World of Tiers 05 - The Lavalite World, page 1
PHILIP JOSE FARMER - THE LAVALITE WORLD (book V in World of Tiers series)-1977
(Scanned by: Kislany)
KICKAHA WAS A quicksilver Proteus.
Few could match his speed in adapting to change. But on Earth and on other planets of the pocket universes, the hills, mountains, valleys, plains, the rivers, lakes, and seas, seldom altered. Their permanence of form and location were taken for granted.
There were small local changes. Floods, earthquakes, avalanches, tidal waves reshaped the earth. But the effects were, in the time scale of an individual, in the lifetime of a nation, minute.
A mountain might walk, but the hundreds of thousands of generations living at its foot would not know it. Only God or a geologist would see its movements as the dash of a mouse for a hole.
Even cocksure, unfazed Kickaha, who could react to change as quickly as a mirror reflects an image, was nervous. But he wasn't going to let anyone else know it. To the others he seemed insanely cool. That was because they were going mad.
THEY HAD GONE TO sleep during the "night". Kickaha had taken the first watch. Urthona, Ore, Anana, and McKay had made themselves as comfortable as they could on the rusty-red tough grass and soon had fallen asleep. Their camp was at the bottom of a shallow valley ringed by low hills. Grass was the only vegetation in the valley. The tops of the hills, however, were lined with the silhouettes of trees. These were about ten feet tall. Though there was little breeze, they swayed back and forth.
When he had started the watch, he had seen only a few on the hilltops. As time passed, more and more had appeared. They had ranged themselves beside the early comers until they were a solid line. There was no telling how many were on the other side of the hills. What he was sure of was that the trees were waiting until "dawn". Then, if the humans did not come to them, they would come down the hills after them.
The sky was a uniform dark red except for a few black slowly floating shapes. Clouds. The enormous reddish mass, visually six times the size of Earth's moon, had disappeared from the sky. It would be back, though he didn't know when.
He sat down and rubbed his legs. They still hurt from the accident that had taken place twelve "days" ago. The pain in his chest had almost ceased, however. He was recovering, but he was not as agile and strong as he needed to be.
That the gravity was less than Earth's helped him, though.
He lay down for a minute. No enemy, human or beast, was going to attack. They would have to get through those killer trees first. Only the elephants and the giant variety of moosoids were big enough to do that. He wished that some of these would show up. They fed upon trees. However, at this distance Kickaha couldn't determine just what type of killer plants they were. Some were so fearsomely armed that even the big beasts avoided them.
How in hell had the trees detected the little party? They had a keen olfactory sense, but he doubted that the wind was strong enough to carry the odor of the party up over the hills. The visual ability of the plants was limited. They could see shapes through the multifaceted insectine eyes ringing the upper parts of their trunks. But at this distance and in this light, they might as well be blind.
One or more of their scouts must have come up a hill and caught a molecule or two of human odor. That was, after all, nothing to be surprised about. He and the others stank. The little water they had been able to find was used for drinking only. If they didn't locate more water tomorrow, they'd have to start drinking their own urine. It could be recycled twice before it became poisonous.
Also, if they didn't kill something soon, they would be too weak from hunger to walk.
He rubbed the barrel of the hand-beamer with the fingers of his left hand. Its battery had only a few full-power discharges available. Then it would be exhausted. So far, he and Anana had refrained from using any of the power. It was the only thing that allowed them to keep the upper hand over the other three. It was also their only strong defense against the big predators. But when "dawn" came, he was going to go hunting. They had to eat, and they could drink blood to quench their thirst.
First, though, they had to get through the trees. Doing that might use up the battery. It also might not be enough. There could be a thousand trees on the other side of the hills.
The clouds were thickening. Perhaps, at long last, rain would come. If it rained as hard as Urthona said it did, it might fill this cup-shaped valley. They'd have to drown or charge into the trees. Some choice.
He lay on his back for a few minutes. Now he could hear faint creaks and groans and an occasional mutter. The earth was moving under him. Heat flowed along his back and his legs. It felt almost as warm as a human body. Under the densely packed blades and the thick tangle of roots, energy was being dissipated. The earth was shifting slowly. In what direction, toward what shapes, he did not know.
He could wait. One of his virtues was an almost-animal patience. Be a leopard, a wolf. Lie still and evaluate the situation. When action was called for, he would explode. Unfortunately, his injured leg and his weakness handicapped him. Where he had once been dynamite, he was now only black gunpowder.
He sat up and looked around. The dark reddish light smoldered around him. The trees formed a waving wall on the hill tops. The others of the party lay on their sides or their backs. McKay was snoring. Anana was muttering something in her native language, a speech older than Earth itself. Urthona's eyes were open, and he was looking directly at Kickaha. Was he hoping to catch him unawares and get hold of the beamer?
No. He was sleeping, his mouth and eyes open. Kickaha, having risen and come close to him, could hear the gentle burbling from his dry lips. The eyes looked glazed.
Kickaha licked his own sandpaper lips and swallowed. He brought the wristwatch, which he'd borrowed from Anana, close to his eyes. He pressed the minute stud on its side, and four glowing figures appeared briefly on the face. They were the numerical signs of the Lords. In Earth numerals, 15:12. They did not mean anything here. There was no sun; the sky provided light and some heat. In any event, this planet had no steady rotation on any one plane, and there were no stars. The great reddish mass that had moved slowly across the sky, becoming larger every day, was no genuine moon. It was a temporary satellite, and it was falling.
There were no shadows except under one peculiar condition. There was no north, south, east, and west. Anana's watch had compass capabilities, but they were useless. This great body on which he stood had no nickel-steel core, no electromagnetic field, no north or south pole. Properly speaking, it wasn't a planet.
And the ground was rising now. He could not detect that by its motion, since that was so slow. But the hills had definitely become lower.
The watch had one useful function. It did mark the forward movement of time. It would tell him when his hour and a half of sentinel duty was over.
When it was time to rouse Anana, he walked to her. But she sat up before he was within twelve feet. She knew that it was her turn. She had told herself to wake at the proper time, and a well-developed sense, a sort of biological clock within her, had set off its alarm.
Anana was beautiful, but she was beginning to look gaunt. Her cheekbones protruded, her cheeks were beginning to sink in, her large dark-blue eyes were ringed with the shadows of fatigue. Her lips were cracked, and that once soft white skin was dirty and rough-looking. Though she had sweat much in the twelve days they'd been here, there were still traces of smoke on her neck.
"You don't look so good yourself," she said, smiling.
Normally, her voice was a rich contralto, but now it was gravelly.
She took a comb from the back pocket of her torn bellbottom trousers and straightened out her long hair, as black as a Crow Indian's.
"There. Is that better?" she said, smiling. Her teeth were very white and perfect. Only thirty years ago, she'd had tooth buds implanted, the hundredth set in a series.
"Not bad for a starving dehydrated old woman," he said. "In fact, if I was up to it ... "
He quit grinning, and he waved his hand to indicate the hilltops. "We've got visitors."
It was difficult in this light to see if she'd turned pale. Her voice was steady. "If they're bearing fruit, we'll eat."
He thought it better not to say that they might be eaten instead.
He handed her the beamer. It looked like a six-shooter revolver. But the cartridges were batteries, of which only one now had a charge. The barrel contained a mechanism which could be adjusted to shoot a ray that could cut through a tree or inflict a slight burn or a stunning blow.
Kickaha went back to where his bow and a quiver of arrows lay. He was an excellent archer, but so far only two of his arrows had struck game. The animals were wary, and it had been impossible, except twice, to get close enough to any to shoot. Both kills had been small gazelles, not enough to fill the bellies of five adults in twelve days. Anana had gotten a hare with a throw of her light axe, but a long-legged baboon had dashed out from behind a hill, scooped it up, and run off with it.
Kickaha picked up the bow and quiver, and they walked three hundred feet away from the sleepers. Here he lay down and went to sleep. His knife was thrust upright into the ground, ready to be snatched in case of attack. Anana had her beamer, a light throwing axe, and a knife for defense.
They were not worried at this time about the trees. They just wanted to keep distance between them and the others. When Anana's watch was over, she would wake up McKay. Then she'd return to lie down by Kickaha. She and her mate were not overly concerned about one of the others trying to sneak up on them while they slept. Anana had told them that her wristwatch had a device which would sound an alarm if anybody with a mass large enough to be dangerous came close. She was lying, though the device was something that a Lord could have. They probably wondered if she was deceiving them. However, they did not care to test her. She had said that if anyone tried to attack them, she would kill him immediately. They knew that she would do so.
HE AWOKE, SWEATING from the heat, the bright light of "day" plucking at his eyes. The sky had become a fiery light red. The clouds were gone, taking their precious moisture elsewhere. But he was no longer in a valley. The hills had come down, flattened out into a plain. And the party was now on a small hill.
He was surprised. The rate of change had been greater than he'd expected. Urthona, however, had said that the reshaping occasionally accelerated. Nothing was constant or predictable here. So, he shouldn't have been surprised.
The trees still ringed them. There were several thousand, and now some scouts were advancing toward the just-born hill. They were about ten feet tall. The trunks were barrel-shaped and covered with a smooth greenish bark. Large round dark eyes circled the trunk near its top. On one side was an opening, the mouth. Inside it was soft flexible tissue and two hard ridges holding shark-like teeth. According to Urthona, the plants were half-protein, and the digestive system was much like an animal's. The anus was the terminus of the digestive system, but it was also located in the mouth.
Urthona should know. He had designed them.
"They don't have any diseases, so there's no reason why the feces shouldn't pass through the mouth," Urthona had said.
"They must have bad breath," Kickaha had said. "But then nobody's going to kiss them, are they?"
He, Anana, and McKay had laughed. Urthona and Red Ore had looked disgusted. Their sense of humor had atrophied. Or perhaps they'd never had much.
Above the head of the tree was a growth of many slender stems rising two feet straight up. Broad green leaves, heart-shaped, covered the stems. From the trunk radiated six short branches, each three feet long, a pair on each side, in three ranks. These had short twigs supporting large round leaves. Between each ring of branches was a tentacle, about twelve feet long and as supple as an octopus's. A pair of tentacles also grew from the base.
The latter helped balance the trunk as it moved on two short kneeless legs ending in huge round barky toeless feet. When the tree temporarily changed from an ambulatory to sedentary state, the lower tentacles bored into the soil, grew roots, and sucked sustenance from the ground. The roots could be easily broken off and the tentacles withdrawn when the tree decided to move on.
Kickaha had asked Urthona why he had had such a clumsy unnatural monster made in his biolabs.
"It pleased me to do so."
Urthona probably was wishing he hadn't done so. He had wakened the others, and all were staring at the weird-and frightening-creatures.
Kickaha walked up to him. "How do they communicate?"
"Through pheromones. Various substances they emit. There are about thirty of these, and a tree smelling them receives various signals. They don't think; their brains are about the size of a dinosaur's. They react on the instinctive-or robotic-level. They have a well-developed herd instinct, though."
"Any of these pheromones stimulate fear?"
"Yes. But you have to make one of them afraid, and there's nothing in this situation to scare them."
"I was thinking," Kickaha said, "that it's too bad you don't carry around a vial of fear-pheromones."
"I used to," Urthona said.
The nearest scout had halted thirty feet away. Kickaha looked at Anana, who was sixty feet from the group. Her beamer was ready for trouble from the three men or the tree.
Kickaha walked to the scout and stopped ten feet from it. It waved its greenish tentacles. Others were coming to join it, though not on a run. He estimated that with those legs they could go perhaps a mile an hour. But then he didn't know their full potentiality. Urthona didn't remember how fast they could go.
Even as he walked down toward the tree, he could feel the earth swelling beneath him, could see the rate of its shaping increase. The air became warmer, and spaces had appeared between the blades of grass. The earth was black and greasy-looking. If the shaping stopped, and there was no change for three days, the grass would grow enough to fill in the bare spots.
The thousand or so plants were still moving but more slowly. They leaned forward on their rigid legs, their tentacles extended to support them.
Kickaha looked closely at the nearest one and saw about a dozen apple-red spheres dangling from the branches. He called to Urthona. "Is their fruit good to eat?"
"For birds, yes," Urthona said. "I don't remember. But I can't think why I should have made them poisonous for humans."
"Knowing you, I'd say you could have done it for laughs," Kickaha said.
He motioned to Angus McKay to come to him. The black came to him warily, though his caution was engendered by the tree, not Kickaha.
McKay was an inch shorter than Kickaha but about thirty pounds heavier. Not much of the additional weight was fat, though. He was dressed in black levis, socks, and boots. He'd long ago shed his shirt and the leather jacket of the motorcyclist, but he still carried his helmet. Kickaha had insisted that it be retained to catch rainwater in, if for nothing else.
McKay was a professional criminal, a product of Detroit who'd come out to Los Angeles to be one of Urthona's hired killers. Of course, he had not known then that Urthona was a Lord. He had never been sure what Urthona, whom he knew as Mr. Callister, did. But he'd been paid well, and if Mr. Callister wasn't in a business which competed with other mobs, that was all to the good. And Mr. Callister
That day which seemed so long ago, he'd had a free afternoon. He'd started drinking in a tavern in Watts. After picking up a good-looking if loudmouthed woman, he'd driven her to his apartment in Hollywood. They'd gone to bed almost at once, after which he fell asleep. The telephone woke him up. It was Callister, excited, obviously in some kind of trouble. Emergency, though he didn't say what it was. McKay was to come to him at once. He was to bring his .45 automatic with him.
That helped to sober him up. Mr. Callister must really be in trouble if he would say openly, over a phone that could be tapped, that he was to be armed. Then the first of the troubles started. The woman was gone, and with her his wallet-five hundred dollars and his credit cards-and his car keys.
When he looked out the window into the parking space behind the building, he saw that the car was gone, too. If it hadn't been that he was needed so quickly, he would have laughed. Ripped off by a hooker! A dumb one at that, since he would be tracking her down. He'd get his wallet back and its contents, if they were still around. And his car, too. He wouldn't kill the woman, but he would rough her up a bit to teach her a lesson. He was a professional, and professionals didn't kill except for money or in self-defense.
Other author's books:
- Lord TygerBiological Revolt (rtf)Time's Last Gift - txtWorld of Tiers 04 - Behind the Walls of TerraWorld of Tiers 05 - The Lavalite WorldThe Wind Whales of Ishmael v4.0 - rtfWorld of Tiers 03 - A Private Cosmos
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