R.W. III - The Dark Design, p.1Philip José Farmer
This book was
copied right, in
the dark, by
TITLE: The Dark Design
AUTHOR: Farmer, Philip José
ABEB Version: 3.0
* * *
Though some of the names in The Riverworld Series are fictional, the characters are or were real. You may not be mentioned, but you're here.
* * *
To Sam Long and my godson David, son of Doctor Doctor
* * *
And still the Weaver plies his loom, whose warp and woof is wretched
Man Weaving th' unpattern'd dark design, so dark we doubt it owns a plan.
-The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû al-Yazdi
"Sentence first – verdict afterwards."
-Alice in Wonderland
* * *
THE BOOK AT HAND IS VOLUME III OF THE RIVERWORLD SERIES.
Originally, it was to be the conclusion of a trilogy. However, the Ms. was more than 400,000 words long. Published under one cover, it would be too heavy and unwieldy for the reader.
Therefore, the publisher and myself decided to cut it into two. Volume IV, The Magic Labyrinth, will follow this book. It will definitely conclude this phase of the series, explain all the mysteries set forth in the first three volumes, tie up all ends in a knot, Gordian or otherwise.
Any novels about the Riverworld after volume IV are not to be considered as part of the mainstream of the series. These will be the "side stream", stories not directly concerned with mystery and the quests of the first three. My decision to write these is based on my belief – and that of many others – that the Riverworld concept is too big to compress within four volumes. After all, we have a planet on which a single river, or a very long and narrow sea, runs for 16,090,000 kilometers, or about 10,000,000 miles. More than thirty-six billion people live along its banks, human beings who existed from the Old Stone Age through the first part of the Electronic Age.
There is not room in the first four volumes to chronicle many events which might interest the reader. For instance, the resurrectees were not distributed along The River according to the chronological sequence in which they had been born on Earth. There was a considerable mixture of races and nationalities from different centuries. Take as an example one of the many thousands of blocs along the banks. This would be in an area ten kilometers long, and the people comprising it would be 60 percent 3rd-century A.D. Chinese, 39 percent 17th-century A.D. Russians, and 1 percent men and women from anywhere and anytime.
How would these people manage to form a viable state from anarchy? How would they succeed, or fail, in their efforts to get along with each other and to form a body which could defend itself against hostile states? What problems would they have?
In the book at hand, Jack London, Tom Mix, Nur ed-din el-Musafir, and Peter Jairus Frigate sail on the Razzle Dazzle II up The River. There is considerable characterization of Frigate and Nur in volumes III and IV. However, there was not enough space to fully develop the characters of the others. So, the "side stream" stories will give me scope to do this.
These will also relate how the crew of the Razzle Dazzle meet some major and minor representatives of various fields of human endeavor. These should include da Vinci, Rousseau, Karl Marx, Rameses II, Nietzsche, Bakunin, Alcibiades, Eddy, Ben Jonson, Li Po, Nichiren Daishonin, Asoka, an Ice Age cavewife, Joan of Arc, Gilgamesh, Edwin Booth, Faust et al.
It's been apparent to some that Peter Jairus Frigate remarkably resembles the author. It is true that I am the basis for that character, but Frigate has approximately the similarity to me that David Copperfield has to Charles Dickens. The author's physical and psychic features are only a springboard for propelling reality into that parareality – fiction.
I apologize to the readers for the cliffhanger endings of the first three volumes. The structure of the series was such that I could not emulate that of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. In these each volume seemed to have a definite conclusion, the mystery seemingly solved, only to reveal in the sequel that the previous ending was false or misleading.
I hope to finish the series, volumes I through V (or possibly VI), before it's my time to lie down and rest while waiting to board the fabulous riverboat.
-Philip José Farmer
* * *
Dreams haunted the Riverworld.
Sleep, night's Pandora, was even more generous than on Earth. There, it had been this for you and that for your neighbor. Tomorrow, that for you and this for next door.
Here in this endless valley, along these unceasing Riverbanks, she dumped her treasure chest, showering everybody with all gifts: terror and pleasure, memory and anticipation, mystery and revelation.
Billions stirred, muttered, groaned, whimpered, laughed, cried out, swam to wakefulness, sank back again.
Mighty engines battered the walls, and things wriggled out through the holes. Often, they did not retreat but stayed, phantoms who refused to fade at cockcrow.
Also, for some reason, dreams recurred more frequently than on the mother planet. The actors of the nocturnal Theater of the Absurd insisted on return engagements, performances which they, not the patrons, commanded. The attendees were powerless to jeer or applaud, to throw eggs and cabbages or walk out, to chatter with their seatmates or doze.
Among this captive audience was Richard Francis Burton.
* * *
Fog, grey and swirling, formed the stag
Burton stood in the pit like an Elizabethan too poor to afford a seat. Above him were thirteen figures, all in chairs which floated in the mist. One of them faced the others, who were arranged in a semicircle. That man was the protagonist – himself.
There was a fourteenth person mere, though it stood in the wings and could be seen only by the Burton in the pit. It was a black, menacing shape which, now and then, chuckled hollowly.
A not quite similar scene had happened before, once in reality and many times in dreams, though who could be sure which was which? There he was, the man who'd died seven hundred and seventy times in a vain effort to elude his pursuers. And there sat the twelve who called themselves the Ethicals.
Six were men; six, women. Except for two, all had deeply tanned or heavily pigmented skins and black or dark brown hair. The eyes of two men and a woman had slight epicanthic folds, which made him think that they were Eurasians. That is, they were if they had originated on Earth.
Only two of the twelve had been named during the brief inquisition – Loga and Thanabur. Neither name seemed to be of any language he knew, and he knew at least a hundred. However, languages change, and it was possible that they might be from the fifty-second century A.D. One of their agents had told them that he came from that time. But Spruce had been under threat of torture and might have been lying.
Loga was one of the few with comparatively pale skins. Since he was sitting and there was (and had been) nothing material to measure him against, he could be short or tall. His body was thick and muscular, and his chest was matted with red hair. The hair on his head was fox-red. He had irregular and strong features: a prominent, deeply clefted chin; a massive jaw; a large and aquiline nose; thick pale-yellow eyebrows; wide, full lips; and dark green eyes.
The other light-skinned man, Thanabur, was obviously the leader. His physique and face were so much like Loga's that they could be brothers. His hair, however, was dark brown. One eye was green, though a rare leaf-green.
The other eye had startled Burton when Thanabur had first turned his face toward him. Instead of the green mate he had expected, he saw a jewel. It looked like an enormous blue diamond, a flashing, multifaceted precious stone set in his eye socket.
He felt uneasy whenever that jewel was turned on him. What was its purpose? What did it see in him that a living eye could not see?
Of the twelve, only three had spoken: Loga, Thanabur, and a slim but full-breasted blonde with large blue eyes. From the manner in which she and Loga spoke to each other, Burton thought that they could be husband and wife.
Watching them offstage, Burton noted again that just above the heads of each, his other self included, was a globe. They whirled, were of many changing colors, and extended six-sided arms, green, blue, black, and white. Then the arms would shrink into the globe, only to be replaced by others.
Burton tried to correlate the rotating spheres and the mutation in the arms with the personalities of the three and of himself, with their physical appearances, with the tones of their voices, with the meanings of their words, with their emotional attitudes. He failed to find any significant linkages.
When the first, the real, scene had taken place, he had not seen his own aura.
The spoken lines were not quite the same as during the actual event. It was as if the Dream-Maker had rewritten the scene.
Loga, the red-haired man, said, "We had a number of agents looking for you. They were a pitifully small number, considering the thirty-six billion, six million, nine thousand, six hundred and thirty-seven candidates that are living along The River."
"Candidates for what?" the Burton on the stage said.
In the first performance, he had not uttered that line.
"That's for us to know and you to find out," Loga said.
Loga flashed teeth that seemed inhumanly white. He said, "We had no idea that you were escaping us by suicide. The years went by. There were other things for us to do, so we pulled all agents from the Burton Case, as we called it, except for some stationed at both ends of The River. Somehow, you had knowledge of the polar tower. We found out how later."
Burton, the watcher, thought, But you didn't find out from X.
He tried to get nearer to the actors so he could look at them more closely. Which one was the Ethical who had awakened him in the pre-resurrection place? Which one had visited him during a stormy, lightning-racked night? Who was it that had told him that he must help him? Who was the renegade whom Burton knew only as X?
He struggled against the wet, cold mists, as ethereal yet as strong as the magic chains which had bound the monster wolf Fenrir until Ragnarok, the doom of the gods.
Loga said, "We would have caught you, anyway. You see, every space in the restoration bubble – the place where you unaccountably awakened during the pre-resurrection phase – has an automatic counter. Any candidate who has a higher than average number of deaths is a subject for study sooner or later. Usually later, since we're short-handed.
"We had no idea it was you who had racked up the staggering number of seven hundred and seventy-seven deaths. Your space in the PR bubble was empty when we looked at it during our statistical investigation. The two technicians who had seen you when you woke up in the PR chamber identified you by your . . . photograph.
"We set the resurrector so that the next time your body was to be recreated, an alarm would notify us, and we would bring you here to this place."
But Burton had not died again. Somehow, they had located him while he was alive. Though he had run away again, he had been caught. Or had he? Perhaps, as he ran through the night, he had been killed by lightning. And they were waiting for him in the PR bubble. That vast chamber which he supposed was somewhere deep under the surface of this planet or in the tower of the polar sea.
Loga said, "We've made a thorough search of your body. We have also screened every component of your . . . psychomorph. Or aura, whichever word you prefer."
He pointed at the flashing, whirling globe above the Burton who sat in the chair facing him.
Then the Ethical did a strange thing.
He turned and looked out into the mists and pointed at Burton, the watcher.
"We found no clues whatsoever."
The dark figure in the wings chuckled.
The Burton in the pit called out, "You think there are only twelve of you! There are thirteen! An unlucky number!"
"It's quality, not quantity, that matters," the thing off-stage said.
"You won't remember a thing that occurs down here after we send you back to the Rivervalley," Loga said.
The Burton in the chair said something that he had not said in the original inquisition.
"How can you make me forget?"
"We have run off your memory as if it were a tape recording," Thanabur said. He talked as if he were lecturing. Or was he warning Burton because he was X?
"Of course, it took a long time to run your memory track for the seven years since you've been here. And it required an enormous amount of energy and materials. But the computer Loga monitored was set to run your memory at high-speed and stop only when you were visited by that filthy renegade. So, we know what happened then exactly as you knew what happened. We saw what you saw, heard what you heard, felt what you touched, what you smelled. We even experienced your emotions.
"Unfortunately, you were visited at night, and the traitor was effectively disguised. Even his voice was filtered through a distorter which prevented the computer from analyzing his – or her – voice-prints. I say his or her because all you saw was a pale thing without identifiable features, sexual or otherwise. The voice seemed to be masculine, but a female could have used a transmitter to make it seem a man's.
"The body odor was also false. The computer analyzed it, and it's obvious that a chemical complex altered that.
"In short, Burton, we have no idea which of us is the renegade, nor do we have any idea why he or she would be working against us. It is almost inco
The Burton in the pit knew, somehow, that Thanabur had not spoken those words during the first performance, the real drama. He also knew that he was dreaming, that he was sometimes putting words in Thanabur's mouth. The man's speech was made up of Burton's own thoughts, speculations, and fantasies which were afterthoughts.
The Burton in the chair now voiced some of these.
"If you can read a person's mind – tape it, as it were – why don't you read your own minds? Surely you have done that? And just as surely, you would have found your traitor."
Loga, looking uncomfortable, said, "We submitted to a reading, of course. But . . ."
He raised his shoulders and spread out his palms upward.
Thanabur said, "So, the person you call X must have been lying to you. He is not one of us but one of the second-order, an agent. We are calling them in for memory scanning. That takes time, however. We have plenty of that. The renegade will be caught."
The Burton in the chair said, "And what if none of the agents is guilty?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Loga said. "In any event your memory of awakening in the pre-resurrection bubble will be erased. Also, your memory of the renegade's visit and all events from that time on will be a blank space. We are truly sorry to have to do this violent act. But it is necessary, and the time will come, we hope, when we can make amends."
The Burton in the chair said, "But. . . I will have many recollections of the pre-resurrection place. You forget that I often thought of that between the time I awoke on the banks and X's visit. Also, I told many people about it."
Thanabur said, "Ah, but do they really believe you? And if they do, what can they do about it? No, we do not want to remove your entire memory of your life here. It would cause you great distress; it would remove you from your friends. And" – here Thanabur paused – "it might slow down your progress."
R.W. III - The Dark Design by Philip José Farmer / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes