The hhejŝṧhyant deposited Itharieth on a vast steel deck beneath a fierce sky. The sun of Memharsh was a vast dim red globe; Itharieth could see tornadoes of starfire crawling on its face, large enough to swallow worlds. The moon of Memharsh, eclipsing a tiny fraction of that deadly sun, was rotten with seas of lava. The stars were putrid in the deeper sky.
Nor was the land any better. The deck beneath his claws was corrugated steel. Windows of fused quartz opened onto filthy seas on either side. The leftern sea was aboil with some photosynthetic variant of yeast. The rightern sea was not so much a body of water as a single vast bacterial mat, consisting — to Itharieth’s keen biological sensibilities and sorceries — of at least thirty layers, some of which were photosynthetic, and the rest were engineered to produce a selection of specific chemicals. Harvesters scooped up endless thin slices of mat, and the mat grew behind them to heal the wounds.
“A world of some technological sophistication,” said Itharieth to himself in a hoarse voice. The air was noxious enough to claw even a dragon’s throat, and stank of ancient oil and complex molecules. “I should say that I am standing on the roof of the world, by the Ninnergy’s synergy, and beneath me dwell the memha, safe and snug in their caves of steel. Presumably they eat quantities of yeast.”
Not far off was a sort of tower or turret, a living robot which pointed tubes and lenses at Itharieth as he approached. The Word-Fox gave Itharieth useful phrases, including “I come in peace!” and “I am simply a tourist!”
Upon utterance of these mighty incantations a door opened in the base of the tower, leading to a small and nozzle-laden antechamber.So Itharieth shrank to a pony’s size, and entered. The door closed behind him, and the nozzles sprayed forth fearsome fluids: water mixed with solvents and saponifiers, and more subtle chemicals which Itharieth guessed to be antibacterials. The actinic spray was eventually replaced by a gentler storm of warm water charged with the fragrances of long-dead flowers, and after that by gusts of drying winds. Itharieth endured this shower with a dragon’s innate fortitude in the face of alien toiletries.
Then an inner door unlatched itself as if by magic — “But not by magic,” noted Itharieth, “Rather by the motion of bolts and levers acted upon by silent motors” — and revealed a cryptic marvel of technology. A massive console with hundreds of levers, knobs, buttons, needles, dials, indicator lights, switches, telltales, and other technological appurtenances took up a whole wall, like an eldrich altar at which cyborgs might worship nightmare gods.
Itharieth approached the console, and with the power of the Word-Fox translated and investigated. The underside of the console was fringed with books, attached by steel cables, printed on pages of some imperishable plastic. The language of the manuals was quite simple, plentifully supplied with pictures. “As though this massive altar to microbiology was intended to be operated by confused children, by the Fleediatrician’s pediatrician!” said Itharieth to himself, out loud.
“As indeed it is!” said a voice from a speaker on the console, in a straightforward tongue which Itharieth’s adequate linguistic magics had no trouble teaching him. A screen above the speaker blazed to life, showing an alien face: two large eyes above two small eyes, a mass of short sensory tentacles, a vocal apparatus defying simple description.
“Oh? Gratitude flows forth from me to hear your explanation! I am Itharieth, by the by: a simple but quite curious traveller of worlds.”
“And I am Des-Cnidda. I style myself the Final Curator of Memharsh,” said the alien Des-Cnidda. “On this world I am master, I am king, I am imperator — I am a god of a pantheon that rules all save itself!” (Itharieth thought to himself, “Inaccurate, for he has neglected actual apotheosis. Perhaps it is redundant under his circumstances.”)
“What little I have seen of Memharsh speaks of a technology great and sophisticated, and where such technology flourishes, it is generally adjacent to a civilization great and sophisticated!”
“Once Memharsh was the greatest and most sophisticated of civiliations! Now — but come within! We do not imprison our visitors in the control room of our yeast-yard!”
(“And where do you imprison them?” Itharieth mused to himself. “Well, I daresay I can fight my way out of even a great and sophisticated prison, if need be. Or gain glory trying, even if it turns out that Vaareng and Mirinxan must come rescue me.”)
“What is within?”
“I shall send a yancibot to guide you to the Hall of Grandeur!”
“That would, of course, be grand.”
On Tour of Memharsh
The yancibot waited directly outside of the door: a many-limbed robot of gleaming metal and rubbery appendages, rolling on a heavy base with five spherical wheels. And more than a whisper of menace to dangersense.
“Des-Cnidda, your yancibot is armed to the teeth!” said Itharieth, to see how the Curator would react.
“Yes, of course it is! It would not do to have degeps intrude on the dignity and personal sanctity of an important visitor!”
“An excellent point, and one which I neglected to consider! I somehow thought the weapons were aimed at me. What, pray tell, are degeps, and why might they intrude upon me?” asked Itharieth.
A screen on the yancibot flickered enthusiastically, showing Des-Cnidda’s face in miniature. “Degenerates, every one! The memha have separated into several tribes. Those with the most insane beliefs and practices have chosen to remain carnal. They roam the halls of Memharsh, howling and excreting upon the ancient monuments! Occasionally they assault visitors, or each other.”
“They sound troublesome,” said Itharieth. “I shall be glad to remain unassaulted by degeps — and by wide-lasers and convulsers and needle-guns as well.”
“Is that what the yancibot is armed with? I shall call forth its specifications…indeed you are correct. Fear not, O visitor! They are not aimed at you!” exclaimed Des-Cnidda.
(The yancibot could turn around, thought Itharieth. But it is not so dangerous as all that. He adjusted his defensive spells somewhat.)Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.