The Initiation Ceremony
The temperature of the entire area where I live (not just the building) is controlled artificially but technicians of the twenty-third century, despite recent advances, are as yet unable to dictate the movements of the sun. We thus still have seasons. Winter is not necessarily cold but the nights are long and the days uninviting.
I ignored the first ring, wanting to believe it was a mistake and what one wants to believe one generally does believe, at least for a certain time. It was a little after dawn and no one would be likely to call on me at this hour — anyone of who wanted to contact me urgently would flash through a message on the wall-memorial. But the rings continued, getting more and more insistent.
In the end I gave up and cautiously slid back the plyne door. Two Aldovian Guards dressed in yellow and green, the Magnatte colours, were standing there and one of them handed me a small packet. I apologized for keeping them waiting but they just flipped open their hands to show it was of no consequence.
I thought of inviting them in but decided against it since it might well give the (correct) impression that I was trying to curry favour. I told myself that I had nothing to reproach myself with, being a more or less law-abiding if unenthusiastic member of the Magnatte Conglomerate, the most advanced society that has ever existed. It is true that I had not so long ago been approached by a certain Kaghin, a straylkha player I knew slightly, and that he had attempted to involve me in a revolt he was hoping to organise. But I had told him straightaway I was not interested – and I am very glad I did since his ‘uprising’ achieved absolutely nothing and ended with him blowing up his own Cluster, No. 53, with himself in it. Then again there was, I suppose, the possibility that Xinthia had unwarily slipped into her conversation some high security data that were at this minute locked into my brain even though I was quite incapable of recognising them as significant. So perhaps I was not such an uninteresting person from the point of view of security after all – indeed they were in a sense entirely justified in checking me out. I glanced back at the Guards but they already seemed oblivious of me: the taller one, who had dark violet lips, presumably painted, was engaged in flicking up the ends of the hair of the younger until the latter gave her a backhanded blow across the face and a mock combat ensued.
The Aldovian Guard, an exclusively fam unit, is more decorative than military, though visiting patrollers always carry truitsan or spray-pistols that paralyse temporarily, also drynnia, long flexible rods that can be used to administer electric shocks. Entry to the Guards is eagerly sought after by subdominants who are not particularly studious: the duties are not onerous and the uniforms magnificent, black and crimson for day to day duties though green and yellow are always worn at State functions. The Aldovian Guards have a reputation for including numbers of fam erloyll pairs within their ranks though I am not sure whether this is really justified.
I left the Guards to their horseplay and slid back the door. I opened the outer cover of the text-message, today an outmoded means of communication but for this very reason employed for official documents. The grey paper was covered with faint lines of linked symbols written in a beautiful running script without a break between words. The language was Lenwhil Katylin, the invention of the Sarlang, now no longer spoken except on important State occasions. All this was hardly calculated to inspire confidence: summonses to appear before an Interdominant Court of Justice are generally handwritten in Lenwhil Katylin and served by Aldovian Guards.
I held the message up to a memorial to be scanned and direct-translated into Andirax, the usual language of mefam like myself. There was a good deal of introductory patter but the crux of the message was that I, Yilkin I. Isellyin, of the Y-57 Cluster in Southern Europyia, was invited to attend a Ceremony of Transition and Investiture at Azerryn when the subdominant
XINTHIA RYALTIA LIRAYTIANA
would receive Interdominant status. The ceremony was due to take place that day at noon 2.
I had only seen Xinthia on two or three occasions since our visit to Rhewenia and they were hardly a great success. She was clearly torn between her strong desire to continue this strange rapport and her reluctance to involve me any further in a situation that could be extremely dangerous for me. At any rate, this is how I chose to interpret her moodiness. I dismissed Dyrithan’s version of events as mischievous slander but it did seem plausible, indeed likely, that she was under some sort of surveillance.
What to do? I could simply have declined to attend in which case most likely nothing very serious would have happened to me. What I had in my hand was after all an invitation rather than an order. But if Xinthia had managed to procure an invitation for me this showed that she wished me to be present. Perhaps some dramatic event would happen at the last minute – the skies would open and there above us would be the dominants enshrined in white light with their arms outstretched inviting us both to live together from henceforth with them in their cloud-filled paradise remote from the world’s troubles. Yes, this was obviously what was going to happen.
So I went out into the corridor and told the older of the two Guards that I needed twenty minutes or so to prepare myself. She shrugged assent and both of them moved off towards the ascender.
The two Guards were there waiting for me by the time I had finished a hurried toilette and I followed them out of the building to the small landing-site where two official skilther, the Magnatte insignia painted in green and yellow on a background of silver, awaited us. Early risers looked at me with concern, assuming I had been charged with some serious offence and was being taken to an Interdominant Court of Justice. Minor infringements of the law are dealt with within the cluster itself, the judges and arguers being taken from the community, and the verdict is supposed to be arrived at by consensus of judges, arguers, hearers, accused and victim. But crimes such as deliberate extinction or offences against the Conglomerate exceed the competence of these local courts.
The Guard with the violet lips seated herself at the controls of the skilther on the right and I took my place behind her, while the other Guard who had green lips, climbed rather coquettishly I thought, into the other one.
‘Instruction take Yilkin Isellyin Azerynn arrive noon 1,’ said my pilot curtly.
Skilther are small, circular space-craft with transparent sides and roofs that usually only take one or two passengers. They combine the advantages of your helicopters and jet planes since they can hover over a specific spot more or less indefinitely but can also move across the sky very rapidly indeed. Strictly speaking they never move in a straight line but always dart about on a zig-zag course. I do not understand the principle on which they work though it has something to do with MVT, Multi–Vibrational Transitioning, a process much used in our – or rather ‘their’ – technology. I believe the energy source is fuel cells though some skilther are solar. Like everyone else, I have been taught to pilot skilther but I dislike air-travel and hardly ever use them.
Once inside the jam-jar environment of the skilther my previous optimism about the sequel to the ceremony vanished like dew. It looked as if we would never meet again face to face. I asked myself whether I could, or should, have done anything to change the course of events. It is true that in principle I could have made a so-called ‘official declaration of ‘erloyll’, humiliating though this is, and, on the strength of this admission, requested permission to take up residence with my chosen mate in some frontier region or in the suburbs of the new ‘open-access’ cities that are now springing up, the most famous being Lunkod and Gabellyia. Here we would have lived out our sombre, though admirable, destiny as ‘darreiya’, or clusterless individuals who are often reduced to menial tasks in order to survive, perhaps living in dilapidated premises somewhat like your slums. If we could prove good character, we might, at the end of some years, be permitted to adopt, or even actually produce, kinder. Picto-histories on memorial are full of such sentimental stories though in actual fact extremely few people are tempted to imitate the heroes and heroines they see on the screen.
In any case, none of this could possibly have materialized. It was not simply a matter of Xinthia being prepared to forego the brilliant social position in front of her – she had said she would be perfectly prepared to do this. The real stumbling-block was that she was by all accounts hopelessly enmeshed in the net of high security theoretical studies where the only possible direction in which to move is upwards. It was probably the case that she had been subliminally monitored even before I met her: if this were so all conversations she had had with anyone (including myself) during the last few years were in principle recoverable. This did not put me in any particular danger personally — or so I told myself — since I am so completely ignorant of and uninterested in technical matters that it would have meant nothing to me if she had let out a secret themistric formula for, say, wiping out half the population of Sarwhirlia or bringing the Magnatte era to an end tomorrow. Nonetheless, someone as advanced as Xinthia reputedly was simply could not be permitted to drop out of the system. Nor even, on one level, did she wish to do this, since, according to what she claimed, her original motivation for undertaking studies leading to Interdominancy was to gain a place within the system, the better to eventually attack and subvert it. On the last two occasions when we met, we had simply avoided mentioning the whole business of her Interdominancy future since it only led to futile arguments and stopped us using to the best the few opportunities for meeting that remained. I had even had the rather dreadful thought that the dark shadow cast over the budding affair was in a way rather convenient: the sense of approaching doom made for a much stronger bond than would perhaps otherwise have been forged.
‘I Rhowdhia,’ said the Guard, turning round and showing her teeth.
‘You Yilkin,’ she added as if she were telling me something I ought to know but didn’t. ‘Big straylkha player.’
‘Big, no. Good, perhaps.’
‘Too modest, mefam. Strayll-sri dual Lunkod.’
So news of my strayll-sri (the highest honour given in the game) had even percolated to the Aldovian Guards, I said to myself. The incognito of a strayll-sri player is tolerably well safeguarded within the milieu and the media never mention the event. Although people do usually get to know the players identity, they never mention it to their face. There are various reasons for this odd behaviour. Firstly, serious straylka players are only interested in their standing within the milieu and the approval of the straylkha-weirth or connoisseurs. People who know nothing about straylkha would most probably not understand why a particular contest ever got singled out in the first place — to them it might even appear tame and devoid of incident. A more important reason for this secrecy is that, as I mentioned before, players accorded a strayll-sri are considered to have darstillya , i.e. to be unlucky, and, though people admire them from a distance, they avoid getting into close contact with them for some time after the event ─ almost as if they were contagious. This may appear to you as rank superstition but there may be something in it nevertheless — it is a fact that my life changed abruptly after my own strayll-sri and on the face of it hardly for the better.
‘After dual straylkha player meet pretty subdominant. Show hand. Go exchange, good-good. Now soon subdominant rise up, never see again.’
I was beginning to find the Guard distinctly annoying.
‘Know what happen Ceremony Transition? You know, mefam?’
I said I gathered it was a sort of rite of passage marking the end of one form of existence and the beginning of another. (These ceremonies, incidentally, are not allowed to be filmed and are not much talked about either.)
‘No speak that,’ replied Rhowdhia. ‘Know what happen mefam after ceremony?’
‘Not exactly. I presume I will be escorted back to my home cluster ─ whether by you or a colleague I do not know.’
‘Wrong. All mefam exchange candidate Interdominancy kriss-kross,’ said Rhowdhia emphatically and made a double-diagonal gesture across her face which to us means much the same as when one of you draws his hand across his throat. The Guard laughed uproariously and turned back to the controls.
‘Give mefam big shock,’ said my pilot when she eventually turned round again. ‘Ha-ha! Two minute, believe what say. Ha-ha! Very pretty subdominant, worth it. Rhowdhia like more…’ – and she cupped her hands in front of her chest — ‘but pretty, yes.’
I was very much tempted to lift the lid of the skilther, seize the Guard by the nape of her neck and hurl her into the waiting sea below. For we were now crossing the Sea of Megdala.
At this point I was thrown violently against the (padded) side of the skilther and various instruments and other items were scattered in every direction. I at first thought we must have hit a sudden squall, but no, Green Lips had just rammed us full on from the left side. The perimeter of these skilther is fitted with a rubber guard, so they are ideal for such fun and games though this was doubtless far from the designer’s intention. Rhowdhia swore viciously and dashed off in pursuit. The next quarter of an hour or so was taken up by an aerial Dodgems contest until eventually, after a veritable salvo of knock-out blows delivered to the craft of Green Lips, Rhowdhia regained the ascendancy and Green Lips swung behind, tacitly admitting defeat, at least for the moment.
I glanced upwards. Instead of the beautiful tint of the sky half an hour or so ago, everything was a dingy grey. There was no real difference, I noted, between the straggly clouds and the water ― supposing the choppy greyness below me actually was the ocean. For a horrible moment I got the impression that for the last quarter of an hour we had been flying upside down and that it was only now, after the end of the Dodgems contest, that I had registered the fact. Then I received the even more disagreeable impression that we were travelling through someone else’s brain: these clouds, I told myself, must be the ‘grey matter’ about which I had heard so much…
The sea was once more below us and had re-become blue; before us was a dense bank of dark cloud interspersed here and there with brilliant shafts of sunlight. It seemed to be getting more and more solid as we approached it and eventually it looked more like a gigantic cliff-face rising sheer in front of us. ‘Outer rim Azerynn,’ said the charioteer — for Rhowdhia was standing upright at the very front of the skilther, now scrutinising the bank of cloud intently, now bending down to make slight adjustments to the controls. There was a whirring sound that was getting louder and louder all the time and Rhowdhia had to shout to make me hear.
‘Inside Azerynn real air. Ever breathe real air, mefam?’
I replied that of course I had: certain areas of Sarwhirlia no longer needed oxygen sky-pumps or an artificial environment though they were still enclosed by atmospheric veils. Lunkod itself and the surrounding desert was the best known example.
‘Not same,’ shouted the Guard, ‘not same at all. Inside Azerynn air contain skrylla of the Magnatte.’
We were indeed about to enter one of the twenty or so ‘skrylla-spots’ dotted about over the surface of Sarwhirlia. At such places, not only does one breathe unadulterated air but one also supposedly absorbs (in minute quantities) some of the vital essence of the current dominants. It is at such places that all important official ceremonies take place. Only at skrylla-spots – or more precisely in the region of the sky immediately above the land masses ― can ordinary mortals be taken into the presence of the controllers of the atmosphere as indeed Xinthia would be at the close of today’s ceremony.
Rhowdhia, without warning me, clapped a helmet on my head and put one on herself.
‘Big pressure come, not take helmet off ― understand?’ said the pilot and even as she spoke I could feel forces pressing against me from all sides as the skilther bucked like an ancient mefam war-horse and we tore our way into the cliff of cloud. I felt as if my head were in a vice and remembered hearing stories of blood spurting out of people’s ear-drums after an explosion. The skilther was by now swinging wildly about in all directions, apparently out of control but moving at ever greater speed. I felt tempted to scream and it was all I could do to hold myself in check — but I was determined not to lose face in front of my pilot. Maybe in the end I did scream, I do not know for I lost consciousness…
A featureless grey blob smiled up at me (despite not having a face) while its long wavy limbs reached out in all directions to mop up pools of dirty liquid freely suspended in space. ‘I am the Unbegotten,’ said the octopus. ‘Before your world was, I was. I am beyond Name and Gender, beyond Form. And I have travelled far through all this greyish nothingness simply in order to absorb your identity into mine, the lesser into the greater as is the way all things must be. What need have you of a separate existence? Your life is pain and suffering cut off as you are from the roots of Being. Merge with me and you will become part of a single multi-levelled transcendent Personality-Shape…’
I awoke shivering. The bank of cloud had disappeared and my helmet lay beside me on the floor. The lid of the skilther was raised. Beautiful cool air caressed my cheeks: I had never in my life felt anything so wonderful. The sun was not far from the middle of the sky. Rhowdhia stood still and silent, a rapt expression on her face. ‘Here below Azerynn,’ she said at last nodding towards the semi-tropical island surrounded by dazzling blue-green sea. ‘Flight quick and easy, thanks be to Aoullnnia and to the greatness of the Magnatte.’
* * * * * * * * *
Azerynn is a very ancient site and contains some stone constructions that even ante-date the Ancient Graecs. Large areas of it were inhabited in your era but almost all these buildings have long since collapsed, or have been deliberately demolished – for we do not care much these days for the architecture of your time. The ceremony I had come to witness was due to take place in a so-called Open Temenos built on the ruins of an ancient Graec temple. During the Typhen era when the Recognition of Aoullnnia was at its height, many ancient religious structures were re-allocated and transformed into Temenoi to Aoullnnia. Persons at that time liked to think that the ancient mefam cults of Dyana and Ysis, also the worship of the Staryll Maryia, were anticipations of the religion that became universal during the Age of the Parthenogens.
I was given a place to stand in an avenue of flame trees leading to the Open Temenos itself. There were surprisingly few persons present and their behaviour seemed to me rather casual. They stood in groups chatting about mundane matters: some were even drinking and eating. There were I would judge only about a dozen or so mefam present at most, all age-advanced rejuvenated individuals, presumably instructors of the candidate in technical subjects and perhaps themselves members of Aoullnnian Orders. I caught sight of Ryaltia and her immediate ‘family’ but made no attempt to make myself known to her. Ryaltia, I noted, was wearing the white robe with grey sash and hood of a First Degree Yther officiant. It was then true what I had heard: that the famous strayklha-player had retired from the sport and entered the Yther as a novice.
After what was to me a long and tedious period of waiting there was a hush while the candidate for transition – that I took to be Xinthia – was carried down the avenue on a styrona, a large, elaborately painted wooden structure with projecting handles for the bearers. Some of the details obviously owe something to your macabre burial services: indeed, the attainment of Interdominant status is specifically compared to a ‘little extinction’ – as explained elsewhere we never use the word ‘d****’ or terms derived from it.
The candidate, who lies on the styrona, wears a simple white gown and a triangular piece of cloth covers her face. I had no means of verifying if this was indeed Xinthia who was being carried in front of me. I did not really take the whole business seriously as yet, but viewed it as a sort of grisly bad joke.
The passage of the styrona was accompanied by a strange sort of vocal music, the singers being delorn fam who, because of some irreversible operation, have unusually deep voices that are greatly appreciated today – the equivalent, if you like, of your castratos but in the opposite direction. They always sing at official functions, especially during the brief ‘Rites of Voyage’ which are celebrated on Sarwhirlia itself before the remains are taken to Mortalysium. The sound is certainly beautiful but to my ears somewhat eerie nonetheless.
The actual ceremony was quite short. It was conducted in Lenwhil Katylin but most people could follow it and in any case we all had portable memorials with translating facilities. The officiant was veiled and dressed in a pale blue robe with the symbol of Interdominancy in silver on the back. She would be a member of an Interdominant group that dealt with inaugurations.
‘Are you Xinthia Ryaltia Liraytiana, Re-Emerged entity FX-304**, hitherto of the Thyallin Cluster?’
‘Aryia-la.’ (Yes, I am.)
‘Are you ready to relinquish your previous life as subdominant on Sarwhirlia?’
‘Never more to return to your cluster?’
‘Never more to meet your subdominant friends and family unless specifically ordered to do so?’
‘Never more to have relations with mefam?’
‘Will you promise to devote your remaining years to the maintenance and improvement of the conditions necessary for life upon Sarwhirlia and within the Conglomerate?’
‘Aryia-la, restintor Aoullnnia.’ (Yes, I will, so help me Aoullnnia.)
‘Are you ready to abide at all times by the Code of Interdominancy? Remember that any infringement of these rules by an Interdominant will not only lead to withdrawal but permanent extinction. If you are not ready to take this risk, far better is it to depart now, and no blame will be attached to you. I say again, are you ready to abide in all points by the Code of Interdominancy as laid down during the time of the Scisterl, knowing full well the risks you are taking?’
‘Aryia-la, restintor Aoullnnia.’
‘Receive then, candidate, your new identity amongst us, and may your coming life be one of service, devotion and obedience. And now, you who were once but are no longer Xinthia Ryaltia Liraytiana, prepare yourself to meet the controllers of the atmosphere, the Assembly of the Sixth Parthenogens, the Magnatte!’
Four similarly robed figures took up the candidate and thrust her – rather roughly I thought – into a semi-transparent capsule known as the Vessel of Rebirth. The capsule was raised aloft and I just managed to glimpse a pathetic human figure wrapped in a white gown lying in a crouching, almost foetal position. There was a throbbing sound coming from above and five or six disc-like clouds appeared as from nowhere and presumably containing the dominants themselves or their immediate attendants.
It suddenly came to me what was happening. This so-called Ceremony of Transition was in reality nothing of the kind. Although no one except me was aware of the fact, not even the officiant, the candidate was about to be offered up as a living sacrifice to the beings, whoever they were, who inhabited the disc-like clouds. The true Parthenogens had long ago been replaced by aliens from another system who fed on the living flesh of humans and who maintained one or two Interdominants in existence to deal with the day to day government. These aliens had an insatiable need of flesh and this was the explanation of the startling decline in the population of Sarwhirlia over the last two centuries – not the activities of the bacillus Coertius or the supposed thinning of the atmosphere or any other of the various pretexts given in official documents. The scale of the deception was colossal and what was the more alarming was that I was the only person in possession of this secret – Xinthia herself had discovered it and was at this very moment transmitting it to my brain. I had been given the role of revealing the dreadful truth to the world and it was precisely for this reason that I had received the unexpected invitation. Without thinking any more about the matter I rushed forward towards the Temenos shouting that the Ceremony must be stopped at once and that I had an important announcement to make. I did not even reach the outer pillars for my two horrified Guards at once trained their drynnia upon me. I felt a sharp pain, then my body went limp and I lost consciousness.