Brain of the Galaxy
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by Jack Vance
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Arthur Caversham of 22nd-century Boston finds himself naked at a dinner party. Bearwald the Halforn battles the Brands from Mount Medallion. Ceistan seeks a parchment in the dead city of Therlatch filled with treasure that is now worthless. Dobnor Daksat is competing with artists of the top order to create worlds with the imagicon, a device unknown to him. What is the connection of these disparate tales? Not even the Brain of the Galaxy understands their full ramifications. First published in 1951, later reprinted as the The New Prime.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1951 Worlds Beyond
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [49 KB]
Reading time: 25-35 min.
There was music, carnival lights, the slide of feet on waxed oak, perfume, muffled talk and laughter.
Arthur Caversham of 22nd-century Boston felt air along his skin, and discovered himself to be stark naked.
It was at Janice Paget's coming out party: three hundred guests in formal evening wear surrounded him.
For a moment he felt no emotion beyond vague bewilderment. His presence seemed the outcome of logical events, but his memory was fogged and he could find no definite anchor of certainty.
He stood a little apart from the rest of the stag line, facing the red and gold calliope where the orchestra sat. The buffet, the punchbowl, the champagne wagons, tended by clowns, were to his right; to the left, through the open flap of the circus tent, lay the garden, now lit by strings of colored lights, red, green, yellow, blue, and he caught a glimpse of a merry-go-round across the lawn.
Why was he here? There was no recollection, no sense of purpose.... The night was warm; he was not at all uncomfortable. The other young men in the full dress suits must feel rather sticky, he thought.... An idea tugged at a corner of his mind, nagged, teased. There was a significant aspect to the affair which he was overlooking. Refusing to surface, the idea lay like an irritant just below the level of his conscious mind.
He noticed that the young men nearby had moved away from him. He heard raucous chortles of amusement, astonished exclamations. A girl dancing past him saw him over the arm of her escort; she gave a startled squeak, jerked her eyes away, giggling and blushing.
Something was wrong. These young men and women were startled and amazed by his naked skin to the point of embarrassment. The submerged gnaw of urgency came closer to the surface. He must do something. Taboos felt with such intensity might not be violated without unpleasant consequences; such was his understanding. He was lacking garments; these he must obtain.
He looked about him, inspecting the young men who watched him with ribald delight, disgust or curiosity. To one of these latter he addressed himself.
"Where can I get some clothing?"
The young man shrugged. "Where did you leave it?"
Two heavy-set men in dark blue uniforms entered the tent; Arthur Caversham saw them from the corner of his eye, and his mind worked with desperate intensity.
This young man seemed typical of those around him. What sort of appeal would have meaning for him? Like any other human being, he could be moved to action if the right chord were struck.
By what method could he be moved?
The prospect of advantage or profit?
Caversham rejected all of these. By violating the taboo he had forfeited his claim to sympathy, a threat would excite derision, and he had no profit or advantage to offer. The stimulus must be more devious.... He reflected that young men customarily banded together in secret societies. In the thousand cultures he had studied this was almost infallibly true. Long-houses, drug-cults, tongs, instruments of sexual initiation--whatever the name, the external aspects were near-identical: painful initiation, secret signs and passwords, uniformity of group conduct, obligation to service. If this young man were a member of such an association, he might react to an appeal to this group-spirit.
Arthur Caversham said, "I've been put in this taboo situation by the brotherhood; in the name of the brotherhood, find me some suitable garments."
The young man stared, taken aback. "Brotherhood? ... You mean fraternity?" Enlightenment spread over his face. "Is this some kind of hell-week stunt?" He laughed. "If it is, they sure go all the way."
"Yes," said Arthur Caversham. "My fraternity."
The young man said, "This way then--and hurry, here comes the law. We'll take off under the tent. I'll lend you my topcoat till you make it back to your house."
The two uniformed men, pushing quietly through the dancers, were almost upon them. The young man lifted the flap of the tent, Arthur Caversham ducked under, his friend followed. Together they ran through the many-colored shadows to a little booth painted with gay red and white stripes near the entrance to the tent.
"You stay back, out of sight," said the young man. "I'll check out my coat."
"Fine," said Arthur Caversham.
The young man hesitated. "What's your house? Where do you go to school?"
Arthur Caversham desperately searched his mind for answer. A single fact reached the surface.
"I'm from Boston."
"Boston U.? Or M.I.T.? Or Harvard?"
"Ah." The young man nodded. "I'm Washington and Lee myself. What's your house?"
"I'm not supposed to say."
"Oh," said the young man, puzzled but satisfied. "Well--just a minute.... "
Bearwald the Halforn halted, numb with despair and exhaustion. The remnants of his platoon sank to the ground around him, and they stared back to where the rim of the night flickered and glowed with fire. Many villages, many wood-gabled farmhouses had been given the torch, and the Brands from Mount Medallion reveled in human blood.
The pulse of a distant drum touched Bearwald's skin, a deep thrumm-thrumm-thrumm, almost inaudible. Much closer he heard a hoarse human cry of fright, then exultant killing-calls, not human. The Brands were tall, black, man-shaped but not men. They had eyes like lamps of red glass, bright white teeth, and tonight they seemed bent on slaughtering all the men of the world.