Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:51 am

CHILD OF FORTUNE
by Norman Spinrad

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Table of Contents:

Introduction
• Chapter 1
• Chapter 2
• Chapter 3
• Chapter 4
• Chapter 5
• Chapter 6
• Chapter 7
• Chapter 8
• Chapter 9
• Chapter 10
• Chapter 11
• Chapter 12
• Chapter 13
• Chapter 14
• Chapter 15
• Chapter 16
• Chapter 17
• Chapter 18
• Chapter 19
• Chapter 20
• Chapter 21
• Chapter 22
• Chapter 23
• Chapter 24
• Chapter 25
• Chapter 26
• Chapter 27
• Chapter 28
• Chapter 29
• Chapter 30

"Hola!" exclaimed Wendi. "Then the full translation of the name [Pater Pan] would be ... Pope Lingam of the Libidinal Atman Goat, a fine epithet for the master cocksman we both knew indeed!"

-- "Child of Fortune," by Norman Spinrad
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:53 am

For PHILIP K. DICK
Some stand on the shoulders of giants
Some peer through the heart of a friend
Some lives have stories
Whose spirit never ends.


CHILD OF FORTUNE: A Histoire of the Second Starfaring Age
by Wendi Shasta Leonardo

"I think this is the finest philosophical novel writen in the last 50 years in America ....It concerns our future, in which we have solved the problems of competition, war, greed, and so on, and the real problems are psychological and spiritual. This is a monumental book."

-- Timothy Leary


INTRODUCTION

And so, after half a lifetime and some score histoires telling the eternal tale in all its timebound incarnations, I venture herein at last to speak my own wanderjahr's story from the memories of the heart.

Wandering tinker and masterless samurai, troubadour and hippie, Rom and Arkie, Zen hermit and cowboy--uncounted avatars of the archetypal wanderkind have followed the Yellow Brick Road which wanders eternally through space and time from the villages and forests of prehistoric Earth to the San Franciscos and Samarkands of myth and history, via the first arkologies to brave the starry seas at a sublight crawl, and thence to the celestial cities of the far-flung worlds of men.

The singers and the avatars pass, but the song goes on, for the story is always the same: that of the wanderjahr, the eternal journey from childhood to maturity through the wondrous and terrible chaos of the region between.

This too is a histoire of that archetype as it is incarnated in our own era: The Child of Fortune whom we have all been or will become. But herein will the detached observer shed all pretense of objectivity, for this is my name tale's story, this is my wanderjahr's song.

So in this modern version of the timeless histoire, our ingenue begins the tale as the little Moussa on Glade, and the Yellow Brick Road she follows leads from planet to planet, and she travels not by horse or motorad but by Void Ship. In this histoire as in all my others, you will meet the avatars of the great and eternal journey of youth into maturity, of spirit into culture, of the comrades of the passage from what we dream into what we are destined to become.

But here you will meet them as did this Child of our Second Starfaring Age: as friends and lovers, freeservants and ruespielers, Charge Addicts, Honored Passengers, domos and mages, and the wandering children of all the worlds of men who were ourselves.

So this, my own wanderjahr's story, is also the tale of that journey which goes on above and below the historical annals. In the Second Starfaring Age we call that journey, as in another era deep in the past, the wanderjahr, though for some it is measured in weeks and for others in lifetimes. By whatever name that passage has been called--wanderjahr, summer of love, grailquest, voyage d'ark--until I took the freenom Wendi and began writing my histoires, it was a tale that what we have called "history" had ignored.

For "history" is the story of deeds done by those who have shaped the evolution of the species humaine, from the nameless hominid who crafted the first tool to the inventors of fire and the wheel, to the organizations that put the first humans into orbit and onto Earth's moon, to the builders of the arkologies that first brought men to the stars, to those who developed the Jump Drive out of the mysterious artifacts left by We Who Have Gone Before and thereby inaugurated our Second Starfaring Age. Those whose names are known to "history" have been scientists and explorers and politicians and generals and creative artists. They have elucidated the laws of nature, invented wondrous devices, established nations, waged wars, found new habitable worlds, created lasting works of art, and indeed have been those who recorded "history" itself. For "history" is the timebound story of the evolution of specific human societies.

But outside of history there is another story just as ancient, the story of that which has always existed outside, within, and as often as not in opposition to "society," yet which in another and deeper sense has carried the true esprit humaine forward to this day.

It has been called many things by many cultures. The Romany Road. Bohemia. Counterculture. The Floating World. The Underground. Arkie Sparkie. Demimonde. Its denizens too have been known by many names, most of them pejorative. Ronin. Gypsies. Freaks. Wayfarers. Tinkers. Arkies.

Until the Second Starfaring Age, this eternal demimonde could be defined only by what it was not. A "culture" in essence consisted of the social, political, economic, cuisinary, linguistic, technological, and esthetic patterns shared in common by its citizens; on a deeper level, it was the consensus reality, the consciousness style which defined a "people." The demimonde, then, was the psychic heimat of those, who, through choice or fortune, existed within the spacial bounds of a culture but outside its consensus reality. Hence outside both "the law" and "history."

Here were to be found the criminals and social pariahs, the madmen and ethnic outcasts, the devotees of socially proscribed vices and the followers of gods other than those of the local tribe. But here too were the visionaries born outside their proper time, the artists who created new styles of consciousness, the seekers and the dreamers--in essence all those whose spirits could not be contained by the parameters of the consensus reality of their given social realm. Here was the heimat of Chaos in its eternal dialectic with Order, the Chaos out of which all new culture, hence history itself, has always evolved. Here, in other words, was the psychic heimat of the adventurous spirit of youth.

To the demimonde was drawn both the best and the worst of a culture's youth--the dreamers and the rebels, the idealists and the psychopaths, the artistic and the indolent, the seekers after vice and the seekers after Enlightenment.

Some sojourned a while in the realm of Chaos and emerged once more as history's movers and shapers. Some passed through their wanderjahr and grew only old. Some were lost forever. A few remained young forever until the day they died.

But all too many adolescents in all too many cultures never passed through Chaos at all. They were born, they were acculturated, they were schooled, they took up their adult stations in life, passed through an ill-defined period of mid-life angst, resigned themselves to old age, and died, without ever walking the Yellow Brick Road, indeed without ever understanding what it was that they had missed in their lives.

Unwritten though it was until I began creating my histoires, this too is now a kind of history, in the sense that it is a story of humanity past.

Today, in our Second Starfaring Age, that ancient concept of "culture" as the prison of individual consciousness is happily gone. As each of us speaks our own sprach of Lingo, so is each human consciousness its own self-created style of reality, unique to itself, yet part of the infinitely complex vie humaine.

For each of us passes through our wanderjahr as a Child of Fortune; rare indeed is the child of our age who becomes a man or woman without having passed through the region between.

What is the greatest glory and proudest achievement of the Second Starfaring Age? The Jump Drive which enables our Void Ships to traverse the great and empty distances between the stars and enables us thereby to spread our species to hundreds of worlds? That humanity has finally put war and chauvinism far behind it? Our total knowledge of mass-energy phenomena?

I say that the greatest achievement of the Second Starfaring Age, that which sets us above and apart from all previous human civilizations in spirit and not merely in artifact, is that our civilization alone has had the wisdom to decree the wanderjahr for all. For while some of us create histoires and some of us are Void Captains or mages or political leaders, und so weiter, all of us have been Children of Fortune.

Indeed, is not the choosing of one's freenom the declaration of the lifeswork to come, and is the freenom not chosen at the end of the wanderjahr, and is not the wanderjahr the very process by which we, as Children of Fortune, find our destiny and ourselves?

Moreover, since each of us has tasted the freedom and the peril of the Child of Fortune, indeed since each of us remains a Child of Fortune until we have surfeited ourselves with the vie, unlike parents of previous ages, we seek not to chain the child to the cradle, the eaglet to the nest, we envy not our children the Golden Summer we ourselves have known and relinquished only voluntarily when we have found our own true names. And here is the story of mine, of how the little Moussa became the very Wendi Shasta Leonardo who now tells this, her wanderjahr's tale.

Once within our time, on a planet not so very far away ...
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

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Chapter 1

I was born on Glade, a planet, like most of the far-flung worlds of men, of no particular fame in starfaring lore, and no economic significance in the transstellar scheme of things. Like most of the worlds of men, Glade is an almost entirely self-contained economic unit, which is to say that its plains, rivers and seas provide sufficient nutriment to support a healthy human population of about 300 million without the need to import significant amounts of trace elements from other stellar systems, and its mineral wealth, supplemented by the occasional asteroid, provides a sufficient raw materials base for its industrial economy.

Verdad, through hindsight's eye I can thus dryly state that I was born and grew up on a world ordinaire, not unlike hundreds of such worlds warmed by G-type suns. But my girlhood perception of my heimat's centrality to the larger scheme of things was quite a grander matter, for I was also born and raised as a child of Nouvelle Orlean, considered by all on Glade to be the jewel of our planet, and no more so than by the citizens of the city itself.

Like its legendary Terrestrial namesake, Nouvelle Orlean was built upon the ocean-mouth delta of a great continent-draining river system, but naturellement, in an age of primarily aerial transport, the original settlers had not chosen the site for its geographic significance as an ideal nexus of river and ocean commerce. Rather had the settlers of Glade chosen the venue for our planet's metropole along esthetic -- and indeed perhaps spiritual -- parameters from the outset.

Glade, by the standards of human genetic parameters, is a somewhat cool world, capped by mountains of glacial ice at either pole, and dominated by less than simpatico semitundra in its middle latitudes, so that the most favorable zone of human habitation is the tropics, where the bulk of the populace is therefore to be found. Portions of three continents lie within this optimal climatic zone. Of these lands, southern Arbolique is clearly the geographic heimat of the human spirit on the planet.

Arbolique is the mightiest continent of Glade in more ways than one. It extends from the northern ice cap to just short of the equator at its southernmost point at the tip of the Culebra Peninsula, and the Grand Massif begins beneath the polar ice, rises into a towering longitudinal cordillera of snow- capped and moss-crusted rock, then splits into eastern and western chains as it marches down the continent nearly to the shores of the tropical sea.

Between these two mountain chains lies the Great Vale, a broad and fertile central valley veined and subdivided by chains of lesser mountains and hills, the whole more of an enormous mountain meadow than a peneplain, beginning in the north at an elevation of some three thousand meters and reaching sea level only at the delta mouth of the Rio Royale, the mighty central river whose headwaters begin as myriad lesser streams draining the ice cap runoff, and which foams and roars over great falls and wild rapids through the passes of the high cordillera, finally debouching into the sea via its delta as a broad stream of clear blue fresh water visible from the air against the contrasting greener ocean waters many miles from the shoreline.

Nouvelle Orlean lies somewhat upstream from the lowland marshes of the true alluvial delta of the Rio Royale, at a point where the wide and placid river flows through a mild canyon cut through the low coastal mountains. Here there are narrow river flats on both sides of the Royale, and immediately behind them loom hills and river cliffs crusted with the gnarly and intergrown trees of the Bittersweet Jungle and dripping with lianfungi, crawlervines, and saphroflors, like brilliant and varicolored molds festooning huge green mounds of ancient bread. Here, too, there are islands in the stream, most mere sand and mud bars held together by their crowns of jungle growth, but some large enough to hold whole arrondissements of the city.

Nouvelle Orlean spreads itself on both banks of the river, on the islands, both natural and crafted, inbetween, and some folk have chosen to build manses on the jungled heights above. Beneath the palisades on both banks of the river, tall buildings rise, sheathed for the most part in numerous subtle tints of mirror-glass, and between them and the river on either side are tree-shrouded esplanades lined with kiosks, restaurants, and pavilions. Above and behind the east and west bas-corniches, haute-corniches wind among the jungle shaded manses of the Hightowns.

But the heart, and indeed the soul, of the city, for all who style themselves true Orleaners, is Rioville, the magical archipelago spreading across the Royale and uniting what would otherwise be twin cities into one. Here the buildings have been kept low and rambling, in harmony with the jungle and wooded parklands which have been allowed to occupy most of the terrain, both for esthetic effect, and in order to bind the islands together so that the river will not sweep them away. Rioville architecture relies upon wood, brick, and stone, or at least on excellent ersatzes of natural materials, though not to the point of excluding wide expanses of windowglass overlooking every vista. Porches, breezeways, gazebos, open pavilions, and interior rooms that fling open whole walls to the natural realm while inviting vegetation inside are also very much in the Rioville mode. As are the hundreds of footbridges which span the smaller channels and the thousands of small boats of every type and fancy which give the city the ambiance of fabled Venice of ancient lore, and not without deliberate homage to the spirit of the Doges.

By custom with greater moral force than law, the arrondissements of Rioville are given over entirely to the realms of art, leisure, cultural endeavor, pleasure, and tantra, while most of the plyers of these trades have residences within these precincts, as well as those of more prosaic callings who have the desire and wherewithal to live within its ambiance of perpetual fiesta.

My parents had built a rambling house on the low crown of a small island near the north end of Rioville close by the center of the river, and for the first eighteen years of my life, I spent many late afternoons and early evenings on the second story porch, watching the sun set behind the western Hightown, the lights of the manses winking on from between the folds of the deeply shadowed jungle as the stars slowly emerged in the purpling sky above and the mirrored buildings of the eastern bank flashed deep orange as they reflected the sunset like a sheath of flame across the island-studded waters.

From my little aerie, I could look north up the river as it poured through the gorge that reached up into the icebound crown of the continent, and sometimes a fragrant wind, redolent of jungle vegetation and oncoming night, would blow down from what seemed to me at the time the very roof and mystery of the world, and I could inhale deeply and imagine that I was breathing in the very spirit of the planet. On other evenings, a tongue of fog might blow in from the sea, enveloping Rioville in perfumed billows of dream stuff, turning the lights of the city into the faerie fires of a Brigadoon rising ghostly and triumphant from the mists.

And at all times, after night had finally fallen, and the full panoply of stars had come out, and one could scarcely tell where the stellar concourse ended and the lights of the Hightown began, I would walk to the other end of the porch and gaze out over the islands of Rioville itself, a carpet of multicolored jewels flung across the waters, a brilliant spiderwork of illuminated bridges, the running lights of thousands of boats bobbing in the currents, and wafting up on the sea breeze towards me, the faint, far-off music of the magical city, compounded of laughter, and sighs, and myriad voices, and the sounds of instruments, fiestas, and entertainments. At such times, I would grow giddy with the intoxicating aroma of Nouvelle Orlean itself, a heady brew compounded of dozens of cuisinary styles offered up by hundreds of restaurants, the perfumes of lovers, intoxicants, incenses, wood shavings, oil paints, leather, and the overwhelming nighttime effluvia of tropical flowers.

May the young girl that I then was therefore not be forgiven for supposing that she was favored by fate and blessed by fortune, a citizen of Xanadu and destiny's darling?

Moreover, as I grew from relatively innocent young girlhood into early pubescent flower, as the social relativities of Nouvelle Orlean society began to impinge upon my consciousness, my sense of humility was hardly enhanced by the knowledge that my parents, far from being mere ordinary burghers of this extraordinary city, were figures of some local fame, if not quite the leading luminaries of the haut monde that I portrayed them as to my schoolmates.

My mother, Shasta Suki Davide, had herself been born in Nouvelle Orlean, and after spending her wanderjahr exploring the vie of an erotic adventurer, had studied for two years at the Academie Tantrique on Dravida, where she became an adept of the tantric arts both erotic and healing. Her freenom, Shasta, she had chosen upon completion of her studies homage a Nicole Shasta, a figure of considerable controversy in her day, who had first elucidated the mass-energy phenomena underlying the ancient metaphorical and metaphysical tantric principles and had thus founded the science my mother followed.

My father, Leonardo Vanya Hana, had been born on Flor del Cielo, and had spent only a rather brief period as a wandering Child of Fortune, for he was one of those rare people who seem to have known what they wish to become almost from birth, namely an inventor and fabricator of personal enhancement devices, several of which he had already created as a schoolboy.

Naturellement, the conclusion of his wanderjahr found him on Diana, perhaps the planet most famed for the production of just such personal amplifiers, where he secured employment in one of the leading fabriks as an artisan and sometime designer of same. His freenom, Leonardo, he had chosen, somewhat grandly upon beginning this career homage a Leonardo Da Vinci, artist and inventor of the ancient Terrestrial Age, and legendary archetype of the fusion of esthetics and technology to which our Second Starfaring Age in general and my father in particular have always aspired.

My parents met on Diana, where my mother had gone as an itinerant tantric artiste and sometime healer, after having sojourned as same on several other planets. Already beginning to think more fondly of home and Nouvelle Orlean at the time, smitten by a pheromonic attraction to Leonardo whose mutuality was mightily enhanced by the puissance of her erotic artistry, and realizing that a marriage of tantric science and electronic personal enhancement might have as much to offer in the way of deepening and enhancing the practice of their respective arts as union in the personal sphere seemed to offer to their spirits, she had little trouble convincing Leonardo that the opportunity to live up to the grandeur of his freenom would be much greater on Glade than on Diana. And most particularly in Nouvelle Orlean, a city whose true charm was exceeded only by its own highly exaggerated sense of its own sophistication, where a personal enhancement mage from Diana would have considerable cachet no matter his modest former position on that planet, and where the relative state of the art would certainly insure his primacy.

So it is written, so it shall be done. Soon after arriving in Nouvelle Orlean, Leonardo was able to display for potential investors three personal enhancement devices entirely novel to Glade, if somewhat reminiscent of theoretical musings that had been current in the designers' workshops on Diana.

One was called the Voice, and established an electro-physiological loop between relevant cerebral centers and the larynx so that the wearer could by conscious craft and act of will impart subliminal sonics to song or speech that acted directly on the listeners' consciousness via the auditory apparatus, greatly enhancing the artistic puissance of singer or thespic artist, and not without value to salespersons either. Another was the Eye of Argus, tiny lenses of complexed gels worn over the pupils and electrolinked to the vision centers, so that the wearer could vary their optical properties through a wide range of focuses and wavelengths, and thus view directly microscopic realms, astronomical phenomena, the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum, not to mention the interiors of distant boudoirs of amorous interest. Not the least arcane if perhaps the most fanciful and disreputable of the three was that which Leonardo dubbed the Gourmand's Delight, whereby glutton or exorbitant imbiber could willfully adjust his metabolism of an evening so that he might feast and drink to enormous excess and pay no consequence in girth or malaise the morning after.

Not only were these devices of immediate obvious marketability, they established the reputation of Leonardo Vanya Hana as an artificer from whom further wonders could be expected, and so my father found no lack of investors willing to finance the establishment of his boutique on favorable terms. Indeed, he would have been easily able to finance the establishment of a fabrik able to flood the planet with replicated wares at modest prices. This he eschewed for reasons of personal esthetics, preferring to remain a craftsman and artist modeling each device to the whim and fancy of individual clients rather than become a magnate of manufacture. Moreover, by maintaining the individuality of his wares and the mystique of personal craft in their production, he was able to keep their prices elevated into the realm of artistic pieces, just as a painter or sculptor who refuses to license reproduction maintains gallery prices for his originals.

My mother, meanwhile, gave occasional tantric performances at palaces of pleasure, but for the most part concentrated her attentions and energies on developing her skills and repute as a tantric healer, aided in this endeavor by my father's science and his intimate knowledge of the bioelectronics of the human nervous system.

After a time and the accumulation of sufficient funds, my parents decided to consolidate their professional venues and domestic menage by purchasing a small island and erecting upon it the house in which I was to grow up. The first story of this building was given over to Leonardo's boutique and Shasta's tantric salon, each presenting a public facade to an opposite side of the little island, but connected within via intermediary storerooms, common service areas, and a hallway. The second story, with its grand viewing porch, was given over to our living quarters, and was entered by a separate stairway which debouched into a garden entirely secluded from the commercial venues by a hedge of Purple Cloud trimmed into different topiary designs according to the mode of the season. On the occasion of my fifth birthday, when the possibility of retreating into my own private realm was deemed necessary to my development, a fanciful playhouse was built for me deep in a patch of Bittersweet Jungle in the nethermost reaches of the garden.

Here as a young girl would I spend many hours with young playmates, and many more with no other companionship than that of the moussas I soon learned to entice from the trees with bits and morsels from the breakfast table. Of all the native creatures of Glade, these cunning little mammals, small enough to fit in a child's cupped hands, and willing enough to remain there for the pettiest of bribes, have cozened themselves closer to the human heart than any other, for they are the common pets of childhood.

Though in truth, perhaps, it is as much the little human children of Glade who are the pets of the moussas, for these golden-furred, emerald-eyed, monkey-tailed, leaf-eared, primatelike rodents never survive in a cage or as domesticated house pets, sullenly fasting unto death in any form of captivity, Not, although they abound throughout Nouvelle Orlean and the surrounding environs, thriving amidst the habitats of men, will they ever deign to descend from their trees to frolic with gross and clumsy adults, even to accept the choicest dainty. But put a child in a garden with a few scraps of bread or a berry or two, and the moussas will soon enough come a-calling. Indeed often, when through negligence I appeared empty-handed, the moussas of the garden, though they might chide me in their piping whistles for my thoughtless lack of hospitality, would nonetheless come down to play.

And like a little moussa myself, I would often, in the late afternoon or early evening, emerge from my garden retreat to play the pampered and cunning pet of the clients and friends of my parents. As the children of Glade imagine that the moussas chattered and capered for their amusement, so, no doubt, did the adults of my parents' salons imagine that the fey creature, whom everyone soon began to call kleine Moussa, herself frequented their precincts to amuse them.

But from the moment their kleine Moussa knew anything of significance at all, I, like the moussas of the garden, knew full well that these huge and marvelous beings, with their extravagant clothes, incomprehensible stories, strange and mysterious perfumes, and secret pockets of sweets, existed, like the garden, and the river, and the myriad wondrous sights and sounds and smells of Nouvelle Orlean, and indeed the world itself, to amuse me.
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

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Chapter 2

Thus did the little Moussa frolic through young girlhood with the creatures of the garden and the clients of her parents' trades and the favored children of these denizens of Nouvelle Orlean's haut monde. Though naturellement I was not yet capable of appreciating the rarefied and elite ambiance of my parents' salon until my basic schooling was well under way and I was deemed old enough to travel to the academy on my own and venture forth into the city with my playmates.

Then, of course, my awareness of my favored place in the scheme of things became somewhat keener than the reality itself. As I became interested in the wider world around me, and began first to listen to word crystals and then learned to read them for greater speed, as I was taught the rudiments of esthetics, acquainted with the history of our city and our planet and our species, as my teachers introduced me to the sciences, the mutational sprachs of human Lingo, the basic principles of mathematics, und so weiter, I began to perceive that the discourse that had swirled about my little head like so much moussas' babble chez mama and papa was in fact in good part an elevated and rarefied version of my various teachers' discourse at the academy.

This was a somewhat heady satori for a young girl of eight or nine, and not exactly conducive to humility in the schoolroom. While my teachers lectured on various subjects on a level deemed suitable for children by the maestros of developmental theory and commended simple texts thereon to my attention, at home, true maestros of the arts and sciences of which they were mere pedagogs were forever discussing the most esoteric aspects of these very same schoolroom subjects while awaiting my mother's ministrations or being fitted by my father or taking their ease with my parents and myself over wine and delicacies.

Moreover, as I began to wander the fabulous precincts of Rioville at leisure, alone or with my schoolmates, the concept of fame and renown began to impinge on my hitherto naive and entirely egalitarian weltanschauung. Sauntering into a gallery to idly peruse paintings or holos or worldbubbles, I would often discover that the creator of this one had bounced me on her knee, that Ari Baum Gondor, who had crafted the tiny ecospheres that set all these tongues wagging, was the very same Ari who had always been the source of my favorite sweets, that I had feasted only the night before with the artist whose paintings were deemed the finest of the season. Attending a concert or a songfest or a dance, I would often find myself enjoying performances by artists who had sung and capered for my private amusement since before I could remember. Libraries were well stocked with word crystals written by my tios and tantes, and I could easily enough dine in cuisinary salons presided over by chef maestros who sat at my own parents' table.

In short, I grew aware that humanity was divided into two subspecies: the famous and the anonymous, the creators of art, music, literature and science, and the mere consumers of same, the elite of the haut monde, and the generality of the vie ordinaire. And I, as my own eyes and ears so amply demonstrated, was a child of the former, one of destiny's special creatures by right of birth.

Which is not to say I became any more a monster of ego than the average ten-year-old, for the circle of playmates with which I traveled were children of the same ambiance, indeed many of their parents were the very maestros and celebrities whose easy intimacy fed my secret pride, and naturellement within the adult sphere of this haut monde, I was still indulged as a child rather than accepted as an equal power.

Even in the educational realm, this inner perception of my true place in the world was not without both its negative and positive consequences. On the one hand, my respect for the authority of my teachers was eroded by my free and easy congress with their intellectual and social superiors, and I was not above hectoring them from time to time with what I imagined was superior knowledge gleaned from bits and pieces of table talk. On the other hand, I had almost from birth dined on intellectual haute cuisine, and much true learning had actually been absorbed as it were by osmosis; further, what little ambition I then had lay in the direction of acceptance as an equal by the denizens of my parents' salon, and so I was at least motivated to avoid the public intellectual embarrassment of the unprepared student.

The overall result was that I was a skilled if shallowly motivated and not excessively diligent student, lacking any true passion for scholarly pursuits, content to breeze through my studies with a parsimony of effort, and quite innocent of any perception of the educational process as connected to spiritual, intellectual, or karmic goals.

As such, though at the time I would have been mightily offended at the generalization, I was typical of the pre-adolescent stage of our species, for the biochemical matrix of passion -- whether intellectual, artistic, political, spiritual, or sexual -- simply cannot be generated by the prepubescent human metabolism. Thus does the wisdom of passing through the wanderjahr before contemplating that deeper education which must be informed by passionate dedication to some true life's work extend from the social and spiritual clear down into the molecular realm.

***

Which is also why the onset of puberty effects a tumultuous series of psychic transformations quite literally akin to the effects of ingesting powerful psychoactive drugs. While the earliest and most obvious social and psychological manifestation of this biochemical revolution is the awakening of that most presentient of human passions, sexual lust, once the biochemical matrix of passion itself has evolved in a young girl's physiology, that molecular hunger for novelty, somatic excitation, and adventure of the spirit seeks its polymorphous fulfillment in every realm.

Biochemically speaking, adolescence is a loss of endocrine innocence in that it opens the human spirit to all the possibilities and dangers of passionate motivation denied to the juvenile metabolism. Yet at the same time, there is no more perfect naif than the newly pubescent creature, who all at once perceives the world through eyes, ears, nostrils, and spirit radically heightened and transformed by this psycho-chemical amplification of the childhood mind.

In many primitive terrestrial cultures, before psychesomics was a developed science or the bioelectronic basis of tantra elucidated, all sorts of bizarre and entirely counterproductive social mechanisms evolved, aimed at either "managing" these adolescent passions from the point of view of adults, suppressing their outward manifestations, or worse still, capturing, channeling, and perverting their energies in the service of theocratic dogmas, territorial aggressions, or the convenience of the adult body politic. Since the earliest, simplest, and somatically strongest of the nascent adolescent passions is of course sexual lust, most of these disastrous social control mechanisms revolved around delaying, transposing, or even entirely suppressing its natural amatory expression.

The results, of course, were exactly what modern psychesomics would predict -- polymorphous adolescent rebellion against adult authority, violently separatist adolescent subcultures, excessive random indulgence in psychoactive substances without proper prior study of their effects, neurosis, depression, hysteria, the romanticization of suicide, militarism, cruelty to animals, and a scornful attitude towards scholarly pursuits.

Mercifully our Second Starfaring Age has long since put this torture of the innocent far behind it, and so my earliest experiments with satisfying this new somatic hunger were conducted, as was natural, convenient, and esthetically pleasing, in the playhouse of my parents' garden.

Of course I hardly considered myself a clumsy young experimenter in the amatory arts even on the occasion of my first passe de deux in that bucolic boudoir. Was I not, after all, the daughter of Shasta Suki Davide, tantric maestra? Had I not grown up steeped in the ambiance of her science? Had I not, out of childish curiosity, ofttimes perused the catalogs of positions long before the illustrations therein were capable of arousing any but theoretical interest?

Indeed I was. Indeed I had. Moreover, I was not so unmindful of the benefits of motivated study that I neglected to delve deeper into the texts when the motivation for such studies grew deliciously immediate. Nor did I neglect to interrogate my mother for anecdotal expertise or to persuade my father to offer up both his lore on human nervous physiology and his more general knowledge of how men might be blissfully transported.

Verdad, I must confess that I had determined to gain the enviable reputation of a fabled femme fetale while still a virgin, for not only would such a mystique among my peers enhance my perception of my own centrality, it would also insure me the amatory services of most any boy who piqued my interest.

For my first granting of favors, I made the perhaps somewhat calculating choice of a handsome boy of fourteen known as Robi; not only did his slim and nearly hairless body and wide blue eyes arouse the proper spirit within my loins, though a year older than I, he was still charmingly tentative with girls, albeit something of a braggart among his male friends by way of compensation.

I was not unaware that a truly impressive tantric performance for Robi -- especia1ly if, as I suspected, he was still a virgin -- would speedily become common lore among the boys of our mutual acquaintance, thereby establishing my mystique as a lover of puissance from my premiere performance.

Enticing Robi into my bower was a simple matter of issuing an unambiguous invitation in the presence of his fellows, though once we retired to my garden playhouse, his tentativeness was all too limply apparent despite his attempts at verbal bravado.

Undaunted by this phenomenon, which was well reported in the word crystals I had perused in preparation, I applied a simple sequence of digital and oral remedies which at first seemed to further discombobulate the pauvre petit with their no-doubt-unexpected level of tantric sophistication, but which soon enough transferred his attention from the uncertainties of the virgin psyche to the naturally firm resolve of the youthful lingam.

Once the natural man in Robi had been properly aroused, he became an enthusiastic if rather hasty and clumsy participant, achieving his own satisfaction in the most basic of tantric configurations with all too much ease, and then satedly supposing that the performance had reached an esthetica1ly satisfying resolution.

When of course it had hardly properly begun, for I was determined to essay certainly no less than a dozen basic positions with several variations of each, to enjoy several tantric cusps of my own in the process, and not to relent until I was entirely satisfied that he was thoroughly, totally, and finally exhausted beyond any hope of further arousal.

Though I lost count somewhere after the first four or five movements of the tantric symphony and probably did not achieve the first of my artistic goals, and though my still barely pubescent physiology left me far short of anything approaching platform orgasm, there was no doubt that the poor boy had been properly exhausted, for I was only persuaded to relent after his moans of pleasure had long since become pleas for surcease and his manhood openly confessed its surrender to the protoplasmic impossibility of rising to further challenge.

To say that Robi was constrained to crawl from our erotic encounter would be to descend to hyperbole, but in truth he staggered from the garden in something less than a triumphant strut, though to judge from subsequent events, his version of the affair would seem to have gained considerably more machismo in the telling.

For I was soon the smug recipient of numerous displays of male courting behavior, from which smorgasbord of possible swains I chose carefully, venturing not to offer up my tantric performances to older, more experienced, and hence more critically acute connoisseurs of the art until my mystique was well established and my store of experience sufficient to insure that it would survive congress with boys whose dedication to the mastery of the tantric arts was no less serious and diligent than my own.

Then, at last, I was able to enter into liaisons in which the pleasure 1 sought and ofttimes received was equal to that which I offered up in the service of my continued lofty self-appraisal, and genuine mutual affection was thereby enabled to bloom on the tree of passion, though I was still far too enamored of my reputation as a tantric adept and still far too hungry for new experience to even contemplate entering into any compacts of undying love or sexual exclusivity.

Thus through the sexual realm did the dimension of male companionship enter my life and with it the dyadic explorations of the possibilities of adventures and passions beyond those of the boudoir, for just as even the most avid and athletic of lovers can scarcely pass more than a few hours daily in actual embrace, so the passionate adolescent spirit cannot confine its sphere of attention and its hunger for novelty and adventure to the erotic realm alone.

In this manner did the boudoir door also open into the wide world around me, for each lover was also a person entire, possessed of interests, passions, and even obsessions beyond the object of his amorous desire, and more than willing to share them with a venturesome friend.

And so did the kleine Moussa, without noticing the transition, cease to be a child content to frolic in a child's world and become a true adolescent whose garden was no longer that of the parental menage but Nouvelle Orlean itself and the countryside beyond.

With Genji did I begin to appreciate the variety of cuisinary styles to be found in Rioville and learn to distinguish the masterworks of the true chef maestro from mere cuisine ordinaire; so too did I gain some modest sophistication in the products of the vintner's art. Pallo was fairly obsessed with music, and with him I must have visited a hundred or more concert halls, tavernas, al fresco performances, and the like. My passage with Cort was a stormy and brooding one and my parents were not at all displeased when I grew tired of his company, for he was an afficionado of psychoactive chemicals with much more enthusiasm and reckless courage than accurate lore or tasteful discrimination. Ali flew Eagles -- great helium-filled gliding wings of gossamer, which took us over land, sea, and river with the magical exhilaration of unpowered flight, but not without a certain peril to life and limb. Perhaps the swain that my parents regarded with the most dubious eyes of all was Franco, who took me on expeditions, sometimes for three and four days at a time, into the Bittersweet Jungle, with only our feet for locomotion, stunners for protection against the more bellicose fauna, and simple covers over piled mosswort for a bed.

Let it not be said that I became merely the mirror of my lovers' passions, for I too had interests of my own which I shared with them, though none of them reached the heights of overweening obsession. To be my companion was to frequent galleries of the graphic arts and become conversant with the styles of worldbubbles, to power-ski the Rio Royale for a hundred kilometers and more upstream and become something of a jesting pest to the boat traffic thereon, and to play endless games of rather inexpert chess.

Moreover, there was much cross-fertilization of adolescent passions and interests in the circles in which I moved, which is to say Pallo gained cuisinary sophistication from dining with me, Franco was introduced to new psychochemicals, and even Cort was constrained to try his hand at gliding through the skies beneath an Eagle. In short, by the time I was seventeen I was a member of a society of my own, a circle of friends, lovers, rivals, former and future swains, which modestly mirrored the social coherence, shifting interests and relationships, and independent life of my parents' salon society, if hardly the seriousness of purpose, artistic and scientific attainment, or depth of scholarship to be found therein.

If I have given the impression that eroticism, intoxicants, athletics, adventure, and entertainment were far more central to our lives than were our academic studies, it is also true that the requirements of same, both in time and effort, were quite deliberately loosened by the mavens of the academy after one's sixteenth birthday. For the natural inclination of the adolescent spirit is to seek out just such pleasures as dominated our attentions, and to tie its wings to the nest of arduous study would be to teach only the entirely counterproductive lesson that scholarship is a grim and bitter task imposed by one's parents and one's society, rather than a joy and intellectual adventure to be avidly pursued as a heart's desire.

Indeed, by the age of sixteen one's childhood education is all but drawing to a close; having learned to read, compose word crystals, comprehend basic mathematics, having gained some facility in shifting fluidly among the infinitely varied sprachs of human Lingo, having been acquainted with the history of the species and the various sciences, having been at least exposed to the variety of possible spiritual disciplines and physical arts available for individual development, und so weiter, there is really little else of lasting value for the nonself-motivated student to learn. One has been given the tools with which to develop the mind, body, and spirit, but until one finds one's own inner light, one's own self-generated image of what one wishes to become as an adult of the species, one's own true intellectual passions, more serious and specialized learning thrust upon the still immature mind is as pearls cast before swine.

Which is not to say that my friends and I were not slowly learning an important lesson as our schooling trailed off into an endless summer of ease and self-indulgence. Though some learned it more rapidly than others, and I was not to achieve this satori until I was eighteen, the lesson that our parents, teachers, and society were so wisely allowing us to teach ourselves at our own leisure was that the young adolescent's ideal existence of entertainment, intoxication, eroticism, sport, and easy adventure, unhampered by work, arduous study, or hardship, eventually becomes as cloying as an exclusive diet of the pastry chefs art. Through a surfeit of this endless frolic, one finally learns boredom, and once this karmic state is attained entirely by one's own efforts, one is ready to contemplate the next quantum leap of spiritual development, the wanderjahr.

Naturellement, I had learned something of the history of the wanderjahr in the academy, and had known from early girlhood onward that some day I too would take my turn at the vie of the Child of Fortune.

The first clear records of the wanderjahr as a conscious stage in human development come from medieval Europa, where students -- alas, in those days only the male of the species -- were set to wandering afoot along the highways and byways, either as subsidized Children of Fortune or as mendicants, before embarking on their studies at the universities, though some authorities claim more ancient and universal origins, such as the wandering monks of Hind and Han, the name- quests of would-be Indian braves, the years that Masai boys spent as tribal wanderers before their puberty rites, the Walkabouts of the Abos, und so weiter.

Be that as it may, the wanderjahr seemed to disappear for a time with the coming of the industrial phase of the Terrestrial Age, when the spiritual education of the young came to be regarded as an indolent frivolity in the light of what was seen as the practical economic necessity of processing idle youth into productive members of the workforce via an uninterrupted passage from the schoolroom through the university and into gainful employment as rapidly as possible.

Nevertheless, the wanderjahr, long-suppressed, reemerged at the dawn of the Age of Space in the rather chaotic form of youthful rebellion against this very concept. Alas, these Children of Fortune, far from being wisely granted a period of wandering freedom between schooling and serious study by their society in which to discover their adult callings and true names, fled from their parental venues ofttimes at a far too tender age, or on the other hand had already embarked on serious university study before realizing that they knew not who they were, and broke off in media res in a state of karmic crisis and confusion.

The unfortunate result was turmoil, angry conflict between youth and maturity, the spiritual and the social realm, between the universal quest for spiritual identity and the restraints of formal education, and between endocrine imperatives and the body politic. Many educations, having been interrupted in midstream, were never properly completed, others were never fairly begun, and those who had been restrained from ever following the vie of the Child of Fortune often awoke as if from a trance in their middle years to find themselves strangers to their own beings.

Once more the wanderjahr fell into social disrepute, for precisely the wrong lesson was learned by the unfortunate results of forcing the youthful spirit into chaotic rebellion rather than nurturing the Child of Fortune from whom the spiritually self-motivated adult of the species must emerge. Only the Arkies carried the torch forward into the First Starfaring Age.

But when the development of the Jump Drive reduced the duration of interstellar voyages from decades and generations to weeks, the wanderjahr reemerged again as the rite de passage of youth into maturity.

Naturellement, in our Second Starfaring Age, the Children of Fortune wander not afoot from town to town nor across the continents and seas of a single planet, but throughout the far-flung worlds of men, in the timeless sleep of the dormodules of the Void Ships, or as Honored Passengers in the floating cultura if parental fortune permits.

For the Children of Fortune of our age do not flee from home in rebellious defiance of parents and body politic; rather do they depart with the blessings, not to say necessary largesse, of same, since those who bid bon voyage have themselves lived out their wanderjahr's tales before choosing their freenoms in homage to the adults they have become.

To learn this sociohistorical lore as a young student in the academy is an abstraction of the mind, but the moment when you realize that the time has come to set your own feet upon the wanderjahr's path is a satori of the spirit, which can be neither arbitrarily determined by the passage of time nor forced upon the spirit from without.

Nevertheless, the decision is almost always made between the sixteenth and nineteenth year of life, and it cannot be denied that society plows and fertilizes the ground in which this flowering of the young spirit blooms. For it is the policy of society to ease off serious studies after the sixteenth year, and it is the endless idle summer resulting therefrom which teaches the lesson that this child's dream of perfect paradise is not the ultima Thule of the human spirit, that the time must come when of our own free will we must move on.

My first dim perception of this last lesson that we are taught, which is also the first we learn on our own, came as a certain sense of pique, a petulant feeling of betrayal as, one by one, the older members of my circle of friends and lovers first announced their intent to leave our garden of juvenile delights and then departed for other worlds. When those whose faces were no longer to been seen among us were a year and more my senior, the lofty airs and moues of condescension with which they said good-bye could be laid to the arrogance of peers who suddenly conceived themselves to be older and wiser beings than their comrades of the week before.

But when at last some who left began to be no more mature in years than I, when I began to see myself as no longer quite the precocious femme fatale sought after by older boys and instead found myself forever repulsing the unwanted attentions of what I perceived as callower and callower youth, my unease by slow degrees began to focus less and less on the decaying social life without and more and more on the growing mal d'esprit within.

As the esthetics of karma would have it, the moment when this spiritual malaise crystallized itself into satoric resolve came with the clarity and definition of a classic koan.

I was lying in my garden playhouse boudoir with Davi, a boy some several months my junior to whom I had begun to grant my puissant favors not three weeks before, more out of ennui and a sense of charity than any grand passion.

As we lay in each other's arms during what I then supposed to be a brief recumbent interlude between the acts, I could sense him becoming somewhat distant, withdrawing into himself. At length, he prised himself from my embrace and sat some small but significant distance apart from me on the cushioned floor, eyes downcast, shoulders hunched, as if nerving himself up to inform me of a rival for his affections.

"Que pasa?" I asked, with no more than a careful petulance of tone, for on the one hand my primacy in his affections was a matter to which all save my pride was indifferent, and on the other, this would obviously best be served by the assumption of an air of superior calm.

"Verdad, you're the finest lover I've ever had," he muttered fatuously.

"Verdad," I agreed dryly, for given the modesty of his mystique in this regard among our peers and his no more than ordinary skill in the tantric arts, this was a pleasantry that left my girlish heart less than overwhelmed.

"Don't make what I have to say more difficult ..." he fairly whined, meeting my gaze with a pout, obviously all too relieved to exchange his shy discomfort for a facade of pique with me,

"Relax, klein Davi," I said with quite the opposite intent, "if you're afraid to wound me with a confession of some other amour, rest assured, my pauvre petit, that I myself have a surfeit of lovers, past, present, and future, and will therefore hardly be crushed to learn of any peccadilloes of yours."

But instead of flinching at the planting of this barb, he smiled at me most foolishly, or so it seemed. "Ah, Moussa, I knew you'd understand ..." he fairly moaned in relief.

"Who is it then -- Andrea, Flor, Belinda?" I inquired, with a nonchalance that was both feigned and sincere. For while the undying loyalty of this lover whom I was already regarding in the past tense would in fact have been a tiresome burden to my indifferent heart, the outre notion that this lout could possibly prefer the favors of some other to my own, while the ultimate proof of his callow unsuitability as a swain, was still an outrage of lese majeste, which, nevertheless, I could hardly acknowledge with less than lofty amusement, even to myself. Especially to myself.

Once again, however, my perception of the situation proved to be at variance with the reality. "There isn't anyone else, Moussa," he said. "How could there be? Of all the women that I know, you're the only one who tempts me to stay."

"Tempts you to stay?"

"Verdad, you do tempt me to stay, but ..."

"But what, cher dumkopf? What are you blathering and babbling about?"

He regarded me as if I were the one who could not find the sprach to make the Lingo of my meaning plain. "But I leave to begin my wanderjahr next week," he blurted. "Next week, the Ardent Eagle leaves for Nova Roma, and I'll be aboard, My parents have already bought my passage."

He beamed at me. He fairly glowed. "Fantastique, ne?" he exclaimed. "The Grand Palais of the Ardent Eagle is presided over by Domo Athene Weng Sharon! My mother once voyaged with her, and she says that the decor is marvelous, the entertainments superb, the ambiance exhilarating, and the chef maestro, Tai Don Angelica, one of the half-dozen finest in the entire floating cultural."

"You're ... you're off on your wanderjahr next week ...?" I stammered. "As an Honored Passenger?" Why did this entirely unexpected revelation cut me to the quick as no confession of human rival could have done? From whence this sudden pang of loss? What was Davi to me but a casual lover whose season had already passed? Why the desire to hold him here with me which I could not deny but which I could still less understand?

"Naturellement," he said gaily, answering my words with total obliviousness of the import of their tone. "My parents, as you are certainly well aware, can afford to pay my way from world to world in proper style with ease. Why would they have me stacked like so much meat in electrocoma when they can afford to buy me access to the floating cultura without even noticing the debit in their accounts? Surely your own mother and father will do no less for you?"

"Of course!" I told him, though the subject had never been broached between us. "But why such haste? Has life on Glade become such a bore? Will you not be sad to leave Nouvelle Orlean behind?"

"Haste? But soon I will be eighteen standards .Many are our friends who became Children of Fortune long before reaching such an advanced age ..."

Such an advanced age? But this silly boy was younger than I! All my young life I had wished to be, or at least wished to appear to be, older and more mature than my years, and now, all at once, this ... this imbecile was making me feel like some sort of eighteen-year-old crone! For the first time in my life, I wished, at least for the moment, to be younger than my years; there are those who would contend, nicht wahr, that that is precisely the moment when a woman ceases to be a girl.

"And as for Nouvelle Orlean ..." Davi blathered on, entirely oblivious to my mood, entirely blind to the havoc his prattle was working on my spirit.

"And as for Nouvelle Orlean?" I demanded sharply.

Al fin, Davi began to dimly perceive that his discourse was being met with something other than avid enthusiasm, though the concept that he was being the cause of no little dolor d'esprit never seemed to penetrate his primitive masculine brain. He touched his palm to my cheek as one would console a child.

"As for Nouvelle Orlean," he said, "I'llmiss you, Moussa, most of all. Indeed for nearly a year, I dreamed of nothing but being your lover. If not for that, I probably would long since have gone. Verdad, if we had not yet had our time together, I might tarry still. But as for the rest ..."

He smiled, he shrugged, he cupped my cheeks and kissed me like a proper man, and for that moment at least, I saw once more the sincere and naive charm that once had won some small portion of my heart.

"Have we not tasted what there is to taste, seen what there is to see, been what there is to be, as children of Nouvelle Orlean, Moussa, you and I?" he said. "Nouvelle Orlean is the most marvelous city on our entire world, and we both know and love it well. But having tasted it to the full and come to know it as well as we know our parents' gardens or each other's spirits, is it not therefore time to travel on?"

I regarded him in silence, glimpsing for the first time the sweet and noble man that this lightly regarded lover of mine might one day grow to become, and in this moment of farewell I do believe I was touched to depths that never before had been stirred within my heart.

"Next week I depart for my wanderjahr, and soon enough you'll be a Child of Fortune too, mi Moussa, ne. Could I have remained here with you forever and never lived to learn my true name tale? Would you have stayed here with me until we both grew old and never walked the lands of another world?"

"No," I said softly.

"Then may we part as friends? For truly of all that Glade has meant to me, the finest of it all has been my time with you. Should not the best memory of home be the last?"

"Truly and nobly spoken. cher Davi," I told him, with more sincere affection than had ever before filled my callow young heart. "Friends forever, Davi. May your road rise up to meet you. Bon voyage."

And I kissed him one last time, as much to hide my tears as to bid him good-bye. Verdad, my best memory of all the lovers that I had on the planet of my birth was my final sight of the very last.

After Davi left, I went out into the garden and sat for a time under the overhanging trees, deep in formless thought. The sky was cloudless, the air was still, and the sun was warm, and soon I became aware of the piping whistles of the little moussas in the treetops.

For a long time I sat there, staring up into the trees, catching quick glimpses of little golden shapes frolicking high in the branches. Now and again, or so it seemed, tiny bright emerald eyes looked down as if through the billowing green mists of the innocent past. Foolishly, I hoped that the playmates of my young girlhood would descend one final time to nestle in my hands, if only to bid a final farewell to the Moussa that had been.

Naturellement, they never came, not even after I took some crumbs of cake from the playhouse and sat there offering them on my open palms as I had not done for many years.

And as the sky began to deepen towards sunset over my parents' garden and still my little lost friends deigned not to call, I tried to remember when last it had been that the little Moussa had held one of her namesakes in her childish hands. Verdad, when last I had even spared the moussas of the garden a passing loving thought.

And failed. And in that failing understood that it had not been the moussas who had forsaken me but I who had forsaken them, as that little girl grew into the creature who short hours before had bidden the final lover of her childhood a fond and tender bon voyage.

At the moment of this wistful satori, a golden shape chanced to pause in a small bare spot among the branches; tail wrapped around a twig for balance, the moussa stood half erect, as if dubiously testing the posture of a little man.

Or was it chance? For a long moment, the moussa's wide green eyes seemed to lock on my own as if remembering back across time to my childhood years. As if to say, bon voyage, old friend, may your road rise up to meet you, As if to say, mourn not what has been but greet what is to come with a happy heart, and know that we of your childhood's garden wish you no less than your heart's desire. No blame, little Moussa that was, remember us sometimes out there among the stars, and hold our memory in the palm of a child's hand.

Then, with a little chirp of farewell, he was gone, and with him the little girl that longed to stay in her parents' garden, for in that moment, the wanderjahr of my spirit had begun.
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:55 am

Chapter 3

That evening, my mother, my father, and I dined en famille out on the second-story porch overlooking Rioville, and the river, and the mirrored towers of the western bank, and the Hightown looming high above the shore. Of the viands and vegetables and pastas, of the wines and sauces and desserts, I remember nothing, for I was full of myself, engorged with sudden resolve, trepidatious at the thought of leaving all I had known behind, and, if truth be told, not quite so certain of the lavishness of my parents' largesse as to Davi I had pretended. So I spent the opening courses contemplating various strategies for the maximization of same and silently rehearsing the declaration that must come before the sweets were served, which put me sufficiently off my feed to be the object of some bemused regard.

Sin embargo, I do remember the sight of the sun setting into a nest of purple clouds behind the lights of the Hightown, the stars peeping in and out of the half-overcast sky as it deepened to black, the tongue of seafog enrobing the flash and dazzle of Rioville in the softening mists of legend, the bobbing boats plowing upstream through the foaming little crests of the river, the twice-reflected flame of the sunset on the waters, all as if a holo of the setting for my pronouncement of my intent were lased into the cells of my brain.

So too, even now, will the smell of jungle musk, or the overrich fragrance of a river bank, or the perfume of any great city arising at night to some peripheral venue upon a bank of fog recall to my sensorium the internal climate, the precise sensual memory of what it felt to be inside the body of that girl on that very night, the languor in my sated loins, the tension in my viscera, the adrenal storms roiling within my being as I finally found the courage to give my new spirit voice.

"I have a matter of some import which I .. that is, I think it is time ... something is on my mind ..."

"So much we have gathered from the way you've been picking at your food," my mother said, exchanging somewhat arch glances with my father.

"Come, out with it, Moussa," my father demanded. "Such reticence has hardly been your usual style."

"I am already in my eighteenth year ..."

"We too can mark the passage of time," Leonardo said in an ironic tone belied by the amusement in his eyes.

"Many of my friends have already begun their wanderjahrs. ..."

"And Davi leaves on the Ardent Eagle next week," my mother said to my wide-eyed astonishment.

Leonardo laughed. "We dine at his parents' table often enough," he pointed out. "At the very least, such a matter of cosmic import is suitable table talk among us, ne."

"Davi is three months younger than I am ..."

"Quite so. "

"So ..."

"So ...?"

All at once I found my ire at this foolish game overriding any further reticence between my unease at the import of what I was about to announce and the desire to make my meaning plain. "So it's time I began my wanderjahr too!" I exclaimed with no little pique. "Both of you knew what I wanted to say all along!"

Shasta laughed. "We had a certain inkling surmise," she owned. "But naturellement such a declaration is one we must all make on our own. It's hardly a confession to be prised from uncertain lips like an admission from the guilty conscience of a child."

"I'm not a child!"

"Indeed, kleine Moussa?" my father said, smiling paternally, or so it seemed, to mask a certain sense of loss.

"I'm not your kleine Moussa anymore!" I declared, all at once coming to detest this innocent term of endearment which I had always accepted in the loving spirit with which it was intended. "I've completed my schooling. I've had many lovers. I can power-ski with the best. I can fly an Eagle. I'm conversant with cuisinary styles and vintages. I have survived many a night in the Bittersweet Jungle. I can compose word crystals and play chess. What more is there for me to learn in Nouvelle Orlean before I'm ready to become a Child of Fortune?"

At this my parents burst into such laughter that even I was constrained to hear the foolishness of my own words.

"Voila, our kleine Moussa has become a woman of the worlds, skilled in all the means whereby one may survive as an independent human among indifferent strangers," Leonardo ironically declared.

"So now that you have mastered the rudiments of the tantric arts and hedonic sciences, you consider yourself a sophisticated daughter of Nouvelle Orlean, more than ready to conquer the wider worlds of men?" my mother asked, and though this was said with no little reflexive jocularity, still I could not but perceive its serious intent, nor could I fail to wonder whether in truth I might not be entirely unequipped to survive without parental largesse.

But on the other hand, I told myself as this unpleasant thought passed like a cloud across the bright blue sky of my young spirit, the absence of parental largesse was hardly what I had in mind.

Thus did it finally dawn upon me that the leave to travel as a Child of Fortune was already a foregone grant in my parents' hearts and that without exactly knowing when the transition had occurred, we had now entered into negotiations vis-a-vis the financial arrangements.

In which case it would be better to remain their kleine Moussa a while longer, the little girl whom mother and father would fear to loose upon the seas of fate without the protective might of beau coup d'argent.

"Certainly not to conquer, mama," I said in quite a more childish tone." And no doubt you are right, papa, I've not yet learned the skills required to earn my way as a full independent adult among strangers. But how am I to learn to make my own way among the worlds unless I try? Surely you would not contend that Davi is better equipped for the vie of a Child of Fortune than I?"

Leonardo laughed. "You have me there, Moussa," he said. "But on the other hand, Davi's parents have weighed the freedom of his spirit down with a chip of credit sufficient to finance a life of indolent ease in the floating cultura and the grand hotels of even the most extravagant of worlds for several years."

I liked not the drift of my father's words, I liked them not at all. "Naturellement, papa," I said in a daddy's darling voice I hadn't used in years. "As you yourself have said and I in all humility must agree, I've yet to learn the skills required to earn my own way on distant worlds far away from home. Fear not, papa, though I must often seem a creature of foolish and overweening pride, I am not such a monster of ego that I will out of any exaggerated sense of my own economic puissance refuse funds sufficient to travel in a safe and proper style and ease thereby your fears for my survival."

Mother giggled. Father frowned. "Nobly spoken, my kleine Moussa," he said dryly. "But rest assured, we will not allow any foolish fears of ours to rob you of the wanderjahr's true essence, as Davi's tremulous parents have robbed him. Not for our daughter the empty ersatz wanderjahr of a haut turista playing at being a Child of Fortune!"

"The wanderjahr's true essence ...?"

"Indeed," Shasta said. "We will grant you the vrai wanderjahr, the vie of the true Child of Fortune that we ourselves have known, without selfish regard for our own misgivings."

"'The vrai wanderjahr? The vie of the true Child of Fortune?" Somehow I was beginning to suspect that the magnanimity of these professions was something other than what it seemed.

"Just so!" Leonardo enthused. "We cannot allow you to throw away your wanderjahr as a subsidized haut turista out of your tender regard for us. For what is there for the spirit to learn indolently voyaging in the floating cultura, and flitting weightlessly from world to world insulated and pampered inside a voidbubble of parental gelt except sloth and ennui?"

"Verdad!" Shasta agreed. "Instead we grant you the freedom to live the life of the true Child of Fortune, which is to say, surviving by your wits and your own travail, earning your own passage from planet to planet by sweat or guile, entering intimately thereby into the life of every planet you touch, rather than skimming along the gelt-paved surface. For you, mi Moussa, the true adventure of the spirit, the wanderjahr as it was meant to be, the vie of the Child of Fortune, with all its dangers, hardships, and fairly won delights!"

My mouth fell open. My stomach dropped in gross dismay. My gorge, not to say my ire, began to rise. "you ... you would have me starve? You would have me wander the streets of some far-off city on an entirely hostile world without the chip to rent a room in which to sleep? You would leave me to wear the same clothes for years? You would allow me to expire of hunger or exposure scores of light-years from home? You would see your own daughter reduced to begging in alien streets for scraps of bread?"

"Fear not, kleine Moussa," my father said. "Our hearts are not quite so hard as that. Before you rage, hear the traveling gifts we propose. First, we will purchase your passage in electrocoma to any world you choose. Second, we will give you a chip of credit good for similar passage back to Glade from any world of men, so that if hunger or privation pushes you to the brink, you can always return safely home. Finally, we will give you a second chip sufficient to subsidize two standard months' sojourn in decent ease if not luxury on a planet of mean galactic cost of living."

I sprang to my feet shouting, overturning a wineglass in the process. "Merde! Caga! What minge! Electrocoma passage! A mere two months' funds! What have I done to deserve this outrage? How can you do this to your own daughter?"

"With wisdom and a higher regard for the development of your spirit than for your indolent ease," my mother said loftily.

"Pah!" I spat. "With a higher regard for hoarding your treasure than for your own flesh and blood, you mean!" I spread my arms as if to enfold their luxurious manse, their lucrative boutiques, all the fine furnishings and works of art within, the boats moored at our dock, the fulsome hoard of credit behind the chips they carried. "Is this house any less grand than Davi's? Are your chips backed by any less credit than his parents possess? Yet they have given him a chip backed by sufficient credit to voyage as an Honored Passenger to as many worlds as suits his fancy, there to dwell in a style suitable to a true child of Nouvelle Orlean!"

Neither my foul-mouthed rage, which should have earned me the severest of reprimands, nor my accusations of selfish minge, which should at least have wounded their pride, swayed my mother and my father from their calm, measured certitude.

"You have said it yourself, Moussa, in a style suitable to a true child of Nouvelle Orlean, not to a true Child of Fortune," my father said, taking no little amusement in pouncing on my words and turning them back on me.

"If you simply wish to continue a never-ending round of divertissements with never the need to face hardship, true danger, or responsibility for your own destiny, we will continue to subsidize you in a style suitable to a true child of Nouvelle Orlean, cher Moussa, until you have had your fill," my mother chimed in, as if all this had long since been rehearsed between them. "But here, on Glade."

"Contrawise, if it is the life of a true Child of Fortune that you seek, this you shall have on the terms we offer," Leonardo said. "We would rather now have a young daughter think us cheap and cruel than be chided later by a more mature avatar for ruining her wanderjahr with an excess of indulgence."

I sank back into my seat, my anger simmering down from a boil into a sullen silent pout, for I had to own, at least to myself, that my accusation of mean-spirited miserliness was probably unjust, for even the disappointed child that I in that moment was could dimly comprehend the philosophy behind what seemed like minge, though I liked it not. I was reduced to silent attempts to project my state of wounded funk with twist of lips, hunch of shoulders, and frown of brow, and when, after consuming the salad course without extracting another word from their kleine Moussa's lips, my parents fell to discussing the subtle merits of the dessert between them, I gave it up for the night, retiring to my room to plot and scheme and brood, the rejection of the sweet my final, futile, parting shot.

***

Of my efforts to extract a greater largesse over the next few days, there is little of significance to relate, except to say that they were entirely futile until the very end, when my father relented to the extent of granting a further boon unlike any of my requests.

I alternately pouted behind a sullen wounded mask and minced about attempting to play the role of daddy's little girl. Could I not at least travel as an Honored Passenger, or failing that, be granted a chip good for electrocoma passage to a succession of worlds instead of only one? No, I could not.

I stayed out all night and reeled home at noon of the next day in a state of toxicated dishabille. Surely my subsidy could at least be extended to a full year without damaging the philosophic purity of their wise intent? Nein.

In short, over these several days, the single firm result of my campaign of wheedling, pouting, arguing, and thespic fits of pique was to convince me, increment by increment, that their terms were set in stone.

As this slow and unpleasant satori forced its way upon my spirit against my hope and will, so too did I begin at length to accept the fact that I was going to have to select a single planet out of nearly three hundred on which to begin my wanderjahr, which is to say that by the time I began my listless and alas somewhat perfunctory study of the catalog of worlds, I knew in my heart of hearts that they had won.

Only when I studied the entry for Edoku did my spirit rise and some spring return to my step and my soul resolve that I would now give up my futile and sullen quest and accept electrocoma passage thereto on the next Void Ship that would take me there.

Edoku, from one perspective, was the largest city in all the worlds of men, from another it was a small planet, and from both, it was certainly the ultimate example of the planetmolder's art. This much, naturellement, was common lore, which is to say that even as indifferent a scholar as I knew Edoku as a Xanadu among the worlds of men, but upon delving deeper, I soon enough became quite entranced.

In the middle of the First Starfaring Age, a terminally damaged arkology had managed to transfer its citizens to the surface of a fairly large satellite of a gas giant. Rich in mineral resources but devoid of atmosphere or biosphere, this moon was a tabula rasa upon which generations of planetmolders, landscape architects, genetic designers, und so weiter, had created a totally ersatz geography, ecosphere, and cityscape, a planetary metropolis and garden, in which every hill and stream, every plant and creature, indeed clime, gravity, and the quality of light itself, was a conscious work of human craft, and Edoku entire, so some said, our species' highest work of art.

Naturellement, over the centuries, such a celestial city became one of the cultural, artistic, scientific, and commercial centers of the worlds of men -- an El Dorado of riches and extravagance, a Rome to which all roads led.

Including, I determined, my own, for it is not in the nature of the naive and inexperienced to wish to begin their adventures in a venue any less exalted than the brightest jewel to catch their eye, and if I was to be limited to the choice of free passage to a single world, where better to go than such a world of wonder and opportunity, where certain streets, it was said, were quite literally paved with gold, and where, therefore, a girl of spirit, resource, and wit might best and most easily win a fortune with which to travel on.

***

While my parents were openly cheered at the transformation in my spirit when at breakfast I informed them of my decision to accept the terms for my wanderjahr that they had laid down and commence to make my preparations for departure at once, my choice of worlds was greeted with something less than unbridled joy.

"Edoku?" my mother fairly moaned. "Could you not choose some less exalted world to conquer?"

"With ease," I drawled. "For is it not the general lore that Edoku is a jewel among the worlds of men, a planet rich in knowledge, beauty, wisdom, and art, and dripping, moreover, with wealth?"

"All that and more, or so I have heard," Leonardo agreed sourly. "And as such, a magnet for Children of Fortune seeking a portion of same, as well as merchants, mountebanks, and thieves from all the worlds of men far better equipped than my kleine Moussa to survive, let alone prosper, in such a realm."

"I think it best you choose a more modest venue in which to begin your journey far from home," my mother said. "Some world where a young girl on her own would have a better chance to earn credits toward --"

"Where better to accumulate gelt than on a world where it is as common as dirt on Glade?" I demanded. "Is it not yourselves, dear parents, who have limited your largesse to passage to a single world? And passage to any world I choose, by your own words! Have you not commended to me the true vie of the Child of Fortune, with, as I remember the quote, 'all its dangers, hardships, and fairly-won delights'?"

I could scarcely contain my glee as they glanced at each other in bemused and discomforted silence, for now, at last, it was I who had turned their words back on them, it was my turn to rest easy on the very philosophic ground upon which they had so adamantly stood, and their turn to be reduced to impotent silence in a logical cul-de-sac.

"Perusing the Void Ship schedules, I have learned that the Bird of Night departs Glade ten days from now on a course which will eventually take it to Edoku," I informed them. "It is my intention to be on it, unless ..."

"Unless?" they said in unison, grasping at the straw I could not forbear from offering in a teasing spirit.

"Unless, of course, you choose instead to modify your terms for my wanderjahr to include, mayhap, passage to five planets of my own choosing as an Honored Passenger, and a living subsidy which, with reasonable prudence, will last me for a full year. In which case, in loving deference to your trepidations, I will reluctantly forgo the Edoku of my heart's desire ..."

At this suggestion, naturellement, their discomfort took on a certain glowering tone. "We will speak of this again shortly," my father said unhappily, rising from the breakfast table. "I have clients to attend to at the moment."

Before he could entirely depart, my mother, with a worried look, touched his arm. "You and I must speak of this, Leonardo," she said firmly.

So, in the succeeding days they did, and so too did they apply their own versions of the charm, and wheedling, and pouting with which I had so unsuccessfully attempted to sway their wills when the shoe, as it were, had been on the other foot, though unlike me, they were above resorting to fits of pique or thespic appearances in a toxicated state.

The gist of their campaign was to convince me that a naif such as myself from a planet such as Glade -- which they now attempted to portray as little more than a frontier world inhabited entirely by bumpkins -- would have little chance of amassing credits against the sophisticated competition I would encounter for same on a world like Edoku. To which I inevitably replied that I was a sophisticated child of mighty Nouvelle Orlean, which was hardly to be likened to the society of a peasantry living in rude log huts, and that I was merely determined to follow their own sage advice and brave the vie of the true Child of Fortune to the utmost.

To their credit, honor forbade them to either deny me the passage to the single planet of my choice that they had promised or bribe me away from my chosen path by relenting on their financial terms for my wanderjahr. Indeed mayhap to my credit, by the time it became necessary to purchase my passage on the Bird of Night three days before departure, I doubt whether such a bribe would have any longer swayed my resolve to brave the golden streets of Great Edoku, for necessity had proven the mother of desire, and by then I was all but convinced that I had chosen this course entirely of my own free will.

And so the die of my fortune was finally cast, passage booked, and my parents, so the events of the next morning were to prove, reconciled to the inevitable, at least to the point of providing, in perhaps somewhat desperate aid of my survival on Edoku, and inspired by my father's protective desires, the latest miracle of Leonardo's art.

After breakfast, and before opening his boutique to the public, Leonardo, with Shasta in train, ushered me into the workshop area and extracted from a cubby a simple and in fact tawdry-looking ring such as might be purchased in the most modest of street bazaars on the poorest of planets. A simple golden band -- in fact upon second glance a not-very-cunning job of gold plating over synthetic -- adorned, if that is the word, by a single over-large glob of ersatz which might conceivably have convinced a three-year-old that it was a sapphire.

This ugly and patently worthless bijou my father slipped upon my right ringfinger as portentously and proudly as if it were the priceless relic of some ancient emperor's crown jewels, while I curled my lip in open distaste.

"After much discussion, your mother and I have decided that since you cannot be swayed from your desire, you should at least have some means of survival on Edoku beyond mere wit or sweat," he said.

I glanced from him to the ring on my finger, to my mother, and back again, thinking they had both gone mad. "This ring might secure me a glass of wine and a piece of bread in some low taverna, I suppose ..."

Leonardo laughed. "I have crafted the casing to create just this illusion so as to discourage the attention of thieves," he told me. "In point of fact, it is the latest and some might say most puissant product of my art, designed, moreover, with the aid of your mother's science as well ..."

The Touch, he called it, invented just for me, and not to be duplicated for his trade until I gave my leave. Within the stone was a power-pil and the band itself contained circuitries which, activated by a press of my thumb, could send a pulse therefrom directly into my nervous system, amplifying my kundalinic energies so as to greatly enhance my abilities to manipulate chakras and nerve plexes, said power to be directed by the fingers of my right hand.

When I professed continued incomprehension as to how the ring could aid in my practical survival, Shasta donned the device herself, activated it with her thumb, and, with a wry grin, barely touched the tip of her finger to the nipple of my breast beneath my blouse's cloth.

Instantly, such a flash of kundalinic fire seared through my breast and straight down into my loins at my own mother's touch that I flushed what must have been a brilliant scarlet and nearly fainted from mortification. Unrelenting, Shasta put a finger to the chakra where the spine emerges from the derriere's pelvic crown and I was fairly rocked off my feet by an orgasmic blast.

Laughing uproariously, Shasta dropped the ring into my quivering palm. "Naturellement, the effect upon a lingam itself will be dramatic indeed, while more subtle effects may be obtained in the natural act by playing the spine as if it were a flute," she said. "Minimal, the Touch will give you the possibility of emergency employment as a tantric performer of supernormal power, if not of the true artistry to be gained only by diligent study. Moreover, in conjunction with the serious study of the inner lore in which you have alas thusfar shown little interest, the Touch can amplify the healing aspects of the tantric sciences as well."

"Finally," Leonardo said, "there is the inverse effect, which prudence dictates not be demonstrated unless the necessity arises, for the opposite of pleasure is an equally exquisite paralytic pain." From another cubby, he withdrew a simple schematic chart of the corpus humain, of the sort given to students of the martial arts, veined with a nervous diagram, and spotted with plexes marked in red.

"A simple Touch to any of the standard plexes will render the most powerful attacker entirely helpless," he said, "adept of the martial arts or not."

Thus was I provided on the eve of my wanderjahr, if not with pecuniary largesse, at least with a practical token of the most puissant yin and yang arising from the true marriage of my parents' arts.

***

And so, having bidden farewell to parents and friends, with a pack of clothing, two modest chips of credit, and a ring upon my finger, I found myself at last in the sky ferry rising into orbit to rendezvous with the Void Ship that would bear me away from all I had known and been on the first leg of the journey to whom the teller of this tale has become.

Beyond the port and below the ferry, Nouvelle Orlean quickly dwindled to a splash of tiny buildings flung across the mouth of the mighty Rio Royale, and just as quickly the river itself became a twisting vein of blue meandering down the center of the piebald greens and browns of the Great Vale, and then the great valley itself became merely an addendum to the Grand Massif, in turn reduced to a pile of dull rocks at the base of a gleaming shield of white ice. Then even this lost its grandeur of scale as the horizon curved, and the sky became black, and I beheld the continent of Arbolique entire, an island feathered by clouds in the brilliant green sea.

At which point, certain conventions literaires would have me wax nostalgic, would require a soliloquy in a tone of sweet tristesse, would have the young Moussa cast a last, loving regretful look backwards, would portray her deep philosophic musings engendered by the sight of the planet that gave her birth and the only world she had ever known dwindling away to a beautiful abstraction in the endless void of the interstellar night.

Indeed such emotions may have flickered for an augenblick across my mind's sky like a wisp of cloud punctuating a brilliant blue summer's day, but I would be untrue to the essence of the moment if I herein paid them significant heed, for as soon as the future became visible in the form of myriad bright stars displayed like jewels for my consideration across the black velvet cloth of space, I became a true Child of Fortune, gazing forward into my wanderjahr among those unknown star-flung worlds with scarcely a thought in my mind or a place in my spirit for looking philosophically back.

And then, as the ferry curved into orbit a quarter way around the circumference of the planet below, I caught sight of what from this vantage seemed a tube of silver filigree set off against the blackness in which it floated like a webmoth's nest reflecting starlight on the edge of visibility against a jungle night.

A frisson of excitement went through me as knowledge supplied a sense of scale that vision could not, for I knew that this must be Glade's Flinger, and far from being a little webmoth's nest seen close at hand, it was a huge framework of cryowire half a kilometer in diameter, a hundred kilometers long, and orbiting, therefore, very far away.

I was impressed by far more than the overwhelming grandeur of its scale, for a planet's Flinger is its gateway to the wider worlds of men. While the Jump Drive enables a Void Ship to traverse light-years in an augenblick, it must make its final approach to orbit via more conventional means. To achieve the needed relativistic velocity from a dead rest in space would require either immense onboard reaction mass or many weeks, or both. Fortunately, a Void Ship emerges from its Jumps with the velocity with which it entered, and thus the construction of its Flinger marks a frontier world's mature emergence into easy commerce with the worlds of men.

The cryowire gridwork is electrified, the Void Ship, resting at the bottom of the tube like a seed in a blowpipe, is encapsulated in a magnetic bubble of opposite charge, at which moment, voila, it is accelerated electromagnetically by the Flinger field, flung down the hundred-kilometer tunnel and into the void at near-light speed.

My excitement at first beholding this device, which would soon propel the Bird of Night out of Glade's solar system on its way to distant stars, was darkened only by the knowledge that the experience of this magic moment would be one which I would be denied. While the Honored Passengers celebrated and toasted the beginning of the voyage at the departure fete in the grand salon, I would be lying insensate as one more item of human cargo in a dormodule.

But even this resentment, which had been simmering inside of me ever since I had been told that the experience of traveling as an Honored Passenger in the floating cultura would not be mine, faded away into no more than a faint regret as the sky ferry rounded the limb of the planet and I at last beheld the Bird of Night herself, silvery and magnificent against the star-flecked dark.

She hung there, a vision of baroque complexity, glowing and glittering in the light of our sun as it peeked around the edge of Glade. The Bird of Night, like all Void Ships, was a modular construct assembled around a long central spine depending from the ellipsoid capsule of the bow, which contained the bridge and Jump Drive machineries, so that its essential core appeared like an enormous flagellate microbe, or, I thought with some bemusement at the workings of my own mind, like a giant silvery sperm. Slung along this rigid spermatozoon's tail, like literary clutter designed to obscure the metaphor, were assorted cylinders of various sizes seemingly affixed there at asymmetrical random like so many silvery sausages and salamis.

Yet somehow the whole retained a grandeur and even beauty not entirely implicit in the seemingly haphazard assembly of its parts. Indeed even the imagery which the artifact evoked seemed appropriate to its true essence if not without a certain obscene humor. For was not the Void Ship the vrai ubersperm of our species, and were not the dormodules for the human cargo, fastened as they were to this ultimate symbol of the fertilizing propulsive principle of the all-penetrating yang, the containers of the varied genes of our kind, cross-fertilizing the worlds of men that were and the worlds of men that were to come?

***

Be such florid musings as they may, once the sky ferry had docked with the Bird of Night, I found myself in a far more prosaic venue, to wit, the long, plainly-functional spinal corridor down which I was hustled by the Med Crew Maestro without so much as a glimpse of the country of the Honored Passengers, though I was allowed to be tantalized by the sight of several of these lordly and extravagantly accoutred birds of paradise making their ways between their staterooms and the entrance to the Grand Palais, a simple door like all the others which lined the corridor from my plebian vantage, but one from within which drifted the sounds of music, discourse, and laughter, and the odors of haute cuisine, exotic incenses, and intoxicating vapors which once more made me long to gain entrance to the endless fete.

And so yet again was a somewhat sullen and pouting mood thrust upon me as, with singular lack of ceremony, I was escorted not into the gay milieu of the floating cultura but into a grim and cheerless chamber indeed, entirely suitable to my state of spirit, though hardly calculated to ease my sense of deprived outrage.

Vraiment, my spirit sank even further as I beheld the dismaying venue in which I was to travel from world to world. Long tiers of coffin-sized glass cubicles were stacked on either side of the dormodule's central corridor from floor to ceiling, those above floor level to be reached by metal ladders set at regular intervals. Perhaps half of these chambers lay idle, but the others displayed human figures lying fully clothed and entirely inert like the corpses of ancient commissars displayed in state, or like the fare offered up in automatic refectories.

A chill entered my bones, as if this were in fact one of the ancient cryogenic facilities of the First Starfaring Age, in which the life processes were slowed by the bitter cold of space itself rather than, in the modern mode, by the far safer means of electronic control, I knew the theory well enough in the higher cerebral centers of my mind, but the ancient reptilian backbrain was gibbering its endocrine dread of an impending state that could be distinguished from death only by instruments of considerable sophistication.

The Med Crew Maestro touched a stud and a cubicle door slid open three rows up the lefthand tier. I stood there transfixed with terror, gaping at this invitation to brave a sleep beyond sleep, a coma but a hairsbreadth away from death, a dreamless nothingness that would endure for the seven weeks it would take the Bird of Night to voyage from Glade to Edoku, a leap of faith, a trusting to the machineries of --

"Well what are you waiting for, child?" the Med Crew Maestro demanded. "Do you imagine that I have no other tasks to perform? Schnell, schnell!"

I looked into his indifferent gray eyes, seeking some human contact, some warm assurance against the metaphorical cold. What I perceived was nothing more than the owlish expression of a harried functionary to whom this was nothing more than another quantum of an endless routine.

"I've never ... this is my first ..."

"Ah," he sighed, and in that moment, a human spirit seemed to emerge from behind the mask. "Fear not," he said more softly. "No harm comes. Never have I lost a passenger yet. You sleep, and then you awake, c'est tout, and this you have braved every night of your life, ne. Up, up, up meine kleine! In a moment, your fears will all dissolve in sleep."

I shuddered. I smiled wanly. I took a long deep breath and within my mind chanted a silent mantra against my fear. Then, step by step, each footfall as portentous as the ringing of some solemn chime of doom, each metal rung sounding a note in a symphony of courage that only I could hear, I ascended the ladder and eased myself into the cubicle as if I were entering my grave.

I lay upon a padded pallet with a spiderwork helmet behind my head. "Sleep well," a voice called out from what seemed like far below.

Then with an all-but-inaudible whine, the cubicle door slid shut and I was alone with a claustrophobic dread that brought a silent scream of terror to my throat which I choked back by a last heroic act of will.

Another hum of hidden machineries, and then a cold metallic caress as if the icy hand of death had been laid upon my skull, and then --
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:56 am

Chapter 4

-- I awoke.

That was the extent of the subjective experience of my first voyage from world to world: I lost consciousness in a state of terror in a sealed cubicle and then awoke from a dreamless sleep into an enormous sense of relief, for the first sight that greeted my eyes was that of the cubicle door already sliding open to release me from my tomb.

Needless to say, I scrambled out of the cubicle and down the ladder without delay, and only when my feet were firmly planted on the deck did my spirit come fully awake and perceive, somehow, that I had truly crossed the void.

There were no physical symptoms to tell me that my life processes had been suspended for some seven weeks, nor did so much as a molecule of the dormodule seem altered, but there was an electricity in the air, an alteration of the music of the spheres, that somehow convinced my skeptical instincts that the Bird of Night now orbited another world. Sleepers were clambering down from the cubicles, floaters appeared bearing our luggage, and a ship's annunciator was chanting a marvelous mantra of anticipation: "Passengers departing for Edoku please proceed to the sky ferry dock ... Passengers departing for Edoku please proceed to the sky ferry dock ..."

There was no need for more detailed instructions, for a stream of passengers was already bustling up the ship's spinal corridor, ordinary folk such as myself carrying packs or accompanied by a floater or two, and what were obviously Honored Passengers surrounded by whole convoys of floaters, and all one had to do was find a clear place in the melee and be borne along by the current.

Soon I found myself seated in one of the sky ferries into which we were all unceremoniously ushered without apparent regard for our previous statuses, and a moment later I was gazing out of the port at my first sight of Edoku.

My mouth fell open. I gasped. It must have taken several minutes for my mind to even begin to form a coherent set of images out of the data impinging upon my retinas, for the sky ferry was already underway before I could even vaguely comprehend what it was moving toward, and even then --

Rather than the starry blackness of space, I beheld an endless curtain of gaseous turmoil, swirls within swirls, whorls within whorls, magenta, orange, brown, red, purple, these seething eddies and whirlpools in turn organized into bandlike higher patterns, and the whole seeming to be frozen in midmotion like a still image abstracted from a holocine.

As the attitude of the sky ferry shifted, the curve of a planet drifted into view from below, and sprinkled liberally above it, hundreds, indeed thousands, of brilliant discs of light from which beams descended, moving, shifting, changing colors, as if a cast of thousands were performing a pavane on an immense stage below, each performer tracked and illumined by a private spotlight.

Then the sky ferry, still descending, performed a slight roll, and a slice of black space appeared at the periphery of my visual sphere, forming a subtly curved edge to the chaotic maelstrom of colors, and at last I began to make sense out of what I saw, finally relating the raw sensory data to my prior astronomical knowledge.

Edoku was not a true planet but a satellite of a large gas giant, and it was the surface of that huge world, or rather the roil of its atmosphere, seen from so close on that the eye could not encompass it as a whole, which was the backdrop against which Edoku appeared. The discs of light, then, must be the orbiting luz redefusers, each illumining a small portion of Edoku's surface.

And indeed the onrushing surface of the planet was faceted like the jeweled eye of an insect or a mosaic window of colored bits of glass; each facet, each glass tile, each domain, illumined from on high by its own chosen quality, tint, and even hour of "daylight" -- noon, twilight, sunrise, pale lunar glow, und so weiter, and the whole shimmering and rippling as the luz redefusers slowly cycled through their changes like a forest floor dappled in a thousand colors beneath a windblown jungle canopy.

As the sky ferry descended swiftly from orbit, the view became more dazzling and disorienting still, as we flew through sunrises, sunsets, blazes of noon, islands of night, with the speed of a stroboscopic flicker. Mountains, plazas, buildings great and small, rivers, deserts, all blurred into each other to form a pointillistic landscape where the organic tints of the natural realm and the starker and more varied hues of the obvious works of men so intermingled, overlapped, and underlaid, that the whole appeared en passant as a single formless and colorless sprawl, within which were contained, nevertheless, all conceivable permutations of color and form, all conceivable transmutations of the organic and the crafted.

Thus I first beheld Great Edoku, gaping out the port in an overload of the visual senses and a rapture of the spirit, like a toxicate beholding the universe entire within the formless chaos of a single flame!

***

Moreover, my first vision of Edoku's surface proved to be more of the same, and if my description of it herein should lack a certain coherence and form, vraiment, the rendering thereof through hindsight's cooler and more mature eye still achieves more in the telling than the young girl I then was could encompass in the moment of quite literally overwhelming confrontation with the spectacle of the reality itself.

Our sky ferry landed and debarked its passengers on a noonday meadow nestled near the summit of a small wooded mountain, or so at least at the moment it seemed, and half a dozen similar craft also rested on this alpine lawn, three of them also disgorging travelers. From this vantage, Edoku lay spread before me, stretching away to dissolve into the horizon along an arc of nearly three hundred degrees.

What I beheld from this tranquil meadow was a chaos that not only took my psychic breath away but failed to resolve its baroque piling of detail upon detail into any coherent overall reality no matter how long I gaped and blinked.

For what I saw seemed not so much a vista on any planet I could have imagined but an immense holo crafted by an artist dedicated to the surreal or to the inner vision of the subconscious mind.

Half the sky and more was filled with the mighty sphere of Edoku's gas giant primary, and the rest was the star-studded black of deepest space.

Yet the illuminated air above the landscape below me seemed entirely disconnected from the sky above, as if what I was seeing was a diorama highlighted and brightened by beams of filtered light shining down through holes in a painted ceiling. From horizon to horizon, the landscape glowed and shimmered, brightened and darkened, beneath a complexly interwoven tapestry of light; noonday, sunset, darkness, sunrise, winter, spring, summer, and fall lay in slowly shifting patterns upon the land as if dancing to the unheard music of thoroughly toxicated gods.

Further, to speak of what lay illumined beneath this kaleidoscope of the hours and the seasons as a landscape in any quotidian sense is to play the reality false, for mountains, buildings, lakes, pavilions, streams, flora, statuary, deserts, und so weiter, were all jumbled and tossed together in a manner which destroyed any sense of the natural and the urban, indeed even any sense of scale.

Picture if you will an entire planet manicured, formed, bonsaied, and tended like a formal abstract garden in the nihonjin mode, replete with snowcapped mountains, roaring rivers, desert wastes, green forests, mirror lakes, massifs of naked stone, but with no single detail of the geography forced into the pattern of any overall scale, and no geologic sense imposed on the succession of the terrain. Thus here might be a forest whose canopy overtops a nearby mountain peak, there a river circling an island of desert dunes, in another place a jungle marsh atop a sere butte from which falls a great cataract entirely dwarfed by the tranquil lily pool at its base.

Now superimpose upon this whimsically crafted garden an endless city built in a melange of every conceivable architectural style and in a scale completely indifferent to that of any part of the garden from which its buildings grow like so many bizarre fungal blooms. Thus a mountain peak may serve as the centerpiece of a public square, trees may grow taller than a neighboring pagoda tower, while in another arrondissement a forest seemingly of the same species serves as the hedge of a lakeside promenade. A waterfall in one venue roars and foams behind a street of wooden houses, while somewhere else a cascade that seems no less grand is a mere trickle off the side of a low building.

Neither a planetwide city liberally landscaped nor a worldwide garden dotted with buildings, the surface of Edoku combined elements of both sans any separation of realm or any overall concept of scale, save that the geological elements which should have dwarfed the works of man -- mountains and rivers, deserts and lakes -- tended to rather be dwarfed thereby, and contrawise, such floral features as trees or even single blooms might like as not be huger than towers of silver or glass. To further meld the urban and the bucolic and surrealize the nonexistent interface between, great trees might display the windows of a dwelling, spiral stairways rise circling to a snowcapped peak, or forests grow atop a pavilion's roof.

And all spread out before me not under the light of a single foreign sun but illumined in a crazy quilt of day and night, sunrise and noon, wan winter light and blazing summer, the whole beneath an incongruous sky of star-spangled black dominated by the immensity of the mighty gas giant's slow surface boil.

What is more, or mayhap less, this vertiginous vista, alas, is more of an overview of Edoku than one may achieve from most any other vantage, for, as I was to learn, the debarkation site is crafted to afford a relatively easy psychic access to the auslander, whereas the esthetic of the planet as a whole is designed entirely to please the Edojin themselves, and these are of the firm philosophic opinion that any overview is both false and hopelessly jejune, that "reality" itself is no more than a local artistic style, that perpetual immersion in the ever-changing fine detail of chaos is the only proper mode of civilized existence, and that to apprehend Edoku entire would be to achieve both a boredom terminal and an existentially daunting vision of the entirely unnatural and artificial nature of their vie and their world, which the best minds of the species humaine, to wit their own exalted selves, have spent a thousand years and more of history and craft in an effort to transcend.

Naturellement, such an appreciation of the weltanschauung and esprit de vie of the Edojin was entirely foreign to the girl who stood there gaping and entirely overwhelmed by her very first sight of their venue. Nor was her composure exactly enhanced when the ground fell away beneath her feet.

In truth, not quite literally beneath my feet, though the psychic import was not at all dissimilar as a large round hole suddenly appeared in what I had supposed was the solid ground of a mountaintop meadow, and my fellow travelers from the Bird of Night, followed by their luggage-bearing floaters, began to quite blithely step over the edge and disappear into the bowels of the mountain.

"Quelle chose!" I exclaimed, as one by one the people around me leapt off into the abyss as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as indeed, as I was to learn, on this world, it was.

A tall dark man dressed all in red velvet took a moment's pity on me as I stood there afraid to even peer over the lip. "C'est nada," he said, grasping my hand. "Droptube des'. Null-g, like a feather to float. Geronimo!"

So saying, he leapt over the edge, dragging me screaming by the hand.

I found myself not plummeting like a stone down a dark tunnel into the depths of the earth, but floating nearly weightlessly downward through a great light and airy atrium inside this mountain which was not a mountain.

What a profusion of sound and color and people! The great hollow space, through which I and countless others drifted like motes of dust through a golden sunbeam shaft that seemed to rise from the distant floor, was circled round by tier after tier of balconies. Some were garden promenades dripping greenery, others strogats lined with restaurants, tavernas, and boutiques, still others the venues of what might have been impromptu carnivals, thespic displays, concerts, and other entertainments which seemed entirely incomprehensible. A dozen modes of music merged in a not unpleasant discord, the air hummed with the babble of countless voices, and my mouth began to water as I slowly drifted downward through various zones of cuisinary aromas.

As for the Edojin who thronged this inverted tower, a generalization as to their modes of dress, accoutrement, or genetic style can hardly be attempted, for they seemed as dedicated to the outre, idiosyncratic, and surreal in their personal adornment and cosmetic stylizations as in their planet- molding arts. While none seemed to vary significantly from the general range of size and mass of our species, and they all possessed the number and arrangements of limbs and external sense organs appropriate thereto, any finer details seemed entirely a matter of personal whim. Skin hues encompassed the entire visual spectrum, hair colors tambien, coiffures both male and female might be anything from close-cropped fuzz to huge bouffants trimmed and shaped into abstract or even representational topiary hedges of hair, clothing might be no more than body paint or all- encompassing recomplicated robes of a dozen colors and anything and everything between, and ears, noses, limbs, and torsos might be richly bejeweled in any conceivable mode, or just as likely be left entirely unadorned.

I drifted slowly down through this wonderland in the state of ecstatic befuddlement that seemed to have become the basic mode of my consciousness since first I set eyes on Edoku, scarcely aware that my knight in red velvet armor had long since let go my hand and alighted birdlike on one of the intervening balconies, and only became aware that the giddy ride was over when at length I felt the true surface of Edoku gently kiss the soles of my feet.

***

That is, if anything that lay beneath the soles of one's feet on Edoku could be said to be vrai terra firma, for the floor I alighted upon appeared to the eyes as golden, shining, transparent sand, to the kinesthetic senses as thick-pile carpeting, and the gravity gradient thereof as that of a minor asteroid.

What had appeared to be a solid mountain from its meadowed crest and a substantial building as I drifted down its hollow core now seemed to be a floating confection from my present vantage, for the building ended a good twenty meters from the floor, held aloft by the same sort of gravitic machineries which had enabled me to drift down like a speck of dust and which now informed my motor senses that I weighed no more than the moussas which as a babe I had held in the palm of my hand.

I stood there with the enormous mountain of a building floating above my head like an immense parasol while a three hundred sixty-degree panorama of the immediate environs surrounded me, each few points of the compass, moreover, offering their own hour and season, tempting me with the illusion that I stood at the fulcrum of space and time, though in my present psychic circumstances I knew full well that, here in Edoku, nothing could be further from the truth.

On my right hand, I was offered what might have been an arrondissement of small residences piled up the sides of low hills with only a few folk to be seen abroad to welcome the dawn. Some degrees further, an afternoon parkland with a lakeful of small boats, sunbathers on the lawn, more athletic Edojin engaged in arcane sport and al fresco amour. Or I could venture down the narrow midnight streets of some sort of pleasure district, thronged with revelers crowding between tall and garishly lit emporiums. I might wander among the enormous succulents and little gazebos set in sunset desert sands or ascend to the ridgeline of a miniature range of mountains circled by what might have been manses or just as easily fabriks.

In truth, I knew not where to begin, nor what to begin, nor did I have guide or knowledge or the foggiest notion of how to orient myself in this chaotic terrain. Giddy and toxicated already, and growing discomforted by both my indecision and the psychic weight of the mountain floating above my head, I resolved to let fortune decide, and so, closing my eyes, I spun around until I was truly dizzy, then ceased whirling and bounced airily off towards the pleasure streets of midnight, which were the next sight to greet my eyes.

***

How long did I wander through Edoku in a toxicated fog? How may duration be measured where midnight is a few steps from dawn and one may stroll in a minute or two from spring into fall? Naturellement, one may consult one's timepiece, but what sort of spirit resorts to such digital measurement in elf hill? Certainement not the spirit of the virgin Child of Fortune that I was, enraptured by an endless succession of marvelous, chaotic, and upon occasion daunting realities, such as Cort and I had never succeeded in conjuring from quotidian Nouvelle Orlean or our own psyches even during our most prolonged and eclectic seances with the psychoactive pharmacopoeia.

Though in truth, of all the knowledge, skills, and lore that I had acquired in my previous incarnation on Glade, it was precisely my experiences with a plethora of psychochemically altered reality states which stood me in best stead on my initial wanderings in Edoku. While with Cort the perception of an entirely fragmented and disconnected succession of bizarre and unpredictable realities was entirely the result of alteration in the biochemical matrix of the consciousness perceiving them, and on Edoku it was the environment itself which rang the changes, the psychic state induced thereby was subjectively the same, to wit an entirely fractured consciousness wandering through them totally immersed in the immediate moment-to-moment flow of the fine details of chaos sans any overview integrated over space and time.

There were cafe tables of living wood arising from the gilded pavement of midnight streets, mighty towers of glass and stone set in avenues among miniature mountain ranges bustling with urban commerce in the earnest early morning light, a twilit dance pavilion beside a cooling waterfall where naked figures performed an erotic pavane weightlessly in the air, a desert garden under the blaze of noon and the gravity of a massive world, promenades lined with tavernas and cuisinary emporiums on arching bridgeways spanning wild rapids, cafes set high in the boughs of trees, al fresco carnivals on emerald meadows in the centers of public platzes, buildings in the form of mountains, on rocky islands in clear blue lakes, incised into canyon cliffs, and all manner and scale of trees, rivers, waterfalls, und so weiter, festooning towers and pavilions ...

Through all this I wandered like a random animalcule in brownian movement, and vraiment, there was randomness in more than the geographical realm, for noon and midnight, sunrise and sunset, the round of the seasons, were as much a matter of neighborhood caprice as the weight of my body, which, from moment to moment, venue to venue, might be dragged down by heavy mass, light as a moussa in the treetops of home, entirely weightless, or any gradient in between. So too the odors, perfumes, scents and, vraiment, stenches, which alternately tempted, tantalized, seduced, and befouled my nostrils seemed to bear no causal connection to their apparent sources. A floral bouquet might drift from a refectory, blooms might give off the aroma of roasting meat, a beautiful garden might reek of rot, or buildings of glass and steel smell of a mountain dell.

As for the activities, civilized or otherwise, which played themselves out in this chaotic matrix, they were so recomplicated and arcane as to remain largely incomprehensible to a onetime sophisticate from Nouvelle Orlean. I could hardly tell a restaurant from a palace of pleasure, for all manner of emporiums in every sort of architectural mode seemed to purvey both cuisine and tantric performances, as well, for that matter, as vestments, bijoux, machineries and objets d'art. Was the extravagantly gesticulating crowd inside that glass dome engaged in a theatrical performance, was it a mental retreat, or did the tote board signify a commercial bourse?

Each and every Edojin composing en masse the roiling and colorful throngs of the planetary city seemed determined to outdo every other in outrageousness of clothing, artificiality of skin tint and coiffure, floridity of gesticulation, and general aura of breathtaking and self-important sophistication, the Lingo of the Edojin seemed to be a melange of the most exotic and nearly incomprehensible sprachs I had ever encountered, and everyone save myself, or so it appeared to me, seemed to be intently engaged in affairs of cosmic import or baroque decadence or both, far beyond my auslander comprehension.

Vraiment was the state of consciousness in which I wandered in those first few hours all but indistinguishable from that induced by the ingestion of a smorgasbord of psychoactive chemicals. So too, at last, the dissolving of sequential expectation and linear logic as the organizing principle of my psyche's passage through space and time to release that higher yet tambien more primitive being which egolessly merges with the flow of that which is, becoming no more and no less than the moment-to-moment passage of its spirit through realities, as the perfect singer becomes the song.

From this perspective, or rather in truth from this annihilation of separate perspective, I began to dimly apprehend, if not the individual import of the chaotic sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of Edoku, then at least, in a vague and ill-formed manner, the essential spirit of the place, the esthetic weltanschauung of the Edojin, the higher logic behind the random chaos in which they chose to live.

Consider the history of this planet. Millennia ago, after a voyage of generations in the simple, bounded, and entirely artificial reality of their arkology, the original settlers of Edoku found themselves stranded not on a planet teeming with the open-ended complexity of an evolved ecosphere, but on a bleak and lifeless tabula rasa of dead stone and perfect vacuum, Thus they were faced with the esthetic challenge and spiritual necessity of crafting a world, indeed for all practical purposes a total reality, out of nothing more than mass, energy, and their own inner landscapes, which is to say devoid of any surprise, chaos, or animating spirit not created by their own conscious hand.

So, over the centuries, did they create a world in which ersatz recomplicated upon ersatz, in which artificial order recomplicated upon artificial order, in which the parts were deliberately crafted to bear no unified relationship to any whole, in which the "natural" and the "man-made" were terms without meaning, in which day and night, winter, summer, spring, and fall, gravity and terrain, flora and fauna, being of necessity arbitrary human creations to begin with, were allowed to follow the random dictates of human caprice and the surreal esthetic of the imagination unbounded by the natural laws of geography, meteorology, biology, or time. Thus, as if by magic, did human craft itself rescue their spirits from the dead and soulless determinism of a reality crafted entirely by the rational mind, thus by a transcendent act of will was chaos reconjured out of order.

In essence, then, Edoku was a quicksilver environment created to induce and perpetually maintain in the spirits of its inhabitants precisely that state of permanent surprise, that eternal flow of one unpredictable into another, that ongoing illusion of an organically complex and unencompassable chaos which I found so disorienting and daunting.

Naturellement, the foregoing is informed by hindsight's more mature wisdom as well as a perusal of the relevant texts; at the time, all that I began to finally perceive was that an orienting overview might very well be something that Edoku was in fact designed to avoid, certainement at the least it was something no amount of random wanderings were likely to allow me to attain, and therefore, rather than continue my intellectual attempts to crystallize order out of this chaos, my only course was to embrace it, and seek to impose upon it only the structure of my own desires.

Upon achieving this satoric state, a certain clarity of perception and purpose began to coalesce out of the mists. While I had no clue to or concept of the absolute passage of time, I knew with certainty that the soles of my feet were growing sore, that the muscles of my legs had long since lost their spring, that the weight of the pack on my back was bowing my shoulders, that my stomach was beginning to demand nourishment, and that my bladder was filling to the point of some urgency.

In short, biological imperatives and ultimate surrender to the knowledge that further aimless wanderings would be productive of nothing more than further confusion had finally combined to produce a motivational vector, which is to say that I realized that it was time to find what in this strange land at least served the practical purpose of a hotel.

***

In Nouvelle Orlean I knew the repute of every hotel in the city and in any other human habitation that I had previously heard of or imagined, one simply located the typical sort of arrondissement where hotels were to be found, and selected one on the basis of general ambiance. But here on Edoku, I had not the faintest notion of where such an arrondissement might be found, might not have recognized same were I standing at its center, and could hardly have distinguished a hotel from a palace of pleasure or a hospital on the basis of architectural style.

I was therefore reduced to screwing up my courage and accosting total strangers.

"Pardon, good sir, but I've just arrived on Edoku, and I'm looking for a good hotel --"

"Good hotel, jai nai ici by my lights, and I agree it is a disgrace to our ciudad grande, but there you have it, bonne chance and buena suerte!"

"Excuse me, but would you --"

"Certainly not! Ruegelt for Children of Fortune arimasen!"

"Pardon me, but I'm new on Edoku --"

"Y yo, I appear old ne? Vraiment, I knew this skin tint suited me not, but to hear it from a rank auslander!"

"Would you know the location of a good hotel?"

"Would I know the location of a good hotel? C'est possible. Aber primero, define good and location kudasai, since these are locutions subjective, whereas hotel is a noun objective in most sprachs of Lingo --"

Et cetera, et cetera, und so weiter.

Finally, near tears with frustration, and shaking with fatigue and no little outrage at what seemed to pass for street manners in Edoku, I cornered three Edojin lying on a lawn close by a waterfall in a garden strewn with cafe tables, who seemed sufficiently toxicated from the contents of a flagon of wine they were passing around to be incapable of flight, and essayed what I fancied was my own version of the local conversational style.

"Merde! Caga! Why do you imagine that Edoku has totally disgraced itself?"

The three of them -- a silver-skinned woman in a chemise of black and white harlequinade, an orange fellow wearing only tight green breeches, and an entirely nude man with rainbow body paint and a crest of hair in the same style -- exchanged arch glances of amusement.

"Porque Edoku hast keine acceptable restaurant in the Magyar mode?" the woman ventured.

"Weil Edoku nikulturi des'?" said the nude man.

"I imagine Edoku disgraces itself because no one has a clever answer to your koan, babaji!" the orange fellow declared triumphantly. "Ken sie the one about Diogenes and the Honest Man?"

"Wrong, wrong, wrong!" I told them. "Edoku has disgraced itself because nowhere in its precincts is a good hotel to be found!"

At this there was general consternation. Then the clever orange one clapped his hands and laughed." Ach, I comprend!" he cried. "Nowhere within Edoku is a good hotel to be found because everywhere good hotels abound!"

"Indeed? Then why can you not direct me to one nearby?"

"Tres facile! We cannot direct you to one nearby because there are several close at hand!

"Then which of them is the best hotel?"

"Mit more precision, kudasai," the woman said. "Best a subjective adjective of comparison desu, ne, signifying maximization of an adjective of quality. Best extravagant? Best outre? Best bucolic? Best large? Best small?"

"How about the cheapest?" I asked. "Or to be more precise, the best value?" "So," said the orange man, "du bist no wandering guru of the zen koan after all. Merely green auslander with a chip of credit of modest amount seeking a bargain hotel?"

"I am overwhelmed by your perceptivity," I admitted.

"Then why didn't you simply say so?"

"Because I surmised that such a straightforward request on Great Edoku might mark me as a bumpkin and a bore ...?" I suggested.

At this, the three of them broke into delighted laughter. "Well spoken! the orange man exclaimed. "Bienvenidos a Edoku! Such regard for the niceties of civilized discourse deserves its reward. I commend therefore the Yggdrasil. Direct through midnight, links at the cliffs of sunset, circle round the noonday fountain, and there in the petit wald, voila!"

"You cannot miss it," the woman said. "It's the only building in the vecino fashioned in the likeness of a tree."

***

I could not. It was.

Rather pleased with myself for having successfully negotiated my first more or less coherent conversation on Edoku, I followed the directions I had been given with little difficulty. Indeed I began to appreciate the manner in which Edoku's bizarre melange of architecture and landscaping provided starkly unmistakable landmarks at every hand. Vraiment, every conceivable vista consisted of little else but an endless succession of unmistakable images!

The hotel Yggdrasil was hardly an exception to this rule.

In the center of the small forest to which I had been directed was a clear blue lake which was little more than a decorative moat surrounding a central island, which indeed may have existed solely to esthetically justify the rainbow bridge which soared airily above it. Rising from the island, indeed all but overgrowing it with the enormous maze of shaded porchways formed by its system of unburied "roots," was a gigantic silver tree.

A good two hundred meters tall at its leafy crown and perhaps forty meters thick through its trunk, to this day I cannot say precisely to what extent the Yggdrasil was a building and to what extent a gene-tailored floral artifact. Vraiment, the trunk and the overarching branches were unmistakably metallic, though their surfaces were worked in the most cunning simulation of natural bark, but the profusion of greenery festooning the whole and growing directly therefrom was just as unmistakably organic. The upper surfaces of the main branches were shaded walkways equipped with railings, along which I could see hotel guests gamboling as lightly as the moussas of Glade. Depending from the branches were several score "fruits" of various colors and generally ovoid shapes, the least of them the size of a small bungalow.

Enchanted, overawed, I danced across the rainbow bridge, which had scarcely any gravity gradient at all, through the maze of porches formed by the roots, where people sat sipping drinks at table or lounging in garden bowers, and into the main lobby. Here the gravity gradient was set to give the kinesthetic senses a heavy, almost oppressive, sense of solidity and weight, in keeping with the decor, for the lobby gave the appearance of a vast subterranean grotto beneath the tree; earthen walls veined with the traceries of great gnarled wooden roots, blazing torches set high in brazen sconces, seats in the form of brightly colored giant mushrooms, cool, somewhat dank air redolent with the smell of wet loam.

Against the far wall, behind a counter of rough-hewn gray stone, sat a prim-looking man whose skin had been painted, or may hap actually bioformed, to simulate the color and texture of rich old wood, dressed in the somewhat ludicrous green garb of an elf of ancient lore.

I approached this worthy and somewhat tremulously announced my desire to secure a room. He seemed to eye me dubiously, as if "auslander" and "indigent" were blazoned on my brow.

"Indeed," he said rather haughtily for someone dressed as if for a masquerade. "Weil the Yggdrasil a hotel desu, and you bearing luggage are, I had little difficulty deducing your intent, ne, aber the operative questions sind, primero, what class of chambre might suit your fancy, segundo, for how long, tercero, can you afford it?"

Such lofty churlishness, far from intimidating me further, only served to remind me that I was a child of Nouvelle Orlean, entirely unaccustomed to such boorish manners from one whose establishment I was favoring with my custom.

"First, I require a chambre ordinaire in your median price range, second, the duration of my stay will depend upon the extent to which your hotel meets with my approval, and third, voila!" I said in a tone to match his hauteur, handing over my chip, which I knew full well was backed by enough credit to finance two full months of all my expenses at mean galactic living standard.

The domo of the Yggdrasil fingered the plastic wafer thoughtfully for a moment, as if he fancied he could read the current balance stored in its circuitry by touch alone. Then he relented, popped it into his credit slot, scanned the readout, raised an eyebrow, shrugged, deducted a sum, and returned it to me.

"First day's rent debited ist," he said in what seemed a somewhat more respectful tone. "Since you plan a stay of indefinite duration, crediting in advance on a day-to-day basis mandates itself." He came close to favoring me with a smile. "Unless, naturellement, you prefer to give over a week or two's rent in advance at this time ..?"

"Quelle chose! Since I have not yet inspected your accommodations, I hardly think it prudent to commit myself to a week's stay in advance."

"As you will," he said with a diffident shrug. "A hopper now to your room conveys yourself, which in order I'm sure you will find. Gravity control knob on right bedstand desu, transparency control on the left."

A chime sounded. From somewhere behind the counter, may hap from a hidden access hole, the most outre little creature appeared. About a meter tall, and the best part of that devoted to an enormous derriere and a pair of haunchy legs, the hopper sported a coat of bright scarlet fur bibbed with white, two enormous stylized humanoid eyes, and a mouth which the gene-crafters had fashioned in the bizarre simulacrum of a permanent human grin.

Loading my pack onto a floater with its long springy arms and executing a little bow, the hopper bounded across the lobby, and led me through a cavelike opening into a brightly illumined shaft whose negative gravity gradient carried us high up the trunk of the hotel to a landing stage which debouched directly onto a branch high in the boughs of the Yggdrasil. Although the height should have been dizzying, the light gravity gradient, the sturdy railings, and the profusion of overgrowing foliage which screened and softened the direct sight of the drop to the ground, all cunningly combined to set me at my ease as I followed the hopper along the treetop walkways.

The creature came to a halt where a bright yellow "fruit" hung from the branch directly beneath us. Taking my comparatively gross paw in its delicate little hands, it pressed my palm against a yellow spot on the silver bough, and a hole opened up directly before me.

I descended a ladderlike stair of dark wood -- or rather drifted down it, since the gravity gradient was set at near zero -- into a marvelous bower of a chamber. Brightly dappled sunlight poured into the room through the lacy network of green vines which covered its transparent walls and ceiling. The floor was a deep bed of some brown mosslike material, the bed was a gel-filled affair formed in the shape of an enormous all-embracing lavender flower, the twin bedstands. the chests, the tables, the armoire, were of a whitish wood painted and carved in floral motifs, there were three soft chairs and a couch also done up as enormous flowers, and through an open connecting door I saw a toilette done in rough-grained gray stone polished to the sheen of marble and richly appointed with golden fixtures.

The vines papering the wall were judiciously speckled with simple little white blossoms, and among these flitted perhaps a dozen brightly hued and softly singing little birds, each no bigger than my thumb.

As I stood there utterly enchanted, the hopper bounded down the stairs and over to the right-hand bedstand, where it demonstrated the full range of gravity control at some small discomfort to my stomach, and then, twirling the knob on the other bedstand, treated me to the piece de resistance.

This knob controlled the light level, but the illumination varied not merely in quantity but quality. A full turn of the control put the room through a full day's cycle, from the brightness of vine-shaded noon, through subtly muted afternoon light, on into rich orange sunset, thence to pale moonlight, utter blackness, dawn's early light, and straight on into morning. To perfect the wonder, by some .arcane means which to this day I still cannot fathom, the birds fell instantly silent as soon as the knob was set to late evening, and burst into song to greet the ersatz dawn.

The hopper cocked an inquisitive glance at me as if to inquire whether the accommodations met with my approval. I nodded my assent and added a little salute to express my true pleasure, and the creature departed, leaving me to enjoy the end of my first day on Edoku in solitude.

After relieving and refreshing myself in the toilette, I realized that I was far too exhausted to seek nourishment, too exhausted in fact to even contemplate leaving the tranquility of my cozy magical nest for the daunting chaos that teemed without.

So, setting the gravity gradient a shade above zero to keep my body from drifting, and opting for early evening, I luxuriated on my flower and in my sense of accomplishment at having secured this safe harbor, and drifted quickly off to sleep to the lullaby of birdsong.
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:56 am

Chapter 5

For the next two weeks, the Yggdrasil served as a secure and comforting home base for my still tentative explorations of Edoku; here I had shelter and toilet facilities at hand, and cuisine could be ordered up in the hotel refectory or even for delivery to my room without requiring knowledge of the locations or menus of the city's numerous but outre and more often than not well-camouflaged restaurants.

I say the city's restaurants rather than the planet's, for after only a few days' sojourn, even a jejune auslander such as I began to adopt the perceptual mode of the Edojin and regard Edoku as an enormous city rather than a small planet.

For the fact was that Edoku had few of the attributes of a planet. There were no continents, no seas, no characteristic gravity gradient, no coherent weather systems, no regular procession of night and day, and no real sense of geographical distance. Within a day or two, I began to realize that the horizon was always much closer at hand than it seemed, for the ersatz geographical features, while betraying no overall relationship of scale taken one to another, were as a generality crafted as miniatures so as to create the illusion of a far larger planetary surface. The totally arbitrary crazy quilt of gravity gradients was also a necessary part of this legerdemain of perspective, for in point of astronomical fact, Edoku was a modest-sized moon whose natural gravity would have been only about .2 standard g, a kinesthetic clue which would have immediately destroyed the visual illusion of a far distant horizon on a much larger world.

Somehow, my penetration of this trick of scale made Edoku slightly less daunting -- at least in terms of locomotion if not location -- and once I began to learn something of the arcana of the public transportation system, the perceptual transformation was complete.

On a planet where gravity varied abruptly and dramatically every kilometer or so, low-level aerial transport was far too risky to life and limb for even the Edojin to contemplate, and so this mode was confined to suborbital ballistic shuttles, and these horrendous craft, perversely propelled as they were by primeval rockets belching flame, smoke, and earsplitting thunder, seemed to exist more for thespic effect than any semblance of practicality .So too the boats, punts, barques, canoes, und so weiter, available for hire on every body of even marginally navigable water.

The occasional small vehicles-wheeled, legged, or gravity floated-which were to be seen in arrondissements where a system of streets was in evidence might be practical for locomotion within their precincts, but were useless for travel of any real distance. As for those Edojin who rode about on a bewildering assortment of steeds, no two of which seemed to betray a genetic commonality, these folk, as far as I was concerned, were prime candidates for a mental retreat.

Indeed, for the first few days my modest wanderings were constrained, first by the distance I could cover afoot, and second by the necessity of keeping the hotel Yggdrasil either constantly within my visual sphere or, at most, no further from my sight than a short trail of memorizable landmarks away.

Only when I screwed up my courage and inquired of the domo of the hotel as to how an auslander entirely unfamiliar with the city might explore beyond walking distance from the hotel without becoming hopelessly lost, was I somewhat patronizingly informed of the existence of the Rapide.

Unbeknowst to me, there was a network of tunnels under the entire surface of Edoku, with stations in almost every building of significance as well as cunningly concealed in a plethora of geographic features, though for esthetic reasons, these were unmarked and had to be either memorized or inquired after locally.

Once access to the Rapide was achieved, however, the system was such that it could be utilized with relative ease even by a naif such as myself. In each Rapide station was a goodly supply of Bubbles. These were simple seats mounted\ on floaters and enclosed in the same sort of voidbubble field, used for inspecting the exteriors of Void Ships. Each Bubble was equipped with a chip slot and a display screen.

There were two modes of command. If the cognomen of a specific destination was spoken, the Rapide would forthwith deduct the proper debit from your chip and convey you thither. If one requested a class of destination such as "ho- tels," "restaurants," "mountains," "palaces of pleasure," und so weiter, a complete alphabetized list of same would scroll across the display screen until a choice was announced.

Distance was not a relevant parameter, for the tunnels of the Rapide were maintained in hard vacuum within an inertial nullifier field, permitting enormous accelerations without discomfort, and so once the destination was announced, you were whisked down the mercifully featureless tunnel at tremendous if entirely imperceptible velocity; via the Rapide, no point on Edoku was more than twenty minutes from any other.

Thus, once I became conversant with the Rapide, Edoku became, in practical effect as well as psychic perspective, an endless and randomly accessible succession of possible venues discontinuously distributed by name or category and bearing no geographical or temporal relationship one to the other. The restaurant in which I chose to dine might be a few minutes' walk from the mountain on which I took a postprandial stroll or it might be halfway around the planet. More- over, no matter where I chanced to find myself when fatigue set in, I had only to insert my chip, speak its name, and be safely returned to the hotel Yggdrasil in a matter of minutes.

While the Rapide gave me random access on a hit or miss basis, and while it reduced the Edoku of my perception from a chaotic planetary vastness to an infinite succession of wonders and bizarrities, each in effect a close neighbor of every other, it can hardly be said that such a mode of transport served to enhance my sense of psychic orientation.

Au contraire, while I was now at liberty to wander Edoku entire, my perception of its realities was now, if anything, more fragmented, and so too, therefore, the consciousness informed by same, which went through the rounds of the arbitrary hours and days not merely disconnected from any sequence of time save that of hunger, fatigue, and sleep, but disconnected as well from any topographical map of the territory .

Moreover, my selections of restaurants, palaces of pleasure, entertainments, scenic vistas, and the like, were determined entirely by arbitrary choices from the categorical lists offered up by the data bank of the Rapide, and these listings, or so it seemed, were compiled with no little arbitrary caprice themselves.

Vraiment, I could rest assured that any establishment filed under "restaurants" would supply me with nourishment, but the cuisinary style and venue of same might be anything and everything.

I was delighted at a banquet in the Ran mode consumed on a barge floating down a river in a twilit canyon, bemused to find myself supping entirely on pastries circulating on platters affixed to the heads of birdlike creatures high in a treetop, appalled to be offered a breakfast consisting entirely of tidbits of raw meats and fishes in the midst of an extravagant tantric performance, disgusted to find myself in a firelit cave where the diners, required to doff their clothing for the occasion, were constrained to rip small roasted animals and fowl apart with their fingers, entirely outraged by the establishment in which the cuisine consisted of bizarre living gene- crafted birds and beasts which burbled and chittered as they were consumed, and nauseated by the pungent and acrid savors of abstract cubes of many colors served up in an emporium constructed entirely of gleaming white tile.

Similarly, a random selection of "palaces of pleasure" might present me with emporiums offering more or less quotidian assortments of sexual scenarios, if often conducted in venues of bizarre decor .

But as often as not, I would find myself presented with a selection of gross and mindless creatures whose phallic, oral, digital, and tentacular endowments and sexual tropisms had been gene-crafted for the performance of tantric figures that would have astounded even my mother. And while I essayed a few of these grotesque figures with creatures who were all lingam or indeed were equipped with multiple phalluses of superhuman puissance, and while I had certainly never considered myself an arch reactionary in matters of sexual esthetics, I nevertheless found these experiences universally appalling in a psychic sense even while enjoying, if that is the word, a multiplicity of orgasms.

"Theaters" and "holocines" could be relied upon to offer up more or less what the categories implied throughout the worlds of men, namely live performances of dramas on the one hand and hologramic renderings of same on the other, but on Edoku, "entertainments" covered a broad spectrum of the sublime, bizarre, boring, incomprehensible, and vile indeed! Even now, my memories remain a kaleidoscopic blur of images, sounds, odors, experiences, and feelings whose fragmentation owes far more to the nature of the realities themselves than to the intoxicants I consumed to enhance, or in some cases mitigate, my perception thereof.

There were soaring dances in zero-gravity in which the groundlings of the audience were invited to join clumsily with the performers, and slow-motion dances performed by mixed troupes of humans and gene-crafted saurian behemoths under crushing gravity in a setting which simulated the imagined surface of some gas giant planet.

There were displays of hopefully ersatz tortures and executions performed in grim stone dungeons and public squares, and a plethora of mock battles between human warriors of various historical periods and creatures gene-crafted to simulate nonhuman sapients of fanciful imagining as well as monsters out of literature and myth.

In a vast amphitheater under pale moonlight several hours' worth of assorted colorful and earsplitting explosions were set off for the delectation of the audience. Another "symphony" consisted entirely of fugal sequences of odors-sublime, outre, and disgusting -- experienced in perfect, soundless, weight- less blackness.

And of course more quotidian music of every conceivable style, mode, and period, intermixed and interwoven with much of the foregoing, but also performed in solemn isolation on mountaintops, amidst desert dunes, on floating barges, even in simulacra of ancient Terrestrial concert halls, where the audience was outfitted with stiff and uncomfortable vestments of white and black and constrained to endure a stifling humidity .

If I give the impression that I passed these first two weeks on Edoku as little more in a psychic sense than a wide-eyed indiscriminate viewpoint, soaking up and recording sensory images with no more self-awareness or analytical attempt at integrating same into the timestream of my spirit than a word crystal mindlessly storing everything spoken into the scriber , vraiment the state of my consciousness was, if anything, even more trancelike than that might imply.

Strange to say, or may hap not so strange at all, I made no friends, or indeed acquaintances, during this period, for I had no psychic energy left over for even quotidian human interaction, let alone attempts to touch the spirits of the arcane and enigmatic Edojin. Not with every waking moment, every quantum of my attention, given over to coping with the overloading of all my senses and perceptions by a veritable torrent of fragmented, novel, and entirely disorienting experiences.

Which is not to say that this totally experiential state of consciousness was unpleasant, even during those moments when the surreal landscape through which it wandered appeared disorienting, distasteful, or even daunting. Au contraire, to the spirit of that young child of Nouvelle Orlean who had spent the last two years in the pursuit of precisely the ecstatic state of consciousness induced by satoric moments of the transcendently novel, this state of perpetual and all-but-permanent intimacy with wonder was the blissful perfection of all that I in my wildest imaginings had hoped the vie of a Child of Fortune would be.

It is therefore, upon reflection, not so surprising, ne, that my mind had no place for thoughts of exploring means of securing ongoing wherewithal, nor that a young girl in such a state of ecstatic intoxication with wonder itself, and a girl, moreover, who had never had to pay much attention to value given for value received in the bargain, was hardly in a frame of mind to give much thought to the price of wine in Xanadu.

***

Out of this trance I was at last inevitably awoken by a rude karmic satori.

One day upon awakening and completing my toilette, I paused by the counter in the lobby of the Yggdrasil as had become routine to have the next day's rent debited from my chip, As always, the domo of the hotel inserted it into his credit slot.

But now a garish sound issued forth, something like a loud mechanical buzz, and something like a lip-vibrating brak of chastisement.

I leaped backward at this boorish and insulting noise, but the domo, far from being startled by this event,' assumed an air of prim and knowing disapproval, directed not at his obviously malfunctioning equipment but at my own person.

"Quelle chose?" I demanded.

"Quelle chose? Voila, meine kleine urchin, your credit balance the mathematical perfection of absolute zero has now achieved."

"Impossible!" I cried. "My father assured me that chip was good for two months' living expenses on a planet of mean galactic cost of living!"

"Indeed?" said the domo, presenting me with a printed readout of all my debits, a scroll of daunting length, "And you imagine Edoku a planet dedicated to providing bargains ist? May hap largesse chez papa did not calculate ninety-seven trips via Rapide, four dozen meals of the hautest cuisine, not please to mention this truly impressive plethora of palaces of pleasure, theatrical performances, holocines, concerts, and assorted spectacles and entertainments? Moreover, the Yggdrasil be not some rude country inn on a frontier planet. You may verify the figures by your own calculation, naturell ment, though this might consume several hours ..."

I ran a quick scan of the horrendous and lengthy document, This was more than enough to fill me with a dreadful dismay, a certain sense of outrage and no little chagrin at my own profligacy, as well as to convince me that verifying the mathematics of several hundred deductions would avail me nothing, It was all there, and no doubt I had taken all these Rapide trips, eaten all these meals, attended all these entertainments, und so weiter. The galling truth was that I had never inquired as to the cost of any of these items at the time, and as I now retrospectively learned just how extravagantly expensive everything on Edoku truly was, I had no doubt that I had managed to squander two months' worth of ordinary living expenses in two short weeks.

"But ... but what am I to do now?" I stammered.

"Vacate forthwith," I was told. "A hopper now fetches your baggage."

"But ... but I'm entirely without funds! Where will I sleep? Row will I eat?"

"By your wits, ne, assuming you possess them. Any venue of commerce will credit your chip in return for ruegelt."

"Ruegelt?"

"Ruegelt," the domo affirmed, displaying for my enlightenment three small discs of silvery metal. "Each 'coin,' so-called, represents a unit of credit. "

"But how do I secure this ruegelt?"

The domo shrugged. "Usual means," he said.

"The usual means?"

"Hai," he said more crossly. "Gainful employment, mendicancy, or theft. I am aware of no others."

As I stood there shaking in a state of absolute despair and terror, a hopper arrived and presented me with my pack. Such was my state of chagrin and helplessness that I imagined that this little creature too was regarding me with contemptuous amusement.

Desperately, and without regard for the folly of the at- tempt, I presented my other chip to the domo. "I can pay with this, " I told him.

"So?" he inserted the chip into his slot, perused the read-out, and returned it to me with a moue of contempt. "Valid only for passage to Glade for one Moussa Shasta Leonardo. Sans value on the surface of any planet." His expression softened somewhat. "Naturellement, you can use it now to return home forthwith without having to brave the vie of the indigent Child of Fortune, ne ..." he suggested.

At this, my spirit was sufficiently roused from the timidity induced by its state of helpless despair to vow "Never!"

"Never?"

"Well at least not without trying ..." I said in a much
tinier voice.

"Well spoken, child," the domo replied. "Bonne chance, buena suerte, vaya con gluck, und so weiter. But now you must leave the premises tout suite."

And so I was constrained to shoulder my pack and slink out of the lobby of the Yggdrasil, through the porchways where guests more fortunate than I were taking their ease, and across the rainbow bridge which led, as it were, from the safety and security of lost Eden into the harsh and unknown world of trial and toil, and while there were no angels with flaming swords to bar my return, I knew that from here on in it would be a road of my own making that I must travel.
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:57 am

Chapter 6

I know not how long I wandered in a state of numb dread and formless sullen anger, nor even whether I traversed any great distance from the Yggdrasil or staggered in rough circles, for this was Edoku, where the hour of the day in any given locus gave no clue to time's passage, and the random landscape gave no clue as to vector. Moreover, if Edoku had daunted my spirit entirely before I had found the Yggdrasil, and had seemed impossible to encompass in any coherent fashion before I had discovered the Rapide, now I was reduced to an even more discombobulated state than that of the naif who had first set foot on the planet, for I was cursed with the knowledge of what I had lost, and while the little girl I had been might rail against the outrageous prices which had been her downfall, the nascent Child of Fortune could not entirely escape the perception that she really had no one to blame for this disaster but herself.

Vraiment, what a catastrophe it was! Immediately upon being expelled from the Yggdrasil, the fact that I no longer had funds to secure food and shelter, horrendous though it was to a girl who had never been forced to miss a meal in her life, had seemed to be the full extent of the dilemma. But when I reflexively started for the nearest familiar Rapide station and then suddenly realized that I had no funds even for transport, I began to perceive that the vie of a total pauper in a venue such as Edoku was likely to present difficulties beyond even starvation and exposure.

For one thing, my sphere of operations was now limited to the range of my feet, and what was worse, I had no idea of how to reach any familiar locus by the tedious process of laying one down after the other, for all my explorations of the city had been conducted via Rapide, and I had therefore learned exactly nothing of the quotidian topology.

My only consolation from this perception was that a mental map of the territory would in any case have been useless knowledge, for I had no means of securing food from any of the emporiums I had previously patronized even if I could find them.

Nor would even the magical power to transport myself to anywhere I wished by act of will have enabled me to even begin to seek remunerative employment. For when it came to the ebb and flow of credit, I had been entirely occupied with exploring the manifold possibilities of expenditure, and had not given so much as a passing thought to the process of accumulation.

Indeed, as I wandered aimlessly through the streets and parklands, the public squares and arrondissements of what seemed like commercial activity in a slowly escalating state of agitated depression sharpened by the apprehension of the empty space in my stomach where breakfast should have been, as I regarded the extravagantly dressed Edojjn sipping wine, inhaling intoxicants, and languidly picking at haute cuisine, I realized that while everyone in the city seemed lavishly wealthy, I had never given the slightest thought as to how all these riches were acquired.

Or rather how I might insinuate myself into the economic bourse. I knew that Edoku was a center of the arts and sciences and commerce, and that this, no doubt, was the foundation of the general wealth of the populace, but in these areas of endeavor my only skill, at best, was that of the appreciative connoisseur. Vraiment, I could perceive within my own repertoire not even some skill that might earn me credits in some humbler occupation; I could not prepare even rude cuisine, I knew nothing of the art of waiting on table, and my lack of knowledge of the rudiments of commerce had been more than amply demonstrated. Rumbling myself to the point of begging for alms I might eventually consider if only I had some notion of the graces and techniques of the mendicant's trade, and theft, if not precluded by moral nice- ties, seemed entirely beyond my powers, for I could hardly imagine myself overpowering a victim and absconding with what ruegelt his purse might contain.

Naturellement, I was still in possession of the ring of Touch which my father had given me, and in some venue far less sophisticated than Edoku, its amplification of my tantric puissance combined with what I had once regarded as my considerable amatory skills might very well have allowed me to secure funds as a tantric performer according to parental plan. But here, where creatures were gene-crafted for performances in palaces of pleasure and the sensual arts were refined to levels beyond my comprehension for the delectation of the most jaded connoisseurs of same, even augmented by my father's art, it seemed to me that I had about as much chance of succeeding as a tantric performer as a tantrically unschooled rube from a frontier world would have had in Nouvelle Orlean.

At length, these weighty considerations of economic survival, and even the gnawing hunger in my belly, were superseded by an even more overwhelming matter of immediate urgency which I had thusfar not even considered but which nevertheless had proceeded stealthily beneath my conscious attention to the point where it now intruded into my awareness to a level of entirely alarming dominance. Which is to say that after many hours of wandering, my bladder had finally filled to the point of bursting, and I would now have to rouse myself from my funk and take my first practical survival step. I had to find a toilet at once.

Far easier said than done. Toilets, I knew, were to be found in every hotel, restaurant, taverna, and entertainment emporium in Edoku, and naturellement I had used them often enough. Alas, all of these establishments required the presentation of valid chip of credit as a bona fide in order to even gain admittance, and it was made clear to me in terms of considerable outrage that their sanitary facilities were not available gratuit to other than paying customers.

By the time I had screwed up my courage for a sixth attempt to gain access to toilet facilities after five curt and altogether belligerent rebuffs, this time in a modest taverna carved into a miniature desert butte, I was fairly squirming in agony, to the point where the upholding of dignity was no longer even a passing consideration, and I accosted the domo of the taverna in a forthright whine.

"Please! Bitte! Por favor! Your toilet, kudasai! I have no funds, but I am bursting with need! I beg of you-"

"The grossity!" exclaimed this worthy, a thin green man in a saffron robe. "Taverna desu! Public jai nai!"

"What?"

"The Public Service Station over the stream and in the woods desu! Ici, nein! The insult!"

"What are you talking about?" I cried.

"What do I talk about? What do you talk about? Surely even Children of Fortune comprend the difference subtle between a taverna and a Public!"

"Kudasai, bitte, mercy upon my ignorance, good sir," I begged. "I'm entirely new at this. I have no idea what you mean by a Public Service Station!"

The domo's expression softened somewhat, at least to the point of regarding me as an ignorant bumpkin in some distress rather than a deliberately insulting churl. "Nouvelle Child of Fortune desu, auslander, ne? Wakaru. Attends, kind: Edoku a magnet for indigent Children of Fortune desu, ne, therefore wir wollen nicht a great display of public munificence to render to same, ne, lest what is already a flood become a tsunami. But Edoku a civilized planet desu, and we cannot therefore allow even such as yourself to starve or suffer disease, and certainly not to be forced to relieve yourself al fresco, ne. Voila, the Public Service Stations, where you will find the necessities of survival and no more, pared to the edge of physical discomfort, but not beyond."

Thanking him far more profusely than his modest aid justly required, I hastened, indeed fairly ran, to the venue he had suggested, and there in the little wood, screened from casual sight by tall hedges, was the first truly unesthetic construct I had seen on Edoku. Vraiment, as if in contrast to every other building in the city, the Public Service Station--or rather Stations, for, as I was to learn only too well, the hundreds of them secreted all over the city were entirely identical -- seemed designed to negate all concepts of esthetics. It was a single-story windowless cube constructed of some textureless gray material, the perfect nullity of its design marred only by an oblong doorless portal.

Inside, the Public was only marginally less unappetizing. All of the interior surfaces were of the same gray substance, entirely unadorned, and the lighting was an unwholesome bluish-white harshness emanating from naked overhead fixtures. The central area of the single room was given over to benches and tables seamlessly extruded from the gray material of the floor; at these sat about a dozen people more or less the same age as myself. The far end of the room was given over to shower stalls, for the doors supplied only a modicum of privacy, and 1 could see the shanks of bathers abluting themselves within. To the right as 1 entered was a counter with a bored-looking elder functionary lounging be- hind it, a long rack holding several dozen gray garments, a series of water fountains, and then a long narrow table piled with strange rubbery-looking gray blocks.

All these accoutrements I perceived, as it were, en pissant, for the left-hand wall was given over entirely to toilet stalls, and to the nearest unoccupied stall I scurried, with only the briefest nod of my head to a young boy in a singularly unappealing gray smock who had lifted his arm and pointed his finger thereto in an entirely superfluous gesture of friendly, if jocular direction.

***

After relieving myself of both catabolic waste products and the chagrin of my not exactly graceful entry , I emerged from the toilet stall to essay my debut into the society of the Public Service Stations and apprise myself of the nature of the facilities and services which Edoku in its magnanimity provided gratuit to indigent Children of Fortune such as myself.

Now that I had dealt with the most pressing matter, I could more exquisitely appreciate the extent of my thirst and hunger, and so I first repaired to one of the fountains, where I surfeited myself on water so perfectly tepid and tasteless as to be remarkable for the very perfection of its blandness.

Food, however, seemed nowhere in evidence, and so I next introduced myself to a group of two young boys and a young girl lounging at the nearest table. "Hello, I am Moussa Shasta Leonardo. My mother, Shasta Suki Davide --"

The younger of the two boys, dressed, like the girl, in a singularly unappealing gray smock, held up his hand to stay the telling of my name tale. "Greener, ne?" he said. "We don't exchange name tales, since we've just started to live the tales of our own freenoms, right, so all we have is the kindernoms someone else gave us, and paternoms and maternoms mean nothing to the vrai Child of Fortune, ne. So in the Publics, you're just Moussa, I'm just Dan, she's just Jooni, and he's just Mart."

While this bizarre mode of introduction seemed entirely uncivilized to me, I felt in no position to deliver a lecture on manners; they seemed friendly enough, and, moreover, I had more pressing needs than the desire to hear their name tales. "Bien," I said amiably, ''as you surmised, I'm entirely innocent of the ways of the Public Service Stations. I was given to understand that food was available gratuit, but I see no refectory, nor even a cold buffet ..."

For reasons which I was about to learn, the three of them seemed to regard this as high comedy, breaking into raucous and ironic laughter. There were half a dozen gray oblong blocks on the table before them; Dan handed me one of them with an exaggerated courtly flourish.

"Voila, your very first fressen bar, Moussa," he said. "you are about to enjoy a unique culinary experience."

I fingered the unappetizing-looking gray thing dubiously. It felt like soap. I sniffed at it. It was almost odorless, save for a subtle odor of something chemical, perhaps formaldehyde. It seemed to me that I was being set up as the victim of some juvenile prank ...

Seeing my reluctance, Jooni took up another fressen bar, bit off a large chunk, and rapidly chewed it down with an entirely neutral expression. "Mangia, Moussa," she said. «Not only perfectly safe, but each fressen bar is perfectly com- pounded to provide optimum nutriment for one human for one standard day."

"But we may eat as many as we want," Mart added.

"Though we may not want as many as we eat," Dan muttered enigmatically.

Properly famished, and at least assured that I wasn't about to poison myself, I bit off a sizable chunk of my fressen bar and masticated it appraisingly.

It had the nontexture of a bland fromage made of cellulose dust. It had no taste at all, or rather, perhaps, the perfectly neutral savor of a wad of wet paper. I chewed it down swiftly and mechanically, if only to clear my palate of this wretched substance, while my companions, seeing my expression, burst once more into laughter .

"It's vile!" I cried. "It's disgusting!"

"Try again and reconsider," Mart said. "you will find it neither vile nor disgusting, but something both easier to consume and more boring. "

"Perhaps you have sampled the art of some great chef maestro and marvelled at its culinary perfection?" Jooni said. "Such art is a triumph of cuisinary esthetics, ne?"

"Well you should also appreciate the art behind the creation of the fressen bar, " Dan said. "Somewhere on Edoku there is a chef maestro who has achieved, through the exercise of daunting skill, total culinary antiperfection. The fressen bar is not the result of cuisinary incompetence; au contraire, it is a triumph, a perfectly nutritious meal perfectly shorn of the slightest hint of cuisinary esthetics!"

"Entirely in keeping with the Edojin's general regard for Children of Fortune," Jooni added, and then, as ravenous hunger overcame esthetic reluctance and I glumly gobbled down the rest of my fressen bar, the three of them delivered up a communal lecture which admirably served to apprise me of my current true status in Edoku's scheme of things and induct me into the demimonde of the Public Service Stations.

Indeed the latter were the perfect practical incarnation of the former, for the Publics were designed with demonic perfection to supply us with precisely the absolute essentials of animal existence and exactly nothing more. Toilets and bathing facilities. A medical dispensary and other minimal healing services. The strictly functional and esthetically dismal gray smocks for those of us without serviceable clothing on our backs. Entirely tasteless distilled water. And of course the unspeakable but perfectly nutritious fressen bars.

As for sleeping accommodations, did not Edoku abound in every sort of public parkland to suit any conceivable taste for temperature, climate, hour of the day, season, and even gravity gradient?

Edoku, according to the social philosophy of the Edojin, was morally obligated to safeguard our protoplasmic existence, but our esthetic and spiritual requirements were the responsibility not of the body politic but of ourselves.

Moreover, we were assured at every opportunity, the people of Edoku would accuse us not of ingratitude on the basis of wounded civic pride should any of us choose to desert their planet for a venue of more lavish public munificence. Au contraire, as a bona fide of their good will in this regard, Children of Fortune leaving Edoku were gifted with a subsidized 25% discount on electrocoma passage in any and all Void Ships departing the planet.

***

Thus did the Publics serve as the salons, restaurants, and bazaars of the Children of Fortune of Edoku, and thus did I become a citizen of the demimonde which existed in the interstices of Great Edoku, if not exactly out of sight of the educated eye, then at least discreetly tucked away in the nooks and crannies.

When I had been a haut turista with a valid chip of credit and quarters in the hotel Yggdrasil, I had never noticed the small gray buildings screened by shrubbery or built in the obscured bottoms of ravines or hidden in rarely-frequented copses or secreted in alleyways between tall towers. Nor had I regarded the occasional figure dressed in a gray smock as anything but an Edojin with a peculiarly outre sense of style; in fact, among the colorful throngs of birds of paradise, such dull plumage faded into effective invisibility, unless, of course, you were a bird of the same species.

Similarly, who was to notice that the parks and gardens and woodlands served as regular dormitories for a considerable population of indigents when these same venues were also frequented by the Edojin themselves, who were much given over to lounging on lawns, postprandial al fresco naps, and amatory exercises conducted in dells and bowers?

Now, however, being barred by pecuniary circumstances from the restaurants, hotels, and entertainment emporiums, and being limited in the range of my wanderings to the ground I could cover afoot, I experienced a perceptual reversal of figure and ground. The extravagant buildings of the urban arrondissements, the pavilions and palaces of pleasure, the hotels and entertainment emporiums, all hardly impinged on the forefront of my conscious attention, for they had now become facets of a society, indeed a reality, from which I was exiled; these now assumed the perceptual role of a background blur, an extravagant kaleidoscopic ground against which I perceived with a vividness and detail sharpened by practical imperatives the quotidian realm of the Children of Fortune which all along had been cunningly hidden in plain sight.

I might not know which fanciful building contained a restaurant or taverna nor the modes of cuisine and drink to be found within as I wandered aimlessly about a relatively circumscribed territory, but within a few days I knew the precise location of every Public therein. The entertainments to be had for a price within this vecino might be a matter of complete indifference, but soon enough I became a knowledgeable connoisseur of the gardens, woods, and parklands. I knew where one might find a luxuriant lawn under warm midnight skies with just enough gravity to keep a sleeping body from drifting, or where one might nap on a forest floor at twilight, or bake one's bones on a noonday beach beside a lake, or secure a bower by a cooling stream in a land where dawn remained perpetually imminent.

In short, I was a typical Child of Fortune of Edoku: fresh from home, out of funds, on the planet only a short time, subsisting on fressen bars, sleeping al fresco, and frequenting the Publics as much to pass the time as to utilize the practical facilities.

For in truth, most of us had little to do with ourselves in this stage of our evolution as Children of Fortune but wander aimlessly about the landscape and public venues, sleep, engage in desultory amorous dalliance, or gather in the Public Service Stations to exchange tales, lore, and gossip.

Most of which involved stratagems whereby we might some- how obtain sufficient ruegelt to either regain access to the restaurants, hotels, entertainment emporiums, and particularly to the Rapide, or to quit Edoku for a less financially demanding planet. That, and methods whereby we might gain entree to the elite circles of Public Service Station Society -- those wiser, older, and more experienced Children of Fortune who had neither gone home in surrender nor chosen to work their way off the planet, but who had carved out their niches in the social ecology of Edoku itself by organizing themselves into small tribes for the communal purpose of securing ruegelt from the throngs of the city.

While these lordly urchins consumed fressen bars only when they were down on their luck, the ruegelt in their pockets could not purchase freedom from the need to void their bowels and bladders, and so they too were required to pay regular visits to the Publics, though by and large they deigned not to mingle with the likes of us.

But we saw them often enough, and for the most part they were quite distinguishable from greeners like ourselves. For one thing, they were never seen to take a fressen bar; even when the necessity did arise, so it was said, they would patiently seek out a Public that was empty for a moment and then scoop up as many as they could carry to consume secretly in their hidden burrows. Nor was this tale difficult to credit in light of the general hauteur with which they carried themselves in our lowly presence. Then too they were generally older and wore either cheapjack versions of extravagant Edojin modes or Public smocks painted with grandiose tribal ensigns, and carried out their necessary business among us with a swiftness and indifference to social niceties that led us to declare that they would have given up excretion entirely in order to preserve their dignity in our eyes if only they could.

Among the true elite of Edoku, however, dignity was not exactly their stock in trade. There were four tribes working the parklands and streets of the vecino for ruegelt and it was easy enough to observe their techniques, though any attempt to ape them by someone not formally inducted into the guild, we were obliquely given to understand, would result in a sound thrashing.

The largest of these local tribes was the Sparkies, some fifteen or twenty strong, who frequented the busy streets and particularly the parklands, peddling tidbits of finger food. While the Edojin could easily purchase more artful fare at any of a hundred restaurants, the Sparkies catered to their immediate whims on the spot, and, moreover, many of the Edojin found it drole to grant their custom to these urchins upon occasion. Similarly did the Tinkers depend upon the aura of quaintness clinging to the repute of the crafts of Children of Fortune in the eyes of the Edojin, for the quality and design of the rude jewelry, paintings, items of personal adornment, and assorted geegaws that they hawked was such that they could hardly have had much trade on the basis of intrinsic worth alone.

As for the Buccaneers, who numbered no more than a dozen, their commerce depended upon certain peculiarities of the ambiguous Edojin legal philosophy which even to this day I find difficult to comprehend. While certain items of trade -- mainly psychochemicals with unpleasant or even dangerous side effects-were legally proscribed to the extent that no transaction involving same could be recorded on a chip, Edoku was entirely indifferent to what changed hands outside the electronic bourse for ruegelt.

Indeed, even the legal attitude towards the smallest of the local tribes, the Wayfaring Strangers, who were straightforward pickpockets and pilferers, was difficult for an auslander to fathom, Any miscreant caught in the act of a simple theft would be deprived of everything in his possession including the clothes on his back by an impromptu posse, but no further sanction would be taken. On the other hand, anyone apprehended for applying violence of any sort in the commission of a theft would be subject to a session of physiologically benign but nevertheless temporarily agonizing torture.

While it was only too obvious that the only feasible means of escaping indigency was to gain entry to one of these tribes, the truth is that I had little desire to do so, for I did not relish the thought of spending my time cooking or peddling, I had absolutely no skill when it came to crafting trinkets, and I had too much pride, not to say moral scruples, to descend to thievery.

To the endless scheming and theorizing on means and methods of gaining entree to a tribe and critical discussions of the comparative merits of the Tinkers, Buccaneers, Sparkies, and Wayfaring Strangers which were current in the society of the local Publics, I was therefore rather loftily indifferent.

Until, that is, I learned of the Gypsy Jokers.

I was lounging about the Public in the bottom of the miniature canyon which marked the border between noonday woods and desert night, nibbling absently on a fressen bar, when two of these legendary creatures made their appearance.

Two boys entered the Public, and without a glance or word to anyone, made straight for the toilets. The one wearing yellow and green divided blouson from trousers with a strange sash I thought must have been quite ancient, for it was so thoroughly patched with scores, or even hundreds, of irregular scraps of wildly assorted cloths that none of the original material was visible. The one dressed in red and blue striping wore a beret of the same sort of patchwork.

But as soon as the toilet doors were closed behind them, the whole place began to buzz with bemused if not astonished excitement.

"Gypsy Jokers, ne?" exclaimed Jooni, who was sitting at table beside me but directed her remark across the table at Rand, a boy known for his devotion to the lore of the tribes, and in truth for a certain pedantry on the subject.

Rand nodded solemnly. "You can tell by the Cloth of Many Colors; all the Gypsy Jokers are said to wear some item made of it. It is said that Pater Pan wears a great cloak of it, though some say a coat, and other versions have him dressed in a whole suit of patchwork, the so-called Traje de Luces."

"But isn't their camp a long way from here --"

"What are the Gypsy Jokers, bitte, who is this Pater Pan, and what is this excitement?" I demanded of Rand.

He gave me a somewhat patronizing look, but of course was only too willing to enlighten my abysmal ignorance out of his vast store of knowledge. "The Gypsy Jokers are a tribe, naturellement, it is said one of the largest on Edoku, and surely the richest, for they ply many trades, all of them with great success. "

At this, my interest was definitely piqued. "What sorts of trades?"

"Crafts, cuisine, all the ordinaire, but also, most lucratively, ruespieling, street theater, circus, tantric performance, the various arts of entertainment. It is said that they have their own village somewhere, an Edoku for Children of For tune, as it were. Or more precisely, for those fortunates they deign to admit to their tribe."

"Indeed?" I said with no little enthusiasm. For the first time, I considered using my wiles to gain admission to a tribe, for the vie of a Gypsy Joker seemed far more promising than that of a Tinker or a Sparkie." And this Pater Pan?"

"You have not heard the tales of Pater Pan?" Rand exclaimed in what seemed like sincere astonishment. "He is their domo, it is said. The wisest, oldest, and most outre Child of Fortune in all Edoku, it is said, if not in the worlds of men. A mage of all possible arts of accumulating ruegelt, it is said ..."

He paused and shrugged, as if for once he could not entirely credit the veracity of the lore he was about to convey. "Other things are said ... that Pater Pan is a thousand years old ... that Pater Pan was once an Arkie ... that he was born on Earth before the Age of Space began ... that he has been a Rom and a Rippie and a Ronin ... that he is the eternal spirit of the Child of Fortune of which the present incarnation is merely an avatar ..."

At this extravagance, I curled my lips and snorted. For as everyone knew, the Arkies passed with the First Starfaring Age, no human has ever lived to be four hundred, and reincarnation is nothing more than a literary metaphor .

On the other hand, the real Pater Pan, if such in fact existed, must be a fellow of no little puissance to inspire such a mythos, the Gypsy Jokers were real enough for two of them to be relieving themselves in these very premises, and I might be willing to credit Rand's tale of the tribe's riches.

"And where might the encampment of the Gypsy Jokers be found?" I inquired, already beginning to consider practical steps to become one of their number .

Rand shrugged. "Quien sabe? Certainly not nearby enough for me to have ever spoken with someone apprised of the location."

Jooni laughed. "you are thinking of becoming a Gypsy Joker, Moussa?" she said japingly.

"1 thought I might explore the true nature of the vie and allow this Pater Pan to recruit me if I deemed, it suitable," I japed back. But as soon as the words passed my lips, I realized that I might not be joking. Legend or not, this Pater Pan, if he existed, was a male animal, ne, almost certainly possessed of the usual phallic equipment, and just as certainly not uninterested in the pleasurable employment of same. And while I had little confidence in the puissance of either my wiles as an erstwhile femme fatale of Nouvelle Orlcan or the as-yet-untested pouvoir of the ring of tantric amplification I wore on my finger when it came to persuading the sophisticated Edojin to part with ruegelt in exchange for my amatory services, surely I possessed at least a certain unsporting advantage when it came to winning the favor of some egoistic tribal guru by the gratis granting of same.

Moreover, while this chain of logic might lack a certain mathematical inevitability in terms of proceeding remorselessly from initial premise to desired conclusion, the fact that at present I had no other quest to pursue or avenue of escape from indigency was suddenly all too apparent. In short, why not? I had nothing to lose in the venture save the present sequence of idle hours and of that I had certainly had a surfeit.

"Come, come, Rand," I demanded. "Surely, with your vast store of knowledge, you must have some clue as to the vicinity of the Gypsy Jokers' territory?"

But for once Rand fell silent.

"Why not merely inquire of them?" Jooni said archly, nodding her head in the direction of the two Gypsy Jokers who had now emerged from the toilet stalls and were making their way past us to the egress.

"Indeed, porque no?" I shot back, rising to my feet, flush with a certain indignation, courageous with rediscovered pride. Vraiment, I knew full well that it was considered gross lese majeste for such as myself to approach even members of a lowly tribe such as the Wayfaring Strangers, but when all was said and done, was I not still Moussa Shasta Leonardo of Nouvelle Orlean, and were not even these lordly Gypsy Jokers no more than puffed-up street urchins?

"A moment, bitte," I said, stepping into their path and effectively blocking them. I was favored with a matched pair of sneers and a lofty cocking of eyebrows.

"I wish to inquire as to the location of your tribe's encampment ..." I continued in a tone far more polite than their boorish manners justified.

"Porque?" the one in the beret at last deigned to utter.

"For the purpose of traveling thither."

This was greeted with snorts of derision and an attempt to sidle by me. For a moment I was tempted to Touch one or the other in the solar plexus so as to remove some of the excess wind from their sails, but I had not yet used the ring, and besides, such a public embarrassment of these Gypsy Jokers would not be exactly politic. Any riposte must be confined to the verbal level.

"I can see from your churlishness that you are entirely unaware of my identity," I told them haughtily. This at least had the desired effect of stopping them in their tracks. "Fear not," I went on, "this innocent ignorance will to some extent stand in mitigation when I relate this incident to Pater Pan." I now had them exchanging glances of some uncertainty.

"You be an intimate of Pater Pan?" said the one with the patchwork sash.

"Precisely spoken!" I told him. "I am his favored inamorata, having wandered from his embrace in a fit of pique, but now willing to relent and grant him my favors once more. " Since this was exactly my intent, the only falsehood lay in a certain bending of the temporal sequence, and was this not Edoku, where the procession of days and hours occurred with just such a relativistic nonlinearity?

The Gypsy Jokers, alas, broke into braying laughter. "In that case," said the beret, "we do know your identity. Vraiment, your name is Legion!"

Even louder laughter at my expense. "Still," said the sash, "such outrageousness is at least the right spirit, and deserves its reward, ne?"

"Porque no?" said the beret. "Let's try her wit, eh?"

"Bon," said the sash. " Attends, muchacha! Where are the Gypsy Jokers to be found ...?"

"Over the river and through the woods ..."

"Where the sun never sets and the moon never shines ..."

"First star on the left, and straight on till morning ..."

"Somewhere under the rainbow ..."

"The circus is in town!"

And having performed this duet of doggerel, they pushed past me, fairly doubled over with merriment, and made their exit, leaving me standing there like a fool, with the laughter of the entire Public Service Station ringing in my burning ears.

Chagrined, outraged, fairly shaking with fury, I stood there transfixed with embarrassment for an endless moment, and then, not quite knowing what I was going to do, but determined that she who laughed last would laugh hardest, I shouldered my pack and followed.
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:57 am

Chapter 7

As I dashed from the Public, my intellect was far too occluded by storm clouds of rage and embarrassment to lay any rational plan; I sought nothing more cunning than to keep the two Gypsy Jokers within range of my sight. Indeed, I did not even think this thought with any clarity until I realized that I was in fact tracking them, up out of the little canyon, through the woods, around the margin of a lake, and then into the narrow streets of a residential arrondissement of rambling wooden houses, This vecino, though not exactly bustling, still was crowded enough to screen the tracker from the sight of the prey, especially since the two Gypsy Jokers simply ambled along with never a look backwards, entirely unaware that I was following.

The practical task of following the two miscreants at a more or less constant distance of some fifty meters soon assumed a mantric quality which began to calm my spirit and clarify my mind, These two arch urchins were, after all, not quite so clever as they thought, for there they were, no doubt, making their way back to their lair, and I need do nothil1g more arcane than follow them home to reach my goal.

Alas, even as I was beginning to congratulate myself on my acumen, my simple plan was laid low by an equally simple flaw that I had entirely failed to consider, a false assumption generated by my own indigency, to wit, that my quarries, like myself, lacked the wherewithal to travel by Rapide.

But after no more than half an hour of this stealthy pursuit, my quarries, as if they had been tantalizing me all along, strolled quite cavalierly into a Rapide station whose entrance was crafted in the form of a tree, and by the time I had followed them within, were long since gone, somewhere, no doubt, under the rainbow, leaving me once more to play the fool.

For want of any further course of action, I stood there ill the empty Rapide station trying to gather my wits about me. For want of any other coherent cerebral content, my mind's ear began to cycle through the taunting doggerel with which the Gypsy Jokers had answered my entirely straightforward inquiries. "Where are the Gypsy Jokers to be found? Over the river and through the woods, where the sun never sets and the moon never shines, first star on the left and straight on till morning, somewhere under the rainbow ..."

Could this be something more than meaningless blather? Indeed was this not Edoku, where the only practical means of reciting the lay of the land was just such a skein of imagery? Vraiment, there were as many venues as not where the sun never set and the moon never shone, and as for rivers, woods, ersatz stars, and places of perpetual morning, they were all as common on this planet as Bittersweet Jungle on Glade ...

But the rainbow ... Since Edoku was entirely lacking in natural meteorology, such an effect, if it existed here, would be the result of artifice, and, given the penchant of the Edojin for abolishing the natural cycle of the elements, would like as not be a permanent rather than a transient phenomenon. Moreover, given the penchant of the Edojin for novelty, there might be only one such feature on the entire planet ...

It would be easy enough to find out. Merely insert my chip into the slot of the nearest Bubble, order up the list of "Scenic Meteorology," and --

Merde!

For want of the smallest quantum of credit on my chip, or even a few coins of ruegelt to exchange for same, my brilliant chain of deduction led only to the most exquisite state of frustration!

At this karmic nexus, fate, or may hap mere random chance, chose to cross my path with a catalytic agent sufficient unto transmuting my state of forlorn impotence into a reckless, not to say courageous, determination to at long last become an active agent of my own destiny with the single practical means at my disposal, the ring of tantric power that I wore upon my finger.

A man with skin tinted pale white and dressed all in green velvet had entered the station and was in the process of seating himself in a nearby Bubble. The specificity of his person, however, was entirely without relevance, for it was the generality of his gender which impelled my action -- was this not a male of the species, and had not the time finally come to test the power over same of the ring that my father had placed upon my finger, to see if Moussa was the true daughter of Shasta and Leonardo?

Thumbing the Touch ring on and screwing up my courage, I accosted the fellow, who greeted the approach of a rather obvious mendicant with a moue of distaste. "Pardon me, good sir, if I may have a --"

"Ruegelt for Children of Fortune arimasen! Raus, urchin!"

This reaction had not been exactly unanticipated; au contraire, it allowed me to lay a gentle hand on the juncture of neck and clavicle in the form of a polite gesture of restraint, as I laughed goodnaturedly and said: "you mistake my intent. I seek not alms, only your aid in settling a wager, and it will cost you not a single credit."

"A ... wager ...?" he stammered, gazing up at me with an altered expression, which seemed not to be entirely the result of my words, seeing as how a red flush was now clearly visible under his alabaster skin.

"Just so," I said, now allowing my thumb to brush upwards and contact a more sensitive point near the juncture of jaw and throat, "the object of the wager is whether or not a rainbow exists in Great Edoku."

"Je ... je ... wakarimasen ... know not ..." he blithered, not taking his eyes from mine, and beginning to gape somewhat foolishly. I, on the other hand, took a quick sidelong glance at the crotch of his pantaloons, and verified in the firmest terms possible that this first test of my father's cunning invention was thusfar proceeding nominally.

"Ah, but this knows, ne?" I said, leaning over his seated figure, removing my hand from his shoulder, and chancing to brush the back of it against his thigh in the process of laying the palm of it on the screen of the Bubble; en passant, I could feel his whole body twitch. "It would cost you nothing to insert your chip and inquire, and I, alas, am suffering, shall we say, a temporary embarrassment of funds ..."

He regarded me with a face upon which I could clearly read the conflict between the cynical intellect and the natural man. On the one hand, he must now realize that he had been accosted by a mendicant of some kind after all, but on the other hand, his lingam was informing him that he had been smitten by an instant and primal lust for same, which, as far as he knew, this innocent young creature had done nothing to provoke. It but required a slight act of boldness to consolidate my position; Leonardo's puissance as a mage of personal enhancement devices was about to be confirmed.

I put on the best expression of innocent childish implorement that I could muster under the circumstances. "Oh, please!" I cooed like a babe, touching an imploring palm to his cheek as a child might do in the act of begging a sweet from a favorite uncle.

I could feel him breaking into a light sweat. He squirmed on the seat of the' Bubble. Was it my imagining that he stifled an incipient moan? "P-p-porque no?" he sighed throatily, in a voice entirely inappropriate to converse with a favorite niece. With a somewhat trembling hand, as if all too cognizant of the imagery of the gesture, he inserted his chip into the slot. "Scenic M-meteorology ..." he commanded.

The screen began to scroll. "Alpine mist ... blue clouds ... fog banks ... hurricane ... neige ... rainbow ..."

Voila!

Elated by the tentative confirmation of my deductions, emboldened further by the fruit of my first act of courage, flush with the success of my first employment of the Touch, determined to see how far I could push my luck, and not without a certain honest girlish pleasure, I cried "I win!" and threw my arms around his neck in a hug.

When he moaned aloud and returned the embrace with a force and passion that had nothing to do with childish glee, the die was cast.

Much later in life, perusal of certain obscure historical texts revealed to my bemusement that certain ancient Terrestrial cultures held bizarre beliefs concerning the granting of sexual favors which the modern mind must find entirely outre, if not mentally diseased. In these cultures, it was actually held that amatory pleasures were to be withheld by the femme of the species as a commodity to be traded for a contract of marriage under which the homme was required to provide economic sustenance. Naturellement, such artificially created scarcity provided a strong sellers' market for tantric performance such as present practitioners of the art could not imagine in their wildest dreams, But the paradoxical result was that the tantric performer was held in low esteem, for by and large, these "putains" enjoyed a clientele of such uncritical avidity for simple sexual release that the mere granting of crude sexual favors was sufficient, by and large, to command a living wage, and diligent study and true artistry were almost entirely unnecessary to the successful "whore."

While the young girl who then proceeded to finger the vertebrae of the fellow's neck like a flute, eliciting a music of sighs, groans, and mutters, lacked the benefits of this historical perspective, I did have the instinctual understanding that the electronic enhancement of my tantric energies, combined with the immediacy of his desire, would be sufficient to overcome my lack of serious study and artistic accomplishment relative to what was available in the palaces of pleasure of Edoku, much as the rude finger food of the Sparkies, available on the spot at the moment of impulse, was sufficient to satisfy the whim of sophisticated Edojin, who, under circumstances of more formal and critical consideration, would have eschewed it for haute cuisine.

"1 would love to see the rainbow," I told him forthrightly to his panting face. "It is, in fact, at present my heart's desire. A few credits of your largesse would be sufficient to grant it, ne?"

Under the circumstances, the inquiring cock of his eyebrow was a mere nicety, a formality which I answered in kind. "In return for which, I would be most willing to grant your present heart's desire," I said. "Not to say that of your lingam," I added, lightly Touching the organ in question.

When, bewitched and bedazzled, and cognizant of same, he still managed a certain expression of niggardly uncertainty, I told him, "I sense that you are a man of honor. Should you look me in the eye afterward and declare in honesty that the experience was not worth the few coins of ruegelt I require, I will cheerfully forgo my fee."

With that, mingy uncertainty was reconciled with the natural man. "Well spoken!" he declared. "A secluded bower desu, only short walk away. Vamanos!"

To this bucolic boudoir we forthwith repaired, doffed only the minimum necessary garments to effect the union of lingam and yoni, and forthrightly consummated our transaction. Once I had him in my full embrace so that I was easily and openly able to finger the full range of his spinal chakras and even more intimate plexes of his kundalinic neuroanatomy, he was speedily transported to and held at such sustained and heightened levels of bliss that I was confident that I would secure the credits I sought unless I was in the arms of an utter villain and churl.

Moreover, I found myself experiencing pleasures entirely divorced from anticipated pecuniary gain. For one thing, a man who has been granted the ecstasy of such full kundalinic arousal becomes a more tireless and unselfish lover, for an- other, the premiere performance always has a certain spiritual piquancy for a tantric artist, and perhaps best of all, for the first time in my young life, I could bask in the moral satisfaction of providing fair value given for value received, of doing an actual job of work, and doing it well.

***

Vraiment, such sincerity and powerful if not entirely polished craft did not go without its just reward, which is to say that after I had pleasured him to the sweet razor-edge of exhaustion, he readily and in good faith agreed to return to the Rapide station and send me on my way via his largesse.

And so, thanks to my father's providence, my own pluck, and the first piece of honest labor I had performed in my life, a few minutes later I emerged from a Rapide station concealed within a large stone statue aping a piece of rude primitive art to stand beneath the rainbow's grand and palely shining spectral arch.

The immediate vecino in which I found myself was an arrondissement of fanciful towers set in an alpine meadow between two entirely contrasting ranges of mountains. On my right hand, jagged desert buttes broiled and flashed in the noonday sun while a mighty cataract poured over the edge of the highest cliff to crash against a rocky riverbed in immense billows of mist and foam. On my left hand were green, wooded, rolling hills sprinkled with manses and houses, reminding me, somehow, of the Hightowns of Nouvelle Orlean at early twilight, with the lights of men outshining the sparse stars, and even a bank of fog hovering over the distant ridgeline.

Overarching the intervening afternoon valley was the immense preternaturally brilliant rainbow, which seemed to arise from the mists at the foot of the cataract and bridge the sky to the fogbank behind the wooded hills.

The architecture of the large urbanized area beneath the rainbow was in its way no less extravagant than the style of the landscape in which it had been set. The cityscape was dominated by scores of tall, flowing, indeed somehow organically shaped, towers of multicolored glasses, all fusing and melting and whirling into each other, as if the rainbow itself were mirrored ill a slick of oil poured over mounds of gelati. The ground floors of these buildings were given over to all manner of restaurants, tavernas, boutiques, cafes, and the like, all open to the vie of the streets, which were paved not with stone nor yet gold, but a mosslike grass that was an arabesque of intermingled greens, reds, blues, and yellows.

These streets, moreover, were fairly choked with pedestrian traffic, the usual Edojin throngs in their tinted skills, bizarre coiffures, and extravagant garments, but more to the point, a liberal sprinkling of finger-food hawkers, wandering musicians, trinket peddlers, und so weiter, accoutred with items of the Cloth of Many Colors of the Gypsy Jokers.

***

Having come this far on impulse and boldness, I was now impelled towards a certain caution, or at any rate it seemed most politic not to call undue attention to myself until I had reconnoitered the territory and formulated a plan of action. Judging from my single experience with the manners of the tribe towards Children of Fortune of my lowly station, it would avail me nothing to simply accost the nearest Gypsy Joker and demand an audience with Pater Pan, nor would I likely gain anything but the rudest rejection if I managed to locate their encampment and grandly announce my availability as a member of the tribe and paramour of its domo. Even fresh from my triumph at the Rapide station, and basking in not-undeserved self-congratulation at my own cleverness, I knew I needed a strategem somewhat more subtle than that.

Fortunately, it was not long before the need to visit a Public arose, and upon being reminded of this biological imperative operating with inevitable regularity in my own quotidian existence even when my attention was focused on far weightier and loftier matters, I realized that this Pater Pan, in carnation of the eternal Child of Fortune and perfect master of the Gypsy Jokers or not, would also sooner or later need to relieve himself even as mortal men.

My next step, therefore, was first to locate the nearest Public and deal with the biological necessities, and then to utilize the lore and gossip current in the society thereof to locate those Public Service Stations most commonly frequented by the Gypsy Jokers.

The former required nothing more arcane than inquiring of the first person in a gray smock that I saw, who straightaway directed me to the usual blockhouse, which had been concealed in plain sight all along behind a tall hedge of brilliant blue flowers screening off an alcove set between two nearby buildings. The latter was merely a matter of informing the denizens thereof that I was new to the vecino, planned to tarry awhile, and therefore would be pleased to be informed of the various locations of the Publics therein.

Vraiment, the matter proved even easier than I had hoped, for the greeners of this vecino, having for the most part been drawn thither by the mystique of the Gypsy Jokers, spoke of little else, for indeed there was little else to speak of.

For one thing, the Gypsy Jokers were the only organized tribe in the area, a monopoly they enforced not so much by threats of force implied or otherwise as by their puissant mastery of all the arts of gathering ruegelt save thievery; they were simply too good at all they did for competing tribes to survive.

As for tribes of pickpockets and pilferers such as the Way- faring Strangers, these avoided the vecino entirely, for the cunning Pater Pan had endeared the Gypsy Jokers to the local Edojin by a lucrative stratagem. Whether engaged in the peddling of food or crafts, street theater, ruespieling, or any of the other main Gypsy Joker enterprises, all members of the tribe kept a sharp watch for thieves and pickpockets at work, and upon spying same, used secret voice and hand signals to form up a posse of apprehension out of their own numbers. Since such a posse was empowered to confiscate everything in the possession of a thief caught in the act down to his clothing, it was the Gypsy Jokers, famed among the locals for honesty, who paradoxically reaped the only gain from what isolated acts of pilferage might occur within their sphere of operation.

Naturellement, the local greeners could think of little else but gaining entree to the Gypsy Jokers, and in the matter of recruitment as well, Pater Pan had evolved a method which combined moral justice with financial gain. A Gypsy Joker was required to be a person of pluck, resource, and wit, ne, and what required more of these qualities than the securing of ruegelt by a lone Child of Fortune in a vecino where the competition for same was the Gypsy Jokers themselves? Therefore, anyone might gain membership in the Gypsy Jokers by the simple expedient of appearing before Pater Pan and donating one hundred coins of ruegelt to the tribe as a fee of admission.

Verdad, the accumulation of such a vast fortune was far easier said than done, and, moreover, the bizarre notion of forking over same to a fellow who clearly felt no pecuniary pain struck me as an outrageous imposition, and one with which I certainly had no intention of trafficking.

Nevertheless, one aspect of this dastardly ploy fell ill quite neatly with my own chosen strategy: Pater Pan made fairly regular appearances at a Public located behind the waterfall, ostensibly for the purpose of bathing his worthy person, but in point of practical fact in order to make himself readily available to the fortunate and foolish few able and willing to cross his palm with ruegelt.

***

The Public behind the waterfall proved, naturellement, no different from the many others that I had previously frequented, save that it remained continually crowded with greeners who seemed to throng it for no more practical purpose than to catch a glimpse of the Great One or at least members of his entourage. For in the four days that I lounged therein awaiting his advent with an impatience that stepwise transmuted itself into an entirely unjustified personal pique against him for his tardiness, I encountered no one possessed of any sum remotely approaching the required entrance fee, and, I learned, even as I had surmised, the acceptance of one of our lowly number into the Gypsy Jokers was an event of such rarity that each such occurrence assumed the aura of legend.

Nevertheless, while patience had never been my dominant virtue, if there was one art in which Nouvelle Orlean had provided me with a useful education it was that of lying in ambush for the masculine prey of my choosing to cross my path, for all he knew at random, and so I persevered in my stalk.

Eventually, inevitably, my quarry approached the water hole, accompanied, as I was to learn was his custom, by several female members of his pride, accoutred with items of the Cloth of Many Colors and mooning expressions continually cast in his direction.

This comparatively drab entourage, however, scarcely impinged upon the sphere of my attention, for Pater Pan himself lit up my sky the moment I laid eyes on him, a phenomenon which I was to learn was hardly uncommon to the sisters of my gender, and one which he himself did nothing to discourage.

Strange to say under the circumstances, it was his garb which first drew my attention, for Pater Pan affected a costume which even on Edoku drew the eye in amazement, and which on a lesser being would have made him a ludicrous figure.

This was the Traje de Luces of Public Service Station lore, and upon actually seeing it worn by this noble creature, I could understand why no words could describe the effect justly. Pater Pan wore a loose blouson of the Cloth of Many Colors, open like a sleeved cloak over his bare chest, and crowned with a thespic high collar, a garment composed of hundreds of assorted patches of old cloth, yet somehow a royal robe rather than a ragamuffin's rags when worn by this lordly specimen. Similarly, the tight breeches which seemed expertly tailored to hug every curve and bulge of his lower anatomy were the same random patchwork of colors and textures.

Naturellement, only a noble and daunting visage could rescue such an apparition from the realm of farce; this Pater Pan possessed, and just as clearly, he knew it. His hair was golden yellow and worn in a carefully groomed shoulder-length mane, and he affected a beard of the same color and style to complete the haloing nimbus. All that was visible of his facial features was an aquiline nose, full sensuous lips, high forehead, noble brow, and piercing yet merry blue eyes; artfully outlined by the golden mane and partially concealed by the beard, this face seemed at once youthful and ancient, in truth quite literally ageless.

Ah, he was perfect, a persona artfully self-crafted to express a proud perfection of the masculine spirit within, and oh, did every step and gesture declare that this work of art was his own most avid aficionado!

Indeed it was this very air of utterly self-assured narcissism which both caused my knees to tremble and rescued me from mere paralyzed gaping; he was beautiful, he was king of this particular little world, and I wanted him. On the other hand, he also seemed a paragon of ego, a challenge to every female within range of his charisma, the fellow all-too-obviously knew it, and therefore I must have him as my conquest.

Only some time later did I learn that the projection of precisely this determination into the spirit of the generality of my gender was his most puissant erotic tactic.

Be that as it may, while every other female in the Public was foolishly engaged in watching this brilliant cock parade and preen, Moussa Shasta Leonardo retained the wit to consider strategy.

In this regard, my experience in the Rapide station admirably served to engorge my confidence, for I now had proven by practical application of same that the claims made by my father for the tantric puissance of the ring on my finger owed little to hyperbole; all I had to do was get my hands on him and science would put even such a man as this in my power.

Pater Pan, so it was said, customarily abluted himself as part of these visitations; this Public being so habitually crowded, the ten shower stalls at the far end of the room were usually well occupied, and queuing was common, though no doubt lesser beings would vacate at the pleasure of the monarch.

However, fate, or destiny, or mere random chance, once more favored me with a minor smile of patronage. Perusing the bare shanks visible below the doors of the shower stalls, I saw that two of them, side by side, were now empty.

Seizing this opportunity, I entered the one on the right, doffed all my clothing, hung it on the hooks provided, turned on the overhead shower, took up the bar of soap from its alcove, and waited. If my luck held, and my quarry was not so haughty as to eject a bather from an occupied stall for sake of status when another was empty, Pater Pan would soon be naked in the stall beside me. The partitions between the stalls ended at knee height; it would be a simple matter to drop my soap so that it slithered into the adjacent stall, and then, in the innocent act of groping ...

So it is written, so it was done. Within less than ten minutes, I heard the adjacent shower stall door open, then swing shut, and by perusing the patchwork-clad legs below the partition, I knew that it was he. A moment later I was presented with the sight of trim shanks lightly dusted with golden hair, a delightful sight to my eyes, though the feet depending therefrom were no more objects of esthetic refinement than those of any other male of my previous or future acquaintance.

I waited for the sounds of his ablutions and was treated as well to the wordless off-key singing so common to the bathing male of our species when he believes no critical ear is at hand. Then I activated the Touch, lathered my bar of soap to the required degree of slickness, reached down below the partition, shouted "Merde!" and shot the soap beneath it and into his stall with a squeeze of my hand.

Forthwith, I squatted down for sake of clear vision of my target, but began groping about at arm's length in the manner of someone trying to retrieve the errant soap by blind touch alone.

While neither the foot nor the calf is exactly an erogenous zone rich in surface connections to the kundalinic neurology, there is a nerve trunk running behind the tendon of the heel up the leg and into the groin, and this I "chanced" to grasp quite firmly in the act of attempting to recover my soap.

I could feel a tremor ripple up his leg as I did so and heard a grunt of surprise with certain subtle undertones which led me to believe that the stimulus had indeed penetrated to the target area.

"Pardon," I said, not removing my hand, "I was looking for my soap."

"That's no soap, muchacha," said a rich masculine voice with the considerable savoir faire necessary under the circumstances to affect a certain jocular tone, but not enough to suppress a husky quaver. Nor did he pull his foot from my grasp.

"Vraiment?" I said archly, running my hand gropingly up the inner surface of his calf, past his knee, and a few inches up his thigh, which was as far as my arm would reach. "1 know it's in there somewhere."

At this, he let forth an honest sensual moan, and forthwith contrived to bend his knees, leaning forward and downward into my Touch, so that my hand slid up his thigh to brush against his cojones and lingam.

"Quelle chose!" I squealed in great mock consternation while feeling the slickly hard object as if to verify my perception. "That's not a piece of soap either!"

At this, he fairly shouted in ecstasy, and 1 released my grip and withdrew my arm, sensing that further such ministrations might bring matters to a premature conclusion.

There was a long moment of silence as we both stood there separated by the partition with only our calves and feet visible to each other.

"A saucy wench indeed!" the male voice said in a tone that seemed to convey a somewhat false composure. "Who are you?"

"Cabeza de caga!" I shouted in equally insincere outrage and wounded innocence. "Who am I? Who are you to take such liberties with a fresh young virgin?"

From the other side of the partition came a strangled gurgling sound halfway between a cough and a laugh. "You really don't know the who of the what you just grabbed?" he said somewhat guardedly.

"Do you imagine me to be possessed of such arcane powers that I can deduce your identity from the sight of your feet and the size of your lingam?"

"To judge from certain other powers you seem to possess, it wouldn't surprise me, lady fair ..." he mused. "Well, know then that you've just had the high honor of giving the goose to Pater Pan, my ah, fresh young virgin!" he added grandly.

"Who?" I replied, as if the name had not quite registered.

"Pater Pan," he replied with some vexation.

"Bien," I said diffidently. "And you have been favored however inadvertently with the touch of Moussa Shasta Leonardo."

"You speak as if that makes it a fair trade," he complained.

"Is it not?"

"Merde!" he muttered. "1 am Pater Pan, girl."

"You speak as if that statement bore some cosmic significance."

"You put me not on? You really don't know who I am?" he said, the tone of his voice betraying a melange of outraged ego and charmed bemusement at such unaccustomed ignorance.

"Should I?"

"For sure!" he said much more genially. "But perhaps we should continue this seance face to face and belly to belly ..."

"Porque no?" I said after some hesitation. "I have no pressing affairs for the next hour or so, and if your company amuses me half so much as it does yourself, the time will be well spent."

With that, the discourse temporarily ended, as we toweled ourselves dry, donned our clothing, exited our respective shower stalls, and then met face to face. He looked me up and down appraisingly for a moment and then favored me with a lordly smile of measured approval.

I for my part ran my eyes up and down his patchwork-clad body while contriving to fix an expression of suppressed mirth on my face: "Drole," I finally said dryly.

"Drole?" he exclaimed. "Is that all you have to say upon first confrontation with the full magnificence of my being?"

"Surely you are not unaware of the jocular effect of your ... ah, costume!"

He eyed me narrowly. I regarded him in kind. Then we both laughed and the congruent expressions, while hardly changing in content, became something shared, as if our spirits had touched and at any rate found each other equally outrageous.

"Perhaps this duet should continue without an audience?" he suggested, discovering via sidelong glances that in fact everyone in the Public, and in particular the feminine entourage with which he had entered, was now regarding this scene with avid, though in the case of the female Gypsy Jokers, not quite amused, attention.

"Indeed," I agreed, clasping his hand and causing his eyes to widen in lustful amazement. "I find such shyness in a man not without a certain boyish charm."

Thus did we make our exit, hand in hand, and his beginning to grow quite sweaty, to a certain buzz and mutter which I for my part could not refrain from taking as applause for what under the circumstances I considered my own masterly performance.

***

The Public was hidden behind the great cataract which tumbled from the lip of the desert butte high above, and close by was a cave in the face of the cliff into which Pater Pan led me. This proved to be the entrance to a lift tube which took us to the top of the butte. The landscape above bore no sane geographical relationship to the appearance of the plateau as seen from below.

Indeed the top of the butte was not a plateau at all but a great shallow bowl or "natural" amphitheater hidden from below by a ringwall of rock so as not to spoil the effect of a stark desert landscape when viewed from afar. For in fact here was a lush green garden, a landscape of tiny rolling green hills and secluded dimpled little dells, many with small ponds at their bottoms interconnected by a tracery of burbling brooks that flowed in winding paths around the hills and through the valleys. The hillcrests, moreover, were planted with copses of low trees heavy with a profuse variety of colorful and fragrant blooms, so that each little valley was a secluded perfumed boudoir, complete with private bathing pool. What lay underfoot was not so much lawn as something green with more the texture of a deep-pile animal pelt than vegetation, the air was the temperature of the body's heat, though gentled by breezes, and the gravity gradient was such that we fairly drifted along on the tips of our toes.

There was no mistaking the nature of the pleasures for which such a garden had been crafted, nor, therefore, was there any mistaking the forthright purpose of the man who had brought me there.

Nevertheless, I was determined to retain the initiative, and so, as soon as we had secluded ourselves in a dell by one of the crystal pools, I straightaway made my own bold suggestion. "Since our baths were interrupted, let us now continue our ablutions." And so saying, without waiting for his assent, I removed my clothes and displayed my nakedness for his delectation.

He stood there fully clothed for a moment as I regarded him with an impatient expression, hands on hips. "Well?" I demanded. "What is it that you see which has turned you to stone?"

"Yo no se, " he said with a shake of his head, "but somehow I doubt it is any fresh young virgin."

So saying, he began to remove his clothing, and then followed me into the pool, into which I had leapt before he could complete his disrobing.

The water too proved to be heated to hot blood's temperature, and in this frank and heady brew, there was a minimum of coy thrashing and splashing before we found each other embracing. Once our lips had met in a kiss and our bodies had touched, the niceties of the chase were fairly concluded, and when I searched out his lingam and treated it to an open and electronically enhanced caress of lingering duration, he trembled, and moaned, and writhed in my grasp, and then snatched me up in his arms, carried me out of the water in a headlong stumble, threw me on the spongy ground, and proceeded to essay a mighty proof indeed of his considerable manly virtues.

Vraiment, he was tender and indefatigable, surely as schooled in the finer points of the tantric arts and the chakras of sensual pleasure as my mother herself, and never before or since have I known such a demon lover.

Yet even while given over entirely to the pleasures his puissance afforded, I was never transported so far beyond guile as to eschew my determination to display for him the unique ecstasies available to him via the graces of Moussa Shasta Leonardo and to be found in the arms of no other lover.

I ran my fingers up and down the cordillera of his spine, flashing tantric lightning from peak to peak. I Touched secret places in the root of him, I felt him lingering on the knife edge of ecstasy as I did so, as if by act of will or the iron control of a perfect master, he might remain there forever. This hubric self-control I allowed him to exercise for a goodly while to my own considerable pleasure, and then, as if to demonstrate who was the mistress of tantric power and who the acolyte, I suddenly thrust my preternaturally puissant finger into the very seat of kundalinic intimacy, and he uttered an orgasmic howl fit to rouse the dead if such might be sleeping in a nearby bower.

Nor were our exercises then at all concluded, for, aroused to an egoless state of tantric communion on the one hand, and a contest of loverly wills which had everything to do with ego on the other, we proceeded through countless tantric configurations, half a dozen cusps at the least, each determined to master the other via the giving of a surfeit of pleasure, not to say outlasting the rival in a contest of sheer endurance.

Pater for his part seemed possessed of a stamina and skill far beyond anything I had previously imagined possible to the masculine anatomy, and at length I was fairly trembling with a surfeit of ecstasy and panting with fatigue. Nevertheless, mighty though he was far beyond my fleshly power to outlast, I was possessed of an entirely unsporting advantage which no mother's son could in the end overmaster; utterly spent physically, I needed move no more than my finger to have him crying out once more.

And so at length, at great length, vraiment at entirely admirable length, it was the great Pater Pan who rolled over on his back, heaving and puffing, and cried: "Enough! What are you doing to me, girl?"

"Surrendering my virginity," I giggled. "Has anything out of the ordinary happened?" I said archly. "I am entirely inexperienced in these matters. Is it not always thus for a virile fellow like yourself with all the lovers you are so obviously accustomed to having throw themselves at your feet?"

"If you are an inexperienced virgin, then I am the Queen of the May," Pater said, raising the upper half of his body into a seated position, hunching forward, and regarding me with a certain post- coital skepticism which his hormonal metabolism had not previously permitted. "Jive me not, Moussa Shasta Leonardo, who are you, what is the nature of your game ... and what sparks this strange power?"

Still playing the naif as closely as possible, I took this as a mere suggestion to exchange name tales, a natural nicety under the circumstances, and presented him with a somewhat edited version, which is to say that I styled Leonardo in a general way as a mage of electronic arts, without feeling the need to mention the subject of personal enhancement devices.

After I had finished, Pater Pan seemed to chew it over in silence for a moment, as if sensing that I had not been entirely forthcoming. "So your mother is a tantric healer and performer?" he finally said. "Then you admit that your profession of naivete in these matters was less than the whole and nothing but truth?"

I laughed. I shrugged. "Naturellement, I was jesting," I owned." As you have had occasion to experience, I have actually had no little schooling in my mother's science."

"For sure," said Pater Pan appraisingly, "for a girl of your age and relative unsophistication, you seem to have a decent enough knowledge of the lay of the man."

"A decent enough knowledge!" I exclaimed in outrage. "Is that the best you have to say for my tantric performance after what you have just experienced?"

He laughed, but only briefly. Then he fixed me with those piercing blue eyes and spoke in a tone of voice that somehow convinced me of his veracity despite the absolutely outrageous import of his words.

"While I am not the sort of creepy-crawlie who scribes a running tally, by conservative estimate, I have granted my favors to some several thousand women on at least a hundred planets over a span of several centuries. Sure, and these have ranged from babes admittedly snatched from their cradles to veritable hagdom, and have included courtesans of great renown, tantric maestras and low putains, bumbling virgins, and every form of feminine life between, and on worlds of every level of sensual sophistication from crabbed puritanism to a hedonic excess that would make Edoku seem like a rest home for celibates. Therefore, while my overwhelming modesty may forbid me to judge my own prowess as a cocksman, when it comes to judging feminine performance, I am The Man, the greatest living connoisseur in all the worlds of men."

At this grossly overblown yet somehow sincere and almost believable boast, I was entirely at a loss for words. Pater Pan, au contraire, as I was to learn, never suffered this affliction, and was always more than willing and able to step into a conversational breach.

"Therefore," he went on, "I put you not down when I declare that in my expert critical opinion, while your actual level of tantric artistry is comfortably above the mean, your chops and moves can in no way adequately account for what I just experienced, which was probably the numero uno erotic experience of my entire long life."

Well how was a girl to take that? On the one hand, this puffed-up creature was relegating my personal performance to a level little above mediocrity , and on the other hand he was declaring that I had pleased him like no other lover! In truth, of course, it was the artistry of Leonardo to which he paid his extravagant homage, but I was hardly in a position or mood to admit to that!

Once more, however, Pater Pan's loquacity was more than equal to the task of discounting my silence. "So what I want to know is how in the flaming heart of a million suns such a thing can be possible!" he exclaimed. "What is this magic? How did you do it? And more to the point, perhaps, can you do it again?"

At this, I found my tongue and regained the composure of a certain mastery of the strategic situation." As to the latter," I said slyly, "that is for you to discover if you can charm or bargain me into the attempt. As for the former, surely an innocent naif such as myself, possessed, as you declare, of no overwhelming erotic artistry, is entitled to retain her one poor little secret in the presence of such a puissant mythic personage as the great Pater Pan."

"So now you admit that you knew who I was all along!" I shrugged. "1 have heard some ridiculous and hyperbolic tales which only a fool would credit," I admitted. "But I would rather hear your name tale from your own noble mouth. Have I not told you mine?"

Pater Pan smiled, gave a lofty toss of his golden-maned head. "The full tale of my name would take years to recount," he said grandly.

"No doubt," I replied dryly, "but surely a fellow who by his own admission has had congress with several thousand women has in the course of time and necessity evolved a suitably condensed version for just such occasions as this."

"Vraiment," Pater admitted. "If you are willing to content yourself with a pale shadow of the full magnificence ..."

"This I am grudgingly willing to endure," I told him. "Proceed, kudasai."

***

"I am Pater Pan. famed throughout the worlds of men, or at least wherever Children of Fortune walk the Yellow Brick Road of freedom," he declared grandly, "and this is both my chosen freenom and my identity entire, for long ago, before the Second Starfaring Age was born, before the Ark's first Spark, before the Age of Space itself, truth be told before the memory of this avatar who now speaks began, my paternom and maternom I tossed into the void with all the maya-bound ties chaining my eternal spirit to the Great Wheel.

"So say that my mother was an Arkie and a Rom, a Hippie Queen and a Princess of the Night, and say that my father was an Indian brave or Bodhidharma or Chaka Zulu or the Fliegende Hollander himself, maya, maya, for the spirit of Pater Pan was born before yours truly crawled blinking from some mortal mother's womb and will live on when this second Starfaring Age is nothing but a dim legend of the prehistoric past.

"Vraiment, I chose not the freenom Pater Pan in homage to the name of the spirit, rather did the spirit of the name choose me to carry its torch forward into our Age, for Pater Pan was born before the first ape climbed down from our ancestral trees to wander the plains of Earth. I was the very song which drew that dim creature out\",f the forest of ignorance to take his first halting steps on the Yellow Brick Road to sapience, and thus was born the Child of our species' Fortune, who from that day unto this has danced the camino real to the Pied Pipes of Pater Pan.

"Yes, before the singer was the song, to which we wandered from apes into men, and I was the horny billy-goat music leading us onward by the compass of our desires, and the Pied Piper urging the Children onward from the dusty streets of Hamelin town into the Magic Mountain of eternal Oz, and so too was I the Minstrel of Aquarius who slew the timebound rule of chairmen of the board and kings.

"When the Children's Crusade of the Ages of the Night set forth in quest of Jerusalem's Holy Grail, they marched to my spirit's song. And I was the Piper of Pan in the garden of the Flower Children that bloomed to my music in a golden Summer of Love.

"When the Arkies embarked upon their wanderings in the endless stellar night, Pater Pan was the Spark that rode their great slow arkologies with them, holding aloft the torch in the darkness of the long light-years and frozen centuries between the stars.

"And when the mages of our species wrested the secret of the Jump from the forgotten lore of We Who Have Gone Before and our Second Starfaring Age began, then did the King of the Gypsies and the Prince of the Jokers sally forth from his long sleep under the Magic Mountain to carry the Spark of the Ark forward wherever Children of Fortune wander the Yellow Brick Road out among the far-flung worlds of men!"

Golden, godlike, blue eyes mirroring the azure depths of the sky, declaiming in a mighty voice that seemed to speak not from him but through him, this marvelous creature seized up his patchwork blouson, whirled it over his head, and draped it grandly about his naked shoulders.

"Voila, the mystery of the Cloth of Many Colors, the Traje de Luces, the Pied banner of the eternal Piper! he shouted in a leonine roar. "Each ragged patch is a piece of transient cloth! Each fragment of the whole is a moment, a face, a piece of time, a smile, a laugh, a companion along the Way! Each in its turn frays and unravels and is replaced by another! Each single patch adorns the banner which has cloaked the spirit of Pater Pan for a million years for a time and then is gone! Not one single thread of the original garment which never was remains! Yet that which is the Traje de Luces itself lives on and on and on!"

He crouched down and regarded me face-to-face, and in that moment I knew not whether I regarded a creature out of legend or a man. "C'est moi," he said in a voice that suddenly seemed a good deal less grand. "This Cloth of Many Colors is me, girl. The eternal spirit and the natural man. An old patch of cloth, and the glorious whole entire, the singer who passes, and the song which goes forever on."

He shrugged, he smiled, he seemed to shrink back into himself like a great flower subsiding backwards in time into the modest bud from which it was born.

"Thus," he said quite conversationally, "the name tale of Pater Pan."

***

Needless to say, I had never before heard a name tale like that! And certainly not one declaimed in such a thespic manner, as if the quotidian man of flesh and blood whom I had shortly before held in my arms had become an actor upon a stage assuming the mantle of a character far greater than himself, vraiment greater than any mortal man, speaking words that another and at the very least more literarily puissant spirit declaimed through him.

On the other hand, even in my state of charisma-drunken awe, I could perceive that Pater Pan had told me nothing about the man of flesh and blood at all and had cloaked the nakedness of this obfuscation in a tapestry of grandiose rhetoric and extravagant poetry no less devoted to confusion and flash than the blouson of Cloth of Many Colors now draped around his lordly corpus like a royal robe. Blarney indeed, but what wonderful blarney it was, how grander than what- ever the unadorned truth of any merely human pedigree could be!

Moreover, even then it seemed to me that some spirit great and true did in fact speak through this marvelous mountebank of a man, for while I could hardly credit the words which boasted of a millennial lifespan at the eternal center of history humain entire, my heart was filled with the higher and less coherent truth of the music of the song.

For as Pater Pan had declared, before the singer was the song, and if the man who sat beside me had long since chosen to subsume his mere pedigree into the higher truth of metaphor, to become the legend of which he sang, who was I to say that mundane veracity was truer to the spirit thereof than literature's noble lies?

May hap I speak thusly not as the young girl who was, but as the teller of tales who is, possessed of both the will to declaim the supremacy of my own chosen fictional art over the truth of mere accuracy, and the mature theoretical basis to put such wisdom into the mind of the girl I then was.

But if this is so, it only serves to speak my meaning the stronger, for the inner truth of the matter is that this was the moment when the heroine of the story took the first step on the road to the becoming of the teller of the tale, which is to say that for the first time in her young life, Moussa Shasta Leonardo had heard the music of a spirit that transported her ambitions beyond the song of self.

Not that I was any less determined to make this man my patron and my lover, to rescue myself from indigence by gaining entry to his tribe; but now pecuniary calculations had merged with the ding an sich, for now my desire was to truly partake of the spirit of what now seemed a noble and glorious enterprise, to become a true Gypsy Joker with the song of the tribe in my heart.

As if possessed of the power to read my spirit, or in more likely point of fact, possessed of the long experience to fully comprehend the effect on such as myself of the performance of his name tale, Pater Pan reverted to his earlier, less daunting, and at the same time more practically minded persona.

"And so," he said, "now that you have impressed me with your secret powers as a lover, and I have impressed you with my noble name tale, what be the down and dirty, girl, what is it that you really want?"

"Why to be with you as you surely must know by now!" I declared with an innocent openness of spirit. "To become a Gypsy Joker! With all my heart!"

Pater laughed. "When it comes to my phallic favors, pas problem, since this much I grant gratuit to all who please me, as you surely must know by now you have," he said. "When it comes to becoming a Gypsy Joker, this you can achieve by crossing my palm with one hundred pieces of ruegelt."

"What?" I shouted, brought crashing down from the clouds of the spirit into the muck of mendacious maya by the outrage of such a demand. "Quelle chose! What kind of man are you to speak thusly to a lover? How dare you --"

"Peace!" Pater Pan declared, holding up his hand and smiling the entirely inappropriate smile of sweet reason. "Surely for a woman such as yourself, possessed of secret tantric powers sufficient to win the exhausted admiration of even the mighty Pater Pan, a mere hundred pieces of ruegelt is nada, a mere token, the earnings of a lazy afternoon ..."

The thrust, as it were, of this discourse brought back all my previous guile. If he insisted on bringing down our congress to the level of the marketplace, then I too could descend to the logic thereof, and we would see which of us would prevail.

"It is your considered expert opinion that I could easily enough earn one hundred pieces of ruegelt in the performance of the tantric arts?" I said in a wondering and innocent tone that, au contraire, emanated in this moment from any- thing but a guileless naif.

"For sure!" my victim declared. "you need only summon up half the pluck you've already shown, and offer up your services on the bourse of the streets. A few discreet caresses gratuit to establish your bona fides and hook the mark, then set your price, and voila!"

"Perhaps you are right," I allowed. "But I am a complete naif in matters of value given for value received. How much ruegelt do you believe I could demand?"

Pater Pan shrugged. "Quien sabe?" he said. "The horniness of the patron, the fullness of his purse, the generosity of his spirit, these are all as relevant as the absolute value of the wares, ne. But always set an initial price of some extravagance, for never will you receive an offer higher than your own best boast. "

"Might I ask two hundred?" I inquired.

"Two hundred!" Pater exclaimed. "you will do no volume trade at such a price. Of course, there are always a few who will be willing to meet it, since your performance is somewhat extraordinaire, as I have just had occasion to learn ..."

"Indeed you have," I said slyly, coiling for the pounce. "I bow to your wisdom, oh Great Spirit of the Bourse. Henceforth I shall set a price of two hundred pieces of ruegelt ..." I paused as if considering the matter. "Henceforth ...?" I mused. "Vraiment, why not right now?"

I held out a demanding palm. "Two hundred pieces of ruegelt, bitte, for the services you have just enjoyed and praised so highly, mon cher!"

Pater Pan's eyes widened in astonishment, his jaw fell open. "What?" he exclaimed. "Pay? Me? You demand two hundred pieces of ruegelt for enjoying the embraces of Pater Pan? Which you yourself have schemed to obtain? What kind of woman are you to speak thusly to a lover?"

And then, hearing his own words mirroring my previous protest of outrage, he broke into raucous and not disapproving laughter.

"A true Gypsy Joker, ne?" I giggled.

He regarded me in arch silence for a moment. Then he shook his head ruefully, but not without the warmest of smiles." A true Gypsy Joker for sure!" he said. "But surely you will not demand two hundred from the domo of your own tribe?"

"From the domo of my own tribe, I would demand nothing at all," I told him. "Vraiment, it was not I who intruded pecuniary considerations into any transaction between us, ne. So let not our love be sullied by the passage of filthy lucre from hand to hand. Consider that my price, even as yours, is one hundred pieces of ruegelt."

I cupped my hands as if to receive just such a sum. "Imagine that you are now counting out the coins ..."

With a laugh, he pantomimed the donation that I required, and with a laugh, I returned the phantom coins to his own outstretched hands.

We giggled. We kissed. We embraced.

Thus by this phantom commerce of the bourse and true commerce of kindred spirits was our bargain sealed. Thus did my life as a Gypsy Joker justly and triumphantly begin.
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Re: Child of Fortune, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:58 am

Chapter 8

It was indeed somewhere under the rainbow, Pater Pan did lead me over the river at the base of the waterfall and through some woods, one could spot an ersatz evening star from its precincts, and if the part about straight on till morning proved to be poetic hyperbole, the circus truly was in town.

Which is to say that despite the prohibition of Child of Fortune favelas on Edoku for understandable esthetic reasons, the Gypsy Jokers had managed to erect and maintain a carnival caravanserei in a choice piece of parkland which lay in perpetual high noon between the arrondissement of glass towers and the rolling residential hills of twilight.

I will never forget my first sight of the encampment from afar as Pater led me toward it along one of the avenues lined with glass towers, an angle of approach he had chosen, as I was soon to learn, for pedagogic as well as esthetic reasons.

A few hundred meters before us, afternoon and the arrondissement of bustling streets ended, and in the far distance the twilit hills formed a dark backdrop sprinkled with the lights of men which entirely outshone the few stars visible in the blackish purpling sky above their crestline. Glowing on the margin of lawn between in the bright light of noon as if purposely highlighted by a celestial spotlight (as in point of fact it of course was) flashed what first appeared to be an immense display of multicolored pennants. A few moments later, I realized that what I saw was a veritable city of tents whose fabric roofs and walls were flapping gently in a light breeze, a wonderful chaos of colors and stripes flung across the parkland like a giant Cloth of Many Colors. As we approached closer, I saw that the tents displayed as great a profusion of forms as hues; there were small closed tents such as might shelter a small camping party, large ones with extravagantly striped sides such as might enclose performers and audience alike, tents that were no more than awnings against the sun, round tents, square tents, oblong tents, tents in a pyramidal shape, und so weiter.

Soon I could make out tiny figures thronging the impromptu streets of the tent city, hear the faint strains of music, catch the aromas of cuisine and incense and intoxicants drifting invitingly towards me on the breeze.

"So, Moussa," Pater Pan said, "what do you see?"

"Xanadu ...?" I suggested breathlessly.

Pater laughed. "So should it appear to the rubes," he said, "and so it does. But now that you are a Gypsy Joker, you must learn to see through streetwise eyes."

I cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at him.

"First, you will notice that the location of the carnival is straight athwart the natural route between this busy commercial district and the houses of the hills. So that those Edojin who stroll between the two rather than use the Rapide must pass within its spell. Conversely, the existence of our carnival along the route between bourse and home encourages such a lazy stroll. One must always grant the rubes the maximum opportunity to discover their whim to part with ruegelt. Now why did I choose noon rather than evening or night?"

I shrugged and held out my hands in a confession of ignorance.

"Because on Edoku, as on most of the worlds of men, evening is the chosen hour for dining on haute cuisine in grand restaurants, and night is the chosen hour of elaborate and expensive spectacles and entertainments, and our quaint shows and simple fare can go mano a mano with neither," he told me. "The clever Child of Fortune caters to immediate whim and caprice, tidbits of food, not haute cuisine, impromptu music, ruespiels, and busking, not formal theater or spectacle, trinkets and geegaws, not noble craft or high art- an thrust under the noses of the rubes before they even recognize the desire for same, and all available at prices which prevent the decision to part with ruegelt from causing significant reflection."

"you make us sound little more than mendicants ..."

"Right on!" Pater exclaimed approvingly. "Sure, and we are little more than mendicants. The mendicant plays upon the pity and empathy of his mark to secure alms but offers nothing of value in return save a certain pompous sense of self-satisfaction, ne. The Child of Fortune offers a little more. We amuse. A laugh, a smile, a savor, a few moments of pleasure, a nostalgic remembrance of a youth when the customer was free and weightless as the breeze, a Child of Fortune even as you and I."

"But that is no little difference at all!" I declared. "For the mendicant plays upon a confrontation with misfortune and makes the donor feel smugly superior, whereas we play upon a confrontation with lost freedom and return a memory of joy, ne. To me, that is all the difference in the worlds." And why, I realized, that come what may, I could never reduce myself to begging for alms.

Pater gave me a strange and narrow look, compounded, or so it seemed, of amazement, approval, satori, perhaps even a certain sense of awe. "Well spoken indeed, my little guru," he said. "The spirit moves through your words, and in retrospect, I now congratulate myself for having the wisdom to know it all along."

And so, basking in the approval of the domo of the tribe, in thrall, in love, pledging my spirit to him and his enterprise in the depths of my loyal young heart, and quite erroneously convinced that I had captured his soul and made him my own as surely as he had made me his, I entered the carnival of the Gypsy Jokers hand in hand with the noble Pater Pan, quite confident that I would be its queen as surely as my man was king.

***

While the former supposition was one of which I was soon to be disabused, the latter was reconfirmed as soon as we entered the camp, for Pater Pan could go nowhere within its precincts without being the center of attention of Gypsy Jokers and Edojin alike, though the mode of homage differed in tone between the two.

As Pater made the rounds of the carnival with myself in train, ostensibly for the benefit of my orientation, but in truth, as I was to learn in the next few days, as part of his regular preening ritual, the Edojin patronizing the divertissements honored the presence of the living legend with sidelong glances, whispered comments to each other, the occasional frank stare, though these burghers of Great Edoku never seemed to favor the Gypsy King with a word or gesture of direct salutation. Nor, for his part, did Pater stoop to acknowledge the groundlings with banter or even direct eye contact, any more than an actor upon a stage would betray cognizance of their existence to the audience.

Vis-a-vis our fellow Gypsy Jokers, it was entirely another matter.

The caravanserei of the Gypsy Jokers encompassed a bewildering profusion of enterprises, and as Pater commended each of them to my attention, he held impromptu court with the maestros and journeymen thereof, questioning and advising, bantering and suggesting, collecting a portion of the take for the common purse or may hap his own, and contriving to introduce the latest member of the tribe casually en passant.

That Pater was in truth the ultimate maestro of each and every art as he pretended was difficult for even the smitten Moussa to credit, but certainement he was deferred to, or at least humored, as such by the practitioners thereof. At food kiosks, he nibbled at tidbits and suggested alterations in the recipes. The wares of jewelers, potters, sculptors, leather- workers, und so weiter, were eyed, fingered, even sniffed at; many were praised, but certain items were ordered removed from the market for lack of sufficient craft, and the subject of the proper price for everything was discussed in some detail.

Pater would try his hand against his own minions at the varied games of chance and skill to be found within the camp, and more often than not would will a small pile of ruegelt which he would pocket with wry admonitions and homilies of gambling lore, praising extravagantly those few who managed to wrest coin from him.

The grounds were also full of buskers of every sort -- musicians, singers, ruespielers, dancers, jugglers, artistes of sleight of hand, und so weiter -- performing gratis or for whatever coins passing Edojin might be moved to toss their way. Pater would take in their performances, and then during an intermission in same, take them aside and offer his advice. Jugglers had roughnesses in their performances pointed out, musicians and singers were referred to colleagues for the enhancement of their repertoires, sleight of hand artistes were shown new tricks, ruespielers were given new variations on old tales.

There were many tents within which tantric tableaus were enacted before audiences, and many more within which the clientele took part in the erotic choreography or enjoyed solo performances in a mode of their own choosing.

Pater not only was quite free with his critiques, not only advised male tantric performers in the niceties of their art (a subject in which I would be the last to declare him less than a master), but saw fit not only to advise tantric artists of my own gender in the means of pleasing his own, but offered to supply private lessons in same more than once under my very nose!

In truth-which is to say sans self-serving dissembling -- if I have conveyed a certain less than enthusiastic attitude on the part of the young Moussa towards Pater Pan's performance of his royal rounds, if I have portrayed him as intruding into every art and enterprise with the self-importance of the kibbitzing dilettante and withheld my wholehearted appreciation of his puissance as a maestro of them all, verisimilitude would also have me own that it was neither the tone of his discourse nor the generality of its reception which soured the edges of my delight at this grand tour of Xanadu, or to be even more painfully forthright about the source of my discomfort, I could find little fault with his conversational congress with the males of our tribe.

These were all younger than my great lover, indisputably callow in my eyes by comparison, and I could only approve of the open-spirited manner. in which they all deferred to him in matters great and small, sought his favor, desired to emulate his noble model, and accepted his advice and teachings even in the subtleties of their own arts with the intellectual avidity of the sincere student.

His behavior vis-a-vis the female of the species and their frank and mooning attentions to him, however, were entirely beyond the-scope of my selfless admiration and approval. Vraiment, in my brief career as a femme fatale of Nouvelle Orlean, I had never been subject to such treatment by a swain, and would have eschewed the further company of any such boor the first time I caught him exchanging fey glances with a lesser female being, though admittedly the techniques of covert theft of amatory attention with which these creatures constantly sought to poach on my preserve were not exactly foreign to my own repertoire.

All the more reason to resent the cooing words with which he was constantly laved, the light chance touches of numerous feminine hands to various portions of his anatomy, the inquiring glances, the intrusion of their corpuses into the intimate aura of his body space, all as if I were not present, or worse, was too much the fool to comprehend the import of this sub rosa mating dance. Pater, moreover, played his part to the hilt, returning amatory banter, playing quite free and easy with his little intimate touches; of hand upon flesh, eschewing not the contact of eye with eye, and in short, openly reveling in his status as cock of the walk.

Most galling, not to say most amazing, of all, the fact that I was forthrightly introduced to one and all as both the newest member of the tribe and a lover fresh from his embrace did absolutely nothing to dissuade his legion of feminine admirers from paying him court in my presence, indeed my rivals for his attentions welcomed me with what even I in my outraged state could not distinguish from sincere friendliness, even while they were clearly offering themselves up to my man!

At length, vraiment at what seemed like interminable length, this disjunctive combination of delightful introduction to the wonders of the carnival and torturous display of universal flirtation, or worse, concluded and Pater ushered me into the sanctuary of his own tent.

Without, this pavilion could not have been mistaken for the dwelling of any other, for the entire tent was constructed of the same Cloth of Many Colors which cloaked the much-sought-after body of Pater Pan, but within, it was a venue of humble simplicity entirely out of keeping with what seemed to me to be his elevated opinion of his own grandeur. Indeed, there was nothing inside the small tent save a large bed constructed of a red velvet cloth flung over a deep nest of branches, a few plain wooden chests, some low tables, and a varied assortment of lighting fixtures which were capable of casting whatever hue and intensity of illumination might suit his mood.

While it was a definite improvement over the parklands and gardens which had been my most recent habitations, it was a far cry from the luxury and charm of my chamber at the Yggdrasil, and I immediately resolved to utilize my own more refined tastes and the plentiful resources so obviously at his command to improve matters at once, for such spartan bachelor quarters were hardly suitable to the conjugal arrangements I so erroneously assumed we would now share.

Pater, flopping on his bed with his hands clasped behind his head in the self-satisfied manner of a sated pasha, nevertheless had the wit to read from my demeanor that something was amiss. "Que pasa, Moussa?" he asked appraisingly.

"I expected a domicile of somewhat higher style from a man who professes to be the perfect master of so many arts ..."

"Au contraire," he said, "possessions are anchors to the spirit, and simplicity is the highest style of all. In the encampment of the Gypsy Jokers I am surrounded by all manner of communal delights. Why hoard treasures like a miser of the spirit? All I really require is this pallet on the floor and light to meet my fancy." He laughed. "Besides, I sleep elsewhere more often than not."

The latter I could well imagine." All very well for the wandering cocksman," I told him, "but now that we are a menage a deux, we shall require furnishings more appropriate to genteel domesticity, ne. You can hardly expect me to share a bed of branches in an empty tent."

At this, Pater sat upright and regarded me first with surprise, then with consternation, and finally with a certain knowing ruefulness. "Whoa, lady, you seem to be laboring under a whole series of misapprehensions," he said not unkindly. He patted the bed beside him. "Setzen sic sich, girl, and receive enlightenment."

I liked the sound of it not at all; nevertheless I did as he asked, though not without a tremor of trepidation, and not without the maintenance of a certain physical distance congruent with my sudden unease.

"You cannot be more than twenty standard years old, ne?" he said. "Whereas I have traveled the worlds of men for millennia ..."

"Such hyperbole is all very well for poetic boastings for the mystification of rubes," I snapped, "but hardly suitable to a serious discussion of matters of the heart en boudoir! No human may attain the age of four hundred, and the scientific reasons therefor have been known for centuries."

"Ah, but I speak of time, not age, Moussa, and in our Second Starfaring Age, these are not bound so tightly together, ne. Greater mysteries aside, we do not slowly decay into dotage as men once did, but all at once, when our nervous systems wear out. So, for all you know, in span of my body's years, I could be three hundred as easily as thirty ..."

"Thirty, three hundred, three thousand, je ne sais pas!" I declared. "What has all this talk of age and time to do with us?"

"All," he said flatly. "Believe it or not, believe at least that 1 believe that I've been around the worlds of men longer than even I can remember. Knowing me as you already do, for sure you can believe that the last several thousands of years were not quite passed in monkish celibacy, which is to say I am far more experienced in affairs of the heart than you, or at least I have known as many .women as you have days."

"Now at least I surmise that you speak sans hyperbole," I admitted dryly.

"Bien. And I tell you true, their spirits were as precious to me in their time as yours is now."

"Spirits?" I sniffed. "you would have me believe you have cherished several thousand lovers for their spirits?"

Pater shrugged. "Am I not a man of great charisma?" he said. "Am I not the cocksman supreme? Do you imagine I am anything less than a perfect master of seduction? Is it not the fact that I am a universal object of feminine desire precisely the cause of your present pique?"

"And modest to a fault as well," I said, hardly able to believe that I had in fact heard such incredible boasting from the lips of mortal man. But unable to deny the obnoxious truth either.

But Pater Pan did not laugh. Instead, his face became a visage of such intense sincerity, he regarded me with a look of such caritas and tenderness, that somehow he managed to make himself seem like a hero for having the spiritual courage to utter the very words which the previous moment had marked him as a boor and a braggart. Never had a man looked at me thusly. Never had a spirit touched mine so deeply or inspired such totally irrational trust. Never had I felt such love.

"Do you imagine that such a man need grant his favors to any who has not touched his heart?" he said.

"It was not precisely your heart that I touched in the shower stall. ..." I reminded him.

Once again, Pater did not so much as smile at my jape, indeed he came as close as I had ever seen to an impatient frown. "Merde, muchacha, be real!" he said. "Do you imagine that I have not been the object of more such ploys than I could count? Do you imagine that my lingam rules my heart? Do you really believe I knew not your true intention, namely to achieve exactly what you have?"

My ears burned. My eyes began to tear. "What a silly little fool you must have thought I was ..." I whispered forlornly. Yet still I could not avert my gaze from the depths of his bright blue eyes.

Nor his from mine, "Fool?" he exclaimed. "Your courage and your guile won my heart!"

"They did?"

Now Pater broke into a boyish grin that made me want to laugh, though I knew not why. "It takes one to know one, n'est-ce pas?" he said. "Have I not lived by just such courage and guile for all these centuries? How could an ego as massive as that of the great Pater Pan fail to love a spirit in which he sees to his delight the mirror of his own?"

Now I did laugh as I felt a great weight lifted from my spirit by his words. Pater sprang from the bed and began pacing as he spoke, or rather declaimed in the thespic style of his name tale, and now as then, a mighty spirit seemed to be speaking through him, but now, via his bright blue eyes which never broke contact with my own, I felt it moving through me as well, as if we were two singers who had become the music of a single song.

"Ah, Moussa, we are two avatars of a single spirit, you and I, sister and brother, and equal lovers, no matter that you have hardly begun to walk the Yellow Brick Road, and I have been the Piper of the dance time out of mind on a hundred worlds and more. Are we not true Gypsies and true Jokers, Children of the same Fortune? That is why you are now in this encampment, not because you knotted my lingam around your finger, but because you out-Joked the Joker, and out-Gypsied the Gypsy, and proved thereby that you belonged to the tribe by droit d'esprit, a Gypsy Joker of the true spirit before you even knew the name!"

Then all at once he collapsed back onto the bed and be. came the mere man and trickster once more." And that is why I am not about to let you live with me in this tent or delude yourself that you or any other woman can be my one and only, girl," he said. "Could I be so heartless as to deprive the women of the worlds of the full glory of my being? Could I be such a jealous churl as to deprive the men of the worlds of the full glory of yours?"

"What a farrago of self-serving merde!" I exclaimed in wounded anger. "What high-sounding rhetoric to justify what low-minded lust!"

Pater only smiled at me warmly in a superior manner that further inflamed my rage against him. "Would not such a low-minded swine of selfish lust play a lower-minded game? Would he not encourage the delusion that, given time and patience and a casual enough disregard for his peccadilloes, you could make him your own?"

"You believe that I would watch you play the stud to the entire barnyard and loyally await my turn at your favors in hope thereby of cozening you into mending your ways?" I snapped.

Pater Pan seemed to stare right into my soul. He placed a gentle hand upon my knee. "Can you look me in the eye and honestly declare that if I had never spoken this truth you would not?" he said all-too-knowingly.

I could not reply. Indeed, I could no longer even meet his gaze.

"How long before such a love turned to hate?" Pater persisted. "Vraiment, even if you caponized the cock, would you not lose as much as I?"

"May I not at least be permitted to be the judge of that?" I muttered bleakly.

Pater cupped my chin in his hands and raised my eyes to meet his own. "So be it, girl," he said. "Suffer one more long-winded koan, after which you have only to say so, and I will be forever yours."

Once more that preternatural spirit seemed to emerge from manly flesh to speak to its own avatar with ill my heart, but now my lover spoke as well, or so it seemed, with a human warmth even I in such a moment could not deny.

"I have known thousands of women on hundreds of worlds and you may hap a few score fellows on a world or two. Yet tell me true if you can that you in your short span have been any more addicted to pacts of eternal monogamy than I!"

At this, I was constrained to merely curl my lips, for of course no such vows had ever passed through them, nor indeed had such thoughts previously even trammeled my admittedly somewhat fickle heart.

"We are Children of the same spirit, ne, you and I," Pater went on relentlessly. "What sort of man, what a false Child of Fortune, would I be to allow a lover to tie herself to me and lose thereby that very spirit which she loves in me, which has made me what I am? Vraiment, to turn her back on the Yellow Brick Road after her first few steps thereon?"

He smiled. He took my hand in his. "Instead, why not a treaty of equal spirits, one Gypsy Joker to another? Take from a lover's hand this carnival, and Edoku, and all the worlds of men beyond. Let me be your lover, and you be mine, but live the life that I have lived, be true to the spirit that we share. Eat, drink, toxicate yourself, wander, learn, adventure, dare all, have ten lovers, a hundred, a thousand, vie with the great Pater Pan in running up the score, and become thereby not my spouse but a true consort of my heart! For what do I lose thereby? What substance is depleted? And you have worlds to gain that I already know. So allow me to give a greater gift than what you seek, chere Moussa, the gift of freedom as my lover and an equal spirit. And in return, only seek not to diminish mine."

I trembled at the touch of his hand, I knew not how to reply, for the greater part of me wished to gather up this wise and noble creature in my arms, while the worm of intellect whispered in my ear that I was somehow only the latest victim of this perfect master of the truthful lie.

"Well?" said Pater. "Which do you choose? Sister and brother of the same free spirit? Or dour misers of the heart?"

Put thusly, was not the question its own answer? Even now, with hindsight's wisdom long years and many lovers after the fact, still I cannot find the flaw in his irrefutable logic d'amour. Nor, on the other hand, can I escape from the entirely illogical conviction that it was there.

I shook my head ruefully, acknowledging that I was in the presence of a perfect master, though of what I was not quite sure. "You have the tongue of an angel and the guile of a Serpent," I told him. "Why then, knowing this, do I now trust such a monster with my heart?"

Pater laughed. He hugged me to him and kissed me on the lips. With a great relenting sigh, I snuggled into his embrace. "Because," he said, "beneath the mythos and blarney of the great Pater Pan, there is nothing more sinister than the soul of a little boy."

***

I slept that night in the arms of Pater Pan, or rather he allowed himself to innocently repose in mine after a somewhat briefer passage d'amour than our first mighty duet, which served, nevertheless, to reaffirm my arcane tantric mastery over his flesh and to reaffirm his primacy, despite all, in my heart, and thus to fairly seal our bizarre "treaty of equal spirits."

Vraiment, in the days and weeks to come we slept together thusly often enough, and if I had given up all hope of becoming the exclusive consort of the cock of the walk, I could content myself with the admission, wrested from his panting lips by the magic of the Touch, that I could, whenever the spirit moved me, not merely please him like no other lover , but overmaster, outlast, and outpleasure this most puissant of cocksmen, and leave him gasping limply and crying "Enough!"

Indeed having established myself in my own mind and his as the secret mistress of the ultimate object of feminine desire in open competition, I began to appreciate the wisdom of the pact he had forced upon me. Though at first I sulked and pouted when I spied Pater engaged in intimacies with others, soon enough I began to take a certain satisfaction in this erotic competition, in which, courtesy of the art of Leonardo, I was assured of certain, if not exactly sporting, victory.

Moreover, once my full confidence in my own erotic puissance had thereby been restored, I regained once more the spirit of that Moussa Shasta Leonardo who had been in her own small way no mean femme fatale of Nouvelle Orlean. I took to denying my favors to Pater from time to time for my own amusement. I dallied with lesser males of the tribe and soon developed a reputation as a tantric performer of preternatural power and some artistry.

Soon enough I was invited to take minor parts in tantric group performances in which the audience participated actively and met with the general approval of same via the raw power of the Touch, though the featured performers would often chide me for upstaging their more demanding roles.

When it came to performing in tantric tableaus in which the audience remained passive spectators, however, I was a good deal less successful, since the employment of the Touch therein did nothing for the audience and tended to disrupt the concentration of the ensemble with ill-timed orgasms, and when I therefore confined myself to ordinary performance of my modest roles, my relative lack of studied artistry was all too apparent.

Nevertheless, the cachet derived from being even a minor and occasional public performer, combined with the electronically enhanced certainty of providing fair value, allowed me to earn some ruegelt as solo tantric artist, though I never summoned up the hubris or courage to demand more than twenty pieces of ruegelt from a customer.

True to his word in letter and spirit, Pater never displayed a moment of jealousy, or indeed anything less than open- hearted enthusiasm for my enterprises and amours, though truth be told my initial motivation had been the eliciting of same. And once I had quite convinced myself that his dedication to the spirit of our mutual freedom was quite genuine and unconstrained, I had to admit to myself that I would have been a fool to have had it any other way.

For it was a grand and glorious time. Having known nothing of life but an existence based on parental largesse and then a period of utter penury resulting from the exhaustion of same, the vie of the Gypsy Jokers was more to me than a garden of delights, it was my very first experience of a world in which I was neither the darling daughter nor the helpless waif but a free, equal, and independent agent. The strip of Cloth of Many Colors that I wore sometimes as scarf, sometimes as sash, sometimes as headband, was purchased with ruegelt earned by my own efforts, as were the simple meals I bought in the camp in lieu of fressen bars. While the former was hardly an item of haute couture and the latter could not pretend to haute cuisine, I was adorned with the ensign of my own enterprise and dined on the fruits thereof.

I was Moussa Shasta Leonardo, Gypsy Joker, true avatar of the spirit of the Child of Fortune, a free and equal lover of Pater Pan, and indeed he had seen my future self truly, for having attained this station, never would I have then willingly traded it for being the mere consort of even the noblest of men.
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