R.W. V - Gods of Riverworld, p.1Philip José Farmer
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TITLE: Gods of Riverworld
AUTHOR: Farmer, Philip José
ABEB Version: 2.5
* * *
To those who won't knuckle under.
* * *
The Earthbred and their fates are Yours
In all their stations,
Their multitudinous languages and many colors
Are Yours, and we whom from the many
You made different, O Master of the Choice.
—ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HYMN
And hell is more than half of paradise.
—EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON,
When Moses struck the rock, he forgot to stand out of the way of the water and so barely escaped drowning.
—THE BOOK OF JASHAR
* * *
Those who have not read the previous volumes of the River-world series, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat, The Dark Design, and The Magic Labyrinth, should go to the outline at the back of this book. There the reader can acquaint himself or herself with some events and items only referred to en passant in the book at hand. I have written the outline to avoid lengthy recapitulation. Those familiar with the series so far might also want to read the outline to refresh their memories about certain matters.
I stated in the fourth volume, The Magic Labyrinth, that it would be the final book in the series. I had intended it to be so, but I did leave myself a tiny escape hatch in the final paragraph. My unconscious knew better than my conscious, and it made me (the devil!) install that little door. Some time after the fourth volume appeared, I got to thinking about the vast powers possessed by the people who had entered the tower and how tempting the powers would be.
Also, as I knew and some readers pointed out, the truths revealed in the fourth volume might not be the final truths after all.
The opinions and conclusions about economics, ideology, politics, sexuality, and other matters re Homo sapiens vary according to the characters' knowledge or biases. They are not necessarily my own. I am convinced that all races have an equal mental potential and that the same spectrum of stupidity, mediocre intelligence, and genius runs through every race. All races, I'm convinced, have an equal potential for evil or good, love or hate, and saintliness or sin. I'm also convinced from sixty years of wide reading and close observation that human life has always been both savage and comically absurd but that we are not a totally unredeemable species.
* * *
Thirty-five billion people from every country and every age of Earth's history were resurrected along the great and winding River of Riverworld. The reader will be relieved to hear that only a few of them will play a part in this story.
Loga: A grandson of King Priam of ancient Troy, born in the twelfth century B.C., slain at the age of four by a Greek soldier during the fall of that city. Resurrected on the Garden-world by nonhuman extra-Terrestrials and raised there. He became a member of the Ethical Council of Twelve, which was charged with creating Riverworld and resurrecting there all human beings who had died between 99,000 B.C. and A.D. 1983. He became a renegade and involved various Terrestrial resurrectees in his plot to overthrow the other Ethicals and their Agents and to subvert the original plan for the destiny of those reborn in Riverworld.
Richard Francis Burton: An Englishman, born in 1821, died in 1890. During his lifetime a cause célèbre and bête noire. A famous explorer, linguist, anthropologist, translator, poet, author, and swordsman. He discovered Lake Tanganyika; entered the Muslim sacred city of Mecca in disguise (and from the experience wrote the best book ever written about Mecca); did the most famous translation of A Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights), full of footnotes and essays derived from his vast knowledge of the esoterics of African and Oriental life; was noted as one of the greatest swordsmen of his day; and was the first European to enter the forbidden city of Harar, Ethiopia — and leave alive.
Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves: Born in England in 1852, died there in 1934. Daughter of Henry George Liddell, domestic chaplain to the Prince Consort, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and co-editor of the famous Scott-Liddell A Greek-English Lexicon, which is still today the standard Classical Greek-English dictionary. When ten years old, Alice inspired Lewis Carroll to write his Alice in Wonderland and to base his fictional Alice on her.
Peter Jairus Frigate: An American science fiction writer, born 1918, died 1983.
AphraBehn: An Englishwoman, born 1640, died 1689. She was a spy for Charles II in the Netherlands, and later a famous — or infamous — novelist, poetess, and playwright. The first English woman to support herself solely by writing.
Nur ed-Din el-Musafir: Born in Moorish Spain in 1164, died in Baghdad 1258. A Muslim, though not orthodox, and a Sufi, a member of that mystical yet realistic discipline to which Omar Khayyám belonged.
Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcelin, Baron de Marbot: Born 1782 in France, died there in 1854. Like Nur, small in stature but very strong and swift. He served very bravely under Napoleon and was wounded many times. His Memoirs of His Life and Campaigns so fascinated A. Conan Doyle that he modeled his stories of Brigadier Gerard, the dashing French soldier, on de Marbot's exploits.
Tom Million Turpin: Black American born in 1871 in Savannah, Georgia; died in 1922 in St. Louis. Turpin was a piano player and composer of considerable talent; his Harlem Rag, published in 1897, was the first published ragtime piece by a black composer. He was also the boss of the Tenderloin red-light district in St. Louis.
Li Po: Born in 710 of Turkish-Chinese lineage in an outlying district of ancient China; died in 762 in China. Considered by many to be China's greatest poet, he was also a famous swordsman, drunkard, lover, and wanderer. In The Magic Labyrinth, his pseudonym was Tai-Peng.
Star Spoon: A female contemporary of Li Po, who suffered much both in China and on the Riverworld.
* * *
Loga had cracked like an egg.
At 10:02, his image had appeared on the wall-screens of the apartments of his eight fellow tenants. Their view was somewhat above him, and they could see him only from his naked navel to a point a few inches above his head. The sides of the desk almost met the edges of their field of vision, and some of the wall and floor behind him showed.
Loga looked like a red-haired, green-eyed Buddha who had lived for years in an ice cream factory and had been unable to resist its product. Though he had
He was, however, a very happy Buddha. Smiling, his pumpkin face seeming to glow, he spoke in Esperanto. "I've made quite a discovery! It'll solve the problem of . . ."
He glanced to his right.
"Sorry. Thought I heard something."
"You and Frigate," Burton said. "You're getting paranoid. We've searched every one of the thirty-five thousand, seven hundred and ninety-three rooms in the tower, and . . ."
The screens flickered. Loga's body and face shimmered, elongated, then dwarfed. The interruption lasted for perhaps five seconds. Burton was surprised. This was the first time that any screen had displayed interference or malfunction.
The image steadied and became clear.
"Yaas?" Burton drawled. "What's so exciting?"
The electronic vision blinked into enigma.
Burton started, and he clamped his hands on the arms of his chair. They were a hold on reality. What he was seeing certainly seemed to be unreal.
Zigzag cracks had run from the corners of Loga's lips and curved up over his cheeks and into his hair. They were deep and seemed to go through his skin and the flesh to the mouth cavity and the bone.
Burton shot up from his chair.
"Loga! What is it?"
Cracks had now spread down across the Ethical's face, chest, bulging belly, arms and hands.
Blood spurted onto his crazing skin and the desk.
Still smiling, he fell apart like a shattered egg, and he toppled sideways to the right from the armless chair. Burton heard a sound as of glass breaking. Now all he could see of Loga was the upper part of an arm, the fragments stained as if they were pieces of a broken bottle of wine.
The flesh and the blood melted. Only bright pools were left.
Burton had become rigid, but, when he heard Loga cry out, he jumped.
"I tsab u!"
The cry was followed by a thump, as if a heavy body had struck the floor.
Burton voice-activated other viewers in Loga's room. There was no one there, unless the red puddles on the floor were Loga's remains.
Burton sucked in his breath.
Seven screens sprang into light on Burton's wall. Each held the image of a tenant. Alice's big dark eyes were larger than normal, and her face was pale.
"Dick? That couldn't have been Loga! But it sounded like him!"
"You saw him!" Burton said. "How could he have cried out? He was dead!"
The others spoke at once, so shaken that each had reverted to his or her native tongue. Even the unflappable Nur was speaking in Arabic.
"Quiet!" Burton shouted, raising his hands. Immediately thereafter, he realized that he had spoken in English. That did not matter; they understood him.
"I don't know what happened any more than you do. Some of it couldn't have happened, and so it didn't. I'll meet you all outside Loga's apartment. At once. Bring your arms!"
He removed from a cabinet two weapons that he had thought he would never need again. Each had a butt like a pistol's, a barrel three inches in diameter and a foot long, and at the firing end, a sphere the size of a large apple.
Alice's voice came from her screen.
"Will the horrors never stop?"
"They never do for long," he said. "In this life or that."
Alice's triangular face and large dark eyes were set in that withdrawn expression he disliked so much.
He said harshly, "Snap out of it, Alice!"
"I'll be all right," Alice said. "You know that."
"Nobody is ever all right."
He walked swiftly toward the door. Its sensory device would recognize him but would not open until he had spoken the code phrase, "Open, O sesame!" in classical Arabic. Alice, in her apartment, would be saying in English, " 'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar."
The door closed behind him. In the corridor was a large chair made of gray metal and a soft scarlet-dyed material. Burton sat down on it. The seat and back flowed to fit the contour of his body. He pressed a finger on the black center of a white disc on the massive left arm of the chair. A long thin metal rod slid up out of the white disc on the right arm. Burton pulled the rod back, a white light spread out from under the chair, and it rose, stopping two feet above the floor when he eased the rod into the dead center position. He turned the rod; the chair rotated to face the opposite direction. Using the rod to control vertical movement, and pressing on the central black spot of the left disc to control speed, he moved the chair down the corridor.
Presently, floating swiftly past walls displaying animated murals, he joined the others. They hovered in their chairs until Burton had taken the lead, then followed him. Burton slowed the chair slightly when he entered a huge vertical shaft at the end of the corridor. With the ease of much practice, he curved the path of the chair up the shaft to the next level and out into another corridor. A hundred feet beyond the shaft, he halted the chair at the door to Loga's apartment. The chair sank down onto the floor, and Burton got out. The others were only a few seconds behind him. Babbling, though they were not easily upset, they got out of their chair-vehicles.
The wall extended for three hundred feet from the shaft to an intersecting corridor. Its entire surface displayed a moving picture in what seemed to be three dimensions. The sky was clear. Far away was a dark mountain range. In the foreground was a jungle clearing in which was a village of dried-mud huts. Dark Caucasians in the garments worn by Hindus circa 500 B.C. moved among the huts. A slim, dark young man clad only in a loincloth sat under a bo tree. Around him squatted a dozen men and women, all intently listening to him. He was the historical Buddha, and the scene was not a reconstruction. It had been filmed by a man or woman, an Ethical agent who had passed for one of them, and whose camera and sound equipment were concealed in a ring on a finger. At the moment, their conversation was a slight murmur, but a codeword from a viewer could make it audible. If the viewer did not understand Hindustani, he could use another codeword to switch the language to Ethical.
Another codeword would make the picture emit the odors abounding near the photographer, though the viewer was usually better off without these.
Directly in front of Burton was a treestump on which someone had painted a symbol, a green eye inside a pale yellow pyramid. This had not been in the original film; it marked the entrance to Loga's apartment.
"If he's got the door set for his codeword only, we're screwed," Frigate said. "We'll never get in."
"Somebody got in," Burton said.
"Perhaps," Nur said.
Burton spoke loudly, too loudly, as if he could activate the opening mechanism by force of voice.
A circular crack ten feet in diameter appeared in the wall. The section moved inward a trifle, then the section became a wheel and rolled into the wall recess. The scene on it did not fade out but turned with the surface.
"It was set for anyone who wanted to enter!" Alice said.
"Which was not the right thing to do," Burton said.
Nur, the little, dark, and big-nosed Moor, said, "The intruder may have overridden the codeword and then reset the mechanism."
"How could he have done that?" Burton said. "And why?"
"How and why was any of this done?"
They went cautiously through the opening, Burton leading. The room was a forty-foot cube. The wall behind the desk was a pale green, but the others displayed moving scenes, one from that planet called the Gardenworld, one of a tropical island as seen from a great distance, and one, which Loga must have been facing, of a daytime thunderstorm at a high altitude. Dark angry clouds roiled, and lightning spat brightly but silently from cloud to cloud.
Incongruous in the clouds, the active screens hung glowing, still displaying the rooms of the tenants.
Red pools glistened on the desk and the hardwood floor.
"Get a sample of the liquid," Burton said to Frigate. "The computer over there can analyze it."
Nur, Behn, and Turpin went to search nearby rooms. Burton activated the screens that would display these rooms. Doubtless, none but the three would be in them, but he wanted to keep an eye on them. If one person could be turned into a liquid, why not others?
He stooped and passed a finger through the wetness on the floor. When he straightened up, he held the tip of the finger a few inches from his eyes.
"You aren't going to taste it?" Alice said.
"I shouldn't. In some respects, Loga was rather poisonous. It'd be a strange form of cannibalism. Or of Christian communion."
He licked the finger, made a face, and said, 'The mass of the Mass is inversely proportional to the faith of the square."
Alice should not have been shocked, not after what she had gone through on this world. She did look repulsed, though whether it was by his act or his words he did not know.
"Tastes like blood, vintage human," he said.
Nur, Behn, and Li Po came into the room. "There is no one there," the Chinese said. "Not even his ghost."
Aphra Behn said, "Dick, what did Loga say?"
"I don't think he could have said anything. You saw him crack and melt. How could he have spoken after that?"
"It was his voice," Behn said. "Whoever said it, what did it mean?"
"I tsab u. That's Ethical for 'Who are you?' "
"That's what the Caterpillar said," Alice murmured.
"And Alice in Wonderland couldn't tell him," Burton said. "The whole event is crazy."
Frigate called them to the console in the corner.
"I put the specimen in the slot and asked for identification. There you are. You couldn't identify an individual by his blood in A.D. 1983, but now . . ."
R.W. V - Gods of Riverworld by Philip José Farmer / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes