Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lord of Light Part 6: Murder in Heaven

Continuing my look at Roger Zelanzy's novel Lord of Light

Prince Siddhartha, the Great-Souled Sam, the Binder of Demons and the Buddha is no more; his body, torn to pieces by the phantom cats of Kuriburrha has been burned in the Celestial City amidst great celebrations. The gods have had their vengence. But events have been set in motion which cannot be ended by something as simple as a pride of mutant tigers, and Sam's subversive campaign against Heaven is far from over. Like Yellowbeard the pirate, saints are never more dangerous than when they're dead.

The gods have something of a problem on their hands. Lord Brahma, the Creator of the Universe and chief god of the ruling Triumverate, has been found in his garden with an acute case of mortality. Not only is he merely dead, he's also most sincerely dead.

The surviving members of the Triumverate, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, along with Ganesha, the god-maker, meet to discuss what to do.

"The first order of business must be the selection of his successor," Ganesha says. "Heaven must never be without a Brahma." The obvious choice is Ganesha himself, but the god-maker declines. He prefers being the Power Behind the Throne.

One by one, the Triumverate go through their options. They consider the Lokapalas, the tightly-knit brotherhood of gods who are highly respected; but Yama is "too serious, too conscientious -- a technician, not an administrator." Kubera is "Too smart. I'm afraid of Kubera." Indra is "too headstrong" and Krishna is "never sober."

Ganesha approaches the problem from another direction:
"What is our greatest problem at the present time?" 
"I do not feel we have any great probems at the present time," said Vishnu. 
"Then it might be wise to have one just about now," said Ganesha. "I feel that our greatest probelm is Accelerationism. Sam came back, stirring, making clear waters muddy." 
"Yes," said Shiva. 
"Accelerationism? Why kick a dead dog?" 
"Ah, but it is not dead. Not down among men. And it will serve to direct attention away from the succession within Trimurti and regain at least surface solidarity here in the City. Unless, of course you'd rather undertake a campaign agaisnt Nirriti and his zombies?" 
"No thanks."
Ganesha has an unorthodox suggestion. Kali should become the next Brahma. "The twin beasts, Buddhism and Accelerationism, draw a single chariot. The Buddha scorned her. She is a woman. She will carry on the campaign."

Assuming the role of Brahma will mean that Kali will have to forsake her female body and take on the form of a man. Her new husband Yama is not going to like that, but Ganesha is confident that he can handle the deathgod. Handling people is what Ganesha does best.

Back in the early days, there had been a split among the original crew of the colony ship, who had augmented themselves with god-like powers to tame the planet. Some of them, called Accelerationists, wanted to share their technology with the rest of the passengers, who had fallen into a relatively primitive state in the interim. The majority, called the Deicrats, wanted to maintain the status quo with them ruling over the rest as gods. Possessing a monopoly on the body-transfer technology that assured virtual immortality, the Deicrats were able to simply outlive their political opponents. Sam was the last Accelerationist; and who knew he would be the most dangerous.

Ganesha is correct that Accelerationism is not dead among men. We next get a vingette showing two men discussing a wondrous invention one is having installed in his house. "...a thing into which these items are dischared -- into the water -- and then a lever pulled, and then, with a mighty rushing sound, thse things are borne away, far beneath the ground... it involves great pipes and a seat without a bottom, or a top, really. It is the most wonderful discovery of the age..." Men are rediscovering technology.

Yama and Kali are called back from their honeymoon. Ganesha asks Yama to investigate Brahma's murder. Being the god of Death, and a genius to boot, he is the obvious person to ask. Ganesha also asks Kali if she would assume the golden saddle and silver spurs of Brahma. To Yama's dismay, Kali does not immediately reject the idea. Privately, he urges her to refuse Ganesha's request. Traditionally, when one partner in a marriage transfers to a new body, the marriage is dissolved.

"Then if you love me -- and you are truly my lady --" he says, "then let another be Brahma."

"I am sorry, Yama..." Kali replies.

Yama goes off to the Pavilion of Silence to brood, and spends a day and a night there. When he emerges, he learns another murder has been committed. Shiva has been found with his head bashed in by a blunt instrument. There is a new hole in the Dome of Heaven to show where he fired at his assailant with his trident of anihilation and missed.

He consults briefly with his friend Kubera. They agree that both murders were likely committed by the same person, and that it was a person known to both victims. Kubera doubts that the crimes are part of an Accelerationist conspiracy, but concedes that they might be the result of someone's vendetta. "Has the investigation been given into your hands?" he asks Yama.
"I am no longer certain. I think so. But I will find who did it, whatever his station , and kill him." 
"I have need of something to do, someone to..." 
"I am sorry, my friend."
After Yama leaves, Ratri, the goddess of Night also visits Kubera for some advice. She thinks that she was "either the last to see Brahma alive or the first to see him dead, depending upon what his twitching signified." Now she fears that she will be suspected of his murder. Kubera tells her it would be better to come clean to Yama now, rather than have this information come out once the Deathgod starts brain-scanning everyone; but he promises his protection.

Yama identifies no fewer than thirty-seven people who had opportunity to poison Brahma, several of whom are gods. He uses the psych-probe he designed to investigate each one of them; and they all came up innocent. For the moment, Yama is baffled, but Kubera has an idea which he investigates on his own.

While the investigations proceed, Kali, the new Brahma, announces plans to strike against Accelerationism. A city called Keenset, on the river Vedra, has been experiencing something of a technical renaissance. The printing press has been re-discovered; sophisticated plumbing is being developed and a clever glasscutter has invented bifocals. This kind of thing has to be nipped in the bud. Along with Agni, who has assumed Shiva's role, and Mara, they begin to assemble an army of demigods and mortals to crush Keenset.

Kubera finds who he is looking for lying on a grassy hilltop. It is Sam, but wearing the body of Murugan, whom we last saw demanding a fresh form for Kail and Yama's wedding.

"You killed a weak Brahma and a mighty one has replaced him... You killed a strong Shiva, but an equal strength replaces his," Kubera says. He asks Sam why. "What did you hope to gain? Revenge?"

"Revenge is part of the illusion of self," Sam says. But Kubera won't settle for koans. Pressed, Sam continues,
"I decided that mankind could live better without gods. If I disposed of them all, people could start having can operners and cans to open again, and things like that, without fearing the wrath of Heaven. We've stepped on these poor fools enough. I wanted to give them a chance to be free, to build what they wanted."
Sam asks how Kubera found him out. "It occurered to me that Sam would be the number one suspect, except for the fact that he was dead," Kubera says. "I had assumed that to be sufficient defense against detection," Sam replies.

Kubera had guessed that if Sam were one of Yama's thirty-seven suspects, Sam's electro-direction powers might have been able to cause Yama's psych probe to give a false reading. Kubera noted that Murugan had recieved a new body shortly after Sam's death. Comaring Murugan's brain scans to earlier scans on record, Kubera determined that they were of two different persons.

Sam confirms his guess, and tells how Takara the demon had "strengthened his flames," allowing him to exist as the Rakasha do in a disembodied state after his body was killed. Finding Murugan's new body being prepped for a mind transfer, he slipped in. "I went into Murugan's new body and Murugan went to hell."

Kubera is sympathetic to Sam's goals and offers to help him escape Heaven; but Sam is determined to continue his one-man war, exterminating the whole pantheon one god at a time. Sam likes Kubera and offers to let him go if he'll promise not to tell anyone about their conversation; except that Sam has expressed his intention to kill Yama, who is the most dangerous one to Sam's plan, and Kubera can't countenance that: "He is a brother Lokapala and a friend."

Kubera offers a wager. He proposes they have a contest to settle the matter. If Kubera wins, Sam will leave Heaven; if Sam wins, Kubera will keep his silence. The contest is an old-fashioned Irish stand-down, in which each party takes turns punching each other until one stays down. "With you, fat Kubera? And me in my magnificent new body?" Kubera says "Yes."

Yama hears a distrubance in the Garuda bird pen and sees Kubera lugging and unconscious Murugan to one of the huge birds. Yes, Kubera is fat; but he also cheats. Kubera comes up with an unconvincing story about why he needs to take Murugan out of the city that fails to satisfy the skeptical deathgod. Ratri is with Yama, and Yama commands her to lay an area of darkness upon the Garuda birds. Kubera tells her instead to blind Yama and to join their escape. Ratri makes her decision. Now she is a fugitive too.

The three fly to Keenset where they warn the populace of the coming attack and help them prepare. Sam and Kubera organize and drill the defending army. Kubera also begins training the local savants and artisans in basic principles of chemistry and engineering so that whatever happens, the knowledge will not be lost.

Takara arrives with a legion of demons in order to fulfil the promise he had made to Sam and broken. He also brings news of more reinforcements: Black Nirriti, one of the First who had left Heaven and who is considered an abomination by pretty much everybody is sending an armie of his zombies, mindless clones, to help defend Keenset; and Dalissa, the last of the Mothers of the Terrible Glow has also agreed to help Sam. We don't get much description of these Mothers, but they seem to be some kind of monsterous sea creatures whom the First fought when the planet was first tamed.

Another ally arrives unexpectedly: Yama. "Divorces are made in Heaven," he tells Sam bitterly. "And betrayals. And shamings. The lady has gone too far, and I know the reason, Lord Kalkin. I neither embrace your Accelerationism nor do I reject it. Its only mattering to me is that it represents the one force in the world to oppose Heaven." Yama has brought a new thunder chariot as well as his own high-tech arsenal. He also brings the Talisman of the Binder; the device Sam stole to amplify and focus his powers.

The forces of Heaven attack: men from nearby cities urged to a holy crusade by their temples, augmented by demigods, deities-in-training who have not yet fully developed their Aspects and Attributes; with air support by the new Triumvirate in Shiva's thunder chariot.

The battle is brutal and chaotic. At first the defenders seem to be prevailing. But Sam becomes reckless. "It is you, isn't it, Kalkin?" Mara the illusion god says recognizing Sam and mocking him. "This is your sort of war. Those were your lightings striking friend and foe alike." Sam has become less and less subtle of the course of his campaign against Heaven, starting out with quiet subversion, then recruiting allies, going on to theft, murder and now wholesale bloodshed.

The tide of battle turns, and Sam is forced to retreat. One by one, his allies are picked off and captured, and he too falls.

Keenset is destroyed.

Sam, Yama and Ratri are brought back to Heaven. Kubera is not found and remains at large. Mara warns that Heaven's victory has been a Pyrrhic one; but Brahma only cares that they have won.

Yama's body is found dead in his cell the next morning after the detonation of a small explosive device. It seems that he had build a mind-transfer device small enough to be hidden in his turban. Now Yama too is at large.

But Sam is not. The gods are not going to make the same mistake twice. So instead of killing him outright, they decide to complete the story of Buddha by declaring that Sam's soul has been judged worthy of Nirvana. They attach the leads of the body transfer apparatus to a radio transmitter and beam his soul into space to inhabit the golden magnetic belt that encircles the planet. Which is where we found Sam at the beginning of Chapter One.
"The Buddha has gone to nirvana," said Brahma. "Preach it in the Temples! Sing it in the streets! Glorious was his passing! He has reformed the old religion, and we are now better than ever before! Let all who think otherwise remember Keenset!" 
This thing was done also. 
But they never found Lord Kubera. 
The demons were free. 
Nirriti was strong. 
And elsewhere in the world there were those who remembered bifocal glassees and toilets that flushed, petroleum chemistry and internal combustion engines, and the day the sun had hidden its face from the justice of Heaven. 
Vishnu was heard to say that the wilderness had come into the City at last.
NEXT:  Chapter Seven: Götterdammerung! The End of the Yuga! The final battle between Sam and the gods; double-crosses; zombies; and the ultimate fate of the Buddha! Be there!

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