The stiff breeze blew off the coast. The clouds parted, revealing Batalix overhead. The sea sparkled, tossing up foam made of finest pearl. The New Season raced west by southwest, with music in her shrouds.
Along the Loraj coast on the north stood the Autumn Palaces, terrace after terrace of them. The dreams of forgotten tyrants were imprisoned in their stone, extending along the shore in distance and time. According to legend, King Denniss had once lived within their hallowed walls. Since the days of their fashioning, the Palaces, like some inconclusive human relationship, had never been entirely occupied or entirely deserted. They had proved too grandiose for those who created them and for those who followed after. Yet they were used still, long after whatever autumn had first seen the rise of their towers above the granite strand. Human beings-whole tribes of being s-lived in them like birds under neglected eaves.
The learned, who are always attracted to the past, lodged also in the Autumn Palaces. For them, the Palaces were the greatest archaeological site in the world, their ruinous cellars taproots to an earlier age of man. And what cellarage! Mazes of almost infinite depth stretched down into the rock, as if to syphon up warmth from the heart of Helliconia. Here were reckonings inscribed on stone and clay, pot shards, skeletons of leaves from vanished forests, skulls to be measured, teeth to be fitted to jawbones, middens, weapons dissolving in rust . . . the history of a planet patiently awaiting interpretation, yet as tantalisingly beyond complete comprehension as a vanished human life.
The Palaces lay pallid with distance, and the New Season passed them far to starboard.
The depleted crew occasionally saw other ships. As they sailed by the port of Ijivibir, they passed fleets of herring-coaches about their business. Farther out to sea, an occasional warship was sighted, reminding them that the quarrel between Uskutoshk and Bribahr was still active. Nobody molested them or even signalled to them. Ice dolphins sported alongside the vessel.
After Clusit, the captain decided to make a landing on the coast. He was familiar with these waters and determined to stock the ship with food before they made the last part of the run for the Shivenink port of Rivenjk. His passengers were doubtful about the wisdom of going ashore after their recent close encounter with the phagor band, but he reassured them.
This part of Loraj was within the northern tropics and still fertile. Behind the coast lay a glittering country of woods, lakes, rivers, and marshes, scarcely inhabited by mankind. Behind that country stood ancient eldawon and caspiarn forests, stretching all the way to the ice cap.
On the shore, helmeted seals basked, roaring as the passengers and crew of the New Season walked among them. They offered no resistance as they were clubbed to death. This clubbing was done with an oar. The oar had to hit the creature under the jaw in the vulnerable part of its throat. With its air passages blocked, the seal died of suffocation. This took some while. The passengers averted their gaze while the seals rolled in agony. Their mates often tried to help them, whimpering pitifully.
The heads of the seals were covered by something resembling a helmet. The helmet was an adaptation of horns, the seals having been land animals in the distant past, driven back into the oceans by the cold of Weyr-Winter. The adaptation protected the ears and eyes of the creatures, as well as the skull.
As the human party turned away from the seals they were killing, legged fish heaved themselves out of the waves and rushed up the steeply shelving shingle. They began attacking the dying seals, tearing chunks of their blubbery flesh.
“Hey!” shouted Shokerandit, and struck out at the fish.
Some scattered and ran under stones. One lay wounded by Shoke-randit’s blow. He picked it up and showed it to Odim and Fashnalgid.
The fish was the best part of a metre long. Its six “legs” were finlike. It had a lantern jaw, behind which trailed a number of fleshy whiskers. As its head flicked from side to side, jaw snapping, its filmy grey eyes stared at its captor.
“See this creature? It’s a scupperfish,” said Shokerandit. “Soon these creatures will be coming ashore in the thousands. Most of them get eaten by birds. The others survive and tunnel into the earth for safety. Later, they’ll become longer than snakes, once the Weyr-Winter’s here.”
“They’re Wutra’s worms, that’s whatthey’re called,” said the captain.”Best throw it away, sir. They’re not fit even for the sailors to eat.”
“The Lorajans eat them.”
The captain said, deferentially but firmly, “Sir, the Lorajans do eat the worms as a delicacy, that’s true. They are poison nonetheless. The Lorajans cook them with a poisonous lichen, and ‘tis said that the two poisons cancel each other out. I’ve eaten the dish myself, sir, when wrecked on this coast some years past. But I still hate the sight and taste of the things, and certainly don’t want my men filling their bellies with them.”
“Very well.” Shokerandit flung the still wriggling scupperfish out to sea.
Cowbirds and other sorts of birds were wheeling above them, screaming. The sailors cut up six of the helmeted seals as quickly as possible and carried the chunks of meat over to the jolly boat. The offal was left to the other predators.
Toress Lahl was weeping in silence.
“Get back in the boat,” Fashnalgid said. “What are you weeping for?”
“What a horrible place this is,” the woman said, turning her face away. “Where things with legs crawl from the sea and everything eats some other living thing.”
“That’s how the world is, lady. Jump in.”
They rowed back towards the ship, and the birds followed, crying, crying.
The New Season hoisted sail and began to move over the still water, its bows swinging towards Shivenink. Toress Lahl tried to speak to Shokerandit, but he brushed her to one side; he and Fashnalgid had matters to attend to. She stood bv the rail, hand to brow, watching the coastline dwindle.
Odim came up and stood beside her.
“You need not be sorrowful. We’ll soon reach the safety of the harbour of Rivenjk. There my brother will take us in, and we can rest and recover from our various shocks.”
Her tears burst forth again. “Do you believe in a god?” she asked, turning a tear-stained face towards him. “You’ve undergone such sorrow this voyage.”
He was silent before answering. “Lady, all my life until now I have lived in Uskutoshk. I behaved like an Uskuti. I believed like an Uskuti. I conformed-which means that I regularly worshipped God the Azoiaxic, the God of Sibornal. Now that I have come away from that place, or have been driven away, as one might say, I can see that I am no Uskuti. What is more, I find I have absolutely no belief in God. At his passing, I felt a weight lifting.” He patted his chest in illustration. “I can say this to you, since you are not an Uskuti.”
She gestured towards the shore they were leaving. “This hateful place . . . those dreadful creatures ... all I’ve been through ... my husband killed in battle . . .the gruesomeness of this ship . . . Everything just gets steadily worse, year by year . . . Why wasn’t I born in the spring? I’m sorry, Odim-this isn’t like me. . . .”
After a pause, he said gently, “I understand. I’ve also undergone bereavement. My wife, my younger children, dear Besi . . . But I speak to my wife’s gossie in pauk, and she comforts me. Do you not seek out your husband in pauk, lady?”
She said to him in a low voice, “Yes, yes, I sink down to his gossie. He is not as I desire to see him. He comforts me and tells me I should find happiness with Luterin Shokerandit. Such forgiveness . . .”
“Well? Luterin is a pleasant young man, by all I see and hear.”
“I can never accept him. I hate him. He killed Bandal Eith. How can I accept him?” She startled herself by her own antagonism.
Odim shrugged his broad shoulders. “If your husband’s gossie so advises you . . .”
“I am a woman of principle. Maybe it is easier to forgive when you are dead. All gossies speak with the same voice, sweet like decay. I may cease the habit of pauk ... I cannot accept the man who has enslaved me-however tempting the terms he uses to bribe me. Never. It would be hateful.”
He rested a hand on her arm. “All is hateful to you, eh? Yet perhaps you should try to think as I do that a new life is being presented to us-us exiles. I am twenty-five and five tenners-no chicken! You are much younger. The Oligarch is supposed to have observed that the world is a torture chamber. That is the case only for those who believe so.
“When we walked on the shore, killing off those seals- only six out of thousands, after all!-a feeling overcame me that I was being shaped for the winter season in some wonderful way. I had put on flesh but I had shed the Azoiaxic. . . .” He sighed. “I find difficulty talking profoundly. I’m better at figures. I’m only a merchant, as you know, lady. But this metamorphosis through which we have come-it is so wonderful that we must, must, try to live in accord with nature and her generous accountancy.”
“And so I’m supposed to yield to Luterin, ishat it?” she said, giving him a straight look.
A smile turned the corner of his mouth. “Harbin Fashnalgid has a soft spot for you also, lady.”
As they laughed, Kenigg, Odim’s one surviving s on, ran up to him and hugged him. He stooped and kissed the boy on his cheek.
“You’re a marvellous man, Odim, I really think it,” Toress Lahl said, patting his hand.
“You are marvellous too-but try not to be too marvellous for happiness. That’s an old Kuj-Juvec saving.”
As she nodded her head in agreement, a tear shone in her eye.
Worse weather came in as the ship approached the coasts of Shiven-ink. Shivenink was a narrow country consisting almost entirely of an enormous mountain range-the Shiveni nk Chain, which had lent its name to the nation. The range divided the territories of Loraj and Bribahr.
The Shiveninki were peaceful, god-fearing people. Their rages had been drained by the original chthonic angers which had built their mountains. In the recesses of their natural fortress, they had built an artifact which embodied their particular brand of holiness and determination, the Great Wheel of Kharnabhar. This wheel had become a symbol, not merely to the rest of Sibornal but to the rest of the globe as well.
Great whales thrust their beaked heads up to observe the New Season as it entered Shiveninki waters. Sudden snow blizzards, battering the ship, almost immediately hid them from sight.
The ship was in difficulties. The wind howled through its rigging, spray dashed across the deck; the brig pitched from side to side as if in fury. In something like darkness-though the hour was Freyr-dawn- the sailors were sent up the ratlines. In their new metamorphosed shape, they were clumsy. To the yardarm they climbed, soaked, drenched, battered. The unwilling sails were furled. Then back down to a deck ceaselessly awash.
With the crew depleted, Shokerandit and Fashnalgid, together with some of Odim’s more able relations, helped to man the pumps. The pumps were amidships, just abaft the mainmast. Eight men could work on each pump, four on either handle. There was scarcely room for the sixteen together in the pump well. Since this part of the main deck caught the worst of the seas breaking inboard, the pumpers were constantly inundated. The men cursed and fought, the pumps wheezed like old grandfathers, the waters smashed against them.
After twenty-five hours the wind abated, the barometer steadied, the sea became less mountainous. The snow fell silently, blowing off the land. Nothing could be seen of the shore, yet its presence could be felt, as if some great thing lay there, about to wake from its ancient sleep of rock. They all sensed it, and fell silent. They looked for it, peering into the muffling snow, and saw nothing.
Next day brought improvement, a calm passage in the orchestration of the elements.
The snow showers fell away across the green water. Batalix shone through overhead. The sleeping thing was slowly revealed. At first only-its haunches were visible.
The ship was reduced to toy dimensions by a series of great blue-green bastions whose tops were lost in cloud. The bastions unfolded as the ship, again under full sail, sped westwards. They were immense headlands, each greater than the last. At sea level, pillars of gigantic proportions irresistibly suggested that they had been sculpted by a hand with intent behind it; they supported brows of rock which went almost vertically up. Here and there, trees could be observed, clinging to folds in the rock. White horizontal veins of snow defined the curves of each headland.
Cleft between the headlands were deep bays-pockets in which the mountains kept reserves of murk and storm. Lightning played in these recesses. White birds hovered where the current raced at their mouths. Strange sounds and resonances issued across the waters from the veiled cavities, touching the minds of the humans like the salt that lighted on their lips.
Fitful bursts of sun, penetrating such bays, revealed at their far end cataracts of blue ice, great waterfalls frozen as for eternity, which had tumbled down from the high homes of rock, ice, hail, and wind concealed almost perpetually by cloud.
Then a bay greater than the previous ones. A gulf, flanked by black walls. At its entrance, perched on a rock where the highest seas could not overwhelm it, a beacon. This token of human habitation reinforced the loneliness of the scene. The captain nodded and said, “There’s the Gulf of Vajabhar. You can put in there at Vajabhar itself-it sticks out lik e a tooth in the lower jaw of the Gulf.”
But they sailed on, and the great bulk of the planet to their starboard seemed to move with them.
Later, the coast became more massive still, as they reached the waters off the Shiven Peninsula. Round this they had to sail to reach the port of Rivenjk. The peninsula had no bays. It was almost featureless. Its chief characteristic was its size. Even the crew, when off duty, gathered silently on deck to stare.
The tall slopes of Shiven were shrouded in vegetation. Climbers hung down, falling free as if in imitation of the many small waterfalls which began their descent and never finished, whipped away by winds scouring the sheer faces. Occasionally the clouds would part to reveal the great head of snow-clad rock which climbed to the sky. This was the southern end of a mountain range which curved northwards to join the enormous lava plateau sequences under the polar ice cap.
Within a comparatively few miles of where the ship sailed, the ridge of the peninsula rose to heights of over six and a quarter miles above sea level. Far higher than any mountain peaks on Earth, the Shivenink Chain rivalled the High Nyktryhk of Campannlat in scale. It formed one of the grandest spectacles on the planet. Shrouded in its own storms, its own climatic conditions, the great chain revealed itself to few human eyes, except from the deck of a passing ship.
Lit by the almost horizontal rays of Freyr, the formation clad itself in breathtaking lights and shadows. To the perceptions of the passengers, all appeared brilliant, all new. They became uplifted just to regard such titanic scenery. Yet what they beheld was ancient-ancient even in terms of planetary formation.
The heights that dominated them had come into being four thousand and more million years earlier, when the unevolved Helliconian crust had been struck by large meteors. The Shivenink Chain, the Western Barriers in Campannlat, as well as distant mountains in Hespagorat, were remaining testaments to that event, forming between them segments of a great circle comprising the ejecta material of a single impact. The Climent Ocean, regarded by sailors as of almost infinite extent, lay within the original crater.
For day after day they sailed. As in a dream, the peninsula remained to starboard, unchanging, as if it would never go away.
Once they rounded a small island, a pimple in the ocean, which might have dropped from the overhanging landmass. Although it looked a terrifying place on which to live, the island was inhabited. A smell of wood smoke drifted out to the ship; that and the sight of huts nestling among trees made the passengers long for a spell ashore, but the captain would hear nothing of it.
“Those islanders are all pirates, many of them desperate characters lost off ships in storms. Were we to set foot there, they’d murder us andsteal our ship. I’d sooner befriend vultures.”
Three long skin canoes put out from the island. Shokerandit passed his spyglass round, and they looked at the men, bent of back, who rowed towards them as if their life depended on it. In the stern of one of the boats stood a naked woman with long black hair. She carried a baby which suckled at her breast.
A snowstorm blew off the mountains at that time, falling like a shawl to the sea. The flakes settled on the woman’s bare breasts and melted.
The New Season was carrying too much sail for the canoes to catch up. They fell astern. Still the men rowed with undiminished zeal. Still they rowed when lost to sight, like madmen.
Once or twice, cloud and mist parted enough for the passengers to catch a glimpse of the Shiven heights. Then whoever saw the gap would give a cry, and other passengers would come running, and gasp to see how far above their heads stretched those dripping rocks, those vertical jungles, those snows.
Once a landslide started. A part of the cliff fell away. It dropped and dropped, carrying away more rock with it. Where it struck the sea, a great wave was raised. A wedge of ice fell, disappeared under the surface, bobbed up again. Larger wedges tumbled after it-having fallen from the edge of some glacier invisibly housed in the clouds. The falls caused terrifying reverberations of sound.
A colony of brown birds sped out from shore in their thousands, whistling their fright. So great was their wingspan that, when they passed over the ship, the noise of their movements was like low thunder. The colony took half an hour to pass overhead, and the captain shot several for the pot.
When at last the brig rounded the peninsula and began to sail north, within two days of Rivenjk, another storm struck. It was less severe than the previous one. They were whirled up in fog and snow, which arrived in great flurries. For a whole day the light of the suns glittered through thick mists and hail, the hailstones being as large as a man’s fist.
As the storm abated and the men at the pumps were able to stagger away and sleep, the coastline slowly revealed itself again.
Here the cliffs were less vertical, though as awesome as ever, husbanding their own clouds and rainstorms. From out of one obscuring storm emerged the gigantic figure of a man, swathed in mist.
The man appeared to be intending to spring from the shore and land on the deck of the New Season. Toress Lahl cried in alarm.
“That’s the Hero, ma’am,” said the second mate re assuringly. “He’s a sign we’re nearly at journey’s end-and a good thing too.”
Once the scale of the coast was grasped, it was plain that the statue was gigantic. The captain demonstrated with his sextant that it stood over a thousand metres high.
The Hero’s arms were upraised and carried slightly forward over the head. The knees were slightly bent. The man’s stance suggested that he was either aboutto jump into the ocean or take flight. The latter alternative was suggested by what might have been a pair of wings, or else a cloak, flowing back from the broad shoulders. For stability, the figure’s lower legs had not been separated from the rock face from which it was sculpted.
The statue was stylised, cut with curious whorls as if to confer an aerodynamic shape. The face was sharp and eaglelike, yet not entirely inhuman.
Increasing the solemnity of the sight, a distant bell tolled. Its brazen voice rolled across the grey waters to the brig.
“He’s a splendid figure, isn’t he?” Luterin Shokerandit said with pride. The passengers in their metamorphosed state all gathered at the rail to stare uneasily across at the gigantic statue.
“What does he represent?” Fashnalgid asked, plunging his hands into his coat pockets.
“He represents nothing. He is himself. He’s the Hero.”
“He must represent something.”
Annoyed, Shokerandit said, “He stands there, that’s all. A man. To be seen and admired.”
They fell uneasily silent, listening to the melancholy note of the bell.
“Shivenink is a land of bells,” Shokerandit said.
“Has the Hero got a bell in his belly?” young Kenigg asked.
“Who would build such a thing in such a place?” Odim enquired, to cover his son’s impertinent question.
“Let me tell you, my friends, that this mighty figure was created ages ago-some say many Great Years past,” Shokerandit said. “It was built, legend has it, by a superior race of men, whom we call the Architects of Kharnabhar. The Architects constructed the Great Wheel. They are the finest builders the world has ever known. When they finished their labours on the Wheel, they sculpted this giant figure of the Hero. And the Hero has guarded Rivenjk and the way to Kharnabhar ever since.”
“Beholder, what are we coming to?” Fashnalgid asked himself aloud. He went below to smoke a veronikane and read a book.
When the desolation of a post-apocalyptic Earth yielded to the ice age, signals had been received from Helliconia for the past three centuries. As the glaciers moved south, there were few who possessed the ability to watch that newly discovered planet’s history, apart from the androids on Charon.
At least this could be said for the ice age. It wiped the Earth clear of the festering shells of defunct cities. It obliterated the cemeteries which all previous habitation had become. Voles, rats, wolves, ran where highways had once been. In the southern hemisphere, too, the ice was on the move. Solitary condors patrolled the empty Andes. Penguins moved, generation by generation, towards the desired ice shelves of Copacabana.
A drop of only a few degrees had been enough to throw the intricate mechanisms of climatic control out of gear. The nuclear blast had induced in the living biosphere- in Gaia, the Earth mother- a state of shock. For the first time in epochs, Gaia met a brute force she could not accommodate. She had been raped and all but murdered by her sons.
For hundreds of millions of years, Earth’s surface had been steadily maintained within the narrow extremes of temperature most congenial to life- maintained by an unwitting conspiracy between all living things in conjunction with their parent world. This despite increases in the sun’s energy, causing dramatic changes in the constitution of the atmosphere. The regulation of the amount of salt in the sea had been maintained at a constant percentage of 3.4. If that had ever risen to a mere 6 percent, all marine life would have ceased. At that percentage of salinity, cell walls disintegrate.
The amount of oxygen in the atmosphere had similarly been maintained at a steady 21 percent. The percentage of ammonia in the atmosphere had also been maintained. The ozone layer in the atmosphere had been maintained.
All these homeostatic equilibria had been maintained by Gaia, the Earth mother in whom all living things, from sequoias to algae, whales to viruses, had their being. Only mankind had grown up and forgotten Gaia. Mankind had invented its own gods, had possessed those gods, had been possessed by them, had used them as weapons against enemies, and against their own inner selves. Mankind had enslaved itself, in hate as much as love. In that madness of isolation, mankind invented formidable weapons of destruction. In committing genocide, it almost slew Gaia.
She was slow to recover. One striking symptom of her illness was the death of trees. Those abundant organisms, which had spread from the tropical rain forests to the northern tundras, were killed by the radioactivity and an inability to photosynthesise. With the disappearance of trees, a vital link in the homeostatic chain was broken; the homes they provided for a myriad of life forms were lost.
Conditions of cold prevailed for almost a thousand years. Earth lay in a chill catalepsy. But the seas lived.
The seas had absorbed much of the large clouds of carbon dioxide released by the nuclear holocaust. The carbon dioxide remained trapped in the water, retained in deep ocean circulation and not to be released for centuries. The ultimate release initiated a period of greenhouse warming.
As had happened before, life came forth from the seas. Many components of the biosphere-insects, microorganisms, plants, man himself- had survived, thanks to isolation, freak winds, or other providential conditions. They again became active, as white gave place to green. The ozone layer, shielding living cells from lethal ultraviolet, reestablished itself. Once more, as the firn melted, the pipe of separate instruments reached towards orchestral pitch.
By 5900, better conditions were evident. Antelope sprang among low thorn trees. Men and women muffled themselves in skins and trudged north after the glaciers.
At night, those humbled revenants huddled together for comfort and gazed upwards at the stars. The stars had scarcely changed since the time of paleolithic man. It was the human race which had changed.
Whole nations had gone forever. Those enterprising people who had developed mighty technologies and had struck out first for the planets and then for the stars, who had forged clever weapons and legends- those peoples had wiped themselves out. Their sole heirs were the sterile androids working on the outer planets.
Races came forth who, under an earlier dispensation, could be regarded as losers. They lived on islands or in wildernesses, at the tops of mountains or on untamed rivers, in jungles and swamps. They had once been the poor. Now they came forth to inherit the Earth.
They were peoples who took delight in life. In those first generations, as the ice retreated, they had no need to quarrel. The world awoke again. Gaia forgave them. They rediscovered ways of living with the natural world of which they were a part. And they rediscovered Helli-conia.
From 6000 and for the next six centuries, Gaia could be said to convalesce. The tall glaciers were withdrawing fast to their polar fortresses.
Some of the old ways of life had survived. As the land returned, old bastions of the technophile culture were uncovered-generally hidden underground in elab orate military complexes. In the deepest bastions, there were descendants still living whose ancestors had been part of the ruling elite of the technophile culture; they had ensured their own survival while those who had been subject to them had perished. But these living fossils, on reaching the sunshine, died within a few hours- like fish brought up from the enormous pressures of the ocean deeps.
In their foul warrens, a hope was found-the link with another living planet. Summonses were sent through space to Charon, and a company of androids fetched back to Earth. These androids, with untiring skill, set about building auditoria in which the new population could observe all that happened on the far- distant planet.
The mentalities of the new populations were shaped to a large extent by the unfolding story they saw. Survivors on the other planets, cut off from Earth, also had their links with Helliconia.
In fresh green lands, auditoria stood like conch shells upended in sand. Each auditorium was capable of housing ten thousand people. In their sandalled feet, roughly clothed in skin, and later cloth, they came to look on with wonder. What they saw was a planet not greatly different from their own, emerging slowly from the grip of a long winter. It was their story.
Sometimes an auditorium might remain deserted for years. The new populations also had their crises, and the natural catastrophes which attended Caia’s recovery. They had inherited not only the Earth but its uncertainties.
When they could, the new generations returned to watch the story of lives running parallel to their own. They were generations without terrestrial gods; but the figures on the giant screens appeared like gods. Those gods endured mysterious dramas of possession and religion which gripped yet puzzled their terrestrial audiences.
By the year 6344, living forms were again in moderate abundance. The human population took a solemn vow that they would hold all possessions in common, declaring that not only life but its freedom was sacred. They were much influenced by the deeds of a Helliconian living in an obscure hamlet in the central continent, a leader called Aoz Roon. They saw how a good man was ruined by a determination to get his own way. To the new generations, there was no “own way”; there was only a common way, the journey of life, the uct of the communal spirit.
As they viewed the immense figure of Aoz Roon, saw water blow from his lips and beard as he drank from his hands, they watched drops which had fallen a thousand years earlier. The human understanding of past generations had made past and present merge. For many years, the picture of Aoz Roon drinking from his hands became a popular ikon.
To the new generations, with their empathic feel for all life, it was natural to wonder whether they could assist Aoz Roon and those who lived with him. They had no idea of setting out in starships, as preglacial peoples might have done. Instead, they decided to focus their empathic sense and broadcast it outwards through conch shells.
So it was that signals went from Earth to Helliconia, responding for the first time to the signals which had long flowed in the opposite direction.
The characteristics of the human race were now drawn from a slightly different genetic pool than formerly. Those who had inherited the Earth were strong on empathy. Empathy had not been dominant in the preglacial world. That gift of entering into the personality of another, of experiencing sympathetically his or her state of mind, had never been rare. But the elite had despised it-or exploited it. Empathy ran against their interest as exploiters. Power and empathy were not happy teammates.
Now empathy was widely dispersed among the race. It became a dominant feature, with survival characteristics. There was nothing inhuman about it.
There was an inhuman aspect to the Helliconians. The terrestrials puzzled greatly about it. The Helliconians knew the spirits of their dead and communed regularly with them.
The new race on Earth took no particular account of death. They understood that when they died they were taken back and absorbed into the great Earth mother, their elementary particles to be re-formed into future living things. They were buried shallowly with flowers in their mouths, symbolising the force that would spring up from their decay. But it was different on Helliconia. They were fascinated by the Helli- conians’ descent into pauk to commune with their gossies, those sparks of vital energy.
And it was observed that the ancipital race had a similar relationship with its dead. Dead phagors sank into a “tether” state and appeared to linger, dwindling, for several generations. The phagors had no burial customs.
These macabre extensions to existence were regarded on Earth as a compensation for the extremities of climate which living things endured in the course of a Helliconian Great Year. There was, though, a marked difference between the defunct of the ancipital kind and the defunct of the human kind.
Phagors in tether supported their living descendants, formed a reservoir of wisdom and encouragement, comforted them in adversity. The spirits of humans visited in pauk, on the other hand, were unmitigatedly spiteful. No gossie ever spoke except to utter reproaches and to complain about a spoilt life.
Why this difference? asked the new intellects.
They answered from their own experience. They said: Dreadful though the phagors are, they are not estranged from the Original Beholder, the Helliconian Gaia figure. So they are not tormented by the spirits about them. The humans are estranged; they worship many useless gods who make them ill. So their spirits can never be at peace.
How happy for the Helliconian peoples-said t he empathic ones among themselves-if they could have comfort from their gossies in the midst of all their other troubles.
So a determination developed. Those fortunate enough to experience life, to rise up from the molecular and surface into the great light of consciousness, like a salmon leaping from a stream to take a winged life, should radiate their happiness towards Helliconia.
The living of Earth, in other words, should beam empathy like a signal to Helliconia. Not to the living of Helliconia. The living, estranged from their Original Beholder, busy with their affairs, their lusts and hatreds, could not be expected to receive such a signal. But the gossies-for ever hungry for contact- might respond! The gossies in their event-free existence, suspended in obsidian as they sank towards the Original Beholder, the gossies might be capable of receiving a beam of empathy.
A whole generation discussed the daringly visionary proposal.
Was the attempt worth making? went the question.
It would be a great unifying experience even if it failed, came the answer.
Could we possibly hope to affect alien beings-the very dead-so far away?
Through us, Caia could address the Original Beholder. They are kin, not alien. Perhaps this amazing idea is not ours but hers. We must try.
But when we are so far distant in space and time . . . ?
Empathy is a matter of intensity. It defies space and time. Do we not still feel for the exile of Iphigenia in that ancient story? Let’s try.
On all counts, it is worth it. The spirit of Caia commands.
And so they tried.
The attempt was long-sustained. Wherever they sat and watched, wherever they came or went in their rough sandals, the living generations put away worldly things and radiated empathy towards the dead of Helliconia. And even when they could not resist including the living, such as Shay Tal or Laintal Ay, or whomever they might personally favour, they were still empathising with those long dead.
And over the years the warmth of their empathy took effect. The fessups ceased to grieve, the gossies ceased to chide. Those of the living who communed through pauk were not reproved but comforted. An unpossessive love had triumphed.