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Authors: Michael Moorcock

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The Shores of Death

BOOK: The Shores of Death
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THE SHORES OF DEATH

By Michael Moorcock

While Earth tried to laugh away the knowledge of ultimate destruction, Clovis Marca sought the impossible, his dark ambition driving him on. Was it driving him to madness or something else?
First of two parts
one
Earth Wake

The party was being held in his honour, celebrating his return from the cold misery of space. But he thought of it also as something of a farewell party for the human race, a premature Wake held by the soon-to-be-deceased.

It was a noisy party, a colourful party, a splendid, exciting party, and it swirled all around him in the huge hall. It was packed full of life; full of heads and hair and bellies and breasts, legs and chests and arms and hands; people with flowing blood in their veins, pumping hearts under their ribs, nerves at work, muscles moving. Their bizarre and grotesque costumes were of a dazzling multitude of colours. They drank down the liquor and ate up the food and they danced and flirted and they talked—they talked all the time. It is necessary, he thought.

Music came from all parts of the hall and counter-pointed the laughter, the voices in excited conversation, soft voices, passionate voices, sensuous voices, sharp voices, sardonic voices. The throng was in good humour. He felt the warmth and the pleasure, felt he might relax, might forget his ordeal...

But as he reached for the goblet, Clovis Marca saw his bloody pursuer again, the enigmatic face in shadow and the dark clothes merging with the blackness. He recognised the awkward way in which the head was held, as if the man had weak neck muscles and must exert himself to keep his head erect. Marca stared at him, but there was no response from the dark figure, no sign that he knew Marca was looking at him.

Marca poured himself a drink, wondering whether to ignore the man or cross the hall and confront him. All his life Marca has practiced self-control; to him it was virtually an end in itself. But now he felt afraid, felt his heart pound and his body tense. He took a sip from the goblet then put in down on the table, his lean face frowning. There were a great many people between him and the man, forming a heaving, almost solid barrier. Being very tall Marca could look over the heads and see the still figure of the man standing in shadow, detached from the party.

Then Marca began to move forward, almost involuntarily; pushing through the throng, feeling that everything but himself and the dark man was unreal, for the noise of the party seemed distant now, and the crush of the bodies hardly tangible.

He
would
confront him. He would ask him his name and his reason for following him. The man seemed to
know
—but that was impossible ...

Overhead a youth levitated, ascending wildly towards the nearest gallery where laughing men and women reached out, trying to grab him. He was laughing so much himself that he could hardly control his flight, threatening to crash on to the heads of the crowd below him. He had a bottle in his hand and, as le veered about in the air like a gigantic drunken moth, the bottle spilled its contents, raining golden liquid down into the hall. Some of the stuff caught Marca in the eyes and he brushed it from them without stopping, yet when he looked at the place where the dark man had been, he was gone.

Marca searched the hall and saw him moving slowly towards one of the big oblong entrances, the crowd, like the foaming wake of a ship, seeming to divide about him as he walked. Marca shrugged. The man turned, still holding his head in that strange way, and glanced back at Marca. The dark-clad figure was thin, the head long and pale, the sombre eyes hooded, colourless. He was certainly the same man. Marca shrugged again emphatically, and felt someone touch his hand. It was his best friend, Narvo Velusi, his host, a man of over 160, nearing death ...

Death, thought Marca as he smiled automatically, death ... the Angel of Death ...

“Are you enjoying your party, Clovis?”

“Wonderful, Narvo—it was good of you. Nice to feel so many people about me again...”

“But you look a bit pale—perhaps I was thoughtless. I should have waited a couple of days. After all, you only got off the ship this afternoon.”

“No, I meant it—it’s a relief to be back on Earth and a pleasure to be with so many people.” He looked for the dark man, but he had gone. “Did you invite the man in the dark clothes?” Marca described him. Velusi shook his head.

“But I told everyone to bring whom they liked,” he explained. “It’s open house—to welcome you back.”

“He was on the landing field when I arrived,” Marca realised he had spoken too quietly, Velusi hadn’t heard him. He spoke louder: “I’ve seen him before—not just on Earth. Byzantium, Einstein, Nehru, Mars...”

“He sounds as if he’s been following you around,” Velusi smiled, taking Marca’s arm.

Come on, I promised some friends that I’d get hold of you.”

Deliberately, Marca relaxed as Velusi led him to the nearest gravishute. This was a circular shaft at the bottom of which was a force-beam generator. A single button by the opening could control the strength of the beam so that one could drift gently down or be pushed gently up. Inside the opening was a simple hand-grip which could be grasped to halt one’s progress.

The harnessing of this power had contributed a great deal to Earth’s present civilisation, and all techniques were now based on it, as earlier they had been based on nuclear energy.

They went up to the highest gallery, hundreds of feet above the floor of the hall. There were only a few people here, lying on couches, talking quietly. Most of them were old acquaintances. Marca greeted them with pleasure. He sat down on a couch next to Velusi.

“How was your voyage?” a short woman asked.

“Awful,” he smiled.

“Aren’t they always? What about the
space-ache?
Are you suffering now?” She shook her head in sympathy, her feathery headress waving like a palm in a tornado. “A
year
away from
Earth
—all those planets —it must have been
unbearable
—weren’t you very
frightened
?” Evidently she was wondering why he had made the trip at all, as most of them were. But they’d never know.

“Sometimes,” he said. He tried to think of something more to say that wouldn’t sound too melodramatic. Actually if there was a word to describe his experiences, then the word was
nightmarish.
He had had to force himself on from one star-system to the next, the pull of Earth growing stronger and stronger with every day away from his home planet, a pull a million times stronger than gravity, a pull that seemed to him mystical and psychological as well as physiological—an inexplicable pull that everyone on Earth felt the moment they took to space, a pull that kept the largest part of the population planet-bound from choice. “Sometimes...” he said again, and Velusi helped him by laughing and saying:

“Let’s talk of other things. Have you been to see Carleon’s new novel—the energy-mobiles are very impressive.”

And the people smiled and talked, steering every conversation away from the mention of space, not merely for Marca’s sake, but for their own. They did not want to talk of space, of ships and planets and galaxies—and the new stars in the sky, far-away, but always closer.

So it had been smiles, smiles, smiles all that summer. Smiles and laughter and handshakes all round. Oh, thought Marca, what a civilised, saintly world this is. But passion moves, passion rolls under some civilised skins, passion shifts in a few breasts this summer, this summer of smiles with death in the sky and nobody worrying about the great flashing finish that will come not to them, probably, but to their offspring. Will it come to me? Is there any way to stop it? The Angel of Death... But it’s a fine world, a graceful world, a beautiful world, make no mistake. It’s a good world, a good life—a good life ...

He smiled and joked and helped to keep the easy, superficial talk going, as careful as the rest to avoid the pitfalls, the slips of the tongue that could ruin the conversation. And the more they drank, the easier it became. Marca and Velusi drank sparingly, for their separate reasons.

Smiles surrounded him, and below the noise increased in volume as the party continued, the party they must all keep going somewhere for another two hundred years. Two hundred years, thought Marca, it isn’t much...

Talk and smile, anecdote and epigram; epigram and anecdote until physical weariness made sleep possible and the prospect of dreaming less frightening. Then they would take their leave and go home and the party would be adjourned for another night. Soon it would be over forever. All of it.

two
A Walk in the Flower Forest

Next day, fastina Cahmin learned that Clovis Marca had been seen entering the Flower Forest, so she went there herself.

Fastina Cahmin was a widow, twenty-eight, blackhaired and all-alive. Often happy, often calm, this afternoon she was unquiet and anxious. She hadn’t known of last night’s party for Marca and she regretted it. She wandered alone in the Flower Forest, a tall girl, every part of her vital as she walked. Only her face was still, and it was a beautiful face, thoughtful and serious.

Around her rose the trunks of the huge flowers, shining greens and browns, and the scents were so heavy that they drugged her somewhat so that she felt unreal and stopped noticing that the warmth of the forest was a little uncomfortable after the coolness of the spaceship she’d arrived in.

Above her the leaves, the petals, the heat-hazy sky and the sun. Beneath her feet, petals of all colours. Large petals of pale purple, small ones of dark purple, pink, pale yellow and mauve. Petals of heavy yellow, scarlet, cerise and crimson, petals of soft blue and orange, sometimes ankle deep. And there was every grade of sunlit green, from near-black to near-white, where flower trees stood tall and cool or clustered to the ground.

The dress that she wore was also green, its light fabric flowing about her body. She carried nothing. She turned down a path that was thick with the cerise flowers fallen from the trees above her. It was cooler in this avenue. Her stride was long, though she was not walking quickly. Her stride was long because her legs were long.

She had followed Marca to the Flower Forest and hoped to meet him there. She had already followed him from Earth, to Mars, to Einstein (Betelgeuse), to Byzantium (Mira), to Nehru (Aldebaran) and now, slightly ahead of him on the passenger liner, back to Earth, to her relief, for the long absence from Earth had been hard to bear. People had soon discovered that any comparatively long absence from Earth resulted in mental and physical discomfort that could build up to indescribable agony unless a quick return to the home planet was made. Only those born beyond Earth were able to resist Earth’s pull for longer periods. In fact, Fastina marvelled at her stamina as well as that of the man she had pursued.

Clovis Marca had his mysterious obsession to goad him on from system to system, and she had her love for him—a love which she’d been able to test, though she still couldn’t analyse it, by her unflagging pursuit of him. Whatever it was he sought—object, person or abstract idea—she hated it. It kept him moving, gave him no time to notice her and she wanted him to notice her, wanted him to love her, too.

Until the previous year he had been a busy man, virtual ruler of Earth and the auxiliary worlds. A man with absolute power and the absolute trust of the electorate. When he and his government had abdicated last year, believing that there was no longer a need for government, she had been hopeful, thinking he would now have more leisure. But less than a month later he had set off into space.

A much-respected man, Clovis Marca, famous for his philosophical writings, his easy stoicism, his unselfish energy, his kindness and his wisdom. There were many to match him in most of these qualities, but not in all of them. This may have been why she loved him so much, she thought, yet there was more to it than that, for Marca was the golden man, the archetypal father-brother-son-leader, the darling of the world. She knew that there were forces in the world which moved humanity to make inexplicable actions, to single out its heroes and love them inexplicably—the undertow, the Zeitgeist that all the logic, the learning, or the technical skill of the 30th century could not divert for long, and she felt that this force was possibly strongest in her and that might have been why she loved him. He was not particularly handsome, had a tendency to look gaunt and stem in a world which admired insouciance and youthfulness. He was very tall, even when not wearing the fashionable high-heeled boots, yet his direct, rapid movements lacked the grace of his fellows. A disturbing man in a society which did not like to be disturbed.

Oh, Clovis, she thought, there is so much I can give you in return ...

And so she continued her abstracted progress through the quiet forest in the hope that she might bump into him, for she had no idea why he had come here or which way he had gone.

She did not bump into Clovis Marca; she bumped into Andros Aimer instead and knew at once that the meeting wasn’t accidental. He had tried to get in touch with her four times since she had arrived back on Earth. Her lover while her husband was alive, he had asked her to live with him after her husband died, but by that time Clovis Marca had resigned from the government and she had made up her mind to seek him out— not by letters or recordings or viewphone calls, but personally or not at all.

BOOK: The Shores of Death
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