Sea of silver light, p.1
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       Sea of Silver Light, p.1

           Tad Williams
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Sea of Silver Light


  OTHERLAND

  Volume Four

  SEA OF

  SILVER LIGHT

  Tad Williams

  CONTENTS

  Title

  Dedication

  Acknowledgements

  Author's Note

  City of Golden Shadow: Synopsis

  River of Blue Fire: Synopsis

  Mountain of Black Glass: Synopsis

  Foreword

  Table of Contents

  First: - A VOYAGE IN THE HEART

  CHAPTER 1 - Strange Bedfellows

  CHAPTER 2 - Execution Sweet

  CHAPTER 3 - Restless Natives

  CHAPTER 4 - In Silver Dreaming

  CHAPTER 5 - The Last Fish to Swallow

  CHAPTER 6 - Talking to Machines

  CHAPTER 7 - The Man from Mars

  CHAPTER 8 - Listening to the Nothing

  CHAPTER 9 - Hannibal's Return

  CHAPTER 10 - The Land of Glass and Air

  Second: - GHOST SONGS

  CHAPTER 11 - Yours Very Sincerely

  CHAPTER 12 - The Boy in the Well

  CHAPTER 13 - King Johnny

  CHAPTER 14 - The Stone Girl

  CHAPTER 15 - Confessional

  CHAPTER 16 - Badlands

  CHAPTER 17 - Breathing Problems

  CHAPTER 18 - Making a Witch

  CHAPTER 19 - The Bravest Man in the World

  CHAPTER 20 - Thompson's Iron

  CHAPTER 21 - Handling Snakes

  CHAPTER 22 - More Very Bush

  Third: - THE DYING HOUR

  CHAPTER 23 - Orientation

  CHAPTER 24 - Getting out of Dodge

  CHAPTER 25 - The Hidden Bridge

  CHAPTER 26 - Flies and Spiders

  CHAPTER 27 - The Green Steeple

  CHAPTER 28 - Master of His Silence

  CHAPTER 29 - Stony Limits

  CHAPTER 30 - Climbing the Mountain

  CHAPTER 31 - Romany Fair

  CHAPTER 32 - Bad House

  Fourth: - SORROW'S CHILDREN

  CHAPTER 33 - Weekend Hours

  CHAPTER 34 - Desert Smile

  CHAPTER 35 - Rainbow's Shoe

  CHAPTER 36 - Without a Net

  CHAPTER 37 - The Locked Room

  CHAPTER 38 - Boy in Darkness

  CHAPTER 39 - Broken Angel

  CHAPTER 40 - The Third Head of Cerberus

  CHAPTER 41 - Playing the Knight

  CHAPTER 42 - Old School

  CHAPTER 43 - Tears of Ra

  CHAPTER 44 - Stolen Voices

  CHAPTER 45 - Send

  CHAPTER 46 - Thoughts Like Smoke

  CHAPTER 47 - Star Over Louisiana

  CHAPTER 48 - Unreal Bodies

  CHAPTER 49 - The Next

  Fifth: - INHERITORS

  CHAPTER 50 - No Promises

  CHAPTER 51 - Watching Cars Explode

  CHAPTER 52 - The Oracle Surprised

  CHAPTER 53 - Borrowed House

  Afterword

  An ocean of silver emptiness . . .

  Flickers of light, the smearing of broken spectra, a fine dust of luminance . . . but nothing else. The shimmery cloudstuff that had girdled the mountain seemed to be all around her now, although she could sense something hard and horizontal beneath her. She was not bodiless—it was not a dream this time. Her hands crawled over her own flesh and to the ground on either side, a ground she could not even see. She was lost in a heavy, shining fog, everything and everyone else gone.

  She walked a half-dozen careful paces, testing each footstep before setting it down. The ground was absolutely flat. There was nothing else—no precipice, no vertical stone slab of mountain, no sound, no light except the ubiquitous pearly gleam of the mist. Even the fog had no substance: it shimmered wetly but was not wet. There was nothing. There was Renie and nothing. Everything gone.

  She sat down and clutched at her head. I’m dead, she thought, but outside the dream, the idea of death was not a soothing one. And this is all there is. Everyone lied. She laughed, but it sounded like something wasn’t working properly inside her. Even the atheists lied. “Oh, damn,” she said out loud.

  Praise for OTHERLAND: Sea of Silver Light:

  “This stunning finale to the gigantic Otherland tetralogy, a brilliant fusion of quest fantasy and technological SF, is sure to please Williams’s many fans. At nearly 700 pages this is a mighty mouthful to swallow, but a well crafted if convoluted plot sustains interest through the lengthy climax, which explains the inexplicable. The Otherland books are a major accomplishment.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Williams notably extrapolates the technology of virtual reality, to the point where it is indistinguishable from physical reality for the characters and sometimes the reader, and he exhibits a fine satirical touch when writing about games, folklore, and the influence on society of ultra-high-tech.”

  —Booklist

  “In reading a multi-volume series that’s still in the process of creation, not all the suspense lies in the plotline. This is especially true when the quality of the early installments is high. In Sea of Silver Light, Tad Williams accomplishes this and more, drawing his massive Otherland saga to a triumphant conclusion. Strongly written, finely characterized, masterfully plotted, and above all consistently intelligent in its examination of self and story, real and virtual, and the blurred boundaries in between, this series stands as a major achievement, and should cement Williams’ reputation as one of the most accomplished authors now working in the field.”

  —SF Site (sfsite.com)

  “The Otherland series concludes triumphantly in this fourth and final volume. The real and virtual plots all come to a spectacular climax, but Williams avoids any neat and tidy resolution—a surprisingly satisfying conclusion to such a fantastic adventure.”

  —Locus

  Praise for the previous volumes of OTHERLAND:

  “On an epic scale and most impressive of all is Otherland, a big colorful novel full of real-world conspiracy and virtual reality wonders, with characters worth caring about.”

  —Locus

  “This is the best thing Williams has ever done, and it deserves attention, time, praise. More, it deserves to be read.”

  —The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

  “Epic in scope and size, this near-future cyberspace adventure has likable characters, heinous villains, a plethora of classical references and a slew of powerful action sequences that propel its many-tiered plot forward. . . . Williams fills his pages with the sort of stories and characters that readers of epic fantasy are sure to love.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “The sheer breadth of Williams’ knowledge and the richness of his imagination make this book, like its predecessors, a complex and slow-paced feast.”

  —Booklist

  “Once again, Williams displays remarkable talent in making the unbelievable even more than plausible. The many virtual worlds he creates in Otherland offer entertainment, insights, and commentary on a near-future Earth that is often downright scary simply because it seems so familiar—in a bad sort of way. The author manages to portray a callous, uncaring society that still has concerned and unselfish citizens. Tad Williams is a master of description. Scenes seem to leap off the page, grab you by the collar, and then pull you into the story.”

  —Science Fiction Weekly

  “The ultimate virtual-reality saga, borrowing motifs from cyberpunk, mythology, and world history.”

  —San Francisco Chronicle

  “Otherland has true speculative grandeur . . . sticks in your head like Zen toffee.”

  —Time Out

  My father still hasn't actually cracked any of the books-

  so, no, he still hasn't noticed. I think I'm
just going to

  have to tell him. Maybe I should break it to him gently.

  "Everyone here who hasn't had a book dedicated to

  them, take three steps forward. Whoops, Dad, hang

  on a second . . ."

  Acknowledgements

  These people saved my life. Without their help, I would never have finished these books. You may apply the appropriate punishments.

  The List So Far:

  Barbara Cannon, Aaron Castro, Nick Des Barres, Debra Euler, Arthur Ross Evans, Amy Fodera, Sean Fodera, Jo-Ann Goodwind, Deborah Grabien, Nic Grabien, Jed Hartmann, Tim Holman, Nick Itsou, John Jarrold, Katharine Kerr, Ulrike Killer, M. J. Kramer, Jo and Phil Knowles, Mark Kreighbaum, LES.., Bruce Lieberman, Mark McCrum, Joshua Milligan, Hans-Ulrich Möhring, Eric Neuman, Peter Stampfel, Mitch Wagner, Michael Whelan.

  To which must be added another group of the brave and the good:

  Melissa Brammer, Dena Chavez, Rick Cuevas, Marcia de Lima, Jim Foster.

  As always, shout-outs to all my homies on the Tad Williams List-serve and the message boards of the TW Fan Page and Guthwuff.com's MS&T Interactive Thesis.

  And of course, no acknowledgments would be truly acknowledgmentacious without mentioning my wonderful wife Deborah Beale, my lovely and talented agent Matt Bialer, and my brilliant and patient editors Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert. My kids Connor and Devon didn't really help much, but they sure make life more interesting (and the need to finish and sell books more acute), and Connor did type a bunch of consonants into my manuscript at random for me to use later, so I guess they belong in here as well.

  OTHERLAND: City of Golden Shadow

  Synopsis

  Wet, terrified, with only the companionship of trench-mates Finch and Mullet to keep him sane, Paul Jonas seems no different than any of thousands of other foot soldiers in World War I. But when he abruptly finds himself alone on an empty battlefield except for a tree that grows up into the clouds, he begins to doubt that sanity. When he climbs the tree and discovers a castle in the clouds, a woman with wings like a bird, and her terrifying giant guardian, his insanity seems confirmed. But when he awakens back in the trenches, he finds he is clutching one of the bird-woman's feathers.

  In South Africa, in the middle of the twenty-first century, Irene "Renie" Sulaweyo has problems of her own. Renie is an instructor of virtual engineering whose newest student, !Xabbu, is one of the desert Bushmen, a people to whom modern technology is very alien. At home, she is a surrogate mother to her young brother, Stephen, who is obsessed with exploring the virtual parts of the world communication network-the "net"-and Renie spends what little spare time she has holding her family together. Her widowed father Long Joseph only seems interested in finding his next drink.

  Like most children, Stephen is entranced by the forbidden, and although Renie has already saved him once from a disturbing virtual nightclub named Mister J's, Stephen sneaks back in. By the time Renie discovers what he has done, Stephen has fallen into a coma. The doctors cannot explain it, but Renie is certain something has happened to him online.

  American Orlando Gardiner is only a little older than Renie's brother, but he is a master of several online domains, and because of a serious medical condition, spends most of his time in the online identity of Thargor, a barbarian warrior. But when in the midst of one of his adventures Orlando is given a glimpse of a golden city unlike anything else he has ever seen on the net, he is so distracted that his Thargor character is killed. Despite this terrible loss, Orlando cannot shake his fascination with the golden city, and with the support of his software agent Beezle Bug and the reluctant help of his online friend Fredericks, he is determined to locate the golden city.

  Meanwhile, on a military base in the United States, a little girl named Christabel Sorensen pays secret visits to her friend, Mr. Sellars, a strange, scarred old man. Her parents have forbidden her to see him, but she likes the old man and the stories he tells, and he seems much more pathetic than frightening. She does not know that he has very unusual plans for her.

  As Renie gets to know !Xabbu the Bushman better, and to appreciate his calm good nature and his outsider's viewpoint on modern life, she comes to rely on him more and more in her quest to discover what has happened to her brother. She and !Xabbu sneak into the online nightclub, Mr. J's. The place is as bad as she feared, with guests indulging themselves in all manner of virtual unpleasantness, but nothing seems like it could have actually physically harmed her brother until they are drawn into a terrifying encounter with a virtual version of the Hindu death-goddess Kali. !Xabbu is overcome, and Renie, too, is almost overwhelmed by Kali's subliminal hypnotics, but with the help of a mysterious figure whose simulated body (his "sim") is a blank, with no features at all, she manages to get herself and !Xabbu out of Mister J's. Before she goes offline, the figure gives her some data in the form of a golden gem.

  Back (apparently) in World War I, Paul Jonas escapes from his squadron and makes a run for freedom through the dangerous no-man's-land between the lines. As rain falls and shells explode, Paul struggles through mud and corpses, only to find he has crossed over into some nether-region, stranger even than his castle dream-a flat, misty emptiness. A shimmering golden light appears, and Paul is drawn to it, but before he can step into its glow, his two friends from the trenches appear and demand that he return with them. Weary and confused, he is about to surrender, but as they come closer he sees that Finch and Mullet no longer appear even remotely human, and he flees into the golden light.

  In the 21st Century, the oldest and perhaps richest man in the world is named Felix Jongleur. His physical body is all but dead, and he spends his days in a virtual Egypt he has built for himself, where he reigns over all as Osiris, the god of Life and Death. His chief servant, both in the virtual and real world, is a half-Aboriginal serial murderer who has named himself Dread, who combines a taste for hunting humans with a strange extrasensory ability to manipulate electronic circuitry that allows him to blank security cameras and otherwise avoid detection. Jongleur discovered Dread years before, and helped to nurture the young man's power, and has made him his chief assassin.

  Jongleur/Osiris is also the leader of a group of some of the world's most powerful and wealthy people, the Grail Brotherhood, who have built for themselves a virtual universe unlike any other, the Grail Project, also called Otherland. (This latter name comes from an entity known as the "Other" which has some important involvement with the Grail Project network-an artificial intelligence or something even stranger. This powerful force is largely in the control of Jongleur, but it is the only thing in the world that the old man fears.)

  The Grail Brotherhood are arguing among themselves, upset that the mysterious Grail Project is so slow to come to fruition. They have all invested billions in it, and waited a decade or more of their lives. Led by the American technology baron Robert Wells, they grow restive about Jongleur's leadership and his secrets, like the nature of the Other.

  Jongleur fights off a mutiny, and orders his minion Dread to prepare a neutralization mission against one of the Grail members who has already left the Brotherhood.

  Back in South Africa, Renie and her student !Xabbu are shaken by their narrow escape from the virtual nightclub known as Mister J's, and more certain than ever that there is some involvement between the club and her brother's coma. But when she examines the data-object the mysterious figure gave her, it opens into an amazingly realistic image of a golden city. Renie and !Xabbu seek the help of Renie's former professor, Dr. Susan Van Bleeck, but she is unable to solve the mystery of the city, or even tell for certain if it is an actual place. The doctor decides to contact someone else she knows for help, a researcher named Martine Desroubins. But even as Renie and the mysterious Martine make contact for the first time, Dr. Van Bleeck is attacked in her home and savagely beaten, and all her equipment destroyed. Renie rushes to the hospital, but after pointing Renie in the direction of a friend, Susan dies, leaving Renie both angry and t
errified.

  Meanwhile Orlando Gardiner, the ill teenager in America, is hot in pursuit of the golden city that he saw while online, so much so that his friend Fredericks begins to worry about him. Orlando has always been odd-he has a fascination with death-experience simulations that Fredericks can't understand-but even so this seems excessive. When Orlando announces they are going to the famous hacker-node known as TreeHouse, Fredericks' worst fears are confirmed.

  TreeHouse is the last preserve of everything anarchic about the net, a place where no rules dictate what people can do or how they must appear. But although Orlando finds TreeHouse fascinating, and discovers some unlikely allies in the form of a group of hacker children named the Wicked Tribe (whose virtual guise is a troop of tiny winged yellow monkeys) his attempts to discover the origins of the golden city vision arouse suspicion, and he and Fredericks are forced to flee.

  Meanwhile Renie and !Xabbu, with the help of Martine Desroubins, have also come to TreeHouse, in pursuit of an old, retired hacker named Singh, Susan Van Bleeck's friend. When they find him, he tells them that he is the last of a group of specialist programmers who built the security system for a mysterious network nicknamed "Otherland," and that his companions have been dying in mysterious circumstances. He is the last one alive.

  Renie, !Xabbu, Singh, and Martine decide they must break into the Otherland system to discover what secret is worth the lives of Singh's comrades and children like Renie's brother.

  Paul Jonas has escaped from his World War I trench only to find himself seemingly unstuck in time and space. Largely amnesiac, he wanders into a world where a White Queen and a Red Queen are in conflict, and finds himself pursued again by the Finch and Mullet figures. With the help of a boy named Gally and a long-winded, egg-shaped bishop, Paul escapes them, but his pursuers murder Gally's children friends. A huge creature called a Jabberwock provides a diversion, and Paul and Gally dive into a river.

 
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