- Author: Samuel R. Delany
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[Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
ACE BOOKS, INC.
1120 Avenue of the Americas
New York 36, N.Y.
CAPTIVES OF THE FLAME
Copyright ©, 1963, by Ace Books, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Printed in U.S.A.
This is for Marilyn, of course.
SAMUEL R. DELANY considers Captives of the Flame to be the first of a trilogy dealing with the same epoch and characters. It is, however, his second published novel, his first being The Jewels of Aptor, Ace Book F-173, which has received considerable acclaim.
A young man, resident in New York City, Delany is a prolific and talented writer, whose work in poetry and prose have won him many awards. Asked for comment on his literary ambitions, he preferred to quote one of the characters from one of his works:
"I wanted to wield together a prose luminous as twenty sets of headlights flung down a night road; I wanted my words tinged with the green of mercury vapor street lamps seen through a shaling of oak leaves in the park past midnight. I needed phrases that would break open like thunder, or leave a brush as gentle as willow boughs passed in a dark room.... The finest writing is always the finest delineation of surfaces."PROLOGUE
The green of beetles' wings ... the red of polished carbuncle ... a web of silver fire. Lightning tore his eyes apart, struck deep inside his body; and he felt his bones split. Before it became pain, it was gone. And he was falling through blue smoke. The smoke was inside him, cool as blown ice. It was getting darker.
He had heard something before, a ... voice: the Lord of the Flames.... Then:
Jon Koshar shook his head, staggered forward, and went down on his knees in white sand. He blinked. He looked up. There were two shadows in front of him.
To his left a tooth of rock jutted from the sand, also casting a double shadow. He felt unreal, light. But the backs of his hands had real dirt on them, his clothes were damp with real sweat, and they clung to his back and sides. He felt immense. But that was because the horizon was so close. Above it, the sky was turquoise—which was odd because the sand was too white for it to be evening. Then he saw the City.
It hit his eyes with a familiarity that made him start. The familiarity was a refuge, and violently his mind clawed at it, tried to find other familiar things. But the towers, the looped roadways, that was all there was—and one small line of metal ribbon that soared out across the desert, supported by strut-work pylons. The transit ribbon! He followed it with his eyes, praying it would lead to something more familiar. The thirteenth pylon—he had counted them as he ran his eye along the silver length—was crumpled, as though a fist had smashed it. The transit ribbon snarled in mid-air and ceased. The abrupt end again sent his mind clawing back toward familiarity: I am Jon Koshar (followed by the meaningless number that had been part of his name for five years). I want to be free (and for a moment he saw again the dank, creosoted walls of the cabins of the penal camp, and heard the clinking chains of the cutter teeth as he had heard them for so many days walking to the mine entrance while the yard-high ferns brushed his thighs and forearms ... but that was in his mind).
The only other things his scrambling brain could reach were facts of negation. He was some place he had never been before. He did not know how he had gotten there. He did not know how to get back. And the close horizon, the double shadows ... now he realized that this was not Earth (Earth of the Thirty-fifth Century, although he gave it another name, Fifteenth Century G.F.).
But the City.... It was on earth, and he was on earth, and he was—had been—in it. Again the negations: the City was not on a desert, nor could its dead, deserted towers cast double shadows, nor was the transit ribbon broken.
The transit ribbon!
It couldn't be broken. He almost screamed. Don't let it be broken, please....
The entire scene was suddenly jerked from his head. There was nothing left but blue smoke, cool as blown ice, inside him, around him. He was spinning in blue smoke. Sudden lightning seared his eyeballs, and the shivering after-image faded, shifted, became ... a web of silver fire, the red of polished carbuncle, the green of beetles' wings.CHAPTER I
Silent as a sleeping serpent for sixty years, it spanned from the heart of Telphar to the royal palace of Toromon. From the ashes of the dead city to the island capital, it connected what once had been the two major cities, the only cities of Toromon. Today there was only one.
In Telphar, it soared above ashes and fallen roadways into the night.
Miles on, the edge of darkness paled before the morning and in the faint shadow of the transit ribbon, at the edge of a field of lava, among the whispering, yard-high ferns, sat row on row of squat shacks, cheerless as roosting macaws. They stood near the entrance of the tetron mines.
A few moments before, the light rain had stopped. Water dribbled down the supporting columns of the transit ribbon which made a black band on the fading night.
Now, six extraordinarily tall men left the edge of the jungle. They carried two corpses among them. Two of the tall men hung back to converse.
"The third one won't get very far."
"If he does," said the other, "he'll be the first one to get through the forest guards in twelve years."
"I'm not worried about his escaping," said the first. "But why have there been such an increase in attempts over the past year?"
The other one laughed. Even in the dull light, the three scars that ran down the side of his face and neck were visible. "The orders for tetron have nearly doubled."
"I wonder just what sort of leeches in Toron make their living off these miserable—" He didn't finish, but pointed ahead to the corpses.
"The hydroponic growers, the aquarium manufacturers," answered the man with the scars. "They're the ones who use the ore. Then, of course, there's the preparation for the war."
"They say that since the artificial food growers have taken over, the farmers and fishermen near the coast are being starved out. And with the increased demand for tetron, the miners are dying off like flies here at the mine. Sometimes I wonder how they supply enough prisoners."
"They don't," said the other. Now he called out. "All right. Just drop them there, in front of the cabins."
The rain had made the ground mud. Two dull splashes came through the graying morning. "Maybe that'll teach them some sort of lesson," said the first.
"Maybe," shrugged the one with the scars.
Now they turned back toward the jungle.
Soon, streaks of light speared the yellow clouds and pried apart the billowing rifts. Shafts of yellow sank into the lush jungles of Toromon, dropping from wet, green fronds, or catching on the moist cracks of boulders. Then the dawn snagged on the metal ribbon that arced over the trees, and webs of shadow from the immense supporting pylons fell across the few, gutted lava beds that dotted the forest.
A formation of airships flashed through a tear in the clouds like a handful of hurled, silver chips. As the buzz from their tetron motors descended through the trees, Quorl, the forest guard, stretched his seven-foot body and rolled over, crushing leaves beneath his shoulder. Instinctively his stomach tensed. But silence had returned. With large, yellow-brown eyes, he looked about the grove in which he had spent the night. His broad nostrils flared even wider. But the air was still, clean, safe. Above, the metal ribbon glinted. Quorl lay back on the dried leaves once more.
As dawn slipped across the jungle, more and more of the ribbon caught fire from beneath the receding shadows, till at last it soared above the yellow crescent of sand that marked the edge of the sea.
Fifty yards down the beach from the last supporting pylon whose base still sat on dry land, Cithon, the fisherman, emerged from his shack.
"Tel?" he called. He was a brown, wiry man whose leathery face was netted with lines from sand and wind. "Tel?" he called once more. Now he turned back into the cottage. "And where has the boy gotten off to now?"
Grella had already seated herself at the loom, and her strong hands now began to work the shuttle back and forth while her feet stamped the treadle.
"Where has he gone?" Cithon demanded.
"He went out early this morning," Grella said quietly. She did not look at her husband. She watched the shuttle moving back and forth, back and forth between the green and yellow threads.
"I can see he's gone out," Cithon snapped. "But where? The sun is up. He should be out with me on the boat. When will he be back?"
Grella didn't answer.
"When will he be back?" Cithon demanded.
"I don't know."
Outside there was a sound, and Cithon turned abruptly and went to the side of the shack.
The boy was leaning over the water trough, sloshing his face.
The boy looked up quickly at his father. He was perhaps fourteen, a thin child, with a shock of black hair, yet eyes as green as the sea. Fear had widened them now.
"Where were you?"
"No place," was the boy's quietly defensive answer. "I wasn't doing anything."
"Where were you?"
"No place," Tel mumbled again. "Just walking...."
Suddenly Cithon's hand, which had been at his waist jerked up and then down, and the leather strap that had been his belt slashed over the boy's wet shoulder.
The only sound was a sudden intake of breath.
"Now get down to the boat."
Inside the shack, the shuttle paused in Grella's fist the length of a drawn breath. Then it shot once more between the threads.
Down the beach, the transit ribbon leapt across the water. Light shook on the surface of the sea like flung diamonds, and the ribbon above was dull by comparison.
Dawn reached across the water till at last the early light fell on the shore of an island. High in the air, the ribbon gleamed above the busy piers and the early morning traffic of the wharf. Behind the piers, the towers of the City were lanced with gold, and as the sun rose, gold light dropped further down the building faces.
On the boardwalk, two merchants were talking above the roar of tetron-powered winches and chuckling carts.
"It looks like your boat's bringing in a cargo of fish," said the stout one.
"It could be fish. It could be something else," answered the other.
"Tell me, friend," asked the portly one, whose coat was of cut and cloth expensive enough to suggest his guesses were usually right, "why do you trouble to send your boat all the way to the mainland to buy from the little fishermen there? My aquariums can supply the City with all the food it needs."
The other merchant looked down at the clip-board of inventory slips.
"Perhaps my clientele is somewhat different from yours."
The first merchant laughed. "You sell to the upper families of the City, who still insist on the doubtful superiority of your imported delicacies. Did you know, my friend, I am superior in every way to you? I feed more people, so what I produce is superior to what you produce. I charge them less money, and so I am financially more benevolent than you. I make more money than you do, so I am also financially superior. Also, later this morning my daughter is coming back from the university, and this evening I will give her a party so great and so lavish that she will love me more than any daughter has ever loved a father before."
Here the self-satisfied merchant laughed again, and turned down the wharf to inspect a cargo of tetron ore that was coming in from the mainland.
As the merchant of imported fish turned up another inventory slip, another man approached him. "What was old Koshar laughing about?" he asked.
"He was gloating over his good fortune in backing that hairbrained aquarium idea. He was also trying to make me jealous of his daughter. He's giving her a party tonight to which I am no doubt invited; but the invitation