Night Lamp

Jack Vance

Tor Books

ONE
 
1
 
Toward the far edge of the Cornu Sector of Ophiuchus, Robert Palmer’s Star shone brilliant white, its corona flaring with films of blue, red and green color. A dozen planets danced attendance, like children careening around a maypole, but only the world Camberwell knew that narrow range of conditions tolerant to human life. The region was remote; the early explorers were pirates, fugitives and fringers,* followed by miscellaneous settlers, to the effect that Camberwell had been inhabited for many thousands of years.
Camberwell was a world of disparate landscapes. Four continents with intervening oceans, defined the topography. The flora and fauna, as always, had evolved into forms of unique particularity, the fauna having attained such a bizarre variety, with habits so startling and destructive, that two continents had been set aside as preserves where the creatures, large and small, biped or otherwise, could hop, pounce, lumber, run, rumble, pillage and grind others to bits, as met their needs. On the other two continents the fauna had been suppressed.
The human population of Camberwell derived from a dozen races which, rather than merging, had clotted into a number of stubbornly discrete units. Over the years the differentiation had produced a picturesque tumble of human societies, so that Camberwell had become a favorite destination for off-world xenolo-gists and anthropologists.
The most important town of Camberwell, Tanzig, had been built to the dictates of a precise plan. Concentric rings of buildings surrounded a central plaza, where three bronze statues a hundred feet tall stood facing away from each other, arms raised in gestures whose purport had long been forgotten.*
 
*From “fringe,” such as the “fringes of society.” “Fringer”: a human sub-class impossible to define exactly. “Misanthropic vagabonds” has been proposed as an acceptable approximation.
*Early chronicles declared that the three statues represented the same individual, the fabled justiciary and law-giver David Alexander, depicted in three typical poses: summons to judgment, quelling of the rabble, and imposition of equity. In this latter pose he carried a short-handled axe with a broad lunate blade, possibly no more than an object of ceremonial import.
 
Copyright © 1996 by Jack Vance