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Child of Fortune
By Spinrad, Norman
Orb BooksCopyright © 2002 Spinrad, Norman
All right reserved.
I was born on Glade, a planet, like most of the far-flung worlds of men, of no particular fame in starfaring lore, and no economic significance in the transstellar scheme of things. Like most of the worlds of men, Glade is an almost entirely self-contained economic unit, which is to say that its plains, rivers and seas provide sufficient nutriment to support a healthy human population of about 300 million without the need to import significant amounts of trace elements from other stellar systems, and its mineral wealth, supplemented by the occasional asteroid, provides a sufficient raw materials base for its industrial economy.
Verdad, through hindsight's eye I can thus dryly state that I was born and grew up on a world ordinaire, not unlike hundreds of such worlds warmed by G-type suns. But my girlhood perception of my heimat's centrality to the larger scheme of things was quite a grander matter, for I was also born and raised as a child of Nouvelle Orlean, considered by all on Glade to be the jewel of our planet, and no more so than by the citizens of the city itself.
Like its legendary Terrestrial namesake, Nouvelle Orlean was built upon the ocean-mouth delta of a great continent-draining river system, but naturellement, in an age of primarily aerial transport, the original settlers had not chosen the site for its geographic significance as an ideal nexus of river and ocean commerce. Rather had thesettlers of Glade chosen the venue for our planet's metropole along esthetic--and indeed perhaps spiritual--parameters from the outset.
Glade, by the standards of human genetic parameters, is a somewhat cool world, capped by mountains of glacial ice at either pole, and dominated by less than simpatico semitundra in its middle latitudes, so that the most favorable zone of human habitation is the tropics, where the bulk of the populace is therefore to be found. Portions of three continents lie within this optimal climatic zone. Of these lands, southern Arbolique is clearly the geographic heimat of the human spirit on the planet.
Arbolique is the mightiest continent of Glade in more ways than one. It extends from the northern ice cap to just short of the equator at its southernmost point at the tip of the Culebra Peninsula, and the Grand Massif begins beneath the polar ice, rises into a towering longitudinal cordillera of snow-capped and moss-crusted rock, then splits into eastern and western chains as it marches down the continent nearly to the shores of the tropical sea.
Between these two mountain chains lies the Great Vale, a broad and fertile central valley veined and subdivided by chains of lesser mountains and hills, the whole more of an enormous mountain meadow than a peneplain, beginning in the north at an elevation of some three thousand meters and reaching sea level only at the delta mouth of the Rio Royale, the mighty central river whose headwaters begin as myriad lesser streams draining the ice cap run-off, and which foams and roars over great falls and wild rapids through the passes of the high cordillera, finally debouching into the sea via its delta as a broad stream of clear blue fresh water visible from the air against the contrasting greener ocean waters many miles from the shoreline.
Nouvelle Orlean lies somewhat upstream from the lowland marshes of the true alluvial delta of the Rio Royale, at a point where the wide and placid river flows through a mild canyon cut through the low coastal mountains. Here there are narrow river flats on both sides of the Royale, and immediately behind them loom hills and river cliffs crusted with the gnarly and intergrown trees of the Bittersweet Jungle and dripping with lianafungi, crawlervines, and saphroflors, like brilliant and varicolored molds festooning huge green mounds of ancient bread. Here, too, there are islands in the stream, most mere sand and mud bars held together by their crowns of jungle growth, but some large enough to hold whole arrondissements of the city.
Nouvelle Orlean spreads itself on both banks of the river, on the islands, both natural and crafted, inbetween, and some folk have chosen to build manses on the jungled heights above. Beneath the palisades on both banks of the river, tall buildings rise, sheathed for the most part in numerous subtle tints of mirror-glass, and between them and the river on either side are tree-shrouded esplanades lined with kiosks, restaurants, and pavilions. Above and behind the east and west bas-corniches, haute-corniches wind among the jungle-shaded manses of the Hightowns.
But the heart, and indeed the soul, of the city, for all who style themselves true Orleaners, is Rioville, the magical archipelago spreading across the Royale and uniting what would otherwise be twin cities into one. Here the buildings have been kept low and rambling, in harmony with the jungle and wooded parklands which have been allowed to occupy most of the terrain, both for esthetic effect, and in order to bind the islands together so that the river will not sweep them away. Rioville architecture relies upon wood, brick, and stone, or at least on excellent ersatzes of natural materials, though not to the point of excluding wide expanses of window-glass overlooking every vista. Porches, breezeways, gazebos, open pavilions, and interior rooms that fling open whole walls to the natural realm while inviting vegetation inside are also very much in the Rioville mode. As are the hundreds of footbridges which span the smaller channels and the thousands of small boats of every type and fancy which give the city the ambiance of fabled Venice of ancient lore, and not without deliberate homage to the spirit of the Doges.
By custom with greater moral force than law, the arrondissements of Rioville are given over entirely to the realms of art, leisure, cultural endeavor, pleasure, and tantra, while most of the plyers of these trades have residences within these precincts, as well as those of more prosaic callings who have the desire and where-withal to live within its ambiance of perpetual fiesta.
My parents had built a rambling house on the low crown of a small island near the north end of Rioville close by the center of the river, and for the first eighteen years of my life, I spent many late afternoons and early evenings on the second story porch, watching the sun set behind the western Hightown, the lights of the manses winking on from between the folds of the deeply shadowed jungle as the stars slowly emerged in the purpling sky above and the mirrored buildings of the eastern bank flashed deep orange as they reflected the sunset like a sheath of flame across the island-studded waters.
From my little aerie, I could look north up the river as it poured through the gorge that reached up into the icebound crown of the continent, and sometimes a fragrant wind, redolent of jungle vegetation and oncoming night, would blow down from what seemed to me at the time the very roof and mystery of the world, and I could inhale deeply and imagine that I was breathing in the very spirit of the planet. On other evenings, a tongue of fog might blow in from the sea, enveloping Rioville in perfumed billows of dream stuff, turning the lights of the city into the faerie fires of a Brigadoon rising ghostly and triumphant from the mists.
And at all times, after night had finally fallen, and the full panoply of stars had come out, and one could scarcely tell where the stellar concourse ended and the lights of the Hightown began, I would walk to the other end of the porch and gaze out over the islands of Rioville itself, a carpet of multicolored jewels flung across the waters, a brilliant spiderwork of illuminated bridges, the running lights of thousands of boats bobbing in the currents, and wafting up on the sea breeze towards me, the faint, far-off music of the magical city, compounded of laughter, and sighs, and myriad voices, and the sounds of instruments, fiestas, and entertainments. At such times, I would grow giddy with the intoxicating aroma of Nouvelle Orlean itself, a heady brew compounded of dozens of cuisinary styles offered up by hundreds of restaurants, the perfumes of lovers, intoxicants, incenses, wood shavings, oil paints, leather, and the overwhelming nighttime effluvia of tropical flowers.
May the young girl that I then was therefore not be forgiven for supposing that she was favored by fate and blessed by fortune, a citizen of Xanadu and destiny's darling?
Moreover, as I grew from relatively innocent young girl-hood into early pubescent flower, as the social relativities of Nouvelle Orlean society began to impinge upon my consciousness, my sense of humility was hardly enhanced by the knowledge that my parents, far from being mere ordinary burghers of this extraordinary city, were figures of some local fame, if not quite the leading luminaries of the haut monde that I portrayed them as to my schoolmates.
My mother, Shasta Suki Davide, had herself been born in Nouvelle Orlean, and after spending her wanderjahr exploring the vie of an erotic adventurer, had studied for two years at the Academie Tantrique on Dravida, where she became an adept of the tantric arts both erotic and healing. Her freenom, Shasta, she had chosen upon completion of her studies homage à Nicole Shasta, a figure of considerable controversy in her day, who had first elucidated the mass-energy phenomena underlying the ancient metaphorical and metaphysical tantric principles and had thus founded the science my mother followed.
My father, Leonardo Vanya Hana, had been born on Flor del Cielo, and had spent only a rather brief period as a wandering Child of Fortune, for he was one of those rare people who seem to have known what they wish to become almost from birth, namely an inventor and fabricator of personal enhancement devices, several of which he had already created as a schoolboy.
Naturellement, the conclusion of his wanderjahr found him on Diana, perhaps the planet most famed for the production of just such personal amplifiers, where he secured employment in one of the leading fabriks as an artisan and sometime designer of same. His freenom, Leonardo, he had chosen somewhat grandly upon beginning this career homage à Leonardo Da Vinci, artist and inventor of the ancient Terrestrial Age, and legendary archetype of the fusion of esthetics and technology to which our Second Starfaring Age in general and my father in particular have always aspired.
My parents met on Diana, where my mother had gone as an itinerant tantric artiste and sometime healer, after having sojourned as same on several other planets. Already beginning to think more fondly of home and Nouvelle Orlean at the time, smitten by a pheromonic attraction to Leonardo whose mutuality was mightily enhanced by the puissance of her erotic artistry, and realizing that a marriage of tantric science and electronic personal enhancement might have as much to offer in the way of deepening and enhancing the practice of their respective arts as union in the personal sphere seemed to offer to their spirits, she had little trouble convincing Leonardo that the opportunity to live up to the grandeur of his freenom would be much greater on Glade than on Diana. And most particularly in Nouvelle Orlean, a city whose true charm was exceeded only by its own highly exaggerated sense of its own sophistication, where a personal enhancement mage from Diana would have considerable cachet no matter his modest former position on that planet, and where the relative state of the art would certainly insure his primacy.
So it is written, so it shall be done. Soon after arriving in Nouvelle Orlean, Leonardo was able to display for potential investors three personal enhancement devices entirely novel to Glade, if somewhat reminiscent of theoretical musings that had been current in the designers' workshops on Diana.
One was called the Voice, and established an electrophysiological loop between relevant cerebral centers and the larynx so that the wearer could by conscious craft and act of will impart subliminal sonics to song or speech that acted directly on the listeners' consciousness via the auditory apparatus, greatly enhancing the artistic puissance of singer or thespic artist, and not without value to salespersons either. Another was the Eye of Argus, tiny lenses of complexed gels worn over the pupils and electrolinked to the vision centers, so that the wearer could vary their optical properties through a wide range of focuses and wavelengths, and thus view directly microscopic realms, astronomical phenomena, the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum, not to mention the interiors of distant boudoirs of amorous interest. Not the least arcane if perhaps the most fanciful and disreputable of the three was that which Leonardo dubbed the Gourmand's Delight, whereby glutton or exorbitant imbiber could willfully adjust his metabolism of an evening so that he might feast and drink to enormous excess and pay no consequence in girth or malaise the morning after.
Not only were these devices of immediate obvious marketability, they established the reputation of Leonardo Vanya Hana as an artificer from whom further wonders could be expected, and so my father found no lack of investors willing to finance the establishment of his boutique on favorable terms. Indeed, he would have been easily able to finance the establishment of a fabrik able to flood the planet with replicated wares at modest prices. This he eschewed for reasons of personal esthetics, preferring to remain a craftsman and artist modeling each device to the whim and fancy of individual clients rather than become a magnate of manufacture. Moreover, by maintaining the individuality of his wares and the mystique of personal craft in their production, he was able to keep their prices elevated into the realm of artistic pieces, just as a painter or sculptor who refuses to license reproduction maintains gallery prices for his originals.
My mother, meanwhile, gave occasional tantric performances at palaces of pleasure, but for the most part concentrated her attentions and energies on developing her skills and repute as a tantric healer, aided in this endeavor by my father's science and his intimate knowledge of the bioelectronics of the human nervous system.
After a time and the accumulation of sufficient funds, my parents decided to consolidate their professional venues and domestic menage by purchasing a small island and erecting upon it the house in which I was to grow up. The first story of this building was given over to Leonardo's boutique and Shasta's tantric salon, each presenting a public facade to an opposite side of the little island, but connected within via intermediary storerooms, common service areas, and a hallway. The second story, with its grand viewing porch, was given over to our living quarters, and was entered by a separate stairway which debouched into a garden entirely secluded from the commercial venues by a hedge of Purple Cloud trimmed into different topiary designs according to the mode of the season. On the occasion of my fifth birthday, when the possibility of retreating into my own private realm was deemed necessary to my development, a fanciful playhouse was built for me deep in a patch of Bittersweet Jungle in the nethermost reaches of the garden.
Here as a young girl would I spend many hours with young playmates, and many more with no other companionship than that of the moussas I soon learned to entice from the trees with bits and morsels from the breakfast table. Of all the native creatures of Glade, these cunning little mammals, small enough to fit in a child's cupped hands, and willing enough to remain there for the pettiest of bribes, have cozened themselves closer to the human heart than any other, for they are the common pets of childhood.
Though in truth, perhaps, it is as much the little human children of Glade who are the pets of the moussas, for these golden-furred, emerald-eyed, monkey-tailed, leaf-eared, primate-like rodents never survive in a cage or as domesticated house pets, sullenly fasting unto death in any form of captivity. Nor, although they abound throughout Nouvelle Orlean and the surrounding environs, thriving amidst the habitats of men, will they ever deign to descend from their trees to frolic with gross and clumsy adults, even to accept the choicest dainty. But put a child in a garden with a few scraps of bread or a berry or two, and the moussas will soon enough come a-calling. Indeed often, when through negligence I appeared empty-handed, the moussas of the garden, though they might chide me in their piping whistles for my thoughtless lack of hospitality, would nonetheless come down to play.
And like a little moussa myself, I would often, in the late afternoon or early evening, emerge from my garden retreat to play the pampered and cunning pet of the clients and friends of my parents. As the children of Glade imagine that the moussas chattered and capered for their amusement, so, no doubt, did the adults of my parents' salons imagine that the fey creature, whom everyone soon began to call kleine Moussa, herself frequented their precincts to amuse them.
But from the moment their kleine Moussa knew anything of significance at all, I, like the moussas of the garden, knew full well that these huge and marvelous beings, with their extravagant clothes, incomprehensible stories, strange and mysterious perfumes, and secret pockets of sweets, existed, like the garden, and the river, and the myriad wondrous sights and sounds and smells of Nouvelle Orlean, and indeed the world itself, to amuse me.
Copyright 1985 by Norman Spinrad
Excerpted from Child of Fortune by Spinrad, Norman Copyright © 2002 by Spinrad, Norman. Excerpted by permission.
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