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Authors: Norman Spinrad

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction; American, #Westerns

A World Between

BOOK: A World Between
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1

R
IDING THE WEST WIND ON THE EDGE OF AN ONRUSHING
thundersquall, Royce Lindblad sat barechested in the open cockpit of the
Davy Jones,
conning the sailboat by the tiller, the boomline, and the seat of his green velour pants. Lightning hissed and crackled in the black thunderheads behind him, but no rain fell on the choppy azure surface of the Island Sea. High above the single mast, a flock of bright yellow boomerbirds rode the same wind on their great motionless wings, hooting their good-natured defiance of the elements in tubalike tones. As long as the boomerbirds remained aloft, there was no imminent danger of the squall transforming itself into a vornado, and therefore no need to retract mast and sail and go to power.

Unplugged from the net and his responsibilities by choice, Pacifica’s Minister of Media was in no particular hurry to rush home to Carlotta and affairs of domestic life and state. Although it was only two hours from Gotham to Lorien Island even under sail, time had a different meaning out here; you could expand or contract it at will. Flung across half a million square kilometers of shallow ocean, the thousands of isles that made up the Island Continent could be either the suburbs of Gotham or a vast outback of sea and sky and untouched beaches, depending upon your chosen speed.

Twelve million people, nearly a third of the planetary population, lived out here, none of them more than an hour and a half from the center of Gotham under powered flight. From a commuter’s point of view, the towns on many of the larger islands and the private villas that hugged smaller bits of land were all a quick jump from each other and from the Pacifican capital. When the island of your nearest neighbor was only minutes away, you forgot that those minutes could be thirty kilometers of open sea. When you could jump from Gotham to the furthest island in the archipelago in under two hours, you forgot that the twelve million Islanders and all their works were but a thin dusting of humanity sprinkled over a virgin immensity of sea and wooded islands on a planet fifty light-years from the sun that gave their kind birth.

But down here on the surface of the sea, the Island Continent became a vast world entire, more empty than inA habited, more Pacifican than human, and you were a lone sailor on an alien sea, the clock of your mind keeping the oceanic time of wave and wind.

Horvath Island loomed fuzzily on the far horizon, and Royce thought he could make out the blue fusion flame of a liner coming north from Thule arcing in for a landing at Lombard. As if to distract his attention from this reminder of the world of men, a big marinerdyle breached the surface not a hundred meters from his boat in a sudden explosion of foam. The huge reptile raised its spindly forelimbs into the air, and the translucent membranes of its twin sails unfurled and caught the wind with an audible snap, to the hooting derision of the boomerbirds. Cupping the wind with its sails of skin with a precision and delicacy that Royce could not hope to match, the creature paced the boat for several minutes, and was pulling away when it finally sounded with a nose-thumbing flip of its great tail-flukes.

Royce adjusted his course, steering well clear of the powered traffic around Horvath Island and the liner port of Lombard. Beyond Horvath Island was a long sickleshaped chain of small islets with only half a dozen estates scattered among them, and in the middle of the chain, about twenty-five kilometers away now, was Lorien.

Royce had homesteaded Lorien long before he met Carlotta Madigan. Carlotta had changed the vector of his life in most ways, drawing him into orbit around her rising star. Carlotta might have been on her way to her first term as Chairman even then, but if she wanted to share her bed with Royce Lindblad on a long-term basis, that bed was going to be on Lorien, not in that tower apartment smack in the middle of Gotham where they had first met. They still kept the city apartment for convenience’s sake, but Lorien was home—they had designed the house together, and Royce had insisted that the deed to the place be a joint contract, too. He was traditionalist enough to believe that a man must choose the home, even if his lady was destined to head the government.
Especially
if she was a power in the world—a bucko had to be king of the castle when the lights went out, didn’t he?

Truth be told, the Island Continent was Royce’s first love, something that perhaps only another child of Main-Ianders could fully understand. His parents were wheat farmers in the rich lower Big Blue River valley, but even as a small boy, romances of the Island Continent had been his favorite entertainment channel fare. By the time he came into his citizen’s stock at seventeen, he had sailed these seas thousands of times on the net and in his dreams, and he had long since known that on his seventeenth birthday he would put the mainland of Columbia behind him.

His father—a big graceful man whose thoughts ran slow but deep—had understood this for a long time. That last afternoon, they had sat together on the mossy bluffs overlooking the Big Blue. Behind them, the yellow carpet of ripening wheat rippled contrasting textures in the breeze like ruffled velvet. Below them, the river poured between banks rich with kelly-green Pacifican lawnmoss. Spiderwebs of white cloud whisped across the sky. The air was golden with the perpetual warmth of the eternal Columbian summer. Hydrobarges laden with grain and vegetables from further upriver jetted down the river southeast toward Gotham, scoring the turquoise water with the white wakes of commerce. It was peaceful, it was beautiful, it was home, but...

“Don’t be down, bucko,’' his father said. “You’re only blueing it because you feel you should be. For your mother and me, or so you think.”

“You don’t feel I’m letting you down, dad?”

His father shook his head and smiled. “This is
my
piece of the planet,” he said. “This is what sings its song to me. You hear a tune from somewhere else, you’ve got to dance to it. It’s a roomy planet, Royce. What sort of bucko would you be if you stuck yourself in one comer of it just because you happened to be bom there? Look at me,
my
father was an engineer in Thule, and here I am. Now, if you were telling me you intended to go eat ice half your life,
then
I’d tell you you were whackers!”

They laughed in unison, men together.

“You don’t think I’m whackers for calling a place I’ve never been ‘home?’ ” Royce asked.

“Ah, we’re all whackers that way, now aren’t we?” his father said. “We all get itchy for somewhere else until we land someplace that scratches us right. And those islands— ah, yeah, those islands... nothing like the Island Continent on any world I ever heard of. You ever wonder why the Founders left ’em alone and put their roots down here in Columbia?”

“Now that you mention it...

Royce thought he knew his history as well as the average Pacifican. The Founders had colonized Pacifica directly from Earth some three centuries ago, and for the first couple of generations, humans had stuck pretty much to their farms on the rich plains of eastern Columbia. But come to think of it, how
could
those people have stood on the shore, looking west across these flat plains, and east across the vast and mysterious sweep of the Island Continent, and still have chosen to ignore the beauty and complexity of the great archipelago for the fertile sameness of the continental veldt?

“Well, I’ll tell you what I think, bucko,” his father said. “The Founders were people with a dream, and this was it.” He spread his big arms wide. “Back where they came from, land like this was only a memory and a promise. So when they saw these plains, they knew they were home. But they were no simple folk, our ancestors. They were smart enough to invent electronic democracy and the net and all the rest of it. And they knew about dreams. They knew that people don’t dream about where they grow up even if their parents did. Maybe especially if their parents did...” He hunkered forward and wrapped his arms around his knees, staring across the Big Blue at the far bank. “So what I think, Royce, is that they saw those islands, and they knew that their children, and their children’s children, wouldn’t dream of being farmers out here on the plains. So they left the Island Continent alone for someone else to dream on when their time came.” .

He stood up and put his arm around Royce’s shoulders. “So I don’t want you to dream my dream bucko,” he said. “It’s right that you dream your own. That’s what Pacifica’s all about. That’s why I’m going to be proud tomorrow when you leave for your islands. Hang loose, bucko, and listen to your own song.”

Though no man could dance entirely to his own music around a woman like Carlotta Madigan, Royce had never forgotten that going-away present from his father. Though his father might have been an unsophisticated Mainlander in the eyes of Gothamites, he had still managed to teach Royce what it was to be a real bucko, a male human, subspecies Pacifican.

And out here on the open waters, holding the power of the wind through the boomline, the inertia of the sea through the tiller, and experiencing himself as the controlling interface between them, Royce always felt time, history, and karma slip away, paring him down to his essential maleness, reconnecting him to that young bucko saying his goodbye on the bank of the Big Blue.

For being a bucko was much like being a lone sailor on this protean sea. You could choose your wind, set your tiller against the resistance of your own karma, and by playing the two against each other, use both to propel you along the course set by your own will It was this essentially bucko secret that Carlotta could never quite grasp. That was why they moved under power when they traveled between Gotham and Lorien together, and it was also why, despite her intelligence, her experience, her statecraft, and yes, her wisdom, it was he who conned their political boat through the quicksilver winds and currents of Pacifican electronic democracy.

He had tried to teach her how to sail, but the trouble was that she had no feel for the art of tacking.

Now Horvath drifted by far off to port. Clear of this human settlement, Royce changed course again, pointing his bow along a straight vector toward Lorien, the wind directly astern now, blowing him along at maximum sailing speed, skipping homeward across the surface of the sea like the discrays that leapt clear of the wavecrests and bounced along on their flat bellies like thrown stones with loud, crisp smacks.

Just as well that Carlotta isn’t into this, Royce thought. A man shouldn’t share everything with his lady; he’s got to have a quiet place to hear his own song. Without that, there’d be nothing within him to give in the softness of the night, and that’s what makes the world go round, bucko.

The villa that Carlotta Madigan and Royce Lindblad had designed together was a low crescent hugging the inner shore of Lorien Island’s small lagoon. The exterior walls were latticeworks of chocolate-brown stonemeld and slightly bluish windows, and the shallow-peaked roof was of deeply grained royal blue bongowood from the Cords, weatherproofed with a microglass glaze. A wide veranda shelfed out onto the lagoon from the front of the house on pilings with the boat berths beneath it. The landward side of the building faced the heavily forested hills of the island across a rather formal garden—a small fountain, a manicured Earth-grass lawn, bongowood garden furniture, and beds of Earthside roses, tulips, and chrysanthemums in red, white, blue, and yellow.

Royce’s netshop overlooked the lagoon, with a glass door leading directly out onto the veranda, but Carlotta’s was on the other side of the house, looking inward on the garden and the virgin native woods beyond.

In theory, this was supposed to afford her a tranquil and changeless natural backdrop for conducting affairs of state, but in practice she hardly ever even glanced out the window when she was plugged into the net.

Indeed, the screens of her outsized net console faced the big window, so that her back was to the garden when she sat in one of the two loungers facing them, enfolded within the curve of the emeraldwood-paneled cabinet. The standard Pacifican net console was a six-screen job: one for the personal communication channels, one for the hundred broadcast channels, one for computer interfacing, one for the accessbanks, one for the gov channels, and a sixth for general utility functions like grounds surveillance, video games, and general electronic doodling. Carlotta’s console, like Royce’s, had four additional screens: one for intragovemmental communications, one for continuous Web-monitoring, one for interfacing with the Parliamentary computer, and one for the planetary observation system.

BOOK: A World Between
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ads

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