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THAT NIGHTMARE KNOWN AS LIFE

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        Daniel Ashrami surfaced on a mountainside. He knew two things. One, a name: Jo Tye. The other, a fact: Jo knows the Seven Numbers of the Sun.
        "Just that," he said, speaking carefully, checking that his mouth had teeth.
        Checking that his mouth had a tongue.
        Tongue, teeth, two hands, feet, eyesight, hearing — better than zero.
        "Now is the benefit beyond zero," muttered Daniel.
        The voice sounded oddly familiar, and the body into which he had surfaced felt strangely comfortable. No disabling proprioceptive shock. He began to suspect ...
        "I need a mirror."
        But that could wait. Right now: orient.
        The mountains were misty, rugged, devoid of habitation. Wilderness? No — voices! Behind. Turning, Daniel saw the ridgeline uphill lined with Asians with cameras. Waiting. For what? The sunset? Maybe. The ridgeline was about fifty meters uphill. Fifty meters? You're American. Since when did you start thinking in meters? Somewhere in that twenty-year gap.
        His most recent accessible memories were twenty years old. Twenty years of his life had been rendered inaccessible, his memory bank frozen beyond age twenty-four, though he did not know how. Or why. He just knew that he was a man aged forty-four with the last twenty years of truth denied to him.
        Daniel rose from his seat — a backpack. Presumably his. He picked it up and hiked uphill. He addressed the first Asian face in his fluent Mandarin Chinese. Since when did he know Chinese? Well, apparently in the last twenty years he had learnt it. But he was met by baffled incomprehension.
        "Okay," said Daniel, and headed for the mountain hut which stood on the nearby ridge.
        To his right, the western horizon, toward which the sun was sinking. To his left, a vista of mountains, including a classical volcanic cone. Mount Fuji? If Mount Fuji, then Japan.
        Check your wallet, Dan.
        In his wallet, a bunch of money. A bill of muted blue adorned with a picture of a mustachioed scholar and a couple of big birds — cranes? — declared itself to be "1000 yen". Also: two credit cards and a short list in his own handwriting headed up "pin numbers". His own business card. And an identity card complete with his name, address and photograph.
        His face, his name.
        His own face, his own name.
        Daniel Ashrami. Older, and bearded, but the same.
        "I murdered myself," said Daniel, in horror.
        But knew — of a certainty — that his urgencies were too grim to permit an act of self-murder to derail him. And knew, too, that he had to find Jo Tye.
        Find Jo. And find the Seven Numbers of the Sun. Before —
        A new datum surfaced from the seas of unknowing. There was not much time left. Before what? Before irrevocable disaster.
        

* * *

        "Who are you?" said Jo Tye, feeling the invader in her brain.
        "This will not hurt," said Lazimuth Ebroneluza.
        "But who are you?" said Jo, unable to stand upright any longer.
        "I will tell you a story," said Lazimuth Ebroneluza soothingly, as she poured herself into the waiting container.
        Poured herself? Was poured. She had no choice in the matter. The machineries had command of her volition. But it felt as if she acted, even if she was as much the acted upon.
        "Selyon," said Lazimuth, Lazimuth-who-was-becoming-Jo. "A maverick amongst the Ukram Dizin. He took control of our darshadeldi. And he transfigured us. He made us masters of the machineries of the Alajalenjis, then made our darshadeldi the controlling master of cosmic orders uncounted."        
        "Uncounted," murmured Jo, helplessly, feeling her nursery rhymes shredding.
        "After Selyon came to power," explained Lazimuth, "Our one virtual world came to control many virtual worlds."
        Dimly, she recollected. And recounted her own rise, her own transfiguration. She became an artist's assistant, a manipulator of universes: restructuring cosmic expanses in the spirit of doodling.   
        "And I am still wired into the, the machineries," said Lazimuth. "If I can escape back to where I came from, I can still control it all. The artist's palette, if you like. Even though our civilization was destroyed, went down to ruin."
        "How?" said Jo, sleepily. "The Mokrombis devoured Selyon, and his people became the slaves of the Mokrombis. The Mokrombis. The patrons of Obro Yelsan. He who became the ruler of Japan. Anyway. I became a slave of Obro Yelsan. I kept my powers because my powers were not suspected. Maybe I even forgot them myself — forgot I was wired into the machineries. It was a time of — of unimaginable traumas."
        "So you were a slave."
        "Yes. Until we broke out of jail together."
        "Together?" said Jo. "I never did anything together with you."
        "Oh, not you," said Lazimuth. "Me and the man. Together. And the resistance helped us. Get as far as. Here."
        And, ready now for what was to come, Lazimuth Ebroneluza began to integrate herself with the physical substance of her new surroundings. And Jo Tye was torn apart, screaming. And, caught in the backwash of that dissolution, Lazimuth felt herself began to come apart too.
        "No!" she screamed, fighting.
        But she, too, was now being torn apart, her own consciousness blurred into that of her victim, her own memories —
        "The Numbers of the Sun!" said Lazimuth. "Remember the Numbers of the Sun!"
        

* * *

        He dreamt he was on a train somewhere in Japan. But what was a train? At first, he could not remember. Then the relevant data started to surface. The data was thick and murky, and it tasted confusingly of coffee and unripe peaches.
        A train. A train is a set of interlinked vehicles which moves along rails known as tracks. Commonly pulled by a steam engine. The steam engine was invented by Robert Louis Stevenson.
        Wrong! Error was made of mud. It had octopus suckers. He could hardly breathe. My data has been corrupted!
        The steam engine was invented by —
        By Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
        Wrong!          
        Struggling to remember, Daniel woke. He found himself sitting in a train which was rattling through a nondescript urban landscape. Probably he'd missed his stop, had gone way past Tamagawa —
        "Hiyoshi," said the intercom.
        Hiyoshi? A name of dread: the site of Hiyoshi Castle, the stronghold from which Obro Yelsan ruled over the radioactive ruins of Japan. And there it was! Up on the heights! The familiar barracks and battlements of Hiyoshi Castle, which was —
        Gone, as the train plunged into an underground station, as plunging sleep —
        "No," said Daniel. "I must not sleep."
        But uncontrollable sleep dragged him down into darkness.
        When he woke, the train was pulling into Yokohama.
        "My tenses are damaged," he muttered.
        Narcolepsy. A common side-effect of surfacing. Generally transitory — usually, the narcoleptic episodes ceased after the first week or so.
        "Now you've got to find a train going back toward Tokyo," said Daniel. "Get off at Tamagawa, then find your way to Nirvana House."
        "Oh, so it can speak," said the chic and slinky mid-twenties Japanese woman setting next to him.
        Daniel was as shocked as if a piece of the scenery had jumped up and bitten him. For a start, one datum which was firmly in his possession was the fact that absolutely nobody in Japan could speak any English whatsoever.
        "Who are you?" said Daniel.
        "What do you mean, who am I?" said the woman. "First you stand me up, then you don't phone, then you ignore me when I sit down beside you, and now you do this bizarro role play thing."
        Bizarro? Was that English? Daniel didn't think so. And who was this woman? He had never met her before in his life. But someone had. The previous occupant of this brain had. And, mistily, he seemed to recall ...
        "Naomi," he said, in wonderment.
        "No," said the woman. "That's not your line. Your line goes like this: Naomi, Naomi, my dearest Naomi, I'm terribly, terribly sorry, and I promise you that nothing like this will ever happen again. Well? Daniel! Don't just sit there! I've given you your line: now let's hear you say it."
         

* * *

        
        Nirvana House — the company dormitory — contained one kitchen, one shower, two toilets, and 20 bedrooms. Each bedroom accommodated one of the employees of Hello Japan, the "unique immersion pool" language school which was now Jo's master. Each bedroom was exactly the same size as the cells at Alcatraz.
        When Jo stepped in through the door, she was met by a Mormon missionary type. A guy in his mid-twenties. Close-clipped hair meticulously neat, face clean-shaven, scrubbed. Dressed in whiter-than-white shirt, conservative tie, black trousers, polished black shoes. No! Not shoes — socks. Stop observing your preconceptions, Jo. You need to see the real world.
        "Jo Tye?" said the missionary type, smiling.
        "The same."
        "Geoff Lan," said Geoff Lan, sticking out his hand. "How was your trip?"
        "I don't remember," said Jo.
        "Don't remember?"
        Didn't. Couldn't. Getting here. Calcutta, Bangkok, the eternal hammering rhythm of the paddle wheels, the smoke from the stacks — no, not a steamship, Jo! You got here by aeroplane!
        Aeroplane. A woman in a leather flying jacket, mica goggles masking her eyes. No — wrong. Not that kind of aeroplane. Airship, then. Bloated hydrogen bobbing in the breeze. A flash of ignition, the Hindenburg bursting into flames — no, that was wrong, too. Impossible to remember.
        "My data's been corrupted," said Jo, confessing.
        "Your data?" said Geoff. "I'm sorry, I'm not a computer type. What was the data, anyway? Anything important?"
        "Just my life," said Jo.
        And, receiving this confession, Geoff smiled. The smile of delighted discovery. And Jo realized, too late, that she had just betrayed herself to the enemy.
          
* * *

        By the time Daniel and Naomi reached Nirvana House, Daniel had come to the conclusion that they must be sharing the same room. He liked the idea. He had endured too much by way of hardship and suffering. There were vast carousing pressures inside him — a wish to break loose, to whoop and holler, to unleash the animal.
        But Naomi checked him when he tried to enter her room.
        "Daniel! I've told you! No! You're not coming in here until you've divorced her! And that's that!"
        Divorce. Divorce implied marriage. So I'm married? How did that happen? Well, figure that one out later ...
        Naomi's door having closed in his face, Daniel went in search of his own. He did this by going along the corridor sticking his key into locks until he found one that turned. Now let's hope that this isn't just a coincidence of keys ...
        Daniel looked both ways, checking the corridor. Clear. He pushed the door open.
        Inside, darkness. Heat. A pit of sweat and shadow. He pulled back the curtain, startling a cockroach, which fled. A flash of memory: the sweating walls of the starvation cell. In the prison known as Oubliette. Where he had eaten a cockroach, crunching its twitching resistance between his teeth. And, later, the lizard. The lizard. Real meat! An absolute luxury.
        Daniel switched on the fan, surveyed the room. Books. Many. An intellectual's room. So that was what he had become, in this lifeline: an intellectual. Wonderingly, he let his hands linger on the books, touching, with reverence, Lafcadio Hearn's "On Poets", Joshua Whatmough's "Dialects of Ancient Gaul", Yoshimura's "Tibetan-Japanese Dictionary", and a pamphlet by one Sylvan Cohen entitled "Enjoy Your Goldfish" which was about ... goldfish, apparently.
        An intellectual. You became a goldfish-keeping intellectual. Not a killer, a convict, an executioner, a guerilla warrior, a member of the resistance. In this world, no beatings, no starvation, no jailhouse rape, no Obro Yelsan.
        Obro Yelsan.
        Obro Yelsan is the ruler of Japan, and Geoff Lan is his agent. And Geoff Lan knows you have just come through. Geoff Lan knows you are a member of the resistance. He knows you either have or are seeking the Numbers of the Sun, the Numbers which are Seven. He doesn't yet know that the first of the Seven Numbers is the actual number seven itself.
        These thoughts came swirling up from the great gulf of the lost twenty years.
        Careful. If you remember too much all at once, you'll go mad. You have to sleep.
        A desktop computer.
        He switched it on.
        The screen came up with an unfamiliar version of the iconic desktop concept. He scanned the icons then clicked on a little itty bitty picture of what looked like an open diary. The hard drive chuckled and an appointment diary appeared on the screen, open at today's date. There were three notes.
        "1. Back from mtns by 1000 latest. Phone Jim about the horse — must call by 1100.
        "2. Pay ur med. insurance today. You abs. MUST do this!!!
        "3. Shinobu 7 pm — ecstasy."
        Well, Jim was out of luck, and so was the horse — it was far too late for that phone call, whatever it was. As for the insurance, he would just have to live without it. But this Shinobu — a girlfriend? He remembered ... yes, somewhere in his past there had been a girl called Shinobu, with long dark hair ... a soft voice.
        Maybe the woman he was destined to divorce. But — who says that divorce is compulsory?
        "Seven o'clock, huh?" said Daniel. "Guess I've got time to get some wine."
        Plenty of time: it was still early in the afternoon.
        

* * *

        
        Compelled by her contractual obligations, Jo Tye detrained at Shibuya, the big station in Tokyo, where she was met by Roldo Free, the manager of the Shibuya branch of Hello Japan. This Roldo Free was Mr Presentation himself, immaculately dressed, all starch and glitter. And cold. A computational coldness about him: a company man through and through. But efficient.
        "Josephine Tye?"
        "Jo, please."
        "Okay — Jo. Please come this way."           
        Confused and disoriented, Jo followed Roldo Free out of Shibuya station's Hachiko exit and into the whirling panic-stampede of the rush hour plaza beyond. The contents of her skull bulged, buckled. Roldo said something. In what language? Jo replied in a tongue which came more naturally.
        "Pardon?" he said.
        English. He is speaking English. And you too can speak English. Can. Do. Must. No other tongue. Your name is not Lazimuth Ebroneluza. Your name is Josephine Priscilla Tye. His name is Roldo Free. He is the manager of Hello Japan. Those people in that group over there are members of the Sacrifice cult. They are messengers sent by the prophet Obro Yelsan to prepare this planet's people for collective suicide. They —
        "Hold on, Jo!" said Jo.
        "What?" said Roldo Free.
        And the members of the Sacrifice group surrounded them. Their Japanese T-shirts were adorned with Aztec eagles, their banners likewise. One of them confronted Jo, thrusting a Japanese-language pamphlet at her.
        Freeze frame. The scene: the big plaza outside the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station. Jo Tye has been surrounded by the members of the Sacrifice cult. It will happen here. They will make an incision in her belly. They will insert the hook into her intestines. And then —
        And then Roldo Free was leading her past the cultists and into the halls of Hello Japan, the "unique immersion pool" language school which specialized in real authentic English, English as authentic as a mugging in Brooklyn, with no-holds-barred role plays to match. In the largely bland and anodyne education scene it successfully filled a small (a very small) niche market.
        Vivaldi welcomed them into the lift. The elevator, Jo. It's not a lift, it's an elevator. And a pavement's a sidewalk, a bonnet's a hood and a boot's a trunk: you're teaching American English now.
        As they ascended toward heaven, Jo started to read the pamphlet. The pamphlet which must have been forced upon her by the Sacrifice cultists, although she had no memory of any such thing happening.
        "The Alajalenjis. The Cosmic Masters. Let us tell of the Alajalenjis. A long time ago, before the invention of dogs, the Alajalenjis ruled the cosmos. Then they Ceased. Before they Ceased, they created the Ukram Dizin as their slaves. The mission of the Ones Who Sing was to grant the True Choice to those who think. The True Choice is to Be or to Cease."
        The words blurred into impossibilities. But the data flow continued. She was informed by the pamphlet, or by awakening dreams, or by the secret transmitters hidden in the deserts of Egypt which were broadcasting data to the communicator hard-wired into her skull. One way or another, she knew.
        The Alajalenjis made themselves the masters of the cosmos then died a cosmic death. They left behind their created slaves, the Ukram Dizin, whose task was to monitor the planets, and to offer death to life.
        At first, the Ukram Dizin went about their appointed tasks. And then Obro Yelsan —
        "Obro Yelsan became the One True Prophet," said Roldo Free, "and tutored the people in the way of truth."
        "Oh," said Jo, startled.
        Remembering him. Remembering herself. The pamphlet was in her hand. She must have been reading it. Aloud? And for how long? The lift — the elevator — had come to a halt. They were between floors. Vivaldi had fallen silent.
        "I think we've stopped," said Jo.
        "I think we have," said Roldo. "Do you want a kiss before I start, or shall I just start?"
        Jo made no reply. Whatever she did, he was going to start, like it or not. And there was no way to stop him.
        
* * *

        The problem with Daniel's room was that there was no sink. So, being thirsty, he found his way to the kitchen, meaning to get a glass of water. The kitchen was empty, unless you counted the fat and thirtyish Japanese guy who was sitting at the table.
        "Hi, Dan," said the Japanese guy, who apparently counted himself.
        "Hi," said Daniel, cautiously.
        The Japanese guy giggled. "A question for you," said Giggling Boy.
        "Okay," said Daniel.
        "Imagine there's a man in a burning house," said Giggling Boy.
        "Okay," said Daniel.
        "Now," said Giggling Boy, "in the house there's a baby. There's also a famous picture — let's say it's the Mona Lisa."
        Daniel could see exactly what was coming next, but he decided to play along.
        "So what's the Mona Lisa doing in the house?" he said.
        "It was stolen," said Giggling Boy. "Now, my question is — "
        But that was when they were interrupted by a Mormon missionary type, starched and clean-shaven.
        "Hi, Dan," said the newcomer. "How's it going?"   
        "Okay," said Daniel, cautiously.
        At which the stranger smiled, delighted.
        "You don't remember me, do you? You've just come through, haven't you?"
        "I don't know what you're talking about," said Daniel.
        "Have it your way," said the stranger. "My name's Geoff Lan, by the way. Suppose you tell me the numbers, Daniel?"
        "Numbers?"
        "The Seven Numbers of the Sun."
        "One two three four five six seven," said Daniel, trying to make a joke of it. "There? Happy?"
        "We will have the numbers, you know," said Geoff Lan. "One way or the other."
        "The hard way or the easy way," said Daniel, automatically.
        "As Obro Yelsan always says," confirmed Geoff.
        Obro Yelsan.
        The name, spoken, had more power than the same name echoed in the realms of imagination. Daniel staggered.
        "Think I've got a headache," he muttered. "Hangover, I mean."
        Masking. Concealing. Struggling to fight against revelation. He was remembering. Too much, too fast.
        He had escaped from Oubliette, together with Lazimuth Ebroneluza. But their escape had been suspiciously easy. So, after Daniel and Lazimuth Ebroneluza had made their way to Lazimuth's secret data stash, and had retrieved the jump code, they had not jumped. No. If they had jumped, then Obro Yelsan's secret watchers would surely have followed them, locating and destroying the hideout.
        Instead, they had sought help from the resistance. And the resistance had helped them make an intermediate jump, and had helped them temporarily lose their own identities in the process to confuse any hunt.
        And, motivated by a need for self-protection, had implanted the self-destruct codes which would unravel their minds into madness unless they were on their way soon.
        "You did that to me?" said Daniel, bleakly.
        "Me?" said Geoff. "I haven't done anything. Yet."
        But Daniel was no longer in a dialog with Geoff Lan. Instead, he was locked up in his own internal processes.
        Yes. The resistance had. He was primed to self-destruct unless he made the next step. Soon. A necessary precaution. Because, if Obro Yelsan ever got his hands on Daniel Ashrami, then Daniel would confess everything, of a certainty. Nobody could stand against the strength of Oubliette when Oubliette got serious.
        So — how much time did he have left?
        He could not remember.
        But he was sure it was not much.
        But what good would it do, now, if he did find the Seven Numbers of the Sun? Obro Yelsan's people had found him already. And who could he turn to for help? The American Embassy? The Japanese police?
        Hi, I'm a refugee from a different world, and I need your help ...
        "See you later," said Giggling Boy, as Daniel staggered out of the kitchen, trying to keep himself from fainting.
        "Or even sooner than that," said Geoff Lan, speaking to Daniel's retreating back. "Remember, Daniel. You can run, and you can hide, but we already know where you're running, and we're already waiting in the place where you mean to hide."
        

* * *

        The lift was made of glass. Jo Tye and Roldo Free could see and be seen. So he couldn't rape and murder her — could he? Well, maybe he could. Down below, on the big interlocking gaming board of plaza and streets, the hastening crowds intermingled their energies, the collective impetus of their individual wills reduced by perspective to the scurrying of ants. Locked into their rigidly circumscribed freedoms, they were unlikely to look up.
        "Role play time," said Roldo. "In this role play, imagine you're a new teacher at Hello Japan. Imagine I'm the manager. Clear so far?"
        "Start the lift, please." "The elevator, Jo. American English, please."
        "I'll sue you for sexual harassment."
        "In Japan? Case wouldn't even get to court. Now, our role play."
        "This is crazy."
        "It's a game, Jo. Just imagination. If I threaten to disembowel you, it's not a real threat. It's just a counter in the game."
        "I'll scream."
        "Go right ahead. Role play, Jo. I believe — role play only, please understand — that planet Earth is being invaded by aliens. They're massing here, in Japan. Hundreds of them. Masquerading as Westerners."
        "That's a pretty weird role play," said Jo. "Logically, why here? In Japan?"
        "When the aliens pump their minds into their flesh-and-blood victims," said Roldo, "there's a lot of damage. The new arrival is confused, disorganized, not properly oriented."
        "So?"
        "So. A Westerner in Japan. You're not expected to know anything. The gas, the water filters, how to use the telephones, where do I buy milk. What's this green stuff, can you eat it? You've got natural excuses. Ignorance, jetlag, culture shock. Plus you're expected to be a bit weird, the Japanese expect it."
        "But you're another Westerner," said Jo. "You're attuned to Western norms."
        "Overseas," said Roldo, "everyone's different. Who cares about the neighbors? Besides, we've never met the everyday Jo. Your norms? We have no idea. Anything approximately in the ballpark, we'll accept it. Your boyfriend isn't here. Your mother, sister, father, son. And they aren't going to suddenly turn up on the doorstep, either."
        "So," said Jo, defiantly. "Let's get on with our role play. Interrogate me. Prove me human."
        Get it over, get it over with, get me out of here. Or kill me, or rape me, just let's have this end. Okay?
        "Okay," said Roldo. "If that's how you want to play it, let's play it that way. Let's play. First question: what is your name?"
        The questions followed one after another, fiercely. Jo's sense of the passage of time was not working properly — after only a few questions, she lost track of how long they had been at it. Later, however, it started to seem as if they had definitely been trapped in the height-hauling car, the elevatorlift, for a very long time indeed. The airconditioning, if there was any, had failed. The sun beating on the glass windows was heating the interior to sweatbox intensity. Roldo was still at her, unrelenting.
        "Again," said Roldo. "Who or what are the Alajalenjis?"
        "The pamphlet," said Jo, shorthanding an explanation.
        "The darshadeldi?"
        "The virtual realms. You said so yourself."
        "The Mokrombis?"
        "Don't know."
        "But it's in the pamphlet, Jo."
        "Then I didn't read that far."
        "But you read about Selyon, right?"
        "Selyon?"
        "You did read about her." Her. The gender was wrong. Selyon's gender was male. Jo knew that, even though it was the only thing she knew for sure about the forgotten Selyon.
        "I've read all kinds of stuff," said Jo, denying memory. "But, if I ever read about some girl called Selyon, I've forgotten all about it."
        Selyon was not a girl, no. Not a girl but an angel. Severe and righteous, and terrifying in strength. And Selyon's ambition had been to —
        "Seventh number," said Roldo, abruptly scraping at the control panel as he said the words.
        Almost catching Jo off guard.
        "What is this?" said Jo. "Bingo? If it is, I don't know how to play. Come on, let's start the lift."
        "I already have," said Roldo Free.
        And it was true. They had been going up, though Jo's reality controls had failed to detect the fact, and now they were arriving, and the doors of the elevatorlift were opening. And in front of them was a man. Big, bearded.
        "This," said Roldo Free, all managerial distance, "This is Bruce. He's from New Zealand, but don't hold it against him. You'll sit in on a couple of Bruce's classes, then you can solo, see how it goes."

* * *

        Daniel dreamt of his own face, his own body. Aged forty-four, and old. Adorned with gold. Black-bearded. Tattooed. Burnt by the sun. Heavy with too much eating, too little exercise. Rank with the sweat of summer. Unwashed. John the Baptist, mad, red-eyed, awaiting revelations in the desert.
         "I was human. Is that simple enough? Our world was copied to make a darshadeldi. At first, nothing changed. Subjectively, things were the same. We were unaware that we were copies. Unaware that our reality was now virtual rather than physical. Our generation should have died in the dust it had inherited. But then Selyon manifested himself."
        Selyon? What was that? An encryption program? The name of a dog? A new species of blancmange?
        His confusions were manifold.
        And who, in any case, was talking? He to himself or the cockroach to the prison walls? He remembered — it was memory surfacing, authentic memory — drawing obsessively on his prison walls. Cockroaches. Snakes. Fragments of mathematics. 2 + 2 = 7.
        "The Ukram Dizin," said Daniel, preaching to himself in his dreams. "The Ukram Dizin have their factions. You remember that much? Lollipop right, okay?"
        He was a pair of claws. The world was made of blotting paper. He drank ink, and preached.
        "The Yalo, the leading power bloc, they're pretty much content to permit the status quo. Then there's the Halsh, who think the Ukram Dizin should sacrifice themselves to permit free will to prevail."
        It made sense? He could not tell. The numbers were oblong. He could not drink them. He could make no sense of his hands, which had dissolved into whispers. But the preaching voice seemed to know what it was talking about. It continued remorselessly, coherent as the steady rhythm of a bleeding artery.
        "Then — Daniel, are you with us? — then there's the occasional maverick, the wild loners, and then there's the Mokrombis. The Mokrombis set up Obro Yelsan in Delakan Voy, and now Yelsan's people are being ported to this flesh-and-blood reality to prepare the way for a vote for the termination of humanity."
        There would be an examination on all this in the morning so Daniel tried to pay attention, but it was difficult, because someone was hammering on his head —
        On his door —
        Groggily, Daniel woke, to find someone knocking on his door. Not loudly, not insistently, but persistently. A polite knock — pause — knock. Who? Then Daniel glanced at his watch, realized what time it was, and remembered. Ah, yes. Shinobu.
        "Coming," he said.
        All hope and bright-faced anticipation.
        
* * *

        
        When Jo watched Bruce, the teaching business all seemed easy enough, so, that evening, she was feeling confident when she went into her first solo lesson, which saw her go man-to-man with a young man called Ken Kawabata.
        Ken. Kenneth. Traditional boy's name in English culture. Not Japanese. The data was crystal-clear, certain.
        "What's your Japanese name?" said Jo.
        "Japanese name?"
        "Ken is English," said Jo. "My name is Jo. What's yours?"
        "Ken."
        "Okay. Your middle name. What's your middle name?"
        "Middle name?"
        "Family name."
        "Family name is middle name?"
        "No. Wait. Tye. That's my family name. Jo. That's my personal name, my first name. My Christian name. Jo, it's short for Josephine. Josephine Priscilla Tye. Priscilla, that's the middle name. My middle name. So what's yours?"
        " ..."
        "What's yours?" said Jo.
        "Yours?"
        "Everyone has three names," said Jo. "Ken. That's one name. Kawabata. That's the last name. So what's the middle name? What goes in the middle?"
        "Nothing."
        "Okay," said Jo. "So. Ken is your Christian name?"
        "I'm not a Christian."
        "Okay, well, uh, hobbies. My hobbies are animal dissection and wine-tasting, how about you?"
        "Sleeping."
        "Sleeping. I see. How about your job? What job do you do?"
        "Secret."
        "It's a secret? Your job is a secret? Why?"
        "That's a secret."
        "Okay," said Jo. "Your favorite food. What do you usually eat ever day?"
        "I don't eat."
        "Oh, come on! Everyone eats!"
        "No," said Ken. "I don't eat."
        "Why not?"
        "I don't like food."
        At that point Jo became aware that sweat was trickling slowly down her forehead, and her cotton blouse was soaking wet with it.
        "What kind of food do Japanese people usually eat?" said Jo.
        "Wakaranai," said Ken.
        Wakaranai. Whatever the word meant, it triggered a posthypnotic revelation. Jo, suddenly, knew. About the Numbers of the Sun.
        Someone else had the odd numbers: the first, third, fifth and seventh. Hers were the even numbers. It was a security precaution. She could not betray the access code even if she wanted to. Because she only had half of it. And, of that half, so far she could only remember one digit. The second number: four.
        So the Seven Numbers of the Sun are an access code. But what do they access? Are we talking about a telephone number here? A decrypting key? A website ID? Or what? And, anyway, what is a website? Something to do with fishing, fishing boats, nets, telephone lines. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Fishermen. Loaves and fishes. Bill Gates.
        Your data did get corrupted. And badly. When you fled Obro Yelsan's Japan. When the resistance transferred your mind into Josephine Tye's brain. And what happened then to poor old Josephine Tye? Well, logically: she died. Didn't she? Killed by you. The murderer.
        And the murderer was still brooding on her crime when, on exiting the building into the wet heat of the Japanese evening, she was challenged by a Japanese woman.
        "Jo — it's me, Naomi."
        "Sorry," said Jo. "Didn't recognize you for a moment."
        Her brain was fuzzy. She was exhausted, disoriented. Not sure to whom she had been introduced, to whom she had not. What names she should know, what conversations she had had. Why — even the very lesson she had just taught was dissolving, in memory, into just one more incoherent fragment of that nightmare known as life.
        "You said you were ready to talk about it," said Naomi, tense, urgent, eager. "Well — how about now?"
        "Okay," said Jo, not sure what "it" might be, but thinking she had better find out as soon as possible.
        
* * *

         
        "Great wine," said Shinobu, twirling his glass between his fingers. "Kind of you to buy it."
        "Nice of you to say it," said Daniel.
        Shinobu. An ambiguous Japanese name, used by boys as well as girls. Daniel had imagined a girl — the girlfriend of his new life — but instead he had this fat slob of a thirty-year-old boy who was supposedly his student. Though why Shinobu might be studying English Daniel had no idea. Shinobu was the eternal student type, a hyperintellectual egghead who knew the English language inside out but had yet to discover anything constructive to do with it. The guy for whom the phrase "get a life" had been invented.
        "We were talking earlier about a painting and a baby," said Shinobu.
        "We were?" said Daniel. "Oh — yes. In the kitchen. Uh ... the guy in the burning house. Which one does he have to choose?"
        "No," said Shinobu. "That's not the question. Situation: a man is in a house with a baby and the Mona Lisa. The question is this: does the man have to shoot the painting and throw acid on the baby?"
        "What?" said Daniel, jolted. "Of course not!"
        "But let's say," said Shinobu, "that the man has just shot his brother and bludgeoned his father."
        "So what?" said Daniel. "That makes no difference at all."
        "But what say," said Shinobu, grinning, "the man has strangled his budgerigar into the bargain?"
        "Budgerigar?"
        "You know. Little bird. Green, yellow — whatever."
        "If I was the man," said Daniel, "I'd get out of the burning house."
        "You think it's that easy?" said Shinobu.
        "Sure," said Daniel. "Why not?"
        "Why not?" said Shinobu, smiling. "You might find out, one of these days."
        "What's that supposed to mean?" said Daniel. "And who are you, really?"
        "Really," said Shinobu, "I am the Prophet of Qa. Now, this is your lucky day, because you're the first person on planet Earth to be privileged to hear this. Qa is the Doctrine of the Sufficient Moment. It's a form of stoicism laced with transcendental overtones."
        "And I suppose it's my destiny to hear all about it," said Daniel heavily.
        "Unless you'd rather talk about baseball," said Shinobu.
        "Baseball," said Daniel, "sounds just fine."
        
* * *

         
        At their train headed toward Tamagawa, the stop you used if you were going to Nirvana House, Naomi — the Japanese woman — insisted on showing Jo a pamphlet.
        "I can't read Japanese," said Jo. "What is it? Pyramid marketing, something like that?"
        "No," said Naomi. "It's a cult."
        "A cult?" said Jo. "As in, like, your standard weirdo Japanese suicide cult?"
        "Something like that," said Naomi. "The name of the cult is Sacrifice. It's your standard cult setup. But, this time, I think there may be some truth in it."
        Jo was alarmed. She was a very conventional person, and cult stuff — any fringe stuff, in fact — was alien to her nature. Besides, she had a serious mission to accomplish. She knew that for sure, even though she could not yet remember what her mission was. She could not risk getting caught up in sideline nonsense.
        But Naomi was relentless, inflicting unwanted knowledge along with a gobbledygook menagerie of names.  
        "The Alajalenjis," said Naomi. "The Cosmic Masters. That's what it's all about. They ruled the cosmos back before the Big Bang. Collective suicide, they committed. Left the Ukram Dizin as their slaves. Slaves to their plan."
        And she explained. Before destroying themselves, the Alajalenjis had tasked the Ukram Dizin with the job of monitoring the history of intelligent civilizations. Obedient to this imperative, the Ukram Dizin had tracked human history for millennia.
        "And, periodically," said Naomi, "the Ukram Dizin have been making a computerized copy — a darshadeldi — of human civilization."
        Since virtual evolution outpaced flesh-and-blood evolution, each darshadeldi swiftly reached the Point of Enlightened Choice where its inhabitants could choose life or death, not just for themselves but also for the original flesh-or-blood world upon which their darshadeldi had been modeled. So far, most referendums had been in favor of life.
        "But the Ukram Dizin cannot be free until we are dead and gone," said Naomi. "The Ukram Dizin are a race with the powers of angels — they are the angels! But they are enslaved to our mud. We have to Sacrifice. Ourselves. That's what Sacrifice is for: to prepare the way."
        "And?" said Jo. "Are you a convert? Can you possibly believe this — this twaddle — for so much as a minute?"
        "You're getting this for free, you know," said Naomi, offended. "Do you realize most people have to pay really big money to learn this stuff?"
        "Then how did you get the pamphlet?" said Jo.
        "I stole it," said Naomi. "From — "
        "Look," said Jo, cutting her off. "Why are you, you — what's the word? — dumping. Why dumping. All this. I mean — I've just arrived, okay? I've hardly — what I'm getting at is, okay, why are you trying to force feed me this stuff?"
        "Well ..."
        "Arrival is the optimally vulnerable moment," murmured Jo, speaking more to herself than anyone else.
        "We know it," admitted Naomi.
        "So you're a recruiter," said Jo. "You recruit people into this — this cult."
        Accusingly, Jo looked hard at Naomi. But, before Naomi could confess as much, she tottered over sideways on the seat and blobbed off into the deepest imaginable snoring sleep.
        Jo stared at the sleeping Naomi.
        Narcolepsy.
        Naomi, then, was not the harmless cultist she appeared to be — she, too, had just recently surfaced. Had just recently come through.
        The train stopped, and a door opened. To where? Jo had no idea, but bolted from the train. She made it as far as a set of seats on the platform when she, too, tottered off into sleep.
 
* * *

        One bottle of wine led to another, and then Shinobu suggested they go out drinking.
        Go out drinking? A totally reckless thing to do.
        But Daniel, heavy with the oppressions of years of prison and suffering, was in a mood for dance, song, music. For riotous gaiety. The hell with this angels and gods business. He was human, and he had a right to live a little — didn't he? Yes, he did. Someone had told him that once.
        "Sure," said Daniel. "Let's go."
        One thing led to another, and Daniel ended up winning a joyful fistfight in the entertainment district of Kabukicho, after which — the last train having long since departed, Shinobu having vanished, and Daniel being too drunk to give instructions to a taxi driver — he checked into a capsule hotel.
        When Daniel finally rolled up to the Shibuya branch of Hello Japan, in time to start his afternoon shift, he checked the roster, and found that Jo Tye had been scheduled for a morning shift. All going well, she should have one lesson to go before she left the premises.
        "Jo Tye?" said Roldo Free, when Daniel asked.
        "Yes," said Daniel. "The new recruit."
        "She's already gone home," said Roldo. "Couldn't handle a full shift. I think we're going to have problems with that one."
        And that was when recollection struck.
        Seven. Nine. Seven. Zero. Now Daniel knew.
        The numbers in his possession where the first, third, fifth and seventh, and they were, respectively, seven, nine, seven and zero. The complete sequence, the Seven Numbers of the Sun, was an access code which would take Daniel and Josephine to a world beyond this world, to a place of refuge which Obro Yelsan had not yet succeeded in locating.
        "Are you all right?" said Roldo, looking at him curiously.
        "I," said Daniel, "had a really hard night last night."
        

* * *

        
        By now, Daniel had remembered enough to function. He knew his own numbers. But he needed Jo's.
        Problem: find Jo Tye. Find her, persuade her to yield the remaining Numbers of the Sun, then go with her to the escape hatch. A more immediate problem: teach this class. How?
        Although Daniel was standing in front of his class at Hello Japan, he had no idea how to teach English. Furthermore, he had very little knowledge of who or what he was supposed to be.
        So what next?
        "Imagine," said Daniel, standing in front of his intermediate class. "Imagine I've lost my memory."
        His class went along with the role play, and Daniel asked his necessary questions. How long have I been in Japan? Do I have a girlfriend? What are my hobbies? What kind of food do I like? Where do my parents live?
        He did the same role play with every class that day, building up a sometimes contradictory but generally serviceable overview of the Japanese life of Daniel Haberlogistron Ashrami, goldfish-keeping zen Buddhist intellectual.
        Whom you killed.
        You murdered him when you jumped here, the machinery feeding your mind into his brain.
        That was when he remembered the jumpmaster, the resistance's demented genius, grinning at him, telling him —
        "We've found just the target for you, Daniel, my man. Just the target. Oh, this is sweet!"
        There it is, you see. They didn't tell you you'd be jumping into yourself. They let you think it'd be a stranger.
        Enough of that.
        Process that later.
        Your students are watching you: they're waiting.
        "Okay, then," said Daniel. "Let's do a role play."
        Now ...
        "You," said Daniel, pointing at the student who seemed the most confident, "you're the teacher. Okay. You're the teacher! Start!"
        That old jailhouse cunning. If you can survive and prosper in the dungeons of Oubliette, then you can survive and prosper anywhere.
         
* * *

        Jo woke with her head wet with sweat. Her pillow was sodden. Summer had heated her room all through the long hours of daylight. Now she was dehydrated, dizzy with loss of fluids. In the bathroom, she gulped harsh, chemical water directly from the tap. In the kitchen, the seven pm news was coming on. She had been asleep since about midnight — had slept for nineteen hours solid.
        But that's not possible, is it?
        But you've just done it. Haven't you?
        "Hi."
        A big man, the prototype of all devil-worshippers, materializing out of the peripheral haze, solidifying himself from heat and nightmare.
        "Who?" said Jo, turning, reaching automatically for her shotgun, and panicking when it was nowhere to be found.
        No shotgun, no grenade, no cyanide tablet. What's gone wrong? Who are you?
        "I'll kill myself," warned Jo, bluffing with the standard threat of the cornered resistance member, which would have been no threat at all if she had had her grenade or her tablet.
        "Relax," said the man.
        Big and tall. Broad and dark. Smelling of marathon sweat, sweat dripping past his sweatband, purging down his face. Mad blue eyes staring. A flash of gold tooth, a rankness of old blood. He was dark, as dark as Wales: black hair, black beard and swarthy features. Gold on his hands, a flash of gold ring. And shockingly old: in his forties, at least.
        "Sorry," said Jo.
        Starting to remember, to recover herself. She was a member of the resistance and she had escaped from Obro Yelsan's Japan for a purpose. She could not afford to crack, to freak out, to break down, to blow it. She had to stay together, at all costs. She had come to Japan bearing a code. A code which —
        "Daniel Ashrami," said the big bearded John the Baptist madman, introducing himself.
        "Laz — no. Jo. I am. I am Jo Tye. Josephine Priscilla Tye. Not. Sorry. Sorry, I'm a bit ... anyway, I'm Jo."
        Jo Tye. Not Lazimuth Ebroneluza. You must not confess to being Lazimuth Ebroneluza. You are the last hope of the resistance. You have hidden your own identify from yourself as an act of self-preservation. You must not remember it too quickly.
        "I need the numbers," said Daniel Ashrami.
        "Numbers?" said Jo, startled.
        "The Seven Numbers of the Sun," said Daniel.
        And that was when Jo remembered. The second number was the number four. But she must preserve this secret with her life.
        "I," she said. "Work. Have to go."
        That blurted, she fled, bolting into the outside world.        

* * *

   
        Daniel Ashrami caught up with Josephine Tye.
        "Jo," said Daniel, stepping into the elevator which would take them up to the halls of the Shibuya branch of Hello Japan, the main school of the Hello Japan chain. "Jo. We have to talk."
        "I don't think so," said Jo.
        "What have you got to lose?" said Daniel.
        He persuaded her into the seminar room, where it was hot. The air conditioning had malfunctioned, and Hello Japan was a sweating sauna. There, it became clear that Jo had accepted Naomi as a friend and adviser.
        "You mean," said Daniel, dismayed, "you're joined the Sacrifice cult?"
        "They tell me they have a past life," said Jo. "I'm an agent of Obro Yelsan."
        So that was how they had got to her. They had offered her the choice to destroy herself. At some level, she must know that it was suicide to cooperate with Naomi. But she was cooperating even so. And she will resist you. She will resist your efforts to return her to the struggle. She wants to give up: to surrender, to die. You will have to be very careful in choosing the moment to turn her.          
        Then the door to the seminar room opened, and in came the enemy, as a pack: Geoff Lan, Roldo Free and Naomi.
        "Jo, Daniel," said Roldo briskly. "No time like the present. We're going to Hiyoshi. Now. That's the jump-off place, isn't it? And, once we get there, you're going to tell us the Numbers of the Sun. Then, I think, it will be all over — won't it now?"

* * *

        On the train to Hiyoshi, Daniel wondered how exactly this was supposed to work. Precisely how did Geoff, Roldo and Naomi expect to compel Jo and Daniel to reveal the numbers?
        Daniel was still assuming that the enemy must be in the possession of concealed weapons. On that assumption, he had obeyed. But, before he would give up any code numbers, he would have to see the weapons. He would have to be forced.
        And if there were no weapons?
        Why, he was going to walk away, laughing.
        Because, after all, this was not Obro Yelsan's Japan. This was the Japan of McDonald's and KFC, which was an altogether different place entirely.
        Finally, they detrained at Hiyoshi. Beyond the ticket gates, the roofed plaza of a shopping center, ornamented with a huge glittering steel ball, an anonymous piece of modern sculpture.
        "Okay," said Roldo, smiling. "Now you tell us the numbers. Both of you. I think you both remember by now."
        "Why should I tell you anything?" said Jo.
        "Because you, Lazimuth Ebroneluza, are a polluted murderer," said Roldo. "You murdered Josephine Tye so you could steal her brain space."
        Jo stepped back as if slapped. And Daniel saw a tear come into her eye.
        "It's not that easy," said Daniel. "We're made of tougher stuff that."
        "Oh, sure," said Roldo. "Naomi — will you be the one, or will I?"
        "Me," said Naomi. She smiled. "Daniel — please remember your wife."
        And, on command, Daniel remembered. His wife had cancer: he abandoned her. Then things got suddenly tougher. He needed a sacrifice to throw to the security police. He needed a sacrifice to save his own life. He gave them his wife. Cold logic: she had no time anyway. It has seemed reasonable enough in the doing. After all, the security police had already torn out all his fingernails, one by one. And, that being Obro Yelsan's Japan, that was to be thought of as only a start.
        But now —
        Shocked by revelation, Daniel felt his breath stall in his lungs. Could not breathe for ten, twenty, thirty seconds. Heaved in air at last. It hurt. Hurt to breathe.
        What was he? What kind of polluted thing? He had fought with monsters, and had become a mirror-image of the thing he had fought against. His own wife ...
        "Daniel."
        A strong voice. Who? Shinobu. The fat Japanese guy. Giggling Boy. Mr Beer Belly Slob.
        "What are you doing here?" said Daniel, his voice slurred, like that of a man losing grip on consciousness.
        "Daniel," said Shinobu, "I have a question for you."
        "A question?" said Daniel, wondering.
        "Just this," said Shinobu. "Does the man really have to shoot the painting and throw acid on the baby?"
        "No," said Daniel.
        And Shinobu grabbed Geoff Lan and Roldo Free and cracked their heads together. They collapsed at his feet. Naomi ran. The random scattering of shoppers and students in the plaza rippled away in fear and panic.
        "Now go," said Shinobu.

* * *

        
        The sidewalk. The road. Roaring traffic. A break in the traffic. Daniel and Jo fled across the road. And there, directly ahead of them on the far side of the road, was a tree-lined arcade which led to the site of Obro Yelsan's castle.
        And out of the stumbling sky came the choirs of memories. Singing as they burnt and fell. And Jo remembered, she remembered. Was incandescent with the chaos of recall. And, with memory came power. The other worlds are like the radio signals: they are here, present in this room, needing only the switch to be thrown.
        With Daniel Ashrami at her side, Josephine Tye — Lazimuth Ebroneluza — walked up the road to Hiyoshi Castle, invoking as she did so:
        "Nargan, nargan, alvox, antravox."
        The world began to pulse with blue light.
        "Seven," said Daniel.
        "Four," said Jo.
        "Nine," said Daniel.
        "Three," said Jo, remembering.
        "Seven," said Daniel.
        "Five," said Jo.
        "Zero," said Daniel.
        And the dissolving world buzzed and hummed, glittering into mathematics.
        For a moment, the pulsing realm of potential hardened into fact, and Jo Tye saw before her the buzzard beak scaffolds of Hiyoshi Castle, the enactment in steel and stone and polluted water of the visionary will of Obro Yelsan. Then the gashed gateway of the central bastion collapsed into its own shadows, pulling the entire edifice with it as it went spindling away into darkness, the entire world dissolving with a smell like that of grated carrots.
        And there were —
        The mind-mesh of the Shapers seized her, and she knew where she was. She was in a Seat of Decision, Daniel Haberlogistron Ashrami vaguely visible as a piece of inconsequential baggage on the periphery of her vision.
        Something intruded. Naomi, armed for confrontation.
        "You can't run, you know," said Naomi, leveling her weapon at them.
        A gun of some kind. It looked as if it was a water pistol. But you can fill a water pistol with acid, with —
        Jo made a Decision. Flames blinked. And nothing was left of Naomi but half the echo of a broken scream and a little dribble of something which looked like dirty brown candlewax. Then Jo made a broader Decision, filling all the approaches to this place with hurtling death.
        "What are you doing?" said Dan, still disoriented but vaguely aware of the unleashing of incalculable energies.
        "It's art," said Jo.
        "Art?"
        "Yes. You know. Picasso. Monzalay. Spring Tun. Mapacclon. Turner. Basquiat. That kind of art."
        "You're not making sense."
        "Had we but world enough, and time."
        "You're still not making sense."
        "Shut up. The artist is at her work."
        But, actually, there was no need for a fresh creation. No need and no time. The brief frenzied energies of battle were subsiding already, and exhaustion was coming upon her, the profound exhaustion of the aftermath of terror and flight. She needed the comfort of refuge and she needed it now, before the effort of riding her storm-flood memories overwhelmed her discipline.
        "Hold tight," said Jo.
        And shifted them, once and again, and then at last again, until finally they arrived, and were engulfed by —
        Bursting sunlight and the smell of the sea and the leaping wind coming clean through the pines. Taken by surprise, Daniel lost his balance, and fell. Jo let him fall and stood there breathing the clean sea air — the air of dolphins — as Daniel recovered himself.
        They were standing atop a sanddune which had been partially stabilized by creeping grasses. Nearby, an unpainted weathered shack complete with a water tank. A tawny cat lounged on the sun-hot wood of the porch which completed the shack. And Jo greeted the cat by name: Mallo-mallo Zazlum Pasturgnum. Oh long lost friend!

* * *

        
        Relief. Safety. Sleep. After sleep: breakfast. And, after breakfast: explanations.
        "Where are we?" said Daniel. "One of the darshadeldi, I guess. But who are you? Or, to put it another way: how did you have the power to bring us here? Give it to me nice and simple, okay?"
        "I thought you were the great expert," said Jo. "I thought you knew who I was."
        "I knew part of it," said Daniel. "But there's a lot I never knew. Or maybe I hid it from myself for security's sake, and now I can't get it back."
        "Okay," said Jo. "Selyon."
        "Pardon?" said Daniel.
        And Jo explained how Selyon had made her into his assistant, and how here, in this place of places, she was still wired into the controlling machineries which conditioned the workings of the very world itself.
        "The world, if you like," said Jo, "is mine to design and redesign as I will. Here. In this place. My place of power. This is my place. Well ... her place."
        "Her?"
        Jo smiled, sadly. Another tear red on her cheek.
        "She wanted so much. The woman, I mean. Lazimuth. Wanted so badly to live. That was why she was desperate enough. Roll the dice, take a chance. A partial incarnation, she could hope for that. But she more or less died, I'm afraid. More or less."
        Yes, you could not make an absolute statement out of it. But the fact was that the coherent entity once known as Lazimuth Ebroneluza had more or less ceased to exist.
        Although Lazimuth Ebroneluza still survived as fragmented memories (cool of the water in the stone jars under the single shade tree in that endless field), and as a nexus of skills (how to invoke the artist's palette, how to shape a cosmos with it), much of her (the most important part, perhaps) was gone beyond recall. Destroyed. Dead.
        "So where does that leave us?" said Daniel.
        "The Mokrombis do not know of this place," said Jo. "And did not previously suspect its existence. Else they would have sought it out and destroyed it. Or converted it to their own use."
        "So?"
        "So it gives us a place to stand. A place from which to fight back."
        And, so saying, she experienced the sensation of stepping clean from the cocoon which had housed her until then, the cocooning idea of Josephine Priscilla Tye.
        Out of the fragments of what was left of Josephine Tye and Lazimuth Ebroneluza, she could create herself, and could aspire, ultimately, to become what Selyon had wanted her people to become — the Alajalenjis reborn. The lost masters recreated and masters once again of the Creation which they had Created and which, in turn, had Created them.


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