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Melody of Mintaka
*occasion for preparatory briefing*
-summon council governing sphere representatives linked thought transfer immediate-
COUNCIL INITIATED PARTICIPATION *-/::%
-welcome ast, dash, slash, quadpoint, percen-
::shall we dispense with the superfluities? we have a galaxy to conquer::
-you certainly bore into the subject, quadpoint-
::your humor is flighty, as befits avian nature what is the state of reduction?::
-infiltration of all ten major segments of galaxy milky way has been accomplished in each case concentration has been on war fleets and capital planets-
-400 agents per segment fleet, 100 agents per capital planet total 500 transfer agents in galaxy all we can manage on present energy budget-
/also present limitation on kirlian resources/
-true effort should suffice, as subject galaxy remains unaware of infiltration no apparent reason to alter schedule of overt action-
*seek concurrence for unrevised schedule*
::no other business?::
-none at present-
* * *
Melody shuffled the deck by emitting dissonance at the mechanism. This could not be entirely random, but of course that was the point. While she controlled the arrangement of the cards, she was not supposed to be consciously aware of the details.
She touched the finished deck with the tip of one whip, activating it. Its music sprang up, setting her instruments to playing sympathetically.
It was the Queen of Energy that manifested, in an unfamiliar aspect. The Queen carried the familiar Wand, rendered as a Scepter for this royal impersonation, that denoted her suit. The established symbols of the Tarot deck were older than the organized concept that was the deck. The Queen was naked, standing on a waveswept ledge, her appendages manacled to a huge stone. She was Solarian—or more bluntly, human.
Now of course every card had a theoretic potential of 144 aspects. The Queen of Energy had faces showing "Queens" of every sapient species in the Milky Way galaxy. But no physical deck contained all aspects of all faces; that would amount to 14,400 presentations in all, and unwieldy number. So the normal pack of the Cluster Tarot contained a representative sampling of each card. Melody had not been aware that a Solarian course had been included in this deck. Which meant only that she had not been paying proper attention when she recently obtained it. She was getting old.
Well, this was her card for the day. She contemplated it, evoking the tapestry of tunes dictated by its impressed sybology. A human woman, wearing the rare-metal crown of royalty, with the luxuriant mane flowing from her head—Solarians were one of the species that had heads—and with the two great milk-mammaries of her kind. By human standards, a female on the verge of impregnation.
This was a notable concept in itself, well worth consideration. Solarians did not bud, they birthed, and the female was always the birther. She remained female for life, no matter how many times she birthed. Surely, she was chained!
In the distance of the scene was a ferocious sea monster, one of the subsapient creatures of Sphere Sol. It was obviously coming to devour the Queen, whose generous deposits of avoirdupois were surely delectable.
But what relevance did this have to her, Melody, an old Mintakan neuter entity without head or mammaries or fat? What was the Tarot trying to says to her?
The five suits of the standard Cluster deck represented five or more sapient species. Those that had figured most prominently in the local formation of the galactic coalition, who had been the nucleus of this segment some 120 years before, at the time of the hero Flint of Outworld, Melody's ancestor. A thousand Solarian years, since those were pitifully brief. The Suit of Energy, symbolized by the sprouting, flaming Wand, was generally identified with the massed species of Galaxy Andromeda. This was because of their attempted theft of the binding energies of the Milky Way galaxy that had precipitated the first crisis of civilization. Yet no Andromedan species was represented in this card of Tarot.
More locally, Sphere Canopus was a Scepter culture, but this card was not that, either. There was a humanoid species in that sphere, but it was slave. The chains of the lady—could they be indicative of slavery? Doubtful; normally this Queen was not chained. Rather, she was arrogantly free, imperious, fiery. Also, this one was not humanoid, but human, definitely Solarian, itself a pretty arrogant species, by no means slave. A chained Solarian was doubly significant, surely.
The Solarians were the reputed originators of the Tarot. Versions of the Tarot had been extant on their home planet for several Solarian centuries before the human colonization of space and formation of Sphere Sol. The Cluster deck itself was thought to be the creation of one of their males, the scholar called Companion Paul. There was obscurity about his status, rooted in the human mode of reproduction. Some said there could be several offspring of a single human reproductive unit, called siblings. Others said humans sometimes called each other "Brother" when in fact they were not closely related. Only the Solarians knew for sure.
At any rate, the attribution of this deck to this Paul of Earth had to be a fond exaggeration; many of the significant aspects of that deck were unknown to Solarians at the time he had lived. The entire matter of the Energy War dated fifty Mintakan years after Paul, for example—that was four hundred Solarian years. She really ought to get used to thinking in those trifling units, because they had become the standard for Segment Etamin. But the habits of an old neuter changed slowly. Still, the nucleus of Tarot concept had certainly been Solarian, and the Temple of Tarot had spread rapidly from Sol to the other local spheres. Melody had suffered an apprenticeship at the Tarot Temple nearest her once, but had not been satisfied with their doctrines and had gone her own way for most of her life.
Her phone sounded. Melody activated it with a single clap of one foot, her strings vibrating dissonantly because of the irritation caused by the interruption of her morning meditation.
"Imperial Outworld of Segment Etamin summons Melody of Planet Counterpoint, Sphere Mintaka, for immediate presentation via Transfer," the instrument played.
Melody emitted a musical snort and broke he connection. "These practical jokers never give up," she played. A female her age just had to be the subject of a certain amount of ridicule. Blat!
Then she remembered the card. A chained Solarian female: her key for the day. Gould that relate to this call?
She considered the card again. A human woman, chained in the Andromedan suit. Who had chained that lady, and why? What could it have to do with herself, an entity of quite a different situation? The Tarot was always relevant, but at times she had a great deal of difficulty ascertaining that relevance.
Well, she would have to come at it the hard way, by going back to basics. She was a sapient entity of Sphere Mintaka, itself a unit of Segment Etamin of the Milky Way galaxy. Each sphere was a number of parsecs in diameter, embracing a hundred or more inhabited worlds, the most advanced ones being near the center. Her own planet, Counterpoint, was in the midrange of a large sphere; it possessed atomic science but not much more. It was a suburban world, where wealthy administrators liked to retire. Toward the fringe things became progressively more primitive, until a hundred parsecs from Star Mintaka the worlds were essentially rural. This was spherical regression, that occurred in all spheres, and could be abated only by the infusion of energy. But there was not enough energy; the Ethic of Energy had already spawned one intergalactic war and might some century spawn another.
So the Tarot Suit of Energy related to her general situation, though she herself associated with the Suit of Aura. Since every sapient entity in the universe was similarly affected by the availability of energy, this was unlikely to have individual meaning. It had to be more specific.
Very well. The manner in which energy affected civilization was primarily in transport and communications. There were three modes of travel between stars. The cheapest was physical travel by spaceship. Fleets traveling at half light speed had colonized the various spheres long ago. But it took almost a full year—how many Sol years? Oh, yes, eight—to cover a single parsec, and no single lifetime was long enough to traverse even the smallest sphere. Ships were sufficient to colonize worlds, but not to build an interstellar civilization.
For more direct communication, mattermission was used. This was instant transmission of the entity, whether person or thing. But this required a horrendous amount of energy, and though it had been much employed in the past, today it was limited largely to microscopic message capsules.
So in practice, the really civilizing mode was transfer: the transmission of the Kirlian aura of a sapient (i.e., intelligent entity, as opposed to sentient or merely conscious entity) to the body of another sapient. The aura reflected the complete mental being, but required relatively little energy for transmission. Even so, there were crucial limitations, such as the availability of suitable hosts. The transfer across galactic distances did require significant energy.
So energy controlled civilization, and the Suit of Energy reflected that. Some even called that suit "Civilization" but Melody considered that to be too narrow a view. Energy was more than civilization, and more than the quiescent Andromedan menace; it was a complex multi-relating phenomenon in its own right. She still didn't know how it pertained to her, today.
In fact, no one knew the answer to the problem of energy, and no one ever had, except perhaps the Ancients. The Ancients had spanned two galaxies in a unified, high level culture. Yet they had passed from the scene three million years ago, and most of their works were defunct. They were identified with the Suit of Aura, because they had to have been a super-high Kirlian species, and they had evidently possessed Kirlian science beyond anything known to modern galactics. Melody had studied what little was known about the Ancients, fascinated by them, and she identified with them so strongly that she considered her own Significator, her particular card in the Cluster Tarot deck, to be the Queen of Aura. She would give anything to solve the riddle of the Ancients!
But her card of the day was not in the Suit of Aura, though it was a Queen. It seemed to have aimed for her but missed, although the Tarot never really missed. It had a will of its own that did not cater much to the foibles of its adherents. The Queen of Energy, a chained human lady—what could it mean? This was becoming a frustrating meditation.
She moved her sonicscope and listened to the great panoply of the stars. Each had its own faint tune within the magnificent symphony of the galaxy. Mintaka, home star of her sphere, loud and bright and beautiful. Alnilam and Alnitac, twin brights. Rigel, blue-white beacon in the visual spectrum, hardly audible to her senses but still impressive. Red giant Betelgeuse. Oh, the marvel of her segment, her galaxy! And the foreign galaxy Andromeda, focus of Energy.
Suddenly it clicked into place. Suit of Energy—Andromeda-chained human lady— there was a connection! In the old myth-fabric of the Solarian originators of Tarot was the story of the female entity Andromeda, and it was relevant.
Andromeda was the child of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia was a beautiful woman Solarian who, in the manner of her species, tended to be arrogant and troublesome. She proclaimed that she was more lovely than the Nereids, golden-maned nymphs of the sea. This was not necessarily true, and the vanity of one obscure queen was hardly worthy of note, but the lord of the ocean, Poseidon, took umbrage. He sent a sea monster to ravage the coast of Cassiopeia's kingdom of Ethiopia. Oh, those Solarians! Their troublesome antics assumed the status of art at times. No Mintakan would have participated in such mischief.
Desperate to abate this menace from the sea, the Ethiopians consulted another intriguing artifact of Solarian culture: the Oracle. This was a fortune- telling entity; apparently no form of Tarot existed then. The Oracle informed them that only by sacrificing Andromeda to the monster could they achieve relief. Andromeda was even more beautiful than her mother, and did indeed rival the Nereids in appearance, which was perhaps why the monster desired her as a morsel.
Melody found the motives of Solarian monsters to be an opaque as those of Solarian sapients, but it was not her task to revise the myth. So they chained this innocent, beautiful lady to a great rock by the edge of the ocean, to be consumed by the monster.
As it happened, the hero Perseus happened to pass by at that time—coincidence was not a matter of much concern to myth makers—and when he viewed this naked girl he was overcome by the urge to impregnate her. This too was typical of Solarian males in such circumstances: the very sight of the body of a young healthy woman caused chemical and physical reactions. Her mind or personality did not seem to matter. But Perseus could not simply impregnate and leave her, despite the convenience her situation offered. Chained as she was, she could not readily have resisted him, had she been so inclined, but her offspring would not have survived her consumption by the monster, and therefore the reproduction would have been incomplete. In many other species the offspring formed immediately and became independent, but Solarians for some obscure reason suffered a delay in parturition after copulation. In this instance such delay would have been most inconvenient. So Perseus accepted the alternative course. He slew the monster and made Andromeda his formal mate.
There it was: Andromeda, the chained lady of the card, awaiting her fate. In moments the monster would be upon her. The hero Perseus was not visible in the picture, but presumably he was on his way. Andromeda did not at this moment know that her fate was to be impregnation rather than consumption. How would she have chosen, had she been given the choice in advance? Suppose things became confused, and the monster impregnated her before Perseus slew her? Or were the two actions merely aspects of the same theme? A most intriguing card.
But as this was her omen for the day, did it mean that some such difficulty awaited Melody herself? She did not consider the Tarot to be precognitive; it merely revealed what was in the hidden mind of the querist, the one for whom the cards were read. But sometimes the net effect was predictive. She did not relish the implication here. Would she be faced with the choice between death or impregnation, figuratively?
The door sounded. She broke off her reverie with another chord of annoyance and opened it.
Outside stood Imperial troops headed by a Mintakan officer. "One ignores the Eye of the Dragon at one's peril," he played.
Melody's strings shook. That phone call had been genuine! The Dragon world of the segment had summoned her, and she had passed it off as a prank. Now she would pay the consequence.
In fact, she was about to be chained for the Dragon, which was of course merely an aspect of the sea monster. The Tarot had tried to warn her. But she, mired in the complexities of its symbolic ramifications, had missed the obvious.
Was there also a Perseus on the way?CHAPTER 2
Yael of Dragon
*notice transfer plus 200 level kirlian aura within target galaxy*
*segment Etamin to imperial planet*
-probably in order agents there are on quest for leading enemy auras to be nullified or converted-
*this aura not handled by our agents*
-possible enemy action, then message the dash command of that segment to investigate-
* * *
Melody emerged in alien form. At first she was alarmed and disgusted. This body has no music. But soon she adjusted. She would not remain in Transfer long; only long enough to find what the Imps wanted and tell them no. She could stand it for that little time.
Excerpted from Chaining the Lady by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 2009 Piers Anthony Jacob. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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