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One of the finest talents to appear since Kim Stanley Robinson and William Gibson—perhaps the finest.

—Gene Wolfe

David Zindell’s cogent poeticism and cosmic concerns are embodied in long, extravagantly inventive and philosophically penetrating novels.

—Nick Gevers

Ideas splash out of Zindell’s mind.

—Orson Scott Card

Zindell demonstrates a richness of thought and love of language reminiscent of Gene Wolfe.

—ALA Booklist

A thick, lush, vivid, panoramic view of evolved humans in an evolving universe far in the future

—Twilight Zone

A victorious book, lingering and lithe and rich

—John Clute Interzone



By David Zindell

Splendor

Neverness

The Idiot Gods

A REQUIEM FOR HOMO SAPIENS
The Broken God
The Wild
War in Heaven

THE EA CYCLE
The Lightstone
Lord of Lies
Black Jade
The Diamond Warriors


The Wild

Book Two of
A Requiem for Homo Sapiens

David Zindell



Copyright 1995 by David Zindell

All rights reserved.




B
odhi Books




UK edition published by Harper Voyager



This is wholly a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and institutions are either the products of the author’s imagination or employed fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or institutions is purely coincidental.



This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re–sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy.



Cover art by Mick van Houten


File conversion, print layout, ebook creation, and cover
by David Dvorkin, www.dldbooks.com

PART ONE
The Goddess

CHAPTER ONE
The Mission

Each man and woman is a star.

The stars are the children of God alone in the night;

The stars are the wild white seeds burning inside a woman;

The stars are the fires that women light inside men;

The stars are the eyes of all the Old Ones who have lived and died.

Who can hold the light of the wild stars?

Gazing at the bright black sky,

You see only yourself looking for yourself.

When you look into the eyes of God,

They go on and on forever.

from the Devaki Song of Life

It is my duty to record the events of the glorious and tragic Second Mission to the Vild. To observe, to remember, to record only—although the fate of the galaxy’s dying stars was intimately interwoven with my own, I took little part in seeking out that vast, stellar wasteland known as the Vild, or the Wild, or the Inferno, or whatever ominous name that men can attach to such a wild and hellish place. This quest to save the stars was to be for others: eminent pilots such as the Sonderval, and Aja, and Alark of Urradeth, and some who were not yet famous such as Victoria Chu, and my son, Danlo wi Soli Ringess. Like all quests called by the Order of Mystic Mathematicians, the Second Vild Mission had an explicit and formal purpose: to establish a new Order within the heart of the Vild; to find the lost planet known as Tannahill; to establish a mission among the leaders of man’s greatest religion and win them to a new vision; and, of course, to stop the man–doomed stars from exploding into supernovas. All seekers of the Vild took oaths toward this end. But as with all human enterprises, there are always purposes inside purposes. Many attempted the journey outward across the galaxy’s glittering stars out of the promise of adventure, mystery, power, or even worldly riches. Many spoke of a new phase in human evolution, of redeeming both past and future and fulfilling the ancient prophecies. Altogether, ten thousand women and men braved the twisted, light–ruined spaces of the Vild, and thus they carried inside them ten thousand individual hopes and dreams. And the deepest dream of all of them (though few acknowledged this even to themselves) was to wrest the secrets of the universe from the wild stars. Their deepest purpose was to heal the universe of its wound, and to this impossible end they pledged their devotion, their energies, their genius, their very lives.

On the twenty–first of false winter in the year 2954 since the founding of Neverness, the Vild Mission began its historic journey across the galaxy. In the black, cold, vacuum spaces above the City of Light (or the City of Pain as Neverness is sometimes known), in orbit around the planet of Icefall, Lord Nikolos Sar Petrosian had called together a fleet of ships. There were ten seedships, each one the temporary home of a thousand akashics, cetics, programmers, mechanics, biologists, and other professionals of the Order. There were twelve deepships as round and fat as artificial moons; the deepships contained the floating farms and factories and assemblers that would be needed to establish a second Order within the Vild. And, of course, there were the lightships. Their number was two hundred and fifty–four. They were the glory of Neverness, these bright, shining slivers of spun diamond that could pierce the space beneath space and enter the unchartered seas of the manifold where there was neither time nor distance nor light. A single pilot guided each lightship, and together the pilots of Vild Mission would lead the seedships and deepships across the stars. To the thousands of Ordermen who had remained behind (and to the millions of citizens of Neverness safe by the fires of their dwellings), the fleet that Lord Petrosian had assembled must have seemed a grand array of men and machines. But against the universe, it was nothing. Upon Lord Petrosian’s signal, the Vild ships vanished into the night, two hundred and seventy–six points of light lost into the billions of lights that were the stars of the Milky Way. Lightships such as the Vivasvat and The Snowy Owl fell from star to star, and the mission fleet followed, and they swept across the Civilized Worlds. And wherever they went, on planets such as Orino or Valvare, the manswarms would gather beneath the night skies in hope of bearing witness to their passing. They would watch the bright, black heavens for the little flashes of light released whenever a lightship tore through the shimmering fabric of the manifold. They lived in awe of this light (and in dread as well), for the Order had been the soul of the Civilized Worlds for a hundred generations, and now it was dividing in two. Some feared that the Order might be dividing against itself. No one could know what fate this future might bring. No one could know how a few thousand pilots and professionals in their fragile ships might cool the fury of the Vild, and so the peoples of the Civilized Worlds gathered on their star–flung planets to hope and wonder and pray.

There are many peoples on the planets of man. The Civilized Worlds comprise only a tiny fraction of humanity, and yet there are some four thousand of these planets bearing the weight of at least a trillion human beings. And bearing as well strange peoples who have never been human. The Vild Mission fell from Treya to Teges to Silvaplana, and then on to Fravashing, home of that beautiful alien race whose souls are more manlike than that of any man. The lightships led the race among the stellar pathways, falling through the manifold from window to window, passing by the planet of Arcite, where once the Order had ruled before its move to Neverness at the beginning of the Sixth Mentality of Man. None of the pilots sealed inside their ships (not even the youngest or most inexperienced) had trouble with this part of their journey, for the ancient paths through the manifold had been mapped millennia before and were now well known. The pilots passed among the old red stars of the Greater Morbio and on to the Tycho’s Nebula, where the splendid stars were newly created of gravity and dust and light. Few human beings dwelt in these dangerous places, and so only the stars—such as Gloriana Luz, all huge and blood–red like a god’s blinded eye –felt the faint, rippling tremors of the lightships as they tore open windows into the manifold. The stars lit the way of Vild Mission, and the pilots steered by the stars, by Alumit and Treblinka and Agni, which burned with a brilliant blue fire and was ten thousand times brighter than Neverness’s cold yellow sun. The whole of the Fallaways was on fire, a blazing swathe of fire burning through the galaxy from Bellatrix to Star’s End. Had the pilots or others of the Order wondered how far they had fallen, they might have measured their journey in parsecs or tendays or trillions of miles. Or in light–years. The ships launched from Neverness fell five thousand light–years along the luminous Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy, outward across the great, glittering lens. They passed from Sheydveg to Jonah’s Star Far Group to Wakanda, as thus they made the perilous crossing to the Orion Arm, ten thousand light–years from the star that they had once known as home. Some of the pilots called this flight away from the core ‘the westering’, not because they fell in the direction of universal west, but because their journey carried them ever outward toward the unknown stars without fixed–points or name. But still they remained within the Fallaways, where man was still man and few of the galaxy’s gods cared to roam. They guided their lightships away from the August Cluster where the Silicon God was said to claim a million stars as his own. They fell out among the oldest of human planets, Kittery and Vesper, and they avoided the spaces of Earth, lost and lonely Old Earth which men and women were no longer permitted to behold. And so at last the Mission came to Farfara at the edge of the Vild. Here the Fallaways gave out onto the wild, mapless portions of the manifold that had killed so many of the Order’s pilots. Here the farthest of the Civilized Worlds stood looking out on the Vild’s ruined stars. Farfara was a fat, rich, pleasant world, and it was here that Lord Nikolos Sar Petrosian commanded the Mission to make a brief planetfall. He did this so that the ships might take on fresh stores of coffee, toalache and wine, so that the ten thousand men and women of the Order might take a few days of rest beneath the open sky and Farfara’s hot blue sun. From the beginning, it had been Lord Nikolos’ plan to halt at Farfara while he sent pilots into the Vild to make mappings and find a planet on which they might make a new home.

It was on the fortieth day of the Mission’s sojourn on Farfara that one of the Order’s master pilots returned from the Vild with news of a planet suitable to their purpose. The Cardinal Virtue—the lightship of the great pilot known as the Sonderval—fell out of the manifold and rendezvoused with the fleet above Farfara. The Sonderval told the professionals and pilots of a beautiful planet remarkably similar to Old Earth. As was a pilot’s right, he had named this planet ‘Thiells’ in honour of a woman whom he had once loved and lost when a comet collided with Puakea and destroyed most of the life on that unfortunate planet. According to the Sonderval, Thiells lay inside the inner veil of the Vild, and it could be reached after a journey of only thirty–one fallings. The Sonderval gave the fixed–points of Thiells’ white star to the other pilots. He told them that he would lead the way. He also told them—told everyone—of a new supernova that he had discovered. It was an old supernova, many hundreds of light–years away. But it had exploded hundreds of years ago, and the wavefront of radiation and light would soon fall upon Farfara.

Lord Nikolos, although he disapproved of the arrogant, self–loving Sonderval, approved his plan. He commanded the professionals of the Order to make ready for the rest of their journey. On the night before the Mission would finally enter the tortuous spaces of the Vild—the very night that the supernova would light Farfara’s sky—the merchants of Farfara decided to hold a reception to celebrate the pilots’ bravery. They invited the Order’s two hundred and fifty–four pilots and many important masters from among the professions. They invited musicians and artists and arhats—even warrior–poets—as well as princes and ambassadors from each of the Civilized Worlds. It would be the grandest party ever held on Farfara, and the merchants who ruled that ancient planet spared no trouble or expense in creating an air of magnificence to match the magnificent hubris of the men and women who dared to enter the Vild.

Late in the Day of the Lion in the eighteenth month of Second Summer in Year 24, as the merchants of Farfara measure time, the estate of Mer Tadeo dur li Marar began to fill with people arriving from cities and estates across the planet. Mer Tadeo’s estate was laid out over three hills overlooking the Istas River, that great sullen river which drains the equatorial mountains of the continent called Ayondela. That evening, while the forests and bottomland of the Istas River still blazed with the heat of the sun, cool mountain winds fell over Mer Tadeo’s estate, rippling through the jade trees and the orange groves, carrying down the scent of the distant glaciers which gleamed an icy white beneath the night’s first stars. Shuttles rocketed back and forth between Mer Tadeo’s starfield and the Order’s seedships in orbit above the planet; they ferried hundreds of master cetics and mechanics and other master Ordermen down to the fountains and music pools that awaited them far below. And then, in a display of the Order’s power, a light show of flashing diamond hulls and red rocket fire, the two hundred and fifty–four lightships fell down through Farfara’s atmosphere and came to earth at the mile–wide pentagon at the centre of Mer Tadeo’s starfield. Although no member of the Order was scorned or ignored in any manner, it was the pilots whom the men and women of Farfara wished to fête. In truth, the merchants adulated the pilots. Mer Tadeo himself—accompanied by twenty other great merchants from Farfara’s greatest estates—received the pilots by the Fountain of Fortune on the sculptured grounds in front of his palace. Here, on soft green grasses native to Old Earth, in the loveliest garden on Farfara, the pilots gathered to drink priceless Summerworld wines and listen to the music pools as they gazed out over the sinuous river. Here they drank each other’s health, and looked up at the unfamiliar star configurations in the sky, and waited half the night for the Sonderval’s supernova to appear.

In the Hour of Remembrance (a good hour before the exploding star would fill the heavens) a pilot stood alone by the marble border of one of the palace’s lesser fountains. His name was Danlo wi Soli Ringess; he was a tall, well–made young man, much the youngest pilot or professional to join the Mission. To any of the merchants, if any had looked his way, he might have seemed lonely or preoccupied with some great problem of the universe that had never been solved. His deep–set eyes were grave and full of light as if he could see things that others could not, or rather, as if the everyday sights of wine goblets and beautifully–dressed women amused him where it caused others only lust or envy. In truth, he had marvellous eyes, as dark and deep as the midnight sky. The irises were blue–black like liquid jewels, almost black enough to merge with the bright, black pupils, which gave them a strange intensity. Much about this pilot was strange and hinted of deep purpose: his shiny black hair shot with strands of red; the mysterious, lightning–bolt scar cut into his forehead above his left eye; the ease with which he dwelt inside his silence despite the noise and gaiety all around him. Like a creature of the wild he seemed startlingly out of place, and yet he was completely absorbed into his surroundings, as a bird is always at home wherever he flies. In truth, with his bold facial bones and long nose, he sometimes seemed utterly wild. A fellow pilot had once accused him of having a fierce and predatory look, and yet there was always a tenderness about him, an almost infinite grace. At any party or social gathering, men and women always noticed him and never left him alone for very long.

‘Good evening, Danlo, it’s good to see you again,’ a voice called out from the hundreds in Mer Tadeo’s garden. Danlo turned away from the fountain and watched a very tall man push through the crowds of brilliantly–dressed people and make his way across the flagstones and trampled grasses. Indeed, the master pilot known as the Sonderval was the tallest of men, impossibly and intimidatingly tall. With his thin limbs and eight feet of height, he seemed more like a giant insect than a man, though in fact had been born an exemplar of Solsken and was therefore by heredity as arrogant as any god; he had been bred to tallness and intelligence much as the courtesans of Jacaranda are bred for beauty. He was dressed in a thin silk pilot’s robe of purest black, as was Danlo. In a measured and stately manner—but quite rapidly, for his stride was very long—he walked up to Danlo and bowed his head. ‘Is there something about this fountain that interests you?’ he asked. ‘I must tell you, Danlo, if you attend a party such as this, you can’t hope to avoid the manswarms all night. Though I must say I can’t blame you for wanting to avoid these merchants.’

‘Master Pilot,’ Danlo said. He had a wonderfully melodious voice, though cut with the harshness of too many memories and sorrows. With some difficulty—the requirements of etiquette demanded that he should always keep his eyes on the Sonderval’s scornful eyes high above his head—he returned the Sonderval’s bow. ‘I do not want…to avoid anyone.’

‘Is that why you stand alone by this fountain?’

Danlo turned back to the fountain to watch the lovely parabolas of water spraying up into the cool night air. The water droplets caught the light of the many flame globes illuminating the garden; the tens of thousands of individual droplets sparkled in colours of silver and violet and golden blue, and then fell splashing back into the waters of the fountain. Most of the garden’s fountains, as he saw, were filled with fine wines or liquid toalache or other rare drugs that might be drunk. The merchants of Farfara delighted in sitting by these fountains as they laughed a gaudy, raucous laughter and plunged their goblets into the dark red pools, or sometimes, in displays of greed that shocked the Order’s staid academicians, plunged their entire bodies into the fountains and stood open–mouthed as they let streams of wine run down their clutching throats.

With a quick smile, Danlo looked up at the Sonderval and said, ‘I have always loved the water.’

‘For drinking or bathing?’ the Sonderval asked.

‘For listening to,’ Danlo said. ‘For watching. Water is full of memories, yes?’

That evening, as Danlo stood by the fountain and looked out over the river Istas all silver and swollen in the light of the blazing Vild stars, he lost himself in memories of a colder sky he had known as a child years ago. Although he was only twenty–two years old—which is much too young to look backward upon the disasters of the past instead of forward into the glorious and golden future—he couldn’t help remembering the death of his people, the blessed Devaki, who had all fallen to a mysterious disease made by the hand of man. He couldn’t help remembering his journey to Neverness, where, against all chance, he had become a pilot of the Order and won the black diamond pilot’s ring that he wore on the little finger of his right hand. He couldn’t keep away these memories of his youth because he was afflicted (and blessed) with memory, much as a heavy stone is with gravity, as a blue giant star is suffused with fire and light. In every man and woman there are three phases of life more descriptive of the soul’s inner journey than are childhood, maturity and old age: It can’t happen to me; I can overcome it; I accept it. It was Danlo’s fate that although he had passed through these first two phases much more quickly than anyone should, he had nevertheless failed to find the way toward affirmation that all men seek. And yet, despite the horrors of his childhood, despite betrayals and hurts and wounds and the loss of the woman he had loved, there was something vibrant and mysterious about him, as if he had made promises to himself and had a secret convenant with life.

‘Perhaps you remember too much,’ the Sonderval said. ‘Like your father.’

‘My father,’ Danlo said. He pointed east out over the Istas, over the mountains where the first of the Vild stars were rising. As the night deepened, the planet of Farfara turned inexorably on its axis, and so turned its face to the outward reaches of the galaxy beyond the brilliant Orion Arm. Soon the entire sky would be a window to the Vild. Blue and white stars such as Yachne and the Plessis twinkled against the black stain of night, and soon the supernovas would appear, the old, weak, distant supernovas whose light shone less brightly than any of Neverness’s six moons. It was a mistake, Danlo thought, to imagine the Vild as nothing more than a vast wasteland of exploding stars. Among the millions of Vild stars, there were really only a few supernovas. A few hundred or a few hundred thousand—the greatest uncertainty of the Mission was that no one really knew the size or the true nature of the Vild. ‘My father,’ Danlo said again, ‘was one of the first pilots to penetrate the Vild. And now you, sir.’

With his long, thin finger, the Sonderval touched his long upper lip. He said, ‘I must remind you that you’re a full pilot now. It’s not necessary for you to address every master pilot as “sir”.’

‘But I do not address everyone that way.’

‘Only those who have penetrated the Vild?’

‘No,’ Danlo said, and he smiled. ‘Only those whom I cannot help calling “sir”.’

This compliment of Danlo’s seemed to please the Sonderval, who had a vast opinion of his value as a human being. So vast was his sense of himself that he looked down upon almost everyone as his inferior and was therefore wont to disregard others’ compliments as worthless. It was a measure of his respect for Danlo that he did not dismiss his words, but rather favoured him with a rare smile and bow of his head. ‘Of course you may call me “sir” if it pleases you.’

‘Did you know my father well, sir?’

‘We were journeymen together at Resa. We took our pilot’s vows together. We fought in the war together. I knew him as well as I care to know any man. He was just a man, you know, despite what everyone says.’

‘Then you do not believe…that he became a god?’

‘A god,’ the Sonderval said. ‘No, I don’t want to believe in such fables. You must know that I discovered a so–called god not very long ago when I made my journey to the eighteenth Deva Cluster. A dead god—it was bigger than East Moon and made of diamond neurologics. A god, a huge computer of diamond circuitry. The gods are nothing more than sophisticated computers. Or the grafting of a computer onto the mind of man, the interface between man and computers. Few will admit this, but it’s so. Mallory Ringess journeyed to Agathange and carked his brain, replaced half the neurons with protein neurologics. Your father did this. Does this make him a god? If so, then I’m a god, too. Any of us, the few pilots who have really mastered a lightship. Whenever I face my ship–computer, when the stars fall into my eyes and the whole galaxy is mine, I’m as godly as any god.’

For a while Danlo listened to the water falling into the fountain, the humming and click of the evening insects, the low roar of a thousand human voices. Then he looked at the Sonderval and said, ‘Who can know what it is to be a god? Can a computer be a god…truly? I think my father is something other. Something more.’

‘What, then?’

‘He discovered the Elder Eddas. Inside himself, the deep memories—he found a way of listening to them.’

‘The wisdom of the gods?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘The memories of the Iedra and other gods written into human DNA? The so–called racial memories?’

‘Some would characterize the Eddas thus, sir.’ Danlo smiled, then continued, ‘But the Eddas, too, are something other, something more.’

‘Oh, yes,’ the Sonderval said. ‘The secret of life. The secret of the universe, and Mallory Ringess whom I used to tutor in topology, whom I used to beat at chess nine games out of ten, was clever enough to discover it.’

Danlo suddenly cupped his hand and dipped it into the fountain. He brought his hand up to his lips, taking a quick drink of water. And then another. The water was cool and good, and he drank deeply. ‘But, sir,’ he finally said, ‘what of the Timekeeper’s quest? My father and you were seekers together, yes?’

The Sonderval shot Danlo a cold, suspicious look and said, ‘It’s true, two years before you were born, the Timekeeper called his quest. I, your father, we pilots—fell across half the galaxy from Neverness to the Helvorgorsee seeking the so–called Elder Eddas. This Holy Grail that everyone believed in. The Eschaton, the transcendental object at the end of time. But I could never believe in such myths.’

‘But, sir, the Eddas aren’t myths to believe in. The Eddas are memories…to be remembered.’

‘So it’s been said. I must tell you that I tried to remember them once. This was after the Timekeeper’s fall, when your father first announced that the quest had been fulfilled. Because I was curious, I engaged the services of a remembrancer and drank the kalla drug that they use to unfold the memory sequences. And there was nothing. Nothing but my own memories, the memories of myself.’

‘But others have had…other memories.’

‘Myths about themselves that they extend into universals and believe are true.’

Danlo slowly took another drink of water. Then he slowly shook his head. ‘No, not myths, sir.’

The Sonderval stood stiff as a tree above Danlo, looking down at him for a long time. ‘I must tell you that there is no kind of mental accomplishment that has ever eluded me. If the Elder Eddas exist as memory, I would have been able to remember them.’

‘To remembrance deeply…is hard,’ Danlo said. ‘The hardest thing in the universe.’

‘I’ve heard a rumour that you drank the kalla, too. That you fell into a so–called great remembrance. Perhaps you should have become a remembrancer instead of a pilot.’

‘I have…lost the talent for remembrancing,’ Danlo said. ‘I am just a pilot, now.’

‘A pilot must pilot and fall among the stars, or else he is nothing.’

‘I journeyed to Neverness so that I might become a pilot.’

The Sonderval sighed and ran his fingers through his golden hair. He said, ‘These last years I’ve been away from Neverness much too much. But I’ve taken notice of what has happened there. I can’t say I’m pleased. Mallory Ringess is proclaimed a god, and his best friend founds a church to worship his godhood. And his son joins this church, this “Way of Ringess”, as it’s called. And suddenly half of Neverness is attempting to remembrance the Elder Eddas and cark themselves into gods.’

‘But I have left the Way,’ Danlo said. ‘I have never wanted to become…a god.’

‘Then you do not seek the Elder Eddas?’

Danlo looked down into the water and said, ‘No, not any more.’

‘But you’re still a seeker, aren’t you?’

‘I…have taken a vow to go to the Vild,’ Danlo said. ‘I have pledged my life toward the fulfilment of the new quest.’

The Sonderval waved his hand as if to slap an insect away from his face. ‘In the end, all quests are really the same. What matters is that pilots such as you and I may distinguish ourselves in seeking; what matters not at all is that which is sought.’

‘You speak as if there is little hope of stopping the supernovas.’

‘Perhaps there might have been more hope if I had been chosen Lord of the Mission instead of Lord Nikolos. But in the end it doesn’t matter. Stars will die, and people will die, too. But do you really think it’s possible that our kind could destroy the entire galaxy?’

With his fingers, Danlo pressed the scar over his left eye, trying to rid himself of the fierce head pain that often afflicted him. After a long time of considering the Sonderval’s words, he said, ‘I believe that what we do…does matter.’

‘That is because you are young and still full of passion.’

‘Perhaps.’

‘I have heard,’ the Sonderval said, ‘that you have your own reason for seeking the Vild. Your own private quest.’

Danlo pressed harder against his forehead before saying, ‘Long before the Architects began destroying the stars, they destroyed each other. In the War of the Faces—you must know this, yes? The Architects made a virus to kill each other. This virus that killed my people. I would seek the planet they call Tannahill and hope that the Architects might know of a cure for this disease.’

‘I have heard that there is no cure.’

‘There…must be.’ Danlo scooped up a handful of water and held it against his eye. The water slowly leaked away from the gap between the palm of his hand and his cheek and then fell back into the fountain.

‘Your father always believed in miracles, too.’

Danlo stood away from the fountain, then, and pointed up at the sky. ‘My father, it is said, always hoped to save the stars. He is out there, somewhere, perhaps lost around some doomed star. This is why he went to the Vild. He always dreamed that the universe could be healed of its wound.’

‘Your father, when I knew him, could not even heal himself of his own wound. He was always a tormented man.’

‘Truly? Then perhaps some wounds can never be healed.’

‘But you don’t believe that?’

Danlo smiled and said, ‘No.’

‘Is it your intention, Pilot, to try to find your father?’

Danlo listened to the sound of the water falling into the fountain and asked, ‘How could I just abandon him?’

‘Then you have your own quest within the quest?’

‘As you say, sir, all quests are really the same.’

The Sonderval came up close to Danlo and pointed up at the sky. ‘The stars of the Vild are nearly impenetrable. How could you hope to find one man among a billion stars?’

‘I…do not know,’ Danlo said. ‘But I have dreamed that in the Vild, all things would be possible.’

At this, the Sonderval quietly shook his head. ‘Look at the stars, Pilot. Have you ever seen such wild stars?’

Danlo looked up along the line made by the Sonderval’s arm and his long, pointing finger. He looked up past the orange trees and the fountains and the ice–capped peaks. Now it was full night, and the sky was ablaze from horizon to horizon. Now, among the strange constellations and nameless stars, there were half a hundred supernova, great blisters of hot white light breaking through the universe’s blackness. For a long time, Danlo thought about the origins of these ruined stars, and he said, ‘But sir, who knows what the Vild really is? We cannot see the stars, not…truly. All these stars, all this starlight—it was made so long ago.’

Low over the horizon, in the cleft between two double supernova that Danlo thought of as the ‘Two Friends’, he saw a bit of starlight that he recognized. It was light from the Owl Cluster of galaxies some fifty million light–years away. Fifty million years ago this light had begun its journey across the universe to break through the heavens above Farfara and find its home within the depths of Danlo’s eyes. It was the strangest thing, he thought, that to look across space was to look back through time. He could see the Owl Cluster only as it existed long ago, some forty–eight million years before the rise of man. He wondered if perhaps these galaxies had long since been annihilated by chains of supernovas or the workings of some terrible alien god. He wondered about his own galaxy. Did Vishnu Luz still burn like a signpost in the night? Or Silvaplana, or Agni, or any of the thousands of nearer stars that the Mission had passed on its way to the Vild? Perhaps, even as he stood by this little fountain more than ten thousand light–years from his home, the Star of Neverness had somehow exploded into a brilliant sphere of light and death. It was always impossible to be sure of what one might see. All things, even the nearest and most apprehensible. It amused Danlo to think that if the Sonderval, standing three feet away, were suddenly to wink out of existence, the light of this unfortunate event would take at least three billionths of a second to reach his eyes.

Danlo turned facing the Sonderval and said, ‘This is the problem, yes? It is impossible to see the universe just as it.’

‘You’re a strange man,’ the Sonderval said, and he smiled to himself.

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘I must tell you that the Vild really exists. I’ve been there, after all. I’ve seen the light of a new supernova—and in less than an hour, you’ll see it, too. Right…there.

So saying, the Sonderval pointed to a patch of sky due east and some thirty degrees above the horizon. The faint stars clustered there had no name that Danlo knew. Perhaps, Danlo thought, the Sonderval’s calculations had been wrong, and the supernova’s light would not reach Farfara for many days. Or perhaps the supernova would appear at the appointed time, only to prove much more intense than anyone had anticipated. Perhaps the light from this dead, unseen star would burn the eyes of anyone who looked toward the sky; perhaps it would burn human flesh and kill the thousands of people in the garden. In the time that it took for Danlo’s heart to beat some three thousand more times, he might very well be dead, and yet, as he looked out over all the apprehensive people standing around the garden’s numerous fountains, as he turned his face to the brilliant sky, he couldn’t help feeling that it was a beautiful night in which to be alive.

For a while, Danlo and the Sonderval stood there talking about the way the Vild stars distorted spacetime and twisted the pathways through the manifold, and other things that pilots talk about. Then the Sonderval admitted that Lord Nikolos had sent him to fetch Danlo, or rather, to invite him to a gathering of all the pilots in front of the garden’s main fountain. It seemed that Mer Tadeo, just before the supernova appeared, wished to honour the pilots with toast of rare Yarkonan firewine.

‘I must tell you that Mer Tadeo has asked to meet you,’ the Sonderval said. ‘Lord Nikolos will make the presentation. Please remember that although Mer Tadeo practically rules this world, you are a pilot of the Order. Anyone can rule a world, but only a few are born to be pilots.’

The Sonderval nodded at Danlo, and together they walked through the garden. Danlo liked almost everything about the garden, especially the little bonsai trees and the cascades of strange, beautiful flowers. The air was so sweet with their scent that it almost hurt him to breathe. In truth, he loved the many smells of the night, the fruity, acid spray of the various wines bubbling from the fountains; the orange trees; the far faintness of ice; even the char of insects roasting in beams of laser light. All across the neat green lawns, mounted high on marble pillars, there were many computer eyes and lasers that targeted any noxious or biting insect that might chance to enter the garden. At any moment, quick beams of ruby light played this way and that, fairly hissing through the air and instantly crisping the various mosquitoes, gnats, and grass flies so despised by the Farfara merchants. Naturally, this frivolous (and showy) use of lasers disturbed some of the Order’s professionals, who seemed anxious and wary lest they step carelessly and a laser drilled a red, sizzling hole through hand, neck or face. It disturbed even the many ambassadors and diplomats long used to such barbarisms. But, in the two thousand years that Mer Tadeo’s family had owned this estate, the lasers had never hurt any human being. Mer Tadeo employed these forbidden weapons only because he liked to infuse his parties with a certain frisson of dangerous possibilities. He liked to surround himself with colourful, uncommon people, and so that night he had invited an arhat from Newvannia, a famous neurosinger, a renegade pilot of the Order named Sivan wi Mawi Sarkissian, and even five warrior–poets recently arrived from the planet Qallar. As Danlo pushed further into the garden, through swarms of men and women sipping their wine and stealing quick glances at the uncertain stars, he sensed an aura of intrigue and even menace in the air. He felt the eyes of people watching him, judging him. He was certain that someone was following him across the garden. True, he was a pilot of the Order, and the blackness of his formal robe attracted many stares where the cobalt or orange or scarlet robes of the Order’s academicians did not. True, he walked behind the Sonderval, who was also a pilot as well as the tallest human being on Mer Tadeo’s estate, possibly on the entire planet. A pilot had to inure himself to such curiosity unless he wished to remain only in the company of other pilots. But Danlo could never get used to popularity or fame, and he hoped that whoever was following him would announce himself—either that or turn his attentions to one of the beautifully–dressed merchants who stood about on the cool green lawns like so many thousands of flowers waiting to be appreciated or plucked.

At last they drew near Mer Tadeo’s main fountain, the so–called Fountain of Fortune, a glorious pool of marble and gold. From the mouths of various statues—glittnings and rohins and other alien creatures set upon the different levels of a golden terrace at the fountain’s centre—Yarkonan firewine burst into the air in jets of frothy red. On Neverness, a single bottle of firewine can cost as much as a pearl necklace or a year’s pleasure with a courtesan, and so many of the Order have never tasted this uncommon wine. Surrounding the fountain were rings of the Order’s academicians, cantors and scryers and remembrancers, holists and horologes and historians. They were dressed in bright robes of many colours, saffron or rose or indigo, and they fairly swarmed the pool in their eagerness to fill their goblets and sip such a delightful wine. There were pilots, as well, two hundred and fifty–two black–robed pilots who were the soul of the Order. Danlo knew all of them, by face or name or reputation. He saw Paloma the Younger, and Matteth Jons, and Alark of Urradeth. And standing nearby with a cup of wine in his hands was Richardess, a fragile–faced wisp of a man who was the only pilot ever to have survived the spaces of Chimene and the April Colonial Intelligence. They were all of an age with the Sonderval, and they had all fought with Mallory Ringess in the Pilots’ War twenty years previously. The Vild Mission would be the second great quest of their lives, and it pleased them to be joined by pilots of greater enthusiasm and passion, young pilots such as Ivar Rey and Lara Jesusa and Danlo wi Soli Ringess. That evening, most of the Mission’s pilots were gathered together near the southern quadrant of the fountain. There, too, was Nikolos Sar Petrosian, the Lord Akashic and Lord of the Mission. He was a small, sober, intelligent man who wore an akashic’s yellow robe upon his plump body and a look of impatience about his clear, blue eyes. When he saw the Sonderval leading Danlo his way he bowed to them, then said, somewhat dryly, ‘I was afraid that you had become lost. I suppose it’s easy enough for a pilot to lose himself on such a huge estate.’

This sarcasm of Lord Nikolos had no effect on the Sonderval. Just as he cared little for the compliments of others, he dismissed their criticisms just as easily. He stood silently next to Danlo, looking down on little Lord Nikolos, apparently staring straight at the bald patch on the crown of Lord Nikolos’ head. The Sonderval smiled to himself, but said nothing.

‘Danlo, I’m glad you’ve been found,’ Lord Nikolos finally said. ‘Danlo wi Soli Ringess, may I present Mer Tadeo dur li Marar? Mer Tadeo has asked if he might meet you before the evening’s entertainment begins.’

Standing next to Lord Nikolos was a handsome, elegant man with quick brown eyes and the rapacious look of an ivory gull. Mer Tadeo dur li Marar wore a red kimono of Japanese silk, which rather nicely set off his smooth olive skin. He bowed to Danlo, quite properly and looked at Danlo quickly, intensely, as he might appraise a diamond or a firestone. Then he announced, ‘It’s an honour to meet you, Pilot.’

Danlo returned his bow, then nodded at the circle of curious people surrounding Mer Tadeo. These were mostly merchants in their fabulous kimonos and jewels but included also a neurosinger named Omar Noy and Mer Tadeo’s ninth wife, a rather sullen–looking woman whom he introduced as Mer Marlena Eva dur li Karillon. There were two ambassadors, as well, Kagami Ito of Yarkona, and Valentina Morven of the planet known as Clarity. And others. Danlo bowed to each of them in turn, inclining his head as each of their names was spoken. The presentations having been made, Mer Tadeo motioned for Danlo to come nearer, and said, ‘I’ve made the acquaintance of all the pilots but yourself. I’m honoured that you could attend this reception. It’s rare for pilots of the Order to visit our world, you know.’

Danlo smiled and looked across the fountain. There, some thirty yards further across the lawn, was a low retaining wall of cut stone. On the other side of the wall, Mer Tadeo’s estate gave out onto a cliff face high above the gleaming Istas River and the dark hills beyond. ‘Your world is very beautiful,’ Danlo said. ‘Perhaps if more pilots knew of its beauty, we would not neglect it so.’

‘I was afraid you might find my estate somewhat warmer than you might be used to,’ Mer Tadeo said. He seemed very pleased with Danlo. Unlike the Sonderval, he devoured compliments as a child might chocolate candies. ‘I’ve heard Neverness is so cold that it never rains.’

Danlo smiled and said, ‘On all the nights of my life, this is the first time I’ve stood outside and there has been no sign of snow. Not even the possibility…that snow might fall.’

At this, Mer Tadeo shook his head in wonder, and in pity, too. Then he said, ‘During this part of Second Summer, at night, there will be nothing but starlight to fall upon us. This is why my ancestors built their estate here. They loved looking at the stars.’

For a while Mer Tadeo and Danlo stood among a crowd of curious people, talking of little things. Then as quickly as an assassin might slip a knife in the dark, Mer Tadeo smiled at Danlo and said, ‘I’ve been told that you’re the son of Mallory Ringess.’

‘Yes…that is true,’ Danlo said.

‘I’ve also been told that there is a new religion in Neverness. The Way of Ringess—is that right?’

Danlo nodded his head warily. ‘That also is true.’

‘Do the Ringists really teach that Mallory Ringess became a god?’

‘Yes.’

‘And that all human beings can become gods, too? And that the path toward godhood is in communion with this mystical knowledge called the Elder Eddas?’

‘You are well informed, Mer Tadeo. You have just stated the Three Pillars of Ringism, did you know?’

Mer Tadeo took a step closer to Danlo. As if a signal had been given, Mer Tadeo’s wife and the two ambassadors stepped closer, too, the better to hear words that might prove important to their lives. And then many others closed in like wolves around a wounded lamb, and Danlo suddenly found himself surrounded by men and women whom he hardly knew.

‘We know that your Order is said to take this religion seriously,’ Mer Tadeo told him. ‘We know that many lords and masters have even converted and now call themselves Ringists. The lords and masters of Neverness! We hadn’t thought you Ordermen capable of such religiousness.’

‘Anyone can fall into worship,’ Danlo said softly. ‘Anyone can dream…of becoming a god.’

For a while, Mer Tadeo and Mer Marlena Eva asked Danlo questions about the Way of Ringess, about its origins, beliefs, and ceremonies. They wanted to know more about the remembrancing ceremony, the way Ringists used computers to stimulate the remembrance of the Elder Eddas. They seemed intensely curious, not in the manner of an eschatologist or an historian, but in another way that spoke of secret sufferings and strange, ancient longings. Lord Nikolos, obviously, did not like the turn of this conversation, for he pushed up beside Danlo and said, ‘It’s unwise to exaggerate the importance of this religion. To do so will only give it real importance.’

Lord Nikolos, as Danlo knew, always detested any talk about gods or God. He mistrusted the religious impulse much as the Perfect of Gehenna loathe water, as a snowworm avoids sunlight.

‘May I ask you then, Lord Nikolos, if your mission will spread this creed of Ringism among the peoples of the Vild?’ This question came from Kagami Ito, the Yarkonan ambassador. Kagami, a suspicious old man, was dressed in a babri jacket much too thick for the warmth of the night. His round face was shone with sweat, and he seemed tired and crabby. Long ago, in his first old age, he had been an ambassador to Neverness before the Timekeeper had tired of his testy manner and had banished him from the City. ‘We would all like to know if you of the Vild Mission are still pilots and professionals of the Order, or whether you’ve become mere missionaries after all.’

This question offended Lord Nikolos, who pointed a pudgy finger at Kagami, and said, ‘Our mission is to the Architects of the Infinite Intelligence of the Cybernetic Universal Church, to reason with them. To journey among their worlds, to learn why they believe as they do so that we may illuminate them. To begin a new Order in the Vild. We are anti–religious, all of us. If you must, you may think of us as anti–missionaries whose quest it is to reverse the insane doctrines of an insane old church.’

Danlo smiled at this tirade, but said nothing. Then Lord Nikolos, in his dry, academician’s voice, went on to explain that the Architects of the Old Church were destroying the stars because their Doctrine of Second Creation required them to participate in the remaking of the galaxy, and ultimately, at the end of time, of the very universe itself. Although Lord Nikolos was a soft, ill–disciplined man in his body, he spoke with steely resolve and an enormous will to correct the evils and excesses of the human race. In his own way, he was as fanatical as any Architect or true believer, only his was a fanaticism of logic and reason, and cold, clear thought. Despite the Sonderval’s misgivings, he was the ideal choice as Lord of the Mission because he understood the Architects as only a true enemy can.

‘Then I must wish you well on your Mission,’ Kagami Ito said. ‘All of us, any who live on any of the Civilized Worlds—we wish you well.’

Lord Nikolos bowed a shade too low and said, ‘Your wishes are well received.’

‘We must wish you well,’ Kagami Ito repeated. ‘Once again, we of the Civilized Worlds must be saved by you of the Order.’

At this, the Sonderval stepped forward and said, ‘Perhaps you would rather save yourselves?’

‘And so we would do if we had lightships of our own and pilots to pilot them.’

‘The Order has never stopped anyone from building lightships.’

‘Nor have you shared your knowledge of this technology.’

The Sonderval shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Well, anyone can build a lightship.’

‘But not anyone can pilot one—isn’t that right, Master Pilot?’

‘It’s a difficult art,’ the Sonderval agreed. ‘One must have a passion for mathematics.’

‘Is it so difficult that the Order’s pilots have kept their art a secret for three thousand years?’

‘This is not true,’ the Sonderval said. ‘What of the Merchant–Pilots of Tria?’

‘You know they’re unworthy to be called “pilots”.’

‘We pilots,’ the Sonderval said, ‘train youths from every world.’

‘Yes, you bring our youths to Neverness and make them pilots of your Order. And then make them take vows of secrecy.’

‘But how not? Some secrets may be heard by only those with the genius to understand them.’

After an awkward silence, Mer Tadeo stepped between Kagami Ito and the Sonderval. He clapped his hands softly and spoke soft, soothing words to flatter both men. He cited Kagami Ito’s lifetime efforts to form alliances among the Civilized Worlds, and he extolled the valour of Mallory Ringess and the Sonderval and other pilots who had joined in the quest for the Elder Eddas. He turned to praise Danlo and the younger pilots who would face the Vild. In many ways, he was much more a conciliator and diplomat than any diplomat. As many merchants do, he valued peace as the greatest good; above all institutions or powers (even above the power of money), he valued the Order because it had brought a fundamental unity and vision to the Civilized Worlds for three thousand years. ‘These are difficult times,’ Mer Tadeo said to Lord Nikolos. ‘It seems that the Civilized Worlds are caught between two religions. From without, the Architects destroy the stars, and every year the Vild grows larger. And from within, there is this new religion called Ringism. Even as we speak, every lightship leaving Neverness must bear the news of this religion to every star, every world. You, of the Order, even if you are not missionaries, even if you do not wish it so—you must be bearers of this new ideal. Every man and woman may become a god! This is a powerful idea, no? I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate its importance. Religion has been the genius and doom of humanity almost forever. It may be that this Way of Ringess will consume us long before the Vild destroys any of our worlds.’

Mer Tadeo’s greatest fear—as it must have been the fear of Mer Marlena Eva and Kagami Ito and almost every man and woman in the garden—was that the Order was dying. At the least, the Order was dividing into two halves, the best half (as he said) going to the Vild while the Old Order remained in Neverness.

‘If the Order divides against itself,’ Mer Tadeo asked softly, ‘what will become of our glorious civilization?’

Lord Nikolos faced Mer Tadeo in his open, reasonable way, and he said, ‘Our mission is to establish a new Order in the Vild. We shall be far from Neverness.’

‘But twenty years ago, far from Neverness, Mallory Ringess led a pack of lightships out into the galaxy. He divided the pilots against themselves, and there was war.’

‘But Mallory Ringess has disappeared,’ Lord Nikolos observed. ‘Perhaps he is dead.’

At this, Danlo drew in a breath of air and slowly let it out. He stood very still, letting his eyes move back and forth between Mer Tadeo and Lord Nikolos.

Mer Tadeo nodded his head. ‘Perhaps. But the idea of Mallory Ringess is very much alive. The ideal. It’s our fear that with the Order weakened, this ideal will divide the Civilized Worlds. And then there would be real war. War such as we’ve never seen since the Holocaust on Old Earth.’

Although Lord Nikolos must have dismissed Mer Tadeo’s fears as improbabilities and useless speculation, others did not. Kagami Ito and Valentina Morven and various merchants near them stood about discussing the War of the Faces and other wars that had left their mark on the Civilized Worlds. And then Mer Tadeo glanced down at a little colour clock set into the gold ring that he wore around his little finger. Quite abruptly, he clapped his hands and announced, ‘Pilots and Professionals, Ambassadors and Honoured Guests—it’s nearly time. If you would fill your cups I would like to present a toast.’

Just then, from across the lawns of Mer Tadeo’s estate, the music pools ceased playing their wonderful melodies and began booming out a huge sound as if they were nothing more than liquid, golden gongs. The cool air reverberated with this sound, and ten thousand people, all at once, looked eastward up into the sky. Then they began to crowd the various fountains in their haste to fill their wine goblets. Kagami Ito, the Sonderval, and the others near Danlo began to melt into the crowd, surging toward the Fountain of Fortune. In moments he was surrounded by people whom he did not know. Caught in this crush of bodies were servants carrying platters of food: cultured meats and cakes and fairy food, chillies and cheeses and cold vegetable compotes and the hundreds of exotic fruits for which Farfara is justly famous. Most of these servants, he saw, had red hair and fair skin and pale, blue eyes. They had been recruited on Thorskalle and brought to Farfara to serve the wealthier merchants. Of course, all the native–born of Farfara are merchants, but few live on estates, and fewer still in palaces as grand as Mer Tadeo’s. Many thousands of years earlier, during the First Wave of the Swarming, Farfara had been founded as a planetary corporation, each of its citizens holding an equal number of shares in the wealth of the planet: the computers, robots, and the information pools that they used to get their living from the rich, untouched lands. Over the millennia, numerous people for numerous reasons had sold their shares for too little recompense, and their reduced children had done the same. And their children’s children. By the time Mer Tadeo’s ancestors had built the Marar estate, perhaps nine tenths of the planet’s wealth had concentrated in the hands of the Hundred Families. By law, no merchant was permitted to sell or mortgage all of his (or her) shares, and so even the poorest people retained a fixed minimum ownership of the planet Farfara. This entitled the manswarms to live in the tent cities along the banks of the Istas River, or in huts in the mountains, or in tiny clary domes on the mud plains of Farfara’s three continents where once there had been lush green forests; it entitled them to drugs and the use of brain machines to distract their souls; it entitled them to clothing and the bowls of yellow amaranth with which they nourished their bodies—but little more. Even the poorest of the poor, however, still took pride in being shareholders, and they would not suffer themselves to serve on any of the Hundred Estates. And so Mer Tadeo and other merchants of his class sent to Thorskalle for their servants. They paid them not with planetary shares, but with money, so much money that each servant would return to Thorskalle rich enough to live like a prince and hire servants of his own. It might be thought that these fortunate youths—none was older than Danlo—would be grateful for such a chance, but they were not. In fact, they seemed resentful and sullen. With their frigid eyes they cast evil looks at any merchant so bold as to ask for a plate of pepper nuts or a mug of coffee. Now that Mer Tadeo had called for a toast, many of the servants bore trays of crystal wine glasses, which they took care to breathe on or smudge with their fingerprints before slapping them into the merchants’ outstretched hands. After Danlo had finally received his goblet, he made his way toward the fountain’s western quadrant where the crowd was the thinnest. And then, among the smells of flowers and wine, silk and sweat, he smelled the terrible quick essence of kana oil perfume. It was a smell with which he was utterly familiar. As if he were an animal in a dark forest, he froze into motionlessness and let the swarms of people push past him. He sniffed at the air, turning his head left and right. The scent of kana oil seemed strongest northward, upwind in the direction of Istas River. He drank in this memorable scent, letting the cool evening air fill his nostrils. He turned away from the fountain, then, and began moving toward the retaining wall at the edge of Mer Tadeo’s estate. Almost immediately, as the crowd thinned out, he saw a man standing alone by the wall. He was a warrior–poet dressed in an evening shirt and silk cloak of a hundred shimmering colours. And he reeked of kana oil; all warrior–poets. Danlo remembered, wore kana oil perfumes to quicken the urge toward life and death.


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