The Unreasoning Mask, p.1Philip José Farmer
"The greatest science fiction writer ever!" --Leslie A. Fiedler
Philip Jose Farmer
" The Unreasoning Mask is a moving, carefully written,
realistically motivated, and impeccably designed novel." --Foundation
Overlook SF&F Classics
PHILIP JOSE FARMER
THE OVERLOOK PRESS
Woodstock & New York
This edition first published in paperback in the United States in 2007 by
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Copyright © 1981 by Philip José Farmer
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1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
For my parents, George Farmer (1895-1950) and Lucile
Theodora Jackson (1899-2000), who gave me love and the
best of care.
"What I saw in the mirror was not what the mirror saw."
-- Lord Ruthven's Prisoner
"Where there is only one, there is also another; where two, always three."
-- Nur el-Musafir
"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But
in each event -- in the living act, the undoubted deed -- there,
some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mould-
ing of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man
will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner
reach outside except by thrusting through the wall!"
-- Moby Dick
... 1 ...
"The 'Bolg' kills all but one!"
The voice was weak, whispering, and wet. If a shadow under water could have a voice, it would sound like that.
Then the voice boomed like a giant's in the sky, like a rocket exploding near his ear. It propelled him far up into a grayness. Then he was falling down a well, the glimmering walls of which sped slantingly away from him, but were always visible.
Ramstan had never been so terrified.
He hurtled in the twilight past two naked giants shaped like men but sexless and suspended upside down by chains attached to ankle bands. Harut and Marut? The fallen angels punished thus forever because they had had no compassion for the children of Adam and Eve?
They flashed away into the darkness above, and the well opened out into Space in which myriads of bits of Matter glared. Stars? Eyes?
Suddenly, he was skimming the surface of a white star. He held a bucket, and it was scooping up the thin stuff, which burned with a cold light so strong that even when he turned his head away from it the light filled his skull and blinded him.
Then he was in darkness and squeezed by something neither dry nor wet, hot nor cold, moving nor unmoving.
The voice whispered.
"God is sick. Unbreakable flames fall from the black sky. The earth ripples. Oceans charge. Blood blazes. Flesh fries. Bone burns. Wicked and innocent flee. All die. Where to go?"
Now he was the lone survivor of the shipwreck but was clutched by darkness and cold. He was struggling up towards light, warmth, and air.
"Run, Ramstan, run!" the voice shrieked.
Run? He was drowning in an element that permitted no running.
But he surged from the black, the cold, the deep. He was a fisher who had hooked the fish, himself, and had reeled himself up and out. The oily, icy abysm drained from him as he gasped like a fish on land.
That voice. Where had he heard it before? Long ago? Had it spoken then in Terrish or in Arabic, his natal tongue? What had it spoken in just now? He did not remember.
"I dozed off! In all this noise!"
He sat on a chair of stone covered with thick leather. The top of the table before him was a hard, shiny, brown wood shaped into a symbolic bird, a flat crescent body, the tips upturned to represent wing feathers. On it was a double-stemmed goblet cut from the green-and-red fossilized bones of a reptile. It was half full of a thick yellow wine in which swam blood-red worms, thin as the veins in a drunkard's eyes.
He sipped the wine, which tasted of honey and grapes and faintly of almonds. The latter, he supposed, came from the worms. These were so thin and fragile they slipped unfelt by the tongue into the throat. There was always in the sweetness of Kalafala a barely perceptible bitterness.
Life could be good sometimes, but evil was sure. The end of any life, good, bad, or good-bad, was death and corruption. Everything Kalafalan, in all its airiness and delicate involutions, nodded to the Destroyer.
The interior of the tavern was shaped as if it were a coliseum built by drunken Romans. Seen from above, the edges of the tiers of seats formed sine waves. The seats were separated by translucent clamshell-form partitions three meters high. They held the same customers as when he'd fallen asleep. No one had left; no one had entered.
Ramstan's booth, on a middle tier, faced the entrance, which was beyond the top level of the row of tiers. The floor of the central area was smooth and glistening and sometimes used for dancing and sacrifices. In its center was an oval counter. Within it were four bartenders. Around the oval area were four slender columns of white-and-black stone, fluted vertically but banded with jagged rings. At the flaring top of each column was a chair, and in the chairs sat the harpist, the flutist, the violinist, the bassoonist. They were playing the insane-Mozart music of Kalafala.
"The bolg kills all but one!"
If that voice came from his unconscious, where did the name of bolg come from? What flowers of the dark mind had been pulled up from even darker earth and assembled to make the bouquet of bolg? Why would that dark part of himself speak in a code?
A waitress walked by him. He glimpsed multitudes of himself in the oval-shaped mirrors forming a belt around her waist. His ruff-necked cloak and cockaded hat, his long curving nose, thick black eyebrows, and large black eyes, and the mask now slipped down around his neck made him look like a great bird. He was a huge, handsome-ugly eagle crouching over the stone-bone goblet, dipping now and then to suck in the liquid and worms.
Doctor Toyce stepped out of the shadows of the hall entrance. Her mask hung below her chin, giving her a puff-throated appearance. She was short, though taller than any Kalafalan, blonde, bronze-skinned, and pug-nosed. She paused to squint through the green-blue currents of smoke and the shallow, sea-bottom-green light floating down from the stained glass ceiling. She waved her hand at Ramstan and walked down the curving ramp, disappeared behind a tier, and came out of a dark, oval doorway two booths from Ramstan's.
There were no straight or ob
Toyce gestured at the bartender. He grinned with two rows of shark teeth. Even the Kalafalan face reflected the inner person. Humanoid, its bright red lips were connected to the nose and the chin with two triangles of red cartilage which made the face circus-clownish. The black eyebrows curved around the eyes to the prominent, almost pyramid-shaped cheeks. A clown until he smiled, the Kalafalan, then he flashed teeth like Death's own.
"The bolg kills all but one," Ramstan said in Urzint.
Toyce's pale eyelashes flickered. She sat down and said, "What?"
"The bolg kills all but one."
"What in hell is a bolg?"
"I don't know. I heard somebody say that just as I was waking up from a catnap. But whoever said it was gone. Did you see anybody leave here just as you came in?"
Toyce shook her head and crooked a finger at Wilimu, a bartender. Wilimu tapped a small gong in the shape of a butterfly and pointed out the new customer to a waitress. She disappeared in a doorway beneath the two Earthpeople and presently came out of the doorway which Toyce had used. In a delicate, three-fingered, very long-thumbed hand, she held the bottle of black liquor which Toyce loved. It glittered in the goblet like obsidian under an Aztec sun. It tingled like a dying electric eel in the throat. It shot flaming stars in the belly and comets in the brain.
Toyce sucked in the waitress with her eyes. "Answer my question," Ramstan said.
"What? No. I saw no one."
Ramstan wrote three Xs and a spiral on a chit and stood up.
"I'm going back to the ship. That was no dream. I feel . . ."
Toyce said, "I thought maybe we could get stoned. You could forget whatever's troubling you and maybe . . ."
"I'm not troubled or in trouble, Aisha."
"Whatever you say, Hűd. Or are you now in your official persona, and I call you Captain Ramstan?"
"Just try, for once, to keep your nose out of the glass and your hands off alien flesh. There might be an emergency."
"Then you are expecting trouble. But, if you won't tell anybody what's up, how can you expect . . . ? Look, either we're on shore leave or we're not. Which is it?"
"I'll . . . as of present, shore leave. Meanwhile . . . never mind . . . forget it. That voice . . .'
... 2 ...
He put the mask on his face. Its edges clung to his skin, sealing in the nose and the mouth. He walked through three halls and four doors, bathed in sonic waves that were automatically beamed if a door opened. This was for the safety of non-Kalafalans.
Outside, the sun, much like Earth's, was riding out the late afternoon. It was midsummer in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, but a cooling west wind flapped his cloak. The spaceport, built by the natives for visitors long long ago, was on the plateau-top of a small mountain. Ramstan could see past the houses and down the slope to the great city on the plains.
Two hundred kilometers east, a dark-purple mountain range loomed. The Kalafalans called this 20,000-kilometer-high mass Tha'ufukwilala. The Westering Beast
Overhead, perhaps a hectometer up, two purple creatures floated toward the purple range. They were shaped like hump-backed boxkites with thick disks on the lower side. Born on the low hills of the west coast, they were now being pushed in their final form toward their final home by the west winds.
When they struck the face of the Westering Beast, the gas in their humps would explode, and the thin, brittle skeletons would shatter. The bone shards would add their tiny amount to the trillions preceding them. Their scattered flesh would feed larvae that would eat their way out of the rubbery capsules hurled from the explosions.
The larvae would creep down the jagged face of the range and begin the slow journey to the coast. There they, like their ancestors, would metamorphose into the floating death-pregnant form.
In a few thousand years, the Westering Beast would have crept up to this mountain and the city in the valley. In a few centuries after that, this area would be covered. Before then, the cities, towns, villages, and farm buildings now stretching from south coast to north coast would be moved 200 kilometers to the west.
"Why haven't you killed the larvae long ago and stopped this burial of your land and of all living things?" asked many visitors from many planets. "Why didn't you do this 2000 years ago? Why didn't you destroy the nests on the western seacoast hills? The time will come when you will be pushed into the sea."
"Oh, no," the Kalafalans replied. "You do not understand. The bottom layers of bone are decomposing and forming the basis for a very rich soil. When the time comes, we will clear off the top layers and plant vegetation and form a new world. By then, the awawa will be buried under the bones of their ancestors, and the Goddess will have ended them, and we will have a land richer than the rich land we now have."
"By the time you get around to doing that, you won't have enough population to do the required work. And you, too, will be buried," the Earthpeople said.
The Kalafalans smiled. They trusted in their Goddess and Her designs.
Ramstan had discussed this attitude with Klizoo, the spaceport administrator. Now he saw Klizoo coming out of a nearby park. Holding up his thumb and forefinger in the broken O of salutation, Ramstan called out in the spaceport lingua franca, Urzint.
"Klizoo, length and pleasure! Pardon my abruptness, but have you recently seen any non-Kalafalans you didn't recognize?"
Klizoo laughed, revealing his sharklike teeth. Ramstan could see the slender stalactite of flesh hanging from the roof of his mouth. It was this organ that aided in forming two buzzing consonants which made it impossible for non-Kalafalans to speak the language. Urzint was, fortunately, simple in phones and relatively easy for most sentients to master.
Klizoo stopped laughing. "I haven't seen any I didn't recognize, though, to be frank, all aliens have a look-alike likeness. But an Earthwoman has just come into the city. From the northern coast. She registered at the hotel not more than an hour ago. Her name is Branwen Davis, and she is a crewmember of Irion's ship."
"Irion? But Pegasus left months ago! What's this woman doing here?"
Ramstan was exasperated. The Kalafalan authorities must have known that this woman, Davis, had been left behind -- for scientific research? -- yet they had never thought to mention it. Also, the hotel staff had probably -- no, undoubtedly -- never mentioned to Davis that Ramstan's ship was in port. Surely, if she'd known that, she would have reported to him at once.
He just did not understand Kalafalans, and he never would. But then the Kalafalans said the same thing about the Earthpeople.
"Oh, yes," Klizoo said. "The Tenolt are here. They just landed."
Ramstan jumped as if he had stepped barefoot on a scorpion. His interest in the mysterious Earthwoman evaporated.
He lifted his right hand, its back close to his mouth, and spoke through his mask into his skinceiver.
"Alif Rho Gimel speaking. Alif Rho Gimel. Come in, Hermes."
Lieutenant-Commodore Tenno's voice said, "Hermes here, Alif Rho Gimel. A Tolt ship, looks like the Popacapyu, landed thirty minutes ago. She made an unconventional approach, must have descended on the far side of Kalafala and stayed low until she came over the mountains. The port authorities were upset, but the Tolt captain said that the ship was having drive problems and he had to bring her in quickly."
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