The astrologer, the augur, and the chronicler were ushered into the presence
of Cyron, "The Vengeful," King of Leorica, Begotten of the Sun. They
stood respectfully in the light cast by torches mounted on the marble columns
and suspended in arches around the anteroom, glinting from the gold and jeweled
ornaments, and from the helmets and armor of the guards posted by the walls
and inside the entrance. Forborem, Chief Counsel to the Throne, standing two
steps below and to the right of Cyron's chair, made a motion with his hand.
The astrologer stepped forward and spoke, gazing downward without meeting the
"In just over three months, the Messenger has grown brighter than any
star. Its motion has altered such that it now turns with the heavens but more
swiftly than the heavens, traversing the vault east to west five times between
setting and rising of the sun. Thus has it retraced its path precisely and without
deviation through the past seven nights hence."
"And what message does it bring? What interpretation have you made?"
"Of such as this, our tables of records offer no precedent to guide us,
Majesty. We are still consulting the charts. It seems that the gods whose word
the Messenger brings have not yet chosen to make their purpose known."
Cyron snorted and shifted his gaze to the augur. "And what of the winds,
the clouds, and the beasts that fly? How do they foretell? Times of plenty or
of famine? Should we vigorously prosecute war? Shall the mountains send down
clear water and fish, or earthquake and fire?"
The sky-reader replied, "Mornings are streaked with violet and pink, but
the days become troubled with rains from the east. At dusk, high furrows of
gold point north, and the hooked-wings soar close to the cliffs. Build thy plans
carefully. Caution is indicated in all contemplations of change."
A worthless appraisal. The High Priest, Ishtelar, who was standing by Forborem,
interjected before the displeasure on Cyron's face could translate itself into
action, "There is a seer come into the city, a one they call Serephelio,
who is spreading word that prophecies handed down from times long forgotten
are soon to be fulfilled. Excitement and agitation are rife among the people.
Some say that the Vozghan war will end, and our expedition against Halsabia
will be recalled." The prelate's tone carried warning as well as disapproval.
"It will be as much to the detriment of morale and discipline in your army
as of the faith that holds mine."
"What are these prophecies of which this seer speaks?" Cyron demanded.
Ishtelar nodded for the chronicler to answer. The chronicler spoke nervously,
unaccustomed to being summoned to the royal presence.
"The Essantine Oraculars, Majesty, parts of which trace back to before
the Conflagration, tell that a new light would move in the sky at a time of
great conflict. It is written that gods of silver would come down to walk among
men. . . ." The chronicler hesitated.
"Go on. And? . . ." Cyron commanded.
"The Warrior Kings will learn ways of gentleness, and peace come upon
The astrologer and the augur kept their eyes averted. If a bolt wasn't about
to strike from above, one surely would from the king. Counsel and priest eyed
each other for a moment, saying nothing. Then Cyron rose and strode out onto
the terrace, waving an arm for his ministers to follow, out of earshot of the
Around them, the domes and columns of Aranos, Leorica's principal city, loomed
into the night, transformed into pillars of orange, yellow, and murky whites
by the watch fires on the ramparts and in the squares. In one of the streets
below, visible over the top of the palace's outer wall, a line of captives from
one of the battles was being driven by mounted guards in the direction of the
prison behind the circus stadium, to be sent to the galleys, picked for the
public games, or disposed of in whatever other way might be decided. Every now
and again one would stumble or fall. The motions of the guards as they raised
their arms to wield their rods and whips were indistinct in the shadows.
"I see the plot clearly," Cyron said. "Nothing proves this light
in the sky, supposedly prophesied, to be the Messenger that now passes above
us. The Vozghans have taken advantage of an old fable and sent their agent to
spread disunity and subversion.
Have this Serephelio arrested and brought to me. Let's see if silver gods intervene
for him when he is questioned."
"The mischief that he has spread has caused much damage already,"
Ishtelar reminded him. "And there may be others at large of which we know
nothing, spreading similar tales. What of them?"
Cyron glowered down from the terrace in silence for a while. How many prisoners
has Gallestari brought us in his triumph?" he asked Forborem finally.
"I am told, upward of five thousand, Majesty," the counselor replied.
"Select five hundred of the wounded and least fit, unsuited for work or
to perform ably in the games, and have preparations made for them to be impaled
and burned before the main city gate," Cyron ordered. "We'll see what
that does for the people's morale and discipline." Forborem glanced at
Ishtelar, read his approving look, and nodded.
In the cloudless black above, half the sky's width from the moon, a bright
light moved silently across the background of stars.
It was as if the universe had divided itself into two parts, all its matter
collected together in what had become "down," leaving behind emptiness
to form what was now "above." The curve of the planet, swelling and
flattening as the lander descended, now filled half the view with its swirls
and flecks of white on blue, with outlines of green and yellow showing in places
beneath. In the shrinking tract of void beyond the rim, the last stars to remain
visible in Vaxis's glare faded as the blackness changed to a clear, diaphanous
Taya sat peering out through one of the oval viewing ports, too overwhelmed
to speak. Cariette, Jasem, and Bron, three of the six young-ones drawn by lot
to come with her on the first descent of biopeople, watched alongside her, wide-eyed
and utterly spellbound. Nyelise, Marcala, and Eltry crowded around the other
port on the opposite side of the cabin. The same view was being presented on
one of the screens built into the forward wall, but all of them wanted to take
it in directly, as if witnessing the scene firsthand through the glass added
somehow to its veracity. Kort and Scientist--who also possessed his own remote-directable
"robot" body now, as did most of the mecpeople--stood motionless in
the space behind them. They could couple to the lander's sensor channels directly
and needed neither screens nor windows. To make themselves easily recognizable
in the earlier days when the children were smaller, the robots had adorned their
metal bodies with distinctive color schemes, which having become familiar, they
had kept. Kort's consisted of a pattern of blue and silver points, with a black
bands at the neck, waist, and cuffs. Scientist had narrow black stripes on gray,
interrupted in front by a V-shaped design of white tracery extending
downward from the shoulders.
Merkon had changed, transforming more of its volume into environments suitable
for its newly acquired complement of biolife. Taya was nineteen now, the young-ones
eleven. Forty-six of the original fifty were left. "Biochemist," a
new mecmind, who specialized in the molecular processes underlying biological
life, was contemplating beginning another group of fifty in the nursery laboratory
up in Merkon. Apart from their superficial differences in body size and proportions,
facial features, and skin color, the biopeople came in two basic forms: "he's"
and "she's". The significance or purpose of this distinction was not
Nobody was sure why four had stopped functioning at different times during
the early part of the ten years that had gone by since their resuscitation,
although Thinker thought it was probably due to some not-yet-understood breakdown
in internal coordination, as happened from time to time when a machine ceased
operating. With a machine, it was generally a straightforward operation to trace
the failure and replace the affected part. In the case of biobodies, however,
nobody knew how to replace a part, even if they could tell which one was defective--and
there didn't seem to be any way of growing replacement parts separately, outside
of bodies, in any case. Everybody: Taya, the machines, the youngsters--although
at that time the latter hadn't really understood--had watched, powerless to
change anything, while the afflicted ones became less energetic, eventually
stopped moving and sensing altogether, grew cold, and over a period of time
reverted to the chemicals from which they had formed. Subsequently, a new entity,
"Medic," had formed, specializing in knowledge for keeping biolife
functioning optimally and for repairing biobodies when--as happened--they encountered
Four failures in ten years did not seem an excessively high number. Nobody
had thought to add a word to the dictionary to describe such a happening.
Over those ten years, sure enough, Vaxis had grown, and soon Taya could pick
it out with her unaided eyes, standing out like a beacon against the background
of other stars. Pictures that the machines obtained through Merkon's telescopes
and other instruments revealed it as a globe of light of unimaginable heat and
size, it surface constantly convulsing in storms and turbulence, throwing out
immense streamers of plasma that Kort said would consume Merkon like a speck
of dust drawn into a flame. And then, as Vaxis drew closer, slight fluctuations
that Scientist had detected in its position were shown to be due to what Thinker
had suspected: cool, dark bodies gravitationally bound to it, observed finally
by star's reflected light. "Planets"--long, long ago conjectured by
Scientist as possible places of origin for Taya's kind--actually existed.
To begin with, Scientist identified seven of them, moving in orbits confined
to a plane--although, since Merkon was approaching the plane edge-on, there
could easily have been more. As the distance diminished, new specks moving against
the starfield resolved themselves that hadn't been apparent before, and the
increasing glare of Vaxis made it difficult to be sure what existed in the inner
regions. Then smaller bodies were discovered orbiting about some of these in
turn, and then swarms of even smaller ones tracing all kinds of eccentric trajectories,
and the question of counting exactly how many there were lost any real significance.
Thinker wondered if mere coincidence had moved Merkon always in the direction
of Vaxis, or was it a destination that the Builders of Merkon--whatever it had
been--had set out for deliberately? If the latter, then what would halt Merkon's
motion when it arrived there? Nobody knew. Thinker asked Scientist if there
was a way in which the output of Merkon's power sources could somehow be utilized
to nullify its momentum. Scientist examined the laws he had formulated that
described interactions between matter and energy, and got into a long series
of debates with Thinker and Skeptic about possible ways to halt Merkon. By the
time they were two years from Vaxis, a new entity named Engineer had emerged
to take charge of a project to develop specialized modifications to Merkon's
structure for altering its momentum through space. It occurred to Thinker that
if Merkon had been meant to go to Vaxis it must have included such adaptions
originally. Presumably, then, the early generations of machines that had come
into being after the disappearance of the Builders had dismantled them as serving
no recognizable purpose. He put the thought to "Historian," another
new entity, who specialized in trying to piece together what had happened in
Merkon's distant past from the remains of ancient codes and records, and Historian
added it to his list of things to investigate.
One question that did get a partial answer as they entered the region of objects
orbiting and whirling about Vaxis was, what were these "planets" made
of? Merkon's radars detected thousands of them, ranging in size from the enormous
spheres that had made their presence known from hundreds of millions of miles
away, down to inches or less. While Engineer could by this time maneuver Merkon
to avoid the larger bodies, it was clear that collisions with smaller ones would
be only a matter of time. The implications were cause for alarm. Mecminds were
distributed across different places and backed up--and the machine hosts that
they existed in wouldn't be affected unduly by much short of a direct hit. Biopeople,
on the other hand, were localized, and their bodies incapable of withstanding
the environmental changes that even moderate damage to the structure would entail.
Accordingly, their quarters were reinforced within a double-layer outer skin,
and then divided into sealed subcompartments as a further precaution.
The first two encounters did indeed occur with explosive violence, the first
tearing a hole in the forward part of Merkon, the second blowing away an external
pylon, neither of them leaving a trace of the object responsible. Then followed
a series of collisions with minor bodies, all of which were again vaporized.
Finally, a scatter of slower-moving ones passed about, several of them penetrating
to yield fragments that the maintenance robots were able to recover. It was
the first direct experience of worlds that existed beyond Merkon.
The pieces turned out to be not of metal or plastic or anything immediately
familiar, but for the most part amorphous minerals: metallic oxides and other
compounds, especially of iron and aluminum, silicates and glasses, various crystalline
forms. In fact, the substances were similar to some that Scientist had created
experimentally but never found any great use for. However, some were rich in
compounds of carbon, while others showed abundance of water in its ice form--the
basic necessities for creating biolife, although lack of gravity strong enough
to retain a gaseous envelope ruled out all but the very largest planets as viable.
And even then, some of these had too much gravity, or the wrong mix of gases,
or orbited too far away from Vaxis for water to exist as a liquid. . . . But
one was different. It met all of the requirements that Scientist had specified.
They called it Azure, after one of the colors that Taya had named in her mosaic
designs when she was younger.
As Taya gazed down at it now, the excitement surging inside her exceeded anything
she had felt on seeing the pictures sent back by the smaller probe sent down
earlier--although they had been astounding enough. Merkon's mecforms and bioforms
alike had watched in awe as view after view came in of expanses and formations
of reds, browns, yellows, grays, vast and massive, unfolding as far as could
be seen, more varied than anything ever guessed at or imagined. Some parts rose
into high, pointed ridges, covered in a white crystalline form of ice; others
extended away flat and featureless. Huge areas, wider than any that experience
had provided standards for comparison, were covered in strange, filamented structures,
primarily green, of astonishing complexity. And there was water: windborne towers
of white, vapored water; endless, winding ribbons of water; tumbling, falling
walls of water; shining carpets of frozen water; blue universes of water extending
over vast tracts of the planet, into which Merkon could have vanished a thousand
times over. Nothing had prepared anyone for this. There weren't the words. New
terms poured into the dictionary as fast as they could be invented, and the
biominds forgot them again almost as quickly in the torrent.
And finally, yes, there was life. But not just the kind known in Merkon, with
two arms, two-legs, and a head on a body that walked upright--the form that
Taya had assumed when she began growing, and upon which the mecbodies had been
modeled. Such bipedal forms existed on Azure, sure enough--often in large numbers
around peculiar kinds of spread-out, mineral-built Merkons made up of repeating
rectangular units that they seemed to inhabit. There were countless other forms
in addition: horizontal bodies that walked on four legs: on long, slender legs,
on short, stubby legs; plain bodies, patchy bodies, striped bodies, spotted
bodies; forms with round heads, pointed heads, spiked heads, huge-jawed heads;
forms covered in hair, covered in skin, covered in curling, layered coats that
looked like plastic fiber. They walked in the dry areas, climbed among the strange,
filamented, branching structures, lay in the water; some even flew, using ingeniously
contrived body surfaces to counter gravity by creating pressure imbalances in
Even Thinker was dumbfounded by it all. Never in all his existence as a conscious
being had he conceived anything remotely comparable to the diversity flaunting
itself and abounding on every side. Biologist and Evolutionist had no explanations.
Skeptic, for once, was without words; all the things that he would have insisted
on as proof, had this been offered as a conjecture, were taking place before
his eyes. Mystic, however, was jubilant. Scientist with all his armory, working
over untold aeons, had managed to produce one, solitary demonstration that chemical-based
life was possible: Taya, and the variations of her that had followed. And that
had been only when the codes that gave the key were provided for him out of
the information passed down from the forgotten past. Who but Supermind, Mystic
demanded, could have created this pulsing, reverberating luxuriation of life
that abounded on Azure?
Second extract from Star Child - Silver Gods from the Sky
Crelth was in a sour mood by the time he led his
column into the village of Therferry. Now that his tension had eased, he was
conscious of maybe having shown unseemly haste in front of the men in wanting
to get away. He was angry at himself and spoiling for a fight to reaffirm his
Several colorfully painted carts and wagons were
standing in the open space in the center of the village. Baggage animals were
being unloaded, and others led into the communal corral to feed. Crelth recognized
the caravan of Xeldro, the merchant, which had left Aranos the previous day.
His orders were to be suspicious of merchants. They too easily made spies; their
free and wandering way of life was not a good model for the people; and they
lied to the tax collectors.
There was some kind of commotion in front of the
house of the Headman, whom Crelth remembered from a previous expedition, though
he was unable to recall his name, and a crowd gathered around. Figures ran ahead,
warning of the approach of the soldiers, so that by the time Crelth drew up
at the house, the Headman, several other village elders who had evidently been
with him, along with Xeldro and his companions, were standing, waiting. There
was another group too, who belonged neither with villagers or traders. Seven
children in strange dress. Otherwordly dress. . . . Although one, in pale green,
was taller than the others, practically a grown maid, Crelth saw on looking
more closely. They all had strangely clear, otherworldly faces.
And standing with them were two enormous warriors
covered every inch in armor. "Footprints . . . large . . . a giant's,"
Udarth had said by the river. Could there be any doubt that these were the silver
ones of whom the King had spoken?
The Headman came to the front and bowed obsequiously.
"Whatever pleases those who come in the King's name is our command, if
it is within our ability to provide."
Crelth tested the children and the maid by fixing
them with his sternest look. Not an eye among them dropped or averted. They
continued to regard him with candor and curiosity, conceding nothing either
to his rank or the armed might arrayed before them. Inwardly he was unnerved.
It could only mean that their confidence in their two protectors was absolute.
He felt his stature on trial in the eyes of the men behind him.
"Explain your association with these strangers
who hide themselves in forests unannounced and call down beasts of death upon
the land," he demanded, looking back at the Headman.
The Headman spread his hands helplessly. "Association?
We have ourselves beheld them for the first time but a half the fall of an hour's
"Tis true," the elder next to him affirmed.
"Nearer a quarter of a glass," another
Xeldro, the trader, came forward and stood with
them. With him was a youth, curly-haired, with a bright, intense look about
him--sure sign of a troublemaker. Full of fanciful ideas about throwing off
the duties conferred by birth, no doubt, and no knowledge of life. His chin
could barely support the pretense of a beard.
"They arrived here with us," Xeldro said.
"We came upon them on the road, tired, footsore, and without sustenance.
'Twas less than a league hence."
"Ah! And this meeting with spies and enemies,
you would have us believe was mere coincidence?" Crelth challenged.
Xeldro showed his palms. "Where are these enemies
of whom you speak? Canst not see these are but children?"
The youth stepped in front of him. "Travelers
lost, sire. Royal heirs from distant, wondrous lands. 'Tis no beast of death
that lies by the Ther, but a mighty swan that was sent to guide them."
So they knew more than they were telling, Crelth
thought to himself. And their story was not consistent. If they had met these
beings who posed as children on the road, how were they aware where the beast
that had descended lay? The road was never in sight of that bend of the Ther
river. Crelth signaled over his shoulder with a slight motion of his head to
Narzin, who moved up alongside him. "Let us see how able these two champions
are," he murmured. "Circle quietly about while I divert with words,
then see if thou canst take one in sudden attack." Narzin returned a faint
nod and fell back from Crelth's view. It was the only way to find out, Crelth
reflected. And he, sure as Hades, wasn't going to risk it.
"A swan, sent to guide them where?" he
asked the youth.
"That was the next thing I hoped to find out,"
the youth replied. "Perhaps, royal visitors to the King himself. Emissaries
from rulers of other realms."
"What, on foot, lost, without carriages, baggage
train, or servants? What manner of royalty travels thus?" Crelth directed
his gaze at one of the two warriors, the one adorned in blue and silver. "Have
you nothing to say on behalf of your charges?"
The warrior answered, "We outlanders. Simpler,
if it pleases."
"They are unfamiliar with all the tongues of
which I have knowledge," Xeldro said.
"From much more distant lands," the youth
"You have a name?" Crelth asked the warrior.
Then again, "You? . . . Name?"
"Explain 'place,' if it pleases."
The spear flew in from the side and struck the warrior
below his right ear, emerging on the far side to lodge grotesquely through the
neck like a spit skewering a piece of meat above a fire. Screams and shouts
of alarm broke out, and villagers scattered. Hoofs pounded as Narzin closed,
swinging an axe and catching the warrior solidly in the side. The warrior fell,
twisting so that one end of the spear struck the ground; he hung for a moment,
then collapsed, his body bending double, almost cleaved in two. Narzin wheeled
to face the other, while soldiers fanned out to encircle him with spears and
bows. But the gray-coated warrior remained immobile, seemingly paralyzed. The
child-impersonators too appeared to have lost the use of their faculties, and
just stood, their faces frozen in shock. The village elders shrank back in consternation.
Xeldro was shaking his head, looking dazed.
So . . . perhaps it had all been bluff after all.
Crelth dismounted, unsheathing his sword. The youth broke through between the
flanks of the horses and ran at him, his arms high in protest. "No! They
are only children! You can't--" Crelth checked him with his fist and sent
him reeling with a blow to the head from his sword hilt. Then he stepped over
the prostrate warrior and hacked off his head. The maid in green came forward
as if in a trance and gazed down between hands pressed in horror to the side
of her face, seemingly incapable of making any sound. Crelth grabbed her arm
roughly and shoved her toward other soldiers who had dismounted.
"Bring carts from the village and take all
of them," he commanded. "The child-demons, the trader and his accomplices
who consort with them, and the warrior who stands silent. All shall answer before
the King personally in Aranos."
He looked down again at the slain warrior. The mail
and corselets beneath the armor were the strangest he had ever seen. Curiously,
there was no blood.