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9

You bet I had a party. It was the inevitable thing to do. The extreme reaction which extremity forces you into.

Besides, everyone predicted Id give a party. They also predicted that at the height of the festivity and abandon, Id leap from a roof or dive into a pool without an oxygen injection and not swimming, or maybe, if their luck was really in, douse myself with Joyousness and strike an igniter in my ear. That was the only way to behave, after all. For there was only one answer to my choice of alternativesdie and let Limbo destroy my soul, or at any rate, wash it spotless and characterless. Three rorls of oblivion, followed by a repeat childhood and permanent amnesia, were a dire fate for a Jang, a crushing blow none of them spoke of, but which you could tell they were considering from the way the color fled their cheeks. But the other thing, exile and despair among the dunes, companionless till the end of my days, growing dry as the sand, creaky and wizened as the cacti, and agoraphobia everywherenever, never! If, by some master stroke of insanity, I had accepted that, I would put paid to myself inside a quarter vrek anyway. So, glorious, tumultuous suicide now it would have to be. Go out with a bang, show everyone what I was made of

They were so interested in what Id do, so fascinated by the notion of my macabre farewell feast, they forgot or mislaid their revulsion at my contaminating doom, and flocked around me from sunrise to sunrise.

I wondered if one or both of my makerslast seen many moons agomight signal me, to say goodbye, or something. Anything. But they didnt. Probably they were both in Boo or Baa, and didnt get to hear of it or even realize it was me, their child, until it was too late.

Under sentence, I felt hollow, pithless. The first and second units of the time theyd allowed me, I woke with a feeling of blind clawing terror. The second unit I wept, and Danor wept with me.

She asked me if she should go, but I said stay. I needed her, or thought I needed her, I dont know why, because it didnt really help, though she was steady and tender. The swan wandered about peeing on things and falling on things. The swan saved us a little, but only a little. I made an arrangement for Danor to have my home after I wasno longer in residence.

One excellent fact: Everything I bought was free, including the extra novelties for the party. I suppose the Committee understood I was incapable, in the circumstances, of groveling out thank-yous in a pay booth.

Nearly all Four BEEs Jang must have come to that party, or it seemed like it.

It was my last night in the world, and Id taken enough ecstasy to launch a small rocket into space. I was absolutely numb with it, couldnt feel a thing; even the prospect before me seemed unimportant, bearable almost. So what were three rorls? Thered be other Danors. Hypno-school was OK, mainly you didnt know about it anyhow, and I was going to make an utter promok out of my Q-R guardian. My ego would strike back through the brainwashing and consciousness-darkening, somehow it would. I was incorrigible, wasnt I? So drink up and swallow the pretty pills, and goodbye Danor, how Ill miss your beautifulbetter forget about that, my friend, if youre going to be a kiddy all over again in three rorls time.

The whole riot took place in the Moon Gardens in Second Sector. Blue and green fireballs of non-hot flame lit the groves of filigree trees. The fountains ran with blue wine, and a dragon or two from BAA glittered here and there, and BAA android females sang in sweet voices, plants growing from their heads and bursting into blossom. The sky was full of Jang riding starry birds, and rainbows, and golden-scented rain.

We also sang at the long tables, most of the vomitous Jang hit songs, delivering them with passion and sincerity. I was toying with the idea of slashing my wrists in an antique style of suiciding princes at feasts, but concluded I was too hazy with ecstasy to get it right, and abandoned the fancy. Then came the Masque of Deatha small entertainment Id dreamed up that evening to give them all colic.

I designed it via a thought-receptive screen, the sort of effort the Dream Rooms and the Picture-Vision places use. The resulting montage was thrown three-dimensionally out into the Moon Gardens, and grim and grand it was.

Six pairs of dancers, three male and three female, in emerald and scarlet velvet with golden-tassel hair. They danced and they embraced, they offered each other gifts and smiled into each others eyes. Then came deaththe Ego-Death of Limbos PD. It was a black-enameled worm and its head was a white skull. It thrust between them and they were smitten in its coils. They lay on the grass like broken flowers and the worm laughed, and sang a brief song of my composing, telling how Ego-Death was best for them and the community. I must already have been fairly ecstatic when I invented that song. It was silly, garbled, and amazingly bitter and terrible, and you could see the Jang blanching at a distance of fifty paces. Then bells rang and the fallen dancers rose. They bowed to the worm, and went on bowing until they shrank down to the size of children. They didnt know who they were or who the others were, their friends and lovers, but ran off after the worm, kissing its oily tail, with blindfolds obscuring their eyes.

Thats it, Hergal said to me. He and Mirri were consoling each other. Thats absolutely it, old ooma. Blindfolds and thalldrapping worms.

Thinta lay in a fountain of Joyousness, meowing, and Kley had come as a male, pathetic and inhibited, his eyes red. Hatta kept pouring me wine, wine the color of sapphires. Drink up, he said whenever I flagged. Take another pill.

If Zirk was there, I never saw him, or her.

Suddenly it was very late, about two hours before dawn, and Id disappointed the Jang by not suiciding, which dismally cheered me.

Danor, I said, lets go back home. For the last time.

So we went. Up Periot Waterway in an open boat, up the bright staircase, under the anemone opening and shutting on the porch. For the last time.

I was so drink-and-drug-sodden I didnt know if I could actually do anything, but some of Four BEEs pills are wonderful things, and paleness had touched the sky when we lay stilled and silent in each others arms. And I recalled that night so long ago when impotence had ravaged us, and it had mattered and meant so much.

Danor said quietly:

I loved this time weve had. After Kam, its meant a lot to me. Im only sorry, so sorry

Dont talk about it, I said. Its nearly here.

And then I fell asleep, abruptly, as if I could escape that way from what came closer with every split.


I was standing by the pets grave. My pet from all the vreks before. My pet who died on the shock wall the day after the great rains, when the desert blossomed. City robots from Limbo had buried it, at my request, out in the sands beyond the dome, because I couldnt let them incinerate its white body, like a fall of snow, in some neat, hygienic pet cremator. Id never known the site of the grave; I hadnt gone with them. Yet here I was.

All around was desert and the dust wind softly blowing, but I scarcely noticed it yet. For on the grave sat the pet itself, washing with an infuriatingly thorough concentration. Then it looked up at me, a couple of its six white legs still hooked at amazing angles around its head, looked out of its orange eyes.

Youre dead, I said to the pet. True death. Obliteration.

Certainly my bodys dead, said the pet casually, but whoever told you that everything else dies with it? What about that thing they use at Limbo, the thing the androids dont have, the life spark, the soul? My, my, have you been led by the nose.

Of course, the pet had never been able to talkone of its virtues, maybe. It didnt even seem to be talking now, yet somehow I heard the words, and imagined they came from it.

Why am I here? I asked.

Why indeed? Obviously, youd much rather stay in the city and get washed out, or whatever it is.

Oh, youre wrong. Im afraid to wake up, because then I have to go and let them do it.

Why do you? Theyre only a bunch of dopey quasi-robots trying to work out all the answers, and getting tied up in their rewire circuits. As for you, have you forgotten everything?

How else could I get by, without making myself forget? I said, and didnt at first know what I meant.

Finally you can only get by by letting yourself remember. Look.

And we were up in a bird-plane, but it was open all around so you could see every way at once, and feel the scratchy wind and smell the sand and rock smell, and the smell of the wide sky.

Dark sky, even at noon, sky of an indigo greenness, sky with a blinding, scorching sun, a sun in space, not a mechanism revolving in a dome roof like a childs toy. Below, the land, the pale dunes, the black mountains shaped like spears, like towers, like fortresses. On the horizon one volcano pouring its crimson plume into the air, fierce, uncompromising, and real. A wild land, a cruel land, a land to catch you out, bury you in sandstorm, broil you under the sun, freeze you under the stars, dehydrate and suffocate you in the heat with its low oxygen count. A land to thrill and humble you in that single unit after the rains, when all the barren sand is bright with green, and ferns spring toward the mountains and cover their flanks like a rolling ancient sea.

Here I am! shouted the desert, loud with life, for life there still was in it, waiting, stored, like seed. Here I am. Did you forget me? Forget me despite your dreams of me, your dreams of the sun and the rain and the antique tribes who roamed me once with their herds and their weird ways? You, who moaned and whined, covering metal-tape with cries and yearning, you, you effete thalldrap? Nows your chance to prove you can do more than sit on your tail complaining and drinking sapphire wine with your tears of self-pity. Come on, come and do battle with me, come and fight me. Im more than a match for you. Ill devour you if I can, but Ill do it cleanly and openly, not with words and dark little tanks in Limbo. Dont be afraid of human death and human age. Ive seen it all, and I know it. Its just dust blown over the rocks. Look at me, how dead and old I seem, and yet, watch me grow, watch me live. Come on. Come and find me. Im waiting.

Pet, I said, Ive forgotten your name.

Names, said the pet. Is that the only thing you care about?

And it bit me hard, so hard I woke up with a shout.


| Drinking Sapphire Wine | c