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For millennia, the Imperium has held sway over Pangaea. The pure dreams of its great dreamers are used to elevate and pacify the consciousness of a society strictly divided by caste. Here eroticism is repressed for a higher cause, and sex is a shameful remnant of ages past. But when Pangaea's most beloved dreamer is brutally assassinated, it's clear that a dangerous ...
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For millennia, the Imperium has held sway over Pangaea. The pure dreams of its great dreamers are used to elevate and pacify the consciousness of a society strictly divided by caste. Here eroticism is repressed for a higher cause, and sex is a shameful remnant of ages past. But when Pangaea's most beloved dreamer is brutally assassinated, it's clear that a dangerous group of revolutionaries is dreaming the old dreams of violence, uninhibited sex...and freedom.
For although Pangaea is the most benevolent of tyrannies, it is a tyranny nonetheless. Here an elite "pure" scientist and a lowly birthtank worker share a forbidden passion; a grief-stricken Imperial officer embarks on a fanatic crusade; a sensual erotician possesses powers beyond her understanding; and an "impure" terrorist and his vengeful daughter wreak a path of unspeakable destruction. As mysterious earthshocks shake Pangaea, they are drawn together by the outlawed Orb of Eternity--a feared and ancient oracle whose ambivalent message heralds either redemption...or apocalypse.
Darkness: Nothing or all.
Night endures till dawn breaks.
The action is being.
The forbearance is doing.
--The Orb of Eternity
Councillor Sausal: Thus we commence with the pervasiveness of Pan and the illusion of duality. Before Pan there is Pan; after Pan there is Pan. Pan is All, even that which appears not to be Pan.
Yet this is a time when Pan does not appear to exist. The Eternal has chosen not to reveal Itself.
So, too, in times lost to antiquity, the Imperium was unformed. Yet the Imperium has always reigned, without beginning and without end.
Therefore the prudent person should remain still and await the proper direction.
Guttersage (usu. considered vulgar): Any fool can see that darkness is the beginning and the end, Pan but a fleeting flash of light.
But even a fool might as well stand still. If you stumble around in the dark, ten to one you'll break your neck.
Our City of Atlan, the crest of Prime Hill. Milord Lucyd's cloudscraper, the Villa de Reve:
Only three days had passed since Milady Danti had been murdered, and Our Sacred Imperium of Pangaea still grieved. No one needed more sorrow and confusion over the scandalous demise of the most beloved woman in the Mind of the World. Yet on the morning of the fourth day, by no volition of his own, Lucyd cast the first confounding dream of Danti.
Adamantine sunlight of Pangaean high summer shone through stained glass portals in the dreamchamber, illuminating curves of costly Cordilleran marble and an angel in a sarcophagus, dreaming.
He lay like one dead in an aetheric shell, a morpheus veil shrouding him head to toe. Yet his stillness was illusory, his quiescence deceptive. His Honorable Milord Lucyd Sol naitre Primus cast dreams in the Mind of the World, and when an aetherist of the angels dreamed, all Pangaea dreamed with him.
The shell hummed, a rhythm as steady and reassuring as Lucyd's heartbeat. No one could fabricate aetheric shells like this anymore. An ovoid the size and shape of a capacious coffin, wrought of a single piece of hand-hammered silver, the shell sported kaligraphs of the Omnipresence of Pan that shimmered into being and deliquesced into the argentine sheen. Ancient and elegant, the shell was a prized possession Lucyd had inherited from his mothers, handed down in his family from progeny to progeny since times lost to antiquity.
Hypnolia hung heavy in his senses, vapors scented of anisette and lemon verbena, with an intoxicating hint of raptureroot. Hypnolia once promised oblivion.
Promised sweet dreams.
But not for Lucyd. Not now. Perhaps never again.
Danti! My beloved Danti! How could this happen to you?
Morphic paralysis immobilized Lucyd's muscles. His blood cooled, slowed, lulled, stilled, pulsing to a languorous beat.
Down and down, deeper and deeper, dreaming and dreaming . . .
Platinum curls haloed Lucyd's high-domed forehead, a glabrous face that might have been sculpted of bone. Wide-set eyes--closed now--darted beneath albescent eyelids. An aquiline nose poised above white ribbons of lips, the acuminated jut of a chin. A bodysuit of silver sateen sheathed his long, slender limbs. Substantial diamonds in atlantium settings winked at his earlobes, throat, wrists. The wounds in his carpal bones ached. Bandages swathed his hands. His feet, etoliated and tender, remained bare, the toenails frivolously painted with silver polish. Milord Lucyd loathed any constriction of his feet while he lay in the aetheric shell, dreaming.
He dove deep into hypnogagia, deeper and deeper still, till his waking consciousness flickered and winked out. His dream-eye opened. The Mind of the World lay before him, an infinite glimmer. He sensed the susurration of two hundred million shareminds, avidly awaiting his dream.
Dear Pan, I serve again.
It was his Imperial duty as an aetherist.
His birthright as an angel.
His privilege. And his burden.
Even during this, the greatest sorrow of my life, I serve the Imperium.
A limestone cliff.
She strides along the lip of the cliff, a solitary figure in a windswept gown of Imperial purple silk. Her streaming hair forms a white-gold pennant against the waves of a great bay. A whisper of wind, the sigh of the sea, leaves rustling in a coppice of willows, the plucked strings of a cymbalon played by an unseen musician--these are the only sounds.
The woman halts, poised at the lip of the cliff, and gracefully turns toward the dream-eye.
"My love, how I cherish you," Milady Danti vows. Her exquisite face glows. Her slanting sapphire eyes blaze like the inner core of a flame, the hottest part, lit by the passion and purity of a sacred sharer. "I will cherish and love you for Eternity."
Everyone dreaming Lucyd's dream instantaneously apprehended this: the supreme purity of Pannish love, love that only sharers in sacred sharelock could give and receive. Everyone also apprehended an extraordinary and gratifying truth: that every person of every pure and subpure in Pangaea, however high or low, could enter into sharelock and know the joys of Pannish love.
Danti smiles her enchanting smile, but abruptly she leans over the cliff. A heedless movement that might have unbalanced her, sending her plummeting to the rocks below.
Lucyd moaned, a ragged exhalation through dry lips. Milady Danti walked and talked in the Mind of the World only as a figment, a distillation. A construct of memories of the woman who once lived and now had vanished from the world of flesh and time.
Danti still appeared in every one of Lucyd's dreams, but Danti herself, Lucyd's sacred sharer of fifty years, amounted to no more than a meticulously preserved corpse reclining in an all too real sarcophagus. The embalmers had told him they'd stitched together what they could and reconstructed the rest of clarified beeswax, carved ivory, and gemstones. They had begged for his opinion of their craftwork.
"Her consecration to Eternity will be attended by thousands and dreamed by millions more," the chief embalmer had said anxiously, wringing her natron-scalded hands. "Please tell us, milord. How well did we capture her likeness?"
Lucyd could not bear to look upon the abomination. Take it away. Take it out of my sight. The embalmers had regretfully removed the translucent sarcophagus and taken it to the preservation vaults in the Pyramid of Perpetuities, pending the Imperial consecration.
What a mockery of the Eternal. A desecration of Pan. This corpse wasn't Danti. Not compassionate, lovely, generous, gentle Danti, who hadn't deserved to die the way she did. And die alone, without him, her sharer, at her side.
The agony had struck him first in the utter intimacy of sharer's sharemind. Her excruciating terror. Pain slicing through her knees, her belly, her breasts, her neck. Through her eyes. He'd known exactly when her Essence had fled the agony. And still he couldn't believe it, had hoped against hope it wasn't true. Had fallen to his knees and prayed to Pan like he hadn't prayed in years.
He'd collapsed when the crier had delivered the news, refused to apprehend the atrocity in the stylized gloss of the crier's Imperial sharemind. He'd sent for his house physician. The physician had prepared a potent anesthetic, wielded her scalpel, and cut out the sharelock chips from between the carpal bones of his hands. Take them out, take them out. I never want to see them again. Lucyd would permit no priestess-facilitators and their sacred surgeons to examine his bandages. To touch his angelic flesh. He'd refused to see them when they'd come to collect the chips.
Imperial Vigilance Authority had declared Danti's death an act of terrorism: the despicable work of the foes. The foes, always the foes, vicious thugs and terrorist clans of the impure, merciless criminals and mindless fanatics, ever-present and ever elusive. It was an inescapable fact of life and death in Pangaea. No one escaped the pestilential touch of the foes. Their bloody hands touched everyone.
Danti hesitates at the lip of the cliff, gazing down at the rocks below. A dead leviathan has washed up, its colossal grey-skinned corpse battered by the surf. Despair furrows Danti's brow as the leviathan's blood stains the rocks. Her eyes film with tears, her mouth grows taut. . . .
"No," Lucyd whispered. Death and ruin had no place in Lucyd's dreams. Nor had despair. No tears. No tears, ever! "This is my dream."
The inquisitive whisper insinuated itself into his dream. Another acolyte-auditor? This was the third time in less than half a season that the magisters administering the Temple of the Mind of the World had dared send an acolyte-auditor to intrude upon his dream.
"Now what?" Lucyd snapped.
"Milord, you hesitate. Is anything wrong? May I assist you?"
"I hardly think so."
The absurdity would have provoked Lucyd's derisive laughter if he hadn't been deeply dreaming. An acolyte-auditor assist an aetherist of the angel pure? What a lunatic notion.
What was this person's subpure within the middle purities? Scribe or cleric? One who performed a mundane and technical task like auditing dreams could scarcely pretend to a higher subpure. Most likely his ancestors had for a millennium carved poets' kaligraphs on stone tablets. For the next millennium, they'd inked poets' verses on vellum or parchment. And finally this, auditing aetherists' dreams in the Mind of the World.
A necessary evil? Well, perhaps. Lucyd did not approve of the dreams of conquest and bloodlust other aetherists cast. Yet as long as there were aetherists who cast dark dreams, dreamers who desired to dream them, and--most importantly--Imperial approval, there would be ugly, violent dreams in the Mind of the World. Such dreams typically lacked any redeeming pedagogical value, however, and it was good and necessary that acolyte-auditors scrupulously audited them.
But auditing was strictly middle pure, removing things the main concern, and thus far removed from blessed proximity to Pan.
Whereas Lucyd cast dreams of everlasting beauty. Dreams upon which every pure and subpure could meditate and joyfully learn about Pannish love, the nature of Pan, and Imperial duty. Dreams preserved in the Mind of the World for all Eternity.
Lucyd stood next to the center of Pan, the highest subpure among the highest pure, supremely blessed.
Now the descendant of such a low pure and subpure asked an aetherist of the angels if he required assistance with a dream? What impudence!
What strange situations our new technologies have created.
Such liberties would never have been permitted in times lost to antiquity when the Ancient Ones shaped the Mind of the World, and no magisters or acolyte-auditors hindered them.
Lucyd could envision this particular acolyte-auditor only too well. Some pasty little person strapped in a smeary aetheric shell, Imperium issue, kept strictly under lock and key. He would recline right now in a daub-and-wattle cubicle in a cloudscraper downtown owned by the Temple of the Mind of the World. Reeking of cheap food and cheaper cologne, the acolyte-auditor would quaff caf, yearn for a quid of qut, and count the minutes till his workday was done. Then he'd catch the wagon to his leased villa in Pleasant Valley and forget the travail of auditing dreams. Till he woke next morning and started all over again.
The acolyte-auditor did not cast dreams, of course. The Imperial shell he employed permitted only limited access to auditing functions--monitoring, transcribing, rearranging, and, yes, censoring. These limitations were bound to foment resentments. Lucyd harbored a strong suspicion this particular acolyte-auditor didn't dream at all. From his rude voice and ruder manner, it was entirely possible the acolyte-auditor loathed auditing Lucyd's dreams. Acolyte-auditors were grievously underpaid, prone to brooding, and notoriously disenchanted with their subpure.
"Then pray continue, milord," the acolyte-auditor whispered.
Pray continue. Such arrogance! Since when had he ever ceased casting dreams for the edification of Our Sacred Imperium? And since when had the temple magisters decided that he, His Honorable Milord Lucyd, required this insulting and interminable auditing?
At any moment of the day or night, a million people on Pangaea dreamed Lucyd's dreams. Another ten thousand among the streetsweepers who unloaded offal on the moon, perhaps all twenty thousand atlantium miners who toiled on Sanguine. This acolyte-auditor wouldn't know of Lucyd's off-world dreamers or of the Doors that led to the other worlds. The Imperium keeps its Secrets. Only a few knew of the Doors. But no one could keep secrets from Lucyd. He possessed angel's sharemind, the most powerful of the purities, encompassing them all. Angels could know anything they wanted to. It was their prerogative.
Every pure and subpure was insatiable for dreams of love, and Lucyd could never dream enough of them.
Pray continue. . . .
How can I continue without you, Danti?
"Milord?" the acolyte-auditor whispered again. "We're waiting."
Still Lucyd hesitated, swallowing bitterness and grief.
"Do you wish to finish for today, milord?"
"I've not even begun," came his harsh reply.
"Then pray begin."
Danti sings in a lilting, sweet soprano:
I'll stand beside you through the night,
And stand beside you in the dawn,
Oh, sacred sharer.
From life to life,
From now till Eternity,
I'll cherish you,
Oh, sacred sharer!
"That's more like it, milord," the acolyte-auditor whispered. Didn't even have the decency to keep irony out of his voice. "Give us more of that."
A mischievous quirk plays on Danti's full lips, and a little dimple in her left cheek deepens. A lascivious look slips into her eyes. She blushes, impishly averting her eyes in a mocking show of shame.
Swallows swoop across the horizon. Mourning doves warble their bittersweet birdsong. Danti turns away from the lip of the cliff the way she always turns, the way she's turned a hundred times in this dream.
"I must leave you, my beloved," she says.
And then she stumbles.
"No," Lucyd muttered. "No." Surefooted Danti never stumbled. No stumbling in his dreams. No stumbling, ever!
Danti regains her footing, and a furtive expression flits across her face, calculating, sly. Her eyes become veiled, the very irises change, sapphire deepening to the flat black opacity of roadpitch. Coarse vermilion streaks snake through her hair. Her angelic figure shrinks, shrivels, now as misshapen as an impure grotesque. Her gown flaps around scrawny limbs, now a tunic and leggings of black sacking. Danti--can this devilish strumpet be Danti?--stoops and gropes in a clump of ragged grass. Finds an object hidden there. Stands and tauntingly opens her hand.
With a flip of her wrist, she flings the object at the dream-eye.
"No!" Lucyd shouted. "Dear Pan, no."
"Milord?" said the acolyte-auditor, voice alarmed.
It's a jewel, a crystal, a faceted globe about the size of a pondplum. An orb fashioned of atlantium. Diamond-shaped facets reflect sparkles of light as the orb tumbles, inflating, burgeoning till it's gigantic, filling up the dream-eye. On it plunges, implacable, almost willful.
The orb comes at last to a shuddering stop.
A facet rolls into view.
"Don't do this to me, Danti," Lucyd pleaded. But of course she couldn't hear him. She was dead. "I am not casting this," he muttered to the acolyte-auditor. "This thing does not emanate from my consciousness."
"Then eliminate the foreign object at once, milord," the acolyte-auditor said coldly.
The facet expands till the image etched there overwhelms the dream-eye, obscuring the dream itself. Tiny glyphs shimmer, sinister and inexplicable. Demonic faces appear, whisper harsh incantations, disappear. Till at last there is only--
The dream winked out.
The acolyte-auditor fell silent.
And Lucyd found himself standing at the lip of the cliff, a solitary figure in a windswept gown of black sacking. The panorama vanished--cliff, bay, sky--everything, everything gone. The cymbalon plunged over the cliff, crashing on the bloodstained rocks below in a cacophony of discordant chords. The wind howled. Lucyd gazed down and an abyss yawned open at his feet. Stones tumbled into bottomless depths. Above the sky boiled away into black oblivion--starless, still, and dead.
Darkness. The province of Inim. The end of everything.
Pan, I wished for death.
Had his wish been granted?