Thoughtcasts From the Edge:
The Flowering of Pelinor
David Donachie returns us to ‘Thoughtcasts From the Edge’ — travelogues uploaded to the Mindscape by the myriads of transhumanity exploring the vibrant worlds of Commonality Space. From the Rustlands of Morgantha we come to Pelinor …
I left Morgantha saturated with rust, and in need of an antidote to so much ruination. Travellers desiring still more archaeology could do worse than to take the three-step route through Marut, New Hope, and Argo, to Ormandy, where the step tombs tower into the violet sky; but I set my course for Pelinor, hoping to be in time for the decennial flowering.
Pelinor (Mencey III) is the single inhabited planet of the Mencey binary system. Its primaries are a pair of main sequence stars, one large and one small. The larger — Mencey A — is in the process of devouring the smaller. While the inner worlds of Acaimo and Afjona (Mencey I and II) follow tight and regular orbits close to their parent stars, the outer planets, including Pelinor and the small icy ball called Beneharo (Mencey IV), follow long-period eccentric orbits that make for seasons far longer than their years.
These are the prosaic facts of the Mencey system, but what draws visitors to Pelinor by the thousands is the effect these orbital peregrinations have on the world below.
For nine local years out of ten, Pelinor is a yellow and desolate world. A cold desert, whose inhabitants migrate gradually around the circumference (and between the hemispheres) of the planet following the marginal small-summer heat. Their walking cities — grand edifices of green glass and makepoint sapphire — might be attraction enough to justify a visit on any other world; travellers who choose to come during the off-years will find them both quiet and accommodating, but there is another side to this chilled wasteland.
Once every ten years, Pelinor draws close to the twin suns. Silbo (Mencey B) grows high in the sky, and true summer comes. The Pelinorians call this the flowering. Seeds and roots that have hidden beneath the desiccated soil for ten years burst forth in a display of unparalleled exuberance; the ground is carpeted in blossoms.
A canny visitor arrives at least twenty days before the flowering is due, to ensure a room on the outside of one of the cities where the view is best. Towards the end of the ninth year, the cities leave their established routes and draw together, congregating in the uplands of Acentejo, where the flowering begins. Here the first shoots push through the ground, the epicentre of concentric waves of greenery that encircle the planet — first a flood of blue-green foliage, then the white points of star flowers, then the purple spikes of lance blossoms. After that, the waves come too fast to count. Xenobotanists have confidently identified over ten thousand species, but it is rare for a flowering not to see the discovery of at least a dozen previously unclassified forms. Many of the decennial visitors are researchers; the Chembu are especially interested in the constant appearance of new species that marks each of Pelinor’s orbits.
I arrived on Pelinor with only days to spare and made a landing near to Achinet, a minor city where I hoped suitable accommodation might still be available. Starships are not permitted to land on the walking cities directly, so my first view of the world was of a desolate plain, muddy with thawing frost, and populated only by the worm-like ground medusas that are the main form of surface life outside the flowering season. Flying over the Acentejo hills in an emerald travel pod to Achinet, it was hard to believe that this world could ever see life.
With the exception of a few structures intended entirely for off-worlders, most accommodation is in the homes of local families, who act as both hosts and guides to the visitors. My hosts were Bento and Pelicar. This was their sixth decade of hosting guests. Due to my late arrival, I shared their home with a caniform named Three-Tails, a traveller from Aerobarba reliving a childhood visit to Pelinor. Sharing in this manner is not uncommon; with luck, you will find yourself a travelling companion.
My late arrival gave me little time to appreciate the sights of Achinet itself, though its crystal greenhouses are a treasure trove of off-world plant life. Indeed I spent much of my time watching the hills slip by beneath the city’s many feet — Achinet is crab-like, the most common configuration — and getting used to the constant rocking motion, much like that of a ship at sea, which the Pelinorians make a point of not dampening with gravity fields. Three-Tails was more eager to see the sights than I was, and Bento made himself available as a guide for most of the trip.
Soon a dozen other cities came into view, ringing the Acentejo plain in a circle a hundred kilometres across, and I joined a throng of people at the viewing galleries set into the bow — the flowering, when it begins, is so rapid, that one can watch the plants emerge in real-time from these glass-walled lounges. True aficionados head to ground level in travel pods; walking on the surface is not permitted until the lance flowers have reached the edge of the hills and the plants are in no danger of being crushed.
I must confess that, after the many sights I had seen on my journey, I expected to find the first emergence a little anticlimactic; I was wrong. All at once, the hills turned green, as if viridian pigment had been squeezed out from beneath the soil. Magnified virtuality viewpoints showed the process in detail, capturing the millions of stems uncurling from the ground, but I could see it through the windows directly — a tsunami of greenery unrolling past me. Like most first-time visitors I stayed awake throughout the following days, marking the first appearance of each new bloom until at last, overwhelmed, I accepted Bento’s advice to rest.
During this time the locals take advantage of the cities’ proximity to meet, exchange gifts, and share meals with former acquaintances and distant relatives. These dinner rituals, known as Simusetti — five days — are usually private affairs, conducted out of sight of the visitors in their viewing galleries, but Bento and Pelicar were kind enough to invite me to join their extended kin for the final night of celebrations. Nineteen people gathered in their crowded apartment, which had been variformed around a single table for the event. Amidst the noise and laughter Bento’s cousin, Maxios, told me of Nadir, the point at which the ten thousand rings of plant-life finally converge, on the far side of the planet. No cities go to Nadir, but the keenest of visitors make a second pilgrimage, to stand on Pelinor’s soil where the grass waves meet. Armed with this information I resolved to travel to Nadir myself.
Once the flowering is properly under way the cities begin to disperse, and the surface is opened to anyone caring to walk amongst the myriad blossoms and the thousands of insect-analogues that emerge to pollinate them. Tours led by botanists are popular, as are optimistic quests in search of unknown species that might be named after yourself. Most people do not go far from the cities themselves, enjoying meals or recreation on the planet surface, but transport pods are easily available if you wish to travel more widely.
Reaching Nadir proved to be harder. Although Maxios had been forthcoming, others were more reticent. Nadir is regarded with spiritual superstition, and although off-worlders are not discouraged from seeking it, the way is made deliberately difficult. It is not hard to see this as an extension of the philosophy of allowing the cities’ motion to go un-dampened — for something to be worthwhile, it must be difficult. Asking questions, you will receive obscure answers. Searching the Mindscape for Nadir’s location, you will find contradictions. Nadir is not for everyone.
Twelve days later I stood with thirty others on a hill of bare un-living earth and watched the plants approach from every side. A ripple of emerging shoots that had begun that day in the Acentejo hills, diverged, encircled, and at last converged on this otherwise unmarked spot twenty-thousand kilometres away. When the wave of green reached us, I held my breath, watching the shoots burst forth all around me. When they reached my feet, I stepped aside. Only then did I truly understand why the walking cities touch the ground so sparingly.
Pelinor belongs to the plants, not to us.