Diamond Mask (Galactic Milieu Trilogy)

BOOK: Diamond Mask (Galactic Milieu Trilogy)
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Critics love The Galactic Milieu Trilogy

 

JACK THE BODILESS

 

“Witty, epic in scope and emotionally complex,
Jack the Bodiless
is the first in a planned multivolume tale of the Milieu. If the rest is as promising as this maiden volume, the series could well be a landmark.”

—Los Angeles Daily News

 

“A well-told entertainment presented with a great deal of skill and power.”

—The Washington Post Book World

 

“A glittering baroque extravaganza … A book about what it might be to be a different kind of humanity.”

—Interzone

 

“Highly recommended.”

—Library Journal

 

DIAMOND MASK

 

“[May] is one of the few such writers I not only enjoy but read with only the faintest nagging sense of guilty pleasure.
Diamond Mask
, Book Two of her new “Galactic Milieu Trilogy” (and eighth or ninth in a larger ongoing saga), shows why … May clothes her basic plotline with layers of political, philosophical, psychological, and scenic elements, until the most preposterous events acquire a sense of both authenticity and higher meaning.”

—Locus

 

By Julian May
Published by Ballantine Books:

The Saga of Pliocene Exile

VOL. I: THE MANY-COLORED LAND

VOL. II: THE GOLDEN TORC

VOL. III: THE NONBORN KING

VOL. IV: THE ADVERSARY

A PLIOCENE COMPANION

Intervention

BOOK ONE: THE SURVEILLANCE

BOOK TWO: THE METACONCERT

The Galactic Milieu Trilogy

JACK THE BODILESS

DIAMOND MASK

MAGNIFICAT

BLACK TRILLIUM
(With Marion Zimmer Bradley and André Norton)

BLOOD TRILLIUM

SKY TRILLIUM

A Del Rey
®
Book
Published by Ballantine Books

Copyright © 1994 by Starykon Productions, Inc.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

The author is grateful for permission to quote from “Caledonia” by Dougie MacLean, published by Limetree Arts and Music, 29/33 Berners St., London W1P 4AA.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 93-37802

eISBN: 978-0-307-77613-6

This edition published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

v3.1

For Thaddeus, forever

 
 

Every culture gets the magic it deserves.

D
UDLEY
Y
OUNG
,
Origins of the Sacred

 

A mask tells us more than a face.

O
SCAR
W
ILDE
,
Intentions

 

Sancta Illusio, ora pro nobis.

F
RANZ
W
ERFEL
,
Star of the Unborn

 
Contents
 
 
 
PROLOGUE
 
KAUAI, HAWAII, EARTH
12 AUGUST 2113
 

H
E KNEW IT HAD TO BE SOME KIND OF MIRACLE—PERHAPS ONE PROGRAMMED
by Saint Jack the Bodiless himself. The misty rain of the Alakai Swamp ceased, the gray sky that had persisted all day broke open suddenly and flaunted glorious expanses of blue, a huge rainbow haloed Mount Waialeale over to the east … and a bird began to sing.

Batège! That bird—could it be the one? After four futile days?

The tall, skinny old man dropped to his knees in the muck, slipped out of his backpack straps, and let the pack fall into the tussocks of dripping grass. Muttering in the Canuck patois of northern New England, he pulled his little audiospectrograph from its waterproof pouch with fingers that trembled from excitement and hit the
RECORD
pad. The hidden songster warbled on. The old man pressed
SEEK.
The device’s computer compared the recorded birdsong with that of 42,429 avian species (Indigenous Terrestrial, Indigenous Exotic, Introduced, Retroevolved, and Bioengineered) stored in its data files. The
MATCH
light blinked on and the instrument’s tiny display read:

O’O-A’A (MOHO BRACCATUS). ONLY ON ISL OF KAUAI, EARTH. IT. VS.

The man said to himself: Damn right you’re Very Scarce. Even rarer than the satanic nightjar or the miniature tit-babbler! But I gotcha at last, p’tit merdeux, toi.

The song cut off and a discordant
keet-keet
rang out. Something black with flashes of chrome yellow erupted from the moss-hung shrubs on the left side of the trail, flew toward a
clump of stunted lehua makanoe trees twenty meters away, and disappeared.

The old man choked back a penitent groan. Quel bondieu d’imbécile—he’d frightened it with some inadvertent telepathic gaucherie! And now it was gone, and his feeble metapsychic seekersense was incapable of locating its faint life-aura in broad daylight. Everything now depended upon the camera.

Taking care to project only the most soothing and amiable vibes, he hastily stowed away the Sonagram machine, uncased a digital image recorder with a thermal targeter attached, and began anxiously scanning the trees. Wisps of vapor streamed up, drawn by the tropical sun. The sweet anise scent of mokihana berries mingled with that of rotting vegetation. The Alakai Swamp of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands was an eerie place, the wettest spot on Earth, a plateau over 1200 meters high where the annual rainfall often exceeded 15 meters. The swamp was also home to some of Earth’s rarest birds, and it attracted hardy human students of avifauna from all over the Galactic Milieu.

The old man, whose name was Rogatien Remillard, knew the island well, having first come to it back in 2052, when his great-grandnephew Jack, whom he called Ti-Jean, was newborn with a body that seemed perfectly normal. Jack’s mother Teresa, rest her poor soul, had needed a sunny place to recuperate after hiding out in the snowbound Megapod Reserve of British Columbia, and the island afforded a perfect refuge for the three of them.

Rogi had returned to Kauai many times since then, most recently four days earlier, for reasons that had seemed compelling at the time.

Well, perhaps he’d imbibed just a tad too much Wild Turkey as he celebrated the completion of another section of his memoirs …

Crafty in his cups, he had decided to get out of town before his Lylmik nemesis could catch up with him and force him to continue the work. He’d done a damned good job so far, if he did say so himself—and he might as well, since only God knew when any other natural human being would ever get to read what he’d written.

Even though he was drunk as a skunk, Rogi had wit enough to toss a few clothes and things into his egg, climb in, and program the navigator for automatic Vee-route flight from New Hampshire to Kauai. Then he had passed out. When he awoke he found his aircraft in a holding pattern above the island. He
was hungover but lucid, with no idea why his unconscious mind had chosen this particular destination. But not to worry! His old hobby of ornithology, neglected for more than a decade, kicked in with a brilliant notion. He could backpack into the Alakai Swamp, where he might possibly see and photograph the single remaining indigenous Hawaiian bird species he had never set eyes upon. He landed the rhocraft at Koke’e Lodge, rented the necessary equipment, and set out.

And now, had he found the friggerty critter only to lose it through gross stupidity? Had he scared it off into the trackless wilderness of the swamp, where he didn’t dare follow for fear of getting lost? He was a piss-poor metapsychic operant at best, totally lacking in the ultrasensory pathfinding skills of the more powerful heads, and the Alakai was a remote and lonely place. It would be humiliating to get trapped armpit-deep in some muck-hole and have to call the lodge to send in a rescuer. Still, if he was careful to go only a few steps off the trail, he might still snag the prize.

He skirted a pool bordered with brown, white, and orange lichens, then peered through the camera eyepiece from a fresh vantage point. The luminous bull’s-eye of the thermal detector shone wanly green in futility. Despair began to cloud his previous mood of elation. The very last bird on his Hawaiian Audubon Checklist, forfeit because he’d failed to control his doddering mindpowers—

No! Dieu du ciel, there it was! He’d moved just enough so that the infrared targeter, preset to the parameters of the prey, could zero in on it as it sat mostly concealed behind the trunk of a diminutive tree. The bull’s-eye blinked triumphant scarlet. The old man cut out the targeter, cautiously shifted position once more, and the bird was clearly revealed in the camera’s view-finder: a chunky black creature 20 cents long, seeming to stare fiercely at him from its perch on the scraggly lehua tree. Tufts of brilliant yellow feathers adorned its upper legs like gaudy knickers peeping out from beneath an otherwise somber avian outfit. The bird flicked its pointed tail as if annoyed at having been disturbed and the old man experienced a rush of pure joy.

BOOK: Diamond Mask (Galactic Milieu Trilogy)
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