Authors: David Zindell
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
Each man and woman is a star.
The stars are the children of God alone in the night;
The stars are the wild white seeds burning inside a woman;
The stars are the fires that women light inside men;
The stars are the eyes of all the Old Ones who have lived
Who can hold the light of the wild stars?
Gazing at the bright black sky,
You see only yourself looking for yourself.
When you look into the eyes of God,
They go on and on forever.
- from the Devaki Song of Life
It is my duty to record the events of the glorious and tragic Second Mission to the Vild. To observe, to remember, to record only – although the fate of the galaxy's dying stars was intimately interwoven with my own, I took little part in seeking out that vast, stellar wasteland known as the Vild, or the Wild, or the Inferno, or whatever ominous name that men can attach to such a wild and hellish place. This quest to save the stars was to be for others: eminent pilots such as the Sonderval, and Aja, and Alark of Urradeth, and some who were not yet famous such as Victoria Chu, and my son, Danlo wi Soli Ringess. Like all quests called by the Order of Mystic Mathematicians, the Second Vild Mission had an explicit and formal purpose: to establish a new Order within the heart of the Vild; to find the lost planet known as Tannahill; to establish a mission among the leaders of man's greatest religion and win them to a new vision; and, of course, to stop the man-doomed stars from exploding into supernovas. All seekers of the Vild took oaths toward this end. But as with all human enterprises, there are always purposes inside purposes. Many attempted the journey outward across the galaxy's glittering stars out of the promise of adventure, mystery, power, or even worldly riches. Many spoke of a new phase in human evolution, of redeeming both past and future and fulfilling the ancient prophecies. Altogether, ten thousand women and men braved the twisted, light-ruined spaces of the Vild, and thus they carried inside them ten thousand individual hopes and dreams. And the deepest dream of all of them (though few acknowledged this even to themselves) was to wrest the secrets of the universe from the wild stars. Their deepest purpose was to heal the universe of its wound, and to this impossible end they pledged their devotion, their energies, their genius, their very lives.
On the twenty-first of false winter in the year 2954 since the founding of Neverness, the Vild Mission began its historic journey across the galaxy. In the black, cold, vacuum spaces above the City of Light (or the City of Pain as Neverness is sometimes known), in orbit around the planet of Icefall, Lord Nikolos Sar Petrosian had called together a fleet of ships. There were ten seedships, each one the temporary home of a thousand akashics, cetics, programmers, mechanics, biologists, and other professionals of the Order. There were twelve deepships as round and fat as artificial moons; the deepships contained the floating farms and factories and assemblers that would be needed to establish a second Order within the Vild. And, of course, there were the lightships. Their number was two hundred and fifty-four. They were the glory of Neverness, these bright, shining slivers of spun diamond that could pierce the space beneath space and enter the unchartered seas of the manifold where there was neither time nor distance nor light. A single pilot guided each lightship, and together the pilots of Vild Mission would lead the seedships and deepships across the stars. To the thousands of Ordermen who had remained behind (and to the millions of citizens of Neverness safe by the fires of their dwellings), the fleet that Lord Petrosian had assembled must have seemed a grand array of men and machines. But against the universe, it was nothing. Upon Lord Petrosian's signal, the Vild ships vanished into the night, two hundred and seventy-six points of light lost into the billions of lights that were the stars of the Milky Way. Lightships such as the Vivasvat and The Snowy Owl fell from star to star, and the mission fleet followed, and they swept across the Civilized Worlds. And wherever they went, on planets such as Orino or Valvare, the manswarms would gather beneath the night skies in hope of bearing witness to their passing. They would watch the bright, black heavens for the little flashes of light released whenever a lightship tore through the shimmering fabric of the manifold. They lived in awe of this light (and in dread as well), for the Order had been the soul of the Civilized Worlds for a hundred generations, and now it was dividing in two. Some feared that the Order might be dividing against itself. No one could know what fate this future might bring. No one could know how a few thousand pilots and professionals in their fragile ships might cool the fury of the Vild, and so the peoples of the Civilized Worlds gathered on their star-flung planets to hope and wonder and pray.
There are many peoples on the planets of man. The Civilized Worlds comprise only a tiny fraction of humanity, and yet there are some four thousand of these planets bearing the weight of at least a trillion human beings. And bearing as well strange peoples who have never been human. The Vild Mission fell from Treya to Teges to Silvaplana, and then on to Fravashing, home of that beautiful alien race whose souls are more manlike than that of any man. The lightships led the race among the stellar pathways, falling through the manifold from window to window, passing by the planet of Arcite, where once the Order had ruled before its move to Neverness at the beginning of the Sixth Mentality of Man. None of the pilots sealed inside their ships (not even the youngest or most inexperienced) had trouble with this part of their journey, for the ancient paths through the manifold had been mapped millennia before and were now well known. The pilots passed among the old red stars of the Greater Morbio and on to the Tycho's Nebula, where the splendid stars were newly created of gravity and dust and light. Few human beings dwelt in these dangerous places, and so only the stars – such as Gloriana Luz, all huge and blood-red like a god's blinded eye – felt the faint, rippling tremors of the lightships as they tore open windows into the manifold. The stars lit the way of the Vild Mission, and the pilots steered by the stars, by Alumit and Treblinka and Agni, which burned with a brilliant blue fire and was ten thousand times brighter than Neverness's cold yellow sun. The whole of the Fallaways was on fire, a blazing swathe of fire burning through the galaxy from Bellatrix to Star's End. Had the pilots or others of the Order wondered how far they had fallen, they might have measured their journey in parsecs or tendays or trillions of miles. Or in light-years. The ships launched from Neverness fell five thousand light-years along the luminous Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy, outward across the great, glittering lens. They passed from Sheydveg to Jonah's Star Far Group to Wakanda, as thus they made the perilous crossing to the Orion Arm, ten thousand light-years from the star that they had once known as home. Some of the pilots called this flight away from the core 'the westering', not because they fell in the direction of universal west, but because their journey carried them ever outward toward the unknown stars without fixed-points or name. But still they remained within the Fallaways, where man was still man and few of the galaxy's gods cared to roam. They guided their lightships away from the August Cluster where the Silicon God was said to claim a million stars as his own. They fell out among the oldest of human planets, Kittery and Vesper, and they avoided the spaces of Earth, lost and lonely Old Earth which men and women were no longer permitted to behold. And so at last the Mission came to Farfara at the edge of the Vild. Here the Fallaways gave out onto the wild, mapless portions of the manifold that had killed so many of the Order's pilots. Here the farthest of the Civilized Worlds stood looking out on the Vild's ruined stars. Farfara was a fat, rich, pleasant world, and it was here that Lord Nikolos Sar Petrosian commanded the Mission to make a brief planetfall. He did this so that the ships might take on fresh stores of coffee, toalache and wine, so that the ten thousand men and women of the Order might take a few days of rest beneath the open sky and Farfara's hot blue sun. From the beginning, it had been Lord Nikolos' plan to halt at Farfara while he sent pilots into the Vild to make mappings and find a planet on which they might make a new home.
It was on the fortieth day of the Mission's sojourn on Farfara that one of the Order's master pilots returned from the Vild with news of a planet suitable to their purpose. The Cardinal Virtue – the lightship of the great pilot known as the Sonderval – fell out of the manifold and rendezvoused with the fleet above Farfara. The Sonderval told the professionals and pilots of a beautiful planet remarkably similar to Old Earth. As was a pilot's right, he had named this planet Thiells' in honour of a woman whom he had once loved and lost when a comet collided with Puakea and destroyed most of the life on that unfortunate planet. According to the Sonderval, Thiells lay inside the inner veil of the Vild, and it could be reached after a journey of only thirty-one fallings. The Sonderval gave the fixed-points of Thiells' white star to the other pilots. He told them that he would lead the way. He also told them – told everyone – of a new supernova that he had discovered. It was an old supernova, many hundreds of light-years away. But it had exploded hundreds of years ago, and the wavefront of radiation and light would soon fall upon Farfara.
Lord Nikolos, although he disapproved of the arrogant, self-loving Sonderval, approved his plan. He commanded the professionals of the Order to make ready for the rest of their journey. On the night before the Mission would finally enter the tortuous spaces of the Vild – the very night that the supernova would light Farfara's sky – the merchants of Farfara decided to hold a reception to celebrate the pilots' bravery. They invited the Order's two hundred and fifty-four pilots and many important masters from among the professions. They invited musicians and artists and arhats – even warrior-poets – as well as princes and ambassadors from each of the Civilized Worlds. It would be the grandest party ever held on Farfara, and the merchants who ruled that ancient planet spared no trouble or expense in creating an air of magnificence to match the magnificent hubris of the men and women who dared to enter the Vild.
Late in the Day of the Lion in the eighteenth month of Second Summer in Year 24, as the merchants of Farfara measure time, the estate of Mer Tadeo dur li Marar began to fill with people arriving from cities and estates across the planet. Mer Tadeo's estate was laid out over three hills overlooking the Istas River, that great sullen river which drains the equatorial mountains of the continent called Ayondela. That evening, while the forests and bottomland of the Istas River still blazed with the heat of the sun, cool mountain winds fell over Mer Tadeo's estate, rippling through the jade trees and the orange groves, carrying down the scent of the distant glaciers which gleamed an icy white beneath the night's first stars. Shuttles rocketed back and forth between Mer Tadeo's starfield and the Order's seedships in orbit above the planet; they ferried hundreds of master cetics and mechanics and other master Ordermen down to the fountains and music pools that awaited them far below. And then, in a display of the Order's power, a light show of flashing diamond hulls and red rocket fire, the two hundred and fifty-four lightships fell down through Farfara's atmosphere and came to earth at the mile-wide pentagon at the centre of Mer Tadeo's starfield. Although no member of the Order was scorned or ignored in any manner, it was the pilots whom the men and women of Farfara wished to fete. In truth, the merchants adulated the pilots. Mer Tadeo himself – accompanied by twenty other great merchants from Farfara's greatest estates – received the pilots by the Fountain of Fortune on the sculptured grounds in front of his palace. Here, on soft green grasses native to Old Earth, in the loveliest garden on Farfara, the pilots gathered to drink priceless Summerworld wines and listen to the music pools as they gazed out over the sinuous river. Here they drank each other's health, and looked up at the unfamiliar star configurations in the sky, and waited half the night for the Sonderval's supernova to appear.
In the Hour of Remembrance (a good hour before the exploding star would fill the heavens) a pilot stood alone by the marble border of one of the palace's lesser fountains. His name was Danlo wi Soli Ringess; he was a tall, well-made young man, much the youngest pilot or professional to join the Mission. To any of the merchants, if any had looked his way, he might have seemed lonely or preoccupied with some great problem of the universe that had never been solved. His deep-set eyes were grave and full of light as if he could see things that others could not, or rather, as if the everyday sights of wine goblets and beautifully-dressed women amused him where it caused others only lust or envy. In truth, he had marvellous eyes, as dark and deep as the midnight sky. The irises were blue-black like liquid jewels, almost black enough to merge with the bright, black pupils, which gave them a strange intensity. Much about this pilot was strange and hinted of deep purpose: his shiny black hair shot with strands of red; the mysterious, lightning-bolt scar cut into his forehead above his left eye; the ease with which he dwelt inside his silence despite the noise and gaiety all around him. Like a creature of the wild he seemed startlingly out of place, and yet he was completely absorbed into his surroundings, as a bird is always at home wherever he flies. In truth, with his bold facial bones and long nose, he sometimes seemed utterly wild. A fellow pilot had once accused him of having a fierce and predatory look, and yet there was always a tenderness about him, an almost infinite grace. At any party or social gathering, men and women always noticed him and never left him alone for very long.