An old, unfinished story rescued from the archives and presented for your reading pleasure. Perhaps a forerunner to The Flight of the Silver Vixen.
The warm air was filled with a sound like that of a thousand crystal wind-chimes in the light breeze. It was in fact caused by the crystalline husks of the chentil-nuts that hung in clusters on the tall trees. The sunlight shimmered among them, and the faceted shells refracted the light, while the chrome-like silver leaves reflected them, so that the trees seemed clothed in robes of iridescent rainbow.
“The air seems rather delightful,” said Lieutenant Sindra, stepping out of the wasp.
“Almost the same as Sai Herthe,” said Dr. Carice: “a touch more oxygen and a little phentrastomine, which some people find invigorating.”
“Oh, of course. I trust your analysis or I should never have left the wasp and stepped onto an unknown planet without breathing apparatus. I was referring to the gentle warmth and the delicate scent of the chentils – that sort of thing.”
“Most idyllic, I am sure. But is this the sort of place where we are likely to find a low-latency V27 fuel-crystal?”
“One can’t be thinking about business all the time, Carre-chara. One must take the adventure of life as it comes; enjoy the beauty of each fleeting moment.”
“‘Business’ is not precisely the term I should employ for the question of survival, and of whether we shall ever return home.”
“Grim business, eh? Sorry. Mustn’t call it business. What about wirelessing the Imperial Princess and asking them to send another wasp after us?”
“I think we may have warped.”
“Really? That was careless of us.”
“If we hit an aethyr-crease we may be light years from the Princess. Wireless waves wouldn’t reach her certainly not in our lifetime.”
“Well, why don’t you give it a whirl. Perhaps we didn’t warp.”
“All right, I’ll try it. It seems like the first thing to do.”
Dr. Carice returned to the wasp while Lieutenant Sindra strolled over to the small lake and admired her reflection in its still blue water. She cut a rather dashing figure in her double-breasted red tunic with two rows of dark buttons, her high military collar and gold-braided undress epaulettes. Her blue flared above-the-knee skirt was perfectly pressed as always, and her high, slender military boots polished to a pleasing gleam. Being marooned on a deserted planet did not strike panic into her as it did into Dr. Carice, but she did worry slightly about the practicalities of keeping her uniform immaculate if they were to be here for any length of time. She recalled her blonde mother saying “Military brunettes are as vain as blondes half the time”. Perhaps it was true; but after all, it was important to keep up appearances.
Dr. Carice came rushing out of the wasp in a flap. Technical brunettes are as fussy as blondes half the time, thought Sindra.
“There’s someone in there!” said Dr. Carice.
“In the hold of the wasp.”
“How remarkable. Have you seen her?”
“No, but there is banging and yelling coming from in there.”
“Why didn’t you open the portal?”
“Who knows what is in there? It could be aliens.”
“Aliens in our hold? Hardly likely.”
“They might have teleported in. Who knows what aliens can do.”
“In that case, why wouldn’t they teleport out instead of banging and yelling? Are you sure the hold was empty when we left the Princess?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
“Did you actually check?”
“Not just before we left,” admitted Dr. Carice; “but why would anyone be in our hold?”
“Without opening the portal we are unlikely to find out. Now do go and open it like a good girl.”
Dr. Carice hesitated.
“Don’t worry,” said Sindra soothingly, “I’ll come and protect you from any aliens.”
Gingerly, Dr. Carice turned the lock-wheel. She stood back as the portal swung open. Sindra stepped slightly forward, at the ready.
“Sindy-chei!” shouted a high, blonde voice. “Don’t be cross, Sindy-chei. Promise you won’t be cross. I really couldn’t bear it if you were cross.”
“Lady Prudence Mereton-Vasilhe, may I introduce Civilian Technical Officer Susanna Carice.”
“How do you do, Miss Carice. Is it Miss Carice?”
“How do you do, Lady Prudence. Doctor Carice actually.”
“Well, you can just call me Poppy. But not Prudence. It makes me feel as if I’m at school.”
“Call her Prunes,” said Sindra. “Everyone does.”
“Oh, not Prunes. I hate Prunes. I’ve just about stopped everyone using it, except my beastly little sister. Poppy for preffers. Prudence if you really must.”
“Prunes,” insisted Sindra. “It shall be your punishment. You are a bad girl. What on earth were you doing in the hold?”
“Well, you’ve promised me for ages you would take me out in a wasp, and you never do. So I thought I might bag my own ride.”
“It is an offense to take unauthorized personnel in the wasps,” said Dr. Carice gravely.
“How did you know we should be taking the wasp out?” asked Sindra.
“Ah, well. I was meaning to tell you about that bit. You see, I knew you were on duty…”
“Well, that alert that was put out about an unidentified craft – it was a bit of a frog. I got one of the girls to broadcast it over the announcement-thingy after I was snugly in the hold. I was going to get you to let me out as soon as we were off the Princess, but then I heard all that shouting, and it all sounded so serious. I thought you might be cross. And then there was that big bump.”
“I suppose you realize it is a serious offense to simulate an alert,” said Dr. Carice.
“Do you?” asked Lady Prudence.
“Do I what?”
“Suppose I realize it is a serious offense to simulate an alert, of course. Does she always lose track of the conversation like this, Sindy-chei?”
“I don’t think she is used to the blonde style of talking.”
“Possibly. The alert may have been fake,” said Sindra, “but there was definitely something out there. We got on its tail and then something hit us. I thought it was a concussion-beam, but Dr. Carice thinks we warped.”
“Hit an aethyr-crease. Just as a two-dimensional surface, like that of a piece of paper, might be folded in the third dimension, so three-dimensional space might be folded in a fourth dimension. That is the theory, anyway. We can’t perceive these folds because we only see in three dimensions; but if one hits one, one could end up light years away from where one started.”
“It is rather, but it could also be a bother.”
“Can someone please tell me what is going on?” called a rather faint voice from the hold.
“Who is that?” asked Dr. Carice.
“Miss Varndean,” said Lady Prudence. “My governess.”
“Where are we?” asked Miss Varndean severely, emerging from the hold.
“On an unknown planet, madam,” replied Dr. Carice, “possibly light-years from Sai Herthe and the Imperial Princess and with no means of even getting the wasp back into aethyr.”
“But this is terrible!”
“Indeed it is, madam; as is the fact that you and your charge have stowed away on a Royal Defense Craft.”
“I did no such thing! I entered the craft in order to bring my young lady out of it.”
“So why did you not do so?”
Miss Varndean looked uncharacteristically vague as she tried to retrace the steps that had led her here. “I followed my young lady down the launching channel into the wasp. She was already in the hold, but had not shut the door. She tried to hide from me, but I followed her inside. I said ‘Come along, dear, the game is over’, or something of that sort, and she took a scent-spray from her purse and sprayed me with it. That is all I remember until a few minutes ago…”
“Oh Prunes,” said Sindra. “You snuffed your governess.”
“I don’t deny it, but…”
“Well, you can’t deny it, can you? You snuffed the lady who is teaching you the Fourteen Accomplishments of a high-born blonde, to whom all reverence is due, to whom…”
“Oh, stop talking like an Arkadyan priestess.”
“I can stop talking if you want,” said Sindra genially, “but you are in a quite ridiculous amount of trouble.”
“We are all in much more trouble than you seem to care to admit,” cut in Dr. Carice. “Do you mind if I use some of our remaining myriapulses sending out a scout?”
“Not at all. Very sensible idea,” said Sindra.
Dr. Carice disappeared into the wasp, and a few moments later the scout, or ‘floating eye’, glided slowly over the lake and away out of sight.
“So what do we do for food if we are stranded here?” asked Lady Prudence.
“There are lots of chentil-nuts,” said Sindra. She cast her eye over the ground, which, under the trees was covered in fallen chentil-leaves in various stages of turning from sheening silver to dead, crinkly white. Within a few minutes she had gathered a number of crystalline chentil-nuts.
“What does one do with them?” asked Lady Prudence, “Break them open?”
“No, they shatter into very sharp pieces. Watch.” Sindra knelt by the lake’s edge and placed a crystalline nut in the shallow water. It made a splintering sound, like very cold ice placed in warm water, only more musical, and the shell opened gently into three shining segments. In the centre was the plump, white kernel which Sindra handed to Lady Prudence.
“Try it,” she said.
“No!” said Miss Varndean “Don’t you know it is dangerous to eat the fruits of an unknown planet.”
“Of course, madam,” said Sindra, “but these are chentil-nuts. They grew all over Chandraya where I was born. I have eaten more chentil-nuts than Prunes has had ice-cream.”
“But, my dear captain” began Miss Varndean.
“Lieutenant, I fear,” corrected Sindra.
“My dear lieutenant; one scarcely finds the same fauna on different continents of the same planet. How can the same species of tree grow on two planets possibly light-years apart?”
“I am not sure madam. There are, in fact, more cases of morphological co-incidence than you may be aware of; after all, things are not what they are by accident.”
“You mean, the same Archetypes may come to manifestation on different planets?”
“You are wiser than I, madam, but that may be the case. Alternatively, someone, at some time, may have brought chentil-nuts here from Chandraya and they grew into these great chentil-forests. What I am sure of is that these are chentil-nuts and perfectly edible. Let me show you. Prunes-chal, pass that nut, will you.”
“Was she addressing somebody called ‘Prunes’?” Lady Prudence asked the world in general. Sindra, to Miss Varndean’s horror, took the nut from her ladyship’s hand. She broke off a piece (it was segmented into three) and ate it.
“Perfectly delicious,” she said. “Brings back the old childhood like the Imperial Courier Service.”
“There are animals!” cried Dr. Carice, leaning out of the wasp. “There are definitely animals on the planet!”
“Of course there are, you g’doinker haven’t you been hearing the birds in the trees. The question is, are there people?”
“There must be,” said Dr. Carice.
“What do they teach you in these military schools?” asked Dr. Carice vengefully. “Maid is the axial being; the one with the power of choice; all other animals are peripheral. You can’t have a planet with peripheral beings and no axial being. That’s basic metaphysics.”
“Does that mean there are maids here somewhere?” asked Miss Varndean.
“Not maids necessarily. On some planets the axial beings are saurians, for example, lizard people – but there will be an intelligent being with the power of choice and volition, equivalent to maid.”
“Well it makes a bit of a difference, doesn’t it?” said Sindra. “Some of those saurians are miserable types; and who knows what else the old cosmos may have in store for us? Why don’t you go back to your scout-screen and find out what type of axials we are dealing with?”
Dr. Carice disappeared back into the wasp.
“So there may be people here?” asked Miss Varndean with the first hint of a smile she had shown so far.
“Don’t get too hopeful, madam. They may not be people in any sense we understand by the term. Have a chentil-nut.”
“You really should, madam. It is advisable to keep up your strength.”
Miss Varndean was slightly puzzled by Lieutenant Sindra. On the one hand she seemed like a flighty young raihiralan just like lady Prudence. On the other she seemed genuinely observant of all proper protocol, and to treat her with respect as a teacher, or ranya, in the most traditional manner.
She nervously took a segment of firm, white kernel from the lieutenant’s hand and nibbled it. “It really is rather good,” she said.
“And very nourishing, too. With these and good fresh water, we can live indefinitely if we need to – not that we are likely to need to,” she added, in response to Miss Varndean’s involuntary grimace.
Dr. Carice emerged from the wasp again. “Come here! I’ve got a town!”
Sindra ran over to the wasp and boarded. Carice was staring at a small screen, and there, sure enough, in the distance were the white towers of a town of some sort.
“Where is it?” asked Sindra.
“About twenty miles north-west,” said Dr. Carice, “taking the nearest pole as north. I am approaching fairly rapidly.” The towers were indeed getting closer on the screen-view. At first they had been hard to discern among the trees. Now they were larger and much clearer.
“Can you use the telescopic?” asked Sindra.
“I am. It’s only 10x though. We could do with one of those big zoom-jobs, but this is a fairly rudimentary eye. After all, one doesn’t really expect to be using an eye out of a wasp. Thank Dea for Ministry thoroughness that we’ve got one at all.”
“All right. Fly it in then. But carefully.”
“Very traditional towers,” said Carice. “No Art-Neo-equivalents. Going on normal cultural-morphology assumptions they shouldn’t have the technology to track us. But of course, you can’t really tell about that.”
“First indications, low-technic society, then. Not so good for fueling prospects.”
“There – you can see the town walls now. High, stone-built, large, heavy town gates. Wooden, reinforced with ornamental iron. How do you read that?”
“Fortifications. Would indicate conflict on the planet. Confirms low-technics. If they had any artillery – even powder-canon – those walls and that gate would be useless.”
“What sort of conflict, though? Do they fight each other? In that case they can’t be human. Saurians, perhaps, or something else. Or is there another axial on the planet?”
“Can there be two axials on one planet?”
“The point is disputed. In any case one might not be native. And intelligent enemies need not be axials. They might be demonics. Who were the Outlanders on Sai Herthe after all?”
“Well, there’s no point speculating. Better take the eye over the wall.”
“Beautiful town. Perhaps a small city. High-level architecture, low-level technics. Angel-statues in niches in the buildings.”
“Hmm – humanoid angel-statues. That’s promising. Bring her down a bit.”
“Town square. Ornamental fountain – but it’s dried up. Not many people about. Several statues, all badly broken. One large statue in the centre. Intact. Looks new.”
“Get in close to that and examine it.”
“Great Dea! What is that thing. It looks human, but then it looks inhuman. Or like a parody of humanity – angular and coarse looking. What do you make of it, Lieutenant?”
“It’s a mascûl.”
“A mascûl. Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. We saw a lot of pictures of them at the academy.”
“Then the axials here must be schizomorphs?”
“It would seem so. That would also account for the fortifications. Schizomorphs fight among themselves.”
“What are these schizomorphs?” asked Miss Varndean who had come up to the wasp’s portal and was listening intently. “Are they maids?”
Lieutenant Sindra stepped out of the small craft. “It all depends what you mean by a maid, madam.”
“Well, are they human or aren’t they?”
“Humanoid, certainly,” said Dr. Carice, climbing out, “but with very significant differences from us.”
Lady Prudence came running up from the water’s edge. “Did you say there are people?” she asked.
“That is what we are trying to explain,” said Dr. Carice. We are not certain yet, but they appear to be schizomorphs.”
“Please tell us what a schizomorph is,” begged Miss Varndean anxiously.
“Let me explain what we know of alien humanoids,” said Dr. Carice calmly. Obviously there are non-humanoid aliens, but we have encountered a number of humanoid types as well. Now, in theory they could, for example, be any size. They might be several miles tall or sub-microscopic; but we have found them to be mostly in the same general size-range as ourselves. They conform to broadly the same biology and morphology as well – two eyes, two arms and so forth”
“Though there are the four-armed entrescii,” put in Sindra.
“Yes, but generally speaking their similarity to us is striking – even in such cases as the entrescii, the differences are not that radical, considering what they might be.”
“They are all expressions of the Human Archetype,” said Miss Varndean.
“Apparently so,” said Dr. Carice. “However these various humanoid species have been universally found to divide into two types: intemorphs, like ourselves, and schizomorphs. The fundamental difference lies in the area of sex.”
“Should Lady Prudence be hearing this?” asked Miss Varndean.
“I think she had better. We have two sexes, and so have the schizomorphs. However the schizomorphs tend to refer to their sexes, perfectly correctly, as opposite sexes, whereas our sexes are complementary. What that means in practice is that the schizomorphs have one sex, called feminine, which resembles humanity as we understand it, and another, called mascûline, which, while still humanoid, is rather different, both physically and psychologically, from us.”
“Show them the statue,” suggested Sindra.
They entered the wasp and Dr. Carice gestured at the screen, bringing up a still of the statue.
“What an ugly-looking creature!” exclaimed Lady Prudence.
“Indeed. This is a mascûl. They are stronger than femins, just as brunettes are stronger than blondes, but, as you see, the morphological differences are much greater. They are ruled by the vikhelic principle – ‘martial’ as some of their races would term it – that of war and discord, while the femins, who look much like ourselves are ruled by the sushuric principle – which some of them term ‘venusian’of love and concord. Opposite sexes, you see.”
“Fascinating,” said Miss Varndean. “What are these terms ‘martial’ and ‘venusian’?”
“They come from Mars and Venus: planets in a solar system where a schizomorph race is found. But of course, the principles are universal. They are equivalent to our Vikhë and Sushuri. Only their Sai Vikhë is a mascûl.”
“So, with two opposite sexes,” asked Lady Prudence, “which characteristics predominate in the race?”
“That can vary,” said Dr. Carice, “but generally speaking in the earlier phases of their Historical Cycles – their Golden, Silver and even Bronze Ages – the femins prevail, while in their Iron Ages the mascûls become predominant.”
“Vikhë being the ruler of iron,” put in Miss Varndean.
“Exactly,” agreed Dr. Carice. “Now since we are in our Iron Age, we tend to encounter schizomorphs in their Iron Ages, or at most in their late Bronze.”
“Why should that be?” asked Lady Prudence. “Surely historical cycles are not synchronised across the universe.”
“Probably not,” said Dr. Carice, “but you must understand that, while the lay-mind tends to see ‘space’ – more properly aethyr – as what we might call a random-access medium in which any part of it should be as accessible as any other, in fact symbolic and metaphysical factors govern space just as they govern all forms. We have lost our connexion with the earlier and higher Ages, so we are unlikely to encounter them in other civilizations. Indeed it is often considered that, since they are less descended into gross manifestation, they would be imprehensible to us.”
“Anyway,” said Lieutenant Sindra, “staying with the practical implications, the point is that any schizomorphs we encounter are likely to be dominated by the mascûls, both practically and symbolically. This also means that they will be warlike and prone to fight their own kind. In some cases it may also mean that they don’t like to see femins running about loose, which could be awkward for us.”
“But we aren’t femins,” protested Lady Prudence.
“Not in their sense, no. But we look like femins, and we are incarnations of the feminine principle.
“But what is the feminine principle?”
“That is very hard to explain. You can only really understand what it is when contrasted with its opposite, the mascûline principle. To us it is – well, everything we know. But if we get to know the schizomorphs, you will have more of an idea what it is.”
“I am not sure I want to know the schizomorphs.”
“Well, there lies our question. We are going to have to decide what to do next.”