Read The Warlock in Spite of Himself - Warlock 01 Online

Authors: Cristopher Stasheff

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy, #Fantasy Fiction, #American Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Science Fiction - General, #Gallowglass; Rod (Fictitious Character), #Warlocks, #Gallowglass; Rod (Fictitious c

The Warlock in Spite of Himself - Warlock 01

BOOK: The Warlock in Spite of Himself - Warlock 01
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Christopher Stasheff

The Warlock In Spite of Himself



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The asteroid hurtled in from Capricorn, nosed around a G-type sun, swerved off toward the fifth planet. Such a trajectory is somewhat atypical for asteroids.

It slapped into the planet's gravity net, swooped around the globe three times in three separate orbits, then stabbed into atmosphere, a glorious shooting star.

At a hundred feet altitude it paused, then snapped to the surface - but only to the surface. No fireworks, no crater - nothing more drastic than crushed grass. Its surface was scarred and pitted, blackened by the friction-heat of its fall; but it was intact. Deep within its bowels echoed the words that would change the planet's destiny.

'Damn your bolt-brained bearings!'

The voice broke off; its owner frowned, listening. The cabin was totally silent, without its usual threshold hum. The young man swore, tearing the shock-webbing from his body. He lurched out of the acceleration chair, balanced dizzily on the balls of his feet, groping till his hand touched the plastic wall. Steadying himself with one hand, he stumbled to a panel on the other side of the circular cabin. He fumbled the catches loose, cursing in the fine old style of galactic deckhands, opened the panel, pressed a button. Turning, he all but fell back to the chair. The soft hum awoke in the cabin again. A slurred voice asked, with varying speed and pitch, 'Izzz awwl (Hic!) sadizfagtoreee. . . M'lorrrr' Rodney?'

'All the smooth, glossy robots in the galaxy,' muttered Milord, 'and I get stuck with an epileptic!'

'Ivv ut bleeezz m'lorr', thuh c'passsider c'n be-'

'Replaced,' finished Rodney, 'and your circuits torn out and redesigned. No, thank you, I like your personality the way it is - except when you pull off a landing that jam my clavicles loose!'

'Ivy m'lorrd will vorgive, ad thuh cruzhial momend ovvv blanetfall, I rezeived zome very zingular radio waves thad-'

'You got distracted, is that what you're trying to say?'

'M'lorrrd, id was imberative to analyze-'

'So part of you was studying the radio waves, and part of you was landing the ship, which was just a wee bit too much of a strain, and the weak capacitor gave.. . . Fess! How many times do I have to tell you to keep your mind on the job!'

'M'lorrd egzbressed a wizh to be like thuh-'

'Like the heroes of the Exploration Sagas, yes. But that doesn't mean I want their discomforts.'

Fess's electronic system had almost recovered from the post-seizure exhaustion. 'But, milord, the concept of heroism implies-'

'Oh, forget it,' Rodney groaned. Fess dutifully blanked a portion of his memory banks.

Fess was very dutiful. He was also an antique, one of the few remaining FCC (Faithful Cybernetic Companion) robots, early models now two thousand years out of date. The FCC robots had been programmed for extreme loyalty and, as a consequence, had perished in droves while defending their masters during the bloody Interregnum between the collapse of the ancient Galactic Union and the rise of the Proletarian Eclectic State of Terra.

Fess (a name derived from trying to pronounce 'FCC' as a single word) had survived, thanks to his epilepsy. He had a weak capacitor that, when overstrained, released all its stored energy in a massive surge lasting several milliseconds. When the preliminary symptoms of this electronic seizure - mainly a fuzziness in Fess's calculations - appeared, a master circuit breaker popped, and the faulty capacitor discharged in isolation from the rest of Fess's circuits; but the robot was out of commission until the circuit breaker was reset. Since the seizures occurred during moments of great stress - such as trying to land a spaceship-cum-asteroid while analyzing an aberrant radio wave, or trying to protect a master from three simultaneous murderers - Fess had survived the Interregnum; for, when the Proletarians had attacked his masters, he had fought manfully for about twenty-five seconds, then collapsed. He had thus become a rarity - the courageous servant who had survived. He was one of the five FCC robots still functioning.

He was, consequently, a prized treasure of the d'Armand family - prized as an antique, but even more for his loyalty; true loyalty to aristocratic families has always been in short supply. So, when Rodney d'Armand had left home for a life of adventure and glory - being the second son of a second son, there hadn't been much else he could do - his father had insisted on his taking Fess along. Rod had often been very glad of Fess's company; but there were times when the robot was just a little short on tact. For instance, after a very rough planetfall, a human stomach tends to be a mite queasy; but Fess had the bad sense to ask, 'Would you care to dine, m'lord? Say, scallops with asparagus?'

Rod turned chartreuse and clamped his jaws, fighting back nausea. 'No,'

he grated, 'and can the "m'lord" bit. We're on a mission, remember?'

'I never forget, Rod. Except on command.'

'I know,' growled his master's voice. 'It was a figure of speech.'

Rod swung his legs to the floor and painfully stood up. 'I could use a breath of fresh air to settle my stomach, Fess. Is there any available?'

The robot clicked for a moment, then reported, 'Atmosphere breathable. Better wear a sweater, though.'

Rod shrugged into his pilot's jacket with a growl 'Why do old family retainers always develop a mother-hen complex?'

'Rod, if you had lived as long as I have-'

'-I'd want to be deactivated. I know, "Robot is always right." Open the lock, Fess.'

The double doors of the small air lock swung open, showing a circle of black set with stars. A chill breeze poured into the cabin. Rod tilted his face back, breathing in. His eyes closed in luxury. 'Ah, the blessed breath of land! What lives here, Fess?'

Machinery whirred as the robot played back the electron-telescope tapes they had taken in orbit, integrating the pictorial data into a comprehensive description of the planet.

'Land masses consist of five continents, one island of noteworthy dimensions, and a host of lesser islands. The continent and the minor islands exhibit similar flora - equatorial rain forest.'

'Even at the poles?'

'Within a hundred miles of each pole; the ice caps are remarkably small. Visible animal life confined to amphibians and a host of insects; we may assume that the seas abound with fish.'

Rod rubbed his chin. 'Sounds like we came in pretty early in the geologic spectrum.'

'Carboniferous Era,' replied the robot.

'How about that one large island? That's where we've landed, I suppose?'

'Correct. Native flora and fauna nonexistent. All life-forms typical of Late Terran Pleistocene.'

'How late, Fess?'

'Human historical.'

Rod nodded. 'In other words, a bunch of colonists came in, picked themselves an island, wiped out the native-life, and seeded the land with Terran stock. Any idea why they chose this island?'

'Large enough to support a good-sized population, small enough to minimize problems of ecological revision. Then too, the island is situated in a polar ocean current, which lowers the local temperature to slightly below Terran normal.'

'Very handy; saves them the bother of climate control. Any remains of what might have been Galactic Union cities?'

'None, Rod.'

'None!' Rod's eyes widened in surprise. 'That doesn't fit the pattern. You sure, Fess?'

The developmental pattern of a lost, or retrograde, colony - one that had been out of touch with Galactic civilization for a millennium or more - fell into three well-defined stages: first, the establishment of the colony, centered around a modern city with an advanced technology; second, the failure of communications with Galactic culture, followed by an overpopulation of the city, which led to mass migrations to the countryside and a consequent shift to an agrarian, self-sufficient economy; and, third, the loss of technological knowledge, accompanied by a rising level of superstition, symbolized by the abandonment and eventual tabooing of a coal-and-steam technology~, social relationships calcified, and a caste system appeared. Styles of dress and architecture were usually burlesques of Galactic Union forms: for example, a small hemispherical wooden 'hut, built in imitation of the vaulting Galactic geodesic domes.

But always there were the ruins of the city, acting as a constant symbol and a basis for mythology. Always.

'You're sure, Fess? You're really, really sure there isn't a city?'

'I am always certain, Rod.'

'That's true.' Rod pulled at his lower lip. 'Sometimes mistaken, but never in doubt. Well, shelve the matter of the city for the time being; maybe it sank in a tidal wave. Let's just make a final check on the life-forms' being Terran.'

Rod drove head-first through the three-foot circle of the lock, landed in a forward roll, rose to his knees. He unclipped the guerilla knife from his belt - a knife carefully designed so that it could not be attributed to any one known culture - and drew the dagger from its sheath.

The sheath was a slender cone of white metal, with a small knob at the apex. Rod plucked several blades of grass, dropped them into the sheath, and turned the knob. The miniature transceiver built into the sides of the sheath probed the grass with sonics to analyze its molecular structure, then broadcast the data to Fess, who determined if any of the molecules were incompatible with human metabolism. If the grass had been poisonous to Rod, Fess would have beamed a signal back to the sheath, whereupon the white metal would have turned purple. But in this particular case, the sheath stayed silver.

'That ties it,' said Rod. 'This is Terran grass, presumably planted by Terrans, and this is a Terran colony. But where's the city?'

'There is a large town - perhaps thirty thousand souls - in the foothills of a mountain range to the north, Rod.'

'Well...' Rod rubbed his chin. 'That's not exactly what I had in mind, but it's better than nothing. What's it look like?'

'Situated on the lower slopes of a large hill, at the summit of which is a large stone structure, strongly reminiscent of a Medieval Terran castle.'

'Medieval!' Rod scowled.

'The town itself consists of half-timbered and stuccoed buildings, with second stories overhanging the narrow streets - alleys would be a better term - along which they are situated.'

'Half-timbered!' Rod rose to his feet. 'Wait a minute, wait a minute!

Fess, does that architecture remind you of anything?'

The robot was silent a moment, then replied, 'Northern European Renaissance.'

'That,' said Rod, 'is not the typical style of a retrograde colony. How closely do those buildings resemble Terran Renaissance, Fess?'

'The resemblance is complete to the last detail, Rod.'

'It's deliberate then. How about that castle? Is that Renaissance too?'

The robot paused, then said, 'No, Rod. It would appear to be a direct copy from the German style of the 13th Century A.D.'

Rod nodded eagerly. 'How about styles of dress?'

'We are currently on the night side of the planet, and were upon landing. There is a good deal of illumination from the planet's three satellites, but relatively few people abroad.

There is, however, a small party of soldiers, riding Terran horses. Their uniforms are - uh - copies of English Beefeaters'.'

'Very good! Anyone else in the streets?'

'Um. . . a couple of cloaked men - uh - doublet and hose, I believe and.. . yes, a small party of peasants, wearing smocks and crossgartered buskins. . .

'That's enough.' Rod cut him off. 'It's a hodgepodge, a conglomeration of styles. Somebody has tried to set up his idea of the ideal world, Fess. Ever hear of the Émigrés?'

The robot was silent a moment, mulling through his memory banks. Then he began to recite:

'Malcontents abounded toward the end of the 22nd Century A.D. Bored with their "lives of quiet desperation," people turned primarily to mysticism, secondarily to escapist literature and entertainment. Gradually the pseudo-Medieval became the dominant entertainment form.

'Finally, a group of wealthy men pooled their funds to buy an outmoded FTL liner and announced to the world that they were the Romantic Émigrés, that they intended to reestablish the glory of the Medieval way of life on a previously uncolonized planet, and that they would accept a limited number of emigrants in the capacities of serfs and tradesmen.

'There were, of course many more applicants than could be accommodated. Emigrants were selected "for the poeticness of their souls'' -whatever that may mean.~

'It means they loved to listen to ghost stories,' said Rod. 'What happened?'

'The passenger list was swiftly completed. The thirteen tycoons who had organized the expedition announced that they thereby rejected their surnames and adopted instead the family names of great Medieval aristocrats - Bourbon, di Medici, and so forth.

'Then the ship departed, with its destination carefully unspecified, so that there would be "no contamination from the materialist world". Nothing more was ever heard of them.'

BOOK: The Warlock in Spite of Himself - Warlock 01
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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