Read an Excerpt
The Watchstar Trilogy: Book I
By Pamela Sargent
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1980 Pamela Sargent
All rights reserved.
The comet was a bright slash against the black sky, an omen scratched by God on the dark dome. Daiya AnraBrun looked up at the intruder, craning her neck, wondering what it meant. No one in the village seemed to know; even the Merging Selves were not sure. The comet dominated the sky, brighter than the tiny twinkling fires of heaven, almost as bright as Luna's Shield. Daiya thought of her approaching ordeal. The comet had appeared just as she had begun to prepare for it.
Another fire, closer to her, flickered in the darkness near the foothills of the mountains. She walked toward it, lowering her eyes. The night air had grown cool. She concentrated on that, forgetting the comet, adjusting her perceptions until she felt warm again.
Mausi LinaPili sat next to the fire, stretching her slender arms toward it. Her blonde hair glistened as the flames danced. Daiya approached and sat down, folding her short stocky legs.
Mausi smiled and made the fire flare. The wood crackled. She moved her blonde head, pointing toward the distant village with her chin. Daiya heard the murmur of her friend's thoughts.
—My mother is in labor now—
—Is she all right?—Daiya asked. She felt the answer almost as she thought the question.
—Yes, it will be over by morning, my father is with her now—
Daiya had expected the answer. Having children was easy, which was why, she supposed, they had so many. A more disturbing thought nudged her.
She quickly closed her mind to Mausi, not wanting to disturb her friend. The village needed many children to make up for the few who were born defective, and the many who did not survive the ordeal. Daiya's own parents, Anra LeitoMorgen and Brun RillaCerwen, were expecting their fourth. She was sure that they would have at least one more after that, though perhaps they would not if Daiya lived through her ordeal.
Daiya remembered the birth of her sister, Silla, almost seven cycles ago. Daiya had been seven at the time; her brother Rin had been nine. They had sat with their mother, helping her block the pain with a web of pleasant thoughts, though Anra could have done that by herself. But she had wanted them with her. They had rubbed Anra's shoulders while she squatted, her naked body beaded with sweat. They had watched as Brun placed the newborn child on Anra's chest after bathing the infant in warm water. Anra and Brun had searched the baby's mind; she had been whole and healthy. Daiya and Rin had smiled at each other, congratulating themselves, before Brun finally sent them to bed.
Rin was dead, part of the Merged One, Daiya supposed, his soul with God. He had died two cycles ago during his ordeal. He had been stronger than she was, afraid of nothing, his mind clear and brave as he left the village with the others for the desert. She could still see him tossing his head arrogantly, his black hair swaying around his shoulders; she had been sure he would come back. How could she live through something Rin had not survived?
A small creature was near her. She felt its presence and turned. Mausi had already noticed the rabbit. The animal watched them, its ears up, its eyes gleaming in the reflected firelight. Mausi held it with her mind, soothing it. The rabbit drooped drowsily.—Thank you, little brother—the girl thought ceremonially.—We are grateful—
Mausi skinned the rabbit quickly while Daiya prepared the spit, placing two forked sticks on opposite sides of the fire, then stripping the bark off a piece of green wood. While the rabbit cooked, Mausi cleaned her knife, then tucked it in her belt with the piece of rabbit fur.
The rabbit sizzled, turning golden. Smelling it, Daiya realized how hungry she was. She had not eaten for two days, trying to toughen herself before it was time to go into the desert. She concentrated on the fire, pressing its heat around the rabbit so that it would cook more quickly.
—Lucky for us—Mausi was thinking.—If it hadn't come so close to us, I would have gone looking for food, I was starting to get weak, even catching the rabbit was hard—
Daiya found herself wondering how long they would have to go without food during their passage.
—I don't know—Mausi replied.—We probably won't have time to worry about it—The blonde girl peered up at the sky.—What do you think it means?—
Daiya looked up at the comet, shrugging.
—It must be a sign—Mausi went on.—I wish I knew whether it was good or bad. I keep thinking of the stories the Merging Ones sometimes tell, the ones about other beings who live in the sky, do you think it might be a sign from them?—
—Just an old legend—Daiya responded.—Only the stars live there, and we cannot grasp their thoughts. If there are others, they've never shown themselves, or touched us with their minds. I do not think people can live in the sky—She gazed up at the darkness, at the tiny fires twinkling as they sought to join their minds to one another, trapped in loneliness. A few stars roamed the sky, changing position from time to time; those did not twinkle. They were the wanderers, and once in a great while their minds would bring them together for a time. One day, at the end of the world, when the Merged One sought to join all life, all the stars would move, drawing closer together, to burn in one great final fire. So the Merging Selves of the village taught.
She did not know what the comet meant. Older people had seen comets before, but even they were not sure about what they signified. Some called comets the fingers of God; others said they were solitary minds cast out of heaven.
The rabbit was done. Daiya cut it up with her knife.—Peloren's worried about our ordeal—Mausi thought.—What a turmoil her mind is in, I don't like to be near her—
Daiya watched her friend, knowing Mausi was just as frightened, though she would not admit it. She suddenly felt protective toward the other girl. Mausi smiled, sensing Daiya's feelings, and shook her head, as if telling her not to worry.
They ate quickly, gnawing the meat off the bones. Mausi wiped her hands on her tunic, then lay down, curling her trousered legs, resting her head on her hands.—Good night, Daiya—
There was a mental barrier around Mausi's mind now, blocking any thoughts from reaching Daiya and protecting her from being disturbed by her dreams. Daiya withdrew into herself, surprised once again at how easy it was to do so. She withdrew a lot lately. Maybe there was something wrong with her. She did not even like to share many thoughts with her parents any more.
She wrapped her arms around her legs, resting her chin on the rough fabric covering her knees. Suddenly she wished she were younger again, as young as her sister Silla, or else that she were old and past her ordeal. She wondered if she was really ready for the passage. Anra and Brun said she was; she was becoming a woman, and fourteen was the usual age, though some people were ready at twelve and others, the boys usually, when they were fifteen or even sixteen.
Anra had looked at her one day and thought:—You're ready, Daiya—That had been the day Daiya, in a fit of rage at Silla, had made the pot fly up to the rafters, forgetting all the training she had in controlling herself. She had picked up Silla, too, holding her suspended in the air upside down while the younger girl screamed, then spinning her around while Silla, trying to defend herself, made a chair zip across the floor, almost hitting Daiya. She had put Silla down gently after that, and had run from the hut in tears, certain she was going mad.
She had learned to control her monthly bleeding very quickly and would soon have control over ovulation, as the older women did, so they could choose when to become pregnant. She was even getting used to her breasts, those fleshy protuberances that often ached and seemed to get in her way; she frequently wished for a skinny, flat frame like Mausi's. But her feelings were like a flooding river out of control, threatening to overrun its banks. She would feel them welling up inside her, ready to rush forth. She would open her mouth and babble in words instead of thoughts, her training deserting her when she needed it most. At other times, she would build her mental wall and retreat behind it, shocking herself with her desire to be alone.
The fire flickered. Sparks danced on the stones around it. She sniffed at the smoky smell of the charred embers. She picked up one of the large pieces of wood next to Mausi, floated it over the sleeping girl's body, then lowered it carefully into the flames.
Alone. She shuddered at the thought. People were once alone; so went the legends. Sometimes a child would say or think the word to shock his parents, or call a playmate a solitary, a sure way to get someone mad. But she was never really alone, not even out here with Mausi sleeping and the village far away. She could close her mind and no one would intrude, but the Net was always there, the web of the village's minds, a dimly felt presence just below her consciousness. It bound them all together; as she grew older, it would become stronger, until she became a Merging Self like the older people whose children were grown. She might even in time become strong enough to have a tenuous mental bond with another village, as some of the Merging Selves did. That was what she was supposed to want. She wondered if she did.
She lay down and closed her eyes, trying to will herself to sleep. It was easier to sleep out here, away from the almost nightly disturbances of Silla, who hadn't quite learned how to keep her dreams from waking up everyone in the hut. She twisted a bit on the ground, trying to get comfortable. She worried too much, that was her problem. She had to stop it. She had to concern herself only with getting strong enough for her ordeal. She would have to be able to rest under worse conditions than these.
She built her mental wall quickly, leaving only a small space to alert her to any danger. She calmed her body. She did not really need the fire to keep her warm, but it comforted her and kept animals away. She slowed her breathing, and at last fell asleep.
Daiya, still stretched out on the ground, felt her friend stir. She and Mausi were covered by the shadow of the nearby hill. The sky was just beginning to grow light, the sun still hidden behind the mountains. The other girl got to her feet quickly and began to scatter the embers with her mind, making sure the fire was out. Mounds of dirt floated over the blackened crumbling sticks, then fell, until the area was safely covered.
Mausi gazed solemnly at Daiya with sad blue eyes. Daiya caught her thoughts immediately. Mausi's mother was calling her, she had to return to the village right away, the child had been born. Mausi's thoughts stopped abruptly. Daiya could read no more. But she had already caught a glimpse of shame, swallowed quickly by black despair.
She put an arm around Mausi's shoulders.—You can stay—Mausi murmured.—You don't have to come with me—Daiya, sensing that her friend wanted company, shook her head.
They set out for the village. Mausi moved swiftly, her long legs covering the distance in great strides. Daiya hurried after her, trying to keep up. She reached out tentatively, trying to touch Mausi's mind and comfort her, but the girl was hidden behind her wall.
Suddenly Mausi rose in the air, lifting herself, apparently wanting to cover the distance as quickly as she could. Daiya soared, following her. She struggled to hold herself aloft. Flying was always difficult, and she had little strength left after the deprivations of the past days. They flew over the grassy plains, startling a flock of red-winged birds, narrowly missing two tall trees. Daiya dipped closer to the ground, almost exhausted. Mausi, her energy flagging, hurtled on, a hand shielding her eyes, her body fueled by worry and sorrow.
At last they passed over a few sheep and Mausi alighted, her energy gone. They were near the village. Daiya landed and followed her friend, feeling drained. Her legs wobbled as she walked. Mausi stopped; the two girls leaned silently against each other, trying to recover. Ahead, Daiya saw the fields, and their ripening crops.
The village had been built on one side of a wide river. Sturdy huts made of mud bricks with thatched roofs had been laid out in concentric circles around an open space where everyone could gather. Most of the huts were shaded by trees. The village's fields were outside the town, irrigated by ditches running from the river. Small herds of cattle and sheep clustered together on the plains beyond.
As they approached the village, Daiya saw a small group making its way through one of the wheat fields, stopping just outside it. Their heads were bent. She recognized the blonde head of Mausi's mother Lina, the auburn hair of her father Pili, and her two redheaded brothers. Mausi began to walk toward the group. Daiya hurried after her, then realized Mausi did not want her to follow.
She stood still, watching Mausi's parents dig the grave. The hole grew bigger in the earth as dirt settled near their feet. She knew what had happened, she had seen it before. Mausi's parents had given birth to a solitary, a child whose mind would never be able to lift the earth as they were doing now, who would never be able to read the thoughts of others, or be part of the Net. There was no place for such children. When a parent looked into the mind of a child born with this deformity, there was nothing to do but to put it out of its misery quickly.
Daiya found herself trembling. An unthinkable notion seized her; why was there no place for these children? Why couldn't they be raised and sent to a place of their own? Why were they condemned to death, and eternal separateness? But she knew the answers; she had heard them often enough. If they lived, they would become the victims of those with normal minds. They would be outside society, separated from the Net. They would threaten the world with their separateness and eventually they would have to be killed anyway. It had happened in the past. Individuals had warred with themselves and with the world, separated mentally from one another, separated from the world by machines, apart from God and nature. She hugged herself with her arms, trying to suppress her feelings for the solitary ones, reminding herself that they were only like the animals, not beings with souls. It was good that so few of them were born.
She went toward the village. It was a large community of almost two thousand people, big enough for a strong Net. She walked through the fields alongside a ditch, passing cornstalks and then cabbages. She came to a dirt path and wound her way among the huts, past chicken coops, courtyards, vegetable gardens, and wallows where pigs rooted noisily, toward her own home.CHAPTER 2
Silla was playing in front of Daiya's home. Two cloth dolls, the puppets of Silla's mind, danced in front of the child. One doll extended a leg and whirled on one foot while the other collapsed, its limbs contorted. Silla frowned, brushing back a lock of black hair, then looked up at Daiya. She got up and ran toward her, reaching out with her chubby arms while the second doll crumpled behind her.
Thoughts burbled from the small girl's mind, reaching Daiya in bits and pieces. She saw little children playing an elaborate game with pieces of rock, the face of her grandfather Cerwen, a corn cake, her parents walking toward the fields.—Speak—Daiya thought firmly.—I can't understand you—
Silla opened her mouth. Daiya heard her words and read her thoughts. "Cerwen's here," Silla said. "He's inside." She turned to race away and Daiya caught her. "Let go, I have to see Jooni, she made up a new game."
"Listen to me," Daiya said, holding the child by the arm. "You have to stop babbling, you're getting too old for that. You have to concentrate, you act as if you've had no training at all, I can hardly understand you sometimes."
"Let go." Silla pulled her arm loose.
"If you don't learn," Daiya said, her voice rising, "you'll die, like Rin."
Excerpted from Watchstar by Pamela Sargent. Copyright © 1980 Pamela Sargent. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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