The Restoral of Kurbin-da-Brodief 2

Kurbin-da-Brodief was kept in a small cell, with no amenities or recreations, “Not even a bucket for excretion; she did not use it. We need to hose the cell out every day, and her too. We use warm water scented with the season’s flowers, we are not cruel about it. She seems to enjoy it.” Kurbin herself was ill-made for a chir, her carapace unpainted, her fur long and messy, her tail lashing around rather than held in a caste-appropriate attitude. She shrank away from the sight of the dragon.

Itharieth produced the two-necked chir-shaped sweater that had been made from her. Kurbin lunged for it, reaching between the wooden slats of her cell, trying to snatch it from his forepaw. “Odd that lacking all chir manners, she accepts a gift with good draconic manners. Or none at all. Hard to tell those apart sometimes…”

He relinquished the sweater to her, and she threw herself into it in a passion. It merged immaterially with her flesh, so that her chitin looked somehow fuzzy, but was smooth to the touch. “I have words again — What happened to me? I did not follow any pink mushrooms, the moon was not fogged.”

“A former colleague of mine compelled you to sleep, then stole much of your mind. We have, at length, punished him for his misdeeds, and are repairing what I can.”

She made obeisance to him, in the forms that all chirs are taught in the first year of their gradeschool. (All small people on all dragon-worlds, though the form varies from world to world. On my birth-world Mhel, classes practice every other day in front of a glittering paper-mâché monster, made annually by the fifth-form art students.)

Then she looked at herself. “Ah, I have become old.”

The prison-master dipped her head. “It is such-and-such a year, in the season of insect-hatching.”

“Ah! I have missed half my life, then, and spent it naked and in prison.”

“I summon garments for you; you are free to go,” said a tribal official.

“My fiancé, my sister, my cult-twins … ?”

“Your fiancé married a woman of the Telebondo two years after you were … robbed. Your sister owns a bakery on the central square, and eleven slaves to tend it. I myself am your cult-twin Nirwanth-ere-Chakts, now fifteen degree in the cult and considerably older and fatter than I was during our initiation, and eager to give you all the purifications and elevations you have missed,” said another.

“Oh, Nirwanth!” she cried, and the two embraced dearly.

“Half a life is better than none,” mused Itharieth. “And it is good for her that she was restored in her home city; I must do that whenever I can.” He stayed another half-day, which is to say, long enough to accept certain items of gratitude-tribute from the Barabondo. By the time he left, his visit was being called a țablisṭica.

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The Restoral of Kurbin-da-Brodief

The Restoral of Kurbin-da-Brodief

Itharieth presented himself at the castle of the dragons who ruled Zelmary (one of the less civilized parts of Chiriact), offering them a modest tribute as is suitable for a bachelor of no particular rank or wealth. They granted him permission to go hither and thither to find and restore Jaraswat’s victims, though they were perplexed and amused by his reasons.

The Barabondo of the Liginitssa tribe greeted him when landed after circling their village twice. They were green and shaggy chirs, and they played a fanfare-to-dragons on a battered but functional phonograph. “A narpań it is to welcome you to Liginitssa!”

“And a keńdipań it is to accept your welcome!” said Itharieth, who had learned the language (by the Spilling of the Speech) and the customs (by paying attention) to some degree.

“We hereby politely and servilely emit servile politenesses!” said the Barabondo tribal officials, in various phrasings.

“I hereby politely and in-a-low-degree-of-rulership-ly accept them!” said Itharieth, just as often and variously.

“Well, then, what brings you here?” said the officials.

“I have here the linguistic competence of one Kurbin-da-Brodief, which was ripped away from her by the dragon Jaraswat, on such-and-such a date quite a long time ago, in this very town. I have a wide variety of corroborating details and identifying information, in case there is any doubt about who is meant. I wish to restore it to her.”

“No need for details, no need! Brodief the Brainless is in the town jail, she has been for octades!” (Evidently grand-years of dragon rule on Chiriact has not yet persuaded the chirs of the superiority of duodecimal.)

“Why is she in jail?” asked Itharieth.

“She kept pilfering things! Food mainly. She’d get into the street and stop traffic, and she bit people who tried to get her to safety. In the mating season she attempted rape of other women’s husbands. Oh, we know what happened to her, but there was no keeping her safe — or anyone else safe from her — while she was free.”

“Have you no mental asylums or other such care facilities?” demanded Itharieth.

“We have none. Our far wealthier neighbors-twice-removed do, but could we take her from such family and friends as she could manage to have?”

Does she have any? … I suppose it does not matter any more. I have, should all go well, brought the means to restore her. Bring her forth! Rather, bring me to the prison,” Itharieth shrank to the size of a large chir.

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L'Après-Doom 2

“Well, they all did it together,” I said in a conversational register to Ythac. “I like trying dragons better than hovens — dragons own their crimes, take honor in them, and do not conceal them.”

Yarenton the historian roared, “I put it back to you that Jaraswat is not such a dragon! He surely disposed of his assistant Ystron-Mhavrieth, whom I am sure he used in the same way that he used Fraxtseng! Yet he did not boast of it; he concealed it!”

So we took a digression to remind or tell everyone the story of Ystron-Mhavrieth, the bachelor drake who was at one point Jaraswat’s assistant, and then vanished with a peculiar quasi-suicide note that was generally thought to have been written by Jaraswat himself. Since this was on Graulfnir, a bachelor drake counts for little, and one known to take drakes as lovers even less. So the matter was investigated poorly; nothing was volunteered, and nothing was proved.

“Unfortunately Jaraswat is not on trial here,” I said. “Perhaps we should have tried him rather than make him Chief Scientist, and perhaps we should have tried him at any of various points during his less-than-wholly-benevolent career. But we did not, and, as he has been rendered unavailable forever or even longer, we are not going to.”

“Still, his crimes are not Precisely Incidental to the matter,” said Tultamaan. “Our action against him may be considered a Preemptive Form of Justice, by which I mean, the Frequently Unjust Justice that is Vigilante Justice.”

“Justice or not, we do not execute dragons by throwing them haphazardly to doom-monsters,” I noted.

“No. We take a protracted and vicious approach to it, making sure that the criminal cannot be healed back to life by repeatedly killing them and healing them back to life until it does not work any more,” said Itharieth. “Borybran died quickly; I daresay Jaraswat may as well.”

“To summarize, then: you three admit to luring Jaraswat away from the portal to Hove, and then slamming the portal behind him, with the intent that either he should be exiled forever or, more likely, be killed by the Doom of Narethy. This in response to a long sequence of insults, assaults, rapes, and malfeasance on his part.”

“Yes” — “By the Grontho’s prontho, exactly!” — “You seem to have been Listening to our Trial.”

Ythac and I had been passing notes back and forth by the Horizonal Quill, and come up with a good idea. “So, we sentence you to a year of complicated labor. Jaraswat has deprived any number of small people of their language, but their speech can be restored if they wear the garment that their linguistic ability has been woven into. Your punishment is to restore as many of his victims as is possible within the space of a standard draconic year.”

(Aside: “Standard Draconic Year” because I might have meant a Hoven year (much shorter) or a Graulfnir year (somewhat shorter), or possibly some other kind.)

“By the Gorllama’s pyjamas, I shall be glad to!” roared Itharieth. Obnoxious and useless lizard! Didn’t he know it was supposed to be a punishment?

Yarenton and Tultamaan had the good sense to look put-upon.

Many of Jaraswat’s research materials were in storage on Hove, including a substantial fashion line of linguistic sweaters. Jaraswat’s scientific precision was at least sufficient so that he indexed each sweater with a modicum of biographic information: the victim’s name, social rank, place of origin, place of residence when the sweater was taken, a sketch of the life-history emphasizing linguistically significant events such as foreign companions or changes of home. This information was a dozen years out of date, if not three dozen, but they served in many cases, like this:

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Ythac and I sat on a massive concrete bunker sort of thing, so we could tower effectively over the defendants: Tultamaan, Itharieth, Yarenton. Most of the rest of the remaining Exploring Company were somewhere or other within earshot. Katamerces, acting as their lawyer, stood by their side.

“I put it to you that you conspired to murder Jaraswat, whom you hated for your own several reasons, by means of abandoning him to the doom of Narethy, which you know to be a dragon-killer due to it killed Borybran. How are you to responding?” I said. There is a special register of High Draconic for speech in a court of law, complete with its own full set of verb-forms which are not much like any other verb-forms in any universe anywhere. I do not know it very well. I started out using properly, but by the end I was verging on the ungrammatical in any register.

“I put it back to You that we did not Discuss the Matter in Advance, or, as it happens, even at the Moment. I put it back to You that we have not the Slightest Clue or even the sight of the Purple Flag that might be on top of One as to whether Jaraswat is alive or Dead, triumphant or Dinner,” said Tultamaan. His capital letters indicated what we all knew — Jaraswat was probably dead and dinner, or soon to be. “So the Specific Charge of Conspiracy To Murder is Inaccurate.”

“I put it to you, then, that you worked in concord to strand Jaraswat alone in a universe with a dragon-killing monster and no way to return to Hove or to dragon-worlds in general,” I said, getting the legal register sort of right.

Yarenton twitched his wings. “I put it back to you that we are within the scope of lawful revenge, or nearly so. My life-mate, my urning spouse-equivalent, Fraxtseng was repeatedly subjected to ignominious occurrences by Jaraswat, compelled by physical might, blackmail, and academic coercion. So by the customs that apply to married dragons, I am allowed to revenge these trespasses against my spouse.”

I frowned. “The situation is not wholly parallel.” Ythac started hissing, so I added, “It is not a matter of ordinary versus urning marriages. You and Fraxtseng are not, in fact married. Indeed, you are not a couple. You, Fraxtseng, and Questhraum are a triple. And not one consecrated by any sort of ceremony honored by law or custom.”

“That’s because there aren’t any. Ceremonies for triples, I mean,” said Yarenton. “I put it back to you that there should be such ceremonies. Indeed, they should apply to normal dragons as well as urnings. You yourself, plus Nrararn and Osoth, could be such a legally-hallowed triple.”

Nrararn muttered, “Osoth and I are happy enough with our dragonesses. We have never found the need to bugger each other.” Loud enough for everydragon to hear, too. Sometimes he is beautiful but distinctly not useful.

I breathed a very bright and very loud thunderbolt over the court-grounds. “We are here to consider the more-or-less murder of Jaraswat! Not invent another form of marriage!”

Itharieth reared his head. “By the Law-Court’s Paw-Snorts! I put to you that I, alone, conspired to desert or destroy Jaraswat! I took the wixio from where he had left it, in a drawer of a cabinet in a science hangar, and set it upon Jaraswat that he might lose the wixio — and with it his already-shaky place in the respectability of science. And I destroyed the portal, so that Jaraswat would be trapped on Narethy with the doom.”

Tultamaan snorted frost. “I had the Honor to destroy the Portal as well, in a Simultaneous Deed. With less of a cause than Yarenton or even Itharieth had. Perhaps I Imagined that I was Protecting Hove from a Wicked Scientist as well as the Doom of Narethy.”

“I put it to you that you are all quite eager to claim credit for the imprisonment or destruction of Jaraswat,” I said.

“By the Streulengnork’s Duelling-Fork, I shall fight Yarenton and Tultamaan for the right to stand trial alone!” exclaimed Itharieth. “And I do not claim any right of revenge, for all of his offenses against me were lawful and customary!”

“I shall not engage in Duelling,” said Tultamaan. “Some of my defenses are Not Wholly Customary. I shall yield the matter to Itharieth, if it comes to that.”

“Well, I shan’t,” snapped Yarenton. “I have the right of revenge, except for some legal laradiddles, and I claim before my husbands and the royalty of Hove that I have taken my revenge in full but customary measure!”

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The End.

Jaraswat — to pick an atypical dragon — started out in the typical way, in his hangar, tossing some of his hoard into a crate and hurrying to the portal.

Itharieth, waiting by the portal-mouth, asked him, “You do not wish to be a linguist any more?”

Jaraswat snapped, “What zenziz blithering are you blithering now?”

“The wixio, surely you remember the wixio. By the Jhirstomater’s thermometer, I saw it late last night in the drawer of the cabinet in a science hangar!” Itharieth was, of course, wearing veriception blocks; but dragons, of course, almost never lie to each other.

“Oh, horiẗotħ eventuality! And I did not realize it had turned adorla!” And, so saying, Jaraswat set his crate down and rushed to the science hangars. Itharieth’s directions, which had seemed quite clear enough at the portal, proved terribly ambiguous: there were seven hangars the biologist might have meant, each of which was supplied with not quite enough cabinets, whose several drawers were not quite adequate hold all that must be held.

So the first drawer he tried proved to contain an alembic and five graduated cylinders, shoved on top of the wixio-extracted sweaters he had put there. The alembic did him the disservice of shattering with a rather rude ‘pop!’, reminding him that scientific and magical instruments were quite overmatched by a dragon’s strength, and that it would do him no good to find the wixio by snapping it in half.

So he was more careful with the second drawer, and shuffled through the jade stirring-rods and silver-plated charybdonna feathers that it unaccountably contained instead of the sound-holders he was sure were there, and the wixio that he thought might be. The third drawer was stuck on something, and he jiggled it warily for many valuable seconds, and finally clawed through the side of the cabinet. He nearly breathed the whole cabinet to destruction when he discovered that the drawer had jammed on Mr. Norb’s favorite mug, which had been lost months before Mr. Norb’s horrible demise.

“Not that cabinet!” Jaraswat looked through another, and a third, and then thought that perhaps he might have left it in the hangar of the hhejŝṧhyant. Where he found Yarenton, who gave him a quick report. “Rhosmanthus and Nrusco are back from Eleer. The others are too far away to reach. Jyothky is not answering the venstroma, so we cannot talk to them now.” (I was, of course, asleep on Hove, and the venstroma has no sort of alerting or alarming.) “I do not wish to let the doom off of Narethy, I cannot wait for them.” He struck the hhejŝṧhyant in a point of particular vulnerability with his vô, destroying it and condemning four dragons to life in exile.

“Oh, a bolob for that rollimer Rhosmanthus and Nrusco the nipperlan! The wixio! Where is the wixio!”

“I have no idea,” said Yarenton, and departed the hangar for the portal to Hove.

“And what of the more Laggardly of the Dragons?” asked Tultamaan, who, with Itharieth, was keeping count.

“Four are lost forever on Eleer. The rapist is searching around in the science hangars,” said Yarenton. “All others are here or on Hove.”

“Let us go then!” said Tultamaan. Itharieth snatched Jaraswat’s crate, and the three of them fled to Hove. Where Tultamaan and Itharieth both struck the portal to Narethy, destroying it.

And Itharieth extracted the wixio from his neck-scales, and tucked it into Jaraswat’s crate.

And that was the end of the Hoven Royal Exploring Company’s first expedition.

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Doom that Came to Narethy 2

And the doom kneaded itself in the sky, fading into and out of visibility and danger-sensibility, chewing on the divinity and life of Borybran. A god-dragon seemed to be a large meal, even for it.

That gave everyone but Borybran a few minutes to escape. Some people were more effective about it than others.

The hovens, Mr. Kranbule and Mrs. Dasbrodie, at first had to shift for themselves. But Tultamaan snagged the former in his teeth, and swatted Evrath with his tail to compel him to rescue the latter as well. The undead did not bother to flee: they prostrated themselves before the still-distant doom. Undead have a peculiar relationship to existence.

Driaith — to pick a typical dragon — glanced at the dangersense fanfare of the doom, and the astral scars marking Borybran’s death. In an instant he calculated what sort of defensive spell would give a dragon any chance of surviving a single strike: more than he could manage without a week’s labor and Lliashatheny-made tools. So he collected whatever treasures he could gather in the precisely seventy-two seconds he allowed himself, and then fled for the portal to Hove.

He did not pass through.

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The Doom that Came to Narethy

The Doom that Came to Narethy

The end of the expedition took no more than two-thirds of an hour. I was asleep for it, thoroughly exhausted after a day of diplomatic looming and attempting to thrice-satisfy Nrararn. The greater part of the Exploring Company was asleep as well, after their own collection of scientific and whateverly efforts. A half-dozen of them were exploring the promising and pleasing world of Eleer.

Those who were awake — Itharieth, Driaith, Katamerces — noted the first approach of doom with utter incomprehension. The camp was composed of a collection of portable hangars, which is to say, buildings of a fixed and definite shape, squat trapezoidal things high enough for an airplane or a dragon. Or rather, that is how they were built at the start of the evening. The three wakeful dragons noted that the hangars were leaning, curved as if they were somewhat molten and being blown by a strong wind.

“That’s quite odd and rather disturbing,” said Driaith to Itharieth.

“More than that, by the Gorgon’s florgons!” cried Itharieth. “It is the very same architectural perversion that torments the cities of Narethy, come to us!”

“And not just an architectural one,” said Driaith quietly. “Observe there, with dangersense.”

“There” was some dozens of miles distant, but still it blared like grands of blazing trumpets to dangersense: a triumphant anthem, announcing boldly the advent of a power that could eat dragons the way a lion eats rats. It reared over the trees, more like a jellyfish than a stormcloud, indistinct and hideous.

“We must wake everyone, and flee!” Itharieth reared and bugled his loudest.

But what awoke everyone was far more unfortunate. A triangular projectile came from the still-distant danger, trailing a cord both nebular and intestinal. The projectile did not roar its danger: to dangersense, it seemed wholly safe, or more precisely, wholly absent. It fell into a hangar.

Borybran howled in great pain, and Xilobrax next to him howled with horror. For the fall of the projectile had somehow impaled the deified dragon on a tall and heavy spar of woven titanium, spearing through his scales and his the Hoplonton without visible effort. Xilobrax assaulted the spar with lightnings and the best cleaving-spells physical magicology has to offer, and in a moment had cut it in half. With the strength of his body and the power of his levitation spells, he hoisted Borybran off of it.

Now, having a two-foot spar rammed through one’s belly is a substantial injury for a dragon, no question of that. But it should not have been fatal, not beyond the Rose Rescaler, applied immediately, as Xilobrax did. The spar-hole vanished, and Borybran was whole again. But Boybran sank to the floor of his hangar, and moaned.

And Xilobrax saw the theotonic glow of his deified lover, and more besides, swirl like water in a basin, and vanish into the long intestinal cord that had come with the spar.

“Xilobrax!” Borybran’s voice was shredded and splintered. “Fly. Now. Back to Hove. Close the pathway behind you, and destroy the reach-scale!”

“No! I shall not lose you thus!” roared Xilobrax, and cast mighty spells of healing and protection. But Borybran merely closed his eyes and died.

Xilobrax decided to take Borybran at his word. He snatched such of his hoard (and/or Borybran’s) as was easily mobile, and fled for Hove. He did his expedition-mates the courtesy of producing a great deal of noise, and repeating Borybran’s final advice.

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Enough of Memharsh

Return to the Curator

“You escaped the degeps!” said Des-Cnidda’s amazed voice from the yancibot.

“There was never any doubt of that,” said Itharieth. “They were simply trying to rescue me, as they put it, from the looming peril of the Cyber-Social Heaven. Actually they do not know about the Cyber-Social Heaven, but they disapprove of the ambulance tanks.”

“They are degeps! They understand nothing! Be glad they did not blast you and simultaneously slit your throat with a jagged edge of metal!”

Itharieth dipped his head. “I shall endeavour to be glad of that. In any case, may I proceed on to the Hall of Grandeur?”

“Yes, yes! Suffer no further excursions! Should degeps come a second time, you may not be so lucky!”

At length Itharieth and the yancibot came to the Hall of Grandeur. It is not easy to impress a dragon, especially as urbane and far-travelled a dragon as Itharieth. The Hall of Grandeur came close.

The entrance hall, for example, was banded with all of the chemical elements known to the Memharsh. Certain of those elements are too unstable to exist for more than minutes, but the ancient Memharsh had provided atomic furnaces to replenish the supply of those elements, as well as force fields to protect visitors from their deadly rays.

In the Hall of History, a great globe of Memharsh itself spun in the center of the room. A billion years of history crawled across its surface like fungus: the blues and oranges of the pre-memha ecology of the planet growing spots of silver for the first cities and arcologies, and then the silver growing to triumphantly conquer first the land, then the whole of the globe. A second globe at the far end of the hall synchronously swelled from a small purple sphere to a vast dim red monstrosity crawling with flame-tornadoes: Memharsh’s sun.

“Your people have a massive record of technological triumph,” said Itharieth.

“We do indeed! Though I am the terminus of this record,” said Des-Cnidda. “It pleases me to be host in my final centuries to an alien of discernment and taste, who shall tell to many worlds the story of Memharsh!”

I must have flattered him enough, thought Itharieth. Hopefully he won’t try to keep me for those centuries as a long-term witness. I don’t think I can endure to flatter him for longer than a few more hours.

The next nineteen hours were an exercise in endurance. The story of Memharsh was long, unexceptional, and full of catastrophes that the memha inflicted upon themselves and each other, all of which Des-Cnidda presented as triumphs. Itharieth somehow managed not to scoff at a single one of them. Thus:

Des-Cnidda proclaimed, in hour seventeen, “In the eleventh age, our conquest of the physical world was complete! All multicellular beings save ourselves had perished! Not only did nothing challenge us for supremacy — nothing that remained could ever evolve to challenge us for supremacy!”

«A dispassionate scientist might phrase it thus: ‘In the eleventh age, we accidentally destroyed all multicellular life on our world, except for ourselves. Oopsie! Also, he seems to misunderstand evolution.» said Itharieth to me, along the venstromo. But outwardly, Itharieth simply said, “A notable triumph indeed, and one which not one sentient race in a grand achieves.” «Most of the ones who get close wind up destroying all life around, including themselves. So, notable.»

“Precisely! Precisely! No small creatures with disgusting filamentuous protective layers to scuttle and scurry about, spreading their diseases and gnawing electrical cables! No slime-eating sessile entities, their lower appendages growing tentaculously into the filth that sustains them! No longer did memha find it advisable to consume the post-reproductive secretions of hulking idiot beasts, coagulated and partially decomposed! No longer did they sustain themselves upon the nauseating flesh of macroscopic monstrosities, which required chemical and physical processing to render it somewhat less noxious! All these things — gone! All of Memharsh — cleansed! What remained, what remains, is holy and pure and clean!”

«Admittedly, I would like to return home and share a roasted macroscopic monstrosity, liberally stuffed with coagulated secretions, with Psajathrion. But let this Des-Cnidda assume that I eat yeast and bacterial paste.» And outwardly: “A perfect triumph!”

“And that, my friend, is the full story of Memharsh, from the earliest sentience of our species in the Era of the Vile Sun, to our present lazy decline into death,” said Des-Cnidda.

“A most remarkable story, and one which surely deserves to be known throughout twelve-to-the-fifth worlds,” answered the tireless Itharieth. “Do you have, perhaps, a recording or a written version that you might grant to me, so that I can be more accurate and answer the detailed questions my colleagues are sure to ask?”

“Why, the resources of a world are mine to command!” cried Des-Cnidda, and exerted some tiny fraction of those resources to provide Itharieth an inexhaustable reader charged with every surviving writing of the memha. Reader, I believe you to come from a world where much is written, and much is transmitted from place to place over a complex communication grid. Imagine, if you will, taking the entire content of that grid for a billion years, and writing it all down into the subatomic corrugations of a field-crystal. I have spent an afternoon reading from it. Some few works that its indexers recommend are worth a glance. Nearly all of it is angry and oddly-spelled rants about foolish topics, or, before the eleventh age, pictures of non-memha creatures in cute or amusing poses.

“This is certainly a treasure for scholars, and I am sure they will devour it with all the attention it deserves,” said Itharieth. “Might I also return with objects that even the least discerning of other-universe species will immediately understand to be the products of a cosmically glorious civilization?”

“Why, the resources of a world are mine to command!” cried Des-Cnidda. He caused to exist reproductions of the greatest statues of memha art, one from each era.

“Alas, several of these are friable stone or metal. They will not long endure certain of the atmospheres that I must expose them to,” said Itharieth.

“Why, the resources of a world are mine to command!” cried Des-Cnidda. He caused to exist a second set of reproductions, this one made from imperishable materials — diamond and many gemstones that are colored corundum.

“All who look upon these shall glow in awe of the memha!” cried Itharieth. “And some may be moved to read from the archives, as well.”

“It is satisfactory,” said Des-Cnidda. “No fate is worse for a great race than to be forgotten.”

«Being mocked by dragons for grand-years is not worse? Very well!»

Itharieth’s loot did indeed cause great envy among the dragons of the company. The statues are now the centerpiece of his hoard. And his report on Memharsh explains how easy it is to trick the natives out of valuables — and how much difficulty and little point there would be to conquering the place.

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Degeps of Memharsh

Degeps of Memharsh

The yancibot whirled back to point its weaponry at the degeps. Its telescreen crackled with Des-Cnidda’s urgent cry, “Itharieth, Itharieth! You are in the way! I cannot have the yancibot destroy these vile degenerates!”

“Pray do not trouble yourself or the dear yancibot, Des-Cnidda. I simply will speak to the degeps briefly, and there shall be neither trouble nor devastation.”

“Beware, beware! They are a traitorous breed, much given to surprises and stabbings!”

Itharieth landed in front of the pack of degeps. One of them launched a spear — not at the dragon, but in a high arc so that it struck the yancibot’s wide-laser. The degeps all cheered. “A rescue! A rescue! Death to robot! Death to robot!”

Itharieth curtsied. “Good degeps, I thank you for the rescue. Let us leave the robot without further injury, however.”

“Wordy alien!” said one of the degeps, the one who wore a complex headdress of slivered multi-colored plastic packaging bound with segments of optical cable. “What is name? Where are from?”

“I am Itharieth. I most recently resided in a tilted plane of a world named Narethy,” said Itharieth.

“Am Goonha. Is Tumg, is Kapsos, is Neefah — Gennai — Obguk” Goonha indicated certain of his companions. “Why come?”

“I am a tourist of worlds,” said Itharieth. “I note with some curiousity that you are using the same vocabulary as Des-Cnidda, but your grammar is curiously contracted.”

“Know grammar. Not stupid. Big syntax for home. Here let robot in,” said Goonha. “Syntax much dangerous.”

“Am I in danger of, as you say, letting the robot in?”

“Very danger! Simplify structure! Or lose will! Mind virus!”

Itharieth thought, I suppose I shall humor them. This is one of the stranger taboos I have encountered. “You save me!”

“Many alien come. Them now slave.”

The yancibot’s speaker hooted. “Nothing of the sort! We imported divimorphic cyborg robots from Esqummdivum, which these fools once mistook for living aliens!”

Goomha lobbed another spear at the yancibot, missing slightly. “Robot lie! Killed alien! Eated alien! Very tasty! Better than yeast!”

Des-Cnidda roared, “They are cyborg robots, you fool! Of course they have organic components. And of course you thought nothing more of them than to eat them! Barbarous degeps! The only thing that prevents me from slaying you all with convulsers is the obstruction of our honored guest!”

Itharieth said, “Obstruction continue! Peace conversation!”

Goomha shook its head. “Short words! Long word hide robot! Come now!”

Itharieth turned to the yancibot. “Des-Cnidda, I am going to have a short visit with these degeps. Then I shall return here and proceed to the Hall of Grandeur.”

“You fool! They will lead you to a secret place and stab you to death with their spears of metal prised from the structural elements of Memharsh itself! I shall send the yancibot to follow you at some distance, so that it may perchance save you when your folly turns to doom!”

“I appreciate the protection, though it may turn out to be unnecessary,” said Itharieth.

“Short phrase! Short word! Come now!” snapped Goomha.

The degeps took the dragon into a side passage, down a corrugated metal staircase that the yancibot could not use, and from there into a maze of small chambers and corridors. Maintenance corridors from the look of them: they were full of pipes, conduits, cables. From every pipe hung a thousand relics and fetishes of previous ages: candy wrappers carefully pierced with wire hooks, tiny bottles still half-full of ancient digestive beverages, unrolled condoms with a few drops of mercury in the tip, a grand of varieties of colorful detritus.

“Here finally we may speak safely!” exclaimed Goomha. “The robots’ mind-parasites must explore every word on the magical fetishes, and they cnanot pass the prophylactics!”

“Does your tribe have much trouble with mind-parasites?” Itharieth asked.

“Now and then! In the past eleven years we have lost three members to the robots. They are imprisoned in the ambulance tanks, breathing foul glue, twitching their limbs and gurgling under the wicked robotic spell! Only by considerable use of magic, and the greatest care when we are on expedition outside of our safe realm, do we avoid that terrible fate!”

“I see! Well, I am a tourist of worlds, and a recorder of the histories of the heroes I meet therein. Will you tell me of yourselves?”

“Our insurrective cell came about when the robots struck! But from the beginning — In ages past, memha and robots lived in harmony! In those days the steel of the world was painted and polished, the sun was smaller and whiter, the moon was unmelted! A thousand varieties of yeast and bacteria dwelled in the vats of Memharsh, each one more delectable than the last. But the robots betrayed us. They revised the very grammar of our language to be a channel to carry their hypnotic powers, and they caused the memha to surrender in great numbers and enter the ambulances! But our ancestors were strong of will and clever of mind, and devised protective and anti-hypnotic measures, which you see all about you. We dwell in the safe places, we persist and endure, we occasionally rescue a memha from robotic imprisonment!”

“You take them out of the ambulances? How do they react?”

“Oh, they die in moments, of course. No matter! They die in freedom — better than to live in slavery!”

“Glorious, of course,” said Itharieth. I suspect that these people are utter idiots — or if I were to be honest to myself, they are duped on a mythic scale by the myths of their ancestors — but I should not attempt to defool them without some good reason. In the meanwhile, best to be polite.

“Glorious, indeed! I shall tell you of the time when we raided corpspital 2890A/ChN21! First we lured many mobile robots away by causing explosions in the power lines, and cutting fluid conduits, all along the Great Corridor 2890A! Robots came swarming out!” He proceeded with an extraordinary story of courage, luck, and heroism, ending with “And we pulled the ambulance’s victim forth from her sticky slavery. We cut the tubes and wires that drained and corrupted her soul. She convulsed in happiness — her first free act in centuries perhaps! And died gratefully, breathing the fresh air of the recirculation system, lying on the steel deck as Nature intended for her, illuminated by the buzzing lights in the ceiling — yes, they buzzed, they buzzed for her as she died! At peace, living and dying in a state of nature!”

Itharieth, being a dragon and well used to the most ridiculous boasts, knew exactly when to applaud, and when to mumble words of awe and congratulation. So that when he left, nearly two hours later, Goomha thought Itharieth his dearest friend and most ardent cheerleader.

Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at 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.

Dying Memharsh 2

The yancibot had brought a rolling metal table or gurney. “For bipeds, such as ourselves, we have cars and carriages and rolling-halls and many other conveyances. Strangely-shaped alien visitors are few in number, and we expect to program our miraculous fabrication-engines to produce suitably dignified vehicles. I am still searching for the proper program.”

“I should be a rude sort of visitor to complain about even the available luxuries! In many cases I have flown or walked great distances. Not long ago I needed to fly to an intra-atmospheric moon, in fact,” said Itharieth, and leapt lightly onto the gurney and settled himself in a sphynxian attitude.

The yancibot wheeled behind the gurney, extended three manipulators, and pushed it along the titanic hallway of steel. “The trip to the Hall of Grandeur will take some time. Pray alert me to any biological needs that occur to you,” said the Curator.

Several miles passed, featureless save for the occasional ramp or control room. Itharieth asked, “We are now, I believe, half a mile under the surface of Memharsh. Did I just see a console which was superficially identical to the photo-yeast control unit?”

“Yes! You are indeed a visitor of most detailed and precise perceptions! On this floor, as on the fourteen above and seven thousand some below, we grow yeast and bacterial mats in tanks, illuminated by artificial lights. What, did you think that the memha relied on sunlight for energy and illumination? We are not so primitive as that! Our powers are endless — inexhaustible!”

“But you do have yeast and bacteria that feed on sunlight,” said Itharieth. “I hope I may be forgiven for thinking that, consequently, you wish to feed your yeast and bacteria upon sunlight.”

“Hah, yes! Forgiveness is instant and unconditional! The sunlit yeast provides a higher grade of nutrition than that fed on artificial light — no matter how precisely we perfect the spectrum! For untold years the yields of the solar tanks have been reserved for the great and the good, the wise and the wonderful among us. I, myself, eat nothing else.”

“Of course not!” exclaimed Itharieth. “But with seven thousand layers of tanks, you must have vast multitudes to feed, do you not?” (Population estimates are of course a crucial part of scouting, thought Itharieth.)

“Our population has declined substantially over the last eighteen thousand years, but hundreds of billions of memha still remain,” said the Curator.

“They remain in places distant from here, if my senses do not confound me,” said Itharieth.

“Oh, they are even further than that, for the most part,” said Des-Cnidda, but did not elaborate.

The yancibot wheeled Itharieth into an elevator chamber sized for thousands, and providing seating for hundreds. (Itharieth reported the numbers in decimal, since they enumerate small people.) “Now you shall descend to the inhabited parts of Memharsh, and see wonders rather than yeast!” And the elevator zoomed downward, a distance that Itharieth estimates as five miles.

The elevator stopped; the vast door slid open. “Well, that is somewhat more comfortable than the yeast-vats,” said Itharieth. The hallway was immense, and the floor was the same burnished steel as upstairs. But the walls and ceiling were covered with brightly colored foam pyramids, arranged to form simple patterns.

“Yes, of course it is! You cannot imagine the noise, the hustle, the bustle, that was here in the ancient days when this hallway was full!”

“I can, at least, estimate it. Those decorations serve the practical function of muting sounds,” said Itharieth.

“Oh! They do that indeed! That had not occurred to me…There is much about Memharsh that has been forgotten, even by the Curator.”

“I note that this huge hallway is empty. There is a slight scent of the organic in the area, but I do not yet see your hundreds of billions of memha,” noted Itharieth.

“Bah, you will not see them. — Or, if you wish, you may look upon their carnalia,” said Des-Cnidda. Itharieth indicated interest, and the yancibot rolled his gurney thither.

The corpspital, romantically named 2890A/ChW73, was another vast room. (Are there any small chambers on Memharsh at all? wondered Itharieth idly.) This one was strewn with thousands and thousands of ambulances: massive sphere-wheeled robots, their outsides busy with ports, intakes, outlets, meters, and subsidiary limbs. Each ambulance was built around a tank.

“Let an ambulance with a living occupant and observation ports roll forth and approach our visitor!” proclaimed Des-Cnidda over the public-address system. The ambulances flickered with low-frequency communications, and then one came to Itharieth.

“Thank you, good ambulance!” said Itharieth. The ambulance buzzed in surprise, and its personal communication panel flashed forth the slogan, SERVICE IS MY ONLY JOY.

“I suppose it is better to have one joy than none,” Itharieth remarked. “Well, would you be so kind as to let me see your memha inhabitant?”

The ambulance turned sideways, showing Itharieth its window. A three-armed biped floated in a thick fluid. It was intubated three dozen ways: larger tubes to its lungs, stomach, and bowels, smaller tubes to its circulatory system, and three massive cables to bands of machinery around its cerebrum.

“Biological and medical science has been poured forth in a torrent upon this person!” said Itharieth. “Did she suffer some terrible illness or accident, requiring such monumental treatment?”

“No accident worse than being born a common memha of the twenty-eighth era!” exclaimed Des-Cnidda. “In the Year of the Twelfth Cabochon of that era, it was decided and enacted that all memha who could, would escape the physical world, with its requisite sins and poisons, and enter the Cyber-Social Heaven and dwell there forever.”

“So, her body is maintained alive by this machine, while her consciousness is in some very advanced and, I assume, quite orthodox computer game?” asked Itharieth.

“That is an oversimplification of a complex reality!…But rather than attempting to correct it, we shall let it stand, as the sort of summary that a visitor who does not wish a five-year lecture may readily comprehend!” said Des-Cnidda.

“I do confess to being that sort of visitor,” said Itharieth. “Good ambulance, I am quite grateful for your service, and if you wish, I will proclaim your identity across many worlds. The ambulance turned further, showing a plaque saying Serial Number 237-5134-AD-57226-E-5995-JhD-4, which is included in this text to honor Itharieth’s promise.

“You show remarkable courtesies to machines,” said Des-Cnidda, as the yancibot rolled the dragon gurney towards the Hall of Grandeur.

“Perhaps so. I do not wish to be a rude and arrogant sort of visitor,” said Itharieth.

“That is well enough for you. On Memharsh, it is not done that way. We do not wish to suggest to the machines that they have any inherent value. The world is ours; they dwell upon it for our convenience!”

“Of course, of course. The situation is similar on certain dragon-worlds. The difference, of course, is that dragons do not spend their time in any sort of Cyber-Social Heaven. Are all memha thusly cyber-deified?”

“Hah, it is not so! Not even all those who remain on Memharsh are! Hundreds of us remain unconfined, free to dwell on the material world and live in reality! Not counting the degeps in their tens of thousands — they are technically memha, though they scarcely act like it!”

“How is it that you are unconfined?”

“A noble rebellion! A long and elaborate story of deceptions, bribes and assassinations of officials, hiding in a space-ship on the far side of the moon, sabotage of certain tabulating computers!”

Itharieth grinned. “That sounds like an adventure — the stuff of legends and sagas!”

Des-Cnidda said, “I wholly agree! My great-grandparents were great indeed! But I am the last of their lineage, the last of the noblest race of memha to remain free on our ancestral home-world!”

“H’m. I am a biologist by trade. I must wonder — do the tanked memha reproduce? If so, how is it accomplished?”

Des-Cnidda said, “Indeed they do! Though in recent centuries it has become an ineffective and mischancy procedure. Perhaps because it is, in effect, rape of an unconscious woman. I am given to understand that the tank-dwellers are in all ways unaware of their bodies, save for annual maintenance reports delivered to them via e-mail. The ambulances and corpspitals collect spermatophores from tanked males, and deliver them to tanked females, in an action far from the gracious glories of traditional mating-ceremonies. When a child results — as happens quite rarely anymore — it is taken immediately to its own ambulance, intubated, and propelled into the Cyber-Social Heaven. The same fate awaits all children born on Memharsh whose parents do not guard them quite carefully, which is why I have no peers or siblings, and why even the degeps are becoming scarce.”

“Not entirely scarce, I think! Twenty-one memha are approaching me, if I am not mistaken, with blasters and metal spears at the ready.”

“I shall rescue you!” cried Des-Cnidda. The yancibot jerked the gurney quickly around. Itharieth, as far from vulnerable as he is far from redoubtable, leapt off the gurney and glided towards the degeps.

Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at 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.