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Authors: Mick Farren

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Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys

BOOK: Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys
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BRIDGE OVER

TROUBLED WATER

 

 

 

Novice Wellblessed sat on the rail of the Half Bridge, only a matter of feet from the start of the nothings. He was eating a limon and tossing the pieces of green and yellow rind into the shimmering nonmatter, watching the way they smoked and vanished as they touched it.

The Half Bridge was a simple wooden footbridge that half arched across the stream that marked one of the boundaries of the Sanctuary. On one side of the stream, there was a serene normality; on the other there was the nothings. The water simply went to the edge of the Sanctuary's stasis field and stopped. The bridge did exactly the same thing. It reached its apex and stopped. The novices were supposed to use it as a meditative aid, an idea made solid that they might use to contemplate the transitory nature of the material world. All Novice Wellblessed used it for was to sit and stare and contemplate suicide.

 

By Mick Farren

Published by Ballantine Books:

THE LONG ORBIT

THEIR MASTER'S WAR

THE ARMAGEDDON CRAZY

THE LAST STAND OF THE DNA COWBOYS

 

 

 

THE LAST

STAND

OF THE

DNA

COWBOYS

 

 

Mick Farren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Del Rey Book

BALLANTINE BOOKS · NEW YORK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Del Rey Book

Published by Ballantine Books

 

Copyright © 1989 by Mick Farren

 

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

 

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Peer-Southern Organization for permission to reprint an excerpt from the lyrics of' "WHEN MY BLUE MOON TURNS TO GOLD AGAIN" by Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan. Copyright 1941 by Peer International Corporation. Copyright renewed. International Copyright Secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-90953

 

ISBN 0-345-35808-2

 

Manufactured in the United States of America

 

First Edition: September 1989

 

Cover Art by David Schleinkofer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the central paradox of human behavior and, by direct correlation, all of human history. Each time humanity achieved a peak, it seemed that some pathological instinct moved it immediately to seek an abyss into which to hurl itself. Shortly after the human walked erect and organized himself into tribal groups, he hit upon the concept of warfare. Simultaneously with the discovery of fission energy, humanity began to contemplate nuclear planetary annihilation. The discovery of the Mahler drive took the species to the stars, but once it was there, it courted extinction by engaging in the disastrous Thousand Years War with the Draan Hives.

Thus it was, in the supposedly divine moment when human metaphysics freed the core psyche from the limitations of the corporeal organism, humans developed almost insurmountable problems regarding the exact nature of reality.

 

— Pressdra Vishnaria

The Human Comedy, Volume 14:

The Damaged Perception

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

 

 

THE CAVERNS WERE ENTERING ONE OF THEIR REGULAR PHASES
of melancholy, and the Minstrel Boy knew that it was time to move on. The halls and tunnels softly rang with mournful horns, and muffled drums echoed on the stairwells. It was as though the warmth had gone out of the basalt walls and been replaced by the first hint of a stiletto chill that would eventually pierce to the bone. The carvings that lined the walls had changed, too. Where once the frowns of the gargoyles had been sardonic, puzzled, or even amused, the stone eyes had begun to take on a hard, evil glint. In the Caverns such changes of mood followed a pattern that was as regular and predictable as the seasons. The soft, carefree summer of hedonism was cooling to an autumn of perverse cruelty. That, in its turn, would degenerate into a winter of dark ritual, horror, and brutality. For those who survived, spring would come with exhaustion and the final, hollow-eyed knowledge that nothing remained that could be done and that there was nowhere farther to go. Those who went to the edge eventually had to return. It brought the inevitable regeneration that enabled the cycle to turn yet again. The Minstrel Boy was strictly a summer migrant. He had no desire to experience the soul winter of the Caverns.

There were those who claimed that the changing moods of the Caverns were only a reflection of the emotional shifts of the Presence, the amorphous, nonhuman, and never-seen entity that was reputed to live in the bowels of the extinct volcano that also housed the Caverns. Very little was known about the Presence except that it was there — and that it subtly affected the behavior of those who lived within the margins of its environment. There was a theory that the Presence actually generated the stability of the entire volcanic structure, and its proponents pointed to
the fact that the Caverns had no visible stasis generators. There was an even more elaborate scenario in which the Presence derived some strange alien gratification from the agonies and ecstasies of its mortal neighbors and used its influence to ease them toward the greatest possible excesses.

As in most things, there was an opposing school of thought. It maintained that the Presence did not exist at all: It was a collective wish fulfillment. The denizens of the Caverns had invented a sinister, lurking, but wholly fictitious demigod on which they could blame their worst indulgences.

The Minstrel Boy did not know if he believed in the Presence. When he thought about it, he imagined some malevolent liquid being, a flash of poison green reflection on a black sumpwater surface, way down at the bottom of an infinitely deep shaft. If it existed, he was quite prepared to be afraid of it.

The Minstrel Boy crawled from the nest of furs and scarves and silk cushions and lay facedown on the chill, green polished stone of the floor. It felt good. Cyo and Yosee had exhausted him. Every muscle ached, and he was as limp as a wrung-out and discarded rag. Indeed, he had been discarded. The Minstrel Boy had no illusions about the way things were done in the Caverns. The two young girls were now engrossed in each other, vigorously coupling, minds disconnected and lithe bodies quivering and pumping, one skin pearlized and the other rainbow silver. The Minstrel Boy dragged himself a little farther to where cold water splashed into the shallow basin that had been carved in the floor. He dunked his head in it and shuddered, then looked up, trying to focus his eyes. If he did not get out of that place soon, he had no doubt that one way or another it would kill him.

He looked back at his two former companions, half-hidden in the furs and silks, showing just the momentary flash of an outflung arm or leg. He dunked his face in the water again and shook his head. Cyo and Yosee were too driven in their constant quest for the oblivion of sensuality to have any idea what was to come. When the Caverns slid into their season of honor, the gilded pair would undoubtedly become Victims.

Gradually, and with considerable groaning, he pushed himself into a sitting position and then, after a long pause, finally stood up. He stretched wearily and walked back to the cushions. He picked up a silk sheet and wrapped it around his hips, sarong
style. The girls momentarily stopped what they were doing. It was an unexpected courtesy.

'Are you going?'

He nodded. 'Yeah, going.'

'Where are you going?'

The Minstrel Boy shrugged.

'For a stroll?'

The girls talked in rotation, asking alternating questions.

'Are you tired of us?'

The Minstrel Boy allowed himself a tired grin. 'You look like you can handle things on your own.'

'Are you coming back?'

'Maybe. Later.'

'We'll probably go to the Grand Hall later for the masque.'

'I don't think I could cope with the Grand Hall.'

'Are you getting ready to leave us, Minstrel Boy?'

Again he shrugged. 'Right now I'm just going for a walk.'

'The Presence doesn't like people leaving. It makes him sad.'

'I haven't said I'm leaving.'

'I think you're going to leave us.'

Cyo was the last one to speak. The Minstrel Boy found that he did not want to look her directly in the eye.

'If I do, I'm sure the Presence won't miss me.'

They were in a small side arbor just off the Curved Stairs, a romantic trysting place in a forest where the trees were carved from the living rock and a trompe l'oeil stream fed water into an artificial pool. Muted blue light filtered down through a canopy of basalt leaves and branches. It appeared to have been expressly designed for sexual liaison and very little else.

The Minstrel Boy, still wearing the silk sheet, stepped out into the brighter light of the stairs. The Curved Stairs were an awe-inspiring helix of wide stone steps that dropped through some hundred vertical feet, spiraling around the outside of the volcano's central shaft. It was one of the main human thoroughfares in the Presence's domain. There was a certain amount of debate as to the exact nature of the Presence's volcano. More than a few maintained that the mountain had no true exterior, that the nothings simply started at a set average rock depth beyond the interior surface. Certainly the Minstrel Boy had never met anyone who claimed to have been on the outside. The only
route he knew about by which travelers could come in and out of the Caverns was on a submarine shuttle, along the sea tunnels that ran through the roots of the volcano and down to a stasis-generated disjointed sea. The counterargument was a fairly primitive one: What had an inside had, by definition, to have an outside. The Minstrel Boy could not accept that. He knew for a fact that such axioms had no validity in a universe where logic had been replaced by kinetic paradox. It was one of a long list of things he did his best not to think about.

The outside of the volcano might have been the subject of debate, but the inside was absolute in its extravagant reality. There was no question that it was unique in its baroque magnificence. Every surface in the miles of tunnels, stairways, caverns, and bridges was shaped, polished, and carved into an infinity of patterns that ranged from sweeping abstracts to lunging, prancing reliefs of huge mythical beasts. Massive stalagmites were fashioned into three-dimensional depictions of the gargantuan congress of giant pornographic demons. Flying bridges arched like the wings of eagles across apparently bottomless caverns, while the smooth curves of lava flows became the stomachs and thighs of nude basalt sirens. The overwhelming impact of the endless carvings was enhanced, if indeed that was possible, by shifting beams of lights that zigzagged from polished surface to polished surface. Eruptions of natural steam were reminders of a wild volcanic past, and a system of constantly running water that punctuated the relentless stone with fountains, waterfalls, deep cisterns, and mirror-smooth pools provided a constant liquid counterpoint to the man-made music of the place.

BOOK: Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys
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