A prince rides into the capital with his advisor Strake and his warrior host. They all head to Hawkana's, the host with the most.
There, Hawkana welcomes the prince—Lord Siddhartha, the man who'll become our Sam—with all the pomp and circumstance he deserves.
Sam and his entourage are given the royal treatment—wine, food, and music. Sam seems kind of down in the dumps, though, so Hawkana brings him a special drink, burgundy. He also brings in Dele, a magnificent musician who plays "The Blue Danube."
It's not enough, though, and Sam retires early. It's early to bed and early to rise, so Sam wakes up before everyone else and leaves the hostel disguised as a beggar.
He heads down to the docks and questions a ship captain as to the whereabouts of a Jan Olvegg. The captain tells Sam to find Janagga the sailmaker—as Jan's now known—on the Streets of the Weavers.
On his way, Sam spies a machine located in front of the Temple of Varuna. It's a pray-o-mat, taking the coins of patrons and offering their prayers and atonements to the gods. Imagine a slot machine dressed up in Hindu icons, and you'll get the idea.
Sam finds Jan. The old friends welcome each other, wondering how long it's been. Forty? Forty-five years? Wait, how old are these guys?
Sam mentions that he's seen a lot lately that he doesn't understand, and Jan tries to explain from his personal story.
For starters, Jan can't get a body transfer because he's accumulated too much bad karma.
The Council has authorized the use of psych-probes, and now old Accelerationists such as himself have been denied body renewal since they scan your brain before they allow you to get a new body.
Worse, the body merchants have become the Masters of Karma, fusing their power together, and thus maintaining the caste system and Deicratic (read: government ruled by gods) control. Believe it or not, this explanation actually makes sense when reading the book.
Jan asks when Sam's appointment for a new body is. It's tomorrow. Jan says he's stayed away from the probe, and this is the only reason he's still alive to mend sails. Old and decrepit, sure, but alive. And not a water buffalo. Don't want to be a water buffalo.
Over drinks Sam says he believes his bad karma has dissolved by now, but Jan counters that bad karma is anything the gods say is bad karma.
For example, he wanted to start passing out machines and technology to their descendants, but showing someone how to make a blender or printing press, yeah, bad karma. And the probe is so accurate it can sense even something as abstract as Accelerationist tendencies.
Who's responsible for all these advancements in religious tech? That "snot-nosed brat of dubious parentage" (2.178), a.k.a. Yama, of course.
Does Sam think he'll pass the probe? Yeah… no.
Jan wonders if Sam plans to oppose the gods on this one, and indeed he does. Sam leaves to pray at the temple and wishes Jan good sailings.
At the temple, Sam bribes the priest with silver and gold to allow him access to their communication device.
Meanwhile, at his private harem, Brahma wishes the ladies would enjoy his new manly body as much as he does. The phone rings. It's the head priest, patching Sam through.
Sam and his godly amigo catch up a bit. It has been a while since Sam left the other Firsts in the roost of Heaven.
Brahma offers Sam an alternative to having his mind probed: He could take a job amongst the pantheon and become a god. Position as god of the janitors? Sound good?
Sam has to think on this. On the one hand, he's really fond of the world, but on the other, he can't really go on enjoying it should the probe decide he's destined to be a water buffalo or, gulp, die.
Brahma laughs that only Sam would haggle over godhood. Sam merely has a few questions.
First, why do the gods not grant their descendants on the planet their superior technology?
Brahma answers that they are not ready. Well, it's a little more longwinded that all that, but that's the gist.
Second, why do they destroy technology created by the descendants themselves?
Same answer, Sammy boy.
Brahma complains that she's not here to discuss Deicratic politics with Sam. Has he reached his answer?
Sam says he has, letting it slip that he knows Brahma is really Madeleine.
Brahma becomes furious and goes to curse Sam. Sam claims he meant no offense, and besides it can't really matter if he knows the truth anyway. He's going to accept the offer and join the gods.
Brahma cools down, forgives Sam, and asks for the priest to be sent in—he needs to give instructions for Sam's transcendence to Heaven.
That night, Sam prepares. He has his physician, Narada, invite Shan of Irabek over. After drugging Shan and his men, the physician uses hypnotic suggestions to convince Shan that he is in fact Siddhartha and will go to the Hall of Karma to claim a new body tomorrow.
Sam recognizes that if he's misjudged the gods, he's in real trouble, but Narada doubts he was wrong. Sam departs Hawkana with his men, leaving only the physician and three guards behind; halfway to the palace, they stop and wait for Shan to pass by.
Shan eventually passes, and the grandeur of his new body momentarily makes Sam feel like he messed up. But then Shan doubles over in a seizure—the gods gave him an epileptic brain. Unfortunately for Shan, no receipt, no refunds.
Sam commands Shan's men take him to Hawkana where his physician will care for Shan, then he rides to the Halls of Karma.
There, he orders his men to destroy the Temple's gardens until he's granted an audience with all the Masters of Karma.
It takes some doing, and Sam has to call in his lancers to really get their attention, but he gets his audience.
The senior Master and Sam cross the courtyard to discuss matters privately. Sam tells the Master he knows of the man's treachery, and the Master orders the attack.
He and Sam have a duel. The Master's out-of-shape body and Sam's old one are evenly matched, and they both injure the other.
The Master thinks he has the upper hand in manpower, but Sam's reserve troops arrive and do what soldiers do best.
With victory in hand, Sam orders a freshly minted body, one for him and one for Jan.
That night, he burns his old body on the pyre as well as the bodies of all the Masters of Karma, save the obese one. They take a rebirth machine, too, so Sam won't have to go through this rigmarole again.
Sam decides to hide in the mountains for a spell. He does not know his path after that, save that it'll lead to heaven's gate with him armed.