The Fall of the Families
The notes provided for Vol 1 Master of Paxwas serve to cover this chapter also. If you would like to see some of the poems from these volumes, please go to the poetry section, and then to Poems from the books. Here are the opening chapters of The Fall of the Families.
ON ODIN’S HOMEWORLD
High on a stony headland, above a grey and white and roaring sea, crouched a small creature. In appearance it was like a dome of red wax. Its name was Odin.
Chasms opened up between the waves as they raced in to the land and thumped against the headland hurling rockets of spray upwards. The wind caught the spray and drove it inland. Cold sea water spattered the small creature and sluiced over it and dribbled away down the cliff face.
Odin felt relief. The slap of the salt spray and the cut of the wind dulled the ache he felt inside him. For days he had stood there while the storm battered the hard stony shore. Now the tempest was weakening. Fitful rays of pale sunlight were slicing through the clouds. Soon the sea would calm to a heavy swell. But it would never become truly calm; that was not the way on Odin’s world. Already a new storm was brewing among the tight-packed ice boulders of the southern sea. Within days that storm would break across the land, bringing joy to the Gerbes who lived by the shore.
But Odin would not feel it.
Odin was saying goodbye to his world. While he had crouched under the storm he had sent his thoughts out over the surface of the sea. He had joined with others of his kind. He had drawn strength from the veins of bright silvery thought which rippled across the face of his Homeworld.
Now it was close to the time when Odin must leave. He had felt the Inner Circle calling him back, gentle but irresistible. He had felt a call like duty, a compulsion like guilt, and he had no choice but to obey.
So, while the sun brightened the backs of the surging waves, Odin flexed his trunk. His glossy skin roughened as veins and flukes began to appear. Stealthily he withdrew his tough roots from
the crevices between rocks.
Finally, all that held him steady in the face of the buffeting wind was his great basal sucker. Carefully, tactfully, he loosened its grip. Fine yellow tendrils at the side of the sucker emerged and began to feel about for purchase on the land. They stiffened, lifting him, and began to creep like a thousand small legs, The sucker dilated and compressed and Odin began to glide down the headland and away from the sea.
There was no turning back. For several days Odin toiled over a plateau of bare rock. Patiently he worked his way along valleys and up streams. Nothing stopped him and he never paused.
As .he moved, he thought. The time on his Homeworld had given Odin perspective. He remembered Pawl Paxwax, the human with the awkward legs and strange yellow eyes. Odin had helped to save him, had helped to keep his mind calm at a time of crisis. When Odin left Pawl’s Homeworld it was as though he had left part of himself behind. Now that man would be riding high, Master of Paxwax. Odin wondered if Pawl ever thought about him, and knew at the same instant that he did. Pawl had a quirky, defensive mind, quick to anger, but he was first and foremost loyal.
Odin remembered the time of their first meeting. How nervous and skittish Pawl had been, encountering his first alien and feeling it push into his mind! He was clumsy and maladroit at mind control. That was the way with humans. But he had adapted quickly. Then how easily they had flowed together!
There was the time later, when Pawl was being too defensive and Odin had bitten into his mind suddenly and extracted a memory of Laurel Beltane. That had been dangerous. Pawl’s anger and distress had proved almost too much for the small Gerbes to control . . . but the shock had been worth it, because out of it grew a deeper trust. Odin remembered clearly the time they sat together and Odin revealed his “face”. Pawl sat staring at him, as though memorizing every detail, and then he reached forward and touched one of Odin’s tendrils. An act of trust for both of them. Though they can share with their minds, creatures that are alien to one another find touching the hardest act of all. Odin knew that despite the wishes of the Inner Circle, he had come to share with Pawl Paxwax. He had moved dangerously close in sympathy. And how could it be otherwise? Gerbes were not tricksters. They thrived on the easy intimacy of minds sliding over minds.
Now, every inch that Odin travelled was bringing him closer to Pawl’s Homeworld, no matter how indirect the route.
And what then? What was he to when he was there?
Odin was not clear about details but he knew that somehow he was to accomplish the downfall of the man. That hurt. That made the stone within him throb and wrinkle. For the sake of the Inner Circle, for the sake of the whole order of aliens which Odin served, Odin must become a traitor. It was a monstrous defection from his nature and it would inevitably, without question, kill him. Odin knew that when the final crisis came and he betrayed Pawl Paxwax, he would still love him and would serve him to the end.
And his own inevitable death . . . ? Odin thought about.that too. Somewhere lonely, he hoped. Somewhere where he could dissolve unobserved; in a place where he could deposit his stone under the feet of oxen and let it be trampled down. Odin could not read the future, but he had some sense of its shape, and it held nothing good for him.
With these dark but quite realistic thoughts in his mind, Odin travelled over cold stony uplands. He had other worries too. Questions which would not go away. He did not understand himself. Why had he offered to go to Pawl’s Homeworld in the first place? That was not in the nature of Gerbes. Gerbes were quiet solitary creatures, lovers of wind and sea. Apart from assisting as translators, they did not join with the strong militant minds of Sanctum. The fighting could be left to the Hammer and the Parasol and the Spiderets. They delighted in such things. It was more in the nature of a Gerbes to let itself be killed than to kill. Perhaps I was chosen, thought Odin, because I am meek. But why? And was it a free choice?
Such questions could not be left and Odin decided to find out the truth when he was back on Sanctum.
Now the summit of the hill was close. The wind had freshened, driving before it pellets of snow which lodged under boulders and did not melt. Odin felt his glands lard his body with oils as the temperature dropped. At the crest of the hill and looking incongruous on the wild world was an aerial made of copper and bright blue strands of bio-crystalline fibre. This aerial was the only manufactured object on the entire planet. It was the only evidence that the Gerbes maintained links with outer space.
Settling to the ground as Odin approached was the blunt box shape of a magnetic shuttle. This would carry Odin quickly up into the darkness of near space where the Way Gate platform turned. The front of the shuttle broke open and a ramp lowered. Odin only had to enter.
There, at the lip of the shuttle, he performed a brief ceremony. He sent his mind out for one last time and felt the response of thousands of Gerbes scattered round the distant shore. It was like a great silver sea that for a moment engulfed him and made him dizzy. They were wishing him well in their many different ways. They were saying farewell.
Odin shook. His tendrils lifted and felt about in the wind. One by one, small Gerbes worked their way out of his tufted fibre and flopped down on to the cold stony ground. They lost no time in squirming and sliding their way out of the wind and under the rocks. Soon they would begin their own long journey to the sea.
It was over. Odin’s last visit to his Homeworid was over. He knew he would never return. Odin’s next stop was Sanctum where he would receive his instructions from the Inner Circle. Odin mounted the ramp and glided into the shuttle and its door lifted and closed. He was alone.
ON BENNET: THE HOMEWORLD OF PAWL PAXWAX
Fortune favours the brave, as they say…
…but still it helps to have powerful friends and Pawl Paxwax, now undisputed Master of the fifth most powerful family in the known galaxy, did not know just how lucky he was. Certainly he had no idea how extensively Odin and the order of the Inner Circle had helped in his survival.
Now the brief but bloody war was over. A speedy inventory of his domain to see what damage the Paxwax had suffered told a sorry tale.
Pawl was the victor because he had survived. He had survived because the great advance of the Xerxes and Lamprey forces had been stymied. But it had been a close thing. The war had reached deep into his empire, where a terrible price of burnt worlds and plain murder had been paid. One such world was Thalatta, the Homeworld of Laurel Beltane. The war had broken the vast network of Way Gates which connected the empires of the Eleven Families and it would be years before this damage could be repaired. Many worlds had been overrun and it was widely believed that in some parts of his domain, now inaccessible, battle still raged. Most of the damage was the product of desperation in the last stages of the war, when the word went out: “Kill. Kill anything.”
But now at least Pawl’s empire was secure. The Families which had attacked him, the Xerxes de Ia Tour Souvent Fourth and the Lamprey Sixth, were in disgrace and licking their wounds. The Lamprey would never recover. The sisters who ruled the Xerxes were made of sterner stuff. They accepted defeat with a bitter, angry pride.
Being the man he was, Pawl’s first action after the war was to marry. He married Laurel Beltane and thereby asserted his independence. His decision to marry this lady had precipitated the war and now it marked its ending. In some quarters there were murmurs that Pawl was thumbing his nose at the great Code which governed all relations among the eleven ruling Families, for Laurel Beltane was an outsider: her family, being the 56th, was low in the pecking order. But the Masters of the Eleven Great Families, swept along no doubt by the euphoria of battle, were magnanimous. Pawl was young (they said). He had demonstrated courage. He had a certain glamour. He had shown ruthlessness (and this they admired). Let him have his girl. He would learn with age. Soon power would work its corrosion upon him, striking at his idealism. Inevitably he would fall into line.
Pawl did not delay. He announced his marriage within hours of his victory. He accepted the good wishes of the Proctor First and the Shell-Bogdanovich Conspiracy Second. (He acknowledged that the Shell-Bogdanovich had been his greatest allies and members of that Family were the only ones to witness his marriage.) Old Man Wong, who ruled the Wong Third, sent him valuable presents: icons saved from the Homeworld of Homeworlds, Earth itself. The Xerxes Fourth and the Lamprey Sixth no longer mattered. Nor did the Confederation of the Freilander and Porterhouse. This unhappy family was engaged in a civil war and even while Pawl wascounting his lost worlds, the Proctor and Wong began to dissect its empire. Soon the leaders of the Freilander and Porterhouse would be little more than petty chieftains.
The Longstock Eighth were courteous an distant. They had hoped that Pawl would choose one of their daughters. But when his announcement was made they bowed to necessity.
The outer families, the Paragon, Sith and the Felice, all showed themselves keen to see stability return. They were all ambitious and saw advantage to themselves in being associated with the victor.
So Pawl’s marriage was accepted, despite the Code, but he married a sad bride.
The loss of her Homeworld and the death of her father left Laurel Beltane feeling a vast emptiness inside her. She and her brother Paris were now all that remained of the Beltane family. They could not accept that. Paris, being young — only in his mid-teens — found comfort in the gymnasium and combat room on Pawl’s world. He trained day and night, working his body into a tight bond of muscle, and each night dropped on to his bed exhausted after killing a simulated army of Spiderets and Sennet Bats.
Laurel’s defences were more complicated. She pretended that her father was still alive and that her Homeworld still shone, blue and gold somewhere out in space. She convinced herself that sometime her father would call to her, friendly and kind and wise, and that they would swim together again, hunting Dapplebacks, just as they had when she was a girl.
But sometimes this defence gave way before reality and she knew that her Homeworld was no more than a black cinder. Pawl did what he could to comfort her, He loved her and pressed her close to him and whispered to her, trying in any way he could to combat the darkness which was souring her spirit. At such times Laurel held to him desperately. They made love passionately, trying to obliterate the memories. But in the morning it all came back. In her heart Laurel blamed Pawl for the destruction of her family. At the same time she loved Pawl, for he was good and kind and gentle, and was all that she had.
Pawl was at a loss for what to do for the best. Only occasionally did flashes of his one-time roguish mistress appear . . . and these he nurtured like a man protecting a tiny flame in a dark forest.
Make no mistake, Pawl’s love for Laurel made him desperate. Privately he cursed the Xerxes and the Lamprey and the whole order of the Families which had led to this destruction. But no amount of cursing could change what had happened.
He knew that Laurel loved swimming and so he arranged for pontoons to be placed across some of the most attractive bays on his island to hold back the bright red algae which crusted the sea. The island was artificial. It had been constructed generations earlier by one of Pawl’s ancestors and had many ornamental bays. He discovered that Laurel felt most at her ease when she was far away from the towers and courtyards and bustling streets of the main living quarters. Whenever possible he arranged for them to slip away up into the wild lands which bordered the farm enclosures. They carried provisions on their backs. Wynn, the giant biocrystalline brain, took charge of the day-to-day affairs of the Homeworld during their absence.
Just now they were at a place where the Mendel Hills, watched over by the picturesque cone of Frautus, rolled down to the sea. A shallow beach of pebbles joined with the clear water, which lapped in slow waves. A brig of rocks poked out into the sea, and Pawl, who could not swim, scrambled over rocks keeping pace with Laurel, who dived and swam. In this interrupted fashion they were discussing a proposed holiday.
“It won’t be all business Laurel, that I promise you,” said Pawl. Laurel lay back in the water, her finely webbed hands fluttering gently, holding her place as the waves rose and fell. “We’ll have as much adventure as we can. We’ll get away from all this. But I want people to see you, to see us, to get to know us. The Paxwax have been distant for too long. That has been part of our trouble. We have retreated behind contracts. Moved secretly. Mixed only with our own. I once told a friend” — Pawl was thinking of Neddelia Proctor, though he did not mention that lady by name — “that when I became Master I would throw open the windows and let some fresh air in. That is what we all need.”
Laurel rolled over in the water and dived with an easy scoop of her hands. She touched the sandy bottom, sending up a cloud of silt, and then rose to the surface and blew out lustily. “Sounds fun,” she said, but her words held no conviction.
The truth was that Pawl needed to visit the outer parts of his empire. He needed to reassert the strength of the Paxwax. In some places, one-time minor officials had set themselves up as petty warlords and were planning to secede from the Paxwax. This had to be crushed in the bud. There were diplomatic fences to be mended and new treaties to be negotiated. Pawl knew that if he and his new wife made themselves known he could win back the loyalty that had deserted the Paxwax during his father’s time in power.
At the same time he wanted to give Laurel a holiday. He hoped vaguely that visits to strange and exotic parts of his domain would lift her out of herself. He wanted to show her the vastness of the empire she had inherited.
“Sounds fun? It will be fun. We’ll make it fun.” He reached down and cupped water in his hand and scattered it over Laurel. “You see. I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy, Laurel. That is what I want more than anything else.”
Laurel wished she could say more. She knew the words that Pawl wanted her to say. But something held her back. At times she almost wanted Pawl to lose his temper with her and tell her to get a hold of herself. But she knew that he wouldn’t. He was looking at her sadly, with his head on one side, a bit like a dog.
“You know Laurel, we have to fight circumstances a bit,” said Pawl. “Happiness doesn’t grow on trees, as they say. We’ll have to put the bad things behind us. Everyone suffered in this silly war. But life goes on.”
“I know. I know I’m being selfish. But I can’t help it. Bear with me. Give me time. All this —“ she gestured at the sea and the high cliffs fringed with trees — “all this is making me feel better. Soon I’ll be myself again. When can we set out on your grand tour?”
Pawl accepted the change of subject. “Well, I’ve been thinking about that. The sooner the better. Wynn can easily handle the day- to-day business. And Helium Bogdanovich has said that he’ll keep an eye on things.”
Laurel smiled at this. “So, Master of Paxwax, your planning is well advanced. And here was I thinking you were just broaching the idea.”
“I am. I am. Nothing is decided yet. But we’ll have time to be alone. And Paris will come. There will be so much to see.”
“Well, I thought perhaps Peron. He will act as my secretary. And I know he wants to visit the places where battles took place during the Alien Wars. He can be our guide.”
“Hmm. Quite a party.”
Laurel turned her face away and swam out from the rocks. She did not want Pawl to see her disappointment. Pawl had tried to talk to her several times about Odin and though she wanted to feel close to the strange creature for Pawl’s sake, she found she could not. Instead she felt ill at ease. In her heart she hoped that Odin would never return to Pawl’s island. “Have you heard then, from Odin?” she called.
“No. Not a word. But I have let it be known that I want to see him. I want him by me. He is a wise counsellor.”
Laurel did not reply. She was not sure how she felt about Pawl’s evident interest in things alien. It was a new side to him, one she had never seen before, and she blamed this creature called Odin. “Well, perhaps he is busy,” she called.
“The Inner Circle has a lot to do at present. Perhaps he was only sent to help you during the war. You must be ready for disappointment.”
Pawl sat on the rocks with his knees up to his chin while Laurel swam in a circle and then dived and rose close to him.
“Will you start writing songs again?”
“I hope so. I don’t know. Perhaps.”
“You must. They are part of you. Part of us.”
In the time before they were married, before the war, Pawl had written many songs to Laurel. But since he had become Master of Paxwax, that bright spontaneity had dried up. Laurel knew that she was part of the cause.
“I’ll strike a bargain with you, Master of Paxwax. If you will write songs for me again, I’ll come on your holiday with you, and happily.”
Pawl nodded. “I’ll try,” he said.
Laurel reached up for him as though inviting a kiss and when Pawl offered his hands she seized them and then kicked back. Pawl toppled for a moment and saw Laurel laughing, and then fell with a splash into the water.
She held him firmly while he blew out and then cradled him in her arms while she swam back into shallow water.
“Welcome to my world,” she whispered. “Now, you’re not going to tell me that writing a song is harder than learning to swim, are you?”
“No,” said Pawl, standing in the shallows. “And if songs will make you happy, songs you shall have. Will you go with me? Shall we tour round my domain?”
Pawl wondered about himself. He had sat down intending to let a simple love lyric flow, for he was in the mood and the words were bubbling. But it seemed that the time for love lyrics was over.
The dog sat at the master’s gate,
Famished for a bone,
But though it waited all the day,
The master came not home.
The sun dipped down. The shadows grew.
The dog gnawed at a scone,
And though it howled When the moon peeped out,
The Master came not home.
At twelve o’clock the thunder cracked,
The rain came with a roar,
Pelting the dog where it lay quite still,
Outside the Master’s door.
The Masier never did come home.
He’d sold the place for gain.
And a spideret with an eye for such things
Ate up the dog’s remains.
“What does it mean?” asked Laurel. “I didn’t expect a sad song.”
“I think it is about innocence,” said Pawl. “The innocent always suffer. Isn’t that the truth of things?”
Odin had left his Homeworld alone.
How different his arrival on Sanctum!
This was the secret world of the Inner Circle. It looked like a dead world spinning round a dying sun, but it teemed with life below its surface.
As he passed from the Way Gate on to the shuttle platform Odin felt the psychosphere of Sanctum surround him. It stopped him in his tracks: the world bubbled and throbbed with life and purpose. He felt it like a shock. It was like a beating of wings inside him, as though a bird was trapped. He had been so long on his Homeworld that he had forgotten how charged the psycho- sphere of Sanctum could be, and how violent, for gathered here on this one small world were the representatives of all the main alien species. They were planning their future,
Deeper than all the rest, almost like the voice of the sea itself, was the murmur of the Tree. It was calling to him, friendly and familiar, bidding him welcome return. The Tree was the guiding intelligence of Sanctum, and Odin responded to it with a mixture of awe and dread.
As a telepathic creature Odin was adept at reading all the flavours of thought. But the Tree was magnificent beyond Odin’s understanding. Jts presence was everywhere: in the stone walls and bright tiled walkways, in the smell of the air and in the silences. Yet Odin knew almost nothing about it.
He hurried forward. Waiting for him were fellow Gerbes. They presented him with his black gown and mask, the robes of the Inner Circle. The gown settled about him and adapted to his contours and began to protect him from the dry air. The mask fitted up under his dark hood and slipped firmly into place, held by fine red tendrils. He looked dumpy as he squirmed inside the gown. At a distance he could have been mistaken for a dwarf human being.
The Gerbes were eager for news, eager for a scent of their Homeworid and, as they travelled down to the surface of Sanctum, Odin let them share his memories of the storms and the flung spray and the biting wind, He felt their pleasure and hope.
Hope. It seemed to him that that one word summed up the psychosphere of Sanctum.
The Tree was calling him urgently, drawing him along the wide tiled thoroughfare towards its chamber. As he glided along Odin noticed a change in the creatures that he met. They seemed friendlier, more deferential.
He met a Hammer, bounding along with its great sting raised so that it brushed the ceiling. Once the Hammer would have driven past the Gerbes forcing it to cower back. Now the Hammer stepped aside and let him pass under its jointed hairy legs. He met a clan of Spiderets, who surrounded him, climbing on one another’s backs and touching him lightly with their speaking feelers. Odin found it difficult to understand the Spiderets. They thought quickly, in short jagged sentences. All he could pick up was that they were friendly. They seemed to be involved in some ceremony of greeting. The Spiderets were always involved in ceremony.
Somewhere Odin felt the presence of a Diphilus. It announced itself in images, as it too was telepathic. Odin saw in his mind a cascade of fire. Immediately he drew back, for that thought could damage; and just as quickly the image transformed into a shining fountain of cool water. The Diphilus was gentle but sometimes careless. Being a form of life that fed on raw energy it found it difficult to comprehend the sensibilities of creatures that were not as robust as itself.
Finally Odin approached a vast cavern. He was aware of the aura that marked the Tree’s presence. Waiting just inside the cavern was a Hooded Parasol. It was waiting for him. This was the creature that Odin used most often for eyes. Odin had a liking for the visible spectrum. The Parasol hovered, fanning its petals, which blazed with colours: scarlet and black, green and indigo. Odin could pick up its thoughts. USE ME, it said. WELCOME BACK TO SANCTUM.
Odin slipped into the mind of the Parasol and immediately could see Facing him was the Tree. It was simple, symmetrical and huge.
It rose from the soft fibrous floor of the cavern and did not branch until it almost reached to the roof. There it spread into a white moist canopy. Pale lights, like the reflection of sunlight on water, swarmed in its high branches.
Odin worked his way down through the cavern until he was close to the trunk and could reach out with one of his tendrils and touch it. The tree was very much aware of him. It spoke in his mind. Odin felt that if the sea could have spoken, it would have had this voice. But he was not fooled. Manipulation could take many forms and was as subtle as thought itself.
YOUR REST ON YOUR HOMEWORLD HAS DONE YOU GOOD, ODIN. YOU ARE STRONGER. I CAN FEEL IT. THE LAST TIME YOU SAT BY ME YOU WERE PALE. . . YOU HAVE BEEN DOING A LOT OF THINKING?
AND ARE YOU HAPPIER?
NOT HAPPIER. MORE SETTLED. I DON’T THINK HAPPINESS MATTERS, DO YOU? WE DO THE THINGS WE HAVE TO. I HAVE ACCEPTED THAT.
The Tree pondered. YOU SEEM TO HAVE ACCEPTED A LOT. HAVE YOU ALSO ACCEPTED THAT YOU WILL NOT SURVIVE THE COMING EVENTS?
There was something in the air like a sigh. Odin was aware of a drawing closer. He knew that no one outside themselves could receive their conversation. The tree stirred inside the Gerbes mind. THEN I SHALL TELL YOU SOMETHING THAT NO ONE BUT US NEED KNOW. Pause. NOR SHALL I SURVIVE. DO NOT ASK ME FOR DETAILS, FOR IF I KNEW THEM I WOULD NOT TELL YOU. I CANNOT READ THE FUTURE ANY MORE CLEARLY THAN YOU, THOUGH I HAVE A SENSE OF WHAT ACTION IS RIGHT AND WHAT IS NOT. LET ME JUST SAY THAT IF YOU SURVIVE AND I SURVIVE, THEN WE SHALL HAVE FAILED AND THE TIME FOR THE OVERTHROW OF THE HUMANS WILL NOT BE NOW. YOU SEE, WE ARE LINKED, YOU AND I. YOU NEVER IMAGINED THAT, DID YOU, SITTING ON YOUR COLD WORLD WITH THE SALT SPRAY RUNNING DOWN YOU? WE ARE BOTH PART OF THE COST THAT MUST BE MET IF THE HUMAN ORDER IS TO BE OVERTHROWN. AND WE SHALL SIMPLY JOIN THE LONG LIST OF ENTITIES, STRETCHING BACK TO THE TIME OF THE GREAT PUSH, WHO DIED FIGHTING OR WERE ABANDONED. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN US AND THEM IS THAT WE KNOW MORE. MUCH, MUCH MORE. AND WE CAN PLAN. WE ARE SHAPING EVENTS. AND IN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION: YES, I THINK HAPPINESS IS IMPORTANT. IT COMES WITH A SENSE OF PURPOSE. NOW, ANY MORE QUESTIONS, OR SHALL WE START PLANNING THE FUTURE?
ONE QUESTION, said Odin, stirring beneath his black robes. ONE THING I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW. WHEN I OFFERED MYSELF TO TRAVEL TO THE HOMEWORLD OF PAWL PAXWAX AND HELP TO SAVE HIM, WAS THAT AN ACT OF MY FREE WILL OR DID YOU COMPEL ME?
Again the sighing and the feeling of closeness. It was as though Odin were a mouse bedded in the fur of a lion. AH, YOU WANT TO KNOW THE SECRETS OF THE TREE. WELL, I WILL TEACH YOU MORE THAN
YOU EXPECT. THE DECISION WAS YOUR OWN, BUT I WAS PART OF YOUR DECISION. YOU ARE SO SLOW, ODIN. SO TIMID. YOU HAVE A GREAT SPIRIT, BUT YOU ARE AFRAID OF IT. I HELPED YOU, THAT IS ALL. I LIBERATED WHAT WAS ALREADY IN YOU AND LABOURING TO GET OUT.
IT WAS RIGHT THAT YOU WERE IN THIS PLACE, AT THIS TIME. YOU SEE, MANY THINGS MAY SEEM STRANGE, AN ACCIDENT EVEN, BUT NOTHING IS ACCIDENTAL. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
YOU WILL. BUT WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE IF YOU HAD NOT OFFERED YOURSELF? THERE: THAT IS A TEASING QUESTION, COMPLETFLY HYPOTHETICAL, BUT MY ANSWER MAY HELP YOU UNDERSTAND. I WOULD HAVE TAKEN YOU — YES, YOU ODIN, FOR YOUR FATE IS MARKED ON MANY MAPS — AND I WOULD HAVE SUPPLANTED YOU. I WOULD HAVE ERASED PART OF THE LOVING MIND OF A GERBES AND SET IN ITS PLACE MY OWN WILL. WOULD THAT NOT HAVE BEEN SIMPLER? KINDER EVEN . . . ?
Said Odin, YOU WOULD HAVE SPARED ME PAIN.
YES. BUT NOT SO GOOD. YOU SEE, A SLAVE IS ONE THING, BUT A COMRADE IS BETTER.
That amused Odin. For the first time since his return — for the first time for many days — he felt the healthy release of laughter. He had never thought of himself as a “comrade” of the Tree . . . it was preposterous, absurd, silly . . . the Tree was . . . well, the Tree was the Tree. It was as old as Sanctum itself and sometime friend of the Craint. The Tree was the guiding intelligence behind the whole of the Inner Circle, the organizing will of the aliens. It was vaster than he could imagine . . . and now he was its “comrade”.
DO WE MARCH INTO BATTLE TOGETHER, LITTLE COMRADE?
EXACTLY. Odin’s humour began to subside. AND DO YOU HAVE A HOMEWORLD YOU HAVE FORSAKEN…COMRADE?
I HAVE THIS WORLD AND ANOTHER THAT I HAVE NEVER VISITED.
Odin did not understand this. IS THERE A HOMEWORLD THEN, JUST FILLED WITH TREES LIKE YOURSELF?
WHERE IS IT?
FAR FROM HERE. HIDDEN NOW. DEEP IN WHAT THE HUMAN KIND CALL ELLIOTT’S POCKET. BUT SOON IT WILL EMERGE.
WILL YOU GO THERE?
NO, I SHALL NOT SURVIVE THE PRESENT MOVEMENT ANY MORE THAN YOU. BESIDES, I HAVE A FULL LIFE HERE. DO NOT TRY TO UNDERSTAND ME. ODIN. JUST BE CONTENT WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE; IT IS VERY SPECIAL. WE ARE ALL IN OUR DIFFERENT WAYS SERVANTS OF LIFE, AND LIFE IS INFINITE. REMEMBER THIS CONVERSATION. ONE DAY YOU MIGHT HAVE TO EXPLAIN ME TO PAWL PAXWAX.
Odin had to be content with this sparse knowledge. He felt a whispering about him as the Tree withdrew. Then came the murmuring as the psychosphere of Sanctum reached through to him again. NOW EVENTS ARE MOVING QUICKLY, PAWL PAXWAX IS JOINED WITH HIS LOVED ONE. DID YOU KNOW THAT? The Tree’s tone was brisk.
I AM GLAD.
HE HAS BEGUN MAKING ENQUIRIES ABOUT YOU. HE WANTS YOU WITH HIM. YOU HAVE DONEYOUR WORK WELL. HE TRUSTS YOU.
WHILE YOU HAVE BEEN AWAY WE HAVE BEEN CONSIDERING OUR NEXT MOVES. WE MUST BE CAREFUL. THE WRONG MOVES NOW COULD THROW EVERYTHING INTO CONFUSION. I SHALL ASK THE DIPHILUS TO EXPLAIN.
Odin sensed the Tree send out a call to the Diphilus and immediately a creature entered the Vast chamber. It rolled towards him like molten glass, but it transmitted no heat. It spoke as it rolled.
TELL ME ODIN: YOU ARE CLOSE TO PAWL PAXWAX, HAS HE EVER EXPRESSED CURIOSITY ABOUT US . . . ABOUT WHAT HE CALLS ALIENS?
HE WAS CURIOUS ABOUT ME. HE DISCOVERED SOMETHING ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE GERBES. A HUMAN CALLED PERON HELPED HIM.
BUT HE HAS NEVER ASKED ABOUT OTHER ALIENS. HE IS VERY IGNORANT.
WOULD YOU SAY HE HAS A CURIOUS CAST OF MIND?
WHEN HIS INTEREST IS ROUSED.
The Diphilus glittered. THEN YOU MUST AROUSE HIS INTEREST. WE THINK IT IS IMPORTANT THAT HE SHOULD BECOME CURIOUS ABOUT ALIENS. HE MUST THINK OF US AS POTENTIAL FRIENDS, AS ALLIES EVEN. CAN YOU DO THAT?
I CAN TRY.
BUT ACT WITH CAUTION. IF HE THINKS HE IS BEING LED HE WILL REBEL.
OF COURSE YOU DO. YOU KNOW HIM BETTER THAN ANY OF US.
THEN WHEN HE FEELS CLOSE TO YOU AND TO US YOU MUST KILL HIS LADY.
Silence. The Diphilus shone undisturbed. The Tree was a mumble of thought in the background.
WHY MUST I KILL LAUREL? asked Odin quietly, finally.
WHY, SURELY THAT IS OBVIOUS. TO BREAK HIS SPIRIT. HIS LOVE FOR THE LADY IS HIS GREATEST STRENGTH AND HIS GREATEST WEAKNESS, AS THE TREE TOLD US LONG AGO WHEN WE SET OUT ON THIS ADVENTURE. YOU WILL KILL HER. YOU WILL MAKE IT SEEM AS THOUGH ONE OF THE FAMILIES HAS HAD A HAND IN THE MURDER. PAWL PAXWAX WILL TURN ON THE FAMILIES AND WHEN HE REACHES FOR A SWORD, WE SHALL BE WAITING. WE SHALL DO THE REST. YOUR WORK WILL BEOVER.
Over. Odin turned the word in his mind. Over. Such things are never over. But to the Diphilus he said, I UNDERSTAND.
The matter was left there. Odin retired to the private chamber where the Gerbes lived on Sanctum. It was a place of sluggish waves, where the water always seemed oily. To kill was almost unknown in a Gerbes. Odin wondered how he would face it. But now the plan was out in the open. Odin knew the extent of the part he must play. He could not even feel bitterness. It was as though his life was no longer his own. He was just a piece, moved by others. And what was Pawl? And Laurel? And the Tree? They were victims like himself.
Later that day Odin travelled to the Way Gate above Sanctum. He would allow no creature to accompany him. He felt contaminated. He did not want any other Gerbes to know what he was about. They thought he had an honourable part to play in the overthrow of the human worlds . . . let them think so. The truth would become known soon enough.
YOUR DESTINATION? asked the Gate Keeper.
THE PAX WAX HOMEWORLD.
And as Odin released this information, a whisper of thought, a shred of silver, wrapped about him briefly and kindly. BON VOYAGE, COMRADE.
ON BENNET – The Paxwax Homeworld
“Right then, it is decided,” said Pawl. “No more arguments. No one can say we Paxwax let the grass grow under our feet. Here is what we do.”
They were in the vivantery, the very room where Pawl Paxwax and Peron had discovered the history of Odin’s race. Pawl was at the head of the table addressing a small meeting. Those facing him were flushed and excited, for there had been much friendly argument, each person wanting to satisfy their own interest. Vivante cubes were scattered and books were open. There was also evidence that a large quantity of Seppel juice had been drunk.
At the back of the room, in the darkness near the door, stooped Odin. He had arrived that day and was now slowly immersing himself in Pawl’s Homeworld. Pawl was as friendly and receptive as Odin had hoped and the Gerbes took pleasure in his quick spirit. Peron, too, was glad to see him. Odin could tell that Peron’s hope was that one day he would speak in his mind. But for the time being he was content to watch. Paris paid him no heed, and Laurel . . . this was strange . . . Laurel was afraid of him. It was not a rational fear, it was instinctive. Her mind was closed and blank to him.