All The Woes Of A World - Part 13
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The rope step hanging down the beast's side provided his means of reaching the shoulder-seat. As he mounted and took hold of the guiding lines he considered a way he might do penance and then decided. He called to another also engaged in sitting on his beast.
"Tret! Give me your lines. Get down and go among the others. One man, two beasts. Fifteen of us will be enough."
"Are you mad? In our condition will we hold the beasts?"
"Don't bloody argue!"
"Dung and flies! Do you think God will reward you for dying?"
"No. But my bloody conscience will! Move now or I'll teach you how to swim."
"You heard the Winged. We are all to blame. We must all go."
"Wrong. We all don't have to die. I'll take fourteen with me. If the Winged wants to test the point I'll forfeit my salvation. Until then, I'll decide. Damn the Winged and damn the World. I was First Man in Soft-rock Vale. I made the decisions then as now. Give me your lines!"
Tret reluctantly passed the lines of his beast across the gap between them and dismounted, muttering under his breath. He cursed aloud as his jerkin snagged a rivet of the shoulder-seat causing the material to tear under his weight, more than that he ignored and moved to carry out his instructions.
Brielga saw the sudden commotion and spoke to Michael.
"Are we happy with their actions or should we insist they all go back?"
"I can live with this if the results are as they should be. They were not all to blame. It looks to my eyes that Starshinson is eager to make amends. He'll probably take the worst of them with him. Good riddance. If they make it back in time, so be it. If not, then they have damned themselves."
"I propose a concession, Michael," said Brielga.
Michael looked surprised. He had assumed Brielga to be severe, mercy not a part of him. "Which is...?"
"A Winged should follow the trail leaving food and a receiver light at intervals. This would not be for this line of rabble. They would be for those heading our way. Of course, if a Groundling child or other worthy be found then they should be Carried here."
"We are to travel North as far as the ice-rim, but I suppose I could send another West. Will one be enough, do you think?"
Brielga pondered momentarily. "Two would be better. I don't wish a single loss of life if we can help them."
Michael spat on the ground in sudden anger. "They have wreaked their havoc upon us. We had everything planned almost perfectly. These fools have changed things so much I doubt we will ever recover." He looked around him, saw the wandering Groundlings, those with nothing to do but wait. "When will you send them to Neptune?"
Brielga looked to the West and the setting sun and then to the East and the terminator. "Tonight. After dark. More will be coming. By morning we will have room for them here."
"I will leave you with two Winged." Michael smiled quickly. "Or should I say that I will ask two to carry out your proposal? You have more power here than I."
Brielga realised his breach of etiquette. He should have enquired as to the Winged's status. "My apologies, Michael. I can only blame my words on my injuries and that is no excuse."
"It is forgotten, Brielga. We are all of us tired. Each after his own exertions. As it happens, the Guild has sway amongst those I Cross with. You will have Winged. But, you must promise to recover soon. I fear we will have need of you before too long."
"Oh, I don't know," joked Brielga. "I was getting used to walking."
"If you find shoes for Winged feet be sure to tell me."
A smile then and for each and Michael returned to the others. The beasts were beginning to move off, every second animal without a rider. Instead, extra panniers laden with needs. This time Brielga was sure the Groundlings would get it right.
He stood to watch the last of them leave before turning his attention to those who remained. By way of preparation, he moved amongst those still tending the needs of the children for they would be the first to enter the transit tube and take refuge in the city's sphere.
It seemed to him that the terminator passed overhead and brought the dark more quickly than was usual. Receiver-lights were aligned without haste however, and this told him that he was wrong. It told him also that he believed time to be passing more quickly and that he was losing ground in the arrangements made in detail long times past. He watched as the tower-supported receiver-lights began to glow, the glow building in intensity until they were too bright to be stared at directly. This made for harsh shadows and revealed the need for the small portable units being used all round Neptune's Gate.
With the dusk and the dark came a kind of peace that crept in like a thief-of-sound with no ill-intent. The sea remained calm but let its presence be felt with the gentle crashing of every seventh wave. In the distance, across the miles of Almasia Water, the lights of Neptune glittered like a cache of diamonds, a jewel-bedecked orb floating in a sea of nothing. To those who would see, Neptune's lights appeared to counter the luminosity of the night sky's stars. It was almost as if Neptune was conversing with those stars in a language unknown to living things, the artificial speaking to the wholly natural.
Brielga felt gratitude for the summer season. Without the longer days he doubted their efforts would've amounted to much. When the final day was done he might question their ability to continue. With Helios on his world's other side the sky had always supplied an aura, a dimness that told them all would be well until morning. But with no sun at all, (as far as Angelis was concerned), the nights would be as black on black, and of course, no different from the day.
The stars he saw now would seem to be a magnitude brighter, but they would have no time to reflect on them. When the sun went out the real work would begin and in terror for from that point it would only be a matter of time before Angelis began to convulse in its desire to self-destruct. Their world would be a suicide before a sun that could not care.
Perhaps suicide was the wrong word, for it was difficult to find in nature an element to blame, (quite apart from the sun). And Brielga needed something to blame, something to aim his rage at, something that, quite apart from their desire to survive, would serve to justify their (his) efforts.
By now of course, most of the children were asleep and looked for all the world like fitful corpses. While during their travels they had been prevented from showing their feelings, (to do so would have been wasteful of energy), their dreams now gave vent to minds desperate to redress the balance. Sleep released them but all too soon they would re-awaken for the final part of their journey. This night would take them to Neptune and deserved rest.
A tug on the sleeve of his jerkin turned his attention to a woman offering food and with a last look at the darkening sky, he accepted her invitation and joined others seated near a receiver-heater. As he consumed the meal he found that he was not as hungry as he might have expected though he could not recall when last he had eaten.
Someone passed around a jug of 'Nectar-of-the-Grape' from which he drank eagerly drawing surprised laughter from those seated also. He passed the jug on with a satisfied belch, ignoring his manners and smiling happily.
"If I desire a Crossing this night be sure to chain me down."
"Don't you fret, Winged. One of the ladies will gladly sit on your chest."
"As long as it is my chest!"
"How many would be needed to hold you down?" asked a plump and somewhat aged woman dressed in the cloth of a Gatherer.
"Oh, at least three!" laughed Brielga.
"Four or five then?" This from a younger woman, eyes bright with raunchy humour.
"No, no," he insisted. "Mother told me never to be greedy."
He found good humour amongst the Groundlings and carried on the hilarity for longer than he would of late. All the while though, he kept an eye on the dark, judging the hour by the brightness of the stars.
He needn't have bothered. Soon after the dimmest of stars had appeared, two transit tube gatekeepers interrupted his socialising and announced that Neptune was ready to receive the first of the evacuees.
"The children are to be moved first," he said to his hosts. "Will you help us, please?"
"Of course!" was the reply from almost all.
"Don't have to ask," said one followed with like comments from others.
It seemed to Brielga that it took only moments to rouse the young and set right their belongings. As before, the children did not complain and allowed themselves to be guided into Neptune's gate. Brielga checked to see that none had been missed before setting adults, some the parents of children gone before, along the same path. As the last of them entered the tube to begin the long walk to the city, he found himself hoping that Atlantis was doing precisely the same thing.
Gabriel stared long and hard at it, attempting to ensure he took in each minute detail. Those nearby disturbed him not, for he had wrapped the tips of his primaries about his tarsus'; a sure sign of his intense concentration.
Brielga and Daldareth found it too bright for their eyes, but then they were further from it than Gabriel who was using his shadow to cut the glare.
Moments before, Par Inos had told the Arc Angel that even if his work did not meet with his approval it was too late to change even the smallest component. This of course was his way of saying that he wanted nothing more to do with it. Whatever time the scientist had left was to be devoted to the long walk to Neptune in the first place, and getting exceedingly drunk in the second.
"If the worst is to happen," he had said, "I have no intention of allowing my body to feel a single thing."
Daldareth had confided in Brielga, "At his age, it's a wonder he needs alcohol. Most of his body must be numb by now."
"That's why he's so clever," Brielga rejoined. "Alcohol is a preservative. It's pickled his brain!"
If Inos had heard he had made no sign of it. Now, he waited patiently for Gabriel's comments. It wasn't that he wanted or needed the Arc Angel's approval, more some kind of official/unofficial release from his task. It was more than good manners, but less than etiquette.
Gabriel's eyes picked out the exquisite details on the top and sides. Figures, characters, words and designs, all relieved on burnished gold, gave subtle hints, clues as to what the box contained.
The Lord of the Heights chastised himself in silence. How could such work be regarded as merely a box? Boxes stored things of beauty and yet this was a thing of beauty, pneumatological splendour of the highest quality. There were signs also of interdiction, semi-foreboding, lest the unknowing would tamper with it before it was set in its place. The top, the lid, however, gave him more warning than could be attributed the adjective 'forbidding'. Here lay the ultimate prohibition. He recognised it of course, but for a moment he considered it out of place and struggled to recall the original and its location.
"Sun's Home?" he questioned of Inos. "What madness is this? A Sun's Home, here? Surely there could be no need?"
Par Inos raised a single eyebrow at the Winged's outburst. He saw there not anger, not yet, just a terrible desire to understand.
"There will always be need, Gabriel. You have caused to pass a wonderful idea. You should be proud. Thanks to you, in the countless eons to come, the existence of Angelis shall remain recorded within the confines of this...this your...," He struggled for the word, searched for something apt, "..Our Covenant." He seemed pleased with the word, as though in it lay something hidden.
"I don't understand," said Gabriel flatly.
Brielga watched for the coming storm. He'd seen this before. Gabriel looked confused and that would not sit well with the Arc Angel. He looked to Daldareth and wanted to warn the huge Winged of the danger. But Daldareth wanted none of it.
Gabriel continued unchecked. "What Covenant? I made no bargain, certainly not one to be sealed with a nuclear device! Where is your reason?" He stabbed at Inos with an outstretched finger. "What is your logic?"
Inos half-laughed at the unspoken threat and the spoken demands.
"Gabriel! Such naivety! Did you think that there is no evil in the universe, or was it just that you believed that all evil resides on Angelis? We made a Covenant. You and I. For your part, you put forth the seed. I put forth the water. Together, but in your absence, we made it grow. The Covenant between us is that we will defend and support the memory of Angelis and the existence of ourselves. To that end exists this device. It is both our memory and our defence." His outstretched hand patted the lid of the device as one might pat a dog.
"Should there exist in the universe life given to evil intent, we shall be protected even if we survive. But! I am no fool! I would not wantonly cause to be destroyed the inquisitive. Such will be chided, caused to ignore, encouraged to pass by. This shall be until good is recognised for, then shall there be welcome and instruction that our tale may be told amongst those who would understand and with charity."
Gabriel had fallen under his spell just as Inos knew he would. Brielga and the Northlander listened also to his every word with care.
"You should not in all things ignore the danger of what we have done. Imagine please the consequences of discovery by Evil-Do. We have survived. We live on Planet New and have yet to grow strong. Covenant is discovered then. Evil cannot be disguised. No! With Covenant revealed, our souls are laid bare and our existence understood. In instants we are enslaved, crushed, destroyed. What use our memory then? We will have existed for no purpose other than to feed the lusts of Evil-Do.
"I have in all things considered well, Gabriel." Inos addressed the others. "You should not misunderstand this also. When determination and evil intent assail the Covenant, none shall exist past the time taken to accomplish the creation of a chain reaction caused by the forced separation of hydrogen nuclei. After that you understand, nothing of the Covenant nor of the threat shall exist as more than dust in the wind.
"More important than this, I am sure. If we still live we will know and be forewarned."
Gabriel sighed despondently. He had not prepared himself for this. In this Par Inos had both disappointed him and betrayed any feeling he had that the scientist knew him at all.
"Inos," he said quietly, but with a dangerous edge even Daldareth recognised. "I have an immediate use for this...this...Covenant."
"Yes?" replied Inos, failing to see the trap.
"Send it to Helios. Maybe then our sun will change its mind."
Perhaps he hadn't been quite fair. Inos had worked hard to create what he thought was needed. Perhaps Inos had misunderstood. Words between them had always contained a note of ambiguity as far as he could recall. However, it always seemed to be that others disappointed him, as if they could never quite come up to his expectations. In truth, Par Inos had overstepped his brief and of course, come the dawn - Omega Dawn - their time would have passed to correct such things.
Gabriel looked down to the small stone pier the Fishers used to land their catch. Though it was fully dark the lights of the distant city of Neptune in some obscure way managed to outline it for him. The thin covering of cloud that drew a veil across the stars also heightened this obscurity and allowed things around him, like the views of sea-driven foam, to be more readily visible. The boat was still there. Its small sails had been furled and its tiny motor unshipped. He recalled the exertion of the Groundlings as they erected a tripodal hoist in preparation for the removal of Inos' Covenant. No small task this for it was of large dimensions. His eyes had measured it as he had compared its size to that of men. Not as tall as he, four feet high. Not as high as he, four feet wide. Yet shorter than he was prone, six feet long. His reflections led him back to the path from Persephone to the sea, to Almasia Water. Then to the coast-hugging journey North to Neptune's Gate. The sea had maintained an unbelievable calm he had been loth to mention lest some power hear him and churn the waters. They had arrived, he, Inos and three Fishers, just before noon and therefore in time, for this day was their last. On the morrow came omega Dawn for which he was thankful. That is, not for the dawn itself and the finality it brought, but thankful for the chance to witness the final rising of the sun from the beacon on Charon's grief.
Now of course he understood the reticence of Par Inos. The Covenant had been covered at the scientist's insistence as if he had in some way guessed or perhaps suspected Gabriel's reaction. Only when the device was irredeemably on dry land would he reveal the fruits of his labour.
And he, Gabriel, had allowed this to happen, and of course, now feelings of betrayal hounded him like a nightmarish embarrassment he could not wake from. He was powerless to change anything that had gone before. Inos had already departed Neptune's Gate, taking his place amongst the hundreds of others who created a river of life that was vanishing into the umbilical cord of the transit tube. In uncertain days to come, the cord would be severed by human hands at the behest of the forces of nature, leaving the foetus that was Neptune to float freely in the cosmos in place of its mother, Angelis.
Gabriel knew that he was free to join the river at any time, but he also knew that his place in the sphere of Neptune's permaplex bubble was secured and protected. In the growing confusion that was his mind, he could not at this time decide on what would be the most auspicious moment to turn his back on his homeland, indeed, his planet. To do so now might be seen by others as an act of cowardice for he had a responsibility to those who knew not the Heights. Yet he should remain aware of the danger of leaving it too late. A cataclysm at the wrong time might leave him (as well as others) cut off from their escape, their salvation.
Words of warning drifted before his mind's eye. Delar, the assistant instrumentologist seconded to Par Inos, from where Gabriel could not remember, had described in glorious detail events that could be defined as cataclysmic. The most relevant of these, perhaps, depicted the collapse of the seabed, the ocean's floor, beneath the surface of Almasia Water. The resultant tidal wave might be strong enough to envelope Neptune and send the city back to the Deeps with water crashing through the opening created by the loss of the transit tube.
Delar hadn't known that scenarios such as this would coat the Arc Angel's heart with the ice of fear. Gabriel had immediately insisted that watch be kept night and day atop Charon's Grief. In the event of such a disaster the breech could be sealed in time to save the city.
Strangely, Gabriel had drawn the line at listening to other scenarios. Not that he had intended to be rude, just that he regarded the installation of the watchers as defence enough. Fear had a way of panicking the weary. It was Gabriel's self-appointed task, now that the last of the journeyed were arriving at the Gate, to ensure the smooth performance of an operation that had been in progress for so many days and nights. Fear, he knew, could disrupt the operation beyond repair.
Brielga and Daldareth had been sent back to Charon for several reasons. This pleased Brielga, even more than the removal of his dressings and the return his ability to fly, for he needed rest and food and a chance to allow his mind to flow over his memories of recent days. For them both, Daldareth had seen the unbalanced equation once more. A rested Winged performed tasks with greater efficiency than a tired Winged. Though he had need of them now, for Daldareth had bowed to the Arc Angel's greater experience, their strength would be better employed come the Dawn when, having rested, the marshalling of the Groundlings and the prevention of hysteria would be high on their lists of priorities. Every Groundling passing through Neptune's Gate and on through the transit tunnel was required to carry as much in the way of food or other useful impedimenta as possible. This had to continue even in the dark of Angelis' nightmare, and the Winged were responsible.
(Continued in Part14)
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