Vanity Valentine’s landing is a gentle one. After leaving the Shen Kuo, Vanity’s flying boots guided him the one hundred short miles down to the surface of the planet, altering the gravitational constant of Vanity’s local field so as to assure him a soft landing in a spongy green clearing. He smiles and glances around, at the weird-trees that line the clearing, at the three yellow moons in the inky night sky.
He is ten leagues from Castle Earthbit, on the planet of Skybirth. His mission is a simple one, to go to Earthbit, and beg a boon of its master, the Lord Jack Planter, the starcharts that lead to the Tower of the Worldwright, somewhere in the Crimson Storm that, even now, Vanity can see glowing softly in the northeastern night sky.
Vanity did not know why one of the well-bound would know the location of the legendary Worldwright, but the Interlocutor on the Shen Kuo had assured him that the information was correct, coming from unseen Methuselah himself.
“If you wish it, ask Planter himself how he came to know of the Worldwright,” the Interlocutor had said, as the two of them had walked on the topdeck of the Shen Kuo, staring out across the endless star-filled void, and down at the blue and white planet sitting at the bottom of the gravity well. “I am sure the story will be … fascinating.”
The Interlocutor, bald, smooth-faced, and eight feet tall, had not smiled then. In all the shipyears Valentine had served with the Interlocutor, thirty four, since he’d been bought by Old Nana in the slavepens of Gor, Valentine had never seen the Interlocutor smile. Still – even dispassion has its ranges, and Vanity thought there might have been a touch of amusement threatening to burst through in Interlocutor’s right eye. Still – the shiptales said that the Interlocutor hailed from Lost Vega, and everybody knows the tales of the Vegai and their strange thought patterns.
“Use the boots,” the Interlocutor had said, as he’d walked away, to go busy himself with the endless byzantine worktasks waiting him behind the sealed doors that led to Sanctum and Captain Methuselah.
It appeared as if the sun had set a mere two hours before, and, given the axial tilt of the planet and the time of year, Vanity could expect a warm breeze to accompany him on his walk to Castle Earthbit.
What little Learning there was about Planet Skybirth, Vanity had kenned, and he knew that there were few predators on the planet, that all in all, it was a pleasant, soft, and easy planet, and he, an experienced Star Sailor, would be very safe.
“What was it Old Nana used to say to us?” Vanity thought. “No time like the present?” Vanity chuckled at the thought. That chestnut must be very old. What did it mean, the present, when the Shen Kuo could keep pace with starbeams, with time itself? Still, it must mean something. Though a Star Sailor might cross hundreds of thousands of light-years, and watch entire civilizations grow old in the course of a lifetime, starships had their shiptime, and shiptime aged the bones and whitened the hair as much as earthtime. Old Nana, whose bones even now slept in orbit around the distant star of Algolad, knew that most. Sufficiently chastened at his own levity, at the casual superiority he felt for this entire planet, which would age a thousand years in three more weeks of shiptime, Vanity began walking west, where one of the three moons was beginning its decline in the sky. As he walked, passing beneath the twisty limbs of the weird-tree, he whistled to himself one of Old Nana’s lullabyes.