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Книга The Jewels of Aptor. Содержание - Chapter XI

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“Snake?” asked Geo.

“That’s right,” replied Hama.

“But I thought he was your spy,” Geo said.

“That he is our spy is his unconscious reason for his actions,” explained Hama. “He is aware only that he is working against the evil he has seen in Jordde. Spy is too harsh a word for him. Say, rather, little thief. He became a spy for us quite unwittingly when he was on the island as a child with Jordde. I have explained something to you of how the mind works. We have machines that can duplicate what Snake does in a similar way that the jewels work. This is how the blind priestesses contacted Jordde and made him their spy. This is how we reached Snake. But he never saw us, never even really talked to us. It was mainly because of something he saw, something he saw when he first got here.”

“Wait a minute,” Iimmi said. “Jordde wanted to kill me, and did kill Whitey because of something we might have seen. I bet this was the same thing. Now, what was it?”

Hama smiled. “My telling you would do no good. Perhaps you can find out from Snake, or my daughter, Argo Incarnate.”

“But what do we do now?” Geo interrupted. “Take the jewels back to Argo, I mean Argo on the ship? She’s already used the jewels to control minds, at least Snake’s, so that means she’s infected, too.”

“Once you guessed the reason for her infection,” said Hama. “We have been watching you on our screens since you landed. Do you remember what the reason was?”

“Do you mean her being jealous of her sister?” Geo asked.

“Yes. On one side her motives were truly patriotic for Leptar. On the other hand they were selfish ones of power seeking. But without the selfish ones, she would have never gotten so far as she did. You must bring young Argo back and give the infection a chance to work itself out.”

“But what about the jewels?” asked Geo. “All three of them will be together. Isn’t that a huge temptation?”

“Someone must meet this temptation, and overcome it,” said Hama. “You do not know how much danger they are in while they are here on Aptor. Even if the final danger is only delayed, that delay will make it safer to bring them to Leptar.”

Suddenly Hama turned to the screens and pushed a switch to on position. The opaque glass was filled with a picture of the interior of the temple. On the huge statue, a spotlight was following two microscopic figures over the statue’s shoulder. They were climbing over the statue’s elbow.

Hama increased the size. It was two people, not bugs, climbing down the gigantic sculptured figure. They made their way along the statue’s forearm now, to the golden stalks of wheat in the god’s black fist. One, and then the other began to shimmy down the stems. They arrived at the base and climbed over the rail. The screen enlarged again.

“It’s Snake,” said Geo.

“And he’s got the jewel,” Urson added.

“That’s Argo with him,” Iimmi put in. “I mean—one of the Argos.” They clustered around the screen, watching the congregation give way before the two fearful children. The red-haired girl in the short white tunic was holding onto Snake’s shoulder.

Suddenly Hama turned the picture off, and they looked away from the screen now, puzzled. “So you see,” said the god, “the jewel has already been stolen. For the sake of Argo, and of Hama, carry the jewels back to Leptar. Young Argo will help you. Though her mother and I are pained to see her go, she is as prepared for the journey as you are, if not more. Will you do it?”

“I will,” Iimmi said.

“Me too,” said Geo.

“I guess so,” Urson said.

“Good,” smiled Hama. “Then come with me.” He turned from the screen and walked through the door. They followed him down the long stairway, past the stone walls, into the hall, and along the back of the church. He walked slowly, and smiled like a man who had waited long for something finally arrived. They turned out of the temple and descended the bright steps.

“I wonder where the kids are?” Urson asked.

But Hama led them on, across the broad garden to where the great black urns sat in a row close to a wall of shrubbery. A woman—old Argo—suddenly joined them. She had apparently been waiting for them. She gave them a silent smile of recognition, and they continued across the garden path.

Light fell through the shrubbery across her white tunic and Snake’s bare back as they crouched over the contraption of coils and metal. She twisted two pieces of wire together in a final connection as Snake placed the jewel on an improvised thermocouple. Then they bent over it and both concentrated their thoughts on the bead. The thermocouple glowed red, and electricity jumped in the copper veins, turning the metal bone into a magnet. The armature tugged once around its pivot, and then tugged around once more. Finally it was whipping around steadily, the brushes on its shaft reversing the magnetic poles with each half circle of the arc. It gained speed until it whirred into an invisible copper haze between them. “Hey,” she breathed, “look at it go, will you! Just look at it go.” And the young thieves crouched over the humming motor, oblivious to the eyes of the elder gods that smiled at them from the edge of the green shift of shadow and sunlight, by the side of the marble urn.

Chapter XI

Under the trees, she raised up on tiptoe and kissed the balding forehead of a tall, dark-robed priest. “Dunderhead,” she said, “I think you’re cute.” Then she blinked very rapidly and knuckled beneath her eye. “Oh,” she added, remembering, “I was making yogurt in the biology laboratory yesterday. There’s two gallons of it fermenting under the tarantula cage. Remember to take it out. And take care of the hamsters. Please don’t forget the hamsters.”

Finally, they started once more around the slope of the volcano, and the temple and grove fell black and green away behind them.

“Two days to get to the ship,” said Geo, squinting at the pale sky.

“Perhaps we had better put the jewels together,” said Urson. “Keep them out of harm’s way, since we know their power.”

“What do you mean?” Iimmi asked.

Urson took Geo’s leather purse from his belt. Then he took the jewel from Geo’s neck and dropped it in the purse. Then he held the purse out for Iimmi to do the same.

“I guess it can’t hurt,” Iimmi said, dropping his chain into the pouch.

“Here’s mine too,” Argo said. Urson pulled the purse string closed and tucked the pouch in at his waist.

“Well,” said Geo, “I guess we head for the river, so we can get back to your sister and Jordde.”

“Jordde?” asked Argo. “Who’s he?”

“He’s a spy for the blind priestesses. He’s also the one who cut Snake’s tongue out.”

“Cut his—?” Suddenly she stopped. “That’s right: four arms, his tongue—I remember now, in the film!”

“In the what?” asked Iimmi. “What do you remember?”

Argo turned to Snake. “I remember where I saw you before!”

“You know Snake?” Urson asked.

“No, I never met him. But about a month ago I saw a movie of what happened. It was horrible what they did to him.”

“What’s a movie?” asked Iimmi.

“Huh?” said Argo. “Oh, it’s sort of like the vision screens, only you can see things that happened in the past. Anyway, Dunderhead showed me this film about a month ago. Then he took me down to the beach and said I should have seen something there, because of what I’d learned.”

“See something?” Iimmi almost yelled. “What was it?” He took her shoulder and shook it. “What was it you were supposed to see?”

“Why… ?” began the girl, startled.

“Because a friend of mine was murdered and I almost was too because of something we saw on that beach. Only I don’t know what it was.”

“But…” began Argo. “But I don’t either. I couldn’t see it, so Dunderhead took me back to the temple.”

“Snake?” Geo asked. “Do you know what they were supposed to see? Or why Argo was taken to see it after she was shown what happened to you?”

The boy shrugged.

Iimmi turned on Snake. “Do you know, or are you just not telling? Come on now. That’s the only reason I stuck with this so far, and I want to know what’s going on!”

Snake shook his head.

“I want to know why I was nearly killed,” shouted the Negro. “You know and I want you to tell me!” Iimmi raised his hand.

Snake screamed. The sound tore over the distended vocal cords. Then he whirled and ran.

Urson caught him and brought the boy crashing down among leaves. “No you don’t,” the giant growled. “You’re not going to get away from me this time. You won’t get away from me again.”

“Watch it,” said Argo. “You’re hurting him. Urson, let go!”

“Hey, ease up,” said Iimmi. “Snake, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. But I do want you to tell me. Very much.”

Urson let the boy up, still mumbling, “Well, he’s not going to get away again.”

“When did he get away from you the first time?” Geo said, coming over to the boy. “Let him go. Look, Snake, do you know what there was about the beach that was so important?”

Snake nodded.

“Can you tell?”

Now the boy shook his head and glanced at Urson.

“You don’t have to be afraid of him,” Geo said, puzzled. “Urson won’t hurt you.”

But Snake shook his head again.

“Well,” said Geo, “we can’t make you. Let’s get going.”

“I bet I could make him,” the giant mumbled.

“No,” said Argo. “I don’t think you could. I watched the last time somebody tried. And I don’t think you could.”

Late morning flopped over hotly in the sky and turned into afternoon. The jungle became damp, and bright insects plunged like tiny knives of blue or scarlet through leaves. Wet foliage brushed against their chests, faces, and shoulders.

“Why would they show you a film of something awful before taking you to the beach.” Iimmi asked.

“Maybe it was supposed to have made me more receptive to what we saw,” said Argo.

“If horror makes you receptive to what ever it was,” said Iimmi, “I should have been about as receptive as possible.”

“What do you mean?” asked Geo.

“I just watched ten guys get hacked to pieces all over the sand, remember?”

They walked silently for a time.

“We’ll come out at the head of the river. It’s a huge marsh that drains off into the main channel,” said Argo presently.

Late afternoon darkened quickly.

“I was wondering about something,” Geo said, after a little while.

“What?” asked Argo.

“Hama said that once the jewels had been used to control minds, the person who used them was infected—”

“Rather the infection was already there,” corrected Argo. “That just brought it out.”

“Yes,” said Geo. “Anyway, Hama also said that he was infected. When did he have to use the jewels?”

“Lots of times,” Argo said. “Too many. The last time was when I was kidnaped. He used the jewel to control pieces of that thing you all killed in the City of New Hope to come and kidnap me and then leave the jewel in Leptar.”

“A piece of that monster?” Geo exclaimed. “No wonder it decayed so rapidly when it was killed.”

“Huh?” asked Iimmi.

“Argo, I mean your sister, told me they had managed to kill one of the kidnapers, and it melted the moment it died.”

“We couldn’t control the whole mass,” she explained. “It really doesn’t have a mind. But, like everything alive, it has, or had, the double impulse.”

“But what did kidnaping you accomplish, anyway?” Iimmi asked.

Argo grinned. “It brought you here. And now you’re taking the jewels away.”

“Is that all?” asked Iimmi.

“Well,” said Argo, “Isn’t that enough?” She paused for an instant. “You know I wrote a poem about all this once, the double impulse and everything.”

Geo recited:

“By the dark chamber sits its twin,where the body’s floods begin,and the two are twinned again,turning out and turning in.”

“How did you know?” she asked.

“The dark chamber is Hama’s temple,” Geo said. “Am I right?”

“And it’s twin is Argo’s,” she went on. “They should be twins, really. And then the twins again are the children. The force of age in each one opposed to the young force. See?”

“I see,” Geo smiled. “And the body’s floods, turning in and out?”

“That’s sort of everything man does, his going and coming, his great ideas, his achievements, his little ideas too. It all comes from the interplay of those four forces.”

“Four?” said Urson. “I thought it was just two.”

“But it’s thousands,” Argo explained.

The air was drenching. The leaves had been shiny before. Now they dripped water on the loose ground. Pale light lapsed through the branches, shimmered, reflected from leaf to the wet underside of leaf. The ground became mud.

Twice they heard a sloshing a few feet away, and then the scuttling of an unseen animal. “I hope I don’t step on something that decides to take a chunk out of my foot.”

“I’m pretty good at first aid,” Argo said. “It’s getting chilly,” she added.

Just then Geo slipped and sank knee-deep in a muddy pool. Urson raced to the edge of the quicksand bog and grabbed Geo by his good arm. He pulled till Geo emerged, coated to the thigh with gray mud.

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