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Hanosz Prime Goes To Old Earth
Robert Silverberg Hanosz Prime Goes To Old Earth
The whole thing got arranged, with surprising ease, in short order at long range.
Hanosz Prime of Prime—young again and feeling restless, beginning his new life in startling new ways, eager to travel, suddenly desirous of seeing historic old Earth while it was still there to be seen—caused word to be sent ahead by hyperwave, using diplomatic channels, in order to get himself invited to be a house-guest at the palatial home of one of the grandest and most famous of Earth’s immortal aristocrats, the distinguished and celebrated Sinon Kreidge. Prime had good social connections in more than one galaxy.
And so the message went forth, pretty much instantaneously across two million light-years, through an elaborate interface of official intermediaries spanning half a dozen stellar systems, and the answer came back in a trice—a favorable one. Sinon Kreidge and his daughter Kaivilda have heard a great deal about the distinguished and celebrated Hanosz Prime of Prime, or at any rate they claim that they have, and will be happy to entertain him during his stay on Earth. And so the visit was arranged. Quick, quick, back and forth across the galaxies!
It’s an age of miracles, the Ninth Mandala that is the era of Prime and Sinon Kreidge. Our own accomplishments are as nothing beside theirs, nothing. To the people of the Ninth Mandala, all we are is pathetic ignorant smelly primitives, mere shaggy shambling creatures from the dawn of time—computers, color televisions, space satellites, and all.
By the time of Hanosz Prime of Prime, nine mandalas and a bunch of cycles and encompassments from now, they’ll have faster-than-light starships powered by devices that don’t exist even in concept right now. It’ll be a simple deal to travel quickly and cheaply and easily not just between cities or continents or planets or solar systems but between whole galaxies, faster than it would be for you or me to get from New York to Kansas City. Diplomats and tourists will pop back and forth across millions of light-years in hardly any time at all, say a week or two from here to the quasar 3C 279 without giving it a second thought. Intergalactic messages will move even more quickly—by sub-etheric telephone, let’s say, or hyperwave communicator, or some such thing. I know, it all sounds pretty damned improbable. But stop to think a moment. We’re talking about millions of years from now. The Ninth Mandala may very well be a lot farther in our future than the dinosaurs are in our past. A lot of impossible things can get to be possible in that many years.
The dinosaurs, remember, didn’t know anything about anything. They were masters of the planet, but they didn’t have the simplest form of technology, not a smidgeon. Hell, they couldn’t even spell their own names. Look how far we’ve come, technologically speaking, in a mere sixty-five million years. We have computers and color television and orbiting space satellites, all of them invented just a microsecond or two ago on the geological scale of things.
And for us the age of miracles is only just beginning.
* * *
So now Hanosz Prime is on his way to the threatened planet that once again calls itself Earth. Great wonders and strangenesses await him on the mother world of all humans.
His departure was uneventful. We see him aboard his elegant little ship as it plunges Earthward at incomprehensible velocity. Manned by an invisible crew, it has swiftly made its tumble through windows and wormholes, sliding down the slippery planes, through the thin places of the cosmos, descending by sly side-passages and tricksy topological evasions across the vast reaches of the dusty intergalactic darkness. Onward it goes across the light-years (or around them, whenever possible) skimming through nebulas aglow with clotted red masses of hydrogen gas, through zones where the newest and hottest stars of the ancient universe—latecomers, lastborn of the dying galaxy, never to run their full cycle of life—valiantly hurl their fierce blue radiance into the void; and now the journey is almost over.
The small golden sun of Earth lay dead ahead. Around it danced Earth’s neighboring planets, whirling tirelessly through the changeless darkness along their various orbits, filling his screens with the brilliance of their reflected light.
“Is that Earth?” he asked. “That little blue thing?”
“That is exactly what it is,” replied the voice of Captain Tio Patnact, who had traveled from Aldebaran to Procyon and from Procyon to Rigel in the time of the Fifth Mandala, when that was a journey worth respecting. Captain Tio Patnact was what we would call software now, or what an earlier age than ours would probably have called a ghost. “It isn’t all that little, either. You’ll see when you get there.”
“You’ve been there, right?”
“Quite a while ago, yes.”
“But it hasn’t changed much since your time, has it?”
“It will have changed in small details,” said Captain Tio Patnact, after a time. “But not in any of the large ones, I suspect. They are a fundamentally conservative people, as very wealthy people who know they are going to live forever tend to be.”
Hanosz Prime of Prime considered that. He regarded himself as wealthy, as anyone who had ruled and essentially owned most of an entire planet might be thought justified in doing. Was Captain Tio Pacnact being sarcastic, then, or patronizing, or simply rude?—or trying to prepare him for the shock of his life?
“How wealthy are they?” he asked, finally.
“They are all grand lords and ladies. Every one of them. And every one of them lives in a magnificent castle.”
And yet they are doomed, Prime thinks. The grand immortals of glittering Earth, living under the shadow of unanticipated destruction. Prime is fascinated by that idea. It seems so appropriate, somehow—so interestingly perverse. Earth, of all places, about to be sucked into some mysterious and absolutely unstoppable vacancy that has opened in the middle of nowhere! What is it like, he wonders, if you are one of those immortal ones—envied by all, the high aristocracy of the cosmos!—and you suddenly discover that you are going to die after all, immortal or not, when your part of the galaxy gets swallowed up by this hungry hole?
(The truth is that the curiosity he feels about precisely this thing is one of the motives that has pulled him across two million light-years to Earth. He wants to see how the immortals are handling their death sentence. Will they flee? Can they flee? Or will they—must they—remain on Earth to its very last moments, and go bravely down with the ship?)
“So it’s true, the stories people tell about the Earthfolk, how rich and splendid they all are. And they’re all perfect, too, aren’t they?” said Hanosz Prime of Prime. “That’s what I’ve been hearing about them forever. Everything in balance, harmonious and self-regulating. A perfect world of perfect people who never have to die unless they want to, and even then it’s not necessarily permanent. Isn’t that so, Tio Patnact?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that they think they are perfect, and that you may very well think so too.”
“Ah,” said Hanosz Prime, ex-ruler of Prime. He never knew when Captain Tio Patnact was having some fun with him. That was one of the problems of being only a couple of centuries old, more or less, in a time when most people tended to be very long-lived indeed and certain highly privileged ones like the people of Earth were capable of living forever.
Brooding, Prime paces the length and breadth of the ship. It’s quite a fine ship, but it isn’t very big. Prime keeps it for his personal use, for jaunts between the planets of the Parasol system and occasionally to nearby star-groups. He’s never taken it this far before.
Curving inlays of silver and burnished bronze brighten the walls. Heavy draperies of azure velvet flocked with gold add that little extra touch of regal splendor. Along the sides of the main cabin are holographic portraits of previous members of the royal family, twenty or thirty of them selected at random from the royal portrait gallery. Prime hadn’t put them there; they came with the ship, and he had always felt it would be rude to pull them down. The most impressive portrait of the bunch is that of Prime’s formidable grandfather, the fierce old undying tyrant who had finally relented and sired an heir in his six thousandth year, and then had lived another thousand anyway, so that Prime’s father had had the throne hardly more than a cycle or two. The old man’s deep-set eyes burn like suns: he seems ready to step down from the wall and take command of the ship.
“But even you had to die eventually, you old bastard,” Prime says, staring at the ferocious, implacable holographic face. “You fought and kicked all the way to the end, but the end couldn’t be avoided forever. Whereas the great lords and ladies of Earth—”
Prime can’t stop thinking about them. Immortals who have to die! What a dirty joke the universe has played on them! What a nasty sense of irony the gods must have!
* * *
Prime activated Captain Tio Patnact again.
“If the Earthfolk are the perfect creatures that you say they are, and immortal besides,” he said, “what I want to know is, how do you think they feel about learning that they’re going to die when the stars fall into the Center of Things? Are they furious? Depressed? Trying desperately to find a way out of their trouble? Are they so calm and perfect and godlike that the thought of their planet’s being gobbled up by some kind of black hole doesn’t bother them at all? Or is it driving them out of their minds?”
“Wouldn’t it bother you?” asked the captain, and vanished into silence.
* * *
Standing by the screen, Prime watched Earth grow rapidly larger and larger. The shapes of the continents were visible now, great wedge-shaped chunks of deckle-edged brownness arranged like the spokes of a fan in the middle of an immense sea. At sparse intervals bright spots of heat and light rose from them, glaring out of the infrared, the spectral fingerprint of the fires of life: emanations of the settled areas, the magnificent castles of the grand and immortal Earthfolk.
Prime felt a flicker of awe, a shiver of something close to fear. He caught his breath and clenched his fists. There was a pressure at his throat, a heaviness in his chest, a throbbing in his skull.
Earth! The eternal mother of us all!—the ancestral world—the home of civilization for billions of years, layer upon layer of epochs going back through all nine mandalas and the disorganized forgotten eras that had preceded them.
An encapsulated pulse of Earth’s enormous history came squirting out of his midbrain to bedazzle the outer lobes of his whirling mind. He struggled desperately to embrace the totality of that dizzying blurt, the knowledge of all those different races and civilizations and cultures and empires of mankind, rising up and falling down and being replaced by others that in turn would disappear, wave after wave of endlessly changing but still somehow identifiably human forms over uncountable spans of time, the Originals and the Basics and the Radiants and Serenities, the Masks and the Spinners and the Sorcerers and the Thrones, the Wanderers replacing the Star-Scriers and the Moon-Sweepers driving out the Wanderers and the Hive Folk overwhelming the Moon-Sweepers, and on and on and on, eon after eon, a great continuity of change, the whole thing forming the mountainous and incomprehensible agglomeration that was the turbulent history of the mother world. Most of which had been lost: what remained, names and dates and eras and annals, was only a tiny fragment of the whole, Hanosz Prime knew, only a snippet, only a slice, a faint film with most of the substance behind it gone.
Prime was stunned, staggered, overwhelmed by the proximity of this ancientmost planet of the human realm, standing as it was atop the throne of its own gigantic past.
“Help me,” he said. “I’m overloading. The whole weight of human history is falling on me. I’m choking under it.”
The ship’s medic—Farfalla Vlinder was his name, a native of Boris in the Borboleta system, still alive there, as a matter of fact, but duplicated under contract for use in starships—said quickly, “Don’t try to take in all of Earth, its whole outrageous past and present, in a single gulp. No one can absorb all that. There’s too much, much too much.”
“Think of now and nothing but now. Think just of a single district, a single town, a single house. Think of Sinon Kreidge’s great palace. And think of his daughter Kaivilda. Especially Kaivilda. How beautiful she is. How eager you are to see her.”
Yes. Prime will allow himself to think only of Kaivilda.
He has no idea at this point what she looks like, other than that she is beautiful. In his dreams she is formless, nothing more than a golden aura stippled with amethyst and bright ruby. Her colors and textures call to him across the endless night of space.
Of the real Kaivilda, though, Prime knows almost nothing.
So Prime does the best he can. He summons up an ideal construct of Beauty, telling himself that it represents Kaivilda, and concentrates on that. A column of pure music shimmers in his mind. The lines of the full spectrum pulsate at its core. Umbrellas of cool light descend upon him.
“Shall we begin landing procedures?” asks Captain Tio Pacnact.
“Begin them, yes. Immediately.”
The screen brightens. Earth rushes forward until it seems that the whole planet is leaping into his hands.
The tiny scarlet teardrop that is his starship arches across the orbit of ponderous swirling Hjentiflir, which you would call Jupiter, and plunges past the great flower-shaped pattern of eternally blazing matter that the Star-Scrier people of the 104th Encompassment had fabricated for their amusement and pleasure from the otherwise useless clutter which we know as the asteroid belt, and swoops toward the landing stage of Sinon Kreidge’s Keep on the eastern coast of Earth’s great central continent.
Prime steps from his ship. And instantly he sees that this is indeed a planet of wonders and miracles.
Golden sunlight runs in rivers across the iron-blue sky, dazzling him. Stars shine at midday in the firmament. It is warm here, even on this mountaintop, much warmer than on snowy Prime. The sweet unfamiliar air of Earth, thin but not harsh, sweeps about him and as he sucks it in it seems to him that he is drinking down the mellowed wine of antiquity, thousands of cycles old. There is magic in that strange air. Ancient sorceries, floating dissolved in the fragrant atmosphere like flecks of gold in a rare elixir, penetrate his being.
Prime looks around, numbed, dazed. A figure materializes out of the shimmering haze and gestures to him.
It is Kaivilda. She has been waiting at the rim of the landing stage to greet him when he arrives; and now she moves toward him with heartrending grace, as though she is drifting weightless through the strange thin air.
To his great relief Hanosz Prime, stepping from his ship into the warm alien air of Earth, was instantly struck by the perfection of Kaivilda’s beauty. It’s the good old click! we all know so well, still operating up there in the remote Ninth Mandala. For him, for her. Click! Ninth Mandala love is nothing very much like love as we understand the term, nor is sex, as you’ll see, nor is marriage. But the click!—the good old pheromonal click!—that hasn’t changed at all.
Prime had known a little of what to expect, but Kaivilda goes far beyond anything he had imagined from the advance reports. She is wondrous—flawless—superb. She inspires in him immediately dreams of the activity that they call rapport and that you can’t really understand at all, which is the Ninth Mandala equivalent of love and sex and much more besides. And she is equally charmed by him. The mere sight of him has set her glowing all up and down the spectrum.
Young love! At first sight, no less! In any era, it’s something to admire and envy.
(But what an odd pair our young couple would seem to us to be! For them it’s love at first sight—sheer physical attraction. You, on the other hand, would probably find her exceedingly weird-looking and not in the least attractive, and him terrifying and downright repellent.)
For this journey Hanosz Prime had had himself done up as an Authentic, awesome and swaggering and virile. As for Kaivilda, she had lately adopted the modularity known as the Serenity, which came into fashion only recently. Like most of the modularities that were popular in this decadent age it was of an antiquarian nature: a resurrection of one of the many vanished forms through which the human species had passed in the course of its long voyage through time. The original Serenities, a long-vanished human species that had been dominant in the peaceful and cultivated period known as the Fifth Mandala, had been oval in form, tender and vulnerable in texture: tapering custardy masses of taut cream-hued flesh equipped with slender supporting limbs and ornamented along their upper surfaces with a row of unblinking violet eyes of the keenest penetration. The motions of a Serenity were heartbreakingly subtle, a kind of vagrant drifting movement that had the quality of a highly formal antique dance. All this had been quite accurately reproduced in the modern recreation.
So neither Prime nor Kaivilda would appear to be in any way human to you, nor did either one look remotely like the other. But why should they? For one thing, there’s been all that time for evolutionary change to take place (not to mention a lot of deliberate genetic fiddling-around for cosmetic purposes) in the thousands of centuries that separate their time from ours. In the Ninth Mandala—when the various races of humanity were spread across billions of worlds and millions of light-years, and just about anything was technologically possible—you could, as we’ve already noted, take on any physical form you cared to; or none at all, for that matter. (The disembodied form—for those who liked to travel light—was still a minority taste, but not really rare.) No reasons existed for everyone to look like everyone else. Everybody understood this. Nobody was troubled by it.
To you, then, Kaivilda would seem like a gigantic boiled egg, peeled of its shell, adorned with a row of blue eyes and a slit of a mouth and a few other external features like arms and a pair of spindly legs.
It would be hard for you to find much physical appeal in that, I suspect. No matter how kinky you like to think you are, Kaivilda just wouldn’t be your type.
But you aren’t Hanosz Prime of Prime, and this isn’t the 1111th Encompassment of the Ninth Mandala. Your tastes aren’t relevant to what turns Prime on, and vice versa. So maybe you’d be better off to forget what I’ve just told you about what she looks like. If you’re a man, you’ll have a lot simpler time of it if you try to see her as your own ideal of present-day feminine beauty, whatever that may be—a tall willowy blonde or a petite brunette or a voluptuous redhead, whatever kind of woman turns you on the most. And if you’re female you may find that it will also help to forget all I said about Hanosz Prime’s oppressive bulk and mass, the sharp bony quills jutting from his upper back, the other lethal-looking spurs and crests of bone sticking out elsewhere on his body, and those fleshy yellow frills dangling from his neck. Think of him as a lanky, good-looking young guy of about twenty-five who went to a nice Ivy League school, wears expensive sweaters, and drives a neat little Mercedes-Benz sports car. I suppose you may argue that that would be cheating. Okay: go ahead, then, and get yourself into a proper Ninth Mandala mind-set. Hanosz Prime looks like a cross between a compact two-legged dinosaur and a small battle-tank, and Kaivilda like a giant boiled egg mounted on a pair of very spindly legs. And each one thinks right away that the other is tremendously sexy, as that concept is understood in Ninth Mandala times, though I assure you that sex as we understand it is definitely not a custom of the era. There you are. Cope with it any way you can.)
As Prime stood frozen and gaping with delight and awe, Kaivilda moved smoothly to his side and said, speaking softly with her fingertips, “Welcome to Kalahide Keep, Hanosz Prime.”
“How beautiful it is to be here,” said Hanosz Prime. It was an effort for him to frame words at first, but he managed. “What a marvelous house. And what a glorious planet this is. How delighted I am to look upon its ancient hills and valleys.”
(Meaning: How pleased I am to be near you. How satisfactory a being you seem to be. What a splendid challenge you are. Both of them understood this.)
And now he comprehends the thing that he has come here to learn. The Earth will be destroyed, before very long on the cosmic scale of things, of that there is no doubt. Its immortal folk will surely perish with it. The galaxies themselves will crumble, sooner or later, although more likely later than sooner. But none of that matters today, to these happy people of Old Earth, for today is today, the finest day that ever was, and who, on a day like this, could fret about the morrow? Hanosz Prime understands that fully, now, for he is here with Kaivilda of Old Earth, and even if the universe were to end tomorrow, that makes no difference to him today. Let the future look after itself, he tells himself. We all live in the present, do we not, and isn’t the present a glorious place?
“Come,” Kaivilda said. She took him by one of his bony wrist-spurs and gently drew him into the Keep.