The Phoenix Exultant

( 2 )

Overview

"The Phoenix Exultant is a continuation of the story begun in The Golden Age and, like it, a grand space opera in the tradition of Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny (with a touch of Cordwainer Smith-style invention)." At the conclusion of the first book, Phaethon of Radamanthus House was left an exile from his life of power and privilege. Now he embarks upon a quest across the transformed solar system - Jupiter is a second sun, Mars and Venus terraformed, humanity immortal - among humans, intelligent machines, and bizarre life-forms, to recover his
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The Phoenix Exultant: The Golden Age, Volume 2

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Overview

"The Phoenix Exultant is a continuation of the story begun in The Golden Age and, like it, a grand space opera in the tradition of Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny (with a touch of Cordwainer Smith-style invention)." At the conclusion of the first book, Phaethon of Radamanthus House was left an exile from his life of power and privilege. Now he embarks upon a quest across the transformed solar system - Jupiter is a second sun, Mars and Venus terraformed, humanity immortal - among humans, intelligent machines, and bizarre life-forms, to recover his memory, to regain his place in society, and to move that society away from stagnation. Most of all, Phaethon's quest is to regain ownership of the magnificent starship, the Phoenix Exultant, the most wonderful ship ever built, and to fly her to the stars.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Extraordinary ... Witty, inventive, labyrinthine, with a life-sized cast, Wright's creation—something like Alexander Jablokov meets Charles Sheffield, with a dash of Gene Wolfe—grows steadily more addictive."

Kirkus Reviews

 

"A philosophical novel in high-tech dress."

The New York Times

The New York Times
In fact, like its predecessor, The Phoenix Exultant is a philosophical novel in high-tech dress. The action sequences, for all their verve, seem like mere interludes between the ethical and epistemological debates. For every sentence like ''the main energy cell in his breastplate opened into a single, all-consuming beam of atomic flame,'' there are many sentences like ''chaos theory produces sufficient variation in events, that no one stratagem maximizes win-loss ratios,'' and ''within the useful energy-life of the macrocosmic universe, there is at least one maximum state of efficient operations or entities that could be created, able to manipulate all meaningful objects of thoughts and perception within the limits of efficient cost-benefit expenditures.'' — Gerald Jonas
Kirkus Reviews
Wright's extraordinary far-future space opera continues (The Golden Age, 2002). Once powerful, privileged, wealthy, and immortal, Phaethon of Rhadamanthus House defied the ruling Hortators. Now he's penniless, mortal, and isolated from the data banks, tools, and Sophotects (artificial intelligences) he once took for granted; anyone who speaks with him must share his exile. Even his memories are suspect. Phaethon claims he was attacked by Nothing Sophotect, a representative of the Silent Ones who derive from a colony established at Cygnus X1 to exploit the energy available from its black hole. However, according to the Hortators, the colonists went insane, destroyed everything, and dived into the black hole—therefore Phaethon must have been the victim of a cruel prank. Phaethon's sole remaining asset is his fabulous suit of impervious space armor and its sophisticated nanotechnology. His beautiful spaceship, the Phoenix Exultant, the fastest and most powerful ever built, is now owned by impoverished Neptunians and in danger of being sold for scrap. And Daphne, his beloved wife, has retreated into endless computer-generated dreams. A copy of Daphne, secretly advised by Rhadamanthus Sophotect that Phaethon is neither criminal nor insane, wants to help Phaethon and willingly joins him in exile. Phaethon gratefully accepts her help, but she's still a copy, and he can't allow himself to love her as if she were his real wife. And in less than a month, Transcendence will occur, setting the direction and structure of society for a thousand years to come. Witty, inventive, labyrinthine, with a life-sized cast, Wright's creation—something like Alexander Jablokov meets Charles Sheffield,with a dash of Gene Wolfe—grows steadily more addictive.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765337429
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 10/19/2003
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 608,128
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN C. WRIGHT is an attorney turned SF and fantasy writer. He has published short fiction in Asimov’s SF and elsewhere, and wrote the Chronicles of Chaos, The Golden Age, and The War of Dreaming series. His novel Orphans of Chaos was a finalist for the Nebula Award in 2005. The Hermetic Millennia is his second novel in the Count to a Trillion series.

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Read an Excerpt

The Phoenix Exultant

The Golden Age, Volume 2
By Wright, John C.

Tor Books

Copyright © 2003 Wright, John C.
All right reserved.



I
 
THE CYBORG
 
 
I.
 
He opened the door onto a crowded boulevard of matter-shops, drama-spaces, reliquaries, shared-form communion theaters, colloquy-salons, and flower parks. n elaborate hydrosculpture of falls and aerial brooks spread from a central fountain works throughout the area, with running water held aloft by subatomic reorientations of its surface tension, so that arches and bows of shining transparency rose or fell, splashed or surged with careless indifference to the reality of gravity. Light, scattered from tall windows lining the concourse or from banners of advertisements or from high panels opening up into the regional mentality, was caught and made into rainbows by the high-flowing waters. Petals from floating water lilies drifted down across the scene.
Beneath all this beauty was a crass ugliness. More than three-quarters of the people were present as mannequins. This was evidently a place meant for manorials, cryptics, or other schools that relied heavily on telepresentation. Since Phaethon no longer had access to any kind of sense-filter, all these folk, no matter how splendid of dress or elegant of comportment they might have appeared to an observer in the Surface Dreaming, looked to him like so many ranks and ranks of gray, dull, and faceless mannequins.
There may have been beautiful musicsweeping the area; excluded from the mentality, Phaethon was deaf to it. Here and there were hospice boxes or staging pools, ready to send out dreams or partials, calls, messages, or any form of telepresentation. All channels were closed to Phaethon, and he was mute. There were dragon-signs burning like fire in the air, displaying messages of unknown import. Phaethon could not read the subtext or hypertext; Phaethon was illiterate. There may have been thought-guides in the Middle Dreaming to allow him to remember, as if he had always known, where to find the public transport he sought. Mnemonic assistance gone; Phaethon was an amnesiac. There may have been ornament and pageantry in the dream-stages gathered in the air around him, lovely beyond description, or signs and maps to show Phaethon where, in this wide concourse, might be the way or the road he sought. But Phaethon was blind.
Here and there among the mannequins, the face of a realist or vivarianist showed. Their eyes turned dull when they lit on Phaethon, and their gazes slid past him without seeing. All sense-filters were tuned to exclude him. The world was blind to him as well.
He expected the banners overhead to swoop down on him when he looked up. But no. They floated on by, shouting with lights and garish displays. Even the advertisements ignored him.
No matter. Phaethon tried to keep his thoughts only on the next steps immediately before him. How to find out where he was? How to find Talaimannar? How to go from here to there? Once there, how to find out why Harrier Sophotech recommended that place?
He had to ask someone for help, or directions.
Phaethon stepped behind a stand of bushes; there was a flow of water from the fountain works overhead, forming a rippling, translucent ceiling. Was anyone watching? He assumed not.
He doffed his armor and covered it with the cape of nanomaterial, which he then programmed to look like a hooded cloak. Phaethon himself merely drew out some of the nanomaterial from the black skin-garment he wore, and drew circles around his eyes, to solidify into a black domino mask. And that was that: Both of them were now in disguise. He hoped it was enough to fool at least a casual inspection. He programmed the suit to follow him at a fixed distance, avoiding obstacles; to "heel" as Daphne would have said.
He stepped out again into the concourse, followed by the bulky, cloaked form of his armor, looming three paces behind him. He went downstairs and found a pondside esplanade that had fewer mannequins walking along it. He saw real faces; faces made of flesh or metal, or cobra scales, or polystructural material, or energy surfaces. They were laughing and talking, signaling and depicting. The air seemed charged with a carnival excitement. Many people skipped or danced as they strolled, moved by music Phaethon could not hear. Others dived over the side of the esplanade, to glide among the buildings and statues in the pond.
He did not know what particular event was being celebrated. It was rare to see so many folk together. Whatever bunting or decoration swam in the dreamspace here, which might have given him a clue as to the nature of the occasion, was, of course, invisible to him.
People smiled and nodded at him as they walked by, full of good cheer. "Merry Millennium! May you live a thousand years!"
He had not realized how much he had missed, and was going to miss, the sight of friendly human faces. Phaethon smiled back, waving, and calling out, "And a thousand years to you!"
Phaethon reminded himself that he had to be careful. Theoretically, the masquerade protocol would not protect him, since he was no longer part of the celebration, no longer part of the community. But how many people would even try to read his identity if they saw him wearing a mask during a masquerade? Most people, Phaethon guessed, would not.
The rule from the Hortators was that no one was to give him aid, comfort, food or drink, or shelter, sell him goods or services, or buy from him, or donate charity to him. This rule did not (in theory) actually prohibit speaking to him, or looking at him and smiling, although that was the way it surely would be practiced.
If Phaethon tried to buy something from a passerby, Aurelian was obligated to warn him that he was about to be contaminated with exile. But as long as Phaethon did not try to win from the passersby either food or drink or comfort or shelter or charity, Aurelian would no doubt stand mute. Sophotechs had a long, long tradition of failing to volunteer any information that had not been specifically asked.
It was hard. A couple walking hand in hand were passing out wedding-album projections of their future children. Phaethon smiled but declined to take one. A young girl (or someone dressed as one), skipping and licking a floating balloon-pastry offered him a bite; Phaethon patted her on the head, but did not touch her pastry. When a laughing wine-juggler, surrounded by musical firecrackers, and balancing on a ball, rolled by and tried to thrust a glass of champaign into Phaethon's hand, Phaethon was not able to refuse except by jerking his hand away.
The juggler frowned, wondering at Phaethon's lack of courtesy, and raised two fingers as if to try to find out who Phaethon really was. But the juggler was distracted when a slender, naked gynomorph, fluttering with a hundred stimulation scarves, jumped up in drunken passion to embrace him. Singing a carol to Aphrodite, the two rolled off together, while the juggler's bottles and goblets fell this way and that.
Phaethon let the throng carry him down the esplanade.
The pressure of the crowd eased when Phaethon came to a line of windows, two hundred feet tall or more, which looked out upon a balcony larger than a boulevard. Out onto the balcony they all went together. Phaethon climbed up a pedestal holding a statue of Orpheus in his pose as Father of the Second Immortality. The stone hands held up a symbol in the shape of a snake swallowing its own tail. Phaethon put his foot in the stone coils of the serpent and pulled himself high, looking left and right above the heads of the crowd.
Several lesser towers and small skyscrapers grew up from the railing of the balcony, like little corals fringing the topless super-tower of the space elevator.
Beyond the balcony, the metropolis spread out from the mountain-base of the space elevator in three concentric circles. Innermost and oldest, the center circle consisted of huge window-less structures shaped according to simple geometries; giant cubes, hemispheres, and hemicylinders, painted in bright, primary colors, connected by rectilinear motion-lines and smart roads. The architecture followed the Objective Aesthetic, with the building shapes, slabs, and plaques all rigidly stereotyped. There was little movement in this part of the city; human beings of the basic neuroform tended to find these faceless buildings and looming monoliths intolerable. Mostly, this central ring housed Sophotech components, warehouses, manufacturies. Invariants, who had little desire for beauty or pleasure or inefficiency, lived here, dwelling in square dormitories arranged like rank upon rank of coffin-beds.
The second ring was done in the Standard Aesthetic. Here were black pools and lakes of nanomachinery, with many brooks and rills, touched with white foam of the dark material streaming from one to another. Tiny waterfalls of the material formed where cascade-separator stages mixed and organized the components. Each lake was surrounded by the false-trees and coral bioformations of nanomanufactory. A hundred solar parasols raised orchidlike colors to the sun. The houses and presence chambers were formed of strange growthlike seashells; one spiral after another, shining with lambent mother-of-pearl, rose to the skyline. Blue-black, dark pearl, glinting silver, and dappled blue-gray hues dominated the scene. Thought-gardens, coven places, and sacred circles dotted the area, along with nymphariums, mother trees, and staging pools. Warlocks and basics tended to prefer the chaotic fractals and organic shapes of the Standard Aesthetic. Wide areas of garden space were occupied by the decentralized bodies of Cerebellines.
Beyond this, on the hills surrounding, green arbors and white mansions prevailed. This was the Consensus Aesthetic, patronized mostly by manor-born and first-generation basics. Greek columns marched along the hilltops; formal English gardens rested in green shadows before grand houses done in the Georgian style, or neo-Roman, or stern Alexandrian.
In the far distance, Phaethon saw a wide lake. On the lake were a hundred shapes like jewel-armored clipper ships, whose sails were textured like a dozen wings of butterflies, surrounded with light.
Now Phaethon knew where he was. This city was Kisumu, south of Aetheopia, overlooking Lake Victoria. And Phaethon understood the wonder and excitement of the crowd. For the huge shapes in the lake were the Deep Ones.
These were the last of the once-great race of the Jovian half-warlocks, a unique neuroform that combined elements from the Cerebelline and Warlock nervous-system structures. Once, they rode the storms and swam in the pressurized methane atmosphere of Jupiter, before its ignition. When the time came to end their way of life, they chose instead to enter whalelike bodies and to sleep at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, where they called back and forth to each other, and wove songs and sonar images relating to the vast, sad, and ancient emotions known only to them; and made sounds in the deep, which reminded them, but could not recapture, those songs and sensations their old Jupiter-adapted Behemoth bodies once had made in the endless atmosphere of that gas-giant planet.
Once every thousand years, only during the time of the Millennium, they woke from their dreams of sorrow, grew festive gems and multicolored membranes and sails along their upper hulls, rose to the surface, and sang in the air.
By an ancient contract, no recordings could be made of their great songs, nor was anyone allowed to speak of what they heard or dreamed when that music swept over them.
No wonder so many people were here in reality.
Phaethon's heart was in his throat. The songs of the Deep Ones he had only heard once before, since he had not attended this ceremony his second millennial masquerade, during Argentorium's tenure. That time once before, three thousand years ago (during the tenure of Cuprician) the song had sung to him of vastness, emptiness, and a sense of infinite promise. It was as if Phaethon had been plunged into the wide expanses of the Jovian cloudscape; or into the far wider expanses of the stars beyond.
The Deep Ones had originally been designed also to serve as living spaceships, able to swim the radiation-filled and dust-filled vacuum between the Jovian moons, able to tolerate the almost unthinkable re-entry heat of low-orbit dives down into the Jovian atmosphere. But the early successes in cleaning circumjovial space and in taming the Jovian magnetosphere, made those space-lanes safe and economical for ships of ordinary construction; the emplacements of sky hooks made alarming re-entries unnecessary. The Deep Ones' way of life was past; the danger and romance of space travel was removed. Phaethon had heard all of this in their song, so long ago. It had planted the seed that blossomed into his own desire to embrace his dream of star travel.
It had been Daphne who had brought him to hear it. But had that been Daphne Prime, or her ambassador-doll, Daphne Tercius? Phaethon could not remember. Perhaps his lack of useful sleep was beginning to affect his memory.
Phaethon jumped down from the pedestal and began to push his way through the crowd, and away. For the Deep Ones did not give away their grand, sad music freely. Everyone who did not exclude the music from his sense filter would have a fee charged to his account; and, when the computers detected that Phaethon could not pay, he would be unmasked. Once Phaethon was unmasked, no one, of course, would help him. Not to mention that the performance would be delayed, and the afternoon spoiled for everyone. (He was amazed to discover that he still cared about the convenience and pleasure of his fellowmen, even though they had ostracized him. But the wonder of that first Deep One symphony he had once heard still haunted his memory. He did not want to diminish the joy of folk happier than he.)
The crowd thinned as he rounded the space elevator, and came to the side facing away from the lake. Several dirigible airships, as large as whales themselves, were docked with their noses touching the towers rising from the balcony sides. They had dragon-signs in the air, displaying their routes and times in a format Phaethon could not read.
Phaethon stopped a passerby, a woman dressed as a pyretic. "Pardon me, miss, but my companion and I are looking for the way to Talaimannar." He gestured toward the hooded and cloaked figure of his armor, standing silently behind him. He spoke what was not quite a lie: "My companion and I are involved in a masquerade game of hunt-and-seek, and we are not allowed to access the mentality. Could you tell me how to find the nearest smart road?"
She cocked her head at him. Her dancing eyes were surrounded by wreaths of flame, and smoke curled from her lips when she smiled. When she spoke, Phaethon had no routine to translate her words into his language and grammar and logic.
He tried more simply: "Talaimannar...? Talaimannar...? Smart
road?" He pantomimed sliding along a frictionless surface, hands waving, so that she giggled.
By her emphatic gesture he understood she meant that the smart roads were not running; she pointed him toward a nearby airship and pushed him lightly on the shoulder, as if to say, Go! Go!
Phaethon froze. Had she just helped him, or offered him passage on some ship owned by her? There was no alarm in her eyes; to judge from her expression, there was no secret voice from Aurelian warning her. And the woman was turning away, drawn by the movement of the crowd. Evidently she was not the owner.
Phaethon moved up the ramp. Closer, he saw the airship bore the heraldic symbol of the Oceanic Environmental Protectorate. It was a cargo lifter, perhaps the very one that had brought one or more Deep Ones from the Pacific to Lake Victoria.
The throngs began to fall silent. Out on the lake, Deep Ones were sailing to position, raising and unfurling their singing-fans. A sense of tension, of expectancy, was palpable in the air. Phaethon stepped reluctantly across the gilt threshold of the hatch and into the ship's interior, his eyes turned over his shoulder.
Giant magnifier screens, focused on the distant Deep Ones, floated up over the edge of the huge balcony. The images showed the Deep Ones, sails wide and high, motionless on the surface of the lake, all their prows pointed toward the Deep One matriarch-conductor, who floated like a mountain above her children, her million singing-flags like an Autumn forest seen along a mountainside.
Phaethon's feet were slow. He wanted so desperately to hear this one last song. Except for tunes he might whistle himself, or music shed from advertisements passing by, Phaethon would not hear songs again: no one would perform for him; no one would sell him a recording.
He steeled himself and turned his back. The hatch shut silently behind him.
The deck was deserted. The place was empty.
 
2
 
Before him, carpeted in burgundy, set with small tables and formulation rods of glass and white china, was an observation deck. Antique reading helmets plated with ornamental brass nested in the ceiling. A line of couches faced tall windows overlooking the prow, with seeing rings in little dishes to one side. The privacy screens around the couches were folded and transparent at the moment, but Phaethon could still see ghostly half-images of creatures from Japanese mythology depicted in the glassy surface.
He did not recognize the aesthetic. Something older than the Objective period perhaps? Whatever it was, it was opulent and elegant.
Phaethon stepped aboard; his armor stepped after him. Phaethon raised his hand to make the open-channel gesture, then stopped himself, looked at his hand sadly, and lowered it. He could not access any information just by directing a thought or gesture at it, not ever again. But it would not be hard to adapt, he told himself. He was a Silver-Grey; and speaking out loud was one of the traditions Silver-Greys diligently practiced.
"Who is here? What is this place? Is there anyone aboard?"
No answer. He stepped forward toward the couches, sat down gingerly.
The privacy screen to his left was half-open, so that one transparent panel was between him and the left-hand windows looking down on the balcony. Within the frame of this screen, the scene had more color and motion than elsewhere. Every gray mannequin within this frame was suddenly colored and costumed and bestowed with an individual human face. Overhead, banners and displays curled through the air, drifting. But any mannequin who stepped out of the frame turned gray again, and any banner vanished.
The privacy screen must have been tuned to the Surface Dreaming, Phaethon realized. It was an antique of some sort that translated mental images into light images. He amused himself for a moment by moving his head left and right, so that different parts of the balcony, now to the right and now to the left, were touched with extra color and pageantry. Gray mannequins were transformed to breathtaking courtiers, splendid in dress, and then, with another move of his head, back into gray mannequins again.
Then he saw, amid the pageantry, a figure in white and rose lace with a tricorn hat, face disfigured by a hook nose and hook chin. It was Scaramouche. Behind him were Columbine in her harlot's skirts and Pierrot, pale-faced and in baggy white. The three pantomime figures were moving against the flow of the crowd with deliberate haste; their heads moved in unison, back and forth, scanning the crowd with methodical sweeps.
They closed in on a figure dressed in gold armor; but no, it was merely someone dressed as Alexander the Great, in a gilt breastplate. Alexander the Great stared at them in confusion; the three pantomime clowns bowed and frolicked, and Alexander turned away. Scaramouche and his two confederates stood a moment, motionless, as if hearing instructions from some remote source.
Phaethon tried to tell himself that this was some coincidence of costuming. Xenophone's agent would not be so foolish as to continue to dress in the same costume as before. No doubt these were merely Black Manorials, looking for Phaethon to taunt or humiliate him, and dressed in the way Phaethon had said his enemy had dressed. It would have been easy to copy the costume from the public records of the Hortators' inquest.
Except that Black Manorials could have simply found out from the mentality where Phaethon was. The Hortators, without doubt, would have posted conspicuous notices telling everyone what Phaethon had done, and where he was, and how to avoid him. Only someone who did not want to leave a trace would attempt to find Phaethon by eye.
As if stimulated by a silent signal, the three pantomime clowns now turned toward the airship docks. Their eyes seemed to meet Phaethon's own, staring up at the windows where he stood. The eyes moved to Phaethon's left, where the armor stood, covered by a hooded robe.
Phaethon said to himself: Surely they are not looking for two figures, one in black, one in a robe.
But the three figures began pushing through the crowd toward the airship dock. They passed outside the range of the frame of the privacy screen, and suddenly they were merely three anonymous gray mannequins lost in a throng of similar mannequins.
Phaethon squinted, but, separated from the mentality, he could not amplify his vision, make a recording, or set up a motion-detection program to discover which of the moving bodies lost in the crowd were the ones he sought. Disconnected, he was blind and crippled. His enemies were coming, and he was helpless.
He could not send out a responder-pulse to discover the serial numbers of the mannequins involved; he could not call the constables. If he logged on to the mentality to make the call, descendants of the enemy virus civilizations would come out from hiding and strike him down the moment he opened a channel.
Was there a way to send a voice-only signal from the circuits in his armor? Phaethon jumped off the couch and pushed back the hood on the figure behind him. He looked at the contact points and thought-ports running along the shoulder boards of the armor. There was an energy repeater that could be tuned to the radio frequencies set aside for the constabulary; here was a sensitive plate that could react to voice command. All he needed was a carrier wire to run from the one to the other.
That wire was not something his nanomachinery cape could produce. He could have bought it for a half-second coin at any matter-shop...had he been allowed. As it was, he could broadcast a loud, meaningless noise. A scream. A scream to which no one would listen.
He stepped back toward the privacy screen and tried to turn it on its hinges to face that part of the crowd near the bottom of the ramp leading up to this ship. The screen would not budge. He could not see where the mannequins controlled by the enemy might be.
Now what? If only he had been a character from one of his wife's dream-dramas, he could find a convenient ax or bar of iron, and rush out to battle the foe, club swinging, his shirt ripped to display his manly shoulders and hairy chest. But strength would not serve against these mannequins; the mind motivating them was not even physically present.
And wit would not serve, not if there was, in fact, a Nothing Sophotech directing their actions, a Sophotech clever enough to move through the Earth mentality without coming to the notice of the Earthmind.
What was left? Spiritual purity? Moral rectitude?
And, if it was a moral quality involved, what could it be? Honesty? Forthrightness? Blind determination?
Phaethon thought for a moment, gathering his courage. Then he threw the robe off his armor and had the black material swirled around him, fitting the gold segments into place. He closed the helmet.
Phaethon stepped to the hatch of the airship and flung it open, but he was careful not to step over the threshold. He stood at the top of the ramp, somewhat above the nearby crowd. Three gray mannequins were stepping purposefully toward the foot of the ramp; the leader paused with one foot on the ramp, his blind, blank head turned up suddenly to see Phaethon standing, shining in his gold adamantine armor, at the end of the ramp above him.
A long low trembling note of haunting beauty, like the sigh of a sad oboe, came up from the surface of Lake Victoria, rose, gathered strength, and filled the wide sky. It was the first note of the overture, the first voice of the choir. Just that one note brought a tear to Phaethon's eye. Except for the three mannequins facing him, all other spectators were turned toward the distant lake, looks of tense wonder and rapt enchantment on their features, like people swept up in a dream.
Phaethon touched the energy repeater on his shoulder board. He heard nothing, but he knew a loud pulse, like a shout, passed across nearby radio channels.
The note trembled and fell mute. Silence, not music, filled the air.
Phaethon had been noticed. The Deep Ones were not singing. Some signal inaudible to Phaethon swept through the gathered crowd. With a murmur of anger, and a long hissing, rustling noise, a thousand faces suddenly turned toward him. Every eye focused on the gold figure.
The three mannequins at the foot of the ramp paused, motionless. Whatever they had intended for Phaethon, they evidently did not wish to do in full and public view.
The murmur of anger rose to a shout. It was a horrible noise, one Phaethon had not heard before in all his life; the sound of a thousand voices all calling for Phaethon to get out, to leave, to let the performance ceremony continue. Instead of music, now, shouts of outrage, shrill questions, and sounds of hatred roared in the air.
The three gray mannequins were still motionless at the bottom of the ramp. Phaethon raised his hand and pointed a finger at these three. He knew no human ear could hear him or distinguish his words over the roar of the crowd; but he also knew that there were more than human minds listening to him now. Events like this rapidly filled the news and gossip channels; anything he did would be analyzed by mass-minds and by Sophotechs.
"The enemies to the Golden Oecumene are here among you. Who projects into these three mannequins here? Where are the constables to protect me from their violence? Nothing! For all your superior intellect, you cannot and you dare not strike at me openly; I denounce you as a coward!"
Another rustling murmur ran through the vast crowd there. Contempt and disbelief, disgust and anger were clear on every face. And then, just as suddenly, the eyes focused on him went glassy and dull. By an unspoken common consent, the crowd were tuning their sense-filters to ignore him; perhaps they were opening redaction channels to forget him, so that, in later years, their memories of this fine day would not be marred by the rantings of a madman. Like a wind blowing through a field of wheat, with one motion, every head in the crowd turned back toward the lake.
Phaethon smiled grimly. Here was the moral error of a society that relied too heavily on the sense-filter to falsify their reality for them. Reality could not be faked. The Deep Ones did not use anything like a sense-filter. If the Deep Ones had any channels open in the mentality, they would still be aware of Phaethon, and they would still refuse to offer their gift of song to one, like Phaethon, who would not and could not thank them, or repay them, or return the gift. The crowd could well ignore him; but the Deep Ones would not sing.
Were they waiting for him to walk away? It must occur to some of them that it would take hours for him, on foot, to walk beyond hearing range of the Deep Song. Were they all willing to wait that long? It also should occur to someone that, by the rules of the ostracization imposed on him, Phaethon could neither buy passage on any transport or accept a ride as charity. The only other option, logically, would be to have a ride imposed upon him without his asking.
It was a contest of wills. Who was more willing to put up with the inconvenience of Phaethon's exile? Phaethon, who knew he was in the right? Or the crowd, who perhaps had some nagging doubt whether the Hortators had been entirely correct?
If those who opposed him were certain of the moral rightness of their position, Phaethon thought, they would simply call the constables and have him removed. And if not...
The hatch swung shut in front of his nose. The ramp and guy lines retracted into the docking tower. Phaethon felt a swell of motion in the deck underfoot.
The airship was carrying him away. He stepped over to the windows, hoping for a last glimpse of the three mannequins at the foot of the now-retracted ramp. He saw them, but their arms now hung limply, heads lolling, in the stoop-shouldered posture indicating that they were now uninhabited. Xenophon's agent (or Nothing Sopho-tech, or whoever or whatever had been projected into them) had disconnected and fled.
With a grand sweep of movement, the towers and the wide balcony ringing the space elevator passed by the observation windows. The world was tilted at an angle, as the airship heeled over, tacking into the wind and gaining altitude.
Phaethon felt a moment of victorious pleasure. But the moment faltered, and a sad look came into his eyes, when, outside the windows and far below, he saw the blue reaches of Lake Victoria. Sunlight flashed from the surface of the lake, and the texture of high, distant clouds was reflected in the depths. Amid those reflections, Phaethon saw the flotilla of ancient beings with their singing-fans spread wide. But he was too far away, by then, to hear anything other than a faint, sad, far-off echo.
Even if, by some odd miracle, his exile were to end tomorrow, Phaethon would never hear what the Deep Ones now would sing, no record was made of it, and no one would speak to him of it.
With an abrupt motion, Phaethon turned and stepped to the bow windows, staring out at the African hills and skies ahead.
 
Copyright 2003 by John C. Wright


Continues...

Excerpted from The Phoenix Exultant by Wright, John C. Copyright © 2003 by Wright, John C.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2003

    Stunning, full of twists, turns but logical.

    I read Author's first book, 'The Golden Age' and placed it in the top ten SF books I have read (conservative estimate 3000+). I found this second book in the trilogy even better. His style and timing make for an enjoyable read, but it his imagination and the manner the story holds together that is exceptional. I cannot wait for, what I hope will not be the end of this adventure, in his next book 'The Golden Transcendence'.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    strong other planetary tale

    With his exile, Phaethon knows that his life will never be the same (see THE GOLDEN AGE). Instead of the advantages he has received as a member of powerful and wealthy Radmanthus House, Phaeton will traverse the solar system on a quest to regain all he lost starting with his memory. <P>However, though humans, other strange life forms, and sentient machines might want to offer their help, anyone who actually assists the exile risks banishment too. Still some intelligent beings refuse to allow a threat to stop their assistance of Phaethon. The Old Woman of the Sea whose mind traverses all sea creatures and the surviving residue of a mass mind do not fear exile and aid the expatriate. Soon Phaethon concludes that essences from another star system plan to eradicate him and probably his people beginning with his logging onto the Mentality, but still he believes he must do all he can to save the stagnating society that he was once the Prime. <P>THE PHOENIX EXULTANT, Volume Two of The Golden Age trilogy, displays John C. Wright¿s skills in species building so that the reader believes in the varying, several weird, races that populate his galaxy. The story line is exciting as the hero goes on a quest, but also suffers to a minor degree from the genre¿s bane, middle speculative fiction syndrome (better known as MFSF). New readers will enjoy the tale, but gain much more from reading the first novel before perusing this delightful book for better understanding. <P>Harriet Klausner

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