Feb 25, 2015

The Dancing Earth

Science fantasy adventure
Jack Vance's character Ghyl Tarvoke
is brought into Reality to live
in the world as we know it.
During the past few weeks, since Irhit severed my links to the Hierion Domain, I'd begun to suspect that I've been cut off from the Dead Widower Society. However, I was just given access to a new "story" attributed to the founding member of the Dead Widowers. Actually, the online "document" that I was allowed to read is in the form of an interview conducted by a news reporter. The "story" is only hinted at during the interview, so it is left as a creative writing exercise for us to recreate the story in our minds and judge to what extent it represents reality.....

"Dance is one of the most powerful forms of magical ritual" -Ted Andrews

Star Dance- Brisé
As mentioned in my previous blog post, Ghyl Tarvoke is the protagonist in Jack Vance's science fiction novel Emphyrio. In the previous Reality, the one that existed before world as we know it (what I think of as the Buld Reality), Ghyl "arrived" on the planet Tar'tron and soon found himself in a confused state of mind, as if he were waking from a thousand-year-long dream. At first, Ghyl could see nothing: there were only voices.....

Voice 1: He's emotionally stable at this level. I won't push him to the next.

Voice 2: He's like a bee in a bottle, getting more and more angry. It's time to let him out.

Voice 1: Why are you suddenly in such a hurry? He's still just a larva.

Voice 2: Ghyl, can you hear me?

Ghyl: Yes, I hear.

Voice 2: Excellent. Svahr, finish the assembly sequence. Now! Help me bring him to full consciousness.

Svahr: Stop that! I'll do it. You're messing it all up. Let me do it.

For Ghyl, something changed and he suddenly became aware of sensations from his entire body. He was trapped and unable to move. Trapped! Now, with his emotions fully engaged, he could feel sweat begin to form on his skin. The sweat began to evaporate and a cool sensation teased his panic, it accented his fear of the darkness that oppressed him. He could feel that his eyes were open; he could blink, but he was in a horrifying well of gloom. From the depths of that darkness, Ghyl could feel the warmth of a nearby body: the second voice came from someone who stood close by. It was a crisp, enchanting female voice. The voice of Svahr came from further away and, if Ghyl's hearing could be trusted, it was a voice being formed by an inhuman mouth.

Ghyl wondered: was a Lord preparing to exercise the Rites of Inquisition?

Svahr: I'm bringing him online, but his global pattern buffer is completely empty.

Voice 1: I want to try it this way. Just do it.

Ghyl imagined that the woman standing close by his side was bored, as if she had previously been through this a dozen times already. In contrast, the inhuman voice of Svahr sounded tense and annoyed, as if  being forced to proceed with a dangerous task while ignoring common sense precautions.

"Core" by Andrey Lifanov
Svahr: But he knows nothing of the Core or Tar'tron or Obsidia's Observer program nor will he remember us.

Voice 1: So what?

Svahr: Look for yourself. Ghyl is having a bad reaction to this assembly sequence.....see the activity in his amygdala? He's caught in an emotional storm, even worse than last time. Observe how he struggles against the restraining harness. Put yourself in his position, Janet, what would-

Janet: Oh, for Time's sake, stop worrying! We have to set him free's just going to be sooner rather than later.

Svahr: I don't trust you. Did you send Bet away so that you could pull this stunt? Did you even bother to discuss this with Obsidia?

Janet: Discuss? With Obsidia? No, but she gave me orders. The schedule is being modified and we need to speed up the assembly. Ghyl, I'm going to slowly bring up some longer wavelengths of light so that you can begin to see again. Svahr, stand by to squelch any positive feedback loops that develop in the occipital lobe.

Ghyl's first glimpse of Janet.
A red-tinted visual world formed in Ghyl's mind. Janet was there, peering down at him. She smiled and asked, "Do you feel in control, is your mind clear?"

Staring up at Janet, a Janet seemingly composed of dim bloody clouds, Ghyl decided that she was human: a normal woman, not a Lord. Actually, she was quite pretty and her calm demeanor projected a suave intelligence. Ghyl felt like he somehow knew her inner nature, her soul, while at the same time she was a complete stranger. He relaxed and stopped straining against the harness. His throat was hot and dry, but he manage to croak out a word, "Better." Light, even a sick red light, was far better than a prison of darkness.

Janet pointed a finger at his face and Ghyl felt a rinse of clean cold water enter his mouth and sooth his dry throat. Sensing that Janet would not harm him, Ghyl began to babble a bit, expressing his relief. "I thought I was back with the Lords, being subjected to another interrogation." His thoughts were full of searing memories of past torture.

Janet giggled, awash with a giddy sense of relief, knowing that by taking a risk she had cut the Gordian knot: her decades of waiting were almost over. She was thinking far beyond that pain of his dire memories and was clearly amused by something that escaped Ghyl's comprehension. "Just relax, Ghyl, I'll get you through this." There was a minute of silence during which the room continued to slowly brighten then Janet said, "Svahr, I told Obsidia to just butt out and stay out my way now. She's been leading us up this mountain along the longest possible route, but now we're on the fast track. Quick now, release him; these restraints are just annoying him. He won't attack me."

Svahr muttered, "Fast track? You're far too impatient." Now Svahr moved closer to Ghyl and briefly passed through the edge of his peripheral vision. Svahr moved by quickly and starting with the straps that immobilized Ghyls head, began releasing his bonds. When Svahr moved close along Ghyl's side, he was surprised by Svahr's appearance. Svahr seemed to be a queer beast, some anomalous mixture: possibly a hybrid of primate and cat.

Janet continued to talk, "Ghyl, I'm sorry that you've been caused anxiety by the activation protocol. Since we don't have the luxury of another week to impregnate your mind with artificial memories, I had to risk just giving you back your consciousness and bluntly explaining what is going on." She looked over her shoulder at some distant object then turned her face back towards Ghyl and seemed to sigh with relief. "It appears that I was correct. This is working."

Now both of Ghyl's hands were free. The room had become significantly brighter, with some shades of blue seeping in among all the redness. He felt his body and confirmed that he was naked. Goosebumps had formed on his skin as his sweat evaporated.

Ghyl in the assembly room.
Janet knew that Ghyl was not an exhibitionist. She reached out towards him, "Here, you can use this robe." For a moment Janet's hand gently touched Ghyl's finger tips and he felt a small wad of silky cloth. As his fingers closed on the fabric, he watched in fascination as it magically assembled and grew into a shining white colored whole: arm holes formed and then a collar.

Svahr finished unbuckling the restrains from Ghyl's legs. Svahr and Janet then each took a firm grasp on one of Ghyl's arms and helped him sit up. He was dizzy: the world seemed to move in a strange way that was unlike anything he had ever previously experienced.

Svahr cautioned, "Wow, he's doing much better than I expected, but don't rush him. It's going to take a while for his higher motor control centers to adjust his conscious mind to this body."

Janet helped Ghyl pull on the "robe" which was still forming and growing to cover his torso. He commented, "Nice. Clothing that grows."

Janet nodded, "Ya, when I first reached Tar'tron, I was baffled by all the new magical experiences. Just kick back and enjoy the ride. You'll soon get used to the conveniences and wonder how you lived your former life without the magic. Now, do you want to try standing?"

Ghyl was still disoriented. Some brighter greenish light was beginning to seep into the room and the dark, featureless floor began to come into focus for him. He was sitting on a padded platform, his feet dangling several inches above the floor. Ghyl could sense that Janet was waiting, rather impatiently, for Ghyl to act. Alarmed by his inability to fully assimilate his sensory experiences, but not wanting to act like a weakling, he put one foot on the floor and immediately lost his balance. Janet and Svahr were there at his sides, helping him to stand and preventing him from falling. Ghyl put his arms around their shoulders. For a minute he stood there, breathing rapidly and fearful that he would vomit, then his senses cleared and the world stabilized. The robe finished shaping itself to his body: now it extended down over his legs and ended a few inches above the floor. He noticed that Janet wore a loose black shirt and tight black pants. Svahr wore a robe similar to his own, its pale fabric contrasting with Svahr's dark pelt. Something shifted in his mind and Ghyl's nausea dissipated almost as rapidly as it had arrived. "Okay, now I feel better."

Svahr as a primate/feline hybrid.
Image credits: Will Stephenson
Fascinated by the Svahr creature's glossy fur, he stroked its neck and scratched behind its left ear.

Svahr spat at him, like an angry cat, revealing small sharp teeth.  Janet complained to Ghyl, "This isn't play time. Don't provoke Svahr until you can deliver and satisfy thons desires."

Ghyl asked, "Thons?"

Janet prodded him forward and he took a small step. With the help of Janet and Svahr at his sides, supporting some of his weight and guiding his motion, he moved slowly across the room. To Ghyl's fractured sensorium, the wall in front of him at first seemed like a fuzzy fog bank.

Svahr said, "You're doing great, Ghyl!"

Ghyl had difficulty keeping his eyes off of Svahr, and for the length of a dozen small steps he was distracted and not thinking about how difficult it was to walk. His automatic motor control system seemed to function better without his conscious attempt to take steps. Looking at the short fur on her face, Ghyl decided that Svahr was a handsom beast, indeed.

When they reached the wall, Ghyl was finally able to focus his eyes on it and he stared in fascination at the data displayed there: a kind of complex swirling mist, a pattern sketched out in bright colored lines and a deeper layer of abstract symbols that somehow held a meaning that danced just beyond his awareness. Svahr explained, "That's a representation of your mind's activity.....more precisely, a high-level projection of your executive functions."

Ghyl had a powerful sensation of déjà vu. He blurted out: "I knew you were going to say that."

Janet asked excitedly, "And are you also reading me?"

Ghyl knew what she meant: he could also sense a bundle of thoughts emanating from her. He asked, "Mind reading?"

Svahr laughed and said, "Welcome to Tar'tron, Ghyl. You now have magical powers, including telepathy."

With their arms still wrapped around each other, the three of them turned as a unit. Svahr and Janet opened their minds to him and let Ghyl explore their thoughts. He could sense their moods and emotions and he could receive language-like patterns that they silently "sent" to his mind. Ghyl liked what he sensed in their minds, but there was something odd about Svahr's mentality, a swirl of thought linkages that clashed with his own cognitive system. He said to her, "You are a Lord."

Janet explained, "Svahr does carry alien gene patterns, but you are going to have to expand your vocabulary. There are no 'Lords' here on Tar'tron. Try walking back to the table."

Ghyl let go of Svahr and Janet, taking the full weight of his body upon his own wobbly legs. He flexed his knees and decided that the gravity of Tar'tron was slightly stronger than that of his home world. Feeling a growing confidence, he glance one last time at Janet's smiling face. She nodded reassuringly and then he gingerly walked across the room. Reaching the table, he turned and leaned back against it for support, his knees quivering. The room was now lit with almost normal light and he looked carefully at Svahr, trying to detect alien features, but she looked like some kind of mythical creature from a fable, like an illustration in a child's book of fairy tales. A cat girl. Briefly he wondered: what kind of world would give rise to such a strange beast?

Svahr sent a telepathic reply back to Ghyl: get used to being among human-animal're going to need to learn a new scale for measuring strangeness.

Ghyl turned his attention to his own body. Something was not normal. Rather than smooth and automatic, his movements were now sluggish and labored, as if he was moving someone else's body. Alarmed by his inability to control his body in a normal way, Ghyl tried to imagine what was wrong. Pulling up his sleeves and looking carefully at his arms, Ghyl was led to wonder: when did I grow to have such a well-toned body? Was the floating sensation he was now experiencing a reaction to the different gravity here, was his sense of unreality and dissonance a reaction to new environmental conditions that his body was getting used to? He'd been on several different planets and had never previously had trouble adjusting.....

Janet, apparently reacting to a telepathically transmitted request, said to Svahr, "You're such an exhibitionist! Oh, go ahead; get it over with. Show him."

Svahr; in humanoid form.
Ghyl watched with amazement as Svahr transformed into what he imagined to be her natural alien form. The dark fur that had covered her skin disappeared and the robe she was wearing transformed also, morphing its contours and forming holes that revealed "her" structural details: a set of four breasts adorned "her" torso and, below, a small, inhuman, protruding penis. Ghyl sputtered, "You're a hermaphrodite!"

Ghyl received Svahr's transmitted thoughts: I'm not female. Don't think of me as 'her'. Here you should use the pronoun 'thon'.

Janet nodded. "Get used to it, Ghyl. Most people of Tar'tron, of the entire Core, are hermaphrodites."

Ghyl asked, "Are you?"

Janet shook her head, "No, I'm a simple Earth woman. All I got was the penis envy." She giggled at her own joke.

"Earth!" The word erupted from Ghyl's mouth before he could think. He asked, "What do you know of the Historical Institute?"

Janet dismissed Svahr, "Thanks for your help. He's in good shape. I'll take it from here."

Svahr transformed back into thons animal-like form and thon nodded to Ghyl. Svahr performed a complex dance step that ended with a graceful little backwards jump: thon went -poof-, disappearing from the room.

Janet said, "Thon's such a show off."

Startled by Svahr's sudden departure, Ghyl asked, "More magic?"

Janet laughed, enjoying the look of surprise on Ghyl's face. "Simple teleportation. I'll let you try it in a little while; it's one of your new powers." She took Ghyl by the hand and led him out of the assembly room and slowly guided him down a short hallway. They reached a doorway and she said, "Here, this is my office."

Janet pulled him into a dimly lit room that contained a desk and a small bed or couch. Nodding towards the couch, she explained, "The tool of my trade: I'm a psychologist." She sat behind the desk and Ghyl remained standing in the center of the room. For a minute Janet examined a complex data readout from her desk that provided her with an evaluation of Ghyl's bodily functions and the activity pattern of his mind. Finally, satisfied that he was mentally stable, she glanced up and commanded, "Sit down, Ghyl. Try to relax. We'll now start the next phase of your education: getting you in tune with the culture of Tar'tron."

He sat on the couch and stubbornly repeated his question, "What do you know of the Historical Institute?"

Janet shrugged and her loose-fitting shirt slipped down off of one shoulder. She tossed her long hair to one side and smiled gently, trying to think of the best reply and knowing that she could easily confuse Ghyl. She made only a halfhearted attempt to answer his question, "Not much. I know that in your time it will keep track of the many human-settled planets and their various cultures."

"My time?"

 "Yes, you are from the future. Here, now, in this time, the Institute does not yet exist."

Startled by the possibility, Ghyl asked for confirmation, "Time travel?"

Janet nodded, seemingly bored by the idea of travel through time. "Yes, traveling through time is another of your special powers."

Ghyl took a deep breath and tried to control his anxiety. He asked himself: when would anything start making sense? Luckily, Janet seemed like an island of normalcy. In fact, she seemed to be batting her eyes at him and flirting a bit. He suggested, "Maybe you should tell me why I'm here."

Janet pulled her shirt back up to cover her bare shoulder. "Oh, it's rather simple: I offered to help Obsidia with her little project. Of course, I soon came to regret it. Having to spend the past week watching you act like a zombie nearly broke my heart."

Ghyl could sense that the answers to the mysteries that baffled him were just beyond his reach in Janet's mind and the inaccessible nearness of that knowledge was frustrating. "I see. Now, I just need to know is who the mysterious Obsidia is and why she brought me here."

Janet was enjoying the process she had set in motion and could not restrain herself from thinking of Ghyl as a bumbling child (her child); he was confused and stumbling around in the confused corners of his mind, just like she had done when first on Tar'tron. Continuing to smile at Ghyl's obvious state of disorientation, she sent him a telepathic command that she hoped would help: just relax and open your mind to change. "Well, I can't really help you with that: for some reason Obsidia thinks you are the key to the Buldoon Arques, but don't ask me why. Obsidia has a special relationship with the Kac'hin and, thus, deeper knowledge of Reality.....of Realities. My job is simple: she's expecting me to help you adjust to your new life here on Tar'tron. Towards that end, I should first make you fear Obsidia as much as I do." Ghyl could sense that Janet disliked Obsidia and he could see that mere mention of Obsidia brought a tense little smile, a forced smile, to Janet's face.

Ghyl felt a trickle of perspiration run down his side from his right arm pit. He nervously asked, "Fear? Why fear?"

Janet tried to explain. "As a trained Observer, Obsidia has a rather detached attitude towards the problems of mere mortals like you and I. In short, she can be a real bitch. She expects you to perform and if you hesitate to do her bidding then she'll bust your balls." Janet gave a wild little laugh. "Believe me, I know; she's broken me, completely."

Ghyl noticed a change in his peripheral vision: a tall, oddly dressed woman had appeared and was looking into Janet's office from the hallway. She strolled into the room and stood in front of Janet's desk. Ghyl was distracted by her clothing which had provocative slits and gaps that narrowed and widened as she moved and seemed to be composed of multiple independent sections of cloth that had been pasted on her body.

She said, "Janet, you need not set him against me."

Janet shrugged, "He needs to know what he's getting into." Janet glanced over at Ghyl and gave him the briefest of introductions, "Ghyl, meet Obsidia."

Obsidia turned and looked down at Ghyl.

Ghyl finally allowed his eyes to focus on her face. He gasped in surprise. "Shanne?"

Next - Chapter 2: Obsidian Penché

Jump through time to Star Dance Chapter 3: Hortensia
Chapter 4: Harlem 

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