Urbis Morpheos & Astra Gaia

by stephenpalmersf

When in 1998 I wrote the first draft of what then was called The Mushroom Eaters, the novel was twice as long as the book it ended up as – Urbis Morpheos. That book, published in 2010 by PS Publishing, was essentially the first half of The Mushroom Eaters, recast and rewritten a few times to create the final thing.

Astra Gaia is the second half; also recast and rewritten. Astra Gaia follows what happens to Gularvhen after his philosophical duels with Dezisserine, Sukhtaya and Amargoidara. And here’s the first prelude to it…

***

“I am the master of all that is around me,” I said. “I will take over from the Analytical Council in Theeremere, and I will head the Analyticate in Mahandriana. And when I have presided over the demise of those structures, new bodies will emerge that will bring the return of nature and the creation of a fully rejuvenating manufacturing.”

Inside the Library of Dri, Gularvhen examined the pages of a book. There were twenty of them, fat semicircular gills bound in a slimy grey hide. He knew what they were. He tore off the corner of a page and stuffed it into his mouth. Chewed. Bitter taste, worse than cinchona bark, but he chewed more, then swallowed. Then lay back.

To feel wisdom kicking in, ancient memory revealed through chemical hierarchies, acting in the cerebellum, as if a dream.

Eyes closed. Sense of understanding: of rock and stone and erosion and sedimentation and fossils and the long, long, slow, slow march of geological time.

Mushroom growing fragile on desolate rock.

Gularvhen opened his eyes and sat up. There was a twinkling blanket above him, descending from the ceiling, that had not been there before.

He swayed.

Fragments of a vision floating before him, half Library of Dri, half something other. Then more, a new milieu materialising around him: stars and planets, interstellar vehicles and orbital platforms, metal, weapons, fire and hate, and war.

War! Sent from a network of planets, from a federation – its target a lump of white stuff on the face of Gaia. Gularvhen’s scream was silent. His view expanded. He learned more as he floated between the stars, span around their planets, drove hard down lanes of cosmic dust.

Dust! Manufacturing ecosystem creating a fleet of interstellar vehicles, born of metal and rock circling a number of stars, sorted, refined, resources extracted; gigantic orbital wrealities thinking machines of destruction, then constructing them.

This could not be a dream. This could not be the sweet, simple wisdom of a lone mushroom on a rock. Gularvhen swayed as the vision faded, then surged again. Stars still around him…

Agaiah strong out here, without Gaia to struggle with. Some planets wholly of Agaiah. The hate-filled federation focussing on one planet glinting between red Bythoi and bright Lyn, a planet where it could muster, prepare, then strike.

Gularvhen wavering as the vision flickers in and out of existence. Part swimming in space, part staggering in the library. Losing balance.

Somebody behind this. But he cannot see who.

Losing balance, sick to his stomach.

Falling over.

Fallen.

The nightmare faded away.

Gularvhen’s clothes were drenched and he sat shivering in a puddle. The library nozzles had let down a rarified pool of water so that the entire chamber was in mist. He departed the building.

But he needed more knowledge of the interstellar fleet. On the following night he descended to the ground level, walking underneath the arches then out to a plateau cold in the light of a half moon. He shivered.

Looking for mushrooms that rose up in the secret night. His eyes were amazing keen. When he found one he pounced, crouching on his hands and knees, lowering his face until it was inches above the mushroom cap, then gripping it between his teeth and flinging it into a bag. Then onward for more. By midnight he had found ten mushrooms, all growing out of the bare rock. But specific wisdom was unimportant tonight. He wanted mushrooms in order to journey from the white garden that was the haven to the black garden of space.

In an upper gallery of the Adverse Levels a stream channeled water out of the haven, creating one of the many waterfalls that fell as columns of spray to the rivers and pools below. Gularvhen sat beside it. This was going to be a long journey. He took the mushrooms and began eating them, one by one, mechanical chewing then swallowing, wisdom falling into his mind from Gaia as he ate. The bubbling stream provided music.

Rocks old, mountains low, time flowing, mountains rising, the imperceptible dance of tectonics and erosion. Stone wisdom.

He lowered himself into the stream and let the water carry him along, swinging this way and that as the meandering flow took him to the edge of the gallery, arms forward as that edge appeared, then head under and out over the lip…

Hints of a spiral galaxy in the pool far below.

He fell like an arrow, streamline poised, hundreds of yards from gallery to ground, then into the pool in a second, and vanishing.

Deep space around him.

Because he had known what he was looking for he found himself in a celestial sphere he recognised, one close to the vision in the Library of Dri. Bright stars there, there and there. He made adjustments to his position relative to the galactic plane, settling into the correct point of view, and when he completed the manoeuvre many of his memories returned – of what he had seen, and, more importantly, where. He soared to his right, towards a yellow star bright because it was close, gliding through nonlocal space like a calaxianax, aware of real space, yet not in real space. Dual perspective. In moments he was orbitting the star at a distance of thirty million leagues.

The planet he sought was easy to find. Its companion was a tiny artificial star.

It looked like luminous scaffolding floating free in space, white and pink and violet, all right angles and glowing nebulae. As he approached he saw structure and detail, filaments of blue and green descending to the planet surface like questing tentacles, where they raised duststorms and blew away clouds. Clearly these were immense structures. The main object had also flung tentacles out into space, and these were very long. It glowed against the heavens like a flambeau at midnight.

He began to see how it moved. The central, brightest parts were unchanging, but the wreaths of light around them swirled like oil on water, and they changed colour, usually slowly, fade to fade, but sometimes suddenly, as if a filter had been applied. The outer zones were ephemeral, consisting of spiral tentacles, some growing like pseudopodia down to the planet, others writhing out into deep space. The structure was cubic, longer on one axis than the other, here and there irregular where the outer zones bunched and relaxed.

And beings worked here. Now close, his viewpoint just a few leagues from the longest beam, he saw glittering specks of ruby, their movements purposeful as they weaved in and out of light tentacles and raced along the solid structures. Vehicles, he did not doubt it, either autonomous or piloted by beings of the manufacturing ecosystem.

He considered the object. If its size and energy output were anything to go by, it would only have to flick a tentacle to destroy Mahandriana.

This was one of the orbital platforms supporting war. He soared away. He had seen enough. Back to his point of origin, there to soar left, into a white star with a host of planets, one of which had a scarlet moon. It was an orbital wreality and it was thinking a weapon.

Gularvhen was unprepared for the size of this object. It was perhaps a quarter of the size of Gaia’s moon. Gravitational collapse had crushed its inner zones to an amorphous scarlet core, but its crust was active, cogitating destruction.

In orbit around this wreality was an object like an awl, perhaps a hundred leagues long, sharp as a needle at one end, lumpish like the end of a leg bone at the other; blue streaked black, glinting in the light of its sun. It spat random bursts of yellow light from its sharp end, which dissipated into space. Around the other end flew more of the ruby motes, creatures or beings dedicated to the construction of the device. This was one of the weapons of war.

Mahandriana would be made charcoal by this machine. It would only have to spit once. Having seen enough he soared away, returning to his starting point.

Now upwards, towards an old yellow star with four planets. One of these planets orbitted close to its sun. It had three moons, one of which was translucent like polythene; a perfect sphere.

This satellite was a shimmering miscellany of light, red, deep orange, here and there interspersed with flashes of turquoise and violet. Some zones glowed, elsewhere small patches flared out like magnetic storms. The structure was decaying and remaking itself continually. Parts dissociated at random. Whole sections peeled away like old skin, writhing out into space until their individual lights were extinguished. Lines were reduced to dots, which then winked out of existence. Nebulae faded like dye spots in strong sunlight. It seemed that an ethereal breeze was rushing around the satellite, tearing it, sending out illuminated wreaths, which split like tissue paper to become smaller, dissociating light groups, and eventually darkness.

He knew this must be an energy source. He soared away, back into deep space.

He had seen enough at close range. Letting his mind gain a sense of the distribution of those planetary systems working for war, he counted from one to forty five. Forty five construction sites forming a federation, devoting their energies to the annihilation of Mahandriana.

He felt himself sinking to his original position in space, felt nonlocality fade around him, sensed something approaching ahead, something circular, like a dark mirror. He broke through this circle and clambered out of the pool. Dripping wet, he shivered on its bank.

***

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