Read an Excerpt
from Chapter One: Elsewhere...
The only sound on the planet Ahmista is the sound of a woman singing. Oh, there are a few other sounds as well, but they are merely the sounds of the planet itself. The gentle breeze glides across the plains, moving the ashes through the air with subtle urging. (The ashes have been there for quite some time, but they dwindle in quantity with every passing day and every vagrant breeze, to say nothing of the cleansing provided by the occasional storm or downpour.)
There are also the normal grindings of tectonic plates, and a continent away there's an island of volcanoes that can raise a particularly impressive racket. Birds flap their wings against the wind; waves lap against shores, occasionally leaving a film of ash decorating the beaches.
But other than that...nothing.
The noise is rather conspicuous in its absence. No noise of a living, breathing population. There are none of the sounds of industry. Nor are there the sounds of people laughing or talking, or children crying out to be tended to. There are no sounds as subtle as lovers whispering in the dark, or as officious as bombs whistling through the air.
Nothing but her singing.
It is an odd song in that the tune seems to vary from one moment to the next. She lilts her way through it, never stopping except at those times when her fatigued mind and body require sleep. She does not like tp give in to those urges, because it interferes with her vigilance, but every so often her head simply droops forward of its own accord and sleep steals into her head. Hours can pass with her in that condition, but then she snaps awake and is neither conscious nor caring of how much time has genuinely passed. Even if there were sounds of any living beings on Ahmista, it is unlikely that she would hear them. She lives upon a mountain, if such a term as "lives" can be applied to her existence. It is not the highest mountain on Ahmista, but it is a fairly nice one, as mountains go. She is not quite at such an altitude as to feel a significant chill...not that she would even if it were subzero temperatures, because her lover keeps her warm. In fact, her lover does more than that. Her lover keeps her company, her lover keeps her close. Her over is the be-all and end-all of her existence on the planet, of her existence in the universe. She feels her lover in her mind, and she is content.
Her lover is sleek and gray, vaguely cylindrical in shape but with a variety of sections branching off in an assortment of directions. Its sections are inserted directly into her nervous system at a dozen points. In a way, her lover looks like a great thorny bush with limbs trailing off and intertwining with one another. And ultimately, all the branches come back to her, and she comes back to it, for together they are one. Together they are a whole. They complete one another.
She is singing to her lover more than she is to herself.
Her lover never tells her what it thinks of her songs. That's okay, really. She doesn't need to hear her lover's approval, because she knows she already has that. How could she not? After all, she has given her life over to her lover. She neither needs, nor wants, anything else. Her lover gives her so much. Gives her nutrients, gives her life and the ability to live. And all she need do is make her lover her entire reason for living. That she has managed to do. It suddenly pulses in a different manner beneath I her fingers. She has been drifting slightly, but the alert manner of her lover snaps her back to full focus. She reaches out with her mind, reaches out through her lover.
There is a creature.
It has just hatched from an egg, approximately twenty miles away, deep in a forest that is otherwise devoid of life. It is small, covered with fur, and looking for a mother who is long since dead. It has no claws, not yet. It's fairly helpless, really, at this point. Without its mother, it might very likely die on its own. However, it might be resourceful enough to survive, to grow and thrive. And possibly someday be a threat. Birds...birds have never been a threat, and for some reason she has always considered the sounds of their wings comforting. This, though, she cannot chance. She knows that. Her lover knows that. Or at least, she knows it now that her lover has told her, but she is -- of course -- in complete agreement. At her urging, her lover reaches out with a crackle of energy, shudders slightly in her grip, and belches out an energy ball. It's nothing particularly large, because none such is needed. The energy that her lover is capable of disgorging is directly proportionate to whatever job is required. In this instance, it's fairly insignificant. The energy ball covers the intervening distance in no time at all. The newborn creature senses something coming, looks up, and feels a source of light and heat. Its little eyes are still blind and so it cannot see what is approaching, but nonetheless makes the false -- if understandable -- assumption that It's about to meet its mother. It opens its mouth wide and makes a small yeep sound.
A second later, it's enveloped by the energy. The creature didn't really have time to have a full sense of its own existence before it didn't have an existence anymore. Instead it is reduced, in no time at all, to little more than a pile of ash. There is a hint of a tiny claw in there, and a few stray tufts of fur flutter away, caught in the breeze that quickly stirs the ashes into nothingness. Otherwise, though, there's no sign that the creature was ever there. Back on the mountaintop, she begins to tremble. She wraps herself more tightly around her lover than before, for she knows that it has acted to protect her. The knowledge is exciting to her, stimulates her, and he begins to tremble.
She runs her hands along the surface of her lover. She has stopped singing. Instead she is beginning to quiver in anticipation, for this is how she always feel when her lover shows its strength on her behalf. And her lover knows that it has pleased her, and that knowledge excites it in kind.
She she gasps out a name...a name known only to her and her lover. A name that has never even been spoken aloud, but is instead something communicated without need of clumsy speech. It is something deep within their mutual soul, for her lover was soulless until she had joined with it.
Copyright© 1998 by Peter David