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Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication One Two Three Four Five Six Epilogue Also by Dan Simmons ‘Truly astonishing’ Iain M. Banks ‘Matches and perhaps even surpasses Isaac Asimov and James Blish’ Washington Post ‘Superb. One of the finest achievements of modern science fiction’ New York Times ‘Rich with power and passion. One of the major works of modern science fiction’ Locus ‘Brilliantly realised. Vast entertainment’ Booklist ‘State of the art science fiction’ Asimov’s ‘A stunning tour de force’ Amazon.com THE FUTURE CLASSICS SERIES Altered Carbon Blood Music Evolution Fairyland Hyperion Revelation Space Schild’s Ladder The Separation Hyperion DAN SIMMONS Orion www.orionbooks.co.uk Published by Hachette Digital 2010 Copyright © Dan Simmons 1989 All rights reserved. The right of Dan Simmons to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. eISBN : 978 0 5750 9996 8 This eBook produced by Jouve, France All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Hachette Digital An imprint of Little, Brown Book Group 100 Victoria Embankment London EC4Y 0DY An Hachette Livre UK Company This is for Ted Prologue The Hegemony Consul sat on the balcony of his ebony spaceship and played Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor on an a; ncient but well-maintained Steinway while great, green, saurian things surged and bellowed in the swamps below. A thunderstorm was brewing to the north. Bruise-black clouds silhouetted a forest of giant gymnosperms while stratocumulus towered nine kilometers high in a violent sky. Lightning rippled along the horizon. Closer to the ship, occasional vague, reptilian shapes would blunder into the interdiction field, cry out, and then crash away through indigo mists. The Consul concentrated on a difficult section of the Prelude and ignored the approach of storm and nightfall. The fatline receiver chimed. The Consul stopped, fingers hovering above the keyboard, and listened. Thunder rumbled through the heavy air. From the direction of the gymnosperm forest there came the mournful ululation of a carrion-breed pack. Somewhere in the darkness below, a small-brained beast trumpeted its answering challenge and fell quiet. The interdiction field added its sonic undertones to the sudden silence. The fatline chimed again. ‘Damn,’ said the Consul and went in to answer it. While the computer took a few seconds to convert and decode the burst of decaying tachyons, the Consul poured himself a glass of Scotch. He settled into the cushions of the projection pit just as the diskey blinked green. ‘Play,’ he said. ‘You have been chosen to return to Hyperion,’ came a woman’s husky voice. Full visuals had not yet formed; the air remained empty except for the pulse of transmission codes which told the Consul that this fatline squirt had originated on the Hegemony administrative world of Tau Ceti Center. The Consul did not need the transmission coordinates to know this. The aged but still beautiful voice of Meina Gladstone was unmistakable. ‘You have been chosen to return to Hyperion as a member of the Shrike Pilgrimage,’ continued the voice. The hell you say, thought the Consul and rose to leave the pit. ‘You and six others have been selected by the Church of the Shrike and confirmed by the All Thing,’ said Meina Gladstone. ‘It is in the interest of the Hegemony that you accept.’ The Consul stood motionless in the pit, his back to the flickering transmission codes. Without turning, he raised his glass and drained the last of the Scotch. ‘The situation is very confused,’ said Meina Gladstone. Her voice was weary. ‘The consulate and Home Rule Council fatlined us three standard weeks ago with the news that the Time Tombs showed signs of opening. The anti-entropic fields around them were expanding rapidly and the Shrike has begun ranging as far south as the Bridle Range.’ The Consul turned and dropped into the cushions. A holo had formed of Meina Gladstone’s ancient face. Her eyes looked as tired as her voice sounded. ‘AFORCE:space task force was immediately dispatched from Parvati to evacuate the Hegemony citizens on Hyperion before the Time Tombs open. Their time-debt will be a little more than three Hyperion years.’ Meina Gladstone paused. The Consul thought he had never seen the Senate CEO look so grim. ‘We do not know if the evacuation fleet will arrive in time,’ she said, ‘but the situation is even more complicated. An Ouster migration cluster of at least four thousand . . . units . . . has been detected approaching the Hyperion system. Our evacuation task force should arrive only a short while before the Ousters.’ The Consul understood Gladstone’s hesitation. An Ouster migration cluster might consist of ships ranging in size from single-person ramscouts to can cities and comet forts holding tens of thousands of the interstellar barbarians. ‘The FORCE joint chiefs believe that this is the Ousters’ big push,’ said Meina Gladstone. The ship’s computer had positioned the holo so that the woman’s sad brown eyes seemed to be staring directly at the Consul. ‘Whether they seek to control just Hyperion for the Time Tombs or whether this is an all-out attack on the Worldweb remains to be seen. In the meantime, a full FORCE:space battle fleet complete with a farcaster construction battalion has spun up from the Camn System to join the evacuation task force, but this fleet may be recalled depending upon circumstances.’ The Consul nodded and absently raised the Scotch to his lips. He frowned at the empty glass and dropped it onto the thick carpeting of the holopit. Even with no military training he understood the difficult tactical decision Gladstone and the joint chiefs were faced with. Unless a military farcaster were hurriedly constructed in the Hyperion system – at staggering expense – there would be no way to resist the Ouster invasion. Whatever secrets the Time Tombs might hold would go to the Hegemony’s enemy. If the fleet did construct a farcaster in time and the Hegemony committed the total resources of FORCE to defending the single, distant, colonial world of Hyperion, the Worldweb ran the terrible risk of suffering an Ouster attack elsewhere on the perimeter, or – in a worst-case scenario – having the barbarians actually seizing the farcaster and penetrating the Web itself. The Consul tried to imagine the reality of armored Ouster troops stepping through farcaster portals into the undefended home cities on a hundred worlds. The Consul walked through the holo of Meina Gladstone, retrieved his glass, and went to pour another Scotch. ‘You have been chosen to join the pilgrimage to the Shrike,’ said the image of the old CEO whom the press loved to compare to Lincoln or Churchill or Alvarez-Temp or whatever other pre-Hegira legend was in historical vogue at the time. ‘The Templars are sending their treeship Yggdrasill,’ said Gladstone, ‘and the evacuation task force commander has instructions to let it pass. With a three-week time-debt, you can rendezvous with the Yggdrasill before it goes quantum from the Parvati system. The six other pilgrims chosen by the Shrike Church will be aboard the treeship. Our intelligence reports suggest that at least one of the seven pilgrims is an agent of the Ousters. We do not . . . at this time . . . have any way of knowing which one it is.’ The Consul had to smile. Among all the other risks Gladstone was taking, the old woman had to consider the possibility that he was the spy and that she was fatlining crucial information to an Ouster agent. Or had she given him any crucial information? The fleet movements were detectable as soon as the ships used their Hawking drives, and if the Consul were the spy, the CEO’s revelation might be a way to scare him off. The Consul’s smile faded and he drank his Scotch. ‘Sol Weintraub and Fedmahn Kassad are among the seven pilgrims chosen,’ said Gladstone. The Consul’s frown deepened. He stared at the cloud of digits flickering like dust motes around the old woman’s image. Fifteen seconds of fatline transmission time remained. ‘We need your help,’ said Meina Gladstone. ‘It is essential that the secrets of the Time Tombs and Shrike be uncovered. This pilgrimage may be our last chance. If the Ousters conquer Hyperion, their agent must be eliminated and the Time Tombs sealed at all cost. The fate of the Hegemony may depend upon it.’ The transmission ended except for the pulse of rendezvous coordinates. ‘Response?’ asked the ship’s computer. Despite the tremendous energies involved, the spacecraft was capable of placing a brief, coded squirt into the incessant babble of FTL bursts which tied the human portions of the galaxy together. ‘No,’ said the Consul and went outside to lean on the balcony railing. Night had fallen and the clouds were low. No stars were visible. The darkness would have been absolute except for the intermittent flash of lightning to the north and a soft phosphorescence rising from the marshes. The Consul was suddenly very aware that he was, at that second, the only sentient being on an unnamed world. He listened to the antediluvian night sounds rising from the swamps and he thought about morning, about setting out in the Vikken EMV at first light, about spending the day in sunshine, about hunting big game in the fern forests to the south and then returning to the ship in the evening for a good steak and a cold beer. The Consul thought about the sharp pleasure of the hunt and the equally sharp solace of solitude: solitude he had earned through the pain and nightmare he had already suffered on Hyperion. Hyperion. The Consul went inside, brought the balcony in, and sealed the ship just as the first heavy raindrops began to fall. He climbed the spiral staircase to his sleeping cabin at the apex of the ship. The circular room was dark except for silent explosions of lightning which outlined rivulets of rain coursing the skylight. The Consul stripped, lay back on the firm mattress, and switched on the sound system and external audio pickups. He listened as the fury of the storm blended with the violence of Wagner’s ‘Flight of the Valkyries’. Hurricane winds buffeted the ship. The sound of thunderclaps filled the room as the skylight flashed white, leaving afterimages burning in the Consul’s retinas. Wagner is good only for thunderstorms, he thought. He closed his eyes but the lightning was visible through closed eyelids. He remembered the glint of ice crystals blowing through the tumbled ruins on the low hills near the Time Tombs and the colder gleam of steel on the Shrike’s impossible tree of metal thorns. He remembered screams in the night and the hundred-facet, ruby-and-blood gaze of the Shrike itself. Hyperion. The Consul silently commanded the computer to shut off all speakers and raised his wrist to cover his eyes. In the sudden silence he lay thinking about how insane it would be to return to Hyperion. During his eleven years as Consul on that distant and enigmatic world, the mysterious Church of the Shrike had allowed a dozen barges of offworld pilgrims to depart for the windswept barrens around the Time Tombs, north of the mountains. No one had returned. And that had been in normal times, when the Shrike had been prisoner to the tides of time and forces no one understood, and the anti-entropic fields had been contained to a few dozen meters around the Time Tombs. And there had been no threat of an Ouster invasion. The Consul thought of the Shrike, free to wander everywhere on Hyperion, of the millions of indigenies and thousands of Hegemony citizens helpless before a creature which defied physical laws and which communicated only through death, and he shivered despite the warmth of the cabin. Hyperion. The night and storm passed. Another stormfront raced ahead of the approaching dawn. Gymnosperms two hundred meters tall bent and whipped before the coming torrent. Just before first light, the Consul’s ebony spaceship rose on a tail of blue plasma and punched through thickening clouds as it climbed toward space and rendezvous. One The Consul awoke with the peculiar headache, dry throat, and sense of having forgotten a thousand dreams which only periods in cryogenic fugue could bring. He blinked, sat upright on a low couch, and groggily pushed away the last sensor tapes clinging to his skin. There were two very short crew clones and one very tall, hooded Templar with him in the windowless ovoid of a room. One of the clones offered the Consul the traditional post-thaw glass of orange juice. He accepted it and drank greedily. ‘The Tree is two light-minutes and five hours of travel from Hyperion,’ said the Templar, and the Consul realized that he was being addressed by Het Masteen, captain of the Templar treeship and True Voice of the Tree. The Consul vaguely realized that it was a great honor to be awakened by the Captain, but he was too groggy and disoriented from fugue to appreciate it. ‘The others have been awake for some hours,’ said Het Masteen and gestured for the clones to leave them. ‘They have assembled on the foremost dining platform.’ ‘Hhrghn,’ said the Consul and took a drink. He cleared his throat and tried again. ‘Thank you, Het Masteen,’ he managed. Looking around at the egg-shaped room with its carpet of dark grass, translucent walls, and support ribs of continuous, curved weirwood, the Consul realized that he must be in one of the smaller environment pods. Closing his eyes, he tried to recall his memories of rendezvous just before the Templar ship went quantum. The Consul remembered his first glimpse of the kilometer-long treeship as he closed for rendezvous, the treeship’s details blurred by the redundant machine and erg-generated containment fields which surrounded it like a spherical mist, but its leafy bulk clearly ablaze with thousands of lights which shone softly through leaves and thin-walled environment pods, or along countless platforms, bridges, command decks, stairways, and bowers. Around the base of the treeship, engineering and cargo spheres clustered like oversized galls while blue and violet drive streamers trailed behind like ten-kilometer-long roots. ‘The others await,’ Het Masteen said softly and nodded toward low cushions where the Consul’s luggage lay ready to open upon his command. The Templar gazed thoughtfully at the weirwood rafters while the Consul dressed in semiformal evening wear of loose black trousers, polished ship boots, a white silk blouse which ballooned at waist and elbows, topaz collar cinch, black demi-coat complete with slashes of Hegemony crimson on the epaulets, and a soft gold tricorne. A section of curved wall became a mirror and the Consul stared at the image there: a more than middle-aged man in semiformal evening wear, sunburned skin but oddly pale under the sad eyes. The Consul frowned, nodded, and turned away. Het Masteen gestured and the Consul followed the tall, robed figure through a dilation in the pod onto an ascending walkway which curved up and out of sight around the massive bark wall of the treeship’s trunk. The Consul paused, moved to the edge of the walkway, and took a quick step back. It was at least six hundred meters down – down being created by the one-sixth standard gravity being generated by the singularities imprisoned at the base of the tree – and there were no railings. They resumed their silent ascent, turning off from the main trunk walkway thirty meters and half a trunk-spiral later to cross a flimsy suspension bridge to a five-meter-wide branch. They followed this outward to where the riot of leaves caught the glare of Hyperion’s sun. ‘Has my ship been brought out of storage?’ asked the Consul. ‘It is fueled and ready in sphere eleven,’ said Het Masteen. They passed into the shadow of the trunk and stars became visible in the black patches between the dark latticework of leaves. ‘The other pilgrims have agreed to ferry down in your ship if the FORCE authorities give permission,’ added the Templar. The Consul rubbed his eyes and wished that he had been allowed more time to retrieve his wits from the cold grip of cryonic fugue. ‘You’ve been in touch with the task force?’ ‘Oh, yes, we were challenged the moment we tunneled down from quantum leap. A Hegemony warship is . . . escorting us . . . this very moment.’ Het Masteen gestured toward a patch of sky above them. The Consul squinted upward but at that second segments of the upper tiers of branches revolved out of the treeship’s shadow and acres of leaves ignited in sunset hues. Even in the still shadowed places, glowbirds nestled like Japanese lanterns above lighted walkways, glowing swingvines, and illuminated hanging bridges, while fireflies from Old Earth and radiant gossamers from Maui-Covenant blinked and coded their way through labyrinths of leaves, mixing with constellations sufficiently to fool even the most starwise traveler. Het Masteen stepped into a basket lift hanging from a whiskered-carbon cable which disappeared into the three hundred meters of tree above them. The Consul followed and they were borne silently upward. He noted that the walkways, pods, and platforms were conspicuously empty except for a few Templars and their diminutive crew clone counterparts. The Consul could recall seeing no other passengers during his rushed hour between rendezvous and fugue, but he had put that down to the imminence of the treeship going quantum, assuming then that the passengers were safe in their fugue couches. Now, however, the treeship was traveling far below relativistic velocities and its branches should be crowded with gawking passengers. He mentioned his observation to the Templar. ‘The six of you are our only passengers,’ said Het Masteen. The basket stopped in a maze of foliage and the treeship captain led the way up a wooden escalator worn with age. The Consul blinked in surprise. A Templar treeship normally carried between two and five thousand passengers; it was easily the most desirable way to travel between the stars. Treeships rarely accrued more than a four- or five-month time-debt, making short, scenic crossings where star systems were a very few light-years apart, thus allowing their affluent passengers to spend as little time as necessary in fugue. For the treeship to make the trip to Hyperion and back, accumulating six years of Web time with no paying passengers would mean a staggering financial loss to the Templars. Then the Consul realized, belatedly, that the treeship would be ideal for the upcoming evacuation, its expenses ultimately to be reimbursed by the Hegemony. Still, the Consul knew, to bring a ship as beautiful and vulnerable as the Yggdrasill – one of only five of its kind – into a war zone was a terrible risk for the Templar Brotherhood. ‘Your fellow pilgrims,’ announced Het Masteen as he and the Consul emerged onto a broad platform where a small group waited at one end of a long wooden table. Above them the stars burned, rotating occasionally as the treeship changed its pitch or yaw, while to either side a solid sphere of foliage curved away like the green skin of some great fruit. The Consul immediately recognized the setting as the Captain’s dining platform, even before the five other passengers rose to let Het Masteen take his place at the head of the table. The Consul found an empty chair waiting for him to the left of the Captain. When everyone was seated and quiet, Het Masteen made formal introductions. Although the Consul knew none of the others from personal experience, several of the names were familiar and he used his diplomat’s long training to file away identities and impressions. To the Consul’s left sat Father Lenar Hoyt, a priest of the old-style Christian sect known as Catholic. For a second the Consul had forgotten the significance of the black clothing and Roman collar, but then he remembered St Francis Hospital on Hebron where he had received alcohol trauma therapy after his disastrous first diplomatic assignment there almost four standard decades earlier. And at the mention of Hoyt’s name he remembered another priest, one who had disappeared on Hyperion halfway through his own tenure there. Lenar Hoyt was a young man by the Consul’s reckoning – no more than his early thirties – but it appeared that something had aged the man terribly in the not too distant past. The Consul looked at the thin face, cheekbones pressing against sallow flesh, eyes large but hooded in deep hollows, thin lips set in a permanent twitch of muscle too downturned to be called even a cynical smile, the hairline not so much receding as ravaged by radiation, and he felt he was looking at a man who had been ill for years. Still, the Consul was surprised that behind that mask of concealed pain there remained the physical echo of the boy in the man – the faintest remnants of the round face, fair skin, and soft mouth which had belonged to a younger, healthier, less cynical Lenar Hoyt. Next to the priest sat a man whose image had been familiar to most citizens of the Hegemony some years before. The Consul wondered if the collective attention span in the Worldweb was as short now as it had been when he had lived there. Shorter, probably. If so, then Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, the so-called Butcher of South Bressia, was probably no longer either infamous or famous. To the Consul’s generation and to all those who lived in the slow, expatriate fringe of things, Kassad was not someone one was likely to forget. Colonel Fedmahn Kassad was tall – almost tall enough to look the two-meter Het Masteen in the eye – and dressed in FORCE black with no rank insignia or citations showing. The black uniform was oddly similar to Father Hoyt’s garb, but there was no real resemblance between the two men. In lieu of Hoyt’s wasted appearance, Kassad was brown, obviously fit, and whip-handle lean, with strands of muscle showing in shoulder, wrist, and throat. The Colonel’s eyes were small, dark, and as all-encompassing as the lenses of some primitive video camera. His face was all angles: shadows, planes, and facets. Not gaunt like Father Hoyt’s, merely carved from cold stone. A thin line of beard along his jawline served to accent the sharpness of his countenance as surely as blood on a knife blade. The Colonel’s intense, slow movements reminded the Consul of an Earth-bred jaguar he had seen in a private seedship zoo on Lusus many years before. Kassad’s voice was soft but the Consul did not fail to notice that even the Colonel’s silences commanded attention. Most of the long table was empty, the group clustered at one end. Across from Fedmahn Kassad sat a man introduced as the poet Martin Silenus. Silenus appeared to be quite the opposite of the military man across from him. Where Kassad was lean and tall, Martin Silenus was short and visibly out of shape. Countering Kassad’s stone-cut features, the poet’s face was as mobile and expressive as an Earth primate’s. His voice was a loud, profane rasp. There was something, thought the Consul, almost pleasantly demonic about Martin Silenus, with his ruddy cheeks, broad mouth, pitched eyebrows, sharp ears, and constantly moving hands sporting fingers long enough to serve a concert pianist. Or a strangler. The poet’s silver hair had been cropped into rough-hewn bangs. Martin Silenus seemed to be in his late fifties, but the Consul noticed the telltale blue tinge to throat and palms and suspected that the man had been through more than a few Poulsen treatments. Silenus’s true age might be anywhere from ninety to a hundred and fifty standard years. If he were close to the latter age, the Consul knew, the odds were that the poet was quite mad. As boisterous and animated as Martin Silenus seemed upon first encounter, so the next guest at the table exuded an immediate and equally impressive sense of intelligent reticence. Sol Weintraub looked up upon introduction and the Consul noted the short gray beard, lined forehead, and sad, luminous eyes of the well-known scholar. The Consul had heard tales of the Wandering Jew and his hopeless quest, but he was shocked to realize that the old man now held the infant in his arms – his daughter Rachel, no more than a few weeks old. The Consul looked away. The sixth pilgrim and only woman at the table was Brawne Lamia. When introduced, the detective stared at the Consul with such intensity that he could feel the pressure of her gaze even after she looked away. A former citizen of the 1.3-g world of Lusus, Brawne Lamia was no taller than the poet two chairs to her right, but even her loose corduroy shipsuit did not conceal the heavy layers of muscle on her compact form. Black curls reached to her shoulders, her eyebrows were two dark lines dabbed horizontally across a wide brow, and her nose was solid and sharp, intensifying the aquiline quality of her stare. Lamia’s mouth was wide and expressive to the point of being sensuous, curled slightly at the corners in a slight smile which might be cruel or merely playful. The woman’s dark eyes seemed to dare the observer to discover which was the case. It occurred to the Consul that Brawne Lamia might well be considered beautiful. Introductions completed, the Consul cleared his throat and turned toward the Templar. ‘Het Masteen, you said that there were seven pilgrims. Is M. Weintraub’s child the seventh?’ Het Masteen’s hood moved slowly from side to side. ‘No. Only those who make a conscious decision to seek the Shrike may be counted among the pilgrims.’ The group at the table stirred slightly. Each must know what the Consul knew; only a group comprising a prime number of pilgrims might make the Shrike Church-sponsored trip north. ‘I am the seventh,’ said Het Masteen, captain of the Templar treeship Yggdrasill and the True Voice of the Tree. In the silence which followed the announcement, Het Masteen gestured and a group of crew clones began serving the pilgrims their last meal before planet fall. ‘So the Ousters are not in-system yet?’ asked Brawne Lamia. Her voice had a husky, throaty quality which strangely stirred the Consul. ‘No,’ said Het Masteen. ‘But we cannot be more than a few standard days ahead of them. Our instruments have detected fusion skirmishes within the system’s Oört cloud.’ ‘Will there be war?’ asked Father Hoyt. His voice seemed as fatigued as his expression. When no one volunteered a response, the priest turned to his right as if retroactively directing the question to the Consul. The Consul sighed. The crew clones had served wine; he wished it had been whiskey. ‘Who knows what the Ousters will do?’ he said. ‘They no longer appear to be motivated by human logic.’ Martin Silenus laughed loudly, spilling his wine as he gestured. ‘As if we fucking humans were ever motivated by human logic!’ He took a deep drink, wiped his mouth, and laughed again. Brawne Lamia frowned. ‘If the serious fighting starts too soon,’ she said, ‘perhaps the authorities will not allow us to land.’ ‘We will be allowed to pass,’ said Het Masteen. Sunlight found its way past folds in his cowl to fall on yellowish skin. ‘Saved from certain death in war to be delivered to certain death at the hands of the Shrike,’ murmured Father Hoyt. ‘There is no death in all the Universe!’ intoned Martin Silenus in a voice which the Consul felt sure could have awakened someone deep in cryogenic fugue. The poet drained the last of his wine and raised the empty goblet in an apparent toast to the stars:‘No smell of death – there shall be no death, moan, moan; Moan, Cybele, moan; for thy pernicious Babes Have changed a god into a shaking palsy. Moan, brethren, moan, for I have no strength left; Weak as the reed – weak – feeble as my voice— Oh, oh, the pain, the pain of feebleness. Moan, moan, for still I thaw . . .’ Silenus abruptly broke off and poured more wine, belching once into the silence which had followed his recitation. The other six looked at one another. The Consul noticed that Sol Weintraub was smiling slightly until the baby in his arms stirred and distracted him. ‘Well,’ said Father Hoyt hesitantly, as if trying to retrieve an earlier strand of thought, ‘if the Hegemony convoy leaves and the Ousters take Hyperion, perhaps the occupation will be bloodless and they’ll let us go about our business.’ Colonel Fedmahn Kassad laughed softly. ‘The Ousters don’t want to occupy Hyperion,’ he said. ‘If they take the planet they’ll loot what they want and then do what they do best. They’ll burn the cities into charred rubble, break the rubble into smaller pieces, and then bake the pieces until they glow. They’ll melt the poles, boil the oceans, and then use the residue to salt what’s left of the continents so nothing will ever grow there again.’ ‘Well . . .’ began Father Hoyt and then trailed off. There was no conversation as the clones cleared the soup and salad dishes and brought on the main course. ‘You said that there was a Hegemony warship escorting us,’ the Consul said to Het Masteen as they finished their roast beef and boiled sky squid. The Templar nodded and pointed. The Consul squinted but could make out nothing moving against the rotating starfield. ‘Here,’ said Fedmahn Kassad and leaned across Father Hoyt to hand the Consul a collapsible pair of military binoculars. The Consul nodded his thanks, thumbed on the power, and scanned the patch of sky Het Masteen had indicated. Gyroscopic crystals in the binoculars hummed slightly as they stabilized the optics and swept the area in a programmed search pattern. Suddenly the image froze, blurred, expanded, and steadied. The Consul could not avoid an involuntary intake of breath as the Hegemony ship filled the viewer. Neither the expected field-blurred seed of a solo ramscout nor the bulb of a torchship, the electronically outlined image was of a matte-black attack carrier. The thing was impressive in the way only warships through the centuries had succeeded in being. The Hegemony spinship was incongruously streamlined with its four sets of boom arms retracted in battle readiness, its sixty-meter command probe sharp as a Clovis point, and its Hawking drive and fusion blisters set far back along the launch shaft like feathers on an arrow. The Consul handed the binoculars back to Kassad without comment. If the task force was using a full attack carrier to escort the Yggdrasill, what kind of firepower were they setting in place to meet the Ouster invasion? ‘How long until we land?’ asked Brawne Lamia. She had been using her comlog to access the treeship’s datasphere and obviously was frustrated with what she had found. Or had not found. ‘Four hours until orbit,’ murmured Het Masteen. ‘A few minutes more by dropship. Our consular friend has offered his private craft to ferry you down.’ ‘To Keats?’ said Sol Weintraub. It was the first time the scholar had spoken since dinner had been served. The Consul nodded. ‘It’s still the only spaceport on Hyperion set to handle passenger vehicles,’ he said. ‘Spaceport?’ Father Hoyt sounded angry. ‘I thought that we were going straight to the north. To the Shrike’s realm.’ Het Masteen patiently shook his head. ‘The pilgrimage always begins from the capital,’ he said. ‘It will take several days to reach the Time Tombs.’ ‘Several days,’ snapped Brawne Lamia. ‘That’s absurd.’ ‘Perhaps,’ agreed Het Masteen, ‘but it is the case, nonetheless.’ Father Hoyt looked as if something in the meal had caused him indigestion even though he had eaten almost nothing. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘couldn’t we change the rules this once – I mean, given the war scare and all? And just land near the Time Tombs or wherever and get it over with?’ The Consul shook his head. ‘Spacecraft and aircraft have been trying to take the short route to the northern moors for almost four hundred years,’ he said. ‘I know of none who made it.’ ‘May one inquire,’ said Martin Silenus, happily raising his hand like a schoolboy, ‘just what the gibbering fuck happens to these legions of ships?’ Father Hoyt frowned at the poet. Fedmahn Kassad smiled slightly. Sol Weintraub said, ‘The Consul did not mean to suggest that the area is inaccessible. One may travel by ship or various land routes. Nor do spacecraft and aircraft disappear. They easily land near the ruins or the Time Tombs and just as easily return to whatever point their computers command. It is merely the pilots and passengers who are never seen again.’ Weintraub lifted the sleeping baby from his lap and set her in an infant carrier slung around his neck. ‘So the tired old legend goes,’ said Brawne Lamia. ‘What do the ship logs show?’ ‘Nothing,’ said the Consul. ‘No violence. No forced entry. No deviation from course. No unexplained time lapses. No unusual energy emissions or depletions. No physical phenomena of any sort.’ ‘No passengers,’ said Het Masteen. The Consul did a slow double take. If Het Masteen had, indeed, just attempted a joke, it was the first sign in all of the Consul’s decades of dealing with the Templars that one of them had shown even a nascent sense of humour. What the Consul could see of the Captain’s vaguely oriental features beneath the cowl gave no hint that a joke had been attempted. ‘Marvelous melodrama,’ laughed Silenus. ‘A real-life, Christ-weeping Sargasso of Souls and we’re for it. Who orchestrates this shitpot of a plot, anyway?’ ‘Shut up,’ said Brawne Lamia. ‘You’re drunk, old man.’ The Consul sighed. The group had been together for less than a standard hour. Crew clones swept away the dishes and brought dessert trays showcasing sherbets, coffees, treeship fruit, draums, tortes, and concoctions made of Renaissance chocolate. Martin Silenus waved away the desserts and told the clones to bring him another bottle of wine. The Consul reflected a few seconds and then asked for a whiskey. ‘It occurs to me,’ Sol Weintraub said as the group was finishing dessert, ‘that our survival may depend upon our talking to one another.’ ‘What do you mean?’ asked Brawne Lamia. Weintraub unconsciously rocked the child sleeping against his chest. ‘For instance, does anyone here know why he or she was chosen by the Shrike Church and the All Thing to go on this voyage?’ No one spoke. ‘I thought not,’ said Weintraub. ‘Even more fascinating, is anyone here a member or follower of the Church of the Shrike? I, for one, am a Jew, and however confused my religious notions have become these days, they do not include the worship of an organic killing machine.’ Weintraub raised eyebrows and looked around the table. ‘I am the True Voice of the Tree,’ said Het Masteen. ‘While many Templars believe that the Shrike is the Avatar of punishment for those who do not feed from the root, I must consider this a heresy not founded in the Covenant or the writings of the Muir.’ To the Captain’s left, the Consul shrugged. ‘I am an atheist,’ he said, holding the glass of whiskey to the light. ‘I have never been in contact with the Shrike cult.’ Father Hoyt smiled without humor. ‘The Catholic Church ordained me,’ he said. ‘Shrike-worship contradicts everything the Church defends.’ Colonel Kassad shook his head, whether in refusal to respond or to indicate that he was not a member of the Shrike Church, it was not clear. Martin Silenus made an expansive gesture. ‘I was baptized a Lutheran,’ he said. ‘A subset which no longer exists. I helped create Zen Gnosticism before any of your parents were born. I have been a Catholic, a revelationist, a neo-Marxist, an interface zealot, a Bound Shaker, a satanist, a bishop in the Church of Jake’s Nada, and a dues-paying subscriber to the Assured Reincarnation Institute. Now, I am happy to say, I am a simple pagan.’ He smiled at everyone. ‘To a pagan,’ he concluded, ‘the Shrike is a most acceptable deity.’ ‘I ignore religions,’ said Brawne Lamia. ‘I do not succumb to them.’ ‘My point has been made, I believe,’ said Sol Weintraub. ‘None of us admits to subscribing to the Shrike cult dogma, yet the elders of that perceptive group have chosen us over many millions of the petitioning faithful to visit the Time Tombs . . . and their fierce god . . . in what may be the last such pilgrimage.’ The Consul shook his head. ‘Your point may be made, M. Weintraub,’ he said, ‘but I fail to see it.’ The scholar absently stroked his beard. ‘It would seem that our reasons for returning to Hyperion are so compelling that even the Shrike Church and the Hegemony probability intelligences agree that we deserve to return,’ he said. ‘Some of these reasons – mine, for instance – may appear to be public knowledge, but I am certain that none are known in their entirety except to the individuals at this table. I suggest that we share our stories in the few days remaining to us.’ ‘Why?’ said Colonel Kassad. ‘It would seem to serve no purpose.’ Weintraub smiled. ‘On the contrary, it would – at the very least – amuse us and give at least a glimpse of our fellow travelers’ souls before the Shrike or some other calamity distracts us. Beyond that, it might just give us enough insight to save all of our lives if we are intelligent enough to find the common thread of experience which binds all our fates to the whim of the Shrike.’ Martin Silenus laughed and closed his eyes. He said: ‘Straddling each a dolphin’s back And steadied by a fin, Those Innocents re-live their death, Their wounds open again.’ ‘That’s Lenista, isn’t it?’ said Father Hoyt. ‘I studied her in seminary.’ ‘Close,’ said Silenus, opening his eyes and pouring more wine. ‘It’s Yeats. Bugger lived five hundred years before Lenista tugged at her mother’s metal teat.’ ‘Look,’ said Lamia, ‘what good would telling each other stories do? When we meet the Shrike, we tell it what we want, one of us is granted the wish, and the others die. Correct?’ ‘So goes the myth,’ said Weintraub. ‘The Shrike is no myth,’ said Kassad. ‘Nor its steel tree.’ ‘So why bore each other with stories?’ asked Brawne Lamia, spearing the last of her chocolate cheesecake. Weintraub gently touched the back of his sleeping infant’s head. ‘We live in strange times,’ he said. ‘Because we are part of that one tenth of one tenth of one percent of the Hegemony’s citizens who travel between the stars rather than along the Web, we represent odd epochs of our own recent past. I, for example, am sixty-eight standard years old, but because of the time-debts my travels could have incurred, I might have spread these threescore and eight years across well more than a century of Hegemony history.’ ‘So?’ said the woman next to him. Weintraub opened his hand in a gesture which included everyone at the table. ‘Among us we represent islands of time as well as separate oceans of perspective. Or perhaps more aptly put, each of us may hold a piece to a puzzle no one else has been able to solve since humankind first landed on Hyperion.’ Weintraub scratched his nose. ‘It is a mystery,’ he said, ‘and to tell the truth, I am intrigued by mysteries even if this is to be my last week of enjoying them. I would welcome some glimmer of understanding but, failing that, working on the puzzle will suffice.’ ‘I agree,’ said Het Masteen with no emotion. ‘It had not occurred to me, but I see the wisdom of telling our tales before we confront the Shrike.’ ‘But what’s to keep us from lying?’ asked Brawne Lamia. ‘Nothing.’ Martin Silenus grinned. ‘That’s the beauty of it.’ ‘We should put it to a vote,’ said the Consul. He was thinking about Meina Gladstone’s contention that one of the group was an Ouster agent. Would hearing the stories be a way of revealing the spy? The Consul smiled at the thought of an agent so stupid. ‘Who decided that we are a happy little democracy?’ Colonel Kassad asked dryly. ‘We had better be,’ said the Consul. ‘To reach our individual goals, this group needs to reach the Shrike regions together. We require some means of making decisions.’ ‘We could appoint a leader,’ said Kassad. ‘Piss on that,’ the poet said in a pleasant tone. Others at the table also shook their heads. ‘All right,’ said the Consul, ‘we vote. Our first decision relates to M. Weintraub’s suggestion that we tell the stories of our past involvement with Hyperion.’ ‘All or nothing,’ said Het Masteen. ‘We each share our story or none does. We will abide by the will of the majority.’ ‘Agreed,’ said the Consul, suddenly curious to hear the others tell their stories and equally sure that he would never tell his own. ‘Those in favor of telling our tales?’ ‘Yes,’ said Sol Weintraub. ‘Yes,’ said Het Masteen. ‘Absolutely,’ said Martin Silenus. ‘I wouldn’t miss this little comic farce for a month in the orgasm baths on Shote.’ ‘I vote yes also,’ said the Consul, surprising himself. ‘Those opposed?’ ‘Nay,’ said Father Hoyt but there was no energy in his voice. ‘I think it’s stupid,’ said Brawne Lamia. The Consul turned to Kassad. ‘Colonel?’ Fedmahn Kassad shrugged. ‘I register four yes votes, two negatives, and one abstention,’ said the Consul. ‘The ayes have it. Who wants to start?’ The table was silent. Finally Martin Silenus looked up from where he had been writing on a small pad of paper. He tore a sheet into several smaller strips. ‘I’ve recorded numbers from one to seven,’ he said. ‘Why don’t we draw lots and go in the order we draw?’ ‘That seems rather childish, doesn’t it?’ said M. Lamia. ‘I’m a childish fellow,’ responded Silenus with his satyr’s smile. ‘Ambassador’ – he nodded toward the Consul – ‘could I borrow that gilded pillow you’re wearing for a hat?’ The Consul handed over his tricorne, the folded slips were dropped in, and the hat passed around. Sol Weintraub was the first to draw, Martin Silenus the last. The Consul unfolded his slip, making sure that no one else could see it. He was number seven. Tension ebbed out of him like air out of an overinflated balloon. It was quite possible, he reasoned, that events would intercede before he had to tell his story. Or the war would make everything academic. Or the group could lose interest in stories. Or the king could die. Or the horse could die. Or he could teach the horse how to talk. No more whiskey, thought the Consul. ‘Who’s first?’ asked Martin Silenus. In the brief silence, the Consul could hear leaves stirring to unfelt breezes. ‘I am,’ said Father Hoyt. The priest’s expression showed the same barely submerged acceptance of pain which the Consul had seen on the faces of terminally ill friends. Hoyt held up his slip of paper with a large 1 clearly scrawled on it. ‘All right,’ said Silenus. ‘Start.’ ‘Now?’ asked the priest. ‘Why not?’ said the poet. The only sign that Silenus had finished at least two bottles of wine was a slight darkening of the already ruddy cheeks and a somewhat more demonic tilt to the pitched eyebrows. ‘We have a few hours before planetfall,’ he said, ‘and I for one plan to sleep off the freezer fugue when we’re safely down and settled among the simple natives.’ ‘Our friend has a point,’ Sol Weintraub said softly. ‘If the tales are to be told, the hour after dinner each day is a civilized time to tell them.’ Father Hoyt sighed and stood. ‘Just a minute,’ he said and left the dining platform. After some minutes had passed, Brawne Lamia said, ‘Do you think he’s lost his nerve?’ ‘No,’ said Lenar Hoyt, emerging from the darkness at the head of the wooden escalator which served as the main staircase. ‘I needed these.’ He dropped two small, stained notebooks on the table as he took his seat. ‘No fair reading stories from a primer,’ said Silenus. ‘These are to be our own tall tales, Magus!’ ‘Shut up, damn it!’ cried Hoyt. He ran a hand across his face, touched his chest. For the second time that night, the Consul knew that he was looking at a seriously ill man. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Father Hoyt. ‘But if I’m to tell my . . . my tale, I have to tell someone else’s story as well. These journals belong to the man who was the reason for my coming to Hyperion . . . and why I am returning today.’ Hoyt took a deep breath. The Consul touched the journals. They were begrimed and charred, as if they had survived a fire. ‘Your friend has old-fashioned tastes,’ he said, ‘if he still keeps a written journal.’ ‘Yes,’ said Hoyt. ‘If you’re all ready, I will begin.’ The group at the table nodded. Beneath the dining platform, a kilometer of treeship drove through the cold night with the strong pulse of a living thing. Sol Weintraub lifted his sleeping child from the infant carrier and carefully set her on a cushioned mat on the floor near his chair. He removed his comlog, set it near the mat, and programmed the diskey for white noise. The week-old infant lay on her stomach and slept. The Consul leaned far back and found the blue and green star which was Hyperion. It seemed to grow larger even as he watched. Het Masteen drew his cowl forward until only shadows showed for his face. Sol Weintraub lighted a pipe. Others accepted refills of coffee and settled back in their chairs. Martin Silenus seemed the most avid and expectant of the listeners as he leaned forward and whispered:‘He seyde, “Syn I shal bigynne the game, What, welcome be the cut, a Goddes name! Now lat us ryde, and herkneth what I seye.” And with that word we ryden forth oure weye; And he bigan with right a myrie cheere His tale anon, and seyde as ye may heere.’ THE PRIEST’S TALE: ‘The Man Who Cried God’ ‘Sometimes there is a thin line separating orthodox zeal from apostasy,’ said Father Lenar Hoyt. So began the priest’s story. Later, dictating the tale into his comlog, the Consul remembered it as a seamless whole, minus the pauses, hoarse voice, false starts, and small redundancies which were the timeless failings of human speech. Lenar Hoyt had been a young priest, born, raised, and only recently ordained on the Catholic world of Pacem, when he was given his first offworld assignment: he was ordered to escort the respected Jesuit Father Paul Duré into quiet exile on the colony world of Hyperion. In another time, Father Paul Duré certainly would have become a bishop and perhaps a pope. Tall, thin, ascetic, with white hair receding from a noble brow and eyes too filled with the sharp edge of experience to hide their pain, Paul Duré was a follower of St Teilhard as well as an archaeologist, ethnologist, and eminent Jesuit theologian. Despite the decline of the Catholic Church into what amounted to a half-forgotten cult tolerated because of its quaintness and isolation from the mainstream of Hegemony life, Jesuit logic had not lost its bite. Nor had Father Duré lost his conviction that the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church continued to be humankind’s last, best hope for immortality. To Lenar Hoyt as a boy, Father Duré had been a somewhat godlike figure when glimpsed during his rare visits to the pre-seminary schools, or on the would-be seminarian’s even rarer visits to the New Vatican. Then, during the years of Hoyt’s study in seminary, Duré had been on an important Church-sponsored archaeological dig on the nearby world of Armaghast. When the Jesuit returned, a few weeks after Hoyt’s ordination, it had been under a cloud. No one outside the highest circles of the New Vatican knew precisely what had happened, but there were whispers of excommunication and even of a hearing before the Holy Office of the Inquisition, dormant the four centuries since the confusion following the death of Earth. Instead, Father Duré had asked for a posting to Hyperion, a world most people knew of only because of the bizarre Shrike cult which had originated there, and Father Hoyt had been chosen to accompany him. It would be a thankless job, traveling in a role which combined the worst aspects of apprentice, escort, and spy without even the satisfaction of seeing a new world; Hoyt was under orders to see Father Duré down to the Hyperion spaceport and then reboard the same spinship for its return voyage to the Worldweb. What the bishopric was offering Lenar Hoyt was twenty months in cryogenic fugue, a few weeks of in-system travel at either end of the voyage, and a time-debt which would return him to Pacem eight years behind his former classmates in the quest for Vatican careers and missionary postings. Bound by obedience and schooled in discipline, Lenar Hoyt accepted without question. Their transport, the aging spinship HS Nadia Oleg, was a pockmarked metal tub with no artificial gravity of any sort when it was not under drive, no viewports for the passengers, and no on-board recreation except for the stimsims piped into the datalink to keep passengers in their hammocks and fugue couches. After awakening from fugue, the passengers – mostly offworld workers and economy-rate tourists with a few cult mystics and would-be Shrike suicides thrown in for good measure – slept in those same hammocks and fugue couches, ate recycled food in featureless mess decks, and generally tried to cope with spacesickness and boredom during their twelve-day, zero-g glide from their spinout point to Hyperion. Father Hoyt learned little from Father Duré during those days of forced intimacy, nothing at all about the events on Armaghast which had sent the senior priest into exile. The younger man had keyed his comlog implant to seek out as much data as it could on Hyperion and, by the time they were three days out from planetfall, Father Hoyt considered himself somewhat of an expert on the world. ‘There are records of Catholics coming to Hyperion but no mention of a diocese there,’ said Hoyt one evening as they hung talking in their zero-g hammocks while most of their fellow passengers lay tuned into erotic stimsims. ‘I presume you’re going down to do some mission work?’ ‘Not at all,’ replied Father Duré. ‘The good people of Hyperion have done nothing to foist their religious opinions on me, so I see no reason to offend them with my proselytizing. Actually, I hope to travel to the southern continent – Aquila – and then find a way inland from the city of Port Romance. But not in the guise of a missionary. I plan to set up an ethnological research station along the Cleft.’ ‘Research?’ Father Hoyt had echoed in surprise. He closed his eyes to key his implant. Looking again at Father Duré, he said, ‘That section of the Pinion Plateau isn’t inhabited, Father. The flame forests make it totally inaccessible most of the year.’ Father Duré smiled and nodded. He carried no implant and his ancient comlog had been in his luggage for the duration of the trip. ‘Not quite inaccessible,’ he said softly. ‘And not quite uninhabited. The Bikura live there.’ ‘Bikura,’ Father Hoyt said and closed his eyes. ‘But they’re just a legend,’ he said at last. ‘Hmmm,’ said Father Duré. ‘Try cross-indexing through Mamet Spedling.’ Father Hoyt closed his eyes again. General Index told him that Mamet Spedling had been a minor explorer affiliated with the Shackleton Institute on Renaissance Minor who, almost a standard century and a half earlier, had filed a short report with the Institute in which he told of hacking his way inland from the then newly settled Port Romance, through swamplands which had since been reclaimed for fiberplastic plantations, passing through the flame forests during a period of rare quietude, and climbing high enough on the Pinion Plateau to encounter the Cleft and a small tribe of humans who fit the profile of the legendary Bikura. Spedling’s brief notes hypothesized that the humans were survivors of a missing seedship colony from three centuries earlier and clearly described a group suffering all of the classic retrograde cultural effects of extreme isolation, inbreeding, and overadaptaflon. In Spedling’s blunt words, ‘. . . even after less than two days here it is obvious that the Bikura are too stupid, lethargic, and dull to waste time describing.’ As it turned out, the flame forests then began to show some signs of becoming active and Spedling had not wasted any more time observing his discovery but had rushed to reach the coast, losing four indigenie bearers, all of his equipment and records, and his left arm to the ‘quiet’ forest in the three months it took him to escape. ‘My God,’ Father Hoyt had said as he lay in his hammock on the Nadia Oleg, ‘why the Bikura?’ ‘Why not?’ had been Father Duré’s mild reply. ‘Very little is known about them.’ ‘Very little is known about most of Hyperion,’ said the younger priest, becoming somewhat agitated. ‘What about the Time Tombs and the legendary Shrike north of the Bridle Range on Equus?’ he said. ‘They’re famous!’ ‘Precisely,’ said Father Duré. ‘Lenar, how many learned papers have been written on the Tombs and the Shrike creature? Hundreds? Thousands?’ The aging priest had tamped in tobacco and now lighted his pipe: no small feat in zero-g, Hoyt observed. ‘Besides,’ said Paul Duré, ‘even if the Shrike-thing is real, it is not human. I am partial to human beings.’ ‘Yes,’ said Hoyt, ransacking his mental arsenal for potent arguments, ‘but the Bikura are such a small mystery. At the most you’re going to find a few dozen indigenies living in a region so cloudy and smoky and . . . unimportant that even the colony’s own mapsats haven’t noticed them. Why choose them when there are big mysteries to study on Hyperion . . . like the labyrinths!’ Hoyt had brightened. ‘Did you know that Hyperion is one of the nine labyrinthine worlds, Father?’ ‘Of course,’ said Duré. A rough hemisphere of smoke expanded from him until air currents broke it into tendrils and tributaries. ‘But the labyrinths have their researchers and admirers throughout the Web, Lenar, and the tunnels have been there – on all nine worlds – for how long? Half a million standard years? Closer to three quarters of a million, I believe. Their secret will last. But how long will the Bikura culture last before they’re absorbed into modern colonial society or, more likely, are simply wiped out by circumstances?’ Hoyt shrugged. ‘Perhaps they’re already gone. It’s been a long time since Spedling’s encounter with them and there haven’t been any other confirmed reports. If they are extinct as a group, then all of your time-debt and labor and pain of getting there will be for nothing.’ ‘Precisely,’ was all that Father Paul Duré had said and puffed calmly on his pipe. It was in their last hour together, during the dropship ride down, that Father Hoyt had gained the slightest glimpse into his companion’s thoughts. The limb of Hyperion had been glowing white and green and lapis above them for hours when suddenly the old dropship had cut into the upper layers of atmosphere, flame had briefly filled the window, and then they were flying silently some sixty kilometers above dark cloud masses and starlit seas with the hurtling terminator of Hyperion’s sunrise rushing toward them like a spectral tidal wave of light. ‘Marvelous,’ Paul Duré had whispered, more to himself than to his young companion. ‘Marvelous. It is at times like this that I have the sense . . . the slightest sense . . . of what a sacrifice it must have been for the Son of God to condescend to become the Son of Man.’ Hoyt had wanted to talk then, but Father Duré had continued to stare out the window, lost in thought. Ten minutes later they had landed at Keats Interstellar, Father Duré was soon swept into the whirlpool of customs and luggage rituals, and twenty minutes after that a thoroughly disappointed Lenar Hoyt was rising toward space and the Nadia Oleg once again. ‘Five weeks later of my time, I returned to Pacem,’ said Father Hoyt. ‘I had mislaid eight years but for some reason my sense of loss ran deeper than that simple fact. Immediately upon my return, the bishop informed me that there had been no word from Paul Duré during the four years of his stay on Hyperion. The New Vatican had spent a fortune on fatline inquiries, but neither the colonial authorities nor the consulate in Keats had been able to locate the missing priest.’ Hoyt paused to sip from his water glass and the Consul said, ‘I remember the search. I never met Duré of course, but we did our best to trace him. Theo, my aide, spent a lot of energy over the years trying to solve the case of the missing cleric. Other than a few contradictory reports of sightings in Port Romance, there was no trace of him. And those sightings went back to the weeks right after his arrival, years before. There were hundreds of plantations out there with no radios or comlines, primarily because they were harvesting bootleg drugs as well as fiberplastic. I guess we never talked to the people at the right plantation. At least I know Father Duré’s file was still open when I left.’ Father Hoyt nodded. ‘I landed in Keats a month after your replacement had taken over at the consulate. The bishop had been astonished when I volunteered to return. His Holiness himself granted me an audience. I was on Hyperion less than seven of its local months. By the time I left to return to the Web, I had discovered the fate of Father Duré.’ Hoyt tapped the two stained leather books on the table. ‘If I am to complete this,’ he said, his voice thick, ‘I must read excerpts from these.’ The treeship Yggdrasill had turned so the bulk of the tree had blocked the sun. The effect was to plunge the dining platform and the curved canopy of leaves beneath it into night, but instead of a few thousand stars dotting the sky, as would have been the case from a planet’s surface, literally a million suns blazed above, beside, and beneath the group at the table. Hyperion was a distinct sphere now, hurtling directly at them like some deadly missile. ‘Read,’ said Martin Silenus. FROM THE JOURNAL OF FATHER PAUL DURÉ: Day 1: So begins my exile. I am somewhat at a loss as to how to date my new journal. By the monastic calendar on Pacem, it is the seventeenth day of Thomas-month in the Year of Our Lord 2732. By Hegemony Standard, it is October 12, 589 P.C. By Hyperion reckoning, or so I am told by the wizened little clerk in the old hotel where I am staying, it is the twenty-third day of Lycius (the last of their seven forty-day months), either 426 A.D.C. (after dropship crash!) or the hundred and twenty-eighth year of the reign of Sad King Billy, who has not reigned for at least a hundred of those years. To hell with it. I’ll call it Day I of my exile. Exhausting day. (Strange to be tired after months of sleep, but that is said to be a common reaction after awakening from fugue. My cells feel the fatigue of these past months of travel even if I do not remember them. I don’t remember feeling this tired from travel when I was younger.) I felt bad about not getting to know young Hoyt better. He seems a decent sort, all proper catechism and bright eyes. It’s no fault of youngsters like him that the Church is in its final days. It’s just that his brand of happy naiveté can do nothing to arrest that slide into oblivion which the Church seems destined for. Well, my contributions have not helped either. Brilliant view of my new world as the dropship brought us down. I was able to make out two of the three continents – Equus and Aquila. The third one, Ursa, was not visible. Planetfall at Keats and hours of effort getting through customs and taking ground transit into the city. Confused images: the mountain range to the north with its shifting, blue haze, foothills forested with orange and yellow trees, pale sky with its green-blue undercoating, the sun too small but more brilliant than Pacem’s. Colors seem more vivid from a distance, dissolving and scattering as one approaches, like a pointillist’s palette. The great sculpture of Sad King Billy which I had heard so much about was oddly disappointing. Seen from the highway, it looked raw and rough, a hasty sketch chiseled from the dark mountain, rather than the regal figure I had expected. It does brood over this ramshackle city of half a million people in a way that the neurotic poet-king probably would have appreciated. The town itself seems to be separated into the sprawling maze of slums and saloons which the locals call Jacktown and Keats itself, the so-called Old City although it dates back only four centuries, all polished stone and studied sterility. I will take the tour soon. I had scheduled a month in Keats but already I am eager to press on. Oh, Monsignor Edouard, if you could see me now. Punished but still unrepentant. More alone than ever but strangely satisfied with my new exile. If my punishment for past excesses brought about by my zeal is to be banishment to the seventh circle of desolation, then Hyperion was well chosen. I could forget my self-appointed mission to the distant Bikura (are they real? I think not this night) and content myself with living out the remainder of my years in this provincial capital on this godforsaken backwater world. My exile would be no less complete. Ah, Edouard, boys together, classmates together (although I was not so brilliant nor so orthodox as you), now old men together. But now you are four years wiser and I am still the mischievous, unrepentant boy you remember. I pray that you are alive and well and praying for me. Tired. Will sleep. Tomorrow, take the tour of Keats, eat well, and arrange transport to Aquila and points south. Day 5: There is a cathedral in Keats. Or, rather, there was one. It has been abandoned for at least two standard centuries. It lies in ruins with its transept open to the green-blue skies, one of its western towers unfinished, and the other tower a skeletal framework of tumbled stone and rusted reinforcement rods. I stumbled upon it while wandering, lost, along the banks of the Hoolie River in the sparsely populated section of town where the Old City decays into Jacktown amid a jumble of tall warehouses which prevent even a glimpse of the ruined towers of the cathedral until one turns a corner onto a narrow cul-de-sac and there is the shell of the cathedral; its chapter house has half fallen away into the river, its facade is pocked with remnants of the mournful, apocalyptic statuary of the post-Hegira expansionist period. I wandered through the latticework of shadows and fallen blocks into the nave. The bishopric on Pacem had not mentioned any history of Catholicism on Hyperion, much less the presence of a cathedral. It is almost inconceivable that the scattered seedship colony of four centuries ago could have supported a large enough congregation to warrant the presence of a bishop, much less a cathedral. Yet there it was. I poked through the shadows of the sacristy. Dust and powdered plaster hung in the air like incense, outlining two shafts of sunlight streaming down from narrow windows high above. I stepped out into a broader patch of sunlight and approached an altar stripped of all decoration except for chips and cracks caused by falling masonry. The great cross which had hung on the east wall behind the altar had also fallen and now lay in ceramic splinters among the heap of stones there. Without conscious thought I stepped behind the altar, raised my arms, and began the celebration of the Eucharist. There was no sense of parody or melodrama in this act, no symbolism or hidden intention; it was merely the automatic reaction of a priest who had said Mass almost daily for more than forty-six years of his life and who now faced the prospect of never again participating in the reassuring ritual of that celebration. It was with some shock that I realized I had a congregation. The old woman was kneeling in the fourth row of pews. The black of her dress and scarf blended so perfectly with the shadows there that only the pale oval of her face was visible, lined and ancient, floating disembodied in the darkness. Startled, I stopped speaking the litany of consecration. She was looking at me but something about her eyes, even at a distance, instantly convinced me that she was blind. For a moment I could not speak and stood there mute, squinting in the dusty light bathing the altar, trying to explain this spectral image to myself while at the same time attempting to frame an explanation of my own presence and actions. When I did find my voice and called to her – the words echoing in the great hall – I realized that she had moved. I could hear her feet scraping on the stone floor. There was a rasping sound and then a brief flare of light illuminated her profile far to the right of the altar. I shielded my eyes from the shafts of sunlight and began picking my way over the detritus where the altar railing had once stood. I called to her again, offered reassurances, and told her not to be afraid, even though it was I who had chills coursing up my back. I moved quickly but when I reached the sheltered corner of the nave she was gone. A small door led to the crumbling chapter house and the riverbank. There was no sign of her. I returned to the dark interior and would have gladly attributed her appearance to my imagination, a waking dream after so many months of enforced cryogenic dreamlessness, but for a single, tangible proof of her presence. There in the cool darkness burned a lone red votive candle, its tiny flame flickering to unseen drafts and currents. I am tired of this city. I am tired of its pagan pretensions and false histories. Hyperion is a poet’s world devoid of poetry. Keats itself is a mixture of tawdry, false classicism and mindless, boomtown energy. There are three Zen Gnostic assemblies and four High Muslim mosques in the town, but the real houses of worship are the countless saloons and brothels, the huge marketplaces handling the fiberplastic shipments from the south, and the Shrike Cult temples where lost souls hide their suicidal hopelessness behind a shield of shallow mysticism. The whole planet reeks of mysticism without revelation. To hell with it. Tomorrow I head south. There are skimmers and other aircraft on this absurd world but, for the Common Folk, travel between these accursed island continents seems restricted to boat – which takes forever, I am told – or one of the huge passenger dirigibles which depart from Keats only once a week. I leave early tomorrow by dirigible. Day 10: Animals. The firstdown team for this planet must have had a fixation on animals. Horse, Bear, Eagle. For three days we were creeping down the east coast of Equus over an irregular coastline called the Mane. We’ve spent the last day making the crossing of a short span of the Middle Sea to a large island called Cat Key. Today we are offloading passengers and freight at Felix, the ‘major city’ of the island. From what I can see from the observation promenade and the mooring tower, there can’t be more than five thousand people living in that random collection of hovels and barracks. Next the ship will make its eight-hundred-kilometer crawl down a series of smaller islands called the Nine Tails and then take a bold leap across seven hundred kilometers of open sea and the equator. The next land we see then is the northwest coast of Aquila, the so-called Beak. Animals. To call this conveyance a ‘passenger dirigible’ is an exercise in creative semantics. It is a huge lifting device with cargo holds large enough to carry the town of Felix out to sea and still have room for thousands of bales of fiberplastic. Meanwhile, the less important cargo – we passengers – make do where we can. I have set up a cot near the aft loading portal and made a rather comfortable niche for myself with my personal luggage and three large trunks of expedition gear. Near me is a family of eight – indigenie plantation workers returning from a biannual shopping expedition of their own to Keats – and although I do not mind the sound or scent of their caged pigs or the squeal of their food hamsters, the incessant, confused crowing of their poor befuddled rooster is more than I can stand some nights. Animals! Day 11: Dinner tonight in the salon above the promenade deck with Citizen Heremis Denzel, a retired professor from a small planters’ college near Endymion. He informed me that the Hyperion firstdown team had no animal fetish after all; the official names of the three continents are not Equus, Ursa, and Aquila, but Creighton, Allensen, and Lopez. He went on to say that this was in honor of three middle-level bureaucrats in the old Survey Service. Better the animal fetish! It is after dinner. I am alone on the outside promenade to watch the sunset. The walkway here is sheltered by the forward cargo modules so the wind is little more than a salt-tinged breeze. Above me curves the orange and green skin of the dirigible. We are between islands; the sea is a rich lapis shot through with verdant undertones, a reversal of sky tones. A scattering of high cirrus catches the last light of Hyperion’s too-small sun and ignites like burning coral. There is no sound except for the faintest hum of the electric turbines. Three hundred meters below, the shadow of a huge, mantalike undersea creature keeps pace with the dirigible. A second ago an insect or bird the size and color of a hummingbird but with gossamer wings a meter across paused five meters out to inspect me before diving toward the sea with folded wings. Edouard, I feel very alone tonight. It would help if I knew you were alive, still working in the garden, writing evenings in your study. I thought my travels would stir my old beliefs in St Teilhard’s concept of the God in Whom the Christ of Evolution, the Personal, and the Universal, the En Haut and the En Avant are joined, but no such renewal is forthcoming. It is growing dark. I am growing old. I feel something . . . not yet remorse . . . at my sin of falsifying the evidence on the Armaghast dig. But, Edouard, Your Excellency, if the artifacts had indicated the presence of a Christ-oriented culture there, six hundred light-years from Old Earth, almost three thousand years before man left the surface of the homeworld . . . Was it so dark a sin to interpret such ambiguous data in a way which would have meant the resurgence of Christianity in our lifetime? Yes, it was. But not, I think, because of the sin of tampering with the data, but the deeper sin of thinking that Christianity could be saved. The Church is dying, Edouard. And not merely our beloved branch of the Holy Tree, but all of its offshoots, vestiges and cankers. The entire Body of Christ is dying as surely as this poorly used body of mine, Edouard. You and I knew this in Armaghast, where the blood-sun illuminated only dust and death. We knew it that cool, green summer at the College when we took our first vows. We knew it as boys in the quiet playfields of Villefranche-sur-Saône. We know it now. The light is gone now; I must write by the slight glow from the salon windows a deck above. The stars lie in strange constellations. The Middle Sea glows at night with a greenish, unhealthy phosphorescence. There is a dark mass on the horizon to the southeast. It may be a storm or it may be the next island in the chain, the third of the nine ‘tails’. (What mythology deals with a cat with nine tails? I know of none.) For the sake of the bird I saw earlier – if it was a bird – I pray that it is an island ahead and not a storm. Day 28: I have been in Port Romance eight days and I have seen three dead men. The first was a beached corpse, a bloated, white parody of a man, that had washed up on the mud flats beyond the mooring tower my first evening in town. Children threw stones at it. The second man I watched being pulled from the burned wreckage of a methane-unit shop in the poor section of town near my hotel. His body was charred beyond recognition and shrunken by the heat, his arms and legs pulled tight in the prizefighter posture burning victims have been reduced to since time immemorial. I had been fasting all day and I confess with shame that I began to salivate when the air filled with the rich, frying-fat odor of burned flesh. The third man was murdered not three meters from me. I had just emerged from the hotel onto the maze of mud-splattered planks that serve as sidewalks in this miserable town when shots rang out and a man several paces ahead of me lurched as if his foot had slipped, spun toward me with a quizzical look on his face, and fell sideways into the mud and sewage. He had been shot three times with some sort of projectile weapon. Two of the bullets had struck his chest, the third entered just below the left eye. Incredibly, he was still breathing when I reached him. Without thinking about it, I removed my stole from my carrying bag, fumbled for the vial of holy water I had carried for so long, and proceeded to perform the sacrament of Extreme Unction. No one in the gathering crowd objected. The fallen man stirred once, cleared his throat as if he were about to speak, and died. The crowd dispersed even before the body was removed. The man was middle-aged, sandy-haired, and slightly overweight. He carried no identification, not even a universal card or comlog. There were six silver coins in his pocket. For some reason, I elected to stay with the body the rest of that day. The doctor was a short and cynical man who allowed me to stay during the required autopsy. I suspect that he was starved for conversation. ‘This is what the whole thing’s worth,’ he said as he opened the poor man’s belly like a pink satchel, pulling the folds of skin and muscle back and pinning them down like tent flaps. ‘What thing?’ I asked. ‘His life,’ said the doctor and pulled the skin of the corpse’s face up and back like a greasy mask. ‘Your life. My life.’ The red and white stripes of overlapping muscle turned to blue bruise around the ragged hole just above the cheekbone. ‘There has to be more than this,’ I said. The doctor looked up from his grim work with a bemused smile. ‘Is there?’ he said. ‘Please show me.’ He lifted the man’s heart and seemed to weigh it in one hand. ‘In the Web worlds, this’d be worth some money on the open market. There’re those too poor to keep vat-grown, cloned parts in store, but too well off to die just for want of a heart. But out here it’s just offal.’ ‘There has to be more,’ I said, although I felt little conviction. I remembered the funeral of His Holiness Pope Urban XV shortly before I left Pacem. As has been the custom since pre-Hegira days, the corpse was not embalmed. It waited in the anteroom off the main basilica to be fitted for the plain wooden coffin. As I helped Edouard and Monsignor Frey place the vestments on the stiffened corpse I noticed the browning skin and slackening mouth. The doctor shrugged and finished the perfunctory autopsy. There was the briefest of formal inquiries. No suspect was found, no motive put forward. A description of the murdered man was sent to Keats but the man himself was buried the next day in a pauper’s field between the mud flats and the yellow jungle. Port Romance is a jumble of yellow, weirwood structures set on a maze of scaffolds and planks stretching far out onto the tidal mud flats at the mouth of the Kans. The river is almost two kilometers wide here where it spills out into Toschahai Bay, but only a few channels are navigable and the dredging goes on day and night. I lie awake each night in my cheap room with the window open to the pounding of the dredge-hammer sounding like the booming of this vile city’s heart, the distant susurration of the surf its wet breathing. Tonight I listen to the city breathe and cannot help but give it the flayed face of the murdered man. The companies keep a skimmerport on the edge of town to ferry men and matériel inland to the larger plantations, but I do not have enough money to bribe my way aboard. Rather, I could get myself aboard but cannot afford to transport my three trunks of medical and scientific gear. I am still tempted. My service among the Bikura seems more absurd and irrational now than ever before. Only my strange need for a destination and a certain masochistic determination to complete the terms of my self-imposed exile keep me moving upriver. There is a riverboat departing up the Kans in two days. I have booked passage and will move my trunks onto it tomorrow. It will not be hard to leave Port Romance behind. Day 41: The Emporotic Girandole continues its slow progress upriver. No sight of human habitation since we left Melton’s Landing two days ago. The jungle presses down to the riverbank like a solid wall now; more, it almost completely overhangs us in places where the river narrows to thirty or forty meters. The light itself is yellow, rich as liquid butter, filtered as it is through foliage and fronds eighty meters above the brown surface of the Kans. I sit on the rusted tin roof of the center passenger barge and strain to make out my first glimpse of a tesla tree. Old Kady sitting nearby pauses in his whittling, spits over the side through a gap in his teeth, and laughs at me. ‘Ain’t going to be no flame trees this far down,’ he says. ‘If they was the forest sure as hell wouldn’t look like this. You got to get up in the Pinions before you see a tesla. We ain’t out of the rain forest yet, Padre.’ It rains every afternoon. Actually, rain is too gentle a term for the deluge that strikes us each day, obscuring the shore, pounding the tin roofs of the barges with a deafening roar, and slowing our upstream crawl until it seems we are standing still. It is as if the river becomes a vertical torrent each afternoon, a waterfall which the ship must climb if we are to go on. The Girandole is an ancient, flat-bottomed tow with five barges lashed around it like ragged children clinging to their tired mother’s skirts. Three of the two-level barges carry bales of goods to be traded or sold at the few plantations and settlements along the river. The other two offer a simulacrum of lodging for the indigenies traveling upriver, although I suspect that some of the barge’s residents are permanent. My own berth boasts a stained mattress on the floor and lizard-like insects on the walls. After the rains everyone gathers on the decks to watch the evening mists rise from the cooling river. The air is very hot and supersaturated with moisture most of the day now. Old Kady tells me that I have come too late to make the climb through the rain and flame forests before the tesla trees become active. We shall see. Tonight the mists rise like the spirits of all the dead who sleep beneath the river’s dark surface. The last tattered remnants of the afternoon’s cloud cover dissipate through the treetops and color returns to the world. I watch as the dense forest shifts from chrome yellow to a translucent saffron and then slowly fades through ocher to umber to gloom. Aboard the Girandole, Old Kady lights the lanterns and candle-globes hanging from the sagging second tier and, as if not to be outdone, the darkened jungle begins to glow with the faint phosphorescence of decay while glowbirds and multihued gossamers can be seen floating from branch to branch in the darker upper regions. Hyperion’s small moon is not visible tonight but this world moves through more debris than is common for a planet so close to its sun and the night skies are illuminated by frequent meteor showers. Tonight the heavens are especially fertile and when we move onto wide sections of the river we can see a tracery of brilliant meteor trails weaving the stars together. Their images burn the retina after a while and I look down at the river only to see the same optic echo there in the dark waters. There is a bright glow on the eastern horizon and Old Kady tells me that this is from the orbital mirrors which give light to a few of the larger plantations. It is too warm to return to my cabin. I spread my thin mat on the rooftop of my barge and watch the celestial light show while clusters of indigenie families sing haunting songs in an argot I have not even tried to learn. I wonder about the Bikura, still far away from here, and a strange anxiety rises in me. Somewhere in the forest an animal screams with the voice of a frightened woman. Day 60: Arrived Perecebo Plantation. Sick. Day 62: Very ill. Fever, fits of shaking. All yesterday I was vomiting black bile. The rain is deafening. At night the clouds are lit from above by orbital mirrors. The sky seems to be on fire. My fever is very high. A woman takes care of me. Bathes me. Too sick to be ashamed. Her hair is darker than most indigenies’. She says little. Dark, gentle eyes. Oh, God, to be sick so far from home. Day sheis waiting spying comesin from the rain the thin shirt on purpose to tempt me, knows what iam my skin burning on fire thin cotton nipples dark against it i knowwho they are they are watching, here hear their voices at night they bathe me in poison burns me they think I don’t know but i hear their voices above the rain when the screaming stops stop stop My skin is almost gone. red underneath can feel the hole in my cheek. when I find the bullet iwill spit it out it out. agnusdeiquitolispecattamundi miserer nobis misere nobis miserere Day 65: Thank you, dear Lord, for deliverance from illness. Day 66: Shaved today. Was able to make it to the shower. Semfa helped me prepare for the administrator’s visit. I expected him to be one of the large, gruff types I’ve seen out the window working in the sorting compound, but he was a quiet black man with a slight lisp. He was most helpful. I had been concerned about paying for my medical care but he reassured me that there would be no charge. Even better – he will assign a man to lead me into the high country! He says it is late in the season but if I can travel in ten days we should be able to make it through the flame forest to the Cleft before the tesla trees are fully active. After he left I sat and talked to Semfa a bit. Her husband died here three local months ago in a harvesting accident. Semfa herself had come from Port Romance; her marriage to Mikel had been a salvation for her and she has chosen to stay on here doing odd jobs rather than go back downriver. I do not blame her. After a massage, I will sleep. Many dreams about my mother recently. Ten days. I will be ready in ten days. Day 75: Before leaving with Tuk, I went down to the matrix paddies to say goodbye to Semfa. She said little but I could see in her eyes that she was sad to see me go. Without premeditation, I blessed her and then kissed her on the forehead. Tuk stood nearby, smiling and bobbing. Then we were off, leading the two packbrids. Supervisor Orlandi came to the end of the road and waved as we entered the narrow lane hacked into the aureate foliage. Domine, dirige nos. Day 82: After a week on the trail – what trail? – after a week in the trackless, yellow rain forest, after a week of exhausting climb up the ever steeper shoulder of the Pinion Plateau, we emerged this morning onto a rocky outcropping that allowed us a view back across an expanse of jungle toward the Beak and the Middle Sea. The plateau here is almost three thousand meters above sea level and the view was impressive. Heavy rain clouds spread out below us to the foot of the Pinion Hills, but through gaps in the white and gray carpet of cloud we caught glimpses of the Kans in its leisurely uncoiling toward Port R. and the sea, chrome-yellow swatches of the forest we had struggled through, and a hint of magenta far to the east that Tuk swore was the lower matrix of fiberplastic fields near Perecebo. We continued onward and upward late into the evening. Tuk is obviously worried that we will be caught in the flame forests when the tesla trees become active. I struggle to keep up, tugging at the heavily laden ’brid and saying silent prayers to keep my mind off my aches, pains, and general misgivings. Day 83: Loaded and moving before dawn today. The air smells of smoke and ashes. The change in vegetation here on the Plateau is startling. No longer evident are the ubiquitous weirwood and leafy chalma. After passing through an intermediate zone of short evergreens and everblues, then after climbing again through dense strands of mutated lodgepole pines and triaspen, we came into the flame forest proper with its groves of tall prometheus, trailers of ever present phoenix, and round stands of amber lambents. Occasionally we encountered impenetrable breaks of the white-fibrous, bifurcated bestos plants that Tuk picturesquely referred to as ‘. . . looking like de rotting cocks o’ some dead giants what be buried shallow here, dat be sure.’ My guide has a way with words. It was late afternoon before we saw our first tesla tree. For half an hour we had been trudging over an ash-covered forest floor, trying not to tread on the tender shoots of phoenix and firewhip gamely pushing up through the sooty soil, when suddenly Tuk stopped and pointed. The tesla tree, still half a kilometer away, stood at least a hundred meters tall, half again as high as the tallest prometheus. Near its crown it bulged with the distinctive onion-shaped dome of its accumulator gall. The radial branches above the gall trailed dozens of nimbus vines, each looking silver and metallic against the clear green and lapis sky. The whole thing made me think of some elegant High Muslim mosque on New Mecca irreverently garlanded with tinsel. ‘We got to get de ’brids and our asses de hell out o’ here,’ grunted Tuk. He insisted that we change into flame forest gear right then and there. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trudging on in our osmosis masks and thick, rubber-soled boots, sweating under layers of leathery gamma-cloth. Both of the ’brids acted nervous, their long ears pricking at the slightest sound. Even through my mask I could smell the ozone; it reminded me of electric trains I had played with as a child on lazy Christmas Day afternoons in Villefranche-sur-Saône. We are camping as close as we can to a bestos break this night. Tuk showed me how to set out the ring of arrestor rods, all the time clucking dire warnings to himself and searching the evening sky for clouds. I plan to sleep well in spite of everything. Day 84: 0400 hours— Sweet Mother of Christ. For three hours we have been caught up in the middle of the end of the world. The explosions started shortly after midnight, mere lightning crashes at first, and against our better judgment Tuk and I slid our heads through the tent flap to watch the pyrotechnics. I am used to the Matthewmonth monsoon storms on Pacem, so the first hour of lightning displays did not seem too unusual. Only the sight of distant tesla trees as the unerring focus of the aerial discharge was a bit unnerving. But soon the forest behemoths were glowing and spitting with their own accumulated energy and then – just as I was drifting off to sleep despite the continued noise – true Armageddon was unleashed. At least a hundred arcs of electricity must have been released in the first ten seconds of the tesla trees’ opening spasms of violent energy. A prometheus less than thirty meters from us exploded, dropping flaming brands fifty meters to the forest floor. The arrestor rods glowed, hissed, and deflected arc after arc of blue-white death over and around our small campsite. Tuk screamed something but no mere human sound was audible over the onslaught of light and noise. A patch of trailing phoenix burst into flame near the tethered ’brids and one of the terrified animals – hobbled and blindfolded as it was – broke free and lunged through the circle of glowing arrestor rods. Instantly half a dozen bolts of lightning from the nearest tesla arced to the hapless animal. For a mad second I could have sworn I saw the beast’s skeleton glowing through boiling flesh and then it spasmed high into the air and simply ceased to be. For three hours we have watched the end of the world. Two of the arrestor rods have fallen but the other eight continue to function. Tuk and I huddle in the hot cave of our tent, osmosis masks filtering enough cool oxygen out of the superheated, smoky air to allow us to breathe. Only the lack of undergrowth and Tuk’s skill in placing our tent away from other targets and near the sheltering bestos plants have allowed us to survive. That and the eight whiskered-alloy rods that stand between us and eternity. ‘They seem to be holding up well!’ I shout to Tuk over the hiss and crackle, crash and split of the storm. ‘Dey be made to stand de hour, mebbe two,’ grunts my guide. ‘Any time, mebbe sooner, dey fuse, we die.’ I nod and sip at lukewarm water through the slipstrip of my osmosis mask. If I survive this night, I shall always thank God for His generosity in allowing me to see this sight. Day 87: Tuk and I emerged from the smoldering northeastern edge of the flame forest at noon yesterday, promptly set up camp by the edge of a small stream, and slept for eighteen hours straight; making up for three nights of no sleep and two grueling days moving without rest through a nightmare of flame and ash. Everywhere we looked as we approached the hogback ridge that marked the terminus of the forest, we could see seedpods and cones burst open with new life for the various fire species that had died in the conflagration of the previous two nights. Five of our arrestor rods still functioned, although neither Tuk nor I was eager to test them another night. Our surviving packbrid collapsed and died the instant the heavy load was lifted off its back. I awoke this morning at dawn to the sound of running water. I followed the small stream a kilometer to the northeast, following a deepening in its sound, until suddenly it dropped from sight. The Cleft! I had almost forgotten our destination. This morning, stumbling through the fog, leaping from one wet rock to another alongside the widening stream, I took a leap to a final boulder, teetered there, regained my balance, and looked straight down above a waterfall that dropped almost three thousand meters to mist, rock, and river far below. The Cleft was not carved out of the rising plateau as was the legendary Grand Canyon on Old Earth or World Crack on Hebron. In spite of its active oceans and seemingly earthlike continents, Hyperion is tectonically quite dead; more like Mars, Lusus, or Armaghast in its total lack of continental drift. And like Mars and Lusus, Hyperion is afflicted with its Deep Ice Ages, although here the periodicity is spread to thirty-seven million years by the long ellipse of the currently absent binary dwarf. The comlog compares the Cleft to the pre-terraformed Mariner Valley on Mars, both being caused by the weakening of crust through periodic freeze and thaw over the aeons, followed by the flow of subterranean rivers such as the Kans. Then the massive collapse, running like a long scar through the mountainous wing of the continent Aquila. Tuk joined me as I stood on the edge of the Cleft. I was naked, rinsing the ash smell from my traveling clothes and cassock. I splashed cold water over my pale flesh and laughed out loud as the echoes of Tuk’s shouts came back from the North Wall two thirds of a kilometer away. Because of the nature of the crust collapse, Tuk and I stood far out on an overhang that hid the South Wall below us. Although perilously exposed, we assumed that the rocky cornice which had defied gravity for millions of years would last a few more hours as we bathed, relaxed, shouted echoing hallos until we were hoarse, and generally acted like children liberated from school. Tuk confessed that he had never penetrated the full width of the flame forest – nor known anyone who had in this season – and announced that, now that the tesla trees were becoming fully active, he would have at least a three-month wait until he could return. He did not seem too sorry and I was glad to have him with me. In the afternoon we transported my gear in relays, setting up camp near the stream a hundred meters back from the cornice and stacking my flowfoam boxes of scientific gear for further sorting in the morning. It was cold this evening. After dinner, just before sunset, I pulled on my thermal jacket and walked alone to a rocky ledge southwest of where I had first encountered the Cleft. From my vantage point far out over the river, the view was memorable. Mists rose from unseen waterfalls tumbling to the river far below, spray rising in shifting curtains of mist to multiply the setting sun into a dozen violet spheres and twice that many rainbows. I watched as each spectrum was born, rose toward the darkening dome of sky, and died. As the cooling air settled into the cracks and caverns of the plateau and the warm air rushed skyward, pulling leaves, twigs, and mist upward in a vertical gale, a sound ebbed up out of the Cleft as if the continent itself was calling with the voices of stone giants, gigantic bamboo flutes, church organs the size of palaces, the clear, perfect notes ranging from the shrillest soprano to the deepest bass. I speculated on wind vectors against the fluted rock walls, on caverns far below venting deep cracks in the motionless crust, and on the illusion of human voices that random harmonics can generate. But in the end I set aside speculation and simply listened as the Cleft sang its farewell hymn to the sun. I walked back to our tent and its circle of bioluminescent lantern light as the first fusillade of meteor showers burned the skies overhead and distant explosions from the flame forests rippled along the southern and western horizons like cannon fire from some ancient war on pre-Hegira Old Earth. Once in the tent I try the long-range comlog bands but there is nothing but static. I suspect that even if the primitive comsats that serve the fiberplastic plantations were ever to broadcast this far east, anything but the tightest laser or fatline beams would be masked by the mountains and tesla activity. On Pacem, few of us at the monastery wore or carried personal comlogs, but the datasphere was always there if we needed to tap into it. Here there is no choice. I sit and listen to the last notes from the canyon wind die, watch the skies simultaneously darken and blaze, smile at the sound of Tuk’s snoring from his bedroll outside the tent, and I think to myself, If this is exile, so be it. Day 88: Tuk is dead. Murdered. I found his body when I left the tent at sunrise. He had been sleeping outside, not more than four meters from me. He had said that he wished to sleep under the stars. The murderers cut his throat while he slept. I heard no cry. I did dream, however: dreams of Semfa ministering to me during my fever. Dreams of cool hands touching my neck and chest, touching the crucifix I have worn since childhood. I stood over Tuk’s body, staring at the wide, dark circle where his blood had soaked into Hyperion’s uncaring soil, and I shivered at the thought that the dream had been more than a dream – that hands had touched me in the night. I confess that I reacted more like a frightened old fool than as a priest. I did administer Extreme Unction, but then the panic struck me and I left my poor guide’s body, desperately searched through the supplies for a weapon, and took away the machete I had used in the rain forest and the low-voltage maser with which I had planned to hunt small game. Whether I would have used a weapon on a human being, even to save my own life, I do not know. But, in my panic, I carried the machete, the maser, and the powered binoculars to a high boulder near the Cleft and searched the region for any signs of the murderers. Nothing stirred except the tiny arboreals and gossamers we had seen flitting through the trees yesterday. The forest itself seemed abnormally thick and dark. The Cleft offered a hundred terraces, ledges, and rock balconies to the northeast for entire bands of savages. An army could have hidden there in the crags and ever present mists. After thirty minutes of fruitless vigilance and foolish cowardice, I returned to the campsite and prepared Tuk’s body for burial. It took me well over two hours to dig a proper grave in the rocky soil of the plateau. When it was filled and the formal service was finished, I could think of nothing personal to say about the rough, funny little man who had been my guide. ‘Watch over him, Lord,’ I said at last, disgusted at my own hypocrisy, sure in my heart that I was mouthing words only to myself. ‘Give him safe passage. Amen.’ This evening I have moved my camp half a kilometer north. My tent is pitched in an open area ten meters away but I am wedged with my back against the boulder, sleeping robes pulled around, the machete and maser nearby. After Tuk’s funeral I went through the supplies and boxes of equipment. Nothing had been taken except for the few remaining arrestor rods. Immediately I wondered if someone had followed us through the flame forest in order to kill Tuk and strand me here, but I could think of no motive for such an elaborate action. Anyone from the plantations could have killed us as we slept in the rain forest or – better yet from a murderer’s point of view – deep in the flame forest where no one would wonder at two charred corpses. That left the Bikura. My primitive charges. I considered returning through the flame forest without the rods but soon abandoned the idea. It is probable death to stay and certain death to go. Three months before the teslas become dormant. One hundred twenty of the twenty-six-hour local days. An eternity. Dear Christ, why has this come to me? And why was I spared last night if I am merely to be offered up this night . . . or next? I sit here under the darkening crag and I listen to the suddenly ominous moaning rising with the night wind from the Cleft and I pray as the sky lights with the blood-red streaks of meteor trails. Mouthing words to myself. Day 95: The terrors of the past week have largely abated. I find that even fear fades and becomes commonplace after days of anticlimax. I used the machete to cut small trees for a lean-to, covering the roof and side with gamma-cloth and caulking between the logs with mud. The back wall is the solid stone of the boulder. I have sorted through my research gear and set some of it out, although I suspect that I will never use it now. I have begun foraging to supplement my quickly diminishing cache of freeze-dried food. By now, according to the absurd schedule drawn up so long ago on Pacem, I was to have been living with the Bikura for some weeks and trading small goods for local food. No matter. Besides my diet of bland but easily boiled chalma roots, I have found half a dozen varieties of berries and larger fruits that the comlog assures me are edible; so far only one has disagreed with me enough to keep me squatting all night near the edge of the nearest ravine. I pace the confines of the region as restlessly as one of those caged pelops that were so prized by the minor padishahs on Armaghast. A kilometer to the south and four to the west, the flame forests are in full form. In the morning, smoke vies with the shifting curtains of mist to hide the sky. Only the near-solid breaks of bestos, the rocky soil here on the summit plateau, and the hogback ridges running like armor-plated vertebrae northeast from here keep the teslas at bay. To the north, the plateau widens out and the undergrowth becomes denser near the Cleft for some fifteen kilometers until the way is blocked by a ravine a third as deep and half as wide as the Cleft itself. Yesterday I reached this northernmost point and stared across the gaping barrier with some frustration. I will try again someday, detouring to the east to find a crossing point, but from the telltale signs of phoenix across the chasm and the pall of smoke along the northeastern horizon, I suspect I will find only the chalma-filled canyons and steppes of flame forest that are roughed in on the orbital survey map I carry. Tonight I visited Tuk’s rocky grave as the evening wind began to wail its aeolian dirge. I knelt there and tried to pray but nothing came. Edouard, nothing came. I am as empty as those fake sarcophagi that you and I unearthed by the score from the sterile desert sands near Tarum bel Wadi. The Zen Gnostics would say that this emptiness is a good sign; that it presages openness to a new level of awareness, new insights, new experience. Merde. My emptiness is only . . . emptiness. Day 96: I have found the Bikura. Or, rather, they have found me. I will write what I can before they come to rouse me from my ‘sleep’. Today I was doing some detail mapping a mere four kilometers north of camp when the mists lifted in the midday warmth and I noticed a series of terraces on my side of the Cleft that had been hidden until then. I