious undercut cross-callipse which put me at once ahead and drew forth a burst of red smoke from the straylkha-weirth. I had noted beforehand that there was quite a respectable audience for this contest, apparently because, since the day of our wager, my opponent had attracted a certain amount of interest, having won four duals already and drawn one. I won outright the first two circuits and remained more or less level for several more, giving one of my best performances in recent years. Naturally, as time went by my opponent progressively got the upper hand which was only to be expected since it was his chosen style but he finished the dual only a few points ahead of me. The contest was well-received by the straylkha-weirth present who complimented us both on a spirited and stylish display.

Naturally I counted on obliterating my opponent in Sinkiang which is hard to learn even for players with excellent all-round control, thus confronting him in the free-style so far ahead on points that I could scarcely fail to win my wager. Indeed, as time went by I lost my original antipathy towards my adversary, and began to feel sorry for him, since I felt sure he was going to lose a large amount of credits that perhaps he could ill afford. I wondered if I could arrange matters so that he would not, after all, have to pay me anything but this looked difficult since he was clearly a rather proud individual who would indignantly reject any offers made on my behalf.

Despite the favourable reception given to the first lag of our contest, when the day came I was annoyed to see that, as relatively unknown players, we had been given a little frequented cone some way off from the leading ones. There were practically no tiers (ordinary spectators) but a fair turn-out of straylkha-weirth. Since I had played as red in the first contest I was given green for this one and I fitted it on feeling in excellent form. As soon as the contest began, however, I saw that my opponent was not the person I had taken him to be. He clearly had a good knowledge of Sinkiang whatever he thought of its merits and had put to good use the few weeks I had granted him to train for this event. I saw that I would have to work hard to even win this dual, let alone get far enough ahead to be in good posture for the final free-style. Whatever I did, my opponent seemed able to match me and I decided that my best tactic was to try and confuse him by switching abruptly from one type of movement to another while still resting strictly within the bounds of the style. I went through virtually the whole gamut of basic movements including one or two that were obviously new to him and particularly emphasized manoeuvres that were the nearest approach to Lilyakin ones, hoping to trap him into a reply in his own style which would lose him points. The ordinary tiers made nothing of all this and found the opening circuits dull but the straylkha-weirth saw that there was an intense battle of wits going on between us. Once or twice I did trap my opponent and forced him into movements that lost him points but he soon corrected his errors and from time to time, as if to taunt me, he made counter-attacks of his own and once he nearly forced me off the track into the deadly Wire-grip halfway up on the right side. The dreadful reality came home to me: my opponent was a truly brilliant player who, with the sort of training that I had had from my exemplar, would already be a mirage. But as I became more and more furious with myself for having got myself into this ridiculous situation, I felt myself imperceptibly shifting into another mode. I had the strength, the guile, the rapidity and precision of a player far above my level: I executed the most complex and dangerous manoeuvres with casual ease, criss-crossing from one side of the cone to the other like a dancer, end-playing, convoluting, side-stepping, adding unnecessary flourishes simply for aesthetic effect or out of bravado, and all the time judging each transition with pin-point accuracy. The strayklkha-weirth were beside themselves, firing off green clouds from their pistols again and again. But my opponent hung on: incredibly he was still with me, unable for the moment to do more than follow a few steps behind, imitating or complementing my play but this in itself was an amazing achievement given his very limited experience with the style. He was doggedly waiting for my burst of inspiration to end, at which point he would doubtless launch a full attack of his own. At the 23rd circuit I made a slight error and, noting this, he put on a surge which brought him level and, forcing me this time to follow him rather than the reverse, he dragged me with him into a swerving callipse right across the cone. We touched the metal track as a single person and swivelled at full speed into the arcway. I fell back slightly as the situation was becoming dangerous and deliberately allowed my antagonist to cross the switch-gates ahead of me. As I expected his burst cost him some loss of control and I was able to pass him on the inside shortly afterwards.

Still the contest continued at the same level of play. My opponent must have finally decided that, on my present form, he would never get the better of me in Sinkiang but instead of accepting defeat, on the 25th circuit, he did a very surprising thing. He reverted to his own style, Lilyakin, presumably just to show me what he was capable of. In doing this he was in effect throwing away the contest and with it almost a year’s darksun credits, for although a certain number of false moves would simply lose him points, to switch styles in mid-course like this meant disqualification since it was contrary to the agreement. But all this obviously meant nothing to him: it was now an all-out contest between us to see which of us was the better player, and by implication which style was the more impressive. We tacitly fell into a steady rhythm, the first circuit in Lilyakin, the next in Sinkiang and the last of the three free-style. So engrossed were we in the struggle that it was some time before we became aware that the cone was now full to overflowing as more and more spectators came flooding in. And as we entered the 42nd circuit we saw a cloud of purple and white smoke hanging over the scatterers at the top of the cone signifying that a strayll-sri had been declared. Even this meant little to us at the time, so absorbed were we in the intricacies of the contest. One circuit would go to me, the next to him, and so it went on. Though opponents we moved like a single organism which happens to be localised in two different bodies: any manoeuvre of his was automatically met by one of mine that matched it perfectly, and vice-versa. When one is walking on stilts, or in some other state of unstable equilibrium, one compensates without thinking for an imbalance in one direction, and so it was with us now. We had long ceased to be interested in such trivialities as winning the wager, putting on a good performance or even having a strayll-sri declared: we were beyond all that. Without losing entirely the sense of being individuals we had merged into a new temporary entity which included not only both of us but also the spectators, the straylkha-cone itself, the blue sky above us, the vapour trail left by a Sky-Drift crossing it, the exact moment of the afternoon, the temperature of the day, the entire ‘here and now’. We had transcended the intolerable limitations of the human condition, its hopeless inadequacies and disappointments: for the space of a few hours we lived what the ancient mefam Graeks called the ‘life of the gods’.

I do not know how long the contest lasted, but we must have been on the cone for most of the afternoon and indeed it seemed that we could never stop, and all the time making circuit after circuit with impeccable precision and mastery. In a strayll-sri no cloud-pistols are discharged and the dense mass of spectators watch in awed silence scarcely daring to breathe and certainly never making any sort of comment on what they have the privilege of witnessing. To film a strayll-sri is considered such a serious offence that scarcely anyone has ever attempted it – no one in my lifetime – and all those who have been found out have been privately executed by straylkha-weirth. It is regarded as blasphemous to even wish to immobilise the instant by technical means: it is of the essence of a strayll-sri that it must disappear for ever once it has taken place, leaving behind it only a diminishing trail of memories.

Eventually the youth of my adversary gave him the advantage and I could no longer summon up the energy to match him; I passed into slow-motion which in such a case signals surrender and left Dyrithan to make one final circuit alone. There was a long silence after the end of the contest, then a deafening roar as the massed spectators stamped their feet on the ground – which in our society is a sign of approval, not impatience or anger. Great clouds of purple and white smoke burst from the upper third of the cone where the straylkha-weirth were sitting. Then I lost consciousness, completely exhausted mentally and physically by the experience — or rather by the return to ordinary reality.

Although there had been one other strayll-sri that year at Lunkod this was the only strayll-sri dual here for four years. We were now both famous players and were treated with great respect from then on by the straylkha-weirth. For both of us, however, this strayll-sri was in a sense the end of our straylkha careers: I myself began not only to fall off technically from then on but for the first time in my life began to get deeply interested in matters that had nothing to do with straylkha. As for Dyrithan. I shall say more about his subsequent development in a moment but, even in his case, though he gave excellent performances the following year, he also began to take less and less interest in straylkha as time went on. This often happens with players who have success too early in their careers, and for this very reason straylkha teams are not very keen on individual members achieving a strayll-sri despite the honour it reflects indirectly on the cluster.

The emotional impact of a strayll-sri has been compared to the depression that afflicts certain fam after childbirth. In my own case there was a general feeling of lassitude and indifference, a disgust for many of the physical functions, even a certain distaste for straylkha itself. Dyrithan and I felt ourselves more like survivors of a catastrophe than persons who had just achieved a triumph.

It is well known that after a strayll-sri one’s personal relations usually change considerably for the worse. Many players are simply jealous and in some cases understandably so since they may well be better performers on a regular basis than the individual who has achieved a strayll-sri. Others are puzzled and disappointed when they see a strayll-sri player perform: since they expect so much, the performance, even if quite respectable, appears tame and mediocre. But there is another aspect which will be difficult for you in your era to understand. A strayll-sri player, like someone afflicted with erloyll (passionate love?), is regarded as bringing bad luck to people who frequent him and most people give him or her a wide berth during the months immediately following the event. He is regarded as having darstillya — a term almost impossible to translate into your parlance. There is, I think, the word ‘fey’ in your language which goes back to the old mefam chivalric era when it was applied, so we have been told, to persons marked out for a special destiny, usually ending in disaster but for all that honourable. This is very much the effect that a strayll-sri player has on those around him. In particular, surprising though this may seem, fam keep away from such a person — except very reckless young subdominants perhaps — though they will probably admire him from a distance.

Interpret it how you will, I must nonetheless state that my own strayll-sri seems to have triggered off a profound and disquieting inner change which has paradoxically taken me right away from straylkha and towards things that never interested me in the least before — such as the mystical doctrines of the Sythana Brethren and the Yther. It was also because of my strayll-sri, as I shall recount in a moment, that I was put into contact with Xinthia and thus became trapped in the whole bewildering pattern of events that has taken me to the sacred island of Azerynn and eventually to the Yther Sanctuary here in Mortalysium. Something happened that year at Lunkod that can never be undone, something that set me on a path I cannot now leave, no matter where it leads me. I know that Dyrithan felt exactly the same although his eventual orientation was quite the opposite of mine.

* * * * *

The Games should have ended the day not so long after our strayll-sri but, since certain contests had not taken place because of bad weather, the concluding ceremony was postponed for a further week. For the rest of our stay at Lunkod Dyrithan and I were inseparable and everywhere we went we were treated with a mixture of courteous deference mixed with a certain reserve. We were, however, not pestered by photographers and interviewers — the rules regarding such matters are a good deal more severe than in your era and we were generally followed about by discreet Security Guards who saw to it that the curious were kept away. We had nothing to say in any case since what had happened was not something we either expected or had prepared for: we had already more or less blotted it out from our memories as a sort of freak incident that had no connection whatsoever with day to day existence.

Some of the time Dyrithan and I spent watching devilion contests or sky-tracing but much the greater part of it we spent idly sipping skihl in the Dryallkhin suite where we had first met. We made strictly no reference to the original disagreement or to the wager — the Straylkha Confederation had naturally offered to recompense both of us to the agreed amount wagered, but we both refused and simply asked for the contest to be declared null and void.

Some of the straylkha suites communicated directly with the main cones so one could pass to the upper tiers reserved for the straylkha-weirth. But neither of us had any interest in the regular contests. Noted players who in the past would not have recognized me in the street even if they knew perfectly well who I was, smiled at both of us as we passed or nodded politely. But scarcely anyone engaged us in conversation and we spent our time in the more intimate alcoves by the windows which only accommodate two or three persons.

Not many fam practise straylkha for reasons that are none too clear and no ordinary subdominants are allowed in the suites so they are practically a mefam reserve. However, Ryaltia, one of the three or four best fam players, was naturally allowed free access to all the suites. I had seen Ryaltia in action several times and had always admired her exquisite sense of tempo and near perfect positioning. That afternoon Dyrithan and I came across the famous player in the Srtyan Suite where she was sitting at a table with two very young subdominants dressed in scarlet Surger-forms, obviously just come from a training session. Ryaltia, clearly not at all bothered by darstillya, at once beckoned us over and introduced us to the subdominants, one of whom was her adoptive niece. Neither of them had much to say and after a few polite phrases I took no further notice of either of them at all. Soon afterwards Dyrithan said he had an appointment — which I found odd at the time since he had not mentioned it to me — and he left us.

Ryaltia was much smaller and less commanding than she appears in the cone but her manner and diction were almost as agreeable as her movements on the metallic track. She began speaking in her habitual Sarwhirl Katylin — the language spoken in all the elite fam clusters — but she switched to Andirax at once when she noted the difficulty I had in following her.

Ryaltia made no reference to the recent contest and, subsequently, I learned that Ryaltia herself had been awarded a strayll-sri at a relatively unimportant site. Once Dyrithan had left she told me she had known my exemplar Sambord well and had even studied under him for a short while. She herself practised a different style, Trymnoinn, invented by Dryalkhin himself and known for its fluent action and deceptive simplicity.

I asked Ryaltia if she had ever met Aruella and she replied that as a young subdominant her greatest ambition had been to become a member of Aruella’s train. But, coming from a remote and insignificant cluster with no zinn-coursing tradition, she never found anyone to present her. She had seen the mirage as a distant spectator only (as indeed I had) on her last two public appearances at Lunkod before she was banned. Ryaltia said she was glad retrospectively that she had adopted straylkha instead of zinn-coursing as, in later years, she had come to dislike the violence of the latter sport. She added that she disapproved of the character of the great explorer and zinn-courser, and that her achievements in no way redeemed it. I replied that it was surely too much to expect such a person to be amiable and modest as well as brilliant but Ryaltia would not agree. Soon after this meeting Ryaltia retired from straylkha and entered the Yther movement as a simple novice.

Even when the Games ended, still Dyrithan and myself could not bring ourselves to leave, and we hung about the scenes of our triumph like birds that refused to migrate. The summer sporting season had by now definitively ended and there was a touch of autumn in the air already. In between seasons the atmospheric veils over Lunkod are lifted and the inhabitants are exposed to real air and ‘natural’ climate for a change. The weather had turned colder and the days were overcast though not rainy. Repainting the straylkha cones in preparation for the winter season had already begun; also, many of the temporary buildings were being dismantled. The dance-halls had a melancholy air, frequented now only by officers of the Games Commission and a few dubious subdominants from remote clusters. But the bitter-sweet atmosphere of the aftermath of a Festival suited our mood perfectly.

The beautiful covered walkways around the Temenoi to Aoullnnia which had been the site of so many sentimental encounters throughout the Festival were now frequented by noisy young people playing with bardyia — the equivalent of your skate-boards. The straylkha-weirth had already left and scarcely anyone recognized us any more. Because we were so obviously inseparable, many people took us for a like-gender couple who could not bear to return to their different clusters, and groups of young fam subdominants sometimes mocked us as we passed. For, strange to relate, though there would seem to be many good reasons for having like-gender associations between mefam — the difficulty of approaching fam outside the Festivals, lack of health risks in the current society, etc. — such relations are not common and are rather disapproved of. Only amongst the Morellasts of Mortalysium are such rapports socially acceptable, and it is indeed for this and related reasons that the Morellasts have an unsavoury reputation on Sarwhirlia itself. Some people claim that there is something in the (doctored) atmosphere of Sarwhirlia which inhibits like-gender tendencies and, with hindsight and the increased knowledge that comes from contacting your society, I would say that there is definitely something in this view. Certainly the Interdominants (who are all fam) do not encourage such attachments though they are not specifically prohibited — it is a characteristic of our society that very little is actually against the law except of course direct affronts against the authority of the ruling Parthenogens themselves. As in so many other cases, the pressure of public opinion, especially in a society that gives so much importance to hrith (‘correct position’?), is quite as effective as direct prohibition.

In any case, these considerations did not, I think, have anything to do with the peculiar relationship that had developed between Dyrithan and myself since this relationship was entirely based on our shared strayll-sri experience. I was not drawn to Dyrithan in any way, nor he to me, and indeed the contest had only arisen because of a strong natural antipathy between our two characters. In the end, we separated abruptly and, as it were, guiltily, not knowing what to do or say to mark what looked like being the end of our association. As I flew away from Lunkod a wave of intolerable sadness coursed through me…

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