The geonauts were the first life systems on Earth not to consist of living cells, and therefore not to depend on bacteria. They formed a complete break from all life that had gone before, including those amazing gene cities, humanity.

Perhaps Gain had turned her metaphorical thumbs down on humanity. They had proved themselves more of a curse than an adjunct to the biosphere. Possibly they were now being phased out, or merged with a greater thing.

At all events, the white polyhedrons were now everywhere, covering every continent. They appeared to do no harm. Their ways were as inscrutable as the ways of kings to cats, or of cats to kings. But they emitted energy.

The energy was not the old energy which mankind had used JOT centuries and termed electricity. The humans called the new energy ego-nicity, perhaps in memory of the old.

Egonicity could not be generated. It was a force which flowed only from large white polyhedrons when they were about to replicate, or were meditating on the subject. It could, however, be felt. It was felt as a mild singing noise in the lower stomach or hora region. It did not register on any instrument the post-ice age humans could devise.

The post-ice age humans were itinerant. They no longer wished to possess land but rather to be possessed by it. The old world of fences was dead for ever.

Wherever they went, they walked. And it so turned out that it was the easiest thing to follow a suitable geonaut. Humanity had not lost its old ingenuity, or its skill with its hands. As generations passed, a group of men on one of the new continents discovered a way of harnessing enough egonicity to move a small carriage. Soon, small carriages were to be seen everywhere, moving at a slow rate over the land, trundling in front of a geonaut.

When the geonaut replicated, letting slip a stream of tiny polyhedrons like sheets of paper in the wind, the egonicity ceased, and those who sat in the carriage had to push it to another source.

However, that was just a beginning. Later developments would bring different arrangements.

The human race, greatly reduced from its former numbers, roamed the new Earth, and developed a dependence on the geonauts which increased generation by generation.

Nobody worked as once people had worked, bent double planting rice or sowing potatoes in the dirt. They did plant vegetables occasionally, but that was for pleasure; and others inherited the fruits of their labours, since they had by that time moved on- though rarely by more than a mile a day. Egonicity was not a violent power source. Nobody worked at desks. Desks were extinct.

It might have been supposed that these people were always on holiday, or perhaps that they inhabited some rather spartan version of the Garden of Eden. Such was not the case. They were intensely involved with work of their own specific kind. They were doing what they termed rethinking.

The storms of radioactivity which had followed the nuclear war had left their brand upon the genetic pool. The survival of mankind increasingly favoured those with new connections among the neural path- ways of their brains. The neocortex had been, in geological terms, a hasty development. It had functioned well on ordinary occasions but, in times of stress, it had been bypassed by emotion. In prenuclear tim.es, this deficiency had been regarded as a norm, sometimes as a desirable norm. Violence was regarded as an acceptable solution to many problems which would never have originated had violence not been in the air in the first place.

In these more pacific times, violence was unwelcome. It was seen as a failing, never as a solution. Generation by generation, the neocortex developed better connections with other parts of the brain. Mankind began to know itself for the first time.

These itinerant people did see themselves as on holiday. Such are the ways that Gaia works through evolution. They found pleasure in doing exactly those things which improved their stock, and those couples excelled whose children in the next generation would do best at the new sport of rethinking.

Mainly they searched for deep structures in the human consciousness. While seeking out those guiding determinants which had shaped the history of the human race so far, they were guided by what happened on Helliconia. The records of terrestrial history before the nuclear destruction were almost entirely destroyed; only one or two caches of knowledge had been disinterred from the ruins. But Helliconia was reckoned to present in its people a fair parallel of the deep structures which had once prevailed on Earth.

Those terrestrials who had so feared their own violent nature, who had walled themselves about with fences, armaments, and harsh laws- so  it was reckoned-were not greatly different from the troubled young man who killed his father. Aggression and killing had been an escape from pain: in the end, the planet itself had been murdered by its own sons.

Although there was scarcely a person on the whole planet who had not heard of the Great Wheel of Kharnabhar, few had visited it. None had seen it in its entirety.

The Great Wheel lay underground, buried in the heart of Mount Kharnabhar. The Architects had built it, and none had come after them who could even emulate their work.

Nothing was known of the Architects of Kharnabhar, but one thing was certain. They were devout men. They had believed that faith could move worlds. They had set about building a machine of stone which could haul Helliconia across the darkness and cold until it docked again to bask in the warmth of God the Azoiaxic’s favour. So far,the machine had always worked.

The machine was powered by faith, and the faith was in the hearts of men.

The way by which men entered the Wheel had been unchanged throughout the ages. After a preliminary ceremony at the gates of the tunnel, the newcomer was led down a wide flight of stairs which curved into the mountain. Biogas jets lit the way. At the bottom of the steps was a funnel-shaped chamber,  the far wall of which was a section of the Wheel itself. The newcomer was then helped or propelled, depending on his state of mind, into the cell of the Wheel there visible. After a while, after a jerk, the Wheel began to rotate. Slowly, the view of the outer world was cut off from the cell’s new occupant by the  rock face. The outer world disappeared from view. Now the newcomer was alone

-except for all the occupants of all the other cells nearby, who would remain unseen throughout his tenure of the Wheel.

Luterin Shokerandit was not untypical of those who entered the Wheel. Others had sought refuge there. Some had been saints, some sinners.

Originally, the plan of the Architects had been followed by the Church. There had been no shortage of volunteers to take their places in the Great Wheel and row it across the firmament to its rightful port beside Freyr. But when the long centuries of light returned at last, when Sibornal was again bathed in daylight, then the faith declined. It became more difficult to attract the faithful, to persuade them into the darkness.

The Wheel would have come to a standstill had not the State stepped in to aid the Church. It had sent its criminals to Kharnabhar, in order that they might serve their sentences in the Wheel and, crouched deep in rock, haul their world and themselves to remission. Thus had come about the close collaboration of Church and State which had sustained the strength of Sibornal for more Great Years than could be re- membered.

Throughout the summer and the long lazy autumn, the Wheel was hauled as often by malefactors as by priests. Only when life became more difficult, when snows began to fall and crops to fail, did the old faith grow strong again. Then the religious returned, begging for a guaranteed place among the righteous. The criminals were sent off to become sailors or soldiers, or were dumped unceremoniously in Persecu- tion Bay.

Father father what headwaters are these The rock so red hot like a forehead

And me so fevered in the rude red darkness Are you there above below me

Waiting not to die O death

Its energies You scream in the walls

Of my existence by my side The lights go by Go by and are gone and I in the snoring Rock I revile myself That thing

I never did in mind but of a sudden With your knife cutting our mutual It was I swear our mutual artery This place of terror screaming Where I’ll forever bleed like lava Clogging the rude red rock darkness

His thoughts ran in curious patterns, seemed to him to flow through him forever. Time was marked in  the entombed soul by protracted squeals of rock against rock and by hideous groans. Gradually, the groans caught his attention. His mind became quieter listening to them. He was uncertain of his whereabouts. He imagined himself lying in the subterranean stall of some great wounded beast. Though close to death, the beast was still searching for him, looking here, looking there. When it found him, it would fall upon him and crush him to death in its own final agonies.

At last he roused himself. It was the wind he heard. The wind blew down the orifices of the Wheel, creating a harmony of groans. The squealing was the movement of the Wheel.

Luterin sat up. The priests of the Wheel had not only let him in, thus saving him from his father’s avengers, they had absolved him from all his sins before guiding him into his cell. Such was their standard practice. Men who were imprisoned with their sins upon them were more likely to go mad.

He stood up. The terrible thing he had done filled all his mind. He looked with horror at his right hand, and at the bloodstain on his right sleeve.

Food arrived. It could be heard rumbling down a chute in the rock overhead. It consisted of a round loaf of bread, a cheese, and a chunk of something which was probably roast stungebag, tied up in a cloth. So  it was Batalix-dawn overhead. Soon the small winter would prevail, and then Batalix would not be seen again for several tenners. But little difference that made in the entrails of Mount Kharnabhar. As he munched on a piece of bread, he walked about his cell, examining it with the attention a man gives his surroundings when he knows that a narrow box is to become his life.

The Architects of Kharnabhar had arranged every measurement to correspond in some way with the astronomical facts which governed life on Helliconia. The height of the cell was 240 centimetres, cor- responding to the six weeks of a tenner times the forty minutes of the hour, or to five times the six weeks times the eight days in a week.

The width of the cell at its outer end was 2.5 metres-250 centimetres, corresponding to the ten tenners of a small year times the number of hours in a day.

The depth of the cell was 480 centimetres, corresponding to the number of days in a small year.

Against one wall was a bunk, the cell’s sole furniture. Above the bunk was the chute down which provisions came. On the far side of the cell was the opening which served as a latrine. The wastes fell  down a pipe to biogas chambers below the Wheel, which, supplemented by vegetable and animal wastes from the monastery overhead, supplied the Wheel with its methane lighting.

Luterin’s cell was separated from those on eitherside by walls .64159 metres in thickness-a figure  which, added to the cell width, gave the value of pi. As he sat on his bunk with his back against this partition, he regarded the wall on his left. It was solid unmoving rock, and formed the fourth wall of the cell  with scarcely a crack between it and its neighbours in the Wheel. Carved in this rock were two sets of  alcoves: a high series containing the biogas burners, which provided the cells with what light and warmth  they enjoyed, and, set twice as frequent, a lower series containing lengths of chain, firmly stapled into place.

Still munching his bread, Luterin crossed to the outer wall and lifted the heavy links of chain. They seemed to sweat in his hands. He dropped them. The chain fell back into its narrow alcove. It consisted of  ten links, each link representing a small year.

He stood there without movement, his gaze locked on the length of chain. Beside the horror of his deed, another horror was growing, the horror of imprisonment. By these ten-link chains, the Great Wheel  was to be moved through space.

He had not yet taken his turn with the chains. He had no notion how long he had lain in a delirium,  while words winged like birds through his head. He recalled only the shrill noise of trumpets from the monks somewhere above the Wheel, and then the lurching horizontal movements of the Wheel itself, which continued for half a day.

Contemplating the outer wall frightened Luterin. The time would come when he would feel differently. That wall was the only changing element of his environment. Its markings formed a map of the journey; by those excoriations, a practised prisoner could chart his way through time and granite.

The inner walls, the permanent walls of the cell, had been elaborately-incised by previous occupants. Portraits of saints and drawings of genital organs testified to the mixed occupancy of the cell. Poems were engraved here, calendars, confessions, calculations, diagrams. Not an inch had been spared. The walls preserved fossils of spirits long dead. They were palimpsests of suffering and hope.

Revolutionary slogans could be read. One was cut on top of an earnest prayer to a god called Akha. Many of the earliest markings were obliterated by later ones, as one generation obliterates another. Some  of the early inscriptions, though faint, were legible and delicately formed. Some were in ornate scripts which had disappeared from the world.

In one of the faintest, most elaborate scripts, Luterin read the basic details of the Wheel itself. These were figures which had a power over all who were incarcerated here.

The Wheel might more properly be described as a ring, revolving about a great central finger of granite.

The height of the Wheel was a uniform 6.6 metres, or twelve times 55, the northern latitude of the Wheel itself. Counting its base, its thickness was 13.19 metres, 1319 being the year of Freyr-set, or Myrkwyr, at latitude 55°N, dating the years from the nadir year of apastron. The diameter of the Wheel  was 1825 metres, the number of small years in one Great Year. And 1825 was the number of cells set in  the outer circumference of the Wheel.

Close to this numeration, and allowed to remain intact, was an intricately engraved figure. It represented the Wheel in its correct dimensions, set in the rock. Above it was the cavern, large enough to permit the monks from the monastery to walk on top of the Wheel and drop supplies to the prisoners below. Entry to the cavern could be gained only through Bambekk Monastery, which perched on the hillsides of Mount Kharnabhar, above the buried Wheel.

Whoever had incised the figure on the granite had evidently been well informed. The river that ran below the Wheel, assisting its revolutions, was also depicted. Other schematic lines carried a connection  from the heart of the Wheel out to Freyr and Batalix and to the constellations of the ten houses of the zodiac-the Bat, Wutra’s Ox, the Boulder, the Night Wound, the Golden Ship, and the others.

“Abro Hakmo Astab!” Luterin exclaimed, uttering the forbidden oath for the first time. He hated these supposed connections. They lied. There were no connections. There was only himself, embedded in rock, no better than a gossie. He flung himself down on the bunk.

He used the oath again. As one of the damned, he was permitted it.

The dimmer the vision, the louder the noises. Luterin presumed that the other occupants of the Wheel slept when it was not moving. He lay awake, gazing vacantly about the dull box he inhabited.

His water supply ran down into a trough near the foot of his bunk. Its drips and splashes were close, and as regular as the tick of clocks.

Deeper in tone were the flows of water beneath the mobile floor. These were lazy noises, like a continuous drunken monologue. Luterin found them soothing.

Other watery noises, drips and plops, coming more distantly, reminded him of the outside world of nature, of freedom, of the hunt. He could imagine himself wandering free in the caspiarn forests. But that illusion could not be sustained. Ever and again he saw his father’s face in its final agony. The brooks, waterfalls, torrents, disappeared from his mind’s eye, to be replaced by blood.

His lethargy was pierced only when he opened his daily woven bundle of food, and found a message in it.

He carried the scrap of paper over to the blue flame in the outer wall and peered at it. Someone had written in small script, “All is well here. Love.”

There was no signature, not even an initial. His mother? Toress Lahl? Insil? One of his friends?

The very anonymity of the message was an encouragement. There was someone outside who thought well of him and who could-at least on one occasion-communicate with him.

That day, when the priests’ trumpets sounded, he leaped up and seized hold of the chain hanging in its alcove in the outer wall. Bracing his feet against the partition wall, he heaved on the chain. His cell moved-the Wheel moved.

Another heave, and the movement was less reluctant this time. A few centimetres were gained.

“Pull, you biwackers!” he shouted.

The encouraging bugles sounded at intervals for twelve and a half hours, then fell silent as long. By the end of a day’s work, Luterin had advanced himself by some 119 centimetres, almost half the width of his cell. The flame which lit his cell was close to the dividing wall. By the end of another day’s work, it would be eclipsed-would be in the following cell-and a new one would be revealed.

A mass of 1284551.137 tons had to be shifted: that was the burden which holiness had placed on the incumbents of the Wheel. It appeared to be merely a physical labour. But, as the days were to pass, Luterin would find himself regarding it more and more as a spiritual task; while more and more it became apparent to him that there were indeed connections out from his heart, and from the Wheel, to Freyr and Batalix and to the far constellations. The perception would come that the Wheel contained not merely hardship but-as legend claimed-the beginnings of wisdom.

“Pull!” he shouted again. “Pull, you saints and sinners.”

From then on, he became fanatical, leaping up eagerly from his bunk as soon as the awaited bugle blew. He cursed those who, in his imagination, did not rise as swiftly to the task as he did. He cursed those who would not labour at their chains at all, as he had once done. It was beyond his understanding why the work periods were not longer.

At night-but here only night existed-Luterin lay do wn to sleep with a head full of the image of that great slow-grinding Wheel, crushing men’s lives away like a grindstone.

The Wheel moved every day, as it had done since the great Architects had established it.

It revolved about a harsh irony. The captives, nested like maggots each in separate cells on the perimeter of the Wheel, were forced to propel themselves into the heart of the granite mountain. Only by submitting to that cruel journey, by actively collaborating in it, was it possible to emerge. Only by that collaboration was it possible to effect the revolution of the Wheel which meant freedom. Only by plunging deep into the entrails of the mountain was it possible to issue forth a free man.

“Pull, pull!” shouted Luterin, straining every muscle. He thought of the 1824 others, captive each in his separate cell, each bound to pull if ever they were to escape.

He knew not what crises prevailed in the outside world. He knew not what sequence of events he had precipitated. He knew not who lived or died. Increasingly, as the tenners went by, his mind was filled with loathing for those other prisoners-some perhaps sick or even dead- who did not pull with a whole heart. He felt that he alone was bearing the weight of rock on his sinews, he alone heaving the Wheel through its firmament of granite towards the light.

The tenners passed, and the small years. Only the scratchings on the outer rock wall changed. Otherwise, all remained always the same.

The sameness overpowered his youthful mind. He became dull, resigned. He did not always move now when the priests’ trumpets blew overhead, their noise made reedy by the thickness of roof.

His thoughts of his father receded. He had come to terms with his guilt by believing that his father had himself been overwhelmed by guilt, and had handed his son the knife before taunting him in order that he might meet death. That face, always shining with sebum, had been a face of misery.

It took him a long while to contemplate the possibility of visiting his father in pauk. But the idea preyed on his mind. In the second year of his incarceration, Luterin climbed onto his bunk and lay flat. He scarcely knew what to do. Gradually, the pauk state overcame him, and he drifted down into a darkness greater than any in the heart of the mountain.

Never before had he entered into that melancholy world of the gossies, where all who had once lived  and lived no more sank slowly through the terrible silences into nonbeing. Disorientation overwhelmed him. At first he could not sink; then he could not stop himself sinking. He drifted down towards the sparks dim below him like guttering stars, all arranged in a static uniformity possible only within the regions of  death.

The barque of Luterin’s soul moved steadily, peeringwithout sight into the fessup ranks which filtered down all the way to the heart of the Original Beholder. Viewed closely, even- gossie resembled something like singed poultry, hanging to dry. Through their rib cages, their transparent stomachs, particles could be seen, circulating slowly like flies in a bottle. In their sketchy heads, little lights flickered through hollow eye sockets. Obeying a direction no compass could detect, the soul of Luterin fluttered before the gossie of Lobanster Shokerandit.

“My father, you need say one word only and I shall be gone, I who loved you best and harmed you most.”

“Luterin, Luterin, I wait here, sinking towards extinction, only in the hope of seeing you. What sight could be more welcome to my eyes than you? How fare you, child, in the ranks of those who must still undergo the hour of their mortality?” On the last word, puffs of sparks were transpired.

“Father, ask not of me. Speak of yourself. My thoughts are never free of that crime I committed. Those terrible moments in that fatal courtyard always haunt me.”

“You must forgive yourself, as I forgave you when I reached this place. We were of different generations, your mind had not yet composed itself, you were unable to take the long view of human affairs that I could. You obeyed a principle, just as I did. There’s honour in that.”

“I did not intend to kill you, my beloved father-only the Oligarch.”

“The Oligarch never dies. There is always another.” As the gossie spoke, a cloud of dull particles issued from the cavity where once a mouth had been. They hung and dispersed but slowly, like snow sinking into coal dust.

The cinder of Lobanster described how he had taken on the duties of the Oligarch because he believed that there were values in Sibornal worth preserving. He spoke long about these virtues, and many times his discourse wandered.

He spoke of the way he had hidden the truth of his august position from his family. His long hunting trips were no such thing. Somewhere in the wilderness of the mountains, he had a secret retreat. There his hunting dogs were kept, while he went on with a small guard to Askitosh. He collected the hounds on the way home. Once his older son had discovered the hounds and pieced the truth together. Rather than speak of what he found, Favin had leaped to his death.

“You may easily imagine the grief that overwhelmed me, son. Better to be here, to be safe in obsidian, knowing that no more bitter shocks can assail flesh and spirit.”

The soul of the son was overcome but not convinced by this eloquence.

“Why could you not confide in me, Father?”

“I let you guess when I believed the time to be right. The plague must be stopped, the people must learn obedience. Otherwise, civilisation will sink and die under the impact of centuries of cold. Only with that thought in mind could I persevere as I did.”

“Respected Father, you could not represent civilisation when the blood of thousands was on your hands.”

“They are here with me now, son, those men of Asperamanka’s army. Do you imagine they have a single complaint against me? Or your brother, also here?”

The soul uttered the equivalent of a cry. “Matters are different after death. There is no real feeling, only benevolence. What about that unnecessary war you caused to be waged against our neighbors in Bribahr, when the ancient city of Rattagon was destroyed? Was that not sheer cruelty?”

“Only if necessity is cruelty. My speediest way from Kharnabhar to distant Askitosh was to turn westwards from Noonat and speed down the Bribahrese river, the Jerddal-a much more easily navigable river than our ill-tempered Venj. So I came to the coast where ships awaited me, and was not recognised, as in Rivenjk I would have been recognised. Do you comprehend me, my son? I speak only to set your mind at rest. “It is important that the Oligarch remain anonymous. It lessens danger of assassination and jealousy between nations. But a party of nobles from Rattagon sailing on the Jerddal did recognise me. In view of the hostility between our countries, they planned to dispose of me. I disposed of them instead, in self-defence. You must do likewise, my dear son, when your turn comes. Protect and cherish yourself.” “Never, Father.”

“Well, you have plenty of time to mature,” said the glimmering shade indulgently.

“Father, you have also struck out against the Church.” The soul paused. It was unable to master its feelings, at once of respect and hatred, towards this smokey fragment. “I must ask you-do you think that God ever listens or speaks?”

The hollow which had once been mouth made no movement when it replied. “It is given to us gossies here below to perceive wherefrom our visitors come. I know well, my son, that you come from the heart of our nation’s holiness. Therefore I ask you: in this purgatory, do you hear God speak? Do you feel him listen?”

In the questions moved a kind of leaden evil, as if misery could be happy only in propagating itself.

“If it were not for my sins, he might listen, he might speak. That I believe.”

“If there were a God, boy, do you not reckon that we here below in all our legions would know of him? Look around you. There’s nothing here but obsidian. God is mankind’s greatest lie-a buffer against the bleak truths of the world.”

For the soul, it was as if a strong current was drawing it towards an unknown place, and it felt close to suffocation. “Father, I must leave.”

“Come nearer to me that I may embrace you.”

Accustomed to obey, Luterin drifted nearer to the battered cage. He was about to hold out a hand in a gesture of affection when a strong rain of particles shot up from the gossie, enveloping it as if with fire. He scudded away. The glow died. Just in time, he recalled the stories which claimed that the gossies, for all their resignation to death, would seize a living soul and change places with it if they could.

Once more, he uttered his protestations of affection and rose up slowly through the obsidian, until the whole congregation of gossies and fessups was not more than a dwindling star field. He returned to his own prostrate form in its cell. Sluggishly, he became aware of the warmth of the living body.

There were still eight years to go before his cell was hauled round to the exit, still three before his cell had reached even halfway, in the heart of the dolorous mountain.

The environment never changed. But Luterin’s revulsion for himself began to stale, and change came  to colour his thought. He began to brood on the division which had been growing between the Church and  the State. Supposing that division became still wider and, for whatever reason, recruitment to the Wheel ceased. Supposing that ten-yearers continued to be released and were not replaced. Gradually the Wheel would slow. There would be too few men to budge its mass. Then, despite all the world’s bugles, the Wheel would stop. He would be entombed deep within the mountain. There would be no escape.

The thought pursued him like a yellow-striped fly, even in his slumbers. He did not doubt that it pursued many another prisoner. Certainly the Wheel had never failed since the Architects finished their work long ago; but the past was no guarantee for the future. He lived in a suspense that was scarcely life, thinking with resignation of the old saying, “A Sibornalese works for life, marries for life, and longs for life.” Apart from the clause regarding marriage, he would have sworn that the proverb originated in the Wheel.

He was tormented by the thought of women, and by the lack of male companionship. He tried to signal through the rock to his nearest fellow sufferers, but no response came. Nor did he receive any more messages from outside. Hope of them died. He had been forgotten.

Through the spells of work and silence, a riddle rose to haunt him. Of the 1825 cells of the Wheel, only two had access to the outer world at one time, the cell by which one entered and the adjacent cell by which one left. How, then, had the Wheel been loaded with its pilgrims in the first instance? How had the giants who had erected this machine started it into motion?

He burdened his mind with visions of ropes and hawsers and pulleys, and of gushing underground rivers which turned the Wheel into a waterwheel. But he could never resolve the riddle to his satisfaction.

Even the processes of his mind remained incarcerated within the holy mountain.

Occasionally a rickyback would make a journey across his cell floor. With joy, he seized it up, holding it gently, watching its fragile legs wave as it struggled to be free. The rickyback understood freedom and was undividedly interested in the subject. Infinitely more complex humans were more divided.

What transcendental pain caused men to imprison themselves for a large portion of their lives within the Great Wheel? Was this indeed the path towards self-understanding?

He wondered if the rickyback understood itself. His efforts to identify with the tiny creatures, so as to  enjoy a fraction of their freedom, left him feeling ill. He lay for hours at a time on the floor of the cell, staring at minute moving things, small white ants, microscopic worms. Sometimes he caught pink-eyed  rats and mice observing him. If I died, he thought, these would be my only witnesses. The unconsidered.

Many men must have died during their confinement in the intestines of the Wheel. Some had confined themselves from choice, as some were celibate from choice. Perhaps they had been goaded by a wish to escape into changelessness, away from the bustle of the world-that bustle framed, if he understood the astronomers, within the greater commotion of the universe.

But for him, the changelessness of the cell was a kind of death. There had been no yesterday. There would be no tomorrow. His spirit fought against a withering process.

Then the day’s trumpets echoed, and he scrambled up, ran to the outer wall of his cell, and grasped the nearest chain. Heaving the Wheel through the rock had become the only meaningful activity left. By

119 centimetres a day, the machine progressed each of its occupants through the darkness.

He never sank into pauk again. But the visit to his father’s ember had removed the burden of his guilt. He found after a while that he had ceased to think of his father; or, if he thought at all, he thought only of the spark spluttering in the world beyond mortality.

The father who had been real to him, the brave hunter, forever stalking with his gallant friends through the wilds of the caspiarn forest, was lost, had never existed. Instead there was a man who-in place of that free life-had chosen to incarcerate himself in Icen Hill, in the slatey castle in Askitosh.

There were curious parallels between the dead man’slife and Luterin’s own. Luterin was also self- imprisoned.

For the third time, his life had come to a standstill. After the year’s paralysis, on the threshold of adulthood, the hiatus of the Fat Death, with its subsequent metamorphosis; now this. Was he at last to cease to be what Harbin Fashnalgid had called a creature of the system? Was there a last metamorphosis awaiting him?

It remained to be seen if he could throw off his father’s influence. His father, though head of the system, had also been its victim, as had his family through him. Luterin thought of his mother, for ever incarcerated in the family mansion: she might as well be where he was.

As the years passed, he saw Toress Lahl more dimly. The glow of her presence went out. By becoming a slave, she had become no more than a slave; as his mother had pointed out, her devotion was merely the devotion of a slave, self-seeking, self-preserving, not from the heart. Without social status-dead to society, as people  said of slaves-the heart did not move. There could be only tactical moves. He thought he understood that a slave must always hate its captor.

Insil Esikananzi glowed more brightly as the tenners and centimetres passed. Incarcerated in her own home, entombed within her own family, she carried the spark of rebellion; her heart beat strongly under her velvets. He spoke to her in the dark. She answered always mockingly, teasing him for his conformity; yet he was comforted by her concern, and by her perception of the world.

And he hauled on his chain whenever the trumpets blew.

High above the Great Wheel rode a structure to some extent resembling it. The Earth Observation Station Avernus also relied on faith for its working.

That faith had failed. Matriarchal societies ruled over small groups of people now entirely devoted to the spiritual playacting of multiple personalities. The giant aberrant sexual organs, the pudendolls, had all been ceremonially put to death-often by aberrant mean s. But a revulsion from all things mechanical or technological had left the tribes prey to a spiritless eudaemonism in which the sexual motif predominated.

The genders became hopelessly confused. From childhood, individuals adopted female and male personalities, sometimes as many as five of each. These multiple personalities might remain forever strangers to each other, speaking different dialects, pursuing different ways of life. Or they might fall into violent quarrels with each other, or become hopelessly enamoured of another.

Some of these personalities died, while their originator lived on.

Gradually, a general disintegration took place, as if the genetic coding on which inheritance depended had itself become confused.

A diminishing population continued to play its intricate games. But the sense of an ending was in the air. The automatic systems were also breaking down. The drones programmed to service faulty circuits were becoming themselves fit only for regeneration. Regeneration required human supervision, which was not forthcoming.

The signals passing back to Earth became more partial, less coordinated. Soon they would cease entirely. It needed only a few more generations.