The Madmen in the Taklamakan (ATD pp. 748-767)
Sorry to've been out of the loop for several weeks, Chumps. Summer vacations and all, I guess. Anyway, it's good to be caught up, so lets begin with a brief glimpse back at p. 677:
She handed over a sealed Sanatorium envelope, embossed with the usual grandiose coat of arms."What's this? Thought you two only used telepathy." He slipped it into an inside coat-pocket.Her smile was thin, formal. "Telepathy, marvelous as it is, would not be -- you say, 'a patch'? -- a patch on the moment you actually put this into his hands."
You did recall that Yashmeen had given Kit a letter to be delivered to her father, right? I thought so... Me too. So opens this section, in an "ambigous epistolary" mode (my invented term to reflect the reader's position, not knowing whether the text represents Auberon reading the letter, Kit reading it en route to the desert, a flash-back to the time at which Yash had written the letter, or simply the contents of the letter being secretly shown to the reader courtesy of the narrator).
In the letter, Yash describes her uncertainty regarding her safety within the Tetractys-worshipping organization, members of which have begun informing secular politics with matters of TWIT obsession -- namely Shambhala. She's disillusioned; she wants out... She outlines her philosophical disagreements with her father's associates, but then goes on to describe a dream, or was it a dream? She describes these rather luminous ("lighted from within") visitors ("the Compassionate") that she wishes to join.
Oddly, she seems just as preoccupied with Shambhala as any other TWIT member, though for different reasons, for she imagines her father at the city -- whether in physical or spiritual form (as Rinpunga's father) is not clear to me. Finally, she admits an awareness of a "strange doubleness" in her life (her bilocated other possibly in Shambhala with her father).
Next we switch to Kit's journey... Bucharest, Constantza, Black Sea, Batumi, Baku, the Caspian Sea, into the desert at Merv ("traveling sand-dunes a hundred feet high, which might or might not possess consciousness" ). Kit checks in with Swome and, from a stranger, learns about Namaz Premulkoff, larger-than-life hero of the local people.
At Kashgar, Kit quickly learns that Yashmeen's father, Auberon, is not lost or in danger, as was thought -- as though someone has deceived Yash into believing this to lure her away from the safety of the TWIT. Rather, Auberon is enjoying quite the posh, if somewhat absurdist, lifestyle; as is his Russian counterpart, Colonel Yevgeny Prokladka. Halfcourt and his colleague Mushtaq engage in lively "routine weekly rows" while the Russians carry on various conversations about all of the strange vices under their control in the city. This includes a number of steam-driven virtual reality machines . Also notable, I think, was the mention of an "evil balloon" during Halfcourt and Mushtaq's interaction . Could that be a skyship a la the Inconvenience (or, perhaps more likely, Padzhitnoff's ship)?
Next we're introduced to the Doosra, a mad, drug-swilling prophet of the desert who hands out loaded revolvers and berates his most loyal disciples. Hey, he's not just the Doosra, he's The Doosra . (A ganj-toking guy who goes by The Doosra... anyone else think Big Lebowski?)
A tough act to follow, you say? Of course not... Enter "Al Mar-Faud," complete with English hunting tweeds and a shotgun!! "Gweetings, gentlemen, on this Glowious Twelfth!" . Mar-Faud, a known "Uyghur troublemaker" delivers a message from The Doosra that the city must be surrendered. Prokladka shows up and Mar-Faud rides away. Halfcourt and Prokladka share reflective a moment, marveling at "these profitless wastes."
Next, we learn (if I'm reading this section correctly) about Yashmeen's arrival, how Auberon "rescued" her from some terrible fate (presumably her being sold into slavery, prostitution, or something similarly foul). (Note, she writes "slavery" in her letter on p. 750.) But, his attachment to Yashmeen is also more than simply paternal -- an inner conflict that manifests itself by (figuratively, I assume, as opposed to bilocationally) splitting Auberon into "two creatures resident within the same life" .
I understand this to be the conflict between his being (1) her rescuer / father figure / protector, and (2) her lover. After all, "One did not, however much in widely-known fact some did, undergo such passionate attachment to a child" . The Wiki suggests an allusion to Faust, which certainly makes sense. (Notably, a line of Halfcourt dialogue on 763 starts with, "A lucifer flared" (my emphasis) referring, I believe to one of his so-called "transnoctial cheroots" .)
But, is he really a devil? I suppose one could offer a least a bit of defense of Auberon. First, though the term "child" is used a few times, it could be that the term is meant from his perspective, as relative to his own age (in the way that, say a 50-year-old might view a 20-year-old as a "child"). She's described, after all, as "already womanly" on 759 at the time of her "rescue." Second, there's no reference to any occurrence of impropriety. In fact, based on her letter, she still views him as her rescuer and father figure. I'll leave it at that for now; perhaps someone else has given this complex matter deeper thought and can better elucidate.
Also interesting here is that, as Halfcourt's enrapturement is described, we're given the imagery of Yashmeen's "naked limbs flickering against the green-shadowed tiles" [my emphasis, 760]. Contrast that with Prokladka and Volodya's fascination with jade. Volodya continually reminds Auberon that "out here the local word for jade is yashm" .
And then there's that passing mention of "the semi-mythical aeronaut Padzhitnoff" .
A short section then recounts the arrival of Lieutenant Dwight Prance, geography and languages expert from Cambridge. Completely disheveled and confused, he warns Halfcourt about strange trouble brewing to the east, a highly influential visitor from "between the worlds" destined to instill unprecedented fear in all of the parties involved in this whole "Eurasia Irredenta" movement, or possibly to corral and lead them against the interests of Whitehall.
We then fast forward to shortly after Kit's arrival. Kit has annoyed Auberon, though I'm unsure why -- other than (1) Kit's appearance and attitude aren't serious enough to please Auberon, and/or (2) Auberon has read Yash's letter, in which Yash describes Kit as a brother, stirring up a bit of jealousy within Auberon. So, Auberon offers Kit a "mission eastward to establish relations with the Tungus living east of the Yenisei" .
He's to be accompanied by Prance. Reviewing maps, Prance tels Kit they need to begin their journey by going through a great archway called the Tushuk Tash. "[U]nless we enter by way of it, we shall always be on the wrong journey" .
Kit then has a meeting with The Doosra, who invites Kit to head north to meet with his master. "He will satisfy all your questions about this world, and the Other" . Sorry if your moderator is a bit feeble-minded at present, but I'm admittedly unsure if this northern journey to speak with The Doosra's "master" is the same as, or even related to, Kit & Prance's journey eastward to establish relations with the Tungus. Maybe the book is like the journey The Doosra describes -- it's "a kind of conscious Being, a living deity who does not wish to engage with the foolish or the weak, and hence will try to dissuade you" .
Bottom of p. 765: First direct evidence we have that Auberon has actually read Yash's letter. He's disgusted with himself, with the fact that he's aged and unpresentable. This causes him to leave town rather mysteriously. Weeks later, he shows up "respectably turned out ... except for the insane light in his eyes"  at a book dealer (named Tariq) in Bukhara. Halfcourt is seeking directions to Shambhala. Tariq describes the book Halfourt wants, written by Rimpung Ngawang Jigdag to a Yogi "who is a sort of fictional character, though at the same time real." It seems Tariq will be able to hook Auberon up with the volume he seeks (or perhaps a more usual German translation), but can offer little further assistance other than the advice that "[i]t helps to be a Buddhist" .
That's about it for this section, Chumps!
ps Per our hosts' request, we'll forgo the usual "Other Discussion" post. Just post any related thoughts in the normal comments section.