Chapter 8 (part 1 of 4)

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Chapter 8

Gallen began to canvass the city an hour after leaving Orick. That day, he stopped at numerous shops and studied local merchandise while quietly pumping pro-prietors for information. He methodically stepped off passageways and learned the ins and outs of the city.

The locals called the place Toohkansay, and Gallen learned about the various housing quarters, the manufacturing sectors, and the business districts. Some of these places denied access to the public, and this left gaping holes in his mental map of the city. For example, with only a few questions he learned where Lord Karthenor's two hundred aberlains worked night and day in some mystic enterprise that a businessman said would "improve mankind," but when Gallen went to the place, he found only a small clinic where men and women waited for some mysterious ministrations to be performed on them.

Gallen surveyed the area around the clinic-studied Toohkansay's exits, found each window and skylight, hunted for likely places to hide.

Most of the city's inhabitants fit within certain categories: those who wore silver bands on their heads either could not or would not speak to Gallen. The merchants with their lavish robes soon became easy to spot. In a dark cafe near one manufacturing district, Gallen sat at a table filled with the small white men and women with enormous eyes and ears. His questions elicited raucous laughter from them, yet they answered good-naturedly. They called themselves the Woodari. Their ancestors had been created to work on a distant planet where the sun was dark. Here on Fale, they worked as miners and built ships to carry cargo from one world to another. The Woodari starfarers claimed that their guild was so powerful that they did not fear the dronon.

Gallen asked so many questions of one little Woodari named Fargeth that the little man said, "Your vast ignorance amuses me, but I have work to do. You are so full of questions, why do you not go to the pidc?"

"The pidc?" Gallen asked. "What is that?"

"It is a place where all the questions you can ask in a lifetime will be answered in moments."

"Where is it?" Gallen asked. "What do they charge for their service?"

Fargeth laughed. "Knowledge carries its own price. Gain it to your dismay."

Gallen wandered the halls until he spotted the creator at work in his stall, making a child. In his past two days here in the city, the old alien was the only person Gallen met whom he genuinely liked. Gallen recalled the sadness in the old creature's voice as he talked of "troubles in the city." Gallen suddenly knew that the old man was an enemy to the dronon.

Gallen said, "A friend of mine has been taken by Lord Karthenor of the aberlains. I need to learn how to free her. Can you tell me where the pidc is?"

The old toadman nodded. "I feared such a thing might befall you. I will take you there."

The toadman unhooked the various mechanical devices from his back, led Gallen down a familiar corridor to a business where young parents took children into little cubicles, set them in plush chairs, then attached silver bands to their children's heads for hours at a time. The bands had a calming effect on the children, and Gallen had thought this was the only benefit the devices imparted.

The creator set Gallen in a white chair, showed Gallen how to strap a silver band to his temples, and whispered, "Good luck, my friend. For most people, this is all they ever learn in life, and a session here becomes the end of knowledge. If you were from Motak, you would know that filling your mind with trivia is only the beginning of study. Right action will lead to greater light."

The toadman left, and Gallen held the silver strip a moment. He placed it on his head as if it were a crown. A gray mist seemed to form before Gallen's eyes. The room went dark, and in the distance he could see a bright pinpoint of light. A voice within the light said, "I am the teacher. Open yourself to knowledge. What do you wish to know?"

Gallen couldn't decide where to begin. "I know nothing of your people or customs. I can't figure out what your machines are, or how they work—"

"I can teach you of people and customs—save those things that each community might consider too sacred to share. I can teach you the basics of all technology, though each industry has its own manufacturing secrets that are private property."

"Teach me," Gallen said. And if Maggie's education was rough and painful, Gallen's was sweet and filled with light. It began with a knowledge of mathematics that coursed into him evenly—beginning with the basics of number theory, moving up through advanced spatial geometry. There, mathematics branched into physics and he learned about subatomic particles, relativity, and Gallen memorized the various equations for the unified field theory and its many corollaries.

Then the introduction to physics moved into applied technologies, and Gallen was given to understand the workings of starships and incendiary rifles and gravcars and ten thousand other items.

He learned how thinking machines developed until they reached the point where they began evolving on their own and now could store more information than any human. The Guides were one form of teaching machines, but they included invasive technologies that let the Guide control the wearer. The chainmail headdresses, called mantles, like the one worn by Everynne were a more advanced type of personal intelligence that did not seek to dominate its wearer, and beyond these were a realm of intelligences that had nothing to do with mankind.

Gallen studied nanotechnology and learned how war machines were built. He learned about the development of viviforms and artefs and genetically upgraded humans—and he learned of some creatures that appeared to be biological in their construction but straddled the line between creature and machine.

He learned how the World Gates tapped into the power of a singularity, a black hole, where time and space were warped to the point that they did not exist, so that those who walked through the gate were whisked in a stream of atoms and recreated at a chosen destination.

At the end of an hour, Gallen's head was sweaty. The teacher interrupted the session. "You are learning too much, too quickly," it said. "Your brain can form only a limited number of neurological connections within a given time. Now, you must rest."

"When can I come back?" Gallen asked.

"You will need to eat, nourish yourself, and return tomorrow," the teacher answered.

Gallen rose from his chair, and the world seemed to spin. He fell down, grabbed the chair to support himself, and waited until he felt steady enough to walk to a cafeteria. He ate heavily and felt gloriously elated for an hour, then found himself slightly nauseated and absentminded.

In three hours, his head began to clear. He walked through the bazaar for a bit and felt a new man. He looked at the vendors with new eyes now, appreciating the craftsmanship of their wares, understanding the utility of items that he could not have fathomed hours before. Indeed, he had become a new man. Before, he had walked through the bazaar shaking his head in wonder, certain that many items worked on principles of magic beyond his ken. Now he saw that there was no magic—only creativity and craft.

He watched the people with open eyes, marking those who wore personal intelligences. Those who wore Guides, he saw now, were often slaves or bond servants. Some submitted to the indignity of wearing a Guide in the hope of earning greater rewards.

Those who wore the chainmail headdresses called "mantles" were vastly wealthy in ways that Gallen had not imagined. Their mantles served them and were far more intelligent than the little Guides.

Merchants were frequently freemen who made themselves useful, but the vast majority of mankind were worthless in this society, and so long as they were free to eat and breed and be entertained, they seemed content.

Here on Fale, there was no need for a man with a strong back or quick wit. There was nothing a human could do that an android could not do better. So those who did not have some type of relationship with a personal intelligence—either as a possessor or as one possessed—were considered only waste, the excess of humanity. And as Gallen studied the peons of Fale, he began to see that behind the well-fed faces, there was a haunted, cramped look.

Gallen went to his camp that night and lay looking up at the stars, smelling the wind. On this world, despite all of his strivings, the people would consider him worthless, and this was something that he had never imagined.

He considered what Karthenor had done. Perhaps in the lord's mind, by giving Maggie a Guide, he had made her a person of worth, bestowed upon her some dignity. Yet such a gift was bound to carry a terrible price.

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