The Shears of Night
 
1
 

    It was close to noon on Day 14,620,509 of the Phosphorus Era, the fifteenth era of Man on the giant planet, Ooranye.

    Vyanth at that time was the richest and most populous of the great disc-on-stem cities of Ooranye.  Surrounded, for hundreds of miles in every direction, by the bioluminescent glow of cultivated fields, it outshone its rich farmlands, concentrating into itself their light that was its wealth.  And this day it was garnering even more brightness than usual.

      Pedestrians on the rim, and watchers on the towers, gazing at the pellets of light approaching over the plains, knew them to be the skimmers of foreign observers converging upon Vyanth to attend the treason trial of Mulvu Xy - saboteur. 

      Serenely confident in the strength and power of their city, the government and people were willing for everything to be done quite openly.  No precautions were being taken against espionage.  On the contrary, all the effort had gone into preparations for welcome.  Throughout the city, scattered at various heights like birds' nests in a tree were the illuminated hostelries, each on its own platform bearing rooms and gardens.  And guides were stationed at sixty-degree intervals around Vyanth's rim, waiting beside each of the ayashou - the airstreams which invisibly hoisted incoming traffic onto the six main landing-spaces.  Like a two-way fountain each ayash continually spurted traffic up from the plains onto the raised city-floor, and down in the reverse direction.  At the moment the incoming stream was by far the densest of the two sparkling lanes, as Vyanth blazed against the purple sky, imperiously welcoming the nations.

     Its glittering power had been felt from a long way off by each member of the visiting crowd; already from over a hundred miles away they had seen the city looming beyond the horizon.  As their skimmers hurtled closer they beheld the concave-sided stem rising into view, like a sleeve and hand, bearing aloft the five-mile disc piled high with multicoloured forms and lights - the hostelries, the branching walkways, the globular palaces and helical towers.

     For anyone at the end of a long and lonely voyage it gave a glorious reassurance.  It provided visual proof that humanity was able, even on this huge forbidding world, to build an unconquered haven for two million people. 

     All the more did the visitors' eyes feast on it now - their stomachs made queasy by the news that somebody had tried to destroy it.

     Jad Lael was one of the human motes in this incoming throng.  Jad, a chronicler from distant Pjourth, had skimmed over 13,000 miles to be present at the treason trial.  The journey had taken him eight days. 

     Jad was a wiry young man, tough as a wayfarer had to be in order to survive this voyage across Syoom, the so-called civilized region of Ooranye.  Like all educated Uranians he thoroughly understood that one must not expect too much of Syoom, which was, at bottom, a purely statistical concept.  "The lands in which you have an over-50% probability of surviving a thousand-mile voyage alone" was the strict definition of the area - and though the percentage might soar well above 90 in good times, when patrols were frequent and cities' defensive guesswork correct, you could never take the resulting "civilization" for granted.

     The humans of Ooranye had evolved on that world, and know no other.  They shared its cold dim vastness with so many bewildering forces and intelligences that the way of wisdom became the way of dodging, parrying, fielding, coping pragmatically with what one could not hope to understand.  Cities were havens - mused the elated Jad Lael as his skimmer began to rise in the grip of the ayash towards the parking floor - but as for the lands between....  no, you could not spread civilization over such a world.... insofar as "civilization" meant "security".

     But of course civilization means much more than security; it means a shared system of values; particularly, it means human solidarity in the face of the unknown - which was why the crime of which Mulvu Xy had been accused was so breathtaking.  Mulvu was said to have tried to wreck a city; Jad could hardly wait to find out the story behind this amazing fact.

     As the ayash stream lifted him higher he was treated to a view of the whole extent of inner Maelv, the Bright Realm over which Vyanth reigned.  In these exceptional lands - tended by hundreds of lifetimes of genetic engineering - the glow was constant; the bioluminescence did not pulse; the vheic crops did not dim and brighten in the thirty-hour beat which prevailed in the wilderness, defining the cycle of day and night on Ooranye.  The empire of Vyanth was exceptional; it shone uninterruptedly.

     During his moment at the summit of the ayash , as he surveyed the heart of the empire, Jad was cured of anxiety concerning the treason of Mulvu Xy.  Surely no one man, however malevolent he might be, could hurt this shining vista, this great ally against the darkness.

     Admittedly, all local triumphs of human power must come to an end some day.  The current era of brightness, however, was sufficiently robust, that it would not cease through dramatic action by a single traitor.  Most likely the change would approach gradually, through a failure by the biologists, who would not forever be able to keep one step ahead of mutations in the crops.  Then eventually the continuous glow would give way to the pulse of the wild; the city's resources would be halved; and Vyanth would become poor and vulnerable to attack from Fyaym, the antithesis of Syoom.  Fyaym - the "land under 50%" - defined as the area where you have a less (usually a much less) than 50% chance of surviving a thousand-mile journey alone - Fyaym would have bitten a big chunk out of Syoom, and the Phosphorus Era would be over.

     Jad Lael was convinced, happily convinced, that he would not live to see that day.

     The ayash brought his skimmer gently down to a hovering rest a yard above the oalm or landing-park.

     He alighted, his cloak flapping and billowing in the eddies from the ayash and the winds from the plains.

     Scores of other arrivals were likewise stepping down from their aerial canoes and looking to see where they might be stored.  A guide was standing by.  "Here for the trial?  Due to start at noon.  Palace of Justice two miles down Radial 3."  The guide pointed his thumb down the avenue as he spoke.  "You can skim there.  Parking available in the vaults next to the Palace."

     Jad said, "I prefer to walk."

     "In that case - "  The guide turned, pointed out to the very edge, to the skimmer-banks into which one's vehicle could be slid.  Jad spent a minute attending to this practical matter; then, with the happy freedom of the sight-seeing tourist, he turned his back on the rim and on the sombre plains two hundred yards below, and headed inwards for the brightness and the colour of the city's hub.  Down Radial 3 he strode, pleasurably awed, into the polyhedral jungle of Vyanth.  He soon disappeared from sight of the rim.  He became immersed in a world of metal hostel-trees, residential mounds and dangling palaces, overlooked by office-towers and airship docks, and threaded with the sparkling traffic-lanes that were bearing travellers towards the city's hub.

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