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When Rashodanar departed Castle Kada and left the mighty city of Yara, capital of the Dimavatan Empire, his heart was light although he left behind him Mandalava on whom that heart was set. One voyage, he thought, would make his fortune and then he could marry his heart's desire, and they would live in happiness and comfort forever. Perhaps he would rise high in the esteem of the Emperor Tandar, and would be made Viceroy of some great province like Dilangor or Vaganarat, or Governor of one of the rich cities such as Ralavar or Tumbra. Perchance he would remain a merchant and retire with his bride to the Archipelago of Sitratha or to Vidra, the land of his birth.
So his thoughts were busy with dreams of a joyous future, as he journeyed to the Drome of the Dirigibles beneath the blue sun Astara. By four sun cycles, he anticipated he would be back to claim his Mandalava beneath the red sun Auvara.
Although it was not far to the drome, the season of Astara was drawing to an end, and sun change often brought bad weather, so he made haste. But to no avail. Soon dark clouds were scudding in from the Sea of Sarsana and the gentle breeze had become a cold wind. Even so he hurried on, hoping against hope, that he would be able to join his ship before sun change. He was disappointed. When he reached the drome, it was to be told that all dirigibles were grounded until the weather cleared.
As he had feared, calm did not return until Astara had dropped below the horizon and Shavara had risen to take its place. So he fretted and grumbled, first wishing he had not tarried so long in Yara with Mandalava and then that he had remained longer, for he might as well be at Yara as here at the drome while the fierce winds blew.
On the third awakening after his arrival at the drome he was surprised and overjoyed to be joined by his lover. She seemed greatly agitated and he sought to calm her but she would not be soothed.
"I had so terrible a dream," she cried, "that I would never see you again; that some great catastrophe would separate us forever." Rashodanar laughed.
"Then the dream is already proved false, for here we are together, after being parted only a few sleeps, 'though in truth it seemed much longer," he added.
They argued. Rashodanar was adamant that there was no danger, only the chance of good fortune in his voyage to Camulashivanava; Mandalava was vehement in her assertion that if he really loved her, he would not risk their future happiness in the face of the warning she had so clearly received in her dream. After the quarrel had run its course they treated each other with cool politeness which by degrees grew warmer, until at length they were reconciled; yet the rapture they had known in Castle Kada, at the court of the Emperor and his consort Karyopa, was not to be regained. Mandalava's vision lay like a shadow over them; rumours of strange events at Castle Kada disturbed them and they were alarmed by prophesies of doom in which the name of Melgor Erdin, Prince of the Empire, figured often.
With the coming of the new sun Shavara, the weather grew calmer and the dirigibles were released from the captivity of their hangars. At the sight of their multicoloured envelopes, Rashodanar's heart lifted, but Mandalava grew downcast once more. Their leave-taking was awkward and Rashodanar was glad when he was called to the car of a vast yellow and green dirigible. From within he waved and grinned at the forlorn figure of the girl Mandalava, who managed a small smile and a half-hearted salute in return. Then the craft rose into the pink sky. The girl watched it as it dwindled and finally vanished. High above she could just make out the tiny speck that was the orbital platform where her lover would transfer from the dirigible to his vessel, the Vimapor.
Rashodanar stood on the deck of the orbital platform and marvelled at the globe of Gildon. He had seen the sight many times before but his memory could never capture its magnificence. He was surprised anew each time he saw it.
The deck was enclosed by panes of thick glass set in a framework of light but hard and impervious wood. Raising his eyes he glimpsed the Vimapor riding close by. Soon it would be hauled alongside and he would go aboard to take over from his first mate who would undoubtedly be glad to relinquish command after the period of enforced inactivity while Rashodanar had been planet-bound.
He heard his name called and went to the office of the platform commander. They exchanged pleasantries.
"Whither bound?" asked the commander.
"Camulashivanava, with a cargo of rare paintings, perfumes and jewelry," answered Rashodanar.
"And what do you hope to secure in return?"
The merchant shrugged.
"I cannot say until I see what they have. It is a world only lightly settled, and mainly unexplored. Who knows what wonders and treasures remain to be discovered there."
The commander grunted.
"Everything is in order," he acknowledged. "I wish you a safe and prosperous voyage."
The next few wake periods were busy. When he boarded the Vimapor, Rashodanar found everything in readiness. They made the final checks and then raised the auxiliary sails into the stellar wind. Slowly they filled and imperceptibly at first, but then with increasing speed, the Vimapor drew away from the platform. Rashodanar and his crew manipulated the sails to catch the photon breezes to accelerate their craft and orient it, a task requiring constant vigilance as they moved from one particle stream to another. Within the cluster Vindo, swarms of stars wove complex patterns of winds, and intuition, experience and skill were all vital to the navigation of these unseeable currents. Acceleration was slow but the star sailors were a patient breed, obsessed with the magnificence of the heavens in the heart of the cluster and of all the sights afforded them, none was reckoned more beautiful than the multiple system in which Gildon moved. Seen from a sufficient distance for it to be a single panorama, it was breathtaking; blue and red, yellow and orange, white and mysteriously dark, the six stars presented an overwhelming display. The sky was never dark. As the home system receded, the light of other stars waxed strong and the winds shifted and pulsed.
Rapitava, the navigator, was ever gloomy, standing at the prow observation port, assessing the fluctuations of the photon pressures by the tremors of the ship felt through the soles of his bare feet. Whenever anyone asked him how the voyage was going, he would shrug and answer, "Pray to the Spirits of Starshine." Some of the crew smiled at his pessimism but others, especially those making their first voyage, were more likely to seek out the acolyte of Vapara for reassurance.
Buffeted but undeflected, the ship sailed on between the close-set suns. Beautiful though the sky was, brightened by swathes of star-lit gas and dust, first magenta, then purple, now mauve, then scarlet, no one could watch it always, and the journey became tedious, so there was great relief and enthusiasm when Camulashivanava's sun Jiva, began to grow in size. At long last the Vimapor decelerated, the photon sails now deployed to harness contrary winds. With Jiva a blazing glory in the forward sky, Camulashivanava itself grew perceptibly, a silver star that became a pearly planet.
They coasted in towards their destination, Rashodanar controlling the complex manoeuvres that would bring them alongside Camulashivanava's orbital platform. Those of the crew not involved in manipulating the sails stared through the crystal ports at the unfamiliar world below. A few had visited it before but no one questioned them about it nor did they offer any comment. Among the spacefarers of Gildon, first planetfall was reckoned the most precious of all experiences and no one would diminish its impact.
When they docked they were given a hearty welcome and soon crew and cargo were on their way planet-ward in long-winged gliders that slid down air banks, skirted updrafts, skimmed across towering clouds and swooped through valleys between high cumulus. The eager mariners were fascinated by the cloud mountains that surrounded them, but their curiosity about what lay below remained unsatisfied until, crossing fragmenting peaks of vapour, they came to a deep chasm between the white ranges and began to spiral down. Soon they were in a swirling funnel which sucked them ground-ward like a maelstrom. It was an unnerving sensation and for those experiencing it for the first time, relief was overwhelming when they dropped through the cloud base, and saw below them, at long last, the fabled surface of Camulashivanava.
The planet basked in a perpetual Kanthavan summer, its vegetation ever green, flecked with flower colours. From their high vantage they could glimpse an empurpled ocean edged with orange sand. As they circled, a yellow clearing came into view and at its centre the deep blue roofs of Laja-Peranda, capital of Camulashivanava.
The gliders touched down on a field of orpiment near the mouth of an avenue which led towards the heart of the city. The pink walls and the ultramarine roofs gave Laja-Peranda a fairy tale appearance to the Gildans. Stepping from the long winged sky-planes, they breathed deep of the fragrant air, stretched their limbs, and felt the delirious joy of planet-fall on a fair world.
Smiling emissaries came to welcome them to Camulashivana and to assure them that they would be given every assistance in their trading but to urge them first to relax.
Their lodgings were clean, comfortable and entrancing. Their hosts and hostesses were delightful. Rashodanar was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Camulashivanavans, by their exotic food, intoxicating beverages, and by the beauty of those who attended them. Laja-Peranda was a city of fable and of fascination. In the company of Charida, the guide assigned to him, Rashodanar wandered through the alleyways and courtyards, exclaimed at the wares of the tiny shops and crowded bazaars, and lounged in the balmy air on the terraces of refreshment houses. Although the thick layers of cumulus never parted to allow a glimpse of sun or stars, he hardly noticed, for the light that filtered through the cloud seemed purified by it, so that it was more pellucid even than the sunshine of Gildon.
Seeking a change from the city he would accompany Charida into the meadows and woodlands beyond. Camulashivanava had an extensive flora but no animal life of its own to render it inimical to the first settlers from Gildon, and they had been careful to introduce only such fauna as would enhance the planet. These they then treated with a solicitude which rendered them delightfully tame and trusting, so that walking in the countryside of Camulashivanava had a magical quality - or perhaps the magic emanated from Charida. This thought, with its overtones of guilt in remembrance of the distant Mandalava his betrothed, at last stirred Rashodanar from the idyllic existence which had enfolded him. He reproached himself that since his arrival he had done nothing except take pleasure in his surroundings and the company of Charida. His crew, he realised, had been more than content to follow his example. But they had come to trade, and must be about their business.
He broached the subject with Charida, half expecting she might be offended at his uncouthness, but she seemed to take the same interest in his request as in all his activities. He found that the merchandise they had brought with them from Gildon had all been ferried to the ground and was safe and sound in a convenient warehouse. Word was spread through the taverns that the merchants from Gildon were ready to trade, and soon buyers began to appear at the warehouse. Bargaining was brisk but courteous. To the gratification of the traders of both worlds, each desired what the other had to offer and in a few days agreements were concluded with mutual satisfaction.
Their business completed, the Gildans might well have departed there and then but none of the crew seemed eager to leave and Rashodanar needed little persuasion to prolong their stay. He resumed his dalliance with the compliant Charida, and became absorbed once more in the pleasures Camulashivanava offered the senses - brilliant blooms, luxuriant foliage, limpid pools, soft meadows, wooded hills, good company, sensual music. Colour, sound and fragrance assailed him and he succumbed willingly. If he thought of Gildon and of Mandalava, he soon convinced himself that this brief holiday in Laja-Peranda added but little to the length of his absence by comparison with the duration of the voyage.
This idyll was shattered one lazy afternoon by the sight of a man running towards Laja-Peranda from the direction of the glider field. Reaching the edge of the town he collapsed in a chair on the veranda of the nearest inn. The landlord, full of concern, brought the runner a cool drink of which he gulped half before blurting out a single awful sentence.
"The stars have changed."
Rashodanar and Charida, together with a number of local men and women and some of the crew of the Vimapor had gathered to hear the reason for the man's unprecedented haste. They stared at him, not comprehending his meaning yet struck with fear at the manner of his utterance.
"What do you mean?" enquired the landlord at length.
"The stars - they have changed," reiterated the man. "I was on the orbital platform, keeping watch for the first sign of incoming vessels, when suddenly there occurred an event I have never before witnessed, nor even heard of. For a moment the stars winked out. At first I thought I had imagined it, or that I had blinked without realising it, but other watchers had noticed it too, and even more convincingly, the stars I now gazed upon were not those I have known all my life."
"How were they different?"
"There were far fewer of them, and many of those that remained glowed feeble and red. It was as though a thick curtain had been drawn across the Universe. Soon everyone on the platform had been summoned from their tasks, from relaxation or from sleep. All agreed about the appearance of the sky. It was Kavalandaskar who framed the thought in the minds of many of us, what most of us are forced to believe is the truth, incomprehensible though it seems. At first he suggested that the cosmos had aged suddenly, passing in an instant from youth to senescence. No one could accept this explanation since it was clearly flawed. Had the universe aged, we should all have done so too, we would now be billions of cycles old, or rather, we should have died eons ago. That is certainly not the case! Kavalandaskar saw the force of this objection, and suggested an alternative hypothesis – that the whole of Camulashivanava had somehow been shifted into the distant future of the Cosmos."
Disbelief and argument now ensued, but Rashodanar scarcely listened. His mind was in a turmoil of horror, guilt and disbelief. The last of these conflicting emotions triumphed and abruptly he began to run towards the glider field. He found it in a state of disarray. He rushed from pilot to pilot, seeking one who would take him up to the platform. Most were afraid that whatever disaster had overwhelmed the stars might spread closer and affect the upper regions of Camulashivanava's atmosphere so they refused to risk a return above the clouds. At length, however, he found one whose fascination with the disaster inclined him to view it once again, and who needed little persuasion to attempt the ascent. The two men strapped themselves into a glider which stood waiting on the launching ramp.
The aircraft was catapulted into the up-draft rising from the face of the high cliff on which the glider field was situated. As the pilot skilfully exploited the thermals they rose rapidly above the landscape which was once so alluring to Rashodanar, but was no longer. Steadily they climbed, circling, occasionally dipping, but always recovering, moving into the funnel which would convey them into the clear skies above the cloud banks.
When they finally emerged into a deep valley amongst the cumulus, Rashodanar peered anxiously at the sky above them, but of course it was day, and there was no obvious change. Higher still they climbed, though with more difficulty as the air thinned and the wind began to lose its power. The pilot pointed briefly and the Gildan glimpsed a brilliant speck where the orbital platform glinted in the sunlight. The pilot renewed his efforts to gain height as the platform moved rapidly towards the point of the sky directly above them. It seemed a hopeless task, yet the gap closed and when at last Rashodanar was convinced that the platform would just elude them, their craft juddered and suddenly accelerated. The pilot again pointed, this time towards the front, and Rashodanar made out a thin line of light. They had caught a long thread-like wire, of which there were many trailing from the platform. Plaited from the secretions of a species of large spider, they were immensely strong for their cross-section. Several more engaged the wings of the glider, and the Gildan felt a gentle acceleration as the winchers on the platform began to haul them in.
When finally aboard, Rashodanar and his pilot encountered universal gloom among the remaining crew of the platform. But this the Gildan disregarded, speaking only to enquire where he might find Kavilandaskar and eventually discovering him gazing through a dark window at the blazing disc of Jiva.
"What has happened?" demanded Rashodanar.
Without interrupting his observation of Camulashivanava's sun, the astronomer
"What has happened is that the number of stars visible from here has diminished, and those still observable are all dimmer and redder than they were formerly. However, I suspect that the question you really meant to ask is what is the cause of this happening. That is much more difficult to answer."
"What is your opinion?" asked Rashodanar, striving to appear calm.
"I do not think a dust cloud can explain the change. All those who saw it happen agree it occurred in the blink of an eye. A cloud would have interposed gradually. Nor can I believe that all the stars of the heavens were affected in a similar way at times that ensured that their altered light reached us simultaneously. It is much more probable that it is really the environs of Jiva that have changed. It is as though the tiny bubble of space we inhabit had been projected instantaneously into the far future of the universe. That I say is how it appears. Whether that is the true explanation I cannot say, but I can think of no other that is consistent with what I observe."
"How big is the bubble?" asked Rashodanar tightly.
"Oh small, small. Jiva and its planets. Not even our closest stellar neighbour has
stayed with us. It has drifted away and reddened with age."
"My home ? Gildon?"
For the first time, Kavilandaskar turned to look at him and the profound sympathy which illumined his face was all the answer Rashodanar needed.
"I'm sorry," said the astronomer. "At least Camulashivanava has not been separated from Jiva. If that were to happen, as still it might, we should undoubtedly perish."
"I don't believe it," burst out Rashodanar suddenly and fiercely. "This is nonsense. There must be some other explanation. Have there been no ships in since the ... the change?"
"Then I must go out and discover for myself what has happened. I and my crew will return to Gildon. We will discover the truth."
Rashodanar found it was not so simple to do as to say. When he returned to the surface he found some of his company were afraid to join him, and others hankered to remain on Camulashivanava for other reasons. At last however he persuaded and cajoled enough to accompany him on the home voyage of the Vimapor.
It was a melancholy sailing. Few were on the platform to bid them farewell and those there were showed clearly by their demeanour that they viewed the voyage as doomed. Grimly determined, Rashodanar issued orders to the sail riggers and the Vimapor accelerated away from Camulashivanava.
The passage home was a difficult one. Uncertainty led to frayed tempers and quarreling. The sombre red of the dying suns they passed deepened their gloom. When the six sun system hove into view their fears were confirmed and their hopes dashed. Where once had blazed crimson Auvara, fulvous Kanthara, cobalt Astara, amber Shavara and white Lindara, five red suns now burned sullenly and the always dim Lumerin was no longer even a glimmer.
Still, Rashodanar could not turn back. He was possessed by a compulsion to erase the last doubtful hope from his consciousness. They must find Gildon; must see for themselves whether some miracle had preserved it in the same time-frame as Camulashivanava. And there were those among the crew who were in sympathy. In a mad universe why should anything be regarded as impossible?
They sailed on into the heart of the system. With the aging of the stars the trade winds they remembered no longer prevailed; their charts were useless. Rapitava needed all his skill to steer a course through the solar streams. Yet he triumphed: he brought them to the speck that was the planet Gildon.
Apprehensively, the crew crowded the Vimapor's ports, staring down at the globe of their home world, once familiar, now terrifyingly alien. No clouds veiled its devastated face. No seas soothed its burning surface. Even from the immense height at which they orbited, it was clear that Gildon had become a barren world.
They quartered the planet's near space in search of the orbital platform but found only some obviously ancient debris which might have been its remains.
"I shall take the emergency balloon and descend to the surface," announced Rashodanar bleakly. His officers and crew argued but could not dissuade him. Rashodanar ordered Rapitava to position the Vimapor as nearly as he could judge, above the site of vanished Yara. It seemed an impossible task but Rapitava was equal to it. By observing the movement of shadows across the surface as Gildon turned and moved its position relative to its six suns, he was able to draw a crude relief map, on which the ancient shore lines of dried up seas could he imagined. Tentatively he identified the rough outlines with the coasts marked so boldly on the charts they carried and then guided the ship to a position directly above the spot where he believed the former capital of the Dimavatan Empire had stood.
Unable to prevent their captain's descent, the crew at least insisted that two of their number accompany him. As they embarked on their odyssey they were alarmed at the rate at which the balloon plummeted through the now rarefied atmosphere that had once been so thick, but after anxious moments it began to slow and finally to sink planetward at a bearable speed. As they drifted lower, the terrible change which had afflicted their home world became plainer. There was no sign of water at all; no lakes, no rivers; no ponds, no streams. There was no sign of vegetation; no trees, no grass; no bushes, no flowers. There was no sign of life at all; neither animals nor birds; no people and no buildings.
They hit the desert with a slight jolt not far from the only evidence that remained that Gildon had ever been anything but a lifeless world; the ruins of Castle Kada, and rising from its centre, miraculously preserved, the Tower of Jeratana.
It was very hot as they slogged across the dunes beneath the broiling sun and they were grateful for such sullen shade as the ruins afforded when they reached them. They paused and drank some of the water they had brought with them. The dampness it left on their lips dried instantly in the desiccated air.
Rashodanar's restless impatience did not allow them to tarry and they toiled across the courtyard to the foot of the tower. They stood there looking up at its dizzyingly high spire. The surface of the building was hard and smooth, untouched by the disaster that had befallen the rest of the planet. It was as though it stood in a time of its own. They moved slowly round the base of the tower until they came to the entrance. It was open. Sand rose half way up the opening and Rashodanar put his hand forward but encountered no obstruction. Resolutely he jumped from the piled sand down to the spotless floor of the entrance hall of the tower. His companions followed.
Rashodanar had visited the tower before and looking round it seemed to him that it was as it had always been, except for a statue that stood in the centre of the hall. He approached it and recognised the figure and the enigmatic features of Melgor Erdin, Prince of the Empire of Dimavata, whose name was inscribed in letters of gold on the plinth which supported the effigy.
He stood for some time staring at the glyphs and his companions were content to remain there with him in the cool of the tower. Eventually he roused himself and, without a word, leaped through the opening back to the burning sands that reached half of the way up it. Followed by the crewmen he strode across the dazzling desert towards the ruined walls of the courtyard. He seemed to know exactly where he was going and when the others caught up with him he explained, almost to himself.
"This is where we sat, Mandalava and I, in the days when we were happy."
They entered an alcove, above which the wall arched to provide a little shade. Rashodanar's attention was caught by a plaque. He stooped to read it, for the drifting sands had raised the floor level of the enclosure. Abruptly he dropped to his knees and began scraping away the sand to reveal a second inscription. For a few moments he remained on his knees, head bowed, and then he rose and turned to stare with unseeing eyes across the drifted sands.
His companions bent to read. The first few lines said simply:
memory of my beloved Rashodanar,
in the great timequake.
Below these was the second engraving:
In loving memory of our daughter Mandalava, who died of a broken heart.
story is set in the same phase
of the Totaliverse as the books No
Space In Time,
(Page amended 21 July 2017)
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