The Unfinished World

 

 

 

The Unfinished World (Extract from the Unfinished SF novel, “The Web of Aoullnnia”)

 

(…)  During my stay on Azerynn, I had the occasion to render a small service to a fam whom I judged to be Majentian when I saw her dismantling the blades of her craft. One of the circular  tigh-pins had fallen and rolled away : I successfully spotted it on the ground. The fam nodded in gratitude but said nothing though she must certainly have spoken Andirax. Her brown eyes rapidly searched me as we stood confronting each other, and I received a peculiar sensation at the base of my spine. Small even for a Northern Majentian, and, as far as I could judge, with scarcely developed breasts, the fam had short, light brown hair and regular features, neither good nor bad. For some reason this casual encounter made a sharp impression on me and I vainly  looked out for the opportunity to get close to her during the communal ceremonies. However, she paid no attention to me, if anything making a point of avoiding me in the halls.

            It was now the penultimate day of my visit and I no longer expected to see the object of my fixation. To my surprise, however, when I passed the  extreme right hangar I found her standing in front of it trying unsuccessfully to raise the door. She beckoned me over, not looking at me directly. I was able to see that a ball-bearing had slipped out of place and I soon managed to open the sliding door. The Majentian rushed into the hangar showing signs of extreme distress and I heard her uttering terms of endearment as if she were addressing a domestic pet. I eventually realised that she was speaking to her scobter. I saw her stroking the wings as, with infinite precaution, she  wheeled out the machine, apparently taking no further notice of me. But once the craft was outside in the bright sunshine, the strange fam  casually indicated the passenger seat. Taken aback, I took my  place in the machine without really thinking what I was doing. The scene had an air of partial reality about it, akin to certain dreams.

            In moments we were in the air. The fam was occupied with the controls and took no more notice of me.

            ‘Where are we going?’ I asked a little later.

            ‘Rhewenia,’ she replied without turning her head.

 

            Rhewenia, or the Unfinished World, was the last creation of the Sarlang. Towards the end of their reality-span the Sarlang lost interest in the physical world altogether and spent the greater part of their time exploring the Manifest Non-Occurrent. This is a sort of half-world, made up in part of dreams and wishes, but for all that possessing a certain density. By projection, the Sarlang succeeded in extending the inhabitable part of this enormous domain  — it already exceeded the entire physical universe many times over — and eventually they created a new continent which became known as Rhewenia  because it was never completed (‘rhewenin’ means ‘unfinished’ in Katylin). After the dissolution of the Sarlang Rhewenia remained unvisited by humans for a long time but it was eventually  discovered by several persons simultaneously, probably under the influence of Extasense. Since then it has become a favourite landing-ground of people who visit  the Manifest Non-Occurrent, usually aided by drugs, and, for this reason, acquired a dubious reputation, so much so that the Magnatte, the current dominants, closed it off (or so we have been told) and extremely few people manage to visited it these days. In Majentia, however, which is a semi-autonomous part of Sarwhirlia, the population is  not subject to our customs and regulations.

            I had no particular desire to travel to Rhewenia but it seemed too late to do anything and I tried to relax as much as I could while my pilot busied herself with the craft. To enter Rhewenia one has, reputedly, to cut through a ‘seam’ in a particular kind of cloud : this is not at all an easy task even for a skilled pilot but seemingly we managed it for a little later we burst into the turquoise coloured sky of the Unfinished World which I recognized from Far-View programmes. We drifted along without incident until my companion brought the craft down onto a vast beach. It was entirely empty and behind us there were occasional bushes and scrub, otherwise there were endless dunes whipped about by the wind into extravagant shapes but otherwise not so different from certain coastlines on Sarwhirlia. We alighted from the craft after she indicated that I should divest myself of all my garments. The ‘sand’ was more like crumpled plyne and if one took it into one’s hands it dematerialised at once though it was substantial enough to the soles of my feet — I had taken off my footwear on entering the craft.

            My strange companion seemed to be waiting for something for she kept gazing intensely at the horizon. All I could see was lines of breakers coming in fast  though none of them actually reached the shore for the water at the beach’s edge remained completely still. After a while my companion became extremely animated and pointed to something. At first I could not make out anything at all but eventually I saw a sort white capsule only just visible against the water. It was not much larger than a diving-bell and had room for at most three or four persons inside it. If one looked more closely, one could make out a network of white ‘veins’ on the inside. While we stood  watching, the bubble came closer and closer to the shore until it was a few paces in front of us.

            ‘Enter at once,’ my companion shouted in my ear, ‘the bubble will not remain here for long.’

            For some reason there was a tremendous roaring in my ears which made it very difficult to hear what was going on, not a disagreeable sound in itself, something like what you sometimes hear from a conch shell.           

            ‘What are you waiting for?’ shouted the fam as the bubble began to recede. I had the feeling that whatever I did now would have vast and irretrievable consequences. I had not actually heard her last words : it was as if a block of emotional intensity had exploded inside my brain eventually transforming itself into a message.

            But I must have done something for all at once we were inside the capsule which closed around us like an eggshell. A viscous yellowish fluid trickled all over my skin; the touch was strange but not in itself disagreeable. I could no longer see or hear anything : all I knew was that I was being connected up to the being alongside me in a very definite way. It was not at all an emotional experience, more like the assembling of a mechanical device. I  was also reminded of diagrams of chemical bonds between substances in textbooks. It occurred to me that I was d*** but the thought was not at all frightening, rather the reverse. Confused memories of my past life rushed on me, of straylkha contests  had participated in,  various fam I had exchanged with at Lunkod or other sites. Then I was in an enclosure with other mamling : high above us was a vast blue dome. At the end  I was lying at the feet of a giantess straddling us like a tower.

            ‘Now, now, now!’ came a neural scream which I sensed in the abdominal region. A vast flood of  life-experience surged through me like liquid in a tube being passed to another container. At the same time into my awareness came unintelligible sensations, some exquisite, some hilarious, others frightening and repulsive. But before I could begin to make any sense of them I was overwhelmed by other and quite different sensations : it was as if the commotion had raised a layer of sediment from the lower depths of a pond. Life-forms long since extinct reached out to me like the tendrils of climbing plants. Inside me were vast plains covered with grasses as high as trees, swamps heaving with enormous worms their skin livid with yellow scales. Then I sank further back still, into a mucous submarine environment inhabited only by jellies and monstrous weeds. In the end even such sensations slipped away as I passed beyond the limits of bio-form altogether, though still seemingly connected to my companion. We were before life, before history. Nothing of all that had yet been actualized : the Manifest Occurrent consisted exclusively of minerals and inorganic substancs. The capsule itself was ceaselessly being plunged into a sort of froth which was all around us, at every instant it was shattered to a thousand pieces, only to emerge entire again and again. Strangely enough, I could see this happening as if I were looking in from the outside : I could even make out my own features and those of my companion. Where I was, there were no stable forms at all, not even inanimate ones, only flashings emerging and receding, surface scintillations which from time to time exploded into magnificent patterns only to be dispelled as soon as they formed. This was the sea of half-form, from which the Manifest Occurrent itself comes. I and my companion were ourselves no more than slightly more persistent oscillations on this radiant field, there was scarcely any difference between ourselves and what was all around us. I felt myself continuous with the whole of physical existence, or rather with the ground from which all these evanescent patterns emerged. Finally, there was nothing except these patterns quietening down and dispersing on the surface of something that was totally invisible and intangible. Nor was there need for more : the existence of this entity was entirely adequate as it was and beautiful beyond anything that words or sounds can portrary.

            All at once  I found myself on the sand once more : I could see the bubble moving away rapidly along with a medley of other shapes. An immense sadness swept through me : I was apart and alone. My companion stood alongside me, seemingly in an equivalent state : we were two beached fishes, gills opening and closing. The sparse vegetation and sand gradually materialized, even the scobter in which we had come. My companion took out two brown skolthhan from the craft and in silence threw one to me. We dressed in silence. The return flight was without incident, the transition to the Manifest Occurrent smoother than when we had arrived. On the Island everything was as it was before. I helped my companion wheel the scobter back into its hangar.

            “My name is Rhowdhia”, said my companion. “We will not meet again”. And during the rest of my brief stay I did not catch sight of my companion anywhere. Even I wondered whether the voyage had taken place.       

 

Transcriber’s Note : 

 

This piece is part of The Web of Aoullnnia, a collection of transmissions from the future sent back by a certain Yilkin I. Isellyion, an inhabitant of Sarwhirlia (the Earth) some 260 years from now. The incident recounted seems to have occurred while Yilkin was visiting  the sacred island of Azerynn (where he was subsequently interned).

       Other transmissions can be downloaded from this site, see the button on the left of the homepage marked  “The Web of Aoullnnia”.            

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"The Web of Aoullnnia" Topics Arising

Various Topics arising from “The Web of Aoullnnia”

Cosmology & Cosmogony of the Sarlang

‘Reality’ – the Katylin term means ‘All That Is or Can Be’ — is divided by the Sarlang into two regions, the Manifest and the Unmanifest, which are in turn subdivided into the Occurrent and the Non-occurrent.

    

Unmanifest Non-occurrent.

Void.  No-form. Ultimate source and end of everything. Tao.

 Unmanifest Occurrent.

Domain of Half-form, drifting potentialities not yet fixed into shape and form. Here there is no Dominance (Causality) and any event can be followed by any other.  Chaos.

 

Manifest Occurrent.

Fixed world of events. Specificity. Full form. Will. Causality.

 Manifest Non-occurrent.

Constructed realm of archetypes, dreams, wishes.

 

The Katylin Language

 Katylin is a language developed by the Sarlang during the latter part of the Abyss (2012 – 2056 by your reckoning) when they lived in underground settlements in North-West Territory (your Amrica). There are two forms, Lenwhil (or ‘true mode’) Katylin which is the language actually used by the Sarlang, and Sarwhil (‘easymode’) Katylin which is a simplified version of it with much borrowing from other languages. No one today speaks Lenwhil Katylin and it would be regarded as sacrilegious to even attempt to do so. However, a good deal of the chants and litanies to Aoullnnia are in a relatively pure form of Katylin and devotees of the Yther (a mystical movement restricted  to fam) use written Lenwhil Katylin for letters and official texts.
The linguistic principles on which Katylin is based have their origins in the manner in which the Sarlang experienced reality. In Katylin the first word of every sentence is usually a ‘gerund’, a verbal noun. There is ‘action’, something occurring. Then comes a word or group of words giving  the origin of the action and finally a word or group of words giving the result of the action. Thus the statement “I am painting a picture” will in Katylin be put in the form                          Painting / me / picture.”     

   As a secondary or alternative double specification we have the localisation of the origin of the action and the localisation of the effect. Thus the ‘sentence’             
          “Flashing/ sky/ ground”
 indicates that a flash (of lightning) has occurred, originally localised in the sky but seen from the ground.  If I direct a beam of light up into the sky I will write something like
         “Flashing/me/ground/sky”    

   Because of the (to you) strange Sarlang conceptions of causality, there is often no great distinction made between the origin and localisation of an action. However, if the action is definitely the result of an act of will, the prefix shows this, distinguishing for example between
           “Shooting/I/him deliberately”
and  simply
          “Shooting/I/him ”   
 

  Sarlang

The name Sarlang  comes from the Katylin ‘sar-whellan’  which  means literally ‘easy birth-ing’ and by extension ‘midwife’. The Sarlang are those who ‘ease the birth’ of material reality — drawing half-forms into concretisation in the manner of midwives who aid women in labour.

            Originally the Sarlang employed pre-existing half-forms — what you would call ‘archetypes’.  But quite soon they created their own key images which they located in the Manifest Non-Occurrent, and which eventually became the basis of Rhewenia’, the so-called Unfinished World. However, their real interest was in the Unmanifest and they regarded themselves not as creators of reality but simply as ‘helpers toward manifestation’ hence their  name.      

    

Recognition of Aoullnnia
Aoullnnia means literally ‘She Who Is Unique’  aullunn  means ‘single’ or ‘alone’ and ‘-ia’ is a feminine suffix.  
Aoullnnia is never represented in art.  Aoullnnia can be ‘recognized’ but not seen or heard, can be known but not in the way physical things or ideas are known.  Indeed, it is one of the central tenets of the Recognition of Aoullnnia that every sentient being has knowledge of Aoullnnia : this deep intuitive knowledge can be obscured but never utterly obliterated.

      What are sometimes represented in the Temenoi (‘meditation halls’) are ‘yrangloi’ (‘angels’?) : they are messengers between estranged parts of Aoullnnia and as such are forces for good, or more specifically for re-union. Some Temenoi  also contain images of ‘dyrantroi’, agents of estrangement and disunion and thus, in traditional terms, devils or malign forces. But ‘yrangloi’ and ‘dyrantroi´  are equally necessary for the functioning of the whole: they are like movements of contraction and expansion, breathing in and breathing out.   


Incipience 

Incipience is  inexpressible in your language and perhaps in any system of sounds  — this is said to be one of the main reasons why the Sarlang invented Whoirl. (In Whoirl the intensity of a body-pulse expresses incipience — apparently with great accuracy.)

            Degrees of incipience were denoted in Katylin by tones. There was a ‘neutral tone’ used for bald statements of fact — “It will rain tomorrow” (which in Katylin would be roughly ‘raining/day/after-now’). Other common tones express ‘probability’, ‘hope’ &c. For future events there were five basic tones. A harsh emphatic tone (never used concerning the future) expresses complete conviction. 


Reality Fixation


This is the basic Sarlang technical innovation though there remains much disagreement as to what exactly it consists in. According to Sarlang conceptions all events in the Manifest can be traced back to their origins in the Unmanifest where they exist in a tentative and nebulous state as  ‘synghia’ or  ‘half-form’.  
Supposedly, there are several stages between a pre-event’s ultimate source  in the Unmanifest Non-Occurrent (which is totally out of reach) and its appearance in the Manifest  : generally five stages are distinguished though some authors list as many as twenty-seven. In theory it is possible to intervene during some of these stages and repulse or transform a pre-event before it has become completely defined. This procedure is called ‘uz-syrsann’ or Reality Fixation. Successful reality fixation requires the ability to penetrate into the world of half-form which lies behind and between phenomena. But this is by no means the end of the story since it is essential to distinguish between pre-events that are still malleable and those that are already well-defined —  a  distinction that is very hard to make.

            Note that ‘making a wish come true’ is not Reality Fixation but Reality Construction. In Sarlang terms, all wishes, desires, fantasies and so on are   situated in the Manifest Non-Occurrent and not in the Unmanifest.


Pre-existence and Emergence  

One of the chief Sarlang ideas was that everything in some sense pre-existed in the Unmanifest. A completely ‘new’ event (new to us) emerges directly from the Unmanifest in which it pre-exists as ‘half-form’. Other events (the vast majority) are just repetitions of previously occurrent events with slight modifications. A further category includes events that are projected into the Manifest Non-Occurrent and as it were reflected back into the Manifest Occurrent. In this roundabout way the imagined can become ‘real’, i.e. operative. 

            The Sarlang attempted in their philosophical system to take account of  two opposing and equally important aspects of ‘reality’, discontinuity and emergence from pre-existing elements. The future state in some sense pre-exists in the earlier state from which it ‘emerges’. However, there is no flow, no continuity, and it is even possible to cut off an outcome which in some sense pre-exists.

            As many opponents of the Sarlang system have pointed out there is a fundamental difficulty here: if everything pre-exists, then so does emergence and so there can be no true emergence (since what emerges is already in existence). The Sarlang would doubtless  say that the above argument applies to what goes on here (in the Manifest) but not to a process which commences in the Unmanifest. The emerged world indeed pre-exists in the Unmanifest but that does not rule out the possibility of us, who do not belong to the Unmanifest, experiencing emergence. Indeed, if we did not experience it, we would not be alive at all — we would belong to the Unmanifest completely. There is a famous maxim found in the notebooks of Awailyia, the founder of the Yther movement,  

 

“For Aoullnnia there is no emergence, but for us who are not Aoullnnia there is only  emergence.”  

 

The Web of Aoullnnia – Chapter 6

Revelations in the Dryallkhin Suite

Two hours or so later I went to the agreed meeting with Dyrithan. Whether deliberately or not, Dyrithan had opted for the Dryallkhin Suite which was the one where we had first met that summer – or rather where I had overheard him making objectionable remarks about my exemplar, Sambord, and had challenged him to a dual. Dyrithan was not there and I sat by myself at one of the window alcoves moodily drinking the frothy green liquid on offer to anyone allowed into the suite. Skihl is made from a plant unknown to you which developed spontaneously during the genetic chaos of the period we know as the Abyss. The plant is a distant relative of the vine though it looks more like a sloe and the small hard berries taste vile when eaten direct. However, after skilful preparation and mixing we derive the superb drink of skihl which has largely replaced wine in our era. The straylkha suites always have skihl of the very best quality available.

The meeting had left me feeling confused and ill at ease. I take the view that the current society could be considerably worse than it actually is and that any groups which wish to overthrow it should have a clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing. I avoid political meetings because I find the ‘raincoat and revolver’ ambiance ridiculous and heartily detest the pretentious jargon employed by most of the speakers. Apart from that it is obvious that all such movements are utterly futile since any alternative government to that of the Parthenogens is out of the question because only they know how to maintain ozone levels capable of sustaining life.

Still, I could hardly deny that the proliferation of neutrax in recent years has become a serious threat. At present all sorts of tasks are carried out by neutrax, including highly skilled operations like implant surgery and typically ‘human’ functions such as health care and policing. My own particular work, cultivating the Disyelthyia plant from which yatthin is extracted, is quite straightforward — one of the reasons why I chose it incidentally — and the sort of operations I carry out daily, watering seedlings, checking light-levels and so on, could just as well be carried out by a metal. A lot of us lower level mefam workers get the disquieting feeling that we are being kept in existence as a sort of favour: we are not necessary to the proper functioning of the Conglomerate. But then in a sense nothing at all is ‘necessary’, certainly not the continuing existence of the human species. One could conclude, as the Yther in effect do, that the sooner everything is wound up the better, but this is not the only valid conclusion to draw. One could just as well argue that since nothing is essential we, as higher biologicals, are perfectly at liberty to prolong our span simply because we see fit to do so. ‘I suppose this means,’ I said to myself sitting in the alcove, ‘that I should by rights become a member of Solemnin and spend the rest of my life furthering the cause.’ But this I had absolutely no intention of doing.
The weakness of the anti-neutrax party is, of course, that most people would be quite horrified by the idea of having to do a lot of the drudgery currently carried out by our metal slaves whom we manage to despise into the bargain. This was the point the fam who mentioned Yther self-sufficiency was trying to make. Even my own life of relative ease doing things like sitting here drinking skihl in the exclusive straylkha suites with their magnificent views over the city and countryside beyond, even this life would doubtless be jeopardised by any attempt to get rid of the metals altogether. So, like spoiled children, the present generation of anti-neutrax activists are trying desperately to have their cake and eat it as the ancient proverb has it. The problem, like so many others, was, I decided, insoluble and therefore the best plan was to ignore it altogether.

I looked up at the larger than lifesize photographs of the celebrated player whose name had been given to the suite. Dryallkhin’s features were truly beautiful and I, though only to a very minor degree attracted by my own gender, could not fail to respond to the androgynous, ethereal quality that is the esence of the Dryallkhin legend.

Supposedly intended to be of fam gender, because of some technical error Dryallkhin’s living essence was locked onto a mefam embryo and the resulting infant was not only of unexpected gender but to boot was weak and dangerously underweight. Disease is rare in our society because of pre-natal planning, efficient prevention and other factors. Nonetheless, it still exists and probably always will: I daresay a completely disease-free society would not be very healthy. Today, afflicted persons must be looked after either within a cluster or in specialised locales in much the same way as people are looked after in your era. But all these official attitudes take no account of popular beliefs — you would say superstitions – in particular the widespread belief in darstillya or ‘bad luck’ that I have already mentioned in these transmissions. Along with various other categories which includes as you have seen strayll-sri straylkha players, erloyll lovers, people with very red hair or curved fingers, and so on, diseased individuals are regarded as bringing darstillya on those who frequent them. Whether there is any foundation to this belief, or whether social attitudes produce the very effects people fear, I would not like to say.

On leaving the protected environment of one of the Baridyiena or ‘Baby Islands’ where most infants spend their first year or two, Dryallkhin, attended by his Personal Protectress (who would not normally be his parent) was taken around to various clusters but none of them apparently wished to take the risk of accepting him unconditionally though they didn’t say so in as many words. For a while he was looked after by specialised Health Officers in a separate locale but, fortunately for him and us, the feeble and withdrawn mefam child was spotted by a travelling straylkha coach when he was seven – which is the absolute limit for being accepted into a cluster. This coach recommended that he be assigned to a cluster with a strong straylka tradition which was eventually done. Even here Dryallkhin did not have an easy life and the picto-history of the various injustices perpetrated against the sensitive young mefam makes very disturbing viewing.
But ultimately Dryallkhin’s talent overcame all obstacles and for a few years he was by far the most acclaimed straylkha mirage, excepting only Petaya himself, the greatest of the great. Dryallkhin never had the power of Tlemko, nor even my own master Sambord; he was the lyrical straylkha player who made this difficult and intricate discipline appear as easy as stringing beads. Indeed so undemonstrative and seemingly effortless was his technique that people who knew nothing about straylkha found it difficult to see what the fuss was about. Petaya, then quite age-advanced, declined to appear on the cone against Dryallkhin because he did not wish the art of the latter to suffer by comparison with that of the only player who was even remotely in the same class.

Though apparently healthy, Dryallkhin’s original disability had not been eradicated completely and it was generally expected that the great player would not live beyond the age of thirty. At each of his later appearances the spectators were afraid that it might be his last, and, to give the finishing touch to a life entirely devoted to beauty and grace, Dryallkhin, on his final appearance and knowing in advance that he was doomed, had himself injected with muscle-fortifier and literally expired on the cone in what is said by those who witnessed it to have been the single most magnificent exhibition of straylkha technique in the history of the game. All video-recordings of the game were naturally destroyed immediately, the cone itself was dismantled and the pieces incinerated and scattered to the winds. Even those who had no interest in straylkha mourned the mirage whose gentle and unassuming character was admired by everyone.

Dyrithan eventually arrived and apologised for his lateness. He helped himself to some skihl and, without bothering to make any preliminary friendly conversation, asked me what I had thought of the meeting. I said that naturally I agreed with the general aims but did not feel inclined to take things further at present. Dyrithan replied that I was perfectly entitled to my views and that Solemnin was not at all an organisation that sought to make converts like the Sythana Brethren or the Yther. It was clear to me, however, that he had been put out by my reaction — Dyrithan was an ultra-sensitive person beneath his rather casual exterior.

I asked what actions the organisation planned to take in the immediate future but he said shortly that he was not in a position to divulge any plans to me as I was not a member.

‘In any case, I am not sufficiently high up in the movement to know much about what is being planned myself’

‘But doesn’t that worry you at all — that you don’t know what you’ve got yourself into?’

‘No — why should it? I have confidence in those who are in control of the movement. In things of this nature, one either has faith or one doesn’t.’

I decided there was little point in discussing the issue further and decided to change the topic of conversation. I asked Dyrithan if he had seen the dual between Telyapin and Sentrann, which was regarded as the high point of the winter games, and if so what he had thought of it. He answered that of course he had been impressed by the rapidity and overall strategy of Telyapin but that he thought his positioning was rather careless for a player of his class — exactly my opinion. We talked about straylkha for a while though neither of us made any allusion to last summer’s strayll-sri.

Our talk drifted onto other topics.

‘By the way,’ said Dyrithan, smiling a little, ‘didn’t I hear that you got yourself into trouble by refusing someone’s wrist-fan?’

‘A bit, yes.’ It was my turn to go on the defensive. ‘I even received a warning from the Arbiters but no more than that.’

‘I believe the custom should be discontinued,’ said Dyrithan seriously. ‘It is becoming a nuisance to persons who come here for straylkha or other sports. I do not speak for myself for I have never received a wrist-fan. If I ever did I would not know what to do.’

I had noticed that Dyrithan was painfully self-conscious when in the presence of young fam. There was a rumour going the rounds that Dyrithan, on his first attempt at exchanging in a Hymen-bower, had been mocked by a subdominant for his inexperience, and that she had not only refused intimacy at the last moment (which was technically her right) but had scornfully walked out of the precinct (which most certainly was not).

‘Who was the subdominant?’ Dyrithan asked casually. ‘Do I know her?’

‘Ryaltia’s niece,’ I replied after some hesitation. There was not much point in concealing her identity since Dyrithan would almost certainly hear all the details sooner or later. I was seriously annoyed with Dyrithan for broaching the subject nonetheless.

Dyrithan was about to lift the glass of skihl to his lips, but instead of doing so he put it down at once. He looked across at me strangely.

‘Not Xinthia?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you refused her wrist-fan?’

‘Yes, well, no… at first I picked it up, and later on… Look here, it’s no business of yours… I don’t want to talk about it.’

Dyrithan looked me straight in the eyes.

‘I know you will find the question indiscreet, but I feel I must ask it nonetheless. Have you exchanged with this subdominant?’

‘No,’ I replied, partly to head off further questions, also because Xinthia had expressly asked me to say nothing about our relation. ‘In any case, what’s it to do with you? Really, Dyrithan, if I didn’t know you…’

My hands were twitching under the table and I was beginning to get very angry.

‘I hope for your sake this is true.’

‘Why? What’s the matter with you? What’s all this? You’ve met Xinthia yourself, she was there last summer with Ryaltia, right here.’

‘Yes,’ replied Dyrithan, ‘but I pointedly ignored her, and it seemed that you did yourself.’

‘Did I? What the hell’s all this? What’s important about whether I have or have not exchanged with her?’

I was beginning to shout and one or two people in the suite turned round to stare at us.

Dyrithan paused.

‘Xinthia is vertran,’ he said drily, ‘and practically everyone here avoids her.’

Vertran are malicious fam who falsely accuse mefam of having forced them, or of having used threats of violence to achieve their ends. Such behaviour on the part of mefam is very severely punished in our society, and in serious cases, apart from other sanctions, mefam are ‘disgrace-marked’ which means they receive a blow with a drynnia across the cheek which leaves a mark for a long time, sometimes for ever. Of course, any such accusation must be upheld before an Interdominant Court of Justice but mefam cannot always count on getting the benefit of the doubt — or such at least is our opinion.

‘I realise this is going to be painful for you,’ said Dyrithan making an attempt to be considerate. ‘But you need to face up to certain facts before it is too late. I know Xinthia sometimes behaves as if she were fifteen or less, but in reality she is twenty-eight — ask her yourself, or Ryaltia, if you don’t believe me. She also belongs to one of the most select clusters, the Thyallin, which specialises in training subdominants for the Higher Technical Controls. Now, although some of these subdominants might occasionally frequent people of our social level at places like Lunkod, they don’t readily go around throwing their wrist-fans at people like us.’

‘Why did she pick on me then?’

‘It’s fairly clear. In your case, she correctly assessed you as someone who disdains all this sort of gossip, and so she counted on you either knowing nothing about her reputation or, if you did know something, discounting it as undeserved.’

‘She threw her wrist-fan at me to get revenge because I ignored her last summer,’ I murmured. ‘And then there’s the fact of our st — of. well, last summer’s event.’

There was a dreadful plausibility about Dyrithan’s version of the story.

‘Well, perhaps that was the reason, I don’t know,’ replied Dyrithan noting my reaction. ‘But young fam, although they might want to be seen publicly with one of us after the er-event of last summer, wouldn’t want to take things further while we are still darstillya.’

‘Xinthia doesn’t care about such old-fashioned rubbish,’ I said shortly and immediately regretted it since it implied I knew her rather better than I had up to then been making out.

‘You realise I hope that Xinthia has already been responsible for the disgrace-marking of two mefam?’ went on Dyrithan after a pause.

‘That was because they tried to force her — it was a disgusting affair…’ Now he mentioned it I did recall some rumour about a young straylkha novice related to Ryaltia being molested: this could only be Xinthia.

Dyrithan shrugged. ‘Let us say we do not know the full details. I personally think the mefam concerned were not entirely innocent, but the punishment was out of all proportion. And it is said that they were not allowed to appeal because Xinthia, through her connections, got the whole thing hushed up. I do not know the facts any more than you do, but I do know that the sort of mefam who come here because of the Hymen-bowers avoid her systematically.

‘Maybe they do — why should I care? Anyway I don’t believe you — all this is just some filthy gossip going around… It’s lucky I know you, Dyrithan, otherwise…’

I was by now quivering with fury and it was all I could do to hold back from attacking Dyrithan physically.

‘You’re only saying this because — ‘ I stopped suddenly before saying something that could ruin our relations forever.

Dyrithan laughed sourly. ‘You refer to my well-known timidity with fam? I am jealous because I never frequent these famous Hymen-bowers — is that it? Well, after all maybe there is something in that — my motives are not entirely pure, no one’s are. But for all that I am genuinely worried about you. Drop this vertran angle if you like. There is something else you ought to know. That is not the only reason everyone here avoids her. She is commonly believed to be monitored — subliminally monitored. And you know what that means.’

‘For goodness sake, you’ve seen too many picto-histories.’

Subliminal monitoring is a very recent technique. It consists in implanting a microscopic recording device in someone’s brain which allows that person’s experiences and even thoughts to be picked up from some distance away — so at any rate it is alleged. There is currently a lot of discussion in the clusters about whether it is or is not possible to subliminally monitor someone without their prior knowledge and consent. Also, some people claim that if a subliminally monitored person has close relations with someone else, for example exchanges with them, the second person gets automatically monitored as well i.e. the surveillance gets propagated in the manner of a virus. I had so far paid little or no atterntion to such stories, dismissing them as paranoid nonsense.

‘Why on earth should Xinthia be monitored?’

Dyrithan looked at me wearily.

‘I sometimes wonder how it is you’re not yet extinct, you take so little interest in what’s going on around you. What does Xinthia study — did she at least tell you that?’

‘Hyper-themistrics, something like that. I hate all that kind of stuff. And there certainly wouldn’t be any danger in passing on the most precious information to someone like myself.’

‘Yes, Hyper-themistrics. But more specifically DETP — from a theoretical angle. I presume you have at least heard of DETP since you live in a cluster that is just about the most important Research and Refuelling Station for DETP on Sarwhirlia at present. Yes, yes, I know you spend all your time watering yatthin plants when you’re not on the cone. I also presume you know there is currently a lot of controversy about the dangers of DETP, and the ethics of the whole thing.’

‘I’m not in the least interested. I don’t particularly care where the energy comes from.’

‘Yes, I don’t expect you do. But the Yther think otherwise and at the last General Concilium they decided to issue what amounts to an ultimatum. Never in present memory has anyone spoken to the Dominants in such a manner. Anyway, take it from me that DETP is a red-hot issue and Xinthia is deeply immersed in it, so deeply that it’s probably impossible for her to pull out of it even if she wanted to. She did not choose this area of study incidentally: it was imposed on her.’

‘What’s all this got to do with me?’

‘Quite a lot. You as someone who lives in the Y-57 cluster would be a very appropriate person to be subliminally monitored — yes, I know, IF such a process exists, but let’s for the sake of argument say it does exist. Your utter indifference to the subject is actually an advantage because people who do know about it will not be wary of you and will say what they think when you’re around. Don’t you have any close friends that are well up in DETP.’

‘Well, yes, I suppose Tarla is and he’s a member of a trio I’m in. But… ‘

‘You see.’

‘No, no, this is utterly preposterous. The next thing you’ll be telling me is that this skihl we’re drinking has been tampered with and contains minute organisms which are going to infiltrate our brain-cells.’

Dyrithan shrugged. ‘Think what you like. I’m just warning you. If Xinthia is not already monitored, it’s practically certain very soon she will be. I can only advise you to avoid her, unwelcome though this advice is.’

‘I don’t know her that well anyway. I just think you’re going slightly neural yourself since you got involved with this organisation, if you don’t mind me saying so. I see no reason for anxiety about what’s going on at present in the Conglomerate — yes, I know there’s an issue concerning the metals but I don’t intend to lose any sleep over it.’

‘You don’t think the social structure is showing signs of wear and tear, that in brief there’s beginning to be a power vacuum?’

‘No, I wouldn’t say so.’

‘And the fighting in Majentia at the moment?’

‘That’s been going on for some time already. Anyway it’s strictly local and hardly likely to expand further. They’re so backward it’s normal for them to have small-scale wars — if you look back into mefam times you’ll find it’s one war after another. The global situation is totally under control.’

‘And Aruella? She’s getting involved in the Majentian war, or wants to be.’

‘I’m not sure she’s even still alive — she’s just a bogey. Intelligence Services need to have some sort of enemy, otherwise they’d lose their raison d’etre. No, I’m not in the least worried about Aruella.’

‘It’s not a question of Aruella attacking us here I’m talking about — the very fact that she’s allowed to exist at all shows that the skrylla of the current Dominants is dangerously weak. It’s a sign, just like the disturbance the Yther are causing.’

‘Oh, the Yther is a religious organisation committed to peaceful methods, they’ll never cause any real trouble whatever they say. No, no, the Conglomerate is as stable as it ever was.’

‘Well, I can see you’re pretty well incorrigible. You do at least know that the Magnatte have now been the ruling Parthenogens for over a hundred and twenty years — that’s the longest span in the whole era.’

‘So what? Yes, it may be there’ll be a new set of Dominants shortly but that doesn’t worry me, the last transition went off apparently without any trouble at all.’

‘The last one, yes. But this transition will be a rather special one.’

‘Why?’

Dyrithan examined me cautiously.

‘You do at least know the prophecy about the Eight Parthenogens?’

‘That there’s only eight and after that the whole era comes to an end? Everyone knows that — it’s no secret at all. But it doesn’t apply to what’s going on at the moment.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because the Magnatte are the seventh. I don’t care what happens after the next lot finish because I shan’t be here, I’ll be a floating essence in the underground lakes of Mortalysium.’

‘You’re quite sure about that?’

‘What? About being a floating essence, you mean?’

‘No. About the Magnatte being the seventh Parthenogen.’

‘Yes, I am — as sure as one can be of anything.’

Dyrithan looked at me again and shook his head.
‘I think you’d better keep strictly to straylkha in the future.’

‘I intend to — or other things.’

‘Look,’ he continued wearily, ‘given your attitude and your possible continuing frequentation of Xinthia, it may be we won’t meet up again too much, not one to one anyway. I can’t take the risk now I’m committed to Solemnin.’

‘What is all this?’

He shook his head.

‘Tell me, have you never heard of the Theory of the Lost Parthenogen?’

Now he mentioned it I had come across something on the subject.

‘Oh, that. I don’t intend to worry myself about that sort of stuff. It’s just sensationalist drivel.’

‘I only wish it were, in some ways. Anyway, I think I’d better move off — I’m supposed to be meeting the Regional Organiser in a short time. Let us keep to what we remember together,’ he concluded with an attempt to recapture our previous intimacy.

‘Yes, certainly. What happened can never be undone. It was a fantastic experience. Fantastic. I’ll never forget it. It was worth living just for that afternoon. I’m glad we had the quarrel in this very place because otherwise…’

We drank what remained of our glasses of skihl.

‘Here’s to… ?’ he said not quite knowing how to finish the sentence. What indeed should we drink to?

‘To our strayll-sri!’ I said on a sudden inspiration, daring to use the term.

‘To our strayllsri, yes.’

‘And to darstillya!’ I went on recklessly. ‘Here’s to whatever may come about!’

Transmitter’s Note
Although I have subsequently received many further transmissions from Yilkin I. Isellyion , this effectively brings to a close Part One of these ‘messages from the future’. I shall continue to post further installments of “The Web of Aoullnnia” at a later date but for the moment will deal with other matters.

The Web of Aoullnnia – Chapter 5

Solemnin

We were too shattered by the experience to speak much after our expulsion from the Hymen-bower but we hastily arranged to meet again the following morning. However, when I presented myself at the desk of the building where Xinthia was staying, the attendant handed me a photo-message.

‘Xinthia leave must. See Yilkin Y-57 soon. No-speak anyone last night. Supra-important. Trust Yilkin. Xinthia.’

The photo-signature was an animated one, and before my eyes the round face passed into a smile while the right hand came up to touch her well-chiselled lips. Then the entire missive blew up scattering blue smoke and spangles.

* * * * * *

A couple of days later I came across Dyrithan in one of the straylkha suites. I had seen very little of him during the winter season and in effect we had been tacitly avoiding each other. I thought he looked very much the worse for wear (though he was about fifteen years younger than I was): indeed, there was something shifty about him. I had seen him in a dual where he completely outclassed a new player from Glaciolyia who had been lauded as a budding talent and did not mind setting himself up against a player under darstillya. I complimented him on this performance, but he said that at present he was playing very little straylkha — he had more important things to do. I asked what things, and at first he looked away without answering. Then he waited a moment or two until the group at the next table moved off.

‘Where do you stand on the question of neutrax?’ he asked abruptly.

Rather surprised by the question I said that I viewed them as a threat just like everyone else, but didn’t see what could be done about the situation.

‘There are things that can be done,’ announced Dyrithan emphatically. ‘But only if we can get together enough determined people to resist invasion. For it is no less than that. By the last count there are eight and a half times more neutrax on Sarwhirlia than higher biologicals — do you realize that?’

‘I think I have heard something similar. It’s disgraceful. On the other hand…’

‘There’s no other hand,’ interrupted Dyrithan. ‘The way things are going at present, we shall be phased out of our own planet within the next parthenogenic span. There’ll be a nice clean cosmos free of bio-form — higher bio-form anyway. There’ll be nothing except a few ants and bumble-bees: all the rest will be metals. This is an issue that affects both genders.’

‘Well, yes.’ I flipped my hands open.

‘We in our cluster have made certain protests on the matter to the Regional Interdominant Concilium,’ I added.

‘And what sort of answer did you get?’

‘That current production levels require the presence of AEEs in certain posts — that sort of thing.’

‘So what are you going to do about it? Just take it sitting down?’

I looked at Dyrithan with some concern. Since the summer he had obviously undergone some sort of conversion but in precisely the opposite direction to myself. While I had withdrawn inwards and taken less and less interest in mundane concerns, Dyrithan had apparently got linked up with one of these underground political organisations that were starting to spring up all over the place at the moment.

‘There’s practically nothing we can do about it,’ I said wearily, ‘except possibly to point-blank refuse to accept any neutrax in our cluster — and we are not in any position to do that since none of us has any inside knowledge about ozone levels, oxygen veils and that sort of thing. Half the work in our cluster is carried out by neutrax who are remote-controlled from the Regional Base as you know as well as I do. I hate the set-up as much or more than you do, but I feel ourselves to be impotent.’

Dyrithan paused and gulped down hastily a glass of skihl.

‘Listen, I speak to you in confidence, understand, but during the last year a new movement has been formed known as Solemnin, and it has nothing at all to do with old sleepy organisations such as Bio-Sarwhirl and Lattisvlan. We really intend to do something for the planet and the species before it is too late. There is actually an open meeting this afternoon — anyone can go as long as they’re introduced by someone who’s a member as I am. I’d like you to come along and see what you think. There’s no commitment, it’s basically just an informal get-together for people who feel concerned about the issue. Full members meet privately and the regional organisers meet in places that even I don’t know about. I think you owe it to us to come at least to a single meeting, Yilkin, since Solemnin is about the only organisation at present that is working for your betterment and protection against the metals.’

I thought for a while.

‘Where do you meet?’

‘Small groups sometimes meet near the pagoda on the South Side of the Mintar Lake. But…’ Dyrithan looked slightly embarrassed for a moment. ‘This meeting’s going to take place in one of the Pentror Hymen-Bowers. The Regional Direction think it a useful ploy to pretend to be an exchange-ring — less likely to get surveillance that way.’

I laughed out loud. The idea of the earnest members of a new-fangled subversive organisation posing as ring-exchangers struck me as being hilarious *.
[ * It later transpired that the directive had been issued by a subdominant eager to become a member of the ‘Band of Pearl’ and who had wormed her way into Solemnin. The Band of Pearl is a fashionable élite cluster that only accepts young fam who have successfully carried out some elaborate practical joke or similar exploit.]

‘Aren’t you afraid those present might get carried away by the excitement of the moment?’

‘No, I’m not,’ said Dyrithan curtly. ‘This is no laughing matter, Yilkin.’

I went back to my rooms to change into more casual dress and at the appointed time I met Dyrithan outside the Pentror building. If the official at the Hymen-Bower of two days before had indeed reported me to the authorities, it seems nothing was being done as yet, since no one challenged me in the lobby. ‘Go right on up,’ said the thick-set brown-haired fam at the desk, ‘your partners are already waiting. It’s Suite 267 and the décor is Egyptian.’

I was at least thankful that so far none of the employees in such buildings were non-biologicals, though of late ‘AEE hominoids’ had been making an appearance here and there and they are very difficult to distinguish from humans at a distance of more than two metres. When all was said Dyrithan did have a point.

We pushed open the padded semi-circular doors to find ourselves in a long low room with rows of animal headed Egyptian gods and goddesses against the walls. Some twenty or so persons of mixed gender were sprawling about in various stages of undress — though I have no doubt that inhabitants of your era would not find the spectacle at all unseemly (or exciting). I did for a moment wonder if I had wandered into an exchange-ring and recoiled visibly, though I at once tried to correct myself. I considered myself ‘unfrae’ (because of Xinthia) but even apart from that I was not eager to participate in any such events currently. In my experience collective encounters, though tempting enough in theory, are rarely successful since it only takes one person with a particularly negative psyche to transform shared ecstasy into shared nightmare. This is true of course of a single individual as well but one can usually sense whether one person is compatible or not, while it is impossible to come to a spot decision about a dozen or more. We, in our society, are even more vulnerable to such mishaps than you are, since most people view exchanging more as a neural activity than a strictly physical one.

‘Are we all present?’ barked a tall subdominant with very short brown hair who seemed to be the spokesperson.

Everyone stopped talking at once. The ranks of stiff animal-headed deities from 5, 000 years ago looking down on us added to the solemnity of the occasion.

‘You are all presumably aware of the object of this open meeting. It is, in a word, to tell you that the long-suffering higher biological masses during the latter part of the Age of the Parthenogens have at long last found a worthy defender in the recently constituted organisation, Solemnin, which has sent me to address this gathering. Solemnin is a Katylin term which means Arousal. As such it encapsulates the spirit of our movement, for we have decided to have nothing at all to do with Bio-Sarwhirl, Lattisvlan, and all other crypto-technicist movements that have betrayed the confidence of the labouring higher biological masses…’

A solidly built, sandy-haired mefam wearing glasses (which we no longer use much) came up to me from behind and asked for my name, identification numeral and resident cluster. He apologised for being so officious but said that it was necessary to guard against infiltration, given the very serious circumstances that at present prevailed throughout Sarwhirlia. I told him what he wanted to know after some hesitation. He asked who had brought me to the meeting and I pointed to Dyrithan, now seated in full view of everyone on a stool alongside the speaker. My interlocutor entered my details into a miniature memorial he had dangling from his neck, and assured me that in the event of his arrest and subsequent interrogation he would erase the data store immediately, claiming to be able to do this by remote control. I said nothing, becoming increasingly irritated by this ambiance of ‘raincoat and revolver’.

‘…As I said a few moments ago, Solemnin means Arousal. Also, the Katylin root has a secondary meaning of ‘Self-Denial’ which I need hardly say is most appropriate. Solemnin represents a completely new phase in the annals of our species’ struggle, since only now, under this banner, are the higher biologicals organising themselves effectively against the metals. We will not allow our beautiful staryll planet to be defiled and penetrated by presumptuous AEEs! No, a thousand times, no. We will defend Sarwhirlia to our last drop of human essence, be it fam or mefam; we will bring about a return to the happy days when no AEE was tolerated in a position that could be filled by a biological! Is this the situation now? Certainly, it is not. Throughout the clusters, fam as well as mefam, we are witnessing the introduction of AEEs into areas where we, higher biologicals, are entirely adequate, if not superior. We are outnumbered eight and a half times to one by our species’ enemies: we must redress the balance, fellow biologicals, we must accelerate our reproduction rates even if we are obliged to have recourse to outmoded and unconventional methods. To all young fam in this gathering, I have a simple message: find a cluster sympathetic to the cause, join it and make yourselves fertile as soon as possible, procure spermatic essence from an authenticated Solemnin member, inject it into your body and instil into the eventual offspring biologically correct ways of thinking. To those others, incapable of giving birth or donating living essence, take heart from the very existence of this great movement and prepare yourselves for the approaching armed conflict when the future of Sarwhirlia and the Conglomerate will be decided once and for all. Which side do you intend to be on when the last synthetic trumpet sounds? Will you be with us, the champions of the warm-blooded hairy entities, or will you be found hiding behind the plyne and metal flanks of our enemies? Let it not be said that we, who incarnate the best and purest instincts of so many militants throughout the ages, in any way disdain lawful methods of contestation: we do and shall employ petition, collective deposition, memorandising, rallying, patient demonstration. Our movement has no desire whatsoever to depart from the hallowed principles laid down in the Scisterl Code and which have for so long brought peace and prosperity to the Conglomerate. But, higher biologicals, the hour is late and the situation dire. We will not shrink from employing more extreme methods should they be appropriate, we will not be intimidated by the technicists and the AEEists who have recently infiltrated the Interdominant Concilium and have misled our noble dominants into countenancing misguided policies which are bringing abject unemployment and consequent distress throughout Sarwhirlia…’

At this point I turned off — or rather turned on a miniature transmitter I was wearing to drown out the flood of verbiage.

‘…Are there any questions?’

Various pseudo-debauchees raised themselves from their beds of crylth to address the chair — for, on concluding her speech (which she had delivered standing), the spokesperson had ousted an Egyptian deity and settled herself into the vacant wooden throne.

Someone wanted to know when and where the movement Solemnin had started and how many members it had so far, while someone else asked about its internal organisation. To Q1 the speaker replied, ‘Seven months ago’, to Q2, ‘About eight hundred’. To Q3 she gave an evasive answer, claiming that for security reasons she could not go into the details. ‘But rest assured that our organisation combines all that is the very best in the traditions of hierarchical and participatory procedures respectively,’ she concluded.

A powerfully-built mefam who looked as if he might be a devilion-fighter asked if the movement had an Auto-Defence Corps as yet and, if so, whether it intended carrying out any actions in the immediate future ‘to teach the metals a lesson’. The speaker frowned and said that she did not feel able to reply to this question in full at an open meeting, but that in any case the leaders of a movement such as Solemnin were responsible people and were not to be confused with anti-technicist hooligans and adventurers.

The devilion-fighter murmured something inaudible and got to his feet, apparently aiming for the exit, but the sandy-haired official intervened and asked him politely but firmly to remain until the meeting had been brought to a close. After some glowering, he resumed his bed of crylth.

Someone else asked whether there were any local groups on Mortalysium and Naroube. The speaker looked across at Dyrithan interrogatively, and he got to his feet obviously abashed at being suddenly thrust into the limelight despite having performed countless times on the cone. He said that, as far as he knew, there was as yet no group on Naroube but a small cenacle existed amongst the Morellasts of Mortalysium. The spokesfam explained that, owing to the relatively small number of AEEs on the two orbs, the issue was a much less burning one for the inhabitants. ‘We are, most fortunately, still a long way from having AEEs replacing our worthy Progenitresses* and direct birthers which doubtless explains the relative non-combativity of the Sarwhellan** on Naroube,’ she informed us. ‘Nonetheless, even in this area, the utmost vigilance is necessary,’ she added darkly.
[* Progenitresses are specialised fam living on the natal orb, Naroube, where they give birth to hundreds of selected offspring during their active lives.
** The Sarwhellan, a powerful professional caste with virtual Interdominant status, are in charge of birthing and post-natal care on Naroube. They owe their exalted status to the tradition which claims that the Sarlang, the first Parthenogens, were originally midwives by profession. ‘Sarwhellan’ is a Katylin term which means literally ‘Easy-birth(ing)’.]

A shrill-voiced but for all that extremely pretty subdominant asked if the officials were sure that the Aphro-acclimatiser was at zero. The sandy-haired official hastily consulted a dial hidden behind a screen and assured her that it was. This, however, opened up a whole can of worms.

A dignified, somewhat age-advanced fam said that the whole idea of posing as an exchange-ring was humiliating and ridiculous, and she proposed that in future meetings should be uni-gender. Having delivered this salvo, she laced on her arm-guards in silence. The sandy-haired official said that he fully understood the member’s reactions and that he himself had been somewhat surprised by the directive, but the Regional Committee had apparently decided on the locale because they had reason to believe surveillance would be much less severe here than anywhere else at Lunkod. The fam in question replied that she did not believe there was any danger of surveillance in the first place, since the only people who interested MSS (Magnatte Security and Surveillance) were ex-zinn-coursers and other admirers of Aruella. The sandy-haired mefam said that he sincerely wished he could share the member’s optimism on this point but had to confess that he did not.
Another fam then observed sharply that it was all very well for him to prate on about security requirements but he, unlike all fam present, was not suffering from any loss of distoya by this odious simulacrum of a mixed exchange-ring. The spokesfam replied that Solemnin was reluctant to hold uni-gender meetings because one of the most important aspects of the AEE issue was ‘that it transcends all socio-specific themes such as gender’.

The meeting was beginning to get out of control and so, to forestall people taking the law into their own hands, the spokesfam declared that the consensus of the present gathering seemed to be that everyone should return to normal dress. Fam hastily fitted on trongays and laced on arm-guards though two subdominants remained defiantly naked.

A distinguished-looking subdominant, obviously an instructress in one of the élite clusters, said that she saw little hope of any popular movement having the slightest effect on current policy concerning AEEs. The only feasible plan of action was to infiltrate the Interdominant Concilium since only they had the power to bring about real changes on Sarwhirlia. Instead of opting out of the Higher Controls, as dissidents were now doing, or, having achieved them declining to take Interdominant status (as she herself had done), it would be far better for militants to join the power structure and change it from within.

‘We require,’ she said, ‘dedicated individuals, most likely destined to remain completely unknown to posterity, who will enter the ranks of the Interdominants, taking vows that they have no intention of fulfilling. It may well prove necessary for them to pretend to be technicists and repressors, and be execrated by the very persons they aim to help. They will act in silence and without subordinates or aides: in this way they will avoid detection.’

The spokesfam said that no member of Solemnin would baulk at such sacrifices, but that the organisation believed more in the combativity of the biological masses than in the role of the individual or sub-group. We must not forget the maxim of one of our forerunners, ‘History is not made by the few, it is made by the many’,’ she concluded.

Someone enquired about the organisation’s attitude to DETP. This drew forth a voluble reply.

‘Solemnin’s attitude to the question is far from being one of unconditional acceptance, but at the same time we are anxious to distance ourselves from the Yther, whose blanket disapproval has an entirely mystical basis. It is completely to misunderstand the dialectics of species struggle to concentrate on the nature of the energy source, rather than on the question ‘Who profits from it?’ It is this last question that every active member of Solemnin must ask her/himself at every minute of the day when confronted with the most banal artefact. Who made it? For whom? And whom does it primarily profit? Now the immediate beneficiaries of DETP are the Cleoi, since it is they who planned the entire operation. We of Solemnin are holding our breath – or rather our verdict – with respect to the Cleoi. One point that is undeniably in their favour is that they are principally biological entities, though they possess an electro-synthetic nervous system. This places them in a very different category to the AEEs as a group. Thus, to sum up, we do not on the one hand reject DETP out of hand, but neither do we give it our whole-hearted stamp of approval: we feel that more careful research into its possible dangers needs to be undertaken. Does that answer your question?’

Someone else asked if the movement had considered asking for help from Aruella. The spokesfam replied curtly that this was out of the question. ‘Solemnin steers a middle course between the Scylla of technicism and the Charybdis of primitivism of which Aruella is currently the main exponent.’

A serious-looking fam observed that it was all very well talking in the abstract about getting rid of the neutrax but that at present a large number of unpleasant jobs on Sarwhirlia, from patrolling jungle regions to shifting sewage, were carried out by them.

‘Are we ready and willing to take their places? I suggest that each person present make a list of her/his capabilities, so that we can form a reasonable idea of the level of life the movement might eventually be able to maintain. I need hardly say that I am not tempted by the ideology of the Yther movement: nonetheless on the economic and practical domain we could do worse than take the movement as a model. You are doubtless aware that the Yther produces all its own food and clothing and is virtually autonomous with regard to energy.’

I applauded this speech as just about the only observation that one could actually act upon and which got to the crux of the whole business. However, I was virtually alone in my reaction.

The spokesperson thanked the last speaker for bringing the meeting back to a concern with material realities, and said that she would recommend that membership scripts sent out on memorial include queries about the qualifications and abilities of prospective members. ‘But I must add that I cannot subscribe to the sentiments expressed concerning the Yther, which is a wholly retrograde movement from which Solemnin has absolutely nothing to learn. The archaism of the Yther, allied to its incomprehensible and ridiculous doctrines, in effect plays into the hands of the technicists and indirectly aids the forces of reaction. We of Solemnin are not opposed to industry and advanced technology as such: even, it may be, a small (very small) place will one day be allocated to AEEs within our society provided none of them carries out a task that a biological can just as well fulfil. Solemnin is a movement resolutely opposed to the inhumanities and injustices of the present era, but our gaze is just as firmly fixed towards the future rather than towards the distant past. I hope I have made myself completely clear on this point.’

As no more questions were forthcoming, the spokesperson declared the meeting closed. The sandy-haired mefam went round pouring out rather second-rate skihl into minute glasses which he held out to anyone who felt inclined to take one — I didn’t. I went straight across to the fam who had spoken about self-sufficiency and complimented her on what she had said. Dyrithan, probably because he wanted to cut short the conversation, came over and said he would like to see me later in one of the straylkha suites. He added that he was going on with the Travelling Overseer (the speaker) to another meeting, this one mercifully held in the open air alongside the Mintar Lake where the political activists were presumably going to pose as picnickers rather than as hardened debauchees. I agreed to meet him two hours later in the Dryalkhin Suite.

The Web of Aoullnnia – Chapter 4

Xinthia

I first became associated with Xinthia because of an absurd incident.

A curious feature of inter-gender relations during the present era is hand-concealment. In this case, there is no doubt at all that the origins of the practice go back to the time of the Amoeba Plague. The virus was very easily transmitted and one could catch the (originally fatal) disease simply by shaking hands with someone. Consequently, fam in particular took to wearing gloves at all times in mixed company since mefam were far more susceptible to the disease. And so, inevitably, the sight of the naked female hand — simply because it was so rare — became invested with erotic significance and aroused mefam much as the sight of naked breasts does in your era.

These attitudes are still with us today, even though the Ameoba Plague is now no more than a distant species memory. Young fam, especially those from the select clusters, still conceal their hands when in mixed company, though the custom is not nearly so widespread as it once was. And if a subdominant deliberately shows her bare hands to someone when they are alone together, this is to be interpreted as an invitation to intimacy. Otherwise, when in the presence of mefam, subdominants wear arm-guards, sort of long gloves reaching almost to the shoulder and which often include wrist-fans, circlets of lace or plylth enclosing the wrist and which can be inflated or deflated rather like the crests of certain lizards. Many subdominants wear large and highly ornate wrist-fans which they embroider themselves with the insignia of famous devilion-fighters or Sky-tracers, or again with their own initials or those of a current admirer. Most arm-guards are not all of a piece, so that it is possible to slip off the lower section, including the wrist-fan, while leaving the upper section in place. More serious fam or those beyond a certain age do not wear this type of arm-guard.

If, during one of the Festivals, a young fam slips off her wrist-fan and throws it at the feet of a passing mefam, this means that she has an interest in him, though it is not quite a direct proposition to exchange (our term for intimate relations).

Usually, though not always, the owner of the wrist-fan disappears at once into the mêlée, and the recipient has to try and find her even though he may well not have seen her features. Fam wearing only one wrist-fan are conspicuous but the recipient has to run the gauntlet of approaching the wrong person and receiving a sharp rebuff. Mischievous subdominants simply replace the discarded wrist-fan with an identical spare one but such behaviour is regarded as bad form and, if discovered, is penalised by the Arbiters of Etiquette of the Festival — the offender might be barred from attending further Festivals, for example. The recipient of a wrist-fan is supposed to go around minutely examining the design of all single wrist-fans until he thinks he has come across one that matches, and all this without making it too obvious what he is doing. As one can well imagine, the custom affords a good deal of amusement, at any rate to young fam.

It is in general easy to commence a relation with a subdominant at Festivals (but not otherwise) since fam today are subject to a seasonal, rather than a monthly, cycle of arousal, and many persons attend festivals in places like Lunkod and Gabellyia precisely for this purpose. Also, in our era, fam many times outnumber mefam on Sarwhirlia: cynics have even suggested that the purpose of the whole wrist-fan ritual is to give unattractive subdominants ‘a sporting chance’.

Once one has identified the owner of the wrist-fan, one is not obliged by the Rules of Good Conduct (which are posted up in various public places) to necessarily pursue the matter to the point of exchanging unless this is mutually desired, but the mefam in question is expected to nonetheless accompany the subdominant to some event and generally to make himself agreeable to her for the space of an evening or afternoon. The whole business becomes tiresome and time-consuming if one’s principal motive for attending the Games is not exchanging but straylkha or Sky-tracing, and the Straylkha Confederation has been lobbying for years to get the practice stopped.

Maybe, I should not have gone back to Lunkod at all during the year that followed my strayll-sri, but, drawn back I suppose by my bitter-sweet memories of the summer, I did put in an appearance at the Winter Games though I declined to participate in any contests much to the relief of my team since a player under darstillya is supposed to bring bad luck to his fellow competitors. I have myself spent some unforgettable moments in the sumptuous Hymen-bowers that are available free of charge at Lunkod to anyone who requires one, but after my strayll-sri I did not feel any inclination to get involved in intimate relations — this is a typical reaction while the period of darstillya is operative. I was thus more annoyed than flattered when a purple and white wrist-fan — white and purple are, remember, the strayll-sri colours — fluttered in the air and fell at my feet as I walked up the magnificent spiral staircase towards the Straylkha Suites. A band of very young subdominants was walking away, tittering slightly I fancied, but they were all hiding their hands so I had no means of knowing who the owner of the fam was. Before I could follow them, they quickened their pace and disappeared into a Make-up Room (which no mefam is allowed to enter.)

I examined the wrist-fan carefully. It was of a rather unusual type, much larger than the normal ones and was beautifully embroidered with what looked like initials in dark violet on white lace. It clearly belonged to a subdominant from one of the select clusters.

I decided to start trying to find the owner of the wrist-fan immediately so as to get the matter over and done with. After considerable trouble I did espy a small, very young subdominant with a mane of flaming red hair stiffened with lacquer talking and laughing excitedly with a group of other subdominants in a dining-suite, and she seemed to be taking pains not to show her left hand. Moreover, her right wrist-fan, seen from a distance at any rate, seemed to match the one I held.

I could not decently approach her while she was amongst friends according to the rules and had to waste my time waiting for the group to split up instead of going to watch a devilion contest that interested me. I observed the young subdominant from a neighbouring table without making it too obvious what I was doing. The group was speaking Sarwhil Katylin as I anticipated which showed they were from one of the more exclusive clusters, and the red-haired subdominant, who was strikingly pretty, seemed to be holding forth on the subject of straylkha. She was, I decided, one of those pretentious hot-house products of the elite clusters who take a passing interest in the game without knowing the first thing about it. I cursed my luck as I would doubtless have to accompany the wretched creature to some contest and put up with her fatuous comments on the style of play.

After keeping me hanging around for most of the morning, the red-maned subdominant minced off to the Lynstol (W.C.) and did not reappear — presumably she used the exit on the other side. This was really too much and I was tempted to simply get rid of the wrist-fan — one can sometimes barter it with some mefam who is smitten by the fam in question, or even hand it in at the desk, but by doing this one risks an enquiry. Once one has gone through the wrist-fam procedure and spent some time with a subdominant, one has the right to wear a badge which effectively makes one exempt from the obligation to accept any further offers, so I still kept to my original idea of going on to the bitter end. I scoured the sort of places where I expected young subdominants to be and eventually found the person in question sitting with a different uni-gender group on the south shore of the Mintar Lake. Once again she seemed to be concealing her left hand. At one point her companions moved off a little, leaving her alone, and I took this to be my cue. I came forward, inclined myself slightly as etiquette demands and formally presented the wrist-fan which seemed to match perfectly the one she was wearing on her right wrist. She looked up at me with a haughty expression and without saying a word took out her left hand from under her stole and held it in front of me. It was enclosed in a full arm-guard complete with wrist-fan. Her companions, noting my arrival, hastened back as if she were being annoyed by someone, and this naturally added to my discomfiture.

This time I really was tempted to throw the wretched wrist-fan into the lake, but it was as if a hidden hand had reached out to stop me — I simply could not get rid of the object. Much later, during the same miserable day, I came across by chance a subdominant of about the same height as the earlier one but with short-cut black hair instead of red and once again she seemed to be concealing her left hand while wearing a right wrist-fan that matched the one I was holding. I was absolutely sure this time that I was not mistaken and I also noted that she was ensconced in a window alcove and was waving her hand to some acquaintance in a manner that suggested she wanted to be alone. I went through the whole performance again, presenting the wrist-fan at a suitable moment. Once again the subdominant looked up enraged and revealed her left arm which, as before, was enclosed in a full arm-guard. I was so infuriated that I slung the wrist-fan half-way across the room and, turning aside, began to break into tears — in our era it is acceptable for mefam to relieve their feelings in this way though it remains fairly uncommon nonetheless. I am someone who is very sensitive to being made a fool of in public, and I was particularly incensed since, as stated before, I had not the slightest inclination to exchange with this or any other subdominant at this particular moment.

The subdominant – who was of course the same as the earlier one, the red hair being a wig — must have decided that the joke had been taken too far, for she followed me at once as I left the suite, and even gripped my arm with her right hand which was now bare (for she had torn off her wrist-fan and glove). I shrugged her off but she kept her grip.

‘Excuse,’ she said, ‘I Ryaltia niece. Summer last Yilkin ignore Xinthia. Xinthia no-like. Demand punition! Now overmuch. Forget please.’

(I should perhaps explain that those who normally speak Sarwhirl Katylin, which is a very condensed language without articles or tenses somewhat like your Mandaryn, tend to speak Andirax in this extraordinary fashion which is variously regarded as ridiculous, charming, erotic or maddening.)

I pushed Xinthia away so hard that she actually fell over, but she got up and followed me, now herself in tears and in her exasperation tore off her second wrist-fan as well, hurling it to the ground. We had by now attracted a good deal of unwelcome attention from passers-by, most of whom, seeing a young and pretty subdominant in tears with her hands bare following someone who pushed her away roughly, at once assumed that I was the criminal in the situation. Xinthia, however, angrily told everyone to mind their own business and left me to exit alone. By the standards of our society this was a dreadful humiliation for a high-ranking subdominant as she clearly was and in the normal way of things would have earned me a sanction. I did, in fact, receive a reprimand from the Arbiters of Etiquette the following day, though they added that, since no formal complaint had been registered, no action would be taken on this occasion.

As far as I was concerned this was the end of the affair. I saw Xinthia once or twice at the Games in passing but she no longer made any attempt to contact me, except to look briefly in my direction with a contrite expression on her round face. I noted that she was always alone. I now remembered who she was and had to admit that my conduct that summer had not been faultless though her reaction was, to say the least, excessive. I was myself becoming a little curious about her but I did not see how I could meet up with her now without appearing weak and foolish.

Around the middle of the (shorter) Winter Games period, a straylkha player friend passed me one morning a photo-message. The missive had on the outside the same purple and black symbols that had been embroidered on the wrist-fan, and I realised that they were decorative initials, namely X-L-R. Opening the message I read:

‘Xinthia demand see Yilkin. Possible? Xinthia leave Games morrow. Year next Xinthia no-come, perhaps never. Test Interdominant. Wish see Yilkin one time. Go south pagoda Mintar noon 4 today. Trust come. Xinthia.’

At the bottom was a photo-signature, a round face with piercing green eyes and a sad expression.

* * * * * *

Intergender relations are so different in our era that you would find them scarcely comprehensible — but yours appear equally strange to us. Most people today (except in Majentia) live in uni-gender clusters and one’s essential bond is to one’s cluster, and not to the individual of the opposite gender. Family life as such does not exist. Also, fam within the Major Conglomerate do not become fertile naturally: they have to undergo treatment if they wish to have personal offspring and in principle must obtain permission to do so from their cluster. However, if they travel to the natal orb, Naroube, which many subdominants do today, the special atmosphere makes them fertile at once. Reproduction does not proceed by inter-gender exchanging — except in Majentia, a voluntarily backward region.

On Sarwhirlia separation between the genders is thus normal and there is little mixed socialisation outside festal occasions (though like practically everything else it is not expressly forbidden). Indeed the close proximity of genders in your society appears to us bizarre and ‘unnatural’.

At places like Lunkod varied exchanging is not in the least disapproved of, provided it is carried out in private — but this, of course, does not mean that admirers of a particular fam or mefam are necessarily immune to jealousy. Beautifully decorated locales known as ‘Hymen-bowers’ with the usual trappings such as mirrors, a tiled bathing area and so forth are available to anyone who wants them, apart from the private rooms allocated to visitors. In this respect our society is egalitarian enough.

A few vastly successful sporting or artistic figures sometimes succeed in maintaining ‘stables’ of young fam subdominants, but any fam who agrees to be a member of one is deemed to be lacking in distoya and is treated with disdain by members of her own gender. Such a person will most likely never find a cluster that will accept her again. Even apart from co-habitation, excessive dependence on specific mefam is disapproved of. Offspring incidentally are brought up by the (fam) parent and cluster though there is a complicated system by which a mefam can become the ‘adoptive father’ of a child who has exceeded a certain age. In such a case the adoptive offspring spends a certain part of the year with the ‘father’ in the latter’s cluster. The system works tolerably well though it obviously does not suit everyone.

The term ‘l***’ which I do not transcribe though it is not quite taboo, is never applied to relations between adults: in certain contexts it has been replaced by the Katylin term erloyll which means much the same thing but has a far stronger connotation of ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’. The word ‘erloyll’ incidentally designates on the one hand the state or feeling and the afflicted person or persons: this is typical of words borrowed from Katylin since the latter, as I have explained, does not have any very clear separations between grammatical categories such as ‘nouns’, ‘verbs’, ‘adjectives’ etc. which are such a feature of Andirax and related languages — Andirax is based on your English.

Erloyll between genders is discouraged and feared, though at the same time intensely desired: this attitude is by no means as unreasonable as it doubtless appears to you, for we live in a society where adhesion to the social group is the important thing, whilst erloyll pairs care nothing about the group or society in general. Also, we in the Age of the Parthenogens, belong to an order where crimes of violence are rare and we are prepared to put up with a fair number of inconveniences in order to maintain that state. As it happens, the greater part of the violent crimes actually committed are carried out either by erloyll who think themselves rejected, or by individuals who are susceptible to the affliction — people who are not content with the fairly extensive legitimate satisfactions offered by society. At the same time it is obvious that there is something in the neural make-up of the species which inclines it to fatal passions, otherwise there would be no need to discourage erloyll in the first place.

In practice society’s attitudes towards erloyll are contradictory — but so they seem always to have been. An erloyll pair will experience severe difficulties if they insist on living together, but of course such difficulties will, in a sense, be precisely what is required since it is well known that obstacles increase motivation. No normal cluster will accept such a pair and they will have to go voluntarily to frontier regions where criminals are often sent, or migrate to the new pleasure cities such as Lunkod or Gabellyia. Out of season these cities are rather desolate and tend to become the haunts of disreputable individuals, those precisely who have been excluded from their clusters or have found none that will accept them. Erloyll pairs may find themselves obliged to live in run-down vicinities and carry out menial tasks to survive. But social attitudes are not rational: though subject to serious inconveniences which might even be classed as mild persecution, erloyll pairs are at the same time admired and respected because they have voluntarily opted for a more demanding and intense way of life. In fact erloyll are not so much debarred from clusters because they are disapproved of as because they are thought to bring with them darstillya or ‘bad luck’, a concept very prominent with us. I have already noted that strayll-sri players are given a wide berth, at least for some time, for the same reasons.

It was thus with some misgiving that I eventually went to the proposed rendez-vous, for I realized that the image of Ryaltia’s niece was having a disquieting effect on me. I had largely avoided erloyll in my life so far, doubtless in part because of my commitment to straylkha. Moreover, to judge from the meagre data given in Xinthia’s letter, I could hardly have chosen a less suitable person to get fixated on, since by all accounts she was shortly to undergo the Higher Technical Controls and was thus a candidate for Interdominant status. Interdominants live entirely apart from everyone else and take vows to have no relations with the opposing gender.

Xinthia was sitting alone on a block of stone beside the Mintar Lake. She was wearing a very simple dark blue dress, had a violet shawl over her shoulders and wore long arm-guards without wrist-fans such as older fam wear. Sitting there like that she did not look at all beautiful: her round face gave her a somewhat comical air, like that of a clown, and, on arrival I burst out laughing. This was taken as a sign of truce and her expression changed immediately. I sat down on another block in silence. There was no one around as the day was overcast and there was some important event taking place which everyone was attending, I forget what exactly. Looking at me enquiringly, she unlaced her arm-guards and took them off completely with a shy expression. She had beautiful small white hands which she crossed on her lap.

It soon started to get chilly and we returned to the city itself, Xinthia replacing her arm-guards. We went directly to one of the large buildings that offers Hymen-bowers. I selected one at random: the number was, I think, 153. The fam behind the desk looked at us both very strangely.

* * * * *

Once inside Xinthia appeared so nervous that it actually crossed my mind that she was staryll but she smiled and said it was not that. It seemed out of the question to commence relations at once, so I suggested we go to the bathing area at the back of the lavishly decorated suite. In the steam-bath area there were highly erotic coloured murals as there often are in such places, this one representing centaurs and satyrs disporting with pubescent nymphs. Some of these mosaics are off-putting — one can choose the sort of décor one wants in advance by consulting a tableau but I had not bothered to do this. The mosaic here was, however, prettily done; it amused us and provided a diversion. Xinthia pointed at certain details, giggling.

All the same I found that this mosaic had a rather negative effect on me. These half-animal figures, satyrs and centaurs, revelling in the life of the senses had a sort of splendour about them and their partners, charming pubescent nymphs, retained grace and ‘innocence’ even as they adopted the most lascivious postures. Well and good. But why were we not rolling around on the grass of one of these woodland glades instead of looking on at tiled paintings in the heart of the vast, anonymous city of Lunkod? Of course, I told myself, it had never been like that even in ancient times: woodland glades were full of snakes and annoying insects — these mythological scenes were from the very beginning fantasies, just as artificial as the virtual realities of today. Yes, but this was a completely unsatisfactory conclusion…

I should explain to you that in my era it is no longer possible to simply opt out of society and take to the woods even though there is no law forbidding one to do so (we have very few laws). Apart from the intricate web of social customs and approved behaviour there are more mundane constraints: today the atmosphere on Sarwhirlia is, in most areas, still not capable of sustaining human life — erloyll pairs who wandered off in search of ‘the life of the senses’ would simply expire through not being able to breathe. Apart from this, uninhabited areas of Sarwhirlia are full of mutant animals and insects, monstrous creatures thrown up by the vast climactic changes of the period we know as the Abyss (and which you are very soon to enter). ‘Nature’ is a word not much used today in Andirax and it has been largely replaced by the term Svaroya which has a much sterner sense — what you call ‘Nature’ has become something essentially menacing and hostile to human life. Outside the barriers that enclose the territory of inhabited clusters one hears the baying of scryclores, repulsive beasts the size of your elephants but with fangs like your wolves. These new species, which have less need of oxygen than the wild animals of your era, scarcely appear ‘natural’ even to us who are to some degree accustomed to them. Indeed, many of us, especially I think mefam, have a deep-rooted nostalgia for a long-lost ‘state of nature’ before all these aberrations and deformities came into existence, and I suppose, at bottom, this includes the Parthenogens themselves on whom we all depend though no one would dare to say this openly. If I express such sentiments here, it is only because I assume that none of this will be cognised by someone living in my own era.

I must stop following down this train of thought, I told myself. I ought to respond ‘naturally’ (as you would put it) to the present moment, to the delightful feminine form glimpsed through the clouds of steam.

We left the bathing area and returned to the bed-chamber. But there was still a feeling of mutual anxiety and tension. Tacitly, we decided to abandon the attempt to take things further for the time being and actually got dressed – Xinthia even laced on her arm-guards. She began to question me closely about my day to day life in the cluster, the sort of work I did, my friends, straylkha and so on. She asked me what the cluster was primarily concerned with and I replied that until recently it had been a solar energy station but that at present it was being converted into a DETP Research and Refuelling Station. She started when I said this and asked me if it was not the Y-57 cluster? I said that it was. She fell very silent after this and paid no attention to what I said from then on, so much so that I gave up the attempt to talk altogether and, somewhat put out, poured myself out a glass of skihl from the wall-hold.

A little later she insisted on looking into my eyes. Some people in our era, as I think also in yours, believe they can tell the future by examining the iris, though I was rather surprised that someone from a highly intellectual select cluster went in for that kind of thing. I told her not to tell me what she saw, that I preferred not to know. She asked me if I had the opportunity of going to another cluster. I replied that like anyone else I could put in a demand for a transfer but that meant I would have to find another cluster that would accept me. I added that though I did not especially like where I was, I felt sure I wouldn’t be much better anywhere else while I would have the trouble of getting myself accepted all over again. So on the whole I always decided it was not worth it: I might as well stay where I was.

I offered the latter day Cassynder a glass of skihl which she declined. Instead of drinking it she asked me whether I had ever been to Mortalysium. I was by now getting quite sick of this interrogation but I did admit that I had been once to the mortuary orb to attend the withdrawal rites of my exemplar, Sambord, and did not aim to go again if I could possibly help it until I was myself an unconscious floating essence. Xinthia asked me solemnly to promise that if I were given the chance to go there during the coming year I would take it. I said I couldn’t possibly do that but, to keep her quiet, I eventually said I would consider the idea if and when such an offer was made.

‘Go! Leave immediate!’ said Xinthia, suddenly standing up and pointing with her right arm (still encased in its black guard).

‘Go where? Leave what? My cluster, you mean?’

‘No. Leave now here! Go! Xinthia big danger Yilkin. Soon too late.’

She collapsed on the bed of crylth muttering something like ‘No-able say’.

But then, before I could take her at her word, she clutched my arm.

‘No-go. Xinthia need someone. No-leave Xinthia now.’

I cursed myself for having got into this absurd situation. The wretched subdominant was clearly demented: I even thought of ringing for a Health Attendant straightaway.

Added to this, Xinthia kept fidgeting about with her arm-guards, alternately taking them off and putting them on again. Looking up, I noticed with annoyance that the Aphro-acclimatiser was at Position 4 and I turned it to zero without making it too obvious what I was doing. But the scent in the chamber was already having a strong though rather unhealthy effect: I have a distaste for such artifices at the best of times since they affect the quality of the experience.

‘Listen,’ said the Xinthia tearing off both her arm-guards, rolling them into a ball and hurling them across the chamber. ‘Know Yilkin think Xinthia shilly-silly. Go quick find other subdominant. Xinthia give last warning – GO! Xinthia now enter steam-bath once gain. Advise Yilkin leave, depart, no-see Xinthia ever. Finish. BUT Yilkin still here Xinthia back come, choice you.’

With that she flicked her hands open in a gesture that clearly meant that she disclaimed all further responsibility and strode into the steam-bath area, pulling across the screen.

She left me plenty of time to make an exit — but I stayed. Why? Nascent erloyll? A desire to see things through? Who can say — maybe just curiosity to see what would happen next.

When she returned she was in an entirely different frame of mind.
‘Good. Know Yilkin stay. Now begin.’

She spoke as if she were talking about starting a meal that had been delayed because of a mistake in the order.

* * * * *

I shall not describe the details of what followed, at any rate the physical motions and emotions. You have all doubtless experienced such things and can in any case regard picto-images which are a good deal more stimulating than anything I could relate. As compared to you, to judge by what I have seen and heard, we are a good deal more interested in what you would call the ‘psychic’ aspects of exchanging though we do not neglect the purely physical aspect. I had, however, always been somewhat cautious in this respect. I had , for example, never been tempted to employ exchanging as a means to ‘anstr-siran’ (literally, ‘life-drift’) or as a means of accessing Rhewenia since several people who, reputedly, had done just this never returned — whether voluntarily or not is unclear.

I have already mentioned Rhewenia, or the Unfinished World, in these transmissions. Although originally a result of witr-consl (lit. ‘image construction’) it should not be confused with the landscapes and experiences of ordinary dreams (though both belong to the vast region we call the Manifest Non-Occcurrent). Over the course of time Rhewenia has acquired considerable autonomy and the flora and fauna to be encountered there are most definitely not to be trifled with : they can entrap, sting, obliterate. Many people claim that the land-masses of Rhewenia are more beautiful than those to be found in the Manifest Occurrent but the main attraction for people in our era is that Rhewenia is most definitely not part of the Magnatte Conglomerate and so is in no way controlled by the Parthenogens. People who seek frae-dein (‘freedom’?) at all costs are attracted to it like moths to a flame, also persons who want to strengthen the physico-emotional bonds between each other whether erotic or otherwise. It is claimed, I do not know how reliably, that the ringleaders of the ill-starred ‘Revolt of Kaghin’ took their vows and made their futile plans on an island in Rhewenia (where naturally they could plot without any fear of being overheard).

Exchanging can, by mutual consent, be used as a means of space-transiting but I have always prudently declined any such invitation on the rare occasions when it has been offered to me. In this case, however, it seems as if my consent was either not required or was considered to be given (because of the veiled warning delivered by Xinthia). Whether by accident or design,then, at the climax of our physical paroxysm which came fairly quickly, I found myself projected down a long tunnel which had, at its end, a flickering green light. The sensation was neither agreeable nor disagreeable and at this stage I did not feel any apprehension. It was not unlike travelling in the more normal way and the voice which I heard was similar to the recorded voices on underground platforms.

“Very soon you will be crossing the frontier into the Non-Occurrent”, it announced. “You will experience a certain lightness due to physical personality loss but this is entirely normal and you will soon become accustomed to it. You will be recalled automatically when your time has been used up and we advise you not to attempt to overstay the allotted period as this may prejudice further travelling in this region. We wish you a pleasant visit and look forward to seeing you again.”
I felt an acceleration and the pinpoint of green light suddenly became very close. Other objects swished past me, apparently sucked into the vortex as well, and the air pressure increased without becoming unbearably intense. All this happened in a very short space of time — time is perhaps not the right word.

I found myself standing on an enormously long but quite narrow beach. It curved round slowly on both sides as if about to meet up again and form a lagoon though in fact it did not quite do this. There was sand beneath the soles of my feet, or something very like sand at any rate. And there were waves coming in towards the shore, I could see the foam forming and subsiding. But strangely enough there was no water as such, nor was there any sun. The sky was a superb purplish blue shading off toward emerald at the edges. From time to time flares of brilliant yellow light burst against the blue like celestial fireworks.

At my feet half-buried in the sand was what I took to be a toy aeroplane. Looking at it more closely, I realised that it was not a toy aeroplane but a ‘real one’ which had been scaled down in size though there did not seem to be anyone inside. It was not a modern craft, more one from your era or earlier still, to judge by what I have seen on Past-View programmes. I had vaguely heard something about size being distorted on Rhewenia so that objects which in our world appear to be large become miniaturized and vice-versa. Also, since Rhewenia is not subject to the normal time currents, it is possible for objects and persons from completely different historical eras to coexist, if not harmoniously at least without too much discordance – indeed this is said to be part of the fascination of the place.

Behind us was thick vegetation which gave the contradictory impression of being at once intensely alive and entirely artificial. The flowers were absolutely enormous, their petals flimsier than those of poppies, one would have said that they were made of tissue paper. And the shrubs were tightly tangled together, forming compact bundles – it occurred to me that they could be used directly as ‘brooms’ without having to be tied together. I found myself staring right into a distant orange-coloured bloom a bit like your sunflower. It seemed to be blown forwards and backwards by a strong wind which was odd since there was not even the slightest breeze. I realized that the ‘flower’ was nodding to me and intimating that it knew all about my present and past life and the reason for my presence at this outlandish location. While I was wondering where this flower got its knowledge from, I felt a hand gently but firmly turning my neck so that I faced the non-existent sea.

‘Some of the flowers here have hypnotic properties and it can be dangerous to look straight at them.’

I did not exactly hear these words : they were like emotional fragments exploding inside my head where they got immediately and automatically translated into a message. (This is why they did not have the staccato Katylin texture typical of Xinthia’s speech.) It occurred to me that this was the supposed origin of Whoirl, the Sarlang symbolic system which supposedly replaces advantageously both language and your mathematics.

‘The shrubs and plants in this part of Rhewenia are more predatory than the animals,’ the meaning-transmitter continued. ‘I am not sure how this came about. In any case it is not for this that we have come. Look into the emptiness before you — where you expect to see, but do not in fact see, water. For a long time you will perceive nothing but above all do not give up watching. Life-bubbles will eventually materialise drifting in from the Unmanifest. Your own life-sphere and mine will be amongst them, and you must will yourself inside it, I cannot do this for you.’

I was aware of my companion without looking at her directly. We were entirely unclothed but this was ‘normal’ since we had been anyway prior to our arrival. But the nudity had a completely different sense here. It was more as if we were animals who, of course, do not wear clothes. But at the same time I had the impression I could ‘imagine’ any sort of clothes I wanted, should I desire any. I wondered whether other people visiting Rhewenia were dressed or not…

‘Ssssh!’ whispered my companion. ‘Bubbles. Concentrate on the bubbles.’

For what seemed an eternity I was not able to discern anything in the emptiness in front of me except for the streaks of foam. At last, just when I was about to give up entirely, there was a sort of flickering and very far out to ‘sea’ small shining globes began to appear out of nowhere. Soon they were forming all around me, in the ‘air’ as well, becoming incredibly numerous and blotting out both the beach and the vegetation behind it.

‘Keep watching until you see one which stops right in front of you’. The ‘voice’ seemed to be coming from a very long way away as if someone were speaking down a flexible tube.

The shining bubbles continued to form, apparently out of nothingness, and after a while many of them burst, all in ridiculously slow motion. I found I could even see the minute tears and deformations in the sides of the bubbles just before they broke; I could even predict exactly where the next bubble would form and where it would eventually burst. I became utterly engrossed in observing these bubbles, forgetting completely what I was supposed to be watching out for. Each of the bubbles was, I realised, a miniature world, but one that did not concern me and never would. Then the process started speeding up : there were bubbles emerging from all sides, drifting about, colliding, bursting open with a faintly audible plop. There were literally thousands of them, hundreds of thousands, millions, everywhere, in every direction, globules of steam in an enormous pan of boiling water.

I was so absorbed that it was some time before I noticed that one of the bubbles was no longer moving and had stopped right in front of me. As I looked, the other bubbles moved away and gradually disappeared until there was only this one left. On closer scrutiny it turned out not to be a bubble at all but a sort of capsule : it was clearly an artifical construction. Inside it there were numerous white lines a bit like fibres criss-crossing everywhere, or perhaps like veins. The capsule also contained a substance that recalled mercury. Originally I conceived the bubble as being quite small, no bigger, say, than a soap bubble, but now I realized that it was enormous. It would for example easily contain a skilther or a small Sky-drift. As I gazed it grew larger still : there seemed in fact to be no upper limit to its size. (Alternatively, one could imagine that I and my companion were being miniaturized.) Although the other bubbles had by now completely disappeared, no sort of landscape or seascape replaced them. Also, I found I could no longer even see my own body, only sense its presence. There was nothing else but the capsule; it was growing so fast it threatened to engulph everything. It was the aullunn, the original unit in Sarlang arithmetic from which all numbers can be generated, or the piece in the game of that name which is worth all the others. But then, just as suddenly, it dwindled into insignificance, becoming no more than a grain of sand at my feet. It oscillated wildly for some time but eventually stabilized at about the size needed to take two persons of average size crouching together.

Up to this point I had been rapt and attentive without any real fear. But now the dreadful reality of what was happening came to me : we were part of an alien space probe. In a very few moments we would be sealed up alive in the capsule and put into suspended animation. The capsule would be ejected by remote control out of the local system and despatched in the direction of Alpha Centaurus. Alien intelligences would receive it and, in specially controlled conditions, open it : I could feel the sensors of these deadly creatures running over my body and puncturing my skin. I and Xinthia would be observed in our most intimate functions, would be weighed and tested for electrical discharges incessantly. Eventually, we would be made to exchange productively and her bodily transformation carefully monitored. Thus the insect-like aliens would know how life came about elsewhere within the galaxy. We were in effect a biological missive, culled by spies sent down to Sarwhirlia! Cold neutrax minds had planned the whole operation : the monstrousness of the scheme revolted me.

‘No, no, no!’ The words were not spoken by Xinthia but resembled more the ‘Voice Over’ we had heard on our entry into the Unfinished World. ‘There is no compulsion – it is entirely your choice. But whatever you decide, be quick. For the life-bubble will not remain in front of you for long.’

I got the impression that what I did next would have vast consequences and not only for myself. Either I would persist in my earlier existence and identity, or I would accede to a much more extended but at the same time much less definite one. All this was part of some plan which involved many more beings than just myself and Xinthia and the original idea had not come from her at all – she had indeed hinted as much in the Hymen-bower before our departure. Were the beings who had arranged all this benign or malevolent? There seemed no way of telling but I inclined to the former view.

All at once we were inside the capsule which closed around us. A viscous fluid trickled all over my skin : the touch was strange but not disagreeable. I could no longer see or hear anything : all I knew was that I was being connected up to the being alongside me in a very definite way. It was not at all an emotional experience, more like the assembling of a mechanical device — I was also reminded of diagrams of chemical bonds between differing substances. It occurred to me that I was withdrawing altogether but the thought was not at all frightening. Confused memories of my previous life rushed past me, replays of straylkha contests, episodes in the Y-57 cluster, meetings with Tarla and Asrynn, various fam I had exchanged with at Lunkod or other sites. Then I was in an enclosure with other mamling : high above us was a blue dome and the feet of a giantess straddling us like a tower.

A vast flood of turbid life-experiences surged through me like liquid in a tube being passed to another container. At the same time into my awareness came unintelligible sensations too quick to visualize, some exquisite, some hilarious, others frightening and repulsive. But before I could begin to integrate them I was overwhelmed by quite different sensations : it was as if the commotion had raised a layer of sediment from the lower depths of a pond. Life-forms long since extinct reached out to me like tendrils of climbing plants. Inside me were vast plains covered with grasses as high as trees, swamps heaving with enormous worms covered with yellow scales. Then I sank further back still, into a mucous submarine environment inhabited only by jellies and monstrous weeds. Even such sensations dissipated as, still connected to my companion, I felt myself passing beyond the limits of bio-form. We were before life, before history. Nothing of all that had yet been actualized : the Manifest Occurrent around us consisted exclusively of crystals and exploding gases. The capsule itself was ceaselessly being plunged into a sort of froth, at every moment it was shattered to a thousand pieces, only to emerge entire an instant later. I could feel this happening within me, but at the same time it was as if I were looking in from the outside : I could even make out my own features and those of my companion within the capsule. It was as if there was no longer a clear demarcation between inside and outside, this and that. Then there was no capsule, no stable forms at all, neither animate nor inanimate, because there was no persistence, only flashings emerging and receding, surface scintillations which from time to time exploded into the most magnificent patterns only to be dispelled as soon as they occurred. This was the sea of half-form, the ground from which the entire Manifest Occurrent comes. I and Xinthia were ourselves no more than slightly more persistent oscillations; we were being merged in the groundswell of existence and there was nothing now except these temporary patterns forming and dispersing. Nor was there need for more : this mode of being was entirely adequate and in fact beatific.

Suddenly I found myself stretched out on the sand; I could see the bubble moving away rapidly until it became no more than a distant speck indistinguishable from the lines of foam. An immense sadness swept through me: I was apart and alone as before. We lay there like two beached fishes, gills opening and closing. The sparse vegetation and sand gradually materialized and I became conscious of a dull ringing sound at the back of my mind, a sound which grew louder and louder, more and more insistent, making the whole landscape around me throb and shudder.

‘You have been here already for six hours and there are others waiting!’

A sharp-faced official with a raucous voice was bending over us, shaking us like two dogs while an alarm was sounding.

‘Degenerates! Scum! Half-neutrax! We do not tolerate space-trippers here!’ she screamed. ‘It is strictly forbidden by the regulations. Go to Rhewenia in your own precincts and never come back — what do I care? Here, what cluster do you come from?’

I waved my hand limply to reveal the implant on my wrist which gave my registration number and cluster.

She noted it down on a pocket memorial.

‘You can be sure that I will report this to the authorities. Now get dressed both of you and get out of here at once.’

The Web of Aoullnnia – Chapter 3

Strayll-sri

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…

The Web of Aoullnnia – Chapter 2

Future History and the Current Transmissions

Shortly after the events described in my last transmission I was led off by some Yther officials to a private suite – I can hardly call it a cell — and have been here ever since. I am, if you like, in solitary confinement but I am perfectly comfortable and supplied with anything one could reasonably desire. I am not, I think , suspected of direct involvement in the Yther plot – if that is what one calls it — although I cannot be absolutely sure of this.

For the moment everyone leaves me alone and I shall not be interrogated until the Special Commission arrives though I have been asked if I want to make any statements straightaway – I declined to do so. As far as I can make out, Cykarthyia and the senior officials here have been put under ‘direct restraint’ and the most junior members who are unlikely to have been implicated in any decision-making (such as Dorlonia, the objectionable Guardian of the Gate) have suddenly been placed in positions of power. Exactly who has given these wide-ranging orders I do not know. The version of the events that the world has received via memorials is that a prominent member of the Yther movement divulged to the Interdominants details of an Yther plan to immobilise all DETP centrals and to oust the Magnatte Dominants from their current position.

But, of course, you in the early twenty-first century know nothing of the ‘Dominants’ nor of the various calamities that we see as gigantic shadows cast over your fragile epoch. I am communicating with you from some two hundred and sixty years ahead in time. I know that this sounds completely ridiculous but so it is, I assure you. Certainly I consider myself quite as real as you, indeed rather more so. I cannot explain what is happening but I shall shortly explain how this time-hopping came about – it came about more or less by accident. But first I should perhaps briefly recount what has happened – or will happen depending on one’s point of view – during the interval between your epoch and mine. There have been enormous changes in Sarwhirlia – our name for ‘the Earth’ – since your time and that is putting it mildly. Vast areas that were teeming with animal, bird and human life are now desert wastes; your great cities have long since been abandoned and no humans visit them now except daredevil adventurers wearing oxygen suits and protective clothing in order to scavenge or just for the fun of it (for official purposes we send AEEs).

How and why did all these changes come about? Principally because of the sudden thinning of the atmosphere and the spread of the Amoeba Plague some two and a half centuries ago. Indeed, I am sorry to say that you are about to enter the catastrophic era which we know as the Abyss and which functions as a sort of No-Man’s-Land separating us, the survivors, from you, the doomed inhabitants of a sort of “Tytanic” that comprises most of what you see and know. But for the intervention of the first Parthenogens, the Sarlang, it is generally agreed that your species and mine would by now be extinct.

However, it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the calamities yet to come did end up by resolving some of the problems besetting your society, if I may be allowed to mix my time-terms in this fashion. Unlike you, we do not have a (human) population problem because the Amoeba Plague in one fell swoop reduced the world population to a minute fraction of what it had previously been. And despite the fact that population has been increasing since the beginning of the Age of the Parthenogens, today the total count of human biologicals is, I believe, still well short of fifty million, of whom some ten million live in the voluntarily backward region, Majentia, with whose citizens we ultra-civilised individuals have very little contact. There are also some two hundred thousand (largely mefam) humans who live permanently on the artificial orb, Mortalysium, from which locality I am transmitting at this very moment, or on its twin, the natal orb Naroube. These two localities are artificial worlds constructed during the Typhen era and are situated in what you call the asteroid belt.

Moreover, the population distribution remains extremely uneven since for a long time now mefam – as you have doubtless gathered the term ‘m*l*’ is no longer used — have been numerically in regression and at present comprise only about fifteen per cent of the human biological population, if that. (Originally, this imbalance came about because Coertius Rheomanensis, the bacillus responsible for the Amoeba Plague, attacked mefam much more readily than fam.) The fam population is itself divided into so-called Subdominants, who are if you like the ‘ordinary’ people, and the Interdominants, a sort of higher professional caste recruited by examination from subdominants. The latter, however, are very small numerically. Also, according to official estimates AEEs already comprise thirty per cent of the ‘intelligent’ population and most people think this is a gross underestimate – according to Latislan and other anti-AEE organisations we biologicals are already outnumbered many times over though I personally think this is something of an exaggeration. As if this were not enough, there also exist some experimental mixed electronic and biological species of which the Cleoi are the most important.

Emotionally and psychologically, we are very different from human beings living in your times: we do not have the same concerns and aspirations though to be sure many of the basic traits are still there lurking underneath. Possibly, the horrors of the Abyss have radically transformed the human material for the better – but I am by no means convinced of this. Compared to you, the current inhabitants of Sarwhirlia are a good deal more peaceable: we – or perhaps I should say ‘they’ – have been content to trade in what you call ‘freedom’ for security and survival. In fact the Andirax term ‘frae-dein’ which derives from your ‘freedom’ has something of a negative sense, more ‘absence of protection’ than ‘absence of restraint’. The instability and competitiveness of your era appear to us

as horrifying rather than attractive. Mefam especially, since they are assured not only of the basic utilities of existence but are at present also provided with free

Extasense*, find the present situation very tolerable indeed (though I don’t). ______________________________________

* Extasense is a powerful drug that is available free of charge in most mefam clusters – fam subdominants, with rare exceptions, do not use Extasense. You strap yourself onto a machine a bit like your rocking-horse and choose from a selection of mind-blowing psycho-sexual experiences. Each individual is only allowed a certain number of sessions per month and once you have used up your ration it is not possible to get any more as each Extasense machine is person-specific.
Since 2104 or thereabouts by your reckoning, when the Abyss is considered to have come to an end, life on Sarwhirlia has been controlled by the Parthenogens, so-called because they reproduce as**ually using a process called Introjection. The technique was developed by the first Parthenogens, the Sarlang, during the Abyss itself and seems to have been a sort of mentally induced cloning. A Parthenogen only introjects once, at about the age of twenty-eight and the offspring strikingly resembles the parent not only in physique but also in character. Also, it inherits the parent’s memory store: it is a more or less exact replica of the parent or, if you like, its extension in place-time. After a lapse of time which varies but is usually not far from being a multiple of twenty-eight years, the entire Parthenogenic type becomes exhausted and type-introjection takes place. Once the succeeding type is produced the previous one eliminates itself. In the case of type-introjection, however, there is considerable variation in character and, since the Parthenogenic type has an effect on almost everything, this gives rise to clearly differentiated eras which are named after the current type. For reasons that are none too clear, it is universally believed that there will in all only be eight Parthenogenic types – after the eighth the whole system will come to an end. There have been two types that were genetically defective, the Tryollin and the Lintrunn, and they lasted for a very short time, some months at most. The high-point of the entire Parthenogenic era is supposed to have been reached with the Typhen: certainly this was the most creative period in terms of architecture, music and religious fervour – one might perhaps compare it to the baroque era in your Europyia. We have currently reached the time of the Magnatte who are the seventh type: they are more technologically orientated than their predecessors and the most striking development has been the proliferation of artificial entities. The Magnatte have been the dominants here on Sarwhirlia for over eighty years already – the longest span to date of a Parthenogenic type – and it is not expected that they will last for much longer.

The Parthenogens are often referred to as ‘Dominants’ because this is what they are – but this term, along with the classifications ‘Interdominant’ and ‘Subdominant’ will inevitably give people of your era the wrong impression. Practically no one resents the dominants: the great majority of us view them with gratitude and respect because we believe that without them there would most likely be no biological life on Sarwhirlia at all. Even inhabitants of the Conglomerate who consider themselves ‘misfits’ or rebels – as I do up to a point — do not in general feel antagonistic towards the dominants (though there is one partial exception, Aruella, whom you will eventually meet in these transmissions). Possibly, there is something in the doctored atmosphere which prevents aggressive feelings towards our controllers, though it may simply be that, as more or less reasoning beings, we are convinced that any outright revolt

against the dominants would be completely suicidal. It is striking that even during the recent ‘Revolt of Kaghin’ the insurrectionaries only expressed grievances about the Interdominants and stated that they remained ‘loyal to the

the Magnatte Conglomerate’ – whatever that meant. In any case, we in the Age of the Parthenogens tend not to get excited about such vague principles as ‘equality’ – the very term sounds old-fashioned and many people today would find it hard to understand what it means to you and why you consider it to be so

desirable. The only issue the run-of-the-mill mefam gets excited about is the ‘neutrax issue’: we view the vast numbers of AEEs now in existence as a direct threat though most people have not seriously thought about how we could replace them.

The principal role of the Dominants is to maintain the atmosphere which became dangerously thin as far back as 2035 by your reckoning and even now necessitates very complicated arrangements of which I understand very little. Some regions have completely artificial environments (including my own cluster) and even those that do not are protected by (invisible) filters and oxygen veils.

The dominants are never seen or heard, not even on memorial (roughly the equivalent of your television) and they live entirely within revolving cloud-masses which orbit Sarwhirlia. Even in Past-View programmes the dominants are not represented realistically and the only biologicals ever to enter into contact with them are the Interdominants, a sort of administrative caste that makes most of the important day to day decisions. It is doubtful if the current dominants can be properly described as ‘human’, but their origins are certainly biological and more fam than mefam. As to their numbers, even on this point we know little, though they cannot be that numerous.

How did such strange creatures as the Parthenogens ever develop in the first place? The official story goes something like this. During the Abyss all government on Sarwhirlia broke down and, as stated earlier, the human species very nearly became extinct because of the Amoeba Plague, originally contracted from seaweed. The distant ancestresses of the Sarlang were groups of fam living in underground cave settlements in North West Territory 2. They seem to have retired underground originally in order to avoid the armed bands of humans roaming the countryside who not only killed people indiscriminately but reputedly even indulged in cannibalism on a large scale. Also, it was a lot easier to maintain an artificial atmosphere in underground conditions. Here, in these unpromising circumstances, these groups of young fam – the mefam amongst them did not survive — developed strange new technologies such as means of cultivating plants that require very little light, ways of reproducing without insemination and a complicated symbolic system based on body pulses (‘Whoirl’) which could be used not only for inter-human communication but also to contact species’ minds and other non-human biologically based entities. Indeed, it was indirectly because of Whoirl that the Amoeba Plague ended since various representatives of a self-styled ‘world government’ at the time, having heard of the Sarlangs’ strange abilities, asked them to intercede at a higher level to save the species. This the Sarlang originally refused outright to do but, after some negotiation, they reluctantly agreed to contact various higher level bio-minds with the result that the thinning of the ozone layer was halted and the bacillus responsible for the Amoeba Plague transferred to another galaxy where it is quite possibly wreaking as much havoc as it did within the Sol system for all I know (or care).

The Sarlang were subsequently invited to preside over the re-construction of society and/or the species itself. But they refused to have anything to do with government as such, limiting themselves to maintaining the atmosphere, and indeed in their latter days they conceived an aversion not only for the species they had saved from extinction but for bio-form altogether. They very rarely ventured outside their Hydrophylias, sort of windowless towers whose rooms could be flooded with a peculiar liquid of their own invention in which they immersed themselves, living off various plants they cultivated in these dank, insalubrious surroundings. They spent most of their time refining and extending Whoirl with the aim of communicating with immaterial entities who are reputedly a good deal more numerous than material ones and, according to those who have encountered them, more intelligent and amiable also. As if this were not enough, the Sarlang also started constructing a parallel world, Rhewenia, which they sited in the Manifest Non-Occurrent. This enormous task they never completed (the Katylin term Rhewenia means literally ‘Unfinished World’) but enough of it remains for it to be a favourite site for the sort of people who in your era absorb ‘recreational drugs’ – I have even been there once myself as I will perhaps have the occasion to recount later on during these communications..

There exist several accounts of the end of the Sarlang. According to the best known of these, the Sarlang, having already created their successor type, the Scisterl, flew en masse to a pre-arranged site just south of the Girdle of Sarwhirlia. Here they dispersed by atmospheric absorption, a method of extinction which does not allow re-emergence. According to another story, the Sarlang created by ‘witr-consl’ (literally ‘image constructing’) an artificial world, Neptunia, which they miniaturized when once inside it. They then set it adrift on the Sea of Scisterl where presumably it still is, drifting about like a lost buoy.

It is said that when really needed the Sarlang will return to save humanity a second time, but for my part I do not pin any more faith on such a story than most of you who are reading this do to the legend about ‘Drayke’s Drum’. The Sarlang either never existed at all or they are gone for ever, that is what I think.

You are perhaps curious about my physique and appearance. I do not think there have been any very great changes since your time, though mefam are taller. Most people today have skin of an intermediate colour by your standards although Majentians are very definitely darker. Skin colour is not an issue with us today nor is ‘race’ as such – the term is rarely used — although the inhabitants of Majentia do not mix with those living within the Conglomerate proper: this incidentally is entirely their decision, not ours. On the other hand gender and what you might think of as ‘rank’ have infinitely more significance in our society than in yours. A central concept amongst us is ‘hrith’, a term difficult to translate though ‘proper position’ gives some idea of what we understand by it. To be in one’s ‘hrith’ brings inner poise and contentment, not finding it brings permanent anxiety. We consider a person in a ‘high’ place without personal hrith to be quite as unfortunate as someone who seems to merit a more brilliant situation than he or she actually occupies. It is because of this belief that almost everyone accepts the dominants: on the other hand, we are instinctively hostile towards neutrax and their growing importance in society because we feel that the principle of hrith is being violated.

I am by our standards of medium height – just under two metres, I think, in your measurements – and in common with most mefam of my cluster I wear my hair fairly long and swept back over my head, held in place by (unscented) lacquer or our equivalent. I have the bow legs and slightly shambling gait of a straylkha player and look a good deal more impressive on the straylkha cone than I do walking across the floor – or at least this is what I like to think. Currently, young fam subdominants especially admire very tall and thin mefam with a large nose, thick lips, high forehead and jet-black hair, exactly the physique of Litvin, the leading straylkha player of my cluster – though I must confess I personally would not call him good-looking by any stretch of imagination.

As to clothes, we prefer simpler ones to those you wear. In a warm (artificial) climate as here on Mortalysium mefam wear a white or beige ‘tulkha’, sort of linen blouse, also loose trousers made of a single piece of cloth. We avoid zips and buttons which we regard as unsightly or affected. Undergarments for mefam are not unlike those you wear though they clip together in a Velcro-style arrangement on the right side rather than in the middle. Mefam today, the younger ones anyway, give considerable importance to dress – more so than fam – and many wear highly ornate undergarments at mixed gatherings (even though they are not visible). I myself rather disdain this sort of thing though I do try to select undergarments that match the location or occasion.

Because of rejuvenation, most adults look roughly the same age when seen from a certain distance, give or take six years or so. However, on careful examination it is not difficult to distinguish between younger and older humans: the latter look pasty though they do not have more wrinkles. Fam become thickset, but not corpulent, with age. Rejuvenation is without a doubt unhealthy and leads to forced withdrawal at an age you would not regard as being especially advanced: nonetheless practically everyone undergoes it as we are, most of us, very concerned, not to say obsessed, about our appearance. I have considered refusing rejuvenation when it is offered to me but I am not sure that I will have the courage to go through with this – it would make me something of an outcast.

I must add that everything I have said, along with many other things, is true only for the so-called Major Conglomerate though this covers the greater part of inhabitable Sarwhirlia. In Majentia – a place I have never visited – no one undergoes rejuvenation: if they did they would be forced into exile or imprisoned. Members of the Yther, as you have seen, do not practise rejuvenation, nor do the subjects of Aruella in Zarfyll. The Yther object to the practice because they consider physical appearance of little account; Aruella considers the practice to be anti-biological and thus ipso facto bad in her eyes, though there is perhaps something of sour grapes involved because, as a rebel against the Conglomerate, she would never have been granted rejuvenation in the first place. Indeed, the threat of withholding rejuvenation from persistent offenders acts as a powerful curb on criminality in our era.

It is now time to explain, or rather recount, how these transmissions that you are presumably reading in the early twenty-first century came about. More or less by ‘chance’ as I have said – though one is never sure whether or not there is a ‘hidden hand’ directing events, or at least giving them a prod in a certain direction. As you have gathered, we in our era give rather more scope to possible ‘helping hands’ than you do in yours.

Yther novices are not allowed access to memorials or suchlike devices but I, as a visitor here and not an initiate, was originally provided with a multi-faceted one for my strictly personal use. But a few days ago it was disconnected — whether deliberately or not I am not sure. Out of boredom I started experimenting with certain Yther meditational techniques as described in an antiquated manual I came across in a wall-hold here.

The manual had obviously been intensively studied by an exceptionally keen Yther novice: there were underlinings and useful comments written in the margin on almost every page. The handwriting was neat and graceful and had quite a strong effect on me, almost as if I could hear the person talking. I do not know why but I soon became convinced that this manual had once belonged to Alcilthyia, the last Praesidian of this Sanctuary and the personage who is currently at the centre of the DETP controversy.

Be that as it may, without this manual I would not now be in contact with persons such as yourselves in your very distant era. A certain section in the manual lists various weird experiences that may come to persons practising meditation in an intensive way, amongst them what the manual calls ‘visits to other places and eras’. The Yther of course is not in the least interested in such experiences since it regards the ordinary present as a sufficient obstacle to true knowledge of Aoullnnia, let alone the past history of the species and any additional regions that have been tacked on during the last hundred years (such as Rhewenia). However, the manual does give instructions as to what to do should one find oneself inadvertently in unexpected sites: amongst other things it tells you how to get back as rapidly as possible to the simple present. Also, by providing guide-lines on how to avoid future (sic) place-time travel, the manual does in effect tell you what to do if you are perverse or foolhardy enough to make the attempt. For all you have to do is to perform the operations in the reverse order and thus deliberately bring about the very conditions you have been warned against. This, apparently, is what the possessor of the manual did some twenty or so years ago, and her successes and failures are briefly recorded along with many invaluable hints and reflections, although she eventually concludes that the whole enterprise is both futile and harmful (as the manual itself states on more than one occasion).

Though generally placid enough, at particular moments I become absurdly rash and this apparently was one of them. I at once started experimenting with some of the more outlandish mental procedures described. The results were quite spectacular – far more interesting than what one generally gets from Extasense in my opinion. I found myself dipping into an incredible assortment of milieux and atmospheres, some vaguely recognizable from Past-View (a facility on memorials which provides very life-like reconstructions of the better known eras of the past), others totally fantastic. The effect was something like what happens when you idly turn the tuning knob on one of your radios. To begin with, I did not get the impression that I was actually participating in the scenes I observed but the unknown user’s comments in the manual tell you how to ‘home in’ as it were on a particular time-place situation and even temporarily inhabit the mind and body of someone in another era – it is because of this faculty that I know so much about your habits and thought-processes. The danger with this sort of thing is that it is all too easy to get sucked into a different mind/body set so completely that you cannot get back again. Fortunately, the manual has a lot to say on the subject of ‘extrication’.

I experimented only for short spaces of time, then returned to normality so-called to reflect on what I had experienced and to consult the manual. If one is not careful one becomes rapidly addicted to time-place hopping – or so the user states in the margin of the manual. I am a fairly well-disciplined person, however.

After a certain time, again according to the margin notes, one finds oneself being repeatedly drawn to a particular period, then a particular country at this time, eventually to a town or village and so on. It seems that Alcilthyia – if it really was her – entered the latter Middle Ages and quite enjoyed the scene there, eventually homing in on the famous staryll (virgin) Jayne d’Arke, or so at any rate she declared in a footnote, though she managed to extricate herself before the trial. For some reason I got sucked into the early twenty-first century and, fatuous though it sounds, established some sort of contact with a mefam entity of this time, hence these transmissions which were originally oral. I do not incidentally consider myself a reincarnation of this personage about whom I know very little.

You should above all not get the idea that people in my era make a habit of this kind of thing: on the contrary as far as I know it is very uncommon and I have always believed that people who claimed to be able to time-place travel were simply deluding themselves. The idea that one can leap-frog through history, either backwards and forwards, has always struck me as being ridiculous in the extreme, and indeed it still does. For if one could pass on messages to the past, as apparently I am now doing, one could give instructions to prevent oneself being born which is clearly nonsense – there was reputedly an individual in the Typhen era who claimed to have done precisely this but he disappeared suddenly without a trace and many historians seriously doubt that he ever existed. Presumably, if time-place travel really does exist, there are inbuilt rules of the game which prevent any such absurdities as killing oneself before one is born. Such rules, if they exist, also presumably ensure that material like the present transmissions is never taken seriously enough to lead to any large-scale political and social decisions.

Alternatively, one could suppose that I am not contacting the past of my own era but instead have crossed over onto a parallel track, a world that is lagging behind the one I am living in by the right number of years to enable us to share the present. According to this interpretation it would be possible to give advice to people in a ‘previous’ era and so one could, for example, prevent the rise of Heitler or for that matter stop the spread of the Amoeba Plague and save humanity without any need of the intervention of the Sarlang. On the other hand there are serious dangers involved because the recipient of such a message would have no means of knowing whether the so-called advisor was speaking the truth, or was benign rather than malevolent. I have as a matter of fact heard it said that the spread of the Amoeba Plague itself was the result of a practical joke played across place-time that got out of hand: in the past (my past) I never took this suggestion seriously for a moment but now I am not sure what to think. On this rather sombre note I leave you: I will take up the story of my current odyssey in a future session.

The Web of Aoullnnia – Chapter One

The Interdiction

I looked up, sensing that I was being observed.

The tiny black eyes of the reception-guard of the Yther Sanctuary of Mortalysium met mine. She was standing at the middle of the glass and plyne partition that divides the Sanctuary proper from the Waiting Hall, the sacred from the profane.

“Tirr Cykarthyia will see you now,” she announced coldly.

“What is this?” I asked in some surprise as she handed me a piece of black cloth and one end of a brass rod.

“A mask, of course,” she replied. “Put it on at once and take hold of the end of this rod.”

“But why?”

I had not been warned of any ritual observances or ceremonies.

The guard did not deign to answer.

“What’s it for?”

“To deprive you of your sense of sight, obviously. It is essential to prevent the plan of these most hallowed precincts from being memorised and subsequently divulged to the profane.”

The official paused to let this sink in.

“Alternatively, I could spray your face with blinding fluid.”

“Are you being serious?”

“I certainly am.”

“But you have checked my skin-data already and you know that I am neither an informer nor a news-gatherer.”

“That is irrelevant. It is a question of principle. These are serious times: we stand at the threshold of unimaginable events.”

“So we do at any moment.”

“Do you intend to put on this mask or do you want me to spray your eyes?”

I decided I had better comply with the wishes of the guardian if I wanted to see the Praesidian that afternoon.

“My excuses. Naturally I will comply with any precautionary measures you see fit to impose.”

“In that case, shall we proceed?”

* * * * *
Once in the presence of the Praesidian I was allowed to remove my mask.

Cykarthyia was tall and thin and had the high forehead and narrow cheeks of a Southern Majentian, her skin being pale brown (not dissimilar to my own incidentally though I am from Central Territory). Like all Third Degree officials, she wore a simple white linen robe reaching to her feet with a dark blue sash around her waist. Her hair and forehead were concealed within a hood of the same colour. I knew from hearsay and picto-histories on memorial that all Third Degree officials had their heads shaved to about the middle of the crown, the hair at the back being left uncut and tied into an elaborate knot called a quiya. Her hands, I noted with astonishment, were completely bare though the robe covered her arms. But then I remembered that Awailyia, the founder of the Yther movement, disapproved of hand-concealment. In any case, I told myself, a Sanctuary Yther official would normally only ever meet other initiates. I had never been in an Yther Sanctuary before and, like most mefam, had scarcely ever come into contact with members of the sect.

I consider myself a good judge of faces and I was impressed by what I saw. Cykarthyia’s face gave an impression of keen intelligence combined with great strength of character. She must be, I judged, somewhat over sixty years of age but her face retained a certain austere beauty though to the average Sarwhirlian it would appear horribly ravaged. The Yther, of course, like the followers of Aruella — but for completely different reasons — refuse Rejuvenation.

“Do not trouble yourself further, Dorlonia. And above all see that we are not disturbed.”

“And if WV-617 calls, Tirr Cykarthyia?”

“In that case — but only in that case — you will inform me at once. I thank you again, Dorlonia.”

The reception-guard made a slight inclination, hands clasped together, and withdrew looking at me with intense suspicion.

“I deeply regret the difficulties you have encountered on your way here,” said the Yther Tirr courteously. “Our members are sometimes over-diligent — they mean well but there are times when their devotion can be embarrassing. Stand, sit or recline as you wish.”

Cykarthyia’s history was vaguely known to me. She had entered the Yther relatively late, having in her youth been engaged in Hyper-themistric studies — what you would probably call Pure Mathematics — and she had at one time been a candidate for Interdominancy though she never in fact took the necessary controls. She visited the Major Conglomerate in pursuit of her studies and was for this reason cast off by her family — for Majentians consider, probably rightly, that their only hope of remaining a distinct entity is by avoiding everyone else in the Conglomerate and foregoing the use of all foreign technology. Cykarthyia was, however, reinstated when she entered the Yther, since Majentians view it as part of their culture even though Awailyia was not a Majentian and was brought up in North Europyia.

Cykarthyia was soon promoted to Second and Third Grade, her functions being those of a mortuary official, and it was as such that she was sent to Mortalysium, the artificial orb where most funeral rites are performed. At this time the Yther Sanctuary on Mortalysium was under the direction of Alcilthyia. Like her Praesidian, Cykarthyia was one of the most outspoken opponents of the use of DETP (Dark Energy Transformation Processing) and so she was, from the beginning, embroiled in the bitter dispute about the use of this new technology. When Alcilthyia was recalled to Sarwhirlia (what you call the Earth), she appointed Cykarthyia to succeed her, the two fam having been on extremely amicable terms. This was some six months before I made my appearance on the funeral orb to attend the last rites of a certain A.C. Slithyan, a straylkha player from my cluster whom I knew as well as anyone though I would not say we were ever exactly intimate. While waiting for a Sky-drift to take me back, I thought of asking to see someone from the Yther Sanctuary and to my surprise Cykarthyia sent back a cordial message, inviting me to visit her.

“Can I offer you nutrients? Fluids?”

“Do you have yatthin?”

“Of course! We have some that you have certainly never tasted since it is infused from locally grown plants reserved for members of the Community. I shall be most interested to have your opinion — for, if I am not mistaken, you are yourself engaged in yatthin production back in Sarwhirlia. Allow me to prepare some for you.”

I watched with approval as the Yther official screwed up the dried leaves with her long fingers in the prescribed manner and heated some fresh water in a pan over a charcoal burner. Yatthin-weirth — that is, connoisseurs — believe that water for an infusion of yatthin must be heated over a bare flame, preferably from a wood-burning source.

My hostess reached up for a plain earthenware pot and, after heating it, tossed in the withered leaves, pouring the boiling water on them. It is customary not to speak while yatthin is infusing. After a few moments Cykarthyia passed me an earthenware bowl and poured some of the pale amber liquid into it.

I tasted it critically. It was excellent. Somewhat on the bitter side but I prefer that type of yatthin. There was the right density and even a hint of that special quality incommunicable to non-yatthin drinkers known as ‘distancing’. I do not mean a neural effect: certain types of yatthin can be used as mood-changers but true yatthin-weirth despise them considering that the refinement of the taste is more than sufficient in itself.

Cykarthyia raised her eyebrows slightly to ask my opinion.

I smiled politely and nodded in approval. She poured out a bowl for herself and sat opposite me.

“You say in your transmission that you are interested in our doctrines and wish to learn more. But are there no peritoi in your cluster or neighbouring ones?”

“No, there are none.”

Peritoi are persons sympathetic to the Yther movement but who are not initiates. In Majentia most people are in some sense peritoi: all the traditional folk religions are penetrated with Yther ideas and most of them venerate Awailyia, the founder of the movement, as a deity — something which would have horrified her. The Yther proper is restricted to celibate fam initiates who live in closed Sanctuaries and have very little contact with the rest of the Conglomerate: the movement grows its own food and is largely self-supporting. There are extremely few peritoi in mefam clusters of the Major Conglomerate: I have only met a dozen or so during my entire life and they all came from remote areas like Glaciolyia.

“And the Temenoi?”

“They are empty. No one goes into them any more. They are like relics from a lost civilization. They are maintained but that is all; they have no place in our daily life. As you know, the policy of the Magnatte is not to intervene in matters of religious belief.”

“Is there, then, no awareness of Aoullnnia in your cluster or neighbouring ones?”

“None. We are entirely absorbed in such things as straylkha, devilion-fighting, skihl, Extasense, exchanging… (* straylka is a sort of ‘game’ ; devilion-fighting is similar to your boxing; skihl is a green-coloured frothy alcoholic drink; Extasense is a kind of drug ; exchanging is our way of referring to ‘intercourse’ between genders.)

We have no interest in anything else. Perhaps a few age-advanced individuals who attend meetings of the Sythana.”

“That is entirely different,” said Cykarthyia frowning. “It is as we have been told. But you — why are you here, then?”

I spoke of my sensations on the sands of Azerynn and on the freighter watching the waves rising and falling. How I had felt at such moments that all matter and thought as well were just froth on the surface of an invisible ocean. How, when eventually I returned to my cluster, everything — my friends, work, previous interests — all this seemed to concern someone else, a relative or antecedent of Yilkin I. Isellyion but not the person himself. I am not a fluent speaker and in my younger years even suffered from a slight impediment, but I had no difficulty in explaining what I felt to Cykarthyia, the words came out by themselves.

Cykarthyia listened attentively and nodded from time to time.

“It is clear from what you have told me,” she said when I had finished speaking, “that you are in the throes of what, within the Yther, is known as the Great Departure.”

Cykarthyia directed my attention to a small memorial lying on a table and flicked it on by shaking her right hand. There were a few shots of the Sea of Scisterl and a coral reefed island where a small boat without a sail, apparently very much the worse for wear, was being drawn up a tropical beach by two Majentian fam. Then nothing except a text in the beautiful running script used to transcribe Sarlang Katylin which most members of the Yther understand (but never speak). The screen switched abruptly to Andirax, the commonest language in the Conglomerate.

“The actual events of our founder’s solitary voyage which resulted in the formation of the Yther movement need not concern us at this moment. The essential point is that we find in this story an allegory of the painful process of self-discovery with which the Yther movement is above all concerned.

This process is in the first place a lived experience: it is not something that can be learned from records or memorials. This experience involves separation and estrangement from everything that is familiar to the senses and the mind. This is symbolized by our founder’s solitary voyage out of sight of land. Her disorientation during the storm signifies the uselessness of all second-hand knowledge — everything that pertains to ‘life on dry land’ that the adept has now abandoned for ever. And the storm itself represents the violence and confusion of the initiatory experience during its early stages.

All knowledge is ultimately based on experience and awareness of Aoullnnia, or rather of the ‘Aoullnnia of Aoullnnia’ is the most fundamental sensation we have. All sentient beings have an innate knowledge of Aoullnnia — though in the majority of cases it is no more than a fugitive and elusive memory — because it is from Her and Her alone that we have all come. This knowledge does not come from the mind, nor from the five senses: it is first-hand knowledge. By being, so to speak, ‘lost at sea’, drifting without bearings at the mercy of processes over which we have no control, the individual, in order to survive, is forced to rely on that unsuspected store of direct knowledge that everyone in fact has….”

Cykarthyia flicked off the memorial.

“In the normal run of things,” she resumed, “I would recommend that you consider entering the movement as a novice. However, there are difficulties. You are doubtless aware that our revered founder wished entry to the Yther to be available to all beings who had innate knowledge of Aoullnnia irrespective of origin or gender. It was only because of widespread opposition to the idea, that she reluctantly postponed the founding of mefam Sanctuaries to a time when the movement was more settled. But since then there has been little demand from your side and there are numerous traditionalists — so they conceive themselves — within our ranks.

But we shall not leave you without assistance and counsel: even it may be I will cite your case as a reason to re-open the debate. At present, however, there are questions which, in the view of many of us, loom larger, and I cannot hold out any hopes of admission within the immediate future.”

At this point Cykarthyia abruptly broke off and asked me to excuse her. Looking up, I saw that there was a small memorial suspended from one of the metal ribs above us and that it was flashing rhythmically. Cykarthyia drew it towards her and turned her back to me. I moved to the other end of the ‘conservatory’ we were sitting in — so you would call it — not wishing to intrude. But I could not avoid hearing a staccato announcement made in Alcytran, a language derived from Katylin that the Yther employ amongst themselves. I could pick out a few words and was torn between curiosity and respect for my hostess’s privacy. Soon Cykarthyia switched to personal mode and I heard no more except a few brief replies made in Alcytran. I heard Alcilthyia’s name mentioned several times, also the Cleoi, a mixed electronic/biological type now coming into prominence. The exchange seemed to be rather acrimonious as far as I could make out.

I forced myself to move completely out of earshot. The area where we had been sitting was a node, or local centre-piece within the intricate geometrical plan of the Sanctuary. Running off in all directions were covered walkways and arcades, all of glass and plyne; the walls were clear but the roofs had amber, green and purple sections covered with a feathery white pattern. An hour ago I had been painfully walking along one of these arcades clutching the end of a metal rod. At the time, helpless and blindfolded, led by the antipathetic official to an unknown destination, I could not help thinking that I ought to have brought along with me a spool of thread like Thyzeus in the ancient mefam story. Then I remembered that Awailyia, in her remarkable autobiographical script composed shortly before her extinction, Voyage towards the Known, mentions the tale of Thyzeus, interpreting it as a metaphor for the mystic quest, since the path towards union with Aoullnnia necessarily involves loss, disorientation, confrontation with monstrous beings, imprisonment…

The arcades radiating out from the central area where I was standing were, I noted, almost but not quite regularly spaced; also, if one looked closely enough, one noted that the walkways were not perfectly straight either. There was enough order and harmony to satisfy a casual glance and yet, no matter where one looked, there was always some detail that was not quite right. Having set one’s mind at rest as to the cause of a perceived irregularity, one would then most likely find some other, tinier error — and so it would go on. Most people find this aspect of Yther architecture irritating but it has a fascination of its own and I was beginning to understand the reason for it.

The subtle irregularity and self-similarity of Yther buildings is, of course, intentional: it is designed to help the initiates in their life-long effort to distance themselves from the entire mental and physical universe in order to concentrate exclusively on the source of All That Is. The magnificent Temenoi of the Typhen era were joyful expressions of plenitude and abundance — rightly so since they were built during a time when Aoullnnia was at the point of Her maximum physical expansion. But, according to Awailyia, this apogee was now a thing of the past and all the works of the current era, according to her, should give a sense of incompleteness and falling away in accordance with the celebrated doctrine of ‘Withdrawal’ which gave the movement its name. For Yther is a Katylin term which means ‘holding back’, ‘withdrawal’, and, by extension, ‘the ebbing tide’. All rites, liturgies, artefacts and buildings of the movement were to be expressions of Aoullnnia-yther — the Withdrawal of Aoullnnia. Yther music, though carefully structured, is slightly dissonant (which makes it all the more haunting); the personages of Yther dramas are never entirely convincing; the complicated movements of Yther ‘Teachings without Words’ de-materialize the dancers and make them look like reeds bending in the wind; while in architecture the deliberate asymmetry has far-reaching mental effects, fostering a sceptical attitude towards everything material.

Cykarthyia had stopped speaking on the memorial and offered to make me some more yatthin which I refused. She seemed suddenly very preoccupied and I suggested that it would perhaps be better for me to leave.

“No, no,” she said quickly, “now you are here you must stay.”

“If you insist.”

“The cluster where you belong is a refuelling station for DETP, is that not so?” she asked me suddenly.

“Yes,” I answered. “Until recently we were a solar research station but now we don’t do much in that field. Mainly, we receive and distribute DETP.”

DETP, or Dark Energy Transformation Processing, is a relatively new process developed by the Cleoi. In your terms it is a means of harnessing the energy of the vacuum — but do not, above all, expect me to explain any advanced (or even elementary) scientific matters as I have nothing to do with that sort of thing and indeed instinctively distrust hyper-technology. I work in nutrient production, mainly cultivating Disyelthyia, the plant from which yatthin is made. As in most jobs these days, the work is not onerous and largely consists in tasting the stuff and suggesting improvements — my main interest in life is, or rather was, straylkha, a sort of game that I will describe to you in due course.
DETP already accounts for at least 15% of all energy consumption on Sarwhirlia. Giant centrals have been put in orbit and they are not only fully automated but self-replicating. DETP is by all accounts the most ambitious technical project since the construction of Mortalysium and Naroube — two artificial orbs situated in the asteroid belt and built during the brilliant Typhen era.

The Yther strongly object to DETP on religious grounds, considering it to be a means of extracting energy from the Unmanifest and using it for the benefit of matter and thought based entities such as ourselves — something they regard as utterly monstrous. Needless to say, the Cleoi, whose brainchild DETP is, deny this and maintain that DETP is not essentially different from any other energy-process except that it is a lot more convenient and labour-effective. Erudite disputes about the nature of DETP have been going on for at least two decades already and I for one am content to leave the decision to be taken by persons who consider they know what they are talking about (which I certainly don’t).

As soon as DETP became known, the ‘Five’, who are the supreme Yther authority, banned its use in all Sanctuaries and also banned the introduction of any articles whose manufacture involved the use of DETP. This was not at all difficult to put into effect since the Yther is a self-supporting movement anyway and does not depend on the present dominants, the Magnatte, except for ozone. Originally, nothing was said about the use of DETP by the normal population. However, at the Annual Concilium some six months ago there was a noted hardening of attitude on the part of the Yther. At the suggestion of Alcilthyia, Cykarthyia’s predecessor in this Sanctuary, the Yther issued a statement aimed at the Interdominants which warned them that if all DETP Centrals were not closed down within five years, the Yther would take ‘appropriate measures’ — though the text did not specify what these measures would be. To threaten the Interdominants, and by implication the Magnatte, is absolutely unheard of. Subsequently, the Five adopted a slightly more conciliatory tone, but the ultimatum — for that is what it was — has never been publicly disowned.

“Are there any people in your cluster who are opposed to the use of DETP?” asked Cykarthyia.

“Some, yes,” I replied slowly, not at all easy about the way the conversation was going. “But only for technical reasons. One or two people think that the self-replication of centrals in space could get out of control — it has even been suggested that DETP Centrals might eventually multiply as fast as viruses and blot out the light of the sun!”

I laughed out loud, highly amused by what struck me as a rather fitting end to humanity’s technological endeavours.

“No, no,” said Cykarthyia frowning. “There are built-in safeguards — the replication rate slows down as numbers increase — negative exponentiality. I do not doubt that the Cleoi have covered all such eventualities. But I am not speaking of that. We are opposed to DETP in principle — do people in clusters like yours just view it as another energy source?”

“I’m afraid so. We have no religious objections because we have no religious feelings. As long as there’s enough power to work the Extasense machine, the majority aren’t in the least bothered where it comes from.”

Cykarthyia could hardly contain her distaste.

“The only issue,” I added, ” that disturbs the ordinary mefam is the neutrax* question. Is it true that the Yther makes absolutely no use of neutrax?”

“None are allowed within the bounds of an Yther Sanctuary, certainly,” said Cykarthyia at once. “Rule 157 of our Code states plainly that only beings capable of acquiring knowledge of Aoullnnia are to be allowed within the limits of an Yther building. We do not, as you see, have any animals or birds here and in most Sanctuaries the only plant to be seen is the asliolla tree, sacred to the Sarlang. Rule 157 is generally interpreted as meaning that all AEEs are to be refused entry. We do employ one or two in agricultural labours on our own land.”

Artificially Engendered Entities are very roughly developments of your r*b*ts — the latter term incidentally is considered extremely objectionable today and is never used though the popular term neutrax is still (just about) acceptable informally. AEEs have of late become quite common in the Conglomerate and, according to some people, already outnumber us biologicals many times over though officially they comprise no more than 30% of the population. During the early Parthenogenic eras, production of AEEs was non-existent or strictly curtailed and this trend continued right through to the end of the Slrynne era. But the Magnatte, who are much more technologically orientated, have turned Sarwhirlia into something of a Sci-fi nightmare (in the eyes of some people) because of the enormous quantities of AEEs being produced. Apparently, in Glaciolyia — your Russia — there are great cities with hardly a biological to be seen.

“Compared to DETP, the issue is insignificant,” resumed Cykarthyia.

“And you are not prepared to moderate your stance on DETP in any way?” I dared to ask.

“Certainly not,” declared Cykarthyia impatiently. “This energy process is infamous and if it is not banned we will put a stop to it.”

It was true then, I said to myself, what Dyrithan and others had told me about the seriousness of the situation. In the whole of the Conglomerate there was only one organisation that could conceivably stand up to the dominants and that was the Yther.

“But you are not prepared for….?” I did not dare to use the three-letter word since along with g*d and s*x it is strictly taboo.

“For conflict? Is that what you wish to say? In the old sense, clearly we are not prepared. To kill is an affront against Aoullnnia. But we are not sentimentalists. It may be that circumstances will arise when we must choose the lesser of two evils, even if it is an evil. We will not shrink from making such a choice. In any case, conflict in the present era will be very different from what it was in the distant mefam past. The era of hand-to-hand conflict is mercifully gone for ever. Power today depends on control of the atmosphere.”

“But,” added Cykarthyia, “the one thing we have in abundance is dedicated individuals: what all others fear is to us nothing. What is extinction but return to Aoullnnia, our true home? We shall in any case commence by attacking the Centrals: they are unmanned and so there will be no direct loss of life. Nonetheless, what holds us back even now is concern for you human non-initiates. We do not wish to involve you in this conflict. Yet it is inevitable that there will be repercussions throughout the Conglomerate — it is for this reason and this reason alone, that we have held our hand so far.”

“You talk as if the conflict had already started,” I said, thoroughly alarmed by what Cykarthyia was saying. “And why are you telling me this? I do not want to know….”

“It is too late already,” said the Yther Praesidian. “Look around you. Do you not notice anything different?”

At first I did not but then I saw that the clear-views, double-doors in transparent plyne, were down, effectively blocking off each of the arcades. Clear-views are emergency barriers put in place because of risk of fire or oxygen depletion; they are unbreakable and usually controlled from a central power point, in this case most likely from the vestibule. I had, it is true, heard a slight sound but at the time had paid no attention to it.

Cykarthyia pulled down a memorial hanging from the roof and clicked it on. An Interdominant with a grave expression on her face was saying something in clipped Alcytran but Cykarthyia immediately switched on the automatic translation into Andirax.

“…IN CONSEQUENCE OF AFOREMENTIONED CHARGES MOVEMENT IN ENTIRETY PUT UNDER RESTRICTION PENDING ENQUIRY ALL SANCTUARIES CLOSED NO ENTRY EXIT ANYONE PERMITTED EXCEPT PERSONS BEARING INSIGNIA EXTRAORDINARY COMMISSION ALL PRAESIDIANS UPPER EXECUTANTS OF SAID YTHER MOVEMENT RELIEVED OF FUNCTIONS THIS INSTANT TEMPORARY REPLACEMENTS TO BE APPOINTED IF NECESSARY REFUSAL TO COOPERATE WITH OFFICERS OF COMMISSION CONSTITUTES VIOLATION ARTICLE 53 LAW CONGLOMERATE SUCH MEASURES AFFECT ONLY INITIATES YTHER MOVEMENT AND VISITORS NOT PERITOI OR OTHER GROUPMENTS REPEAT NOT PERITOI YTHER MEMBERS IN TRANSIT REPORT NEAREST CONTROL TOWER ON ARRIVAL DESTINATION RECEIVE HIDE ASSIST IN ANY FASHION MEMBER OF YTHER MOVEMENT VIOLATION ARTICLE 57b LAW CONGLOMERATE FURTHER ANNOUNCEMENT 1800 ESN SARWHIRLIAN TIME….”

“I sincerely regret that you have been implicated in this affair,” said Cykarthyia. “If I had for a moment anticipated this development, believe me, I would have cancelled the appointment. But we have been overtaken by events and, for the moment, you are, like me, a prisoner within this Sanctuary.”