Shrine of Starsby Paul J. Mcauley
Caught in the center of the strife is Yama, the last of the bloodline that constructed Confluence. A young man whose awakening powers
Hundreds of different races, created and then abandoned by the Preservers, co-exist on the artificial planet called Confluence. But the end of the world is drawing near, hastened by the terrible civil war that rages at its midpoint.
Caught in the center of the strife is Yama, the last of the bloodline that constructed Confluence. A young man whose awakening powers have made him a weapon coveted by both sides in the brutal conflict, Yama is determined to seek out answers to the mystery of his birthin order to fulfill an astonishing destiny that even he cannot begin to imagine.
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Chapter OneThe two ill-matched men were working in a small clearing in the trees that grew along the edge of the shallow reach of water. The larger of the two was chopping steadily at the base of a young blue pine. He wore only ragged trousers belted with a length of frayed rope and was quite hairless, with flabby, pinkish-gray skin and an ugly, vacant face as round as a cheese. The head of his axe had been blackened by fire; its handle was a length of stout pine branch shucked of its bark and held in the socket of the axe head with a ring of carefully whittled wedges. His companion was unhandily trimming branches from a pine bole, using an ivory-handled poniard. He was slender and sleek-headed, like a shipwrecked dandy in scuffed and muddy boots, black trousers and a ragged white shirt with an embroidered collar. A ceramic coin hung from his long supple neck by a doubled leather thong, and a circlet woven from coypu hair and studded with tiny black seed pearls was loose on his upper arm. Now and again he would stop his work and stare anxiously at the blue sky beyond the tree-clad shore.
The two men had already built a raft, which lay near the edge of the water. It was no more than a pentad of blue pine logs lashed together by a few pegged crosspieces and strips of marsh antelope hide, and topped by bundles of reeds. Now they were constructing a pyre, which stood half-completed in the center of the clearing. Each layer of cut and trimmed pine and sweetgum logs was set crosswise to the layer below, and dry reeds and caches of resinous pine cones were stuffed in every chink. The body of a third man lay nearby. It was covered with fresh pineboughs, and had attracted the attention of a great number of black and bronze flies. A fire of small branches and wood chips burned beyond, sending up white, aromatic smoke; strings of meat cut in long strips dangled in the smoke, curling as they dried.
All around was devastation. Swamp cedars, sweetgum trees and blue pines all leaned in the same direction, A few of the biggest trees had fallen and their upturned roots had pulled up wedges of the clayey soil. Nothing remained of the blue pines which had cloaked the ridge above but ash and smoldering stumps. Some way beyond the clearing where the two men worked was a wide, shallow basin of vitrified mud filled with ash-covered steaming water.
Except for the ringing of the axe, the land was silent, as if still shocked by the violence recently done there. On one side, beyond the island's central ridge and a marshy creek, were the low black cliffs of the old river shore and a narrow plain of dry scrub that ran along the edge of the world; in the other, beyond the reach of shallow, still water, a marsh of yellow reeds stretched toward the edge of the Great River. It was noon, and very hot.
The slender man cut the last branch from the pine bole and straightened and looked up at the sky again. "I don't see the need to trim logs which are only for burning," he said. "Do you love work so much, Tibor, that you must always make more?"
"The pyre must go together neatly, little master," Tibor said, fitting his words to the rhythmic blows of his axe.
"It must not fall apart when it bums, and so the logs must be trimmed."
"We should leave it and go," the slender man said. "The flier might return at any moment. And call me Pandaras. I'm not anyone's master."
"Phalerus deserves a proper funeral. He was a good man. He always bought me cigarette makings wherever the Weazel put into port."
"Tamora was a good friend," Pandaras said sharply, "and I buried her burnt bones and the hilt of her sword under a stone. There's no time for niceties. The flier might come back, and the sooner we start to search for my master, the better."
"He might be dead too," Tibor said, and stood back and gave the pine a hard kick above the gash he had cut around its trunk. The little tree leaned and Tibor kicked it again and it fell with a threshing of boughs and a crackling as the last measure of wood in the cut broke free.
"He's alive," Pandaras said, and touched the circlet on his arm. "He left the fetish behind so that I would know. He was led into an ambush by Eliphas, but he is alive. I think he entrusted me with his coin and his copy of the Puranas because he suspected that Eliphas might betray him, as Tamora so often said that he would. I swore when I found the fetish and I swear now that I will find him, even if I must follow him to the end of the river."
Tibor took papers cut from corn husks and a few strands of coarse tobacco from a plastic pouch tucked into the waist of his trousers, and began to roll a cigarette. He said, "We should not have climbed down to the shrine, little master. I know about shrines, and that one had been warped to evil ends."
"Eliphas lured my master there, if that's what you mean. If we had not followed them, we would not have learned what happened. Fortunately, I was able to read the clues as any other man might read a story in a book. There was a fight in the shrine, and someone was hurt and ran away. Perhaps Eliphas tried to surprise Tamora from behind, and she managed to defend herself. She wounded him and chased him outside, and that was when she was killed, most likely by someone from the flier. Eliphas didn't have an energy pistol, or he would have used it much earlier-there would have been no need to lead my master away from the ship into an ambush. But it was an energy pistol that killed poor Tamora, and melted the keelrock of the stair, and no doubt the same energy pistol was used to subdue Yama."
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Dr. Dismas continues to hold Yama prisoner while the Tibor and former thief Pandaras search for their incarcerated master. A machine possesses Dismas with the intent of using Yama's newly ripening powers to alter the course of the worldwide war in favor of the nihilistic heretics. Dismas infects Yama with the offspring of his own paramour. Yama is unable to control machines, call to his friends, or stop Dismas and the monstrous Enobarbus from bending him to their will. Even if Tibor and Pandaras can rescue their strangely behaving friend and master, it appears that the end of Confluence and the beginning of the Preservers' plan for the rest of time has been set in motion. SHRINE OF STARS completes up one of the best and most complex science fiction trilogies in many years. The Confluence trilogy consists of three strong tales (CHILD OF THE RIVER, ANCIENTS OF DAYS and SHRINE OF STARS) that work at their most powerful when read back to back to back. Though SHRINE OF STARS is a superb, thought-provoking tale, like ANCIENTS OF DAYS, new readers will have questions that the previous book answered. Still, the outstanding story line of the final tale centers on the last builder Yama staggering into a war between the torpid leadership and the heretic believers of Angel. Will Yama turn into the savior or destroyer of Confluence? To find out, fans must read the only rival to Gene Wolfe's mantle, Paul J. McAuley's excellent novels. Harriet Klausner