All The Woes Of A World - Part 11
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Gabriel had assumed that Par Inos would be relaxing and taking whatever time he had left to sample the pleasures of life. In a way he was right, in another, he was wrong. It all depended on what a person regarded as relaxation.
Whilst Gabriel would have preferred to spend time in the Heights, he found Inos putting together an advancement table with which he intended to plot the course of his world's fall into destruction. With what he knew of Angelis he was hoping to predict events leading up to the final collapse of planetary matter.
To Gabriel however, the drawings and script had little or no meaning. Even less now that he found himself watching the aged scientist moving around the table that supported his work.
"There's more to this than merely being afraid of the dark," he stated simply. "Helios retreats and we will see it as a bright star, perhaps. For us, that is the least of our worries. What remains is a planet devoid of light. Remember that for a moment." He paused, and then, "See if you can imagine ground-shakes so violent you will be unable to stand. That kind of vibration liquefies the soil beneath your feet. What was once solid ground will have the solidity of water. Add to this the eruption of Hades and the formation of other volcanoes. The air will fill with sound; a planet in its death-throes could never die quietly. Sounds of continuous crumbling, the oceans boiling, volcanoes heaving their magma vomit, storms and winds. No end of noise. Imagine all this and deal with it in the dark along with the moving of the mountains. They will come and then go. Whole ranges sinking to the core of Angelis, new ones born in moments where none had been before. In the dark, mind you! In the dark!" Inos looked for a reaction of some kind from the Winged.
"There's a point to what you are saying?"
"Oh, there's always a point! Every time I look at the problem, every time I seek the succession of events I realise that each event will take more lives. I see also that the amount of time until Angelis dies is not the amount of time we have left. It maybe that no one will last until the end."
"But you'll come with us? Surely, you want to take your chances with us?"
"Chances! There's a word! Wasn't it chance that put us here? Wasn't it chance that created life out of slime?
"The Lady Sarah doesn't know it all. The idea of getting off Angelis was a stroke of genius. If we as a life form can come up with ideas like that then we have to accept that chance is that which rules over us all from the cradle to the grave.
"Now we think, or she thinks, that the planet Earth will be our new home, that it will support us. I doubt it!" He rode over Gabriel's interruption. "I know what I told her and before you start I have to say that yes, Earth might be the place to go. My concern is that if life exists on Earth, or at least the chance of life, it might not be compatible with our needs. There's also the possibility that its proximity to the sun throughout eternity makes it wholly far too radioactive for us to survive for very long.
"We are all looking for a chance to live or a dream that will give us the chance to live when in fact chance says we will die. As for taking my chances with you, then of course I have to say yes. I'm not senile or stupid. I want to live as much as any of us. What makes it difficult for me, and of course for you, you know almost as much about this as I, is that they haven't got a clue about what awaits them. One way or another, they will die groping in the dark, taking a chance that chance will save them."
Gabriel let him talk. He'd obviously underestimated Inos' ability to deal with it. But then perhaps that was his way of coming to terms with his own death. He should have noticed. Inos looked drawn, tired, confused. He needed to be pushed in the right direction.
The Arc Angel chose his moment carefully and said, "I'm not here to talk you into working for the sake of posterity. It's as you said. There might not be a future generation. What I want is something immortal that will tell the universe we were, we existed. It would be something positive. If we don't make our mark then we are denying that life exists in the rest of the cosmos. I for one don't want to die thinking that we died alone.
"It's not that I want pity for our race. I don't. What I do want is someone to know that they are... were... not alone, that there were others who had their being."
Inos seemed to get the point. "It would be wrong to die alone," he said wistfully.
"It's more than that. It's believing that we're alone that I can't accept. Look up into the sky of night. How many stars can you see? If each star is as ours, what are the chances that life exists or has existed? It's only now that this has become important. We've never looked. I mean really looked, at the stars. Now, everyone I meet has his or her neck crooked from looking up.
"We've been betrayed by our star, but if the Lady Sarah's idea works we'll be getting our revenge. But it's like we all know there is no hope for Angelis and have given up on it completely. And that's the whole point! With Angelis no more than a ring around the sun, there will be nothing to show that we existed unless we put it there."
"It certainly seems like a good idea," agree Inos vaguely. "If not for you, then for our kind? If not for us, then for those out there?"
Gabriel shivered then, a surge of useless adrenalin triggered by fear, fear and hope, hope and death. A ring around the sun and no rock to say that Gabriel lived and had his being. Nothing that left one hair nor flake of skin. 'I was here and I lived.' He knew there was more to it than that. He believed that if in some way he could prolong the memory of his existence than after a fashion he would become immortal. After all, wasn't that what funerals were all about? Didn't they inflict upon those present a reinforcement of the memory of the deceased?
Par Inos seemed to be wholly withdrawn, as if he was in conflict with what he desired to do and what Gabriel would have him do. The technology would be difficult, but it was possible to accede to Gabriel's wishes. Maybe.
"How far back do you want to go?" he said, frowning.
"I had wondered about that," admitted Gabriel. "I don't suppose we have enough time to include the entire history of Angelis. I had thought it would be sufficient to begin at a point that would give a generalisation of life before we realised what Helios was to do. I can't suggest anymore than that."
Inos took hold of the practicalities, the logic. "You think well. I could probably do both."
"Well, yes. From just before to just beyond. Then, with what time we have left, fill in the holes, add to the background, the history, yes! This is good thinking!"
The Winged suspected that he might have gone too far. Had the scientist lost control? Did he really fear?
Inos walked slowly to the window. Helios was past its zenith, noon had gone unnoticed. In the silence they heard a bird call. An Avria, a small, white breasted bird common to both the land and the towns. They both recognised it: Inos, because he considered it a nuisance, and Gabriel, because he considered it a friend, a thing of beauty and good omen. It was unique in that its tail feathers were aligned vertically, at right angles to its wings. In flight it was both swift and agile. It was also the prey of greater birds but it eluded them for its tail allowed it to corkscrew, rotate on its own projected path, making it impossible to catch.
And then there were two. The call for its mate had been rewarded. Excited, they flittered and swooped after each other, occasionally soaring high and then diving as they chased, tried to out-manoeuvre one another. Gabriel wondered at their uncomplicated world. He would never see their like again and tried to imagine a world without them.
"What shall you be doing now that the messages are sent?"
Inos had turned away from the wooden-framed window. Gabriel remained seated, anxious not to break the calm that flowed around them.
"Many live in the wilds, the uncharted ones. We are to try to save them. Those who have no words to spread will Cross to these and skerry them in. Mainly the children. Adults will be urged to try for the seas. The closer they get the better their chances of a Crossing to Neptune's Gate or Atlantis Terminal. In this way most get a chance at life." He laughed softly. "I'm afraid we're back to chances again."
Inos shared his smile. "...and the weary shall tremble, and in their rush shall set aside many things, until at last they have only themselves to set aside.
"Their roads will be littered with the things of life and the stuff of life and life itself. And amongst the weary shall be the strongest and the most determined, and these alone shall live for they care not for their weakest ones.
"And a voice shall halt them where they stand and Lo! shall they not be commanded to rest at Heaven's Gate, for shall they be charged with the trials of others that the weakest might yet be saved. And the voice will cry out and command them to carry as a beast of burden one other, be they relative or not, be they brother or not, nor yet sister or not, nor give credence to their beliefs. Nor yet shall they be mindful of their colour, nor big, nor small, nor frailty, nor health, nor youth, nor age.
"And if Heaven's Gate be shut to them upon this second time, so shall their burdens cry out to them and fall upon them with sticks and rocks, and curse them, for they have not seen fit to help others on their way, and when so to do did condemn themselves and others..."
"Lord Lucifer of Styx. 'The Damnation of Creation'," said Gabriel aloud. He struggled to remember other quotes. "Perdition kneels to me and watches me, for all that is darkness belongs to me. Cursed is the soul that sidesteps the light, for that soul belongs to me..."
Inos shook his head in disbelief. "If time ran backwards to when those words were written they could not be more right. I didn't think words could be so important. We have been such fools. Our future was written for us by those who could see. I have always regarded predictions as an inexact science. Now I find I hate them. I hate because they are exact and I didn't notice."
Gabriel found himself rocked by the inevitable. In all his years he had been aware of history only to find that he'd been aware of the future.
"We should ignore them still. Predictions don't become truth until after the event. Even if we had the time we couldn't hope to divine their meaning. And who would listen to us? One mistake and we're dead where we stand."
Inos pointed skyward with the index finger of his right hand, as if testing the breeze. "Perhaps...perhaps...it's just another way of accepting death. We all have to face it. Some face it by ignoring it, others face it by simply trying hard to avoid it. Isn't that what this is all about? Isn't this what you have come for? How simple it is for the drowning man to let go and sink. Yet he does his impossible best to lift himself out of the water, even if in doing so he succeeds only in prolonging his agony."
"That's the catch though, isn't it?" agreed Gabriel. "We've come this far. We can't stop now."
Inos regarded Gabriel as if for the first time. "I remember you before your fledging. Your mother spoke to me from time to time for I was your neighbour. She and your father were concerned for you. You had become difficult, obeyed no one. Your mother asked me what I would do if you were my offspring. I thought about her question for some moments. As she was beginning to doubt my ability to reply I said, 'If I took you now and chained your feet to the floor and placed rocks upon your chest, what would you feel?' She answered that she would feel imprisoned and frustrated. I then said, 'Imagine then what your son feels now. He is born a Winged and yet he has no wings. The ground chains him and his chest is frustrated by its need to flex muscles it does not have. Try to understand him for he is truly a prisoner. When his time comes set him free and he will thank you for it.'
"Your mother looked at me and cried for then she understood and believed she had mistreated you. 'Cry not,' I said, 'For unless you have been a parent you cannot be a parent and for all that, there is no one to truly advise you for each child is a world of its own.'
"'You are now a parent and your children yearn to be set free. No one can tell you how to do this, but all will know if you go right or wrong."
With a sudden sweep of his arm Inos cleared the script from the table. Gabriel watched impassively as Inos then brought down books from shelves and changed the programs in his computers. He hadn't dismissed the Winged, but Gabriel saw that the message was clear. As he left, the scientist failed even to notice the closing of the door.
Up on the roof Gabriel took in the warm breeze and the shadowless land. He could see that for his entire life he had taken the sun for granted and soon it would have its revenge.
For a moment the two Avria swooped and twisted nearby, even taking time to welcome him to the open air. He smiled and called softly to them, but they had other things to do and merely acknowledged his call before fluttering away, head-on to the breeze.
He raised his arms and felt their creaking joints. As he prefaced and fell and spread his wings he remembered his injuries and his need to rest again before the time came that he would rest no more.
They had sealed the transit tube's land-bound end for safety's sake. This had set them free to do what they liked but found instead that a watch was to be kept on the tube and work had to be done arranging things so as to be ready to receive the first of the evacuees. Time was frighteningly short now. In less than seventeen days there would be no light by which to work save that of the huge receiver-lights recently delivered to illuminate the paths to Neptune's Gate.
Brielga watched the work from the top of Charon's grief, a small hill that took in the sandy slopes of the bay and the tiny homes of the fishers. He watched as the skeletal light-towers were manhandled to achieve the vertical. He wished for better wings. A Winged would have assisted greatly here. He had no cause for concern however, there were already people enough to help. The 'Wingsdown Solution' had already begun to bring in the evacuees.
The Lady Io had sent him here, atop of Charon's Grief with its reeds and grasses. He knew without being told that this was the day another step forward was to be taken and that he was not here just to observe the industries of the Groundlings.
The sea appeared unnaturally calm. Not quite mirrored water, but certainly placid enough to allow only the tiniest of waves to form, to caress the shore with a seemingly oily consistency. Up here, seated amongst the tussocks, very little sound reached him from below. The fishers had refrained from sailing, content to tend their craft and repair their nets and lines. This had an effect only Brielga seemed to have recognised. The gulls had abandoned Neptune's Gate in search of food elsewhere for there would be no fish or scraps this day, nor would their cries punctuate what other noise there might be.
Until now Brielga had been content to gaze inshore, taking in the land in all its forms. The sun glazed over the ocean making seeing in that direction an uncomfortable strain. Only now did he heed the coming of the clouds for they cut across the sun like woollen streamers, filtering and diffusing its light. The air grew less warm; not chill, for the breeze came off the land, but a degree or two below what he had become accustomed to.
By way of experiment Brielga let his line of sight take in the terminal building and the beginnings of the transit tube as it stretched out over the sand before sliding into the sea. It occurred to him that although the tide had receded and taking into account the calm, he could see much more of the tube than would normally have been possible. The high and low water marks were clearly visible as etchings and growths of tiny sea creatures and plants. Yet the sea was well away from these telltales. Puzzled, he made a game of calculating just how much more of the tube was visible, but then it seemed to him that there had to be a reason for this.
As well as he could from this distance and by shielding his eyes from anything other than the tube he minutely examined every visible inch. He drew imaginary lines along its surface from the terminal to the sea, each line lower than its predecessor. Eventually, he found he was surveying the tube where its base touched the sand. As his gaze reached the silent sea he stopped and focussed on a crab as it scuttled sideways in a chase it was having with the water's edge. Brielga couldn't see what was bothering the creature, but then it became evident that the crab was intent on crafting a redoubt, a fortress, in the sand beneath the permaplex tube. Its concern came from the fact that there didn't appear to be quite as much room beneath the tube as it would have liked. Its tiny brain had considered that the sea was at that moment its enemy and should be repulsed at all costs. What the crab had not realised was that it was the transit tube that was granting it movement beneath and that the sea had little or no part in the matter. In fact, the tube had only to lift an inch or two...
Realisation crashed into Brielga's conscious being. With almost blinding speed that part of his mind adept at dealing with tangents and distances and angles leapt into gear and meshed itself with the information his eyes were receiving. The inevitable conclusion loosed threads of logic that attached themselves to events and actions: such as the fact that the Lady Io had suggested his sojourn, she it was who had insisted that he rest a while on Charon's Grief and let the sea air bathe his down. And all this with good reason. His spirits were to be lifted by events and not old cures. Iltur and his metal earthing strips! HA! How could he expect a Winged to be in tune with the land when it was obvious that a Winged was normally in tune with the Heights?
And yet, how could a Winged be in tune with something that would soon cease to exist? They had been wrong, all of them, perhaps with the exception of the Lady Io. She alone had seen the source of his depression, his fatalism. She had reasoned that Neptune's Gate would give him the seed that would fertilize the embryonic hope that still lay within him. Neptune's Gate would become for him the Mother of Hope, for its umbilical cord was attached to the submerged womb in which Hope lay unborn.
Two Hopes then. Brielga's, the spiritual, and Neptune's, the physical. Together they would bring Brielga to life once more and make him desirous of life when all around was doomed to die.
Out there! He forced himself to look, fearing that his doing so would suddenly deny the event and that of course would set the seal on their impending destruction. But no! This was one of many events that he had helped to put into motion. It was in the hands of those who understood better than he. Hands capable of moving cities of permaplex from the bottom of the ocean strove now so to do and the Lady Io had known that on this day Neptune would surface once more.
Brielga blinked to change the depth of his focus and at the same time calculated the line along which, some miles distant, Neptune had to appear. Yet it wasn't that line, nor his estimation of distance that told him precise position. It was neither the foaming of the sea nor the sound of venting air, for none of these had yet occurred. His eyes were drawn to a flock of gulls that hovered and swooped and cried over nothing. The sea was still calm, placidity personified. But they knew, the gulls knew. They felt it as one felt the breeze or the rays of the sun or the chill of the night. Out there was their territory and of its disturbances they took heed for, to their simple instincts, disturbances meant food.
The Winged revelled in the knowledge that he alone had witnessed the first indications of Neptune's emergence. Whilst Neptune had yet to appear still more gulls joined the hysterical throng. For no reason he took his eyes away from the sea bird circus and scanned the area around the terminal building. It dismayed him to see that five or six men were taking up positions on the building's flat roof. Their pointing fingers told him all he needed to know. Neptune had apparently called to announce its impending appearance and that annoyed him for he had had no warning save for his eyes and the actions of the birds.
It seemed to him that deep in the distance the water beneath the screaming gulls bulged upwards. The sunlight reflected off this bulge like a highly polished mirror and sent sparks of brilliance into the eyes of the watchers. The bulge glittered and grew. Brielga knew what he was looking at but failed to recognise it for he had never seen it and knew not what to look for. Neptune was a city, he reasoned, and cities had buildings and people of which he could see neither. Then he understood for he could see the water draining from the domed surface into the gently lapping waves. Minus the water Neptune still retained its sheen and with that obviated any chance view of its interior.
Still Neptune grew. The gulls took fright and scattered. Those who watched noticed the speed of Neptune's ascent increase. As the water fell from its surface it appeared as rain and as it touched the sea it erupted as clouds of spray that made the location seem as turbulent, a maelstrom, when all around was still.
More and more of the transit tube lay revealed on the surface of the sea. This gave Brielga an idea as to how long it would take Neptune to complete its surfacing; not in time itself, rather as a definite point of reference. When the tube was visible as a permaplex causeway from the Gate to the city, it would signify the end to the city's elevation.
(Continued in Part 12)
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