So a year or two ago I had this idea for a postmodern planetary romance, a Leigh Brackett-style story as much about story as it was about the events in its strange and implausible world. But like most such projects – and I have an embarrassingly large number of them – it never got beyond some vague ideas and a couple of hundred words. I had a great title, ‘Gods of Saturn’, and what I thought was a pretty cool opening, but then other new shiny ideas captured my attention and my postmodern planetary romance got filed away in a forgotten folder. Until now. Maybe one day I’ll do something with it, actually finish it off perhaps, but for now it qualifies as one of those “stories that never were”, of which I have far more than I care to enumerate. But rather than let it go totally to waste and, in part, to perhaps prompt me into actually working on it and maybe finishing it, here’s the opening of ‘Gods of Saturn’ for you to enjoy…
Of all the winds which blow across the sand seas, an easterly is the most disagreeable. From that quarter, the town of Kumpara boasts no defence against the scouring grains of sand. The western wall of Pu Chou rises behind Kumpara’s tumbled blocks, and curves enfolding arms to north and south. But to the east: nothing.
There was, however, much which could be said about the couple who strolled along Kumpara’s long stone jetty one day in the Age of Helium, as small wisps of easterly wind whipped up dancing devils of sand.
Kumpara had seen better years, but had yet to reach the nadir of its decline; or its subsequent rise to quiet gentility. See it now, and perhaps you would find it hard to picture the narrow streets thick with blinding red dust, the sand whipped into fountains fifty feet high, and every house shuttered and doors firmly bolted. Those who lived there knew better than to risk the wind’s wrath.
A local spy – and there was one – who watched the young couple will have deduced they were strangers to Kumpara. The wind was not yet dangerous, but only the foolhardy or ignorant remained out once it began to blow. So too did their garments advertise their origins. The young lady was dressed in a fashion yet to be seen in the town. The eye in the telescope might have glimpsed the split skirt which was common at that time in the capital city, Xu; the high-collar, with its arcane symbols of rank and allegiance; the long gloved sleeves. Her companion was equally well-dressed.
As they turned to stroll back along the jetty, some feeling or whim caused the young woman to look back. She halted, head turned and, as if conjured into being by her gaze, features formed on the face of Saturn. The lemon and orange and tan stripes swirled like the ingredients of some decadent cocktail. It was a vast face, a face which filled the planetary canvas on which it appeared, and it caused the spy to drop his telescope and scramble from his vantage point.
As a result, he did not see the reactions of the Xuan lady and her companion. He did not see her turn her back on the face in disdain.
If such an occurrence sounds remarkable but the couple’s reaction does not, it is because at that time the gods of Saturn would often manifest on the face of the gas giant. From their celestial vantage point, they would gaze on each of the moons and on each of its civilisations. Their impact depended very much on the moon’s distance from Saturn. Here on Janus, where Saturn occupies a significant portion of the horizon, the gods held sway more than on, say, distant Iapetus.
When a god appears, all see him or her. When a god speaks, only those to whom they direct their instructions hear.
Lady Eresu turned to Captain Quradu and took his arm. She gently pulled him about. “Ignore him, Quradu,” she said softly. “He cannot harm us.”
The captain dropped his hand from the butt of his tantalum-pistol. That looming face – its presence alone in the sky suggested great power. Quradu looked up at Lady Eresu – as befitted her rank, she was a head taller than he – and noted her lack of concern.