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I Remember Pallahaxi

a novel
by Michael Coney

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 site.

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 thin.

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//, 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.

Michael Coney



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.

"Look out!"

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 was.

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 water."

"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."

"What about?"

"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.


"Oh, nothing."

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 them hunter-gatherers.

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 all."

"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 incompetence.

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 of fish.

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, Mom."

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.

"Try it."

"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 man."

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 lot better.

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 fish.

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 like that.

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, that Charm."

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 morale.

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 different cultures.

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, they're saying."

"She was sixteen at least!" Rax! I could have bitten my tongue off!

"Aha! Aha!"

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 with excitement.

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 grume.

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! Outrageous!

"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, not yours."

"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 at all.

"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 horns.

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 be manchief."

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.


© Michael Coney 2005.

I Remember Pallahaxi was first made available in June 2005 as a free download from the author's website, along with several other novels.

Some earlier Michael Coney books:
Charisma by Michael ConeyHello Summer, Goodbye by Michael ConeyBrontomek by Michael Coney
Cat Karina by Michael ConeyThe Celestial Steam Locomotive by Michael ConeyThe Gods of the Greatway by Michael Coney

Order online using these links and infinity plus will benefit: for Michael Coney titles at, or Alibris.

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