FICTION / FANTASY /GODS
IMAGINE . . . yourself as a settler, living in a translucent "pocket" that makes your life an almost ageless state, as time in each pocket passes so slowly that senility and death are meaningless concepts. Your immortality has a price; you have free interaction only with those of your "generation"; you see settlers from ten years before as blurred outlines. And a settler from fifty years before can walk right through you!
IMAGINE . . . yourself as a tourist, struck by the wonder of the shimmering planet, yet careful to heed the date of the next predicted veilfall, knowing that to be on Azlaroc at veilfall is to be there forever.
IMAGINE . . . yourself as the one man on Azlaroc who knows for a certainty that, this time, veilfall will come early, and without warning.
--From Cover blurb.
An Easy Reading Story About An Amazing Little Universe
This short novel brings a life a most unique world and imaginatively brings together a number of characters from a multitude of different generations as a result of a mysterious physical phenomenon that annually can capture visitors to the planet and makes them prisoners in time. While not terribly dense or detailed, it reads easily and wraps the reader up in a special universe with intriguing interactions between characters, especially between generations. It is a magical, light book that will have you chuckling and sighing with sadness. It is about power, greed, lost romantic relationships, about the joy of acceptance, and the collision between people of different time periods. A fascinating story that has few parallels. [amazon review]
Cruising toward blacksky, Sorokin had noticed progressively fewer and fewer signs of other travelers; now he could see no tracks at all ahead of him upon the plain. It was an almost lunar surface that he traveled. He knew that in other regions it had preserved vehicle tracks and even unchanging human footprints for more than four hundred standard years. The absence of any predecessors’ traces proved his destination to be monumentally unpopular. Well, that came as no surprise.
His dun-colored tractor was a functional vehicle. Its weight was slung low between wide treads, the driver’s seat man-high above the ground in an open cab. Sorokin’s ride was comfortably cushioned in the open-roofed cab, and almost silent as he drove at an easy hundred kilometers per standard hour. He had discovered that to drive much slower outside the city made him feel that the trip was being prolonged unbearably. And going faster brought on the sensation that blacksky was going to leap at him like a beast from beyond the rim of the landscape ahead.
In that direction a ridge of land lay straight as a ruler across his path, bringing the horizon near. The horizon was generally distant on Azlaroc, whose air was clear beneath the constriction of its sky, whose surface was much larger, and therefore curved more gently, than that of a planet. The vastness of this world, spreading the small population thin, was one of the reasons—as Sorokin frequently reminded himself—that he had chosen years ago to settle here. With the city now only an hour behind him, he was already out of sight of all the faces and works and debris of humanity. At the moment, in fact, the vast land that he was crossing, essentially flat beneath the sunless surface that was not quite a sky, appeared to be completely lifeless; although he knew that was not true.
No dust rose into the clear, warm air behind the tractor’s quietly speeding treads. There was no dust to rise. Even the regular, lightly impressed pattern of the tractor’s trail looked no more artificial than the land it crossed.
Everywhere the natural features of the landscape were geometrically regular. The land threw up forms that looked as if they had been spawned inside some mathematician’s dreaming mind—pyramids having three sides, four, or more; rhomboid solids; footballs and spheres that, when grown, sometimes broke free to roll with the motion of the land when next it became unquiet. Instead of bushes or trees or boulders or eroded ravines, these regular shapes and others marked the plain. These outcroppings ranged in size from the almost microscopic to the gigantic. All were of the land’s own substance and color: on this particular stretch of plain a slightly mottled yellow-gray.
Now, the foot of the high ridge that had been blocking Sorokin’s view ahead made a gentle thud beneath the tractor’s treads. It was a gentle slope, but it began as abruptly as a doorway. Its beginning creased the land in an unbroken straight line that extended for many kilometers to right and left. Autopilot maintaining a steady speed, the tractor climbed toward the ridge’s crest, an equally straight line against the background of the sky.
The flat slope went up for a long minute’s drive. In the moment before his vehicle tilted its broad nose down again Sorokin could feel his hair rise lazily from his uncovered scalp. The top of his head was passing within a few meters of the sky of Azlaroc. What made his hair rise was a phenomenon analogous—but no more than analogous—to static electricity. He need not fear to have his skull split by a bolt of lightning. Nor had the ridge elevated him enough to make possible an actual, probably lethal, contact with the sky. When land and sky drew close as that, they invariably produced some warning signals. In twenty years Sorokin had learned to read the warnings well.
A few kilometers ahead he could see another ridge that he was going to have to cross. It was as regular as the one whose rear slope he was descending. In the rectilinear valley between the two parallel elevations Sorokin was surprised to see the undulating curve of another vehicle track. The double tread marks moved roughly parallel to Sorokin’s own course across the valley, first sidling near, then dancing away coyly.
“Couldn’t make up your mind if you were going on or not?” he asked aloud. As if offended or frightened by the question the marks swayed off again to vanish inconclusively in dots and dashes on entering a hard surfaced area. He smiled briefly to himself. No doubt many of the old track’s twists and turns had been caused by an unequal creeping of the surface land toward some fast subduction zone nearby. The tracks could have been there years, decades, even centuries.
Thud again, and up the front slope of the new ridge Sorokin was riding his steady tractor. It was a sturdy and imperturbable device that cared not what destination it might be bound for. The moment he reached the top of this ridge he could see, straight ahead and distant, an ebony meterstick laid across the far edge of the golden sky. His hands stayed firm on the steering wheel. This was unnecessary, but a reminder that he could stop and turn back at any time.
Toward that bar of ebon sky ahead the plain ran flat and once more trackless. Now, it seemed disturbingly emptier than before. There was no physical reason why people could not dwell here within sight of blacksky or even directly under it. Their artificial lights would work as well against that night as against any other. Under blacksky or under cheerfully glowing yellow, clean air of the same temperature and humidity would fill their lungs and move across their skins. Even so, to the best of Sorokin’s knowledge no one had ever lived in the vast portion of the Azlarocean surface under that shade, or even within sight of it. Perhaps no one ever would.
Imagine the darkest and most ominous thunderstorm of Earth. Imagine the totality of Sol’s eclipse or deepest night beneath a cloud of poisonous volcanic ash. Multiply the effect of terror by whatever factor will quickly overload your nerves. The overload is blacksky, cutting off almost half of Azlaroc’s vast surface.
Sorokin continued to drive toward it. He had known before he started that there was no light aboard his vehicle. The approaching dimness began to cover the control panel before him like a fog. A little further, and he reached out to switch off the autopilot and bring the tractor to a stop.
He still had light enough to drive, plenty of light here where there was no traffic. But it was as if his inner mind had recognized some limit beyond which this journey, this pilgrimage, was not to be entrusted to machinery. He climbed down from the tractor as soon as it had ceased to move and stood testing the overwhelming silence left by the cessation of its drive. A breath of wind, faintly cool as if presaging impossible rain, came from the direction of the Night. Sorokin’s body underwent a single violent shiver; he forced his fingers to let go the metal of the door. Why should his fingers think that hanging on there could preserve him?
Without thinking, he began to walk toward the dark lands that lay invisible beneath blacksky. Behind him his tractor was left waiting open-doored in the silent wilderness.
The darkness ahead of him rose with every step. As Sorokin paced he kept repeating silently that there was nothing intrinsically dangerous in blacksky. Nothing under it worse than the occasional risks to be encountered in the naturally lighted half of Azlaroc where men lived. What looked like terrible cloud ahead was only a failure, for several well-understood reasons, of the radiation that elsewhere caused the apparent sky of Azlaroc to glow. However often Sorokin repeated these things to himself, blacksky still leaped closer to him with every stride.
He had no light with him. He had no light.
He walked into the pall until it reached Zenith, stretching out of sight to right and left in a fuzzy boundary of mild collision with the lively glow. He walked on into the dark on trembling legs, unable to understand why he was making himself do this. It had to be partly a sheer fascination with his fear. There was an exquisite sensation to be found in clinging to the certainty that he could go back. Yes, he could turn around and go back any time.
The faint, diffuse bandwork of his own shadow, cast by the light of living sky behind, strode on ahead of him into the dark country. Beyond five meters ahead he could not even see his own shadow.
Nothing. Walking there, he moved beyond terror to something else.
He went on in this way for an exhaustingly great distance, not looking back. In the utter darkness he began to stumble blindly over some of the small pyramids and other landforms. They grew here just as in the lighted territory, indifferent to the lack of radiation.
It came to Sorokin that twenty steps ahead of him, maybe ten steps, maybe five, there could be a sphere or an angled shape as tall as a ten-story building, and he would not be able to detect it until he touched it. He had to thrust this thought away from him at once, or stop. He did not stop. He accidentally kicked an invisible small sphere, and heard it roll, a heavy slithering. He felt that gravity must be stronger here, although he knew it was steady, close to Earth normal, all across the physically habitable part of Azlaroc.
For many strides now, a long time, he had been afraid to turn back and see how far he was getting from the light. This fear was abruptly supplanted by a greater one: that he was liable to walk too far, that when he did turn the light would be entirely gone from the sky and he would have no way to find his way back to it. It was ridiculous to think that he would be able to drive himself that far, of course. But when at last he did face round, there seemed to be hardly more than a sliver of brightness along the base of the sky to show the direction back.
It was enough to satisfy whatever demon had driven him to this remote edge. Suddenly Sorokin stood still, almost relaxed, feeling the full weight of his exhaustion. Deliberately, he started walking back toward the light. In time, as brightness gradually reclaimed the sky, the terror returned. The pressure of the Night increased behind him, and made him start to run, as if it could pursue.