I Remember Pallahaxi
Author of many novels and short
stories, Michael Coney won the British Science Fiction Award in 1977,
was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1995, and has been nominated for
the Aurora Award five times. Landmark books, including The Girl with
a Symphony in Her Fingers, Hello Summer, Goodbye, and Brontomek!
mark him out as one of the key British SF authors of his generation.
Since Michael's diagnosis with terminal
cancer early in 2005 he has tidied up his writing affairs, making several
novels available for free on his
website. He regards I Remember Pallahaxi as the most important
of these because of the amount of fan mail asking when it's coming out,
ever since he first mentioned its existence.
An extract is available below, and
the complete novel is available for download as a PDF file, either from
infinity plus or from Michael's
Note: sadly, Michael Coney passed away on
4 November 2005. He will be missed.
A Message from the Author
One morning long ago, at a time
when I had about seven novels under my belt, I awakened from a vivid
dream. I'd been standing on the quayside at Brixham in South Devon and
the lines mooring a nearby fish boat to the quay were hanging just clear
of the water. But the water that dripped from these ropes was no ordinary
water. It was thick and slow-dripping like a heavy motor oil. And I
knew, in my dream, that this was a seasonal phenomenon. Instead of tides
ebbing and flowing, in my dream the sea alternated between thick and
The book took me three weeks to
write, which was quick by my standards. I have a poor memory and am
apt to forget what happened three chapters back, so I like to hurry
things along. Hello Summer, Goodbye was born, known in the US
as Rax and in Canada as Pallahaxi Tide. The book did well
by my modest standards and appeared in a number of languages. Over the
years it also generated a surprising amount of fan mail, and if I am
to believe what I read on http//www.bsfa.co.uk/bestbrit.htm,
it was the best British book of the 70's. Needless to say, I'm tempted
to assume that the Internet never lies.
I had no thought of writing a sequel
because I thought I'd said all there was to say about the heroes, Drove
and Browneyes. But a common thread running through the fan mail was
just such a request, so many years later I wrote it. It has never been
published, partly because it was written long after I'd retired from
novel writing and publishers didn't want to re-launch me and partly,
I suspect, because my writing was never in the mainstream of popularity
in any case. Even Hello Summer, Goodbye was never reprinted.
So here is I Remember Pallahaxi,
free to download. I hope you enjoy it, I really do.
I came close to drowning on my seventeenth birthday.
This may not seem very important to a human like you; after all, you
might say, what's one stilk more or less? But to me it was a big thing,
almost as big as another thing that happened that summer day.
The other thing was that I met Noss Charm.
The near-drowning? It happened like this.
The water in the estuary lay flat and lazy and the little
white cottages of Noss gleamed like a big human smile along the shoreline,
and I was singing in the misty sunlight. A gentle breeze puffed out
the sail of my skimmer as I glided upstream. There are all kinds of
fascinating inlets on the Yam estuary and I was in the mood to explore.
The grume was on its way.
The ocean current that circles our world had been bringing denser water
from the Great Shallows day by day, and by now all deep-hulled boats
had been drawn up in ranks along the shore. The fishermen had fixed
their nets and lines with heavier weights, and taken to the water in
flat-bottomed boats like bigger versions of my own skimmer. Today they
hauled in fish of a different kind, bottom-dwellers forced up by the
thickening water. It's a special time, the grume.
Later would come the fierce grume-riders, skittering over the surface
on powerful flippers, following the grume in its path around the world's
ocean, attacking anything stranded on the surface, consummate predators.
They'll even attack zumes, which must be twenty times their size.
Something about the grume-riders terrifies me. Probably something that
happened to an ancestor of mine; that's where a lot of our fears come
from. One day I'd dig back in my memories, stardreaming, and identify
it and lay it to rest. We call it a backflash; that involuntary surfacing
of a generations-old memory.
I was deep in thought and only half-heard the shout.
"Look where you're going!"
A girl was waving and shouting from a deep-hulled rowboat near the
rocky shore below the cottages. These flounders seem to think they
own the sea around Noss, I thought. Probably got some kind of
local rights over this little bay. Well, to Rax with her, I thought.
I'm sailing where I like.
But the fact that she was able to sit easily in a deep-hulled
boat should have told me something. Deep hulls rise and become unstable
during the grume.
My skimmer picked up speed unexpectedly.
It was a nasty moment. The wind hadn't changed, but the boat leaped
forward like a startled lox. Water splashed noisily under the blunt
bow. Now, grume water doesn't splash; it flops and oozes. Uncanny, this
Then the boat slowed suddenly, as though it had run into a fisherman's
net. Off balance, I slid forward. The boat stopped, sitting lower in
the water. Much lower.
Sinking, in fact.
The stuff of nightmares. I jumped to my feet and the little craft rocked
violently. The sail jibed and enveloped me, blinding me. I felt cold
water creeping up my legs. Cold, cold water. Infinitely cold water squeezed
from the grip of the dead planet Rax.
You humans -- born into a warm world -- don't understand our fear of
cold. But I tell you this fear is very real and based on ancient memories,
not to mention superstitions.
Muffled in the sail, I heard myself screaming with dread. I couldn't
think of anything but the icy hand of Rax, now exploring my groin with
vile fingers. I couldn't move because I was wrapped so tightly in the
sail. And anyway, I'm an inlander, so I can't swim.
Logic may tell you that my personal history ends right here and now.
"For Phu's sake stop that awful howling and come out from
under that sail."
It was the voice of an angel, although I didn't discover this until
later. At the time, any voice was welcome.
"I can't move!" I shouted back. I was trapped. I was doomed. And I
was only seventeen. It was a tragic loss to the world.
The water crept stealthily up to my chest. The skimmer, well underwater,
slid from under me. I fell sideways. Something caught me a fearsome
blow in the ribs. A hand peeled the sail away from my face and a pair
of grave eyes stared into mine.
"Look, this is embarrassing. People might be watching," she said. "I've
saved you. Mumble broken words of gratitude, if you must. But stop that
yelling right now."
I was lying half in, half out of her small deep-hulled rowboat. I was
still entangled in the skimmer's sail, and the mast lay across my ribs.
I began to see reason. After all, the icy powers of the dead planet
Rax are only superstition, put about by religious cranks like my uncle
Stance. The good sun Phu shone on my face and all was warm again. Particularly
the brown eyes of my savior. Brown eyes are a much-admired rarity in
our culture. They are supposed to be a blessing to remind us of the
legendary Browneyes who, with her lover Drove, delivered us from evil
long ago in a somewhat unlikely fashion. Anyway, I'd stopped yelling
at some point and was able to appreciate my surroundings more intensely
than ever before, especially my savior's beautiful eyes.
"Thanks," I mumbled, maybe brokenly.
"Don't mention it. Listen, if you crawl forward you'll be free of all
that stuff. I'll hold onto the mast so we don't lose your boat."
Later we sat on the rocks, drying off. We'd drawn the skimmer up on
the beach; it lay tidily beside the rowboat. A gap in the canopy of
tall seasuckers allowed the sun through. A few rock pools glittered
nearby and we kept our feet well clear of them -- more about that later.
A long-legged loat stood beside one, eyeing it cautiously, as well it
might. You humans don't really know our world; there's always a lot
of explaining to do.
"You're an inlander, I bet," said my savior, whom I could hardly see
through the mists of my shame. "A grubber. All the same, you should
know better than to sail a skimmer upstream during the grume. All that
fresh water coming down the river, huh? One minute you're safe on the
dense stuff, the next, whoosh." She made a plunging motion with a small,
plump hand. "Skimmers don't have enough freeboard to sail on ordinary
"Yeah, yeah," I muttered, looking across the estuary, at the pale sky,
anywhere. I heard her chuckle.
"Mind you," she said kindly, "I've never seen anyone sink quite so
fast. You really didn't have much of a chance."
"What's you name?"
"Uh, Hardy. Yam Hardy."
"You come from Yam?" She was surprised; my village is half a day's
journey away by motorcart, a day on loxback. "Are you...important, in
any way? I mean," she grinned disarmingly, "I'd like to think I've benefited
civilization, saving you from a watery grave."
"My dad's Yam Bruno." I tried to keep the pride out of my voice.
"Bruno? The brother of your manchief?" She sounded reasonably impressed.
"He's here in Noss right now, isn't he? I saw the Yam motorcart."
"He's come to negotiate with the Noss chiefs."
"Oh, supplies, trading, that kind of thing. Planning. Top level stuff.
You wouldn't be interested."
"You mean you don't really know, right?"
The subject needed changing. I seemed to be on the defensive again,
as if the rescue operation hadn't been humiliating enough. Anyway, who
was this girl? Beginning to recover my composure, I was now able to
see she was about my age and startlingly pretty, with round and warm
brown eyes, dimples in plump cheeks and a smile brighter than Phu himself.
But then, I was at an impressionable age. And men and women don't mix
much on our world; I'm not used to being close to such beauty. You probably
find that odd. "You haven't told me your name," I said.
She hesitated. Then, "Charm," she said. "Noss Charm." She hurried on,
"I know it's a funny name, but it's because of this." She reached inside
the neck of her dress -- which seemed to be fashioned out of expensive
human fabric -- and pulled out a crystal on a thin cord. Some kind of
sparkly thing; I know nothing about jewels.
But I do know I got the most powerful backflash at that moment.
I stared from the jewel to her face; those brown, brown eyes, and it
seemed I was looking back in time for as many generations as there have
ever been. Long, long years, countless people passing on this little
memory; it must be a very precious and meaningful one.
The crystal, and the pretty girl....
"Oh," she said quietly, staring at me.
It was her turn to gaze thoughtfully across the estuary. Seasuckers
rose up the far shoreline, tall, green and cool. The ocean lay flat
beyond the headland to our left, and a million pale birds swooped and
screamed, plucking stranded fish from the surface. The Noss skimmers
plied the waters with their nets, gathering the harvest of the grume
-- which Dad was negotiating about right now, because our grain harvest
at Yam was looking pretty scanty.
And I was sitting on the rocks with a girl flounder.
It was time I took stock of my position. Flounders -- coastal people
-- have peculiar habits and webbed feet. They worship waves and sea
monsters and such, so I've been told. They are so different from us
inlanders that some folk think they're a different species, although
this has been disproved on certain discreditable occasions. Their men
catch fish and their women process them in various ways. Basic primitive
lifestyle. No need for planning. Their lives are patterned by the annual
grume, not by their own design. It's even been said their blood runs
thick during this time of year. Mister McNeil, our resident human, calls
We inlanders, on the other hand, are a different breed.
Certainly our men hunt. But it takes intelligence to understand the
complex land migratory patterns, and skill to bring down the prey. And
our women grow crops, which requires all kinds of planning. Mister McNeil
told me this impressed the humans enormously when they first arrived
eight generations ago.
In short, we are more civilized than the flounders.
Or so I believed, right up to that seventeenth birthday. Forgive me;
I was taught that way.
And I found it irritating that the flounders referred to us inland
people as grubbers.
I regarded the female flounder loftily. "I have to be going. My father
will be wondering where I've got to. I expect he'll have concluded his
negotiations by now." Belatedly, I realized I still had an unresolved
problem. "Would you give me a hand with my skimmer?"
"What? Oh, yes." She came out of her trance and we hauled the skimmer
up the steep bank. I pulled and Charm pushed, her heart-shaped face
pink with effort. Finally we emerged from under the trees onto the road
that runs beside the estuary, and later beside the river all the way
to Yam and beyond. Once on the road the going was easier and we lifted
the boat to carry it, one either side.
"That's funny," said Charm.
"There's water coming out. Look."
A small pool lay on the dusty road. Lazy drops of grume water plopped
into it as I watched. We turned the boat over....
Skimmers are of simple construction, unlike deep-hulled boats. They
are little more than long, almost flat-bottomed boxes with transverse
seats. Beneath the seats is the safety board, about a hand's width away
from the bottom of the hull, to keep the sailor's feet away from direct
contact with the boat's cold bottom and the uneasiness -- even fear
-- that such contact might cause.
"There's a hole," said Charm.
It was round, about two fingers wide. I felt the chill of fright. "I'd
have sunk anyway, even without sailing into thin water."
"You must have hit a rock."
"No, I didn't."
"Then someone's trying to kill you." Charm regarded me wide-eyed. "Someone
crept into your place at dead of night and punctured the boat. Probably
wearing a mask. What fun! A secret enemy wants you dead. You must be
even more important than you think. Perhaps you overheard a dirty political
plot." Her innocent expression slipped. "Or perhaps you hit a rock after
"I didn't hit a rock, for Phu's sake!. I think I'd have noticed, huh?
No, this is deliberate. Either it was done before I left home, or it
was done here in Noss. The boat was sitting on the motorcart for quite
a while after we arrived."
Suddenly serious, she said, "No Noss person would damage a boat. We
live off the sea and we know how awful it is to take on water."
"But you can swim."
"Not for long. Cold gets us just the way it gets you grubbers, uh,
inlanders. It takes a while longer, that's all. We're even more scared
of the sea than you are, because we lose people out there quite often.
So we learn to swim. It'd never occur to anyone in Noss to put a hole
in your boat." Her tone was reproving.
Maybe she was right; I didn't know. I regarded the boat glumly. It
had lost its newness. It was violated. Maybe I'd have to leave it in
Noss for repairs; we don't have boatbuilders at Yam. I'd bragged about
the boat before I left; everyone had seen it on the motorcart as Dad
and I had driven away. Now I'd be crawling home with it holed and despoiled.
People would laugh. My sometime friend Caunter -- who'd been secretly
jealous of the boat -- would be delighted. And my stupid cousin Trigger
would ask stupid questions and offer mindless sympathy. And everyone
would be quite sure I'd driven the skimmer up on a rock through sheer
Except the secret enemy....
Was there a secret enemy?
Surely not. In those innocent days, I liked to think I was universally
admired and respected. Adored, even.
We walked on, carrying the boat between us. Soon we passed a cluster
of women's cottages; tumble-down piles of rock set into the rising hillside,
roofed with broad sealeaves. Drivets scuttled among mounds of garbage.
Quite a contrast to Yam's neat women's village. A woman leaned against
a doorway, a baby in her arms.
"Yah, grubber boy!" she shouted. "Go dig dirt!"
Charm's head whipped round. "Argh, go to Rax, Maddy!" she shouted back.
She turned to me. "Sorry about that," she said in normal tones. "Maddy
has a big mouth."
"Anyway, it's our women that grow the crops, not the men," I said,
aggrieved. "Not that there's anything wrong in that."
I noticed a mischievous grin on Charm's lips. "Well, you have to admit
it's a bit odd, spending your life scratching around in dirt. But it's
not for me to say. I'm just glad I was born a coaster."
An astonishing statement. I examined her from the corner of my eye
as we carried the skimmer. Average height, not slim; not plump either.
Quite strong-looking for a girl, with good sturdy shoulders and legs.
Nice little tits, too, for her age. As my examination seemed to be turning
to admiration I noted that she was unnaturally clean to the point of
almost glowing, unlike good inlander women whose skin is ingrained with
the grime of honest agriculture. She probably -- I told myself -- stank
I couldn't tell, because the whole area stank of fish. A lumbering
loxcart passed, dripping with a load of glubb for the drying racks on
the hillside behind the women's cottages. Charm waved to the man leading
the lox; he nodded back. A lorin shambled along beside him, wooly hand
resting on the lox's neck. Lox work much better with lorin as companions.
I stole another glance at Charm. By Phu, she was gorgeous.
Then the companionable silence was shattered by an angry shout.
"Charm! What the freezing hell do you think you're doing?"
"Rax!" Charm swore. "It's Mom."
A tall woman strode toward us, long brown hair framing an
expression of fury, dressed in the skin of some marine mammal so slick
that she looked naked. Beside her trotted a fellow young enough to be
her son. He was chunky and thick-set with a broad, pink face and yellow
hair. An oddly assorted couple; but then, this was Noss.
Charm said mildly, "I'm just helping with this boat. This is Yam Hardy,
Charm's Mom drew up alongside like a stately freightsailer coming up
into the wind. She began to murmur to her daughter in a tight and furious
undertone. I caught a few words. "...will not have you parading
in public ... a freezing grubber ... position to maintain ... would
people think..." and so on.
Charm merely looked sulky, interjecting "yeah, yeah" when appropriate.
I stood by, outraged. This appalling Noss woman seemed to think her
daughter was in some way better than I, an inlander!
"You want to get your face smashed in?" the young fellow asked me,
fancying himself a man of action.
"If I catch you with Charm again I will!"
"No, I meant try it here and now."
"By Phu, I will!"
But he still hesitated, so I said sarcastically, "I'm not too clear
on Noss customs. Does Charm belong to you in some way?"
"My name's Cuff," he said as though it should mean something to me.
"Son of Walleye, and don't you forget it, grubber boy."
The Noss manchief's son. No wonder he was an arrogant snorter. Now
I noticed that one eye had a slightly milky cast. Cuff had inherited
the legendary disability of his manline.
By now Charm and her mother had concluded their one-sided conversation.
The older woman turned to me. "So if you don't mind carrying your boat
yourself, young man, I'll -- "
"Ah, Hardy. So here you are." It was Dad, thanks be to Phu. Big and
looselimbed, his gait always reminded me of a lorin. His manner too,
in many ways. Slow, easy-going and amiable. He addressed the appalling
woman. "So you've met my son, Lonessa."
Lonessa! The dragon lady of Noss! And Charm was the daughter of this
notorious womanchief? Poor girl. We laid the skimmer on the ground and
I stepped over it to join the group. As Lonessa and Dad engaged in a
moment of verbal grooming, Charm turned to me.
"Sorry," she whispered. "Mom's a freezing snob. But she's all right,
really. And Cuff's just a bully. You have to make allowances."
Meanwhile Noss Lonessa had fixed me with a bright smile. Her eyes were
the same color as Charm's. It seemed like sacrilege.
"So this is your son, Bruno?" Her manner had undergone a swift change
for the better. "I should have known. He has your features. A fine young
Dad was grinning at me in that false way fathers do when there are
strangers in the midst. "Noss Lonessa, Noss Walleye and I had a successful
meeting, Hardy." As if I was really interested. Walleye, by the way,
is not only half blind but walks with a stick due to some kind of fishing
accident. It's an example of how peculiar coastal society is, Walleye
being crippled but still manchief. If our own manchief, my Uncle Stance
-- Dad's brother -- was crippled, he wouldn't be able to lead the hunt.
So his son Trigger would become manchief. Perish the thought, because
Trigger's a fool.
And if Trigger got himself gored to death by a stamper, as he probably
would, Dad would be manchief. And everything at Yam would be a whole
And I would be next in line for manchief.
My dream of glory was interrupted by the need to listen to Lonessa,
who had deigned to talk to me. "Your father and I make a good team at
the council table, Hardy. We both know how to get what we want. I think
Yam can face next winter with confidence. Really, in these difficult
times we have to pool our resources, don't you think?"
Well.... Times were difficult, no doubt about that. The Yam harvest
looked to be even more thin than last year, and game animals were scarce.
But reading between the lines, had Lonessa and Dad ganged up on poor
old Walleye? And the way she stood close and smiled at him, you'd think....
No; my imagination balked at that. Dear old Dad wouldn't countenance
a sexual liaison with a coaster. It would be like bedding a big thrashing
On the other hand, Dad himself looked pretty good in the white ceremonial
cloak he always wore when negotiating on behalf of Yam. My mother, Spring,
had made it for him out of skins from the rare albino lox. It was the
only one of its kind in Yam or Noss.
"It was a cold spring," I said dutifully.
"Last night I stardreamed," intoned Lonessa impressively, meaning that
she riffled through her ancestral memories, "and I can tell you, young
man, that it was the coldest spring Noss has known."
I shivered involuntarily as the specter of the dead planet Rax visited
my mind again. Superstition is a rotten thing for a civilization to
be based on.
As we were about to leave, the oafish Cuff seized my arm. "What I said
about Charm stands, you freezer," he muttered. "And I'll tell you this.
When I'm manchief there'll be no favors done to Yam, believe me. So
far as I'm concerned, the whole lot of you can starve!"
It was a long drive home. The Noss council house is situated
half-way between the men's and the women's village, a logical arrangement.
This meant that I didn't get to see the men's village on the way home,
which was a pity. There's something fascinating about a coastal men's
village -- although I wouldn't want Yam people to know I felt that way.
The two types of boats, skimmers and deep-hulls; the nets all over the
stonebuilt quay; the whirling clouds of grummets trying to steal fish;
the harsh accents of the fishermen and the strange words they have for
commonplace objects; it's all quite exotic, really.
Unlike the women's village past which we now drove, very slowly, because
children were everywhere, running around and yelling and trying the
race the motorcart. Women stood in their doorways, watching us pass.
A few lorin sat around too; they make excellent child-minders when a
mother is temporarily absent. The passing of a motorcart is an event;
it only happens when something big is going on. One older boy was staring
at me; he looked to be almost five and ready to move to the men's village.
I tried to look suitably important, scrutinizing the water gauge and
squinting up critically at the smoky exhaust. The motorcart puffed on,
the skimmer on the cargo platform. Dad had made light of the damage,
may Phu bless him.
"A couple more sticks, I think, Mister Stoker," he said jovially. He
was in expansive mood. Either he was pleased with the way business had
gone, or he was all puffed up with Noss Lonessa's attention. I swung
open the firebox door. Yes, the fire could use some fuel. I tossed in
an armful of the driftwood I'd gathered from the beach earlier.
An interesting monster, the motorcart. It can burn wood, which is easily
obtained but bulky. Or, on long journeys when space might be at a premium,
it can burn distil through jets in the firebox. Distil is tedious to
manufacture but takes up less room on board than firewood because it
can be carried in cans or even skins. Wood or distil, the purpose is
to heat the boiler and produce steam to drive a cylinder the size of
a bucket, which in turn drives the wheels.
Dad is easily Yam's best motorcart driver. Nothing goes wrong when
Dad's at the tiller. Uncle Stance is a different proposition. I can
remember several occasions when the motorcart has come trundling into
the village late at night towed behind a team of lox, Uncle Stance sitting
disgraced and shivering at the tiller, having run out of fuel somewhere
in the wilds.
It takes more than knowledgeable ancestors and accurate stardreaming,
knowing how to handle the motorcart. There's a knack to it that has
little to do with genetics. I'm losing you again. I keep forgetting
humans have to learn things. We stilks don't. Knowledge is already
there in our genetic memories -- always provided one of our ancestors
knew it, whatever it is. The trick is in locating it. Stardreaming.
It must be very difficult for you humans having to restart knowledge
every generation, rather like us having to light the motorcart's fire
every morning. No wonder you need books and tapes and discs and stuff
Much later, Dad said casually, "Pretty little kid, that Charm."
He wasn't fooling me with his light tone. The remark was fraught with
deep significance. He couldn't have failed to note the incredible beauty
of Charm, webbed feet or no. Anyway, she'd been wearing shoes.
We stilks get used to following trains of thought. In our case, though,
the train might wander through the memories of many ancestors. And I
knew what had prompted Dad's remark.
It was the sight of Mister McNeil's residence on the hillside, surrounded
by outlandishly bright flowers.
A big round humanbuilt thing, like an umbrellafish, like no shape you
ever see in a normal house. Shining silvery-red in the light of the
setting Phu. And clinging to the side of it like a parasite was the
tumble-down shack of the Nowhere Man.
It didn't happen in my lifetime, this local scandal. But Granddad --
Yam Ernest, who was stabbed in the back some years ago -- remembered
it clearly from his younger days. And I'm privy to those memories, right
up to the time Granddad and his woman lay together one summer day behind
the lox stables, and conceived Dad. Since then, well, Granddad could
have committed Phu knows what crimes, and I'd know nothing about it.
This is why we tend to conceive children as late in life as is reasonable,
to make sure the maximum memories are passed on. You wonder how I can
speak your language so well? It's because I possess the human vocabulary
learned over the generations by my ancestors. Important knowledge must
not be allowed to die.
The problem is, shameful memories don't die either.
When Granddad was twenty he took a friend for a joyride on the Yam
motorcart. He was next in line for chiefship, so he could get away with
that kind of behavior. I've stardreamed this incident and I can picture
it as vividly as if it were a first-hand memory. The track to Noss,
bright and dusty. The narrow lane beyond Noss men's village that rises
through seasuckers, past the sacred forest of anemones and cuptrees
to the cliff top. The terrified screeching of a grummet snared by a
tree. Windswept open ground at the cliff top. The grume-thick sea, white
with distant birds like snowflakes. The rocky coastline ending in far-distant
Pallahaxi, the ancient holy town showing as a knobby smudge on the horizon.
And young Granddad and his friend Hodge, chatting lazily in the sun.
And soon, mild boredom and temptation.
We've all tasted distil. Normal curiosity. It burns the mouth at first,
but later you start to feel good. Later still you feel pretty rotten,
but who thinks that far into the future? The past is what's important
to us stilks. Granddad reached into the motorcart, chuckling, and took
down a can of distil. I can feel it as though it were in my hand right
now, red and metal and human-made, heavy with the contents slopping
about inside. Granddad unscrewed the cap and took a sip, and passed
it to Hodge. I can feel the shame in Granddad's memory for what happened
after that. He blamed himself. I, more pragmatically, blame Hodge.
I'm surprised Granddad didn't place the memory under geas, the
taboo we use on memories we don't want investigated....
Two Noss girls arrived panting at the cliff top and stood regarding
the motorcart with respect, no doubt thinking these two young men must
be very important to drive such a vehicle. They were pretty girls, fun-loving
and game for a sip of distil too.
Before long four drunken young people lay beside the motorcart, laughing
and singing dirty fishing songs.
Granddad's memories become blurred after that, but he remembered Hodge
and one of the girls drifting off somewhere. Then, sobering up rapidly,
he remembered the arrival of a posse of Noss men and women including
the womanchief. He remembered the shouting and the recriminations.
And, late that year during the drench, he remembered the deputation
from Noss arriving at Yam, and diplomatic relations between the two
villages being broken off.
The child was raised in Noss -- in the women's village, as is the custom
with all children. He was a boy, so at the age of five he moved to the
men's village as boys do. Normally boys will then be taken under their
father's wing. But this boy had no father in Noss; no father in Yam
either, since Hodge had left the village to start a new life in Alika.
The child was an orphan and an oddity, the product of miscegenation,
a freak and a monster who just happened to look like a normal person.
I didn't know whether he had webbed feet or not. Probably one of each.
With nobody to take responsibility for him he became a problem in the
village and, by the time he came of age, he was completely out of control.
In fairness to him we must remember all his ancestral knowledge came
from his Yam male antecedents. Ancestral memories are sex-specific.
He was mixed up, trying to fit into a fishing culture that meant nothing
to him. After a number of incidents they threw him out.
He disappeared for a while; people said he went to Pallahaxi and prayed
a lot. Then one day he was seen walking the coast road, and shortly
afterward he was reported to be splitting wood near the human agent's
residence. Soon he'd built a lean-to shack for himself against the silver
wall. An appropriate place, since it's half-way between Yam and Noss.
People waited for the agent to kick him out, but it never happened.
Years passed, agents changed, Mister McNeil arrived, but the Nowhere
Man is there still.
And all this had prompted dear old Dad to say, "Pretty little kid,
It was a double-edged remark. One: Charm, and by extension you, Hardy,
are too young to savor the sweaty delights of sex. And two: You'd better
keep your hands off her, you dirty young freezer, because she's a flounder
and therefore forbidden fruit.
So I said, "Uh."
There followed a pregnant father-and-son silence. I could tell Dad
was still brooding about miscegenation. Bearing in mind Charm's beauty
I wouldn't have minded brooding about it myself, but the subject had
to be changed before Dad became morbid.
"Is it that bad, the crops and stuff, Dad?"
"Huh? Oh, yes. I was talking to Wand yesterday, and she tells me we're
looking at a yield about a quarter down on last year."
Yam Wand is our womanchief, a real pain in the ass. But even allowing
for her love of scare tactics, the situation was clearly serious. You
could tell just by looking at the village fields. Winter was long, spring
came late, summer was cool and the grain crop was half its usual height.
"And last year was worse than the year before." I said gloomily, showing
a proper concern for our society. I'd noticed a lot of people wasting
their time praying in the Yam temple lately, always a barometer of public
Hunger overtook us about then, and we stopped for a mug of stuva tea,
using hot water from the motorcart's boiler. Dad brought out a bag of
smoked fish, doubtless a gift from the besotted Lonessa, and we gnawed
on that. Darkness and cold was coming on, which would have been frightening
if we'd been on loxback, or walking. But we finished our meal, climbed
back onto the motorcart and felt the blessed warmth of it, and Dad opened
the throttle. The funnel uttered its reassuring chaff-chaff-chaff and
we rumbled on our way by the feeble glimmer of the running lights.
"She's a nice old lady, that Lonessa," I said casually, having had
plenty of time to compose the exact wording of the remark.
I know Dad shot me a glance of deep suspicion because the firebox door
was open at the time, but I don't think he could see my face so clearly
as I saw his.
Then he chuckled. "You're a cheeky young freezer, Hardy," he said.
"One of these days it's going to get you in big trouble."
I laughed too, and soon we were running past little knots of people
chatting around the public heaters on the outskirts of Yam. We drove
on, waving, turned the motorcart into Uncle Stance's yard, dropped the
fire in a smoldering heap and chaffchaffed into the covered shed on
the last of the steam in the boiler.
So ended my seventeenth birthday.
"So what really happened to the boat, Hardy?" asked Caunter.
"Yeah, what really happened to the boat?" echoed the oafish Trigger.
I'd avoided them for two days, and on the third day I'd walked down
the Totney road for a while, then turned off down a narrower track to
a tiny tree-fringed pool; a favorite spot of mine when I wanted to be
alone. The pool is almost circular and less than ten paces across. A
Stardreaming Place; we all have them. I'd seated myself comfortably
under a yellowball tree and pulled out my pipe and pouch of hatch. The
sun was high but my spot was shaded, and buzzflies zoomed around, neatly
avoiding the clutching frondflowers. A snowdiver splashed into the pool
almost vertically and emerged safely with a little fish in its beak;
there were no ice-devils in this inland water.
I filled and lit my pipe. It was time for stardreaming.
I slipped into Dad's memories first. Dad is different from most, because
he has this unhealthy relationship with my mother, Yam Spring.
Any normal fellow breaks off contact with a woman once the sex thing
has been performed. But I'm seventeen now and Dad still sees Spring
often, although covertly. Many times I've come across them by the riverside,
sitting together looking at the water, talking quietly, holding hands.
Bizarre! Men and women have nothing in common. A man's memories pass
on down the male line, a woman's down the female. This makes for two
What do Dad and Spring talk about, for Phu's sake? Men aren't
interested in agriculture. Women aren't interested in hunting. And their
ancestral memories are totally unconnected and seen from separate viewpoints.
Dad refuses to explain. He seems embarrassed about it all, as well
he might. I wanted to get to the bottom of this, maybe via Dad's memories.
So on that warm morning three days after my seventeenth birthday I lay
back and began to stardream.
I remembered Dad meeting Spring. She was from Totney and he met her
on a hunting trip with Granddad. I could see her in my mind's eye, gathering
winternuts on the fringe of the empty moorland. She looked very beautiful
to Dad. My mind was filled with the warmth of that meeting; there's
a lot of emotion in stardreamed memories. She left Totney the same day
and accompanied Granddad and Dad back to Yam on the back of Dad's lox.
She and Dad went through the usual niceties, then they had sex.
And at that point my access to Dad's memories ends. The sex-linked
chain of memory genes feeding the central lobe of the brain -- a phrase
of Mister McNeil's -- had been passed on to the ovum. I had no memory
of what happened to Dad and Spring afterward; no explanation of what
kept them seeing each other. Maybe the answer lay in their courtship
behavior, as Mister McNeil calls it. I began to remember this more carefully,
in more detail.
That was when Caunter and Trigger arrived noisily, shattering the dream.
"I did not run that freezing boat onto a freezing rock!" I shouted,
in response to Caunter's next question.
"They're saying you were rescued by a little flounder girlie," piped
Trigger, with a whinny of derision.
"Whoever said that is a freezing liar."
"They're saying you were screaming like a stuck snorter. They're saying
she had to slap your face to make you shut up. She was eight years old,
"She was sixteen at least!" Rax! I could have bitten my tongue off!
I switched to the offensive. "Who knocked a hole in the bottom, that's
what I'd like to know!"
That shut them up. Caunter said tentatively, "You're serious, Hardy?"
"Of course I'm serious. Rax, can you imagine what it's like, a boat
sinking under you like that? Whoever holed that boat could have killed
me! If I thought it was either of you two freezers I'd -- "
"Well, it wasn't," said Caunter hastily.
I'd been thinking about it over the past couple of days. "Dad brought
the boat up from Noss by loxcart seven days ago for my birthday. It
was sitting outside our door for a few days, right way up. We wouldn't
have noticed a hole in the bottom. It could have happened any time."
"And it could have been bad Noss workmanship," suggested Caunter.
"Come on!" cried Trigger, who'd been tossing pieces of dried meat into
the water in the hope of arousing something vile down there. "This place
is no fun. Let's go down to the river!"
So we made our way to the river and found a likely looking pool in
a water meadow, and threw in the remainder of Trigger's food.
There was a faint crackling sound as the water crystallized.
I don't know why we enjoyed scaring ourselves like that; as we were
to find out, there were real enough dangers coming our way. But we could
never resist triggering off an ice-devil in a pond. It always gave us
a frisson of fear, because it could have been us imprisoned in that
crystal. I've seen animals as big as lox trapped by the jaw, having
unwarily tried to drink from such a pool. And the ice-devil will hold
them there until they suffocate or even starve, and then de-crystallize
the pool, and eat its prey.
"I can never understand how they do it," said Trigger wonderingly,
staring at the glittering surface.
"Mister McNeil calls it a saturated solution of some salt or other,"
said Caunter vaguely. "Much thicker than the grume, even, although you
wouldn't know from looking at it. He says the ice-devil waits until
something splashes, and then crystallizes the pool by releasing a bit
more salt from its body. Then it decrystallizes the pool by pissing,
or something very like that."
The explanation was prosaic but the situation fun. We cut squares of
matweed from the river shallows and laid them on the crystal, and retired
a short distance. Then we sprinted forward, leaped onto the matweed
and slithered across the surface to the far side of the pool, yelling
Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of the ice-devil lurking below
the surface, a head-size many-tentacled thing, itself imprisoned --
but only for a while. In days -- or hours or minutes -- the pool would
just as suddenly turn to water again. And if its prey was still struggling,
it would recrystallize.
That was the excitement, as we slid to and fro that summer afternoon.
We were dicing with death, but the odds were on our side.
For the time being.
Speaking of dicing with death, we had a prime practitioner
of that art in Yam.
Silly May was an oddity, a girl born with no memories. She will be
alone for the rest of her life, with no ancestors to guide her. This
defect only happens occasionally, fortunately for the species, and such
people are discouraged from having children. Consequently May can only
learn from her own experiences, and is given to social and practical
errors. Since her defect was discovered she's been banned from the usual
women's work in case she makes some costly mistake, such as setting
fire to a grainfield.
"I refuse to turn that girl loose on my crops," our womanchief, Wand,
said many years ago, and shortly afterward Silly May was appointed the
Yam arborist. It's an important enough job from the religious angle,
but it's simple and straightforward and there's not much can go wrong
with the crops. However, plenty can go wrong with the arborist. They
are looked on as expendable.
Our previous arborist had been strangled by an anemone tree while taking
cuttings for her nursery. Fortunately she'd almost finished her spring
cutting by then, and Silly May had a full summer to get used to tending
the nursery plants before the thanksgiving planting at the end of the
That was three years ago and May was now sixteen, a bright and pretty
girl, although still liable to make outlandish statements.
"We should load all the scions onto a cart," she told me the day before
the thanksgiving pilgrimage to Newt Wood, "then they wouldn't be so
likely to get damaged on the journey. We could pull the cart behind
the motorcart. Much easier and quicker."
I regarded the nursery, collecting my thoughts. Two hundred or so miniature
anemone plants and the same number of tiny cuptrees grew in neat rows
in the most fertile area of our fields, cleared of popweed, palpater
and spreadweed. Tomorrow the templekeeper would come here in his robes
and bless the crop, for what that was worth, and each villager would
take an anemone in one hand, a cuptree in the other, and walk the dusty
road to Newt Wood, and stick them in the ground. And the templekeeper
would bless them again.
It had been done that way as far back as my visited memories went.
"And we wouldn't have that awful business of the anemones clawing at
the people carrying them," she said.
"It's a good idea," I said nicely because she was pretty, even though
it was impossible to think of mating with a defective, "but I don't
think this is the time to suggest it."
"Why not? It's the very best time, with the pilgrimage coming up tomorrow."
While I was trying to think of a way to tell her without insulting
her, my Uncle Stance strode up. He regarded me with no more interest
than he would regard a lorin. This was a relief, because it was not
a good thing to be seen getting over-friendly with a defective girl.
Just suppose -- a remote possibility -- we were to get together and
May should have a girl child, that child would only have one generation
of inherited memory. Bad for the species. May was destined to live her
life a virgin.
"I have a suggestion, Yam Stance," said May before I could stop her.
Uncle Stance inflated himself visibly. I guessed what he was thinking.
Any suggestion from May was an insult. Did this slip of a girl -- with
no memories -- think she could come up with something that he, the manchief
with countless generations of experience behind him, had missed? Impossible!
"Yes?" he said menacingly.
She explained while he rocked to and fro on his feet, legs astride,
growing progressively redder in the face.
"Sacrilege!" he yelled before she had a chance to finish. "We've always
carried the plants to Newt Wood by hand and we always will! Have you
no feeling for tradition, girl?"
"I have feeling for the plants," she said unwisely. "Half of them die
before we get there. You can't leave roots exposed to the sun that long
without damage. If it wasn't for the lorin helping us water them in,
we'd lose the whole lot. Anyway," she continued quickly as he opened
his mouth to shout something, "Agriculture is Wand's responsibility,
"The pilgrimage is my responsibility!"
"I'll talk to Wand."
I thought Uncle Stance would explode. I said diffidently, "Can't we
discuss this like rational stilks?"
"There's nothing to discuss! And anyway, I only discuss such matters
in Council, not in a field with a defective girl! And another thing,
the motorcart is my responsibility. Whatever Wand might say, I will
not authorize its use on a mission of sacrilege!"
Silly May was in no way overawed by Uncle Stance; partly because, being
the manchief, he had no authority over her. And partly because he was
looking ridiculous, huffing and puffing like the motorcart itself, his
face red as the fire under the boiler.
"The goatparent won't be pleased," she said sadly.
Mention of this religious figure, symbol of fertility, did no good
"To Rax with the goatparent!" shouted Uncle Stance; then, as he realized
the extent of his blasphemy, the scarlet of his face faded to a deathly
pallor and he glanced at the sky as though expecting to see threatening
But no retribution was visited upon him, which confirmed my belief
that religious figures exist only in our minds. I derived a perverse
comfort from the thought. Uncle Stance whirled around and strode off.
Silly May grinned at me.
"If it wasn't for people taking me for a fool, I'd be glad I had no
memories stuffing my head with nonsense."
"I don't take you for a fool, May."
She looked at me seriously. "That's good, because I need a friend.
And you're a good friend to have. One day you'll be manchief."
"No, my cousin Trigger will be manchief."
"Listen, perhaps I can't look into the past, but that makes it easier
for me to look into the future. Trigger hasn't got what it takes. You'll
I watched our present manchief striding back toward the village, full
of anger and fear, and I wondered. The future is a worrying thing. We
have such deep roots into the past, we hardly ever consider the future.
Maybe we should. But maybe if we did, we'd frighten ourselves.
It was a prophetic thought.
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