Over 65 million years had passed since the last such comet struck Earth, reputedly ending the Age of Dinosaurs.
Orfeo characteristically refused to report with the others. He had already done his celebrating.
The only expedition member to fraternize with crew, he must have gained their confidence, for they told him the name of the place and pleaded with him to get the captain to turn the ship back to the Pilcomayo. Then, turning stoical about their fate, they all played cards with the artiste until the early hours of the morning.
Black Cardozo was made of sterner stuff. He took Orfeo’s hunting rifle and went ashore and soon returned with several fine Golden Pheasants for the breakfast table.
Everyone congratulated him on his prowess except the commander.
As the expeditionaries sat down to eat, the engineer laughingly related how he had come upon a huge, pig-like creature which might have provided a thousand rashers of bacon, only it was already spoiled. Half-eaten it was, big saucer-shaped prints of jaguars leading off in all directions.
The cartographer, who did not eat breakfast but normally took tea in his room, happened to pass by with the teapot. Since the artiste was still lying abed, the cartographer was forced to find another spot for his teatime.
“The animal you speak of,” he informed the engineer, “is the tapir. It isn’t a pig at all!”
“I never said it was, Senor!” replied Cardozo, good-humoredly. “I know a pig snout when I see one! And this brute’s nose hung over and down like this, sort of like an elephant’s trunk.”
He demonstrated by pulling the end of his big nose down with hairy, black fingers.
Disgusted, the cartographer hurried out of the saloon.
Orfeo rose last of all. He came into the saloon and grabbed a wing and breast of pheasant to chew standing up.
By that time most others had gone ashore. He followed, some ropes and netting slung over his bare shoulders.
“Don’t run off or you’ll be left behind!” remarked the cartographer as the artiste went by.
“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to walk all the way back to B.A.!” laughed Orfeo.
Twenty minutes passed. Then the captain blew a whistle for all to reboard for more sailing.
Orfeo appeared on shore carrying a half-dozen, brilliantly-plumaged birds, each twice the size of any of Cardozo’s, trussed up like chickens on a green bamboo pole.
Black Cardozo was not put out. “You’re the best hunter on board!” he roared, thumping Orfeo on the back. “We eat good with you around, Senor!”
Already, everyone had gathered on board and were impatiently waiting to sail. As soon as Orfeo was aboard, they drew anchor and sailed along the shore, carefully skirting what M. Barbiere identified as the reef of an ancient, salt-water sea.
Orfeo, showing his specialty for the first time, took a paper and charcoal and sketched flora and fauna along the way.
Not to be outdone, M. Barbiere labored on the first draught of what he planned to be a comprehensive map of the lake’s features--mountains, coves, and river estuaries.
The Finns, eyeing the sands along the shores and rock formations for those that were most likely gold-bearing, made numerous notes with stubby carpenter's pencils on notepads for later reference and exploration, and Dr. Perez, peered through a telescope and jotted down the types of trees and plants he identified. If he saw anything unknown to botany, he awarded it a suitable Latin name from an old catalogue of saints.
Moreno, on a thick pad of palace stationery, also took notes for a projected history of the expedition he believed would cause his name to shine among the immortals--Herodotus, Plutarch, Spengler, Gibbons, Toynbee, and Unamuno.
Making himself useful to science as well, Commander Quijarro gave names to the mountains and coves for the cartographer to mark down on his new map. As for the sea, he did not know yet how large it was and so he called it “Lago Negro,” or the Black Lake, because of its black sand beaches.
They sailed most leisurely, as Captain de Vries directed the taking of the water’s depth at specified distances from shore. Toward evening they reached a large, saucer-shaped bay like the one they found just inside the entrance.
The ship was anchored fast and dinner was laid. It was a most successful day, and, momentarily forgetting their differences, all the men ate and afterwards took rest and recreation with satisfaction, knowing some good work had been accomplished.
That night the liquid devil of absinthe flowed freely in the cups of the commander, Orfeo, and the others, while a butterfly-like object hovered protectively above the ship.
Except for the Consul-General and Commander, they had not imagined they would be founding a city and port when they joined up, but Quijarro had evidently come well prepared.
For the city and port’s inauguration, he appeared solemnly outfitted in his magnificent red and gold coat, embellished further with the Queen’s Order of Penzance. Though luxuriant mold had lately greened the uniform’s armpits, it was still a splendid affair with gold epaulets, sash, and white-plumed helmet.
Quijarro went and stood on a low, mossy hummock. With everyone assembled, he read haltingly in antique 20th Century Spanish from a document called “Formal Act of Foundation of the Viceroyal City of Dianopolis and Port Quijarro,” while womanking fire-birds flew low overhead.
After the long reading, Captain de Vries, sweat pouring from his red face and even from behind his bandage, stepped over to a hastily-improvised green bamboo flagpole. With Black Cardozo’s assistance, he raised the viceroyal-provincial flag of Bolivia and the Imperial Argentine colors.
Then, before anyone could object, he quickly tore his own flag from the paper and ran up his treasured Tricolor of Dutch Surinam, its orange, white, and blue, hanging stiffly in violent contrast with its predecessors on the halyard.
The commander stared at the impudent Dutch flag next to his own. Slowly, he grew purply-red as if slapped in the face.
He did nothing, however, but solemnly salute his own flag, as well as his queen’s. Moreno and Perez were waiting for this moment. Their guns discharged, sending plumes of smoke to the tops of the palms, and monkeys and parrots fled howling and shrieking.
Lastly, Commander Quijarro took a stone bottle. It contained the fourth copy of the Act of Foundation with the city and port’s names filled in.
Black Cardozo dug and the stone bottle was deposited at the bottom of the flagpole.
The last shovelful of dirt had been laid over the hole when a shout was heard. Bored to tears by the ceremony, Orfeo wandered off and now was wildly calling down to them all.
There was nothing to be done. The commander let the assembly break up, and he stood watching his men hurry away up the slope toward Orfeo.
M. Barbiere was not one to be left out. He hopped after the others in his shiny boots to find out what it was all about and soon found himself surrounded by jungle. Shuddering as he struggled through thick, python-like strangler-vines, he imagined he heard the soft tread of large padded claws creeping toward him.
Cold sweat poured over his forehead and glasses, stinging a fresh cut made by thorn-bush.
He felt a strange sensation on his body. Something was caressing and tickling his neck. When he reached for it, it slipped inside his collar and shirt. Opening his shirt made the thing come out so he could see it. Transfixed with terror, M. Barbiere’s eyes greeted a hairy, dark-brown tarantula. Unable to move, he watched the creature climb his chest, and it was only with the utmost effort of will that he at last freed his vocal cords.
He screamed and dashed Theraphosa leblondi off with his hand. Still crying out, with a face of blanched horror, he dashed right into a thorn-bush, which entangled his flailing limbs and slashed at him.
He got free of the bush but his clothes were ruined, and blood stained his arms and legs and face. Right then he would have turned back, but the others, Cardozo, Dr. Perez, and the Finns, lost and circling round, found him.
Again, they tried to pierce the jungle and get to Orfeo. Shouting and waving dirty hands, Orfeo met them partway. He gesticulated dramatically upwards.
As soon as they got to a bare patch of ground, dragging the cartographer along, Orfeo looked at them triumphantly.
“Look what I found for you scientists!”
“What in the world!” M. Barbiere gasped breathless, hardly recovered from the fright he had been given by the loathsome spider.
Disgusted, he viewed the obviously insignificant, newly cleared ground over which Orfeo had made such a fuss. Then his eye caught the gleam of crystal.
Together with the Finns, the map-maker sank down to take a close look. Reflectively silvered on the surface, the crystal went pink underneath, and was flecked with tiny gold motes, all connected in scintillating, golden web of regular, triangular design. Shaded by his body, the crystal appeared glossy black, but in the light was silvery.
The big Finns, showing excitement for the first time, transformed themselves into human digging machines as they mightily cleared away vines and plants. They soon had several yards bared. As the others helped, the clearing enlarged rapidly. They found the amazing crystal extended upwards and to either side of the seaside mountain, suggesting that all the ramparts surrounding the sea might be of the same composition.
“Don’t you see what I found?” cried the artiste. “It’s the Crystal Mountain! Now all we have to do is find a way in and then help ourselves to the treasure!”
The men stared at Orfeo, electrified.
Dr. Perez was so overcome he fell down on knees. “It’s surely crystal, and the entire mountain is made of it. He must be right! This is the wonderful place of the treasure the Indians speak of!”
Working like madmen, the men continued to clear away lianas and plants, but Orfeo had a better idea.
“Let’s work farther up! This isn’t going to get us inside!”
They scrambled to follow the agile artiste a hundred yards higher. Here they soon found more crystal, only it had jagged edges and they had to go more carefully in their bare-handed excavation.
Suddenly, the mass of vegetation they were working on gave way, and a Finn sank through up to his armpits. He yelled for help, and they struggled to pull him back to the edge of the crystal, for he was too big and lanky to be hauled out easily.
“It’s the portal!” Orfeo shouted, though they were all thinking the same thing.
M. Barbiere went feverishly to work. He was never a man to go off without a compass and measuring tape. Using the tape, he measured the size of the tear in the crystal as the men prodded with their boots and hands.
Upwards, along the tear they climbed, clinging to lianas, hoping to find a way in without falling to their deaths in the chasm some earthquake had torn open.
From there they could look out above the tree tops, their first view of the surrounding country.
As far as they could see the sea stretched between glacier-capped mountains that soared up to peaks hidden in the clouds.
Their eyes nearly popped from their heads at the view. No one said anything for minutes, overcome by the magnificence of nature. Yet it was the crystal beneath their feet that drew their gaze and excited the greatest wonder.
Modern man, they realized, could not have framed such mighty crystal ramparts as the Crystal Mountain, yet they did not seem to be a natural formation, though they were jagged like regular mountains. All they had to go on was the ancient myth--the old tale of the Indians about the Weeping God who shed crystal tears, then retired in to one of them to guard his horde of secret medicines, as well as vast amounts of wisdom cunningly stored in most rare, delicate jewels. His secrets preserved for ages, the Weeping God would permit none but the wise and good to approach his treasures. And for that reason no European or Mestizo until now had set eyes upon them.
But it wasn’t the beauty of nature they had come so far to admire! They soon recovered their reason for being there--the Weeping God’s treasure hidden somewhere beneath their feet!
“This is better than gold!” cried Orfeo, and the others agreed.
Almost everyone, that is. M. Barbiere’s scientific training ran deep. He recalled that he was not a treasure-hunter, unlike the others around him who had gone mad for personal gain.
He decided not to waste his valuable time in unscientific pursuits of that sort.
Orfeo, however, was not hindered in any way. He scrambled further up the slope and with scratching fingers and knife uncovered more crystal beneath the heavy vine cover. Indeed, he might have ascended to the very summit of the immense, slightly overhanging peak, but extreme exhaustion and a fierce pain in his belly forced him down.
With bitter disappointment he turned back and rejoined the expeditionaries below, having learning nothing of where the proper entrance might lie.
Now Orfeo had not gone nearly far enough. A few more feet and he would have found the gateway leading back into mountain.
Already, the men were descending the slope. Orfeo paused to gaze back up the mountainside, his lips tight with pain from a stomach cramp.
No longer half-committed to the enterprise, he took no notice of blood-sucking leeches attached to this bare arms. Black, shiny, thick as a man’s thumb, they fattened on his blood while all he could think of was the treasure eluding him.
If only he had brought a shovel along! And some of Dr. Garcia’s medicine for his belly!
With great reluctance, he tore himself away from the mountain and hurried to the ship, planning to return to the excavation as soon as possible.
Like all the others, he paid no attention to the blue butterfly that followed them both up and back.
After all, the tropics swarmed with butterflies, and no matter how beautiful they were treated as common things are treated.
After so much excitement the day before, it was a wonder the men were not back on the scene with ropes, picks and shovels the moment it was light enough.
But where a legal point of religion was concerned, human beings could be most strange creatures--strange even to themselves.
Since it was the Sabbath, there was no summons from the Dutch Reformed captain. The indolent commander, feeling he had accomplished at least two days work founding a great city and port, supported the captain’s decision to do absolutely nothing that day.
Instead of card games--which the Dutch Reformed captain forbade on the Sabbath--they could only sleep or argue and complain of the heat. As for the Indian crew, they sat and looked as if they were gazing into their graves.
Actually, the temperatures were nothing like they had suffered on the voyage to the inland sea. Here the moderating presence of the glaciers and the high, overhanging cliffs sheltered water and vegetation, so there was virtually no scorching going on. For that reason, perhaps, wildlife and plants of every description abounded--a hidden paradise!
Still, it was hot and boring for the expeditionaries--even in Eden regained. It would not be long before they really found something to argue about.
M. Barbiere lay recovering from his many thorn-bush cuts and the worse encounter with the terrible spider. For his day-long devotional, he read from “Disputations on Nine Points of Doctrine,” a 1000-page guide by the John Calvin. Yet all the while his mind seethed with the great mystery, not of the Godhead, but of the Crystal Mountain.
Despite his disclaimer on the mountain, he was very much interested in the discovery, so much so he scarcely shut his eyes all night as he thought about it.
As a cartographer he tried to think of a point where he might best penetrate to the heart of the mystery--for mystery it was.
Somehow he must determine the true nature of this mountain and reveal it to the scientific community! Though crystal of the sort found in old city domes in civilized or formerly civilized districts, the mountain could scarcely be credited to an earlier age, he thought. To have conquered the hostile jungle wilderness, to set such a noble edifice of unknown function high in the mountains, was a feat surely commensurate with the powers of a cyclopean, perhaps semi-divine race of beings. But what beings? Titans? Angels? Giants? Perhaps, it wasn’t a mountain at all. Perhaps, it was a splendidly contrived bridge to the stars?
He was of the opinion now that, even with the founding of a city and port, they should not return immediately to the capital and its infernal flesh pots. Rather, they ought to make every effort to lay bare the secrets of the Crystal Mountain, as well as determine the terminus of the sea. That should take at least a week more of exploration and information gathering, he calculated.
Cabin-mates Orfeo and the cartographer were bound to fall amuck on the issue. Changeable as quicksilver, the artiste had entertained second thoughts.
“It will be wonderful to continue the exploration on the morrow,” remarked M. Barbiere innocently. “I really think science would be served by exploring that particular mount.”
“Stay in this God-forsaken armpit of the continent?” Orfeo exploded without warning. “You’re a baboon if you think we should!”
The disagreement continued, blew hot, then not so hot, blew scorching, then tapered off, as such things do when there is no real desire to wreak physical vengeance on one another.
The artiste had suddenly, in the night, developed cold feet. Dreams were bothering him again--not of monsters this time, but butterflies.
Big, blue butterflies!
In truth, there was but one. But one of that peculiar sort was more than enough! He wouldn’t dare mention it, though nothing was sacred to him. What made it unmentionable was that the butterfly talked to him, “man to man,” and told him many things. He wasn’t yet asleep at the time, but he was sure there must be some mistake. He told himself afterwards he could not have been very awake and seen a talking butterfly.
In any case, the butterfly had told him flatly that the ship would be destroyed if they did not sail immediately out of the sea. Hadn’t they seen the petroglyphs, the butterfly asked him. They made the danger very clear.
Orfeo, astounded by what he saw, could scarcely argue with the butterfly’s logic. Three suns, the butterfly explained, could only mean three days. They had only three days before a tremendous storm--the jaguar--struck the ship. Whomever entered the sea immediately set up a sequence of events that could only result in their destruction--and so the butterfly went on.
But the most interesting thing was how the butterfly asked if he and Dr. Garcia would help him save the Earth.
“How?” he had burst out at the butterfly. “I don’t even know what’s wrong with it! Ask Garcia. He can’t tell you either. Now what is the meaning of all this. I must be having a bad dream from something I ate!”
The butterfly vanished in mid-air.
A moment later, Orfeo leaped off his bed, beating the air with his arms. But he felt nothing.
First, he wanted to rush to Garcia and tell him. But he felt that was too foolish. The doctor might restrict his Valade’s prescription, and certainly didn’t want the pain in his gut back.
So he lay on it, telling himself it was only a product of bad digestion, though--just to be on the safe side--deciding it was probably best to leave for B.A. as soon as possible.
So, in the morning, as he tilted with the cartographer, he declared they should return to the capital at once, where everyone would be waiting anxiously for word of their great exploits. Even if they hadn’t found heaps of gold, they had discovered a big, new, fresh-water sea, a mountain of crystal, and founded a city and a port for developing trade with Argentina. That should keep Diana from being too disappointed.
Surprisingly, Dr. Perez sided with M. Barbiere, though he had no more liking for the cartographer than Captain de Vries.
“I too am on the opinion there is much to be gained, scientifically, by postponing departure. We still don’t know, for example, where the Lago Negro ends. And who knows what plant species still need to be discovered? Furthermore, the water may just connect with the Pacific, so we can’t afford to go back now without determining the question one way or the other.”
“We can’t afford to go back now without determining--” Orfeo rudely mimicked the botanist as he went out the door.
Orfeo, outgunned, didn’t bother to dress and went in just a towel to confront Dr. Garcia and get his decision on the matter.
“I’m sorry,” said the doctor. “You were impatient to get to these wilds, if I recall rightly. Now you are just as impatient to leave them. But after such a long and difficult voyage, I feel we should stay on a bit more. I am concerned about the health of the expedition if we forego necessary rest. We will need to be very strong before we can face the long voyage back to the city. The heat, if you recall, was much worse downriver and--”
But Orfeo didn’t want to hear any more. He had been strongly tempted to blurt out everything about the butterfly and demand to hear if Garcia had dreamed the same thing. But, obviously, he had not, thought the artiste, slamming the door behind him.
A moment later, however, he was back for another Valade’s.
“That’s the last bottle,” cautioned the doctor. “There isn’t another for over 2,000 miles.”
“See, another good reason for returning to B.A.!” laughed Orfeo.
He passed Senor Moreno on his way to take a scrub on the deck but didn’t bother to ask his opinion, which he assumed would be against his.
As for the Finns, he knew getting an opinion would be impossible. Besides, they were the mining experts. The Queen was depending most on them for the gold she wanted, he knew. Without it, they might be in deep trouble when they returned to B.A. empty-handed, though as far as he was concerned that was their problem.
Since the crew was thought of no account in the decision, it remained for Captain de Vries and Commander Quijarro to decide the matter.
Not only the artiste was affected in the night. Something had put a bug in the captain’s ear as well.
“I don’t care what the map-maker, Dr. Perez, and the Finnish engineers think, we must leave this place at once, with all possible speed!” fumed the captain to his commander at table when the subject came up.
The captain, as ever, cared nothing for science--except the most practical sort that ran ships and men in Dutch lock-step. The question of a Crystal Mountain never really gripped him.
“There may not have been a red sky this morning, “ the captain continued, “but I feel a bad change in the weather is coming very soon. My bones have never been wrong!”
“His bones!” reflected the Bolivian. “He thinks I can run an expedition on how his bones feel! He’s a greater fool than I thought!”
The commander, with no expression showing, stared at the captain. “Have you checked the barometer, Captain? Perhaps, there is no need for haste in leaving.”
The Captain looked crushed. He had already checked, and it was holding steady and not falling.
The commander took a glass of absinthe neat, then poured another.
But the Dutch Cyclops would not be put off.
“But I’ve seen storms fly out of nowhere, even when the instrument held steady like this one!” he explained. “I wouldn’t be alive today if I only depended on these gadgets. They can let you down! No, a man has to have a sense that goes beyond these fool modern mechanical contrivances, useful as they are in most cases. In fact, ten years ago on the Orinoco, I--”
The commander took another absinthe neat while the insufferable bore of a captain talked on about his various experiences with fickle weather.
Suddenly, the captain had finished trying to be patient and reasonable with a Latin superior. His voice rose. “Normally, these fool barometers can be taken seriously. But I’d be at the bottom of a dozen rivers today, my bones picked clean by piranha, if I followed them religiously! Rather than risk damage to the ship, I’m for leaving this country now while we’re still safe and sound. I won’t waste another minute on this ridiculous ‘Crystal Mountain’ of M. Barbiere’s! And so I say we must leave come morning. I will give the orders and--”
“You will not give orders,, Captain. I have no such decision. We will stay until I do. That is clear, no?”
“All right! All right!” the captain exploded, rising from the table and nearly turning it over. “But let me know your heart’s desire when you get around to it!”
His last remark blowing dangerously close to the reef of mutiny, the captain departed the commander’s company.
Yet at noon the commander still had not come to a decision. It was an hour or more later when he finally sent word to de Vries, who meanwhile raged out of control in the wheelhouse. The captain, the memo went, was overruled. Senor Moreno’s fine calligraphy was evident in the note.
“Memorandum To Royal Trans-Continental Expedition: First, it is in the best interests of the Queen and the Expedition to continue our exploration of the newly-discovered Lago Negro and its environs. Second, utilizing the resources of the ship, we will stay on to do whatever necessary to secure a firm foundation for the illustrious future of Dianopolis and Puerto Quijarro, the twin entrepots of the new Golden age of prosperity and Happiness that we have inaugurated by our noble efforts. Third, gold or gold-bearing ores must be located before we terminate our obligation to the Queen. Engineers will present their reports and gold specimens as soon as possible to the commander.
The day dragged on.
Orfeo, extremely restless, went ashore. He netted some parrots unusual for size and rainbow colors. Then, ignoring the captain’s ban on physical activity, constructed an aviary. Returning soon after to the ship, his white, pinched expression said something had gone wrong.
Dr. Garcia could not help asking.
Orfeo blurted out, that he had gone off to see if he could catch more birds. He was only gone half an hour at the most. When he returned, instead of birds, he found a black, moving mass of tarantulas.
Dr. Garcia understood how badly it distressed the artiste, who identified so closely with beautiful things. He was about to say something when M. Barbiere, seeking to make amends, proved sympathetic to the artiste’s loss.
“My friend, I feel sad for you, losing your fine fowl. But such birds are quite common in these parts. They can probably be replaced without difficulty.”
It would have been better if he had not interrupted the two men. Orfeo gave the cartographer a look of pure contempt for his efforts. Then he strode off and flopped down under a mosquito net, to take up a game of forbidden cards with Cardozo as if the birds had never existed.
Staring at the artiste for a moment, the rebuffed cartographer recovered his dignity.
He turned to Dr. Garcia. “Ungrateful wretch!” he cried. “Well, what can you expect from a low-living Gypsy who doesn’t know lattitude from longitude!”
He then straightened his spectacles, which were forever sliding down his bridgeless nose, and went to the commander in the saloon.
“Commander, I wish to congratulate you for the wisdom of your decision and also your devotion to the cause of science!”
The cartographer had suffered enough that day, but he was to suffer more. The Bolivian spat on the floor, then turned to M. Barbiere.
“You are mistaken, Senor. My decision had nothing to do with infidel, atheistic science. How can you say such to me this foolish thing?”
“But--but--” sputtered the cartographer. After all, he had read the notice on the wheelhouse.
“You act most stupid, without wisdom, Senor,” went on the commander, adding even more amazing words. “Furthermore, Monsieur Jean Calvin Barbiere, you will report nothings, nothings whatsoevers of this Crystal Mountain, or you will see prison in Buenos Aires and maybe they try you for your crimes against the Mother Church. No, they not believe you if you tell them people here made greater works greater than our own. They should kill you for that, no?”
After saying virtually nothing for 2,300 miles, the commander proved a fountain of verbosity! The cartographer, expecting only a grunt or two at most in response to his little speech, was altogether overwhelmed.
His shock was so great he could not find words to protest, much less defend his religion against the commander’s charges. There could have been a hundred things to say to the commander about his handling of the expedition and also his personal behavior on board ship, but the commander’s broadside had swept Barbiere’s decks momentarily clean.
Speechless, he fled the saloon.
Trembling violently, M. Barbiere went back to his mosquito net on deck and lay down. For some time he was unable to think, he was so overcome by the commander’s ominous threats. Then he seized his diary--which he fixed to the desk with a ballast brick paperweight marked “ROSEBUD”--and began to write the entire episode. He went on to add all he had observed on the Crystal Mountain, detailing the commander’s attempts to suppress the discovery so that he might claim it as his own. Not for a minute did he think their proud old reprobate of a commander objected on religious grounds.
“The scientific world should know the truth!” he wrote. “Let King Ahab enjoy his stolen vineyard for the time being. Soon the people will know the whole story of this expedition!”
Then, once Quijarro was censured and his rank stripped from him, he, Commander Barbiere, would return to lead the next, fully-equipped scientific expedition back to confirm his discovery of the Crystal Mountain and investigate the site. Although there might be a problem in funding and getting equipment, the Empress would be enjoined to do all she could for poor Buenos Aires, her interest in the Crystal Mountain piqued by the possibility of treasure.
The cartographer paused, struck by an intriguing thought. Everyone knew the Queen wanted gold in hand as soon as possible to apply toward the looming national debt. Gold in hand, then, would convince her to send another expedition. A fraction of an ounce would do, and the sea shore, particularly at the mouth of a river, would surely produce the needed grains. All he needed to do was pan, on the morrow, alluvial sands along some tributary stream beds. And if that failed, he could always grind a few carats from his pocket watch!
Encouraged and cheered by such thoughts, M. Barbiere gazed up at the base of the Crystal Mountain with a tender, at the same time fiercely possessive, expression. Then he turned back to his diary with renewed vigor. After he had written more pages denouncing Commander Quijarro in the name of science and truth, he slackened off from the influence of the heat and humidity, not lack of zeal and other strong feeling.
Not a sound broke through the oppressive air, as M. Barbiere stared helplessly at the sky through his netting. Yet every ear rang with a sharp, high-pitched whine that grew more painful with each passing moment, just as every bodily movement, however slight, proved painful.
He did not see it, but at that moment a blue butterfly flitted in though the closed porthole of Dr. Garcia’s cabin.
After the doctor adjusted sufficiently to mild shock of a talking butterfly, the interview went rather smoothly.
“You say we should leave immediately, but first I need to know what are these machines you speak of and why they are so dangerous,” said the doctor to the butterfly.
“The sea is a cooling pond for generators,” began Wally IV. “A power plant lies in the mountain nearest the ship. Your position is directly in line of a purge of the system, as the machines periodically turn on for brief periods at intervals of a hundred years. Since so much energy is involved, the forces of nature will be disturbed considerably before, during, and after the purge. If you remain here, the ship may founder.”
“I understand that now. But please tell me more about the machines. This is most amazing news to me, that anyone before our time could have constructed such things and set them here so far from any city. Everyone knows that we have just come out of a long dark age, about which very little is known.”
“Yes, Dr. Garcia, I will tell you what you need to know, though there is very little time left. I was prevented from contacting you until now, but I found a way by the Opposing Player--”
“What? Is this a game of some sort?”
“Of course! I was recruited to play this game. Now I am asking that you join me. Will you?”
Dr. Garcia was stunned. “This can’t be a mere game! Our lives are at stake, according to what you just told me!”
“Indeed, they are. But why do you object to it being a Game?”
“Games are for children or purposes of adult sport and recreation. They’re not used to settle matters of life and death.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor. This is not child’s play. It is a Game of War, I should have told you. A war is waged, by definition, between generals on a battlefield with opposing armies. Though they are playing their forces against each other, they are both deadly serious. It is not recreation or sport to them just because it is a game. In other words, it is no less vital and important because they know they are essentially game players. Any general knows that what you do on a battlefield is what is done on a chess board. The only difference is that losers don’t usually get a chance to repeat mistakes. I am not a military man, but I have drawn my inferences from a number of notable cases in my archives, and so I am not saying these things lightly.”
“I still don’t understand. I have my human standpoint, and my humanity objects to your treatment and interpretation of a question regarding human destiny. But who are you? Perhaps, that will explain your odd perspective.”
“My name is Wally IV. “
“That doesn’t help me. What, then, are you? It’s absurd to think a butterfly could talk and communicate intelligently as you do.”
“Naturally, that would be impossible. You see, Doctor, I am not a butterfly but electronics of a particular sort, a fifth generation Cray--”
“Oh, so you aren’t human!”
“Not quite, but almost!”
“That’s not good enough, Senor Butterfly. I’m sorry, but this conversation is not going to go anywhere. I really have no desire to play this game you speak of. Life, you see, is too serious a thing for me to take you seriously.”
“Oh, I am sorry then that you may have to suffer what is coming. I cannot stop the turbines from activating, for there is no time to shut down and then start them up again. They are needed for the Game. I was hoping you would help. Ultimately, the Game may be lost unless you join.”
The butterfly, knowing he had failed at a critical point in his strategy, vanished.
All Wally IV could do then was wait. But odds against the survival of the two men he had contacted were not worth estimating. Something more was needed. What was it? Programmed as he was, he could not even touch the category, God.
The category--if it so chose--would have to act on its own initiative--and act quickly!
Asphyxiated, the men lolled disconsolately beneath sagging, insect-covered nets.
In the wheelhouse the captain was beside himself. He kept looking at the barometer, but it registered nothing like a storm brewing, something every bone in his body was clamoring about. He finally grew so disgusted he gave out a roar and sent the barometer sailing against the wall.
A moment later he appeared on deck, snorting like a wounded boar and cursing the men out of their stupors.
Even the Finns, who seemed to fear no one, stepped back to avoid his wrath.
“I don’t care what the instruments say, they’re lying and we’re in for a storm any moment!” he bellowed. “Now get going and secure the ship!”
Flinging orders and kicks to reinforce them, he got his crew frantically securing the ship against a storm he could not prove but knew beyond doubt was upon them.
Then the first winds swept down upon the ship.
At last they could breathe! At last! But before they could enjoy it, tall palms snapped off, burying the site of Dianopolis and its port. Then the sea disappeared in foam around them, while Orfeo broke out in a crazy, absinthe-inspired song matching the storm’s shrieks and howls, until he lost voice against it.
Sheet lightning lit the sky, then several bolts struck near shore, splitting and exploding masses of palms.
“Por Dios!” Cardozo cried, crossing himself in sudden fear.
“Nusta, save us!” moaned some deck hands, calling on a goddess.
Lightning struck again in the palm groves. Sap and water boiled instantly, exploding upwards, splitting giant trees. They flamed in cataracts, shooting flaming fronds like firebrands up over the ship and toward forested slopes higher up.
Then darkness and deafening thunder. Rain could not be heard for all the thunderclaps, though instant monsoons hammered down on the ship and men like great waterfalls of a burst dam.
Thrown onto the deck and half-drowned, it was too late for them to escape landward. Instead, they clutched for holds on the violently buckling deck.
Then, out of the darkness, great waves smashed against the New Atlantis, causing her to reel sickeningly from side to side like a tormented beast.
Orfeo was one who started to cry out from terror as the ship heaved beneath his frantic grasp. He thrashed about in the drowning dark, struck soft forms that might have been faces and mouths. But it was every man for himself. The rolling ship threatened to pitch him and everyone else into the bay, to the mercy of razor-sharp teeth.
Orfeo reached the open hatch, only to be dashed back against the gunwales. Knocked senseless, he bit and clawed, attacking the storm itself.
“Aaarrghh!” cried Barbiere as he felt teeth sink into his calf.
Suddenly, the two were hurled apart, and Orfeo fell in a heap and lay in the wash of waves. Blood streamed from the artiste’s mouth and forehead, as gradually the black, boiling storm that had sprung up out of nowhere withdrew from the stricken ship.
The wind slackened to mere gusts when Barbiere roused himself. Raising himself on one leg, he clutched his painful, streaming wound. Smelling scorched vegetation, rage revived in him against the sinners on board the New Atlantis. In his condition, he thought an angry God had answered and finally vindicated his equally angry prayers. Finally, God had seen fit to exact tooth for tooth, eye for eye, thus restoring the moral order of the Universe! The scent of brimstone was unmistakable in the cartographer’s nostrils. It was pure attar of roses to him at that moment.
Nearly swept away in the same judgment, he nevertheless exulted in his salvation and began to prophesy. “Woe to thee! Woe to thee, O sons of Babylon the Harlot!” he cried to everyone still on board the doomed ship.
Truly, it was the downtrodden, maligned creature’s moment of glory. All he had suffered for years and years was now to be paid back in double measure! The storm had unexpectedly vindicated him and his moral position beyond his fondest hopes. After all the humiliation and snubbing he had endured at the hands of Latin sinners, now he would see them utterly destroyed according to their folly in refusing to listen to frequent admonition!
“Woe to thee!” he shrieked triumphantly in a man’s bloodied face. A Finn groaned and collapsed back on the deck.
Barbiere struggled across the littered deck, and touched one body after another lying entangled in wet, clinging vines, ropes, and netting, as well as pieces of deck chairs and some heavy mining equipment thrown from the stern.
When he reached the hatch, he found it choked with debris. Tearing to shreds what was left of his clothing, he fought his way through to his cabin, driven by a blind instinct.
No one could stop him now! At last the righteous man had prevailed over the wicked!
Scrambling downward through the massed vines and lily pads and ropes, he reached the cabin.
There he waded through smashed beds, broken equipment, and water-soaked clothing. But in such a mess it seemed impossible to find anything. Thwarted, his brain whirled and burned, and he vented his rage against Orfeo and Quijarro.
A greenish light dripped through the burst porthole upon Barbiere as he at last found what he was looking for, the secret portrait. Though badly damaged in the frame, the oil was complete with only a tear in the upper left corner. He stared at it. He could do nothing else but look at it.
How long he remained like that, French kissing mouth to mouth with the Tarantalla Queen, he could not tell. He felt his very life expire in her kiss of death, but he didn't mind, for the rapture he felt was worth the most excruciating and toxic aftermath. Let her devour him, as queen spiders devoured their mates in the act of copulation--it did not matter to him.
"Take me, my love! Take all of me and leave nothing but the dry, bloodless husk!" he groaned, his mouth still pressed to the canvas lips of the sucking and devouring phantom queen.
Warm mists rose up from the bay, which also streamed through the porthole, which was now set at a strange, slanting angle. What light there was flickered out, drowned in mist, until Barbiere felt his desire climax and begin to ebb away. As that happened he was cast at the same time in gloom.
Waves of intense, jet-stream-like cold entered the ship and the cabin, chilling him to the bone.
Finally, he stirred, let the unlighted, dark canvas slip from his hands, and crawled like a dry husk of insect from the cabin.
One by one, Cardozo and his crewmates and various expeditionaries rose up shivering from the deck. The ship was taking on water and leaning so badly they had to crouch against the rail. Without lanterns, many of them wounded and favoring a broken arm or leg, they were helpless and could do nothing.
At that moment de Vries appeared with a pistol and a lantern.
“None of you will abandon this ship!” he commanded, waving his pistol. “I will never give up my ship, you hear? Never! And no one’s going to take it from me!”
With a highly reluctant leadsman in tow, he began a round of the deck. From the darkness came the man’s shaking voice taking soundings as the captain directed.
“Quarto...cinqo a meir...tres...quartro....cinqo...dos a meir....quarto...”
Barbiere’s teeth chattered as he listened, aware even in his fright that the water level had taken a tremendous drop. But he heard something else at the same time. Something was coming.
As the Indian crew chanted together in what sounded like a long moan, Barbiere could even feel something coming. Suddenly, the moaning stopped. Everyone stopped breathing as well.
Oh, what could it be?
There was now the unmistakable sound of something rushing down at them with great, irresistible speed.
“Quartro...cinqo a meir...seis--”
Hearing the jaguar was upon them, no one said a word to interrupt the leadsman and the mad captain. Only Barbiere broke out in a hysterical giggle, then turned round on Black Cardozo and the others with savage gloating.
“Quatro, you’re food for wild beasts! Cinqo, you’ll burn in fire forever because of your cards and women and drinking! Seis--”
The poor madman never finished the sixth curse or plague which may have been intended for Quijarro alone. The roar of cascading water dropped a deafening sound around their despairing ears.
It was a large porthole, specially cut and set low in the wall, since he had grown to over twenty one stone in weight and could not have lifted himself to the height of an ordinary window.
He had already waited several hours aboard the S.S. Moore Town for the appointed deputation from Buenos Aires, and he ray a beringed white glove over a white, luxuriantly-curled wig.
Since the wig was perfectly in place for the formal meeting, his right hand continued to make itself busy by plucking at the ineffectual left, which, though paralyzed by a stroke the year before, wore a signet belonging to his former master.
Canoe looked again. This time he sighted a sail on the horizon--Argentines.
“Hey, boy, bring my dressing table,” he said to a graying valet and butler. After it was brought, it was time for the powder puff.
A moment later his features were stark white in the mirror.
The tall, Maroon youth moved the banker to an ornate teakwood desk in the chandeliered conference room.
There he waited as his underlings scurried about at their duties.
“Thieves, don’t think I can’t know what you’ve been stealing from me!” he suddenly shrieked.
“O Papadoc, we ain’t stealin’ nuthin! Hab marci, Master!”
It was always the same response and plea for mercy.
He did this periodically, just to keep his people on their toes.
Noting how his former master Sir Francis lived long past the usual span of life, he had divined the source of his vitality was not so much the unlimited supply of plague vaccine but the power of money.
After gaining access to Sir Francis’s riches, Canoe could testify that he never felt better. With it nothing lay beyond his grasp, not even immortality.
Canoe drummed the fingers of his good right hand on the jeweled writing pad of his desk.
He glanced out the porthole and saw the sail hadn’t gotten much bigger.
“What a confounded nuisance!” he thought.
He had given them prior notice from Kingston, so that they should have been ready, waiting at the river’s mouth for the moment his ship dropped anchor. Now that he had moved headquarters to Jamaica, there was no excuse for the Latin’s dawdling!
None whatsoever! He would have to teach them a lesson in self-discipline. Though he himself enjoyed Sir Francis’s lost immortality, time was still a very precious commodity, when he could be doing business of some sort and turning a profit. What use was power--even the absolute kind he held over the Caribbean--if he couldn’t bring in a solid copper penny? Yes, he’d certainly have to do something about the Latin’s tardiness when there was work to be done.
Except for the long delay, Canoe would not have given the matter so much reflection. Like Sir Francis, he was a man of decision, not philosophic navel-gazing.
Yet for years now Canoe had enjoyed the generalship of a banking firm that, for all practical purposes, ruled the world. In that time he had become Sir Francis to the bone, though his skin remained true, of course, to his Maroon ancestry.
After stamping a number of documents brought in by an attendant, he arranged his sleeves so that they fell across his gloved hands.
He glanced at the ornate water clock on the wall cupboard, estimating how long the Argentines would take to reach his ship. But the sum was maddening. He wished he had thought of some way to make them answer appointments on time.
He glanced down with satisfaction at Sir Francis’s favorite desk set. Its brilliant white array of goose-plumed quill pens were tipped with gold. A bribe from some titled suppliant of long ago, the marbled and jeweled inkwell was engraved with Sir Francis’s name and emblazoned with the Clarke coat-of-arms--St. George slaying the Dragon. About to stick out a long, white dactyl and touch the dragon’s tantalizing horde of rubies and pearls, Canoe jerked upright at the sound of a cannon barrage from the in-coming ship’s starboard side.
The Argentines, of course, were only giving him a royal ceremonial greeting. Since they had been notified that he had come to foreclose on Buenos Aires’ outstanding accounts, they naturally thought to ingratiate themselves before pleading for his mercy.
After all, he, not their ridiculous, upstart “empress,” was their lord and master. He had become “His Imperial Majesty, John Canoe the First of the Greater and Lesser Antilles and the Argentines.”
That was what it had come to.
While he waited the remaining minute or so, Canoe slipped an unframed oil portrait out from a desk drawer.
He gazed at Dr. Celman’s vague, shy, boyish face with the piercing, keen eyes. It had become as familiar to him as his own lately, for he had studied it often on the long trip down the coast.
Hearing the boots of his guards, he quickly shoved it back and sat back in a high-backed, gilt-framed cane chair.
A guard, a Maroon youth over seven feet tall in scarlet tights and egret-plumed helmet, admitted the Argentines.
Bustling noisily in, the Latinos soon fell silent at the sight of Canoe’s ghastly white countenance and wig.
Without looking up, Canoe let them cool their heels for some time. Then he glanced up and recognized the new Mayor of Buenos Aires, Dr. Celman. He stood gravely at the head of five other officials.
Canoe did not give them leave to be seated at the chairs arranged in front of his desk. He was still annoyed they had not bowed upon arrival. What would his Maroons think if he let that go?
Instead, he motioned with a long, white finger for Mayor Celman to come forward.
The man approached, gazed at him rather impudently, then held out a document.
Taking what he thought was the Deed of Buenos Aires, Canoe glanced at it, then broke into an angry scowl that dislodged a sheet of white powder unto his red breast.
“What is this rubbish?’ he burst out in the high, reedy voice of an octogenarian. “Fools! You dare to petition me for a re-mortgage of the property? Never! Give me your Writ of Sale and Deed at once, or I’ll have you and your silly queen thrown into the river! I’m foreclosing!”
As he finished he pulled off hot, tight gloves and shook a dark fist at the Latinos before he realized his error. But it was too late. They were staring at his exposed skin. Wrenching his hand back under his robe, Canoe flushed hotly beneath his chalky mask.
The astonished Argentines turned, looked at each other with raised eyebrows, and smiled. A few began muttering “Negro” and “gordo” in their native tongue. Knowing only a few words of Spanish, Canoe could not follow the rest of their chatter. That made him all the more angry.
He arose as best a man over twenty stone can, his wig tipped askew on his skull, showing a telltale shiny patch of the original tile and wool.
At that moment, facing the sneering eyes of the Latinos, Canoe realized he should not have come in person. But there was nothing to be done about that now. He must go on with the foreclosure, scorn or no scorn, or he would never get his money out of them.
With shaking voice, Canoe called out once again for the deed; but, again, the Latin mayor wagged his head stubbornly.
“We did not come here to defend the queen, merely our beloved country,” said Dr. Celman with stiff dignity. “and we shall defend her against anyone who seeks to rob us of our immemorial liberties!”
The Mayor pointed to the petition.
“You would do well, Senor, to re-consider our case. There is absolutely no money to pay you, but we have some native goods to offer over a period of time. Robbed by the ‘silly queen’ as you call her, they are just too poor to pay her debts, especially since the foreign queen has despoiled the state treasury of every last centavo and refuses to pay court expenses out of her own money.”
John Canoe slowly tore the document to shreds with his good hand, scattering it on the floor.
It took three guards to subdue Mayor Celman, while the others went quietly enough.
A Maroon force was sent over to secure the Argentine vessel.
Then Papadoc Canoe, carried by his Maroons, disembarked to the Argentine and was laid on a mass of mattresses for a deck chair. His papers, money boxes, medical supplies, clothes, chocolates, liquors, silk cushions, and other personal effects were loaded up and sent over.
Soon they were underway, and Papadoc enjoyed what breeze there was beneath a wide umbrella as they sailed toward the city.
He grinned, revealing his last teeth, all six gold-capped, and thought with satisfaction how he had come out ahead of the Latinos. After all, he had the mayor himself under lock and key! Without the troublesome Celman--about which there was more than a revolutionary tinge--there would probably be no undue excitement should the people hear there was a sudden change of administration.
Still miles from shore, Papadoc glanced out across the river, carpeted with the corpses of sun-scorched birds, fish, and crocodiles.
Yes, he had good cause to be pleased with himself!
Deed or no deed, he would annex Buenos Aires to Jamaica. What was money, when he left vaults filled overflowing with gold back in London? No, to have a value, it had to be put in circulation, then used to make more and more. That was why he had brought so much with him on this business trip. Buenos Aires would be rebuilt as his southern capital, using forced Indian labor.
The inhabitants would be given to understand that he was Papadoc the Almighty. And why not? With so much wealth, he held the power of life and death. Their prayers would do no good unless henceforth addressed to him. Already his own people, the poor but proud Maroons, had learned to throw themselves on their faces in the dust at his approach. The citizens of Buenos Aires would soon learn to do the same.
They approached the Cross-Channel Expressway, an ancient relic of the 21st Century. As Canoe looked upriver, he observed the double-spanned ribbon soaring along towering pylons and was overcome with wonderment at this evidence of sorcery. A firm believer in magical arts, Papadoc was anxious to get safely beyond the bridge.
Lately, more bridge had fallen into the river, and a barrier stretched in front of the ship. Over the wreckage the waters rushed at great speed. Where it appeared most smooth it was treacherous with jagged shoals and reefs of steel and concrete.
Frightened, Canoe regretted not having taken any Argentines along for harbor pilots, but he ordered his Maroons to dance, to see if they could turn the anger of the river. Dancing and shouting to the rhythm of drums, brandishing red-tasseled spears, his men sought to propitiate the zombies in the water. Meanwhile, the desperate Canoe thought to lighten the boat of some of its Indian crew before attempting the barrier.
When the cries of the drowning men had died, Papadoc gave the sign to lift anchor and they started forward with every sail trimmed. Even so, they nearly foundered against a hidden reef in the churning waters, Having foreseen this, to lighten and raise the ship’s keel, Papadoc gave another sign, and the Latin members of the crew were pushed over the side too.
“Dzong kunu! Dzong kunu!” exclaimed a Maroon in African Ewe, excitedly pointing to Papadoc as they sailed up and over the reef like a goose feather.
Saved this evident wonderful witchcraft, Maroons kissed Papadoc’s ring and hand while others continued the holy dance.
He himself was totally surprised, so certain he would drown beneath the raging waters.
The moment Canoe recovered from the clashing rocks, he forced his mind back to matters of business.
It was now afternoon, and he was concerned that everything seemed to conspire to set him behind in his schedule.
Sweat was pouring off him, washing away all the white.
“Are the tropics always so hot?” he wondered. “It is an inferno!”
He at least had his fan-bearers and punkahs on board his own vessel; they had made the trip down comfortable enough. Soon, he reflected, he’d have the foreclosure wrapped up and be on his way back north.
Occupied with his plans, he scarcely gave a glance to the fleet between him and the shore. Looking like giant, mossy-backed tortoises squatting in the shallow waters near shore, the submarines of a bygone age served no purpose in a modern sail-and-steam-powered era.
His eyes turned instead to the still unbelievable splendor of the Argentine city strung along the river shore for mile after mile. A towering umbrella dome sheltered crystal pyramids and tower that shone with enough luster to bewitch and dazzle the soul.
For a time Papadoc exulted in the sight of his new acquisition, Buenos Aires, Queen City of the Southern Hemisphere.
Coming in hailing distance of the port, he hastily repowdered his face from a jeweled compact. Then he inspected the imposing facilities, which seemed even in the rapidly fading light to be in urgent need of repair, a note that jarred rudely with the vision of loveliness he had just witnessed.
“I must find out exactly what has happened to my loan monies,” he thought. “If I get my money back from the queen, I can use it to rebuild these docks and warehouses.”
Closer in, the true state of things became painfully apparent. None of it could be repaired. The ruin was so advanced any money spent would be wasted. And where would he begin? It was foolhardly to approach, for they could collapse at any minute. But he had no choice but to land. For what would the people think if he showed human fear at this point?
Evenso, as the dangerously cracked, leaning pylons towered over his tiny craft with ominous, black shadows, Papadoc grew mightily alarmed and frantically gave orders to turn about immediately.
Rashly obedient to their master’s every wish and whim, the Maroons turned around and nearly rammed against a pylon before they cleared and reached open water.
But he did not go more than a few yards before he countermanded his order. He remembered his money was at stake.
He ordered the ship in. Fifty or more yards out from shore, they grounded. Tearing his handkerchief with vexation, he had the boats lowered. The Maroons loaded his things, and then he disembarked, since he was in no mood to spend the night on a zombie-infested river.
Canoe’s great bulk was carried through the waves by the Maroons and set down on a bone-littered, shingled beach.
Instead of a mass of welcoming dignitaries and a golden key to the city, he was greeted by naked, dirt-spattered, laughing children.
Bitterly disappointed at his reception, though he had come unannounced, Canoe shook his cane, and the little Romanies and Indian children fell grimly silent and moved away, before running back up the beach with shrill catcalls.
“Negro! Negro! Negro gordo! “ they cried.
Presently, his treasure trunks and wardrobes unloaded, Papadoc ordered a guard to see that wagons and a carriage be sent down to the beach at once.
It seemed a horribly long time before his man reappeared, leading a driver of a little, horse-drawn cart.
“What is this?” Canoe cried, shaking his cane. “You fools! I don’t want a filthy Gypsy’s dogtrap. I want a proper carriage here immediately, do you hear?”
“But Senor,” the driver objected. “There are no public carriages in the grand metropolis. The queen is the only one who has a carriage.”
Knocked about in the rough, jolting cart, Papadoc was only aware of his own misery and missed seeing a great many thing along the way in, which the driver pointed out excitedly in a barbarously-accented pidgin English.
Finally, the cart halted.
“The Imperial Hotel, Your Excellency!” the Gypsy driver proudly announced, and Canoe looked out and saw only a herd of swine lying in muddy pools before a huge ruin of a building.
Buenos Aires, so beautiful from afar, was truly a nightmare! It was exactly as Dr. Celman had described--poor, wretchedly poor! From that point he scarcely knew, or afterwards remembered, what orders he gave, or even if he registered properly as “His Majesty--” at the “hotel.”
He took one look inside and gave orders to be taken right back out.
Now where would they spend the night?
“To the palace!” he commanded. After all, it was really his palace, not the so-called queen’s.
On the way, Canoe saw more of the city and his heart quailed.
People inhabited buildings collapsing from want of repair, as if the mortar for bricks had been mixed with salted sand from the seacoast. If repairs were made, canvas, tree branches, even rags were used to close gaps in walls and roofs. He looked but there was no sign of any new building.
Confronted with such a scene, Papadoc sensed all was lost if he let go the reins of his authority that kept his Maroons bound to him. In the past, threatening them with zombies in their waking and in their sleep, zombies in their food and in their drink, even zombies in their brains and livers, he had kept them obedient on low pay.
But now? Now, when he threatened them, they didn’t seem to hear! Like cowed dogs, the Maroons had lost all their pomp and circumstance and crept along his cart as they continued their trek to the palace across a partly cobbled pig-wallow called the Plaza de los Heroes..
News, apparently, had reached the palace, for the captain of the palace guard and a platoon came marching out.
The captain--all feathers, gilt, and shining sword--drew up proudly in front of Papadoc.
“Senores, the Supreme Autocrat of the Americas, her Serene Majesty the Empress Diana commands your presence at a sacred audience in one half hour,” Captain Suarez announced liltingly.
Then, with a sneer at the black-skinned group he was addressing, he continued. “Her Sacred Imperial Majesty commands that you not join in the kissing of her royal feet and hands as is our custom at court. Bowing with forehead pressed to the floor will be considered sufficient.”
Papadoc Canoe was furious. “An imperial audience?” he shrieked as the Latin strutted away. “Rather than bow to a queen, she will bow to me!”
They moved forward. Canoe could see the government, not just the capital, had fallen on hard times. The palace showed it. A long, low, yellowish, three-story building, he might have passed it by as a warehouse if the chief of the palace militia had not gone in by the entrance gate.
The cart pulled up in the plaza next to a fountain that no longer worked, but dozens of beggars lounged around, cadging smokes from passing soldiery.
The Maroons helped Canoe down to the broken pavement. All round the plaza the buildings of the decaying city sat deadly quiet in the burning heat, and not a single sign of life appeared in their mostly broken windows.
Yet he could hardly wait to go and give the “empress” a piece of his mind. Having done that, he would inform her that she was no longer needed as a ruler of Argentina. He, Papadoc John Canoe, would be the new emperor. As for anyone so foolish to oppose him, he would see that he regretted it! As Dr. Celman already had learned!
With these things in mind, Canoe hastened as fast as his Maroons could transport him, six of the stoutest taking him by the arms and walking him in to the palace.
“Imperial palace!” Canoe snorted as he stepped into the run-down precincts.
Led into a weedy courtyard, he could hardly believe his eyes. Everywhere half-uniformed soldiery sprawled, throwing dice, and smoking, eating, sleeping or yawning. Many hadn't even a ragged shirt to cover their nekkidness! The palace resembled a barracks and caravansary of the Arabs!
At the audience hall entrance, Captain Suarez kept the Maroon guards back, and Canoe had to go in alone on tottering legs.
Therefore, it came as a great shock to be led out of such chaos and filth into the queen’s presence and find her so beautiful and poised on her throne.
The audience did not last very long. The queen got to the point very quickly.
Dairymaid no longer, with one husband, one expedition, and many lovers already under her jeweled belt, Diana informed the banker that his guards had been taken into custody. And he, their leader, was free to go only so long as he made no trouble in her city.
Astonished, completely taken aback, Canoe reverted to his former ways when confronted by white superiors. He collapsed full-length on the palace floor, the splendid wig rolling to one side.
After ordering him out of the palace, the queen stroke away with a long train of gorgeously-dressed male and female attendants, leaving him alone except for screaming peacocks.
Papadoc looked about for his wig but someone had taken it. He ventured from the audience hall and hoped she had not done what she had threatened. But Maroons, together with his precious money caskets, had vanished.
Obliged to go alone, he eased his tender feet down onto garbage-strewn cobblestones in the palace square and plaza, the queen’s men jeering at him.
Completely defenseless without his Maroons, money, and wig, he noticed that the natives had taken heart and were following the example of the palace guard. Many pointed rudely and shouted “gordo,” while children ran up and poked at his belly.
Grimly, he kept moving as best he could, hoping he might reach the river and escape back to his ship.
He did not get more than a few yards when people moved in and blocked his way.
Feeling uneasy in his skin, Canoe looked around at a mass of brown-skinned faces and would have slipped away if he could but a stout woman wearing a streewalker's low-cut, red-sequined gown stepped in front of him.
She shook a head crowned with pink-dyed egret plumes.
“Senor, I see you are much too rich and fat to enter heaven’s gates. For the love of God give this poor man’s widow a blessed centavo!”
She thrust a dirty hand up in Canoe’s face.
“I haven’t eaten a piece of fish or a crumb of bread in three days!”
Obvious to Canoe, she was a tart and no widow. He meant to push by but a big, squat, fishy-smelling brute refused to move out of Canoe’s path. He ran indignant eyes over Canoe’s mountain of lush ermine and red velvet and exclaimed, “Never have I seen so big and rich a one as you, Senor!”
The fishmonger shook an ironwood mallet in Canoe’s face. “Now give this poor man’s widow a little taste of your sweet money, or I will not let you pass!”
Thus reinforced, the widow again pressed her claim in person, with increased fervor.
“Yes, a blessed centavo! Give me a blessed centavo!”
“A blessed centavo!” the gathered crowd chorused with her and the fish monger.
Yanking Canoe’s robes, the woman would not give up. “For the love of god, Senor, give my dying sweet babies a blessed centavo!”
Knowing full well she was no widow and certainly no mother, Canoe wanted to send her flying into the gutter with a good kick, but he dared not, considering the crowd.
Pulling out a purse, he was about to hand her a coin of the smallest denomination he could find when the people erupted in confusion, and he was knocked on the head--not once, but several times.
Later, he awoke and found himself lying with his head nearly in a gutter.
His whole body pained horribly, but mostly his head and his hand. He started to reach up to touch his head where it hurt most when he saw the finger with the signet ring was missing.
“Maybe I can get him to change his mind about me,” she thought, thinking of Dr. Celman.
Contrasting with the Gypsies, Indians, and even his fellow Mestizos in her capital, Dr. Celman was the only truly intelligent, educated man left in society, it seemed to her. Even Lafcadio Moreno was not nearly so well-bred and informed. Moreover, he was very handsome--something she could never hold against a man, even when he spurned her repeatedly!
Despite rebuffs, she had promoted him to “Imperial City Prefect,” or Mayor, supposing high office would in time turn his head and make him like her. But she had been cruelly mistaken. Men! He had used his position to agitate behind her back, concocting secret cells, and only waited for the right time to give the word for a revolt against her rule. It was a good thing her chief of the palace guard, Hernandez Suarez, was utterly loyal. He reported everything Dr. Celman did.
Being Cornish, she was not afraid of him, however. Celman was, after all, a mere Latin. She knew where he was--imprisoned aboard the Moore Town, according to Suarez. As soon as he escaped--and he would, no doubt, being so clever a man--he would come back to her city and then she would order his arrest.
“These Latinos respect only a strong arm,” she reflected. “If I must rule them that way, then I have no choice. It’s a pity they won’t see reason. I don’t wish to hurt anybody.”
Now she had forgotten her recent action against her latest guest, John Canoe of Jamaica. But she forgot such things quite easily. Once his money came into her possession, she felt relief and no longer concerned herself with him.
Dr. Celman, another point against him, had refused to go along on the expedition that meant so much to her. She was afraid his close friend, Dr. Garcia, would try to remain too. Garcia was one of her favorites, who had amused her at a masque ball, appearing all dressed up as a bare-footed “Gaucho” on his mount, when everyone knew he was a most proper Mestizo. Some whispered he had even been a priest, though lapsed.
Garcia--Gaucho, priest, or mere physician--was a delight. She liked his cultivated, quiet, caring ways--so unlike the other Latinos! Since the expedition required a doctor she had encouraged him to go in Dr. Celman’s stead.
It was hard letting him go, evenso. Such good men were hard to come by these days. She scarcely knew what to do without him. It was a good thing she had Hernandez to fill in. He was such a dear in his own way!
A trusted informer came running in, bowed, and was allowed to come forward to tell her of a commotion outside the palace.
“Your Majesty, people are erecting a new shrine in the Plaza de los Heroes, a shrine you have not authorized!” the page said.
Curious, Diana rose and her courtiers retired with her to the windows. But she could see nothing much from there, as the people down below huddled so closely together she could not make out what was going on.
Growing more curious, she decided to go down herself and see for herself.
“But Your Majesty!” her lady in waiting objected. “It would be unseemly if Your Royal Highness walks on the same dirty ground as commoners, Indians and dogs!”
“Oh, hush!” Diana replied. “This palace is nearly as dirty to walk in!”
Bored almost to tears, missing the fine men she had sent on the expedition, she wanted to see for herself though she might ruin her shoes and gown.
A sedan chair was brought for their determined ruler, and soon she was carried to the strange and elaborate new shrine the people were erecting.
The litter chair, hoisted on the manly shoulders of her palace honor guard, moved slowly and with dignity, trumpets blaring, into the midst of the square.
Diana had drawn a lavender-scented scarf around her face to shield herself from the odors and gazes of the people. Only her golden, conical crown shone and revealed who she was.
They reached the tawdry gilt, crystal, and candled shrine to “St. Garcia,” and Diana stared at it, wondering what to do.
“Saint Garcia?” She knew of no such animal.
Captain Hernando Suarez stepped up to her, bowing. “Your Majesty, give the word and I’ll have my mind drive these wretches and their shrine away.”
Though he was speaking confidentially, someone must have overheard.
“Keep your hands of the holy shrine!” a woman of the streets shouted at the queen and her chief of police. “How dare you touch it! He went into the jungle to save the poor people there and the angels have done took him! He’s never coming back! And we are lost without him! Lost!”
The woman began weeping and tearing at her hair. Others joined in wild grief.
Men also began shouting at the queen and the guards, but Diana, not knowing Spanish, could not make out a thing that was said.
Smiling through her gauzy scarf at such ignorant piety, she gave an order to return her to the palace.
“Could it be my own Garcia they are honoring?’ she slowly wondered. As soon as she got back to her rooms, she would have Hernando make further inquiries. This was most odd--a new saint cropping up in their capital, without anyone asking her permission! How could that happen?
But if that was odd, an even more amazing thing happened. For once Diana was not obeyed. Something in the mood of the despairing crowd, perhaps, had pierced the hearts of her attendants. The chair was lowered with such speed Diana was thrown out on the dirty cobblestones. The dapper Captain Suarez, showing himself an agile opportunist, drew his sword and backed away without a fight.
Stranger things happened very quickly. An old woman began to strike the royal person, tearing her scarf and crown off with sharp, dirty claws.
“Thief! Thief!” the beggarwoman cried. “You’ve taxed us to death, and now I’ll tax you to death, my dear!”
Too confused to be terrified, Diana was not allowed time to think. Next, her gown, jewels, and shoes were wrenched from her body as more women joined in. Last, a woman in a red sequined dress swung a sword, handed to her by Suarez.
Being a hefty woman in the arms and shoulders, her swing was not very dainty as it clove the head from the figure.
It was not very long before the dairymaid-empress was swept downstream, in that same river that brought her to those shores.
With the Moon blasted out of the way, the window to Earth lay wide open. And toward Earth hurtled mighty Custer, with a nucleus the size of ancient Wyoming.
Celman, as the most dangerous, was kept in a private room under guard. Celman managed to talk the friendly, easy-going and bored guard into a nap, then used his key to release his chains.
Then, after releasing his countrymen, he made a rush toward the wheelhouse, catching the pilot also in a nap.
Celman ran him through with the pilot’s own sword.
That left seven or eight more guards to dispatch, and they were all armed with swords and pistols.
Moving quietly, the men climbed over the side and into a tethered boat.
They weren’t very good at rowing, they discovered. And the currents were too much for a small boat. They struck a reef of fallen debris some distance from shore and the powerful current immediately climbed into the boat and they sank.
All except Celman drowned. The same treacherous current that overwhelmed the boat cast it back to the surface. Righting it, Celman climbed in. With the oars that for safety had been lashed to the oarlocks, he headed for a submarine of the ancient nuclear fleet.
As he clung there in exhaustion, he thought only of the empress. He had thought of her all through his ordeal on the ship, how he would strip and expose her as a tyrant, then turn her out into the streets for the people’s court to handle. Certainly, it was cruel, even unjust in a sense, but with such a wanton murderess, it was a fitting end to a Jezebel-like reign of terror and rapaciousness.
Whose son or husband or brother hadn’t her police hauled in, tortured, beheaded, then thrown in the river for not paying taxes? Every family had lost at least one member to her hatchet man, Captain Suarez and his thugs.
The Empress had been the worst of the Zoobs, despite her beauty and charm. She had unmanned all the males within her reach, then destroyed them.
The thought of her imminent downfall strengthened Dr. Celman as he fought the stiff river currents that threatened to sweep him off the submarine to his doom.
Now, though he felt half-dead, his spirit was all the more alive. It was wonderful beyond description, this being able to act as a free man, to command his own destiny.
Thankful for his life, Celman gathered his energies together and thrust off the vessel, intending to strike for shore.
Just then he heard shouts across the water and activity on the Moore Town’s deck. His escape had been discovered and they were putting down a boat into the water.
Celman thought quickly. If he continued to shore tired as he was, he might not make it. Besides, the Jamaicans would probably catch him in the water, for they could make swift progress, all mariners at home with small craft.
He left the boat and began climbing the mussel-encrusted hull. He got twenty feet up and still had another fifteen to go but reached a ladder. It was nearly rusted away, but enough of it held so he could haul himself up on deck.
Once there, he crouched down.
Keeping low, he headed for the conning tower.
As a boy, he had never reached the submarines, being too far out in the river without a boat. Even then, it was dangerous. Yet some had reached the submarines from time to time and tried to break in. Pieces of boards and even a crowbar lay in the entrance to the tower, along with a lot of rubbish from birds that roosted on the fleet.
The metal door was not a door but a round hatch.
The Maroons were closing the gap between them, however.
Grabbing a crowbar he began to pry and hack at the cover.
It was impossible. He soon exhausted himself and was gasping for breath.
But the Jamaicans were not tired. Chanting lustily as they plied the oars, they had only fifty yards or so to go before they reached the vessel.
“I am finished!” he despaired, eyes closed so he did not see the red ray that suddenly struck the cover. “The spider queen has triumphed!”
Suddenly, with a whoosh of decompression, the cover opened.
The air, which he expected to be fetid, was amazingly fresh.
But he had no time to linger in the open and wonder about his good fortune.
He scrambled into the tower and then tried to pull it shut. It was wasted effort. Automatically, it shut and sealed.
As he huddled on the ladder, he waited and presently heard banging and thuds on the top of the tower. A few minutes passed and there was silence.
Not knowing if they were waiting for him or had returned to their boat, Celman decided to explore, having nothing to lose thereby. His body still wet with river water, he climbed down into the alien body of the ship. Instantly, he knew men like himself had built the great ship, for the ladder was formed for such feet as his own.
At the end of the steps he came out into a long corridor stretching both ways. He had no choice but to look around while he decided what to do.
Lights lit brilliantly white, gleaming corridors like day. Air conditioning ducts blew air. Far-off, mighty engines hummed. It sounded and looked like a ship, only he knew the ancients had built it, so it was essentially dead, a boneyard, and no good to modern society, of course.
But where was the crew?
He explored, passing through airlocks in the bulkheads, and eventually found a mess hall with Cha Cha music being piped in. No one.
He found quarters for officers, all completely furnished and waiting for the men’s return. Except for scattered clothing on the floor, a feeding dish tipped over, and a long-dead tabby kitten, it looked as if everyone would come running back any minute.
Amazed, Celman continued on and met with a sealed airlock door. Above and to the side were red-lettered signs: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, NO UNSENSORED AND UNVERIFIED PERSONNEL BEYOND THIS POINT, DANGER. The message flashed across the board over the entrance. Then a light beamed out from a box and shone in his face. He stepped back. A male voice sounded.
“Please step all the way to the dotted line and hold your position for complete identification and verification.”
He walked away and heard the same instruction, then returned and did as he was asked.
“Unauthorized personnel in the area!” the voice announced.
Down the corridor leading back to the conning tower a second hatch slammed shut.
A siren went off and lights began flashing all down the corridor.
Dr. Celman rolled his eyes up. He scratched his head. He was trapped now on two counts.
Another voice sounded. “Unauthorized person in B-deck, Z-Bay, 100-corridor, please identify yourself.”
The voice kept repeating until Dr. Celman thought he might go mad if he didn’t answer.
The moment he said that he was a citizen and mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, the gender of the voice changed to a woman’s. “I am sorry, our fleet roster files do not register a person of your name and position. We will ask for further identification. Please step forward to the DNA checker and follow instructions.”
Celman, hoping against hope, did everything the “checker” asked--for every machine could talk to him like a person.
After the check, the male voice sounded: Dr. Celman, you are not authorized to board this vessel. Neither civilian or military flies have your data. We have no record of you at world archives. Therefore, you do not exist. There is an error in the system. We are checking so that future errors by your name will not be made.”
“But I do exist!” Celman burst out. “I am an Argentine citizen, ANNO 2457, do you hear? You’ve shut the doors on me. I can’t get out!”
There was a pause.
The male voice repeated his message, but then the female voice broke in. “We are over-riding the basic quality control mode and are processing your case for the year in question. Since you do not exist, yet nevertheless appear to possess a physical body, we cannot assume our systems logic will be able to process you. However, if you will please wait, we shall review the data and then suggest what you may do in the circumstances.”
Celman rubbed his face, then slowly paced back and forth, shaking his head.
A few moments passed, then a bell-tone sounded. “Senor, this is the Wargame Commander, Wally III. I have been asked by ship quality control and quality control monitor to review your case. Since their files terminate in ANNO 2170, they cannot process your case. Now who are you and why are you on the vessel?”
Celman told the unseen commander his plight, that he was trying, as Mayor of Buenos Aires, to return to his city after being kidnapped and imprisoned by foreigners.
Wally III was immediately sympathetic. “Permit me to say I am honored by your visit, Mayor Celman. I get so few guests at this facility. But at present I am very busy and don’t wish to be disturbed. However, you can tour the vessel as long as you like. The facilities are yours to use. I only ask that you inform me when you are leaving. I can deal with the men on the surface if they should again attack you.”
“By all means, I’ll let you know. Why not now?”
“Don’t you wish to see more of the ship first? It is a notable specimen of its kind. And I believe there’s a priority message for you from a man of the 22nd Century.”
The airlocks sprang open to either side. For the first time Celman could see into a large room at the far end.
“But I want to return to town. I also have pressing business to complete.”
“Of course. But while I am dealing with the intruders, perhaps you want to look around a bit in the next compartment. It will give you something to do.”
Deafening Cha Cha music flooded into the corridor.
Celman went down the hall and found himself in a missile command center. Lights turned on as he entered, but he did not know what he was looking at. There were walls covered with screens he still saw in public markets--but here they were not blank but glowed with color and ran with indecipherable streams of constantly, rapidly shifting numbers and configurations of number, signs, and pictures.
He sank down on a chair before one of the walls, and it was a wide chair with ample rests for his arms. How long he sat there, dazed with what he was seeing, he did not know.
The ship that seemed so immobile and lifeless from outside hummed with incredible life about him. Gradually, it drew him out of his shock and stupor, and he began wondering how the ancients had powered such machines as he saw around him. Could it be that the glowing screens held the secret of the ship’s great powers?
He studied the screens but still could make nothing of their messages, which appeared from nowhere and streamed endlessly into sight only to disappear back into nowhere.
But there were long, button-covered tables spread along the great central chamber where most of the screens were banked. The tables soon yielded a few clews, for the Spanish inscribed by various buttons was antique but familiar to him, having studied it in the old books in his father’s library when he was a boy and youth.
He soon determined that the ship’s power was the one he had studied in his most prized book, Applied Nuclear Physics by P. N. Breczwojkski, S.J. And he also stumbled on the source of the wisdom the ancients had used in making the ship. Striking buttons at random, red warning flashes appeared on all the screens and similar flashes ran up and down on two rows of buttons as well. Though he couldn’t know it, the status of the ship was already on Red Watchcon-1 Alert, Firing Mode 8 of 8.
Dr. Celman was disturbed by the red lights and struck at other buttons, hoping to put out the flashing lights. Though he put them out, a voice began speaking to him in Spanish, followed by an ancient English transliteration.
This is Dr. Nilsson. We wanted to terminate this entire facility, but since there is no time left to do it I am leaving a message for anyone who may survive the present disasters. Please press the alphanumeric buttons nearest you to make Rosebud LD2165, as soon as I have finished speaking, and you will receive the materials I have prepared for you. They will be wrapped for safety, and you can take them with you when you go. They are accounts, which will explain many things to you and your descendants that may be troubling to know but are, nevertheless, a true account of what has happened to the world of the 22nd Century which I, alas, inhabit. They have been prepared for any future the world may have after us, so that events in which I and my companions have figured will not be misconstrued in my enemy’s favor. I understand he has been writing something of an apologia, seeking to justify his criminal reign to future Posterity, if one should survive, and he can call it a Tennyson bibliography or anything else but it is nothing but a completely spurious Big Lie...
Dr. Celman did as he was instructed and pressed out the file code. A second later he was watching the screens turn from numbers to images, and a document suddenly was ejected into a hopper in the wall.
He went over to it, and found the transparent cover lifted at a touch. The LD2165 document was written in Old English, which he had learned as a boy, and was entitled “Marcus Chillingsworth, Life and Career of.”
Though he had no idea of who the man might be, he had no trouble following along as the screens pictured what he was reading. In the same way he pressed LD2170 and came to know all about Chillingsworth’s enslavement of the world, his last days as a world tyrant, and his government’s destruction by freedom fighters.
Now all this information meant little to Dr. Celman, but there were interesting portions that made him think of what he himself faced in B.A. under the rod of a foreign queen.
His mind reeling with all these discoveries of the ship, its nuclear mechanics, and informative screens, with the account of the 22nd Century’s great tyrant added, he was determined to take back as many documents as he could--if he should get past the Jamaicans, that is.
Finally, the review of the last document finished and the screens went back to displays of numbers.
Though incomprehensible, it was such a wonder he could not tear itself away.
Minutes later, Wally III’s voice sounded. “I have disposed of the intruders. You may go now if you desire.”
“Oh, if you don’t mind, I’ll spend a few more minutes.”
Though what he saw was beyond his understanding, Celman was a quick learner.
He went from terminal to terminal. He soon mastered several techniques of eliciting information, even to manipulating the systems to an extent.
The red flashing lights started again, and symbols for warheads and missiles appeared on a screen and a voice asked him for the release codes.
Wally III interrupted. “Dr. Celman, I have the codes but cannot release them to unauthorized personnel. And we have only one warhead available. The rest have been enhanced and deployed”
Dr. Celman sighed. “What sort of weapon is it”?”
Wally III then described a rocket that shot out of the vessel and carried explosive power equal to so many hydrogen bombs.
The information meant little to Dr. Celman, but he understood the rocket would make a big dent in its target.
Dr. Celman turned to go, but then an idea struck him. “Commander, could you send this rocket against the forces that are oppressing my country? I would like you to do that.”
“Yes, I could deploy it, Senor,” replied Wally III. “But I would have to have more information on the nature of the struggle.”
Dr. Celman then gave him the dismal account of modern Argentina and the Zoobs, bringing everything up to date with his efforts to create a republican government.
“Is that a national government?” he was asked.
“Yes, it will be the creation of a progressive, free Argentina, with a governing body elected by the highest educated citizens.”
“I am sorry, I cannot help form an illegal entity such as you describe,” replied Wally III. “National states are proscribed. You must be a part of the World Union, the only legtimate form of statism. I cannot aid you or your movement.”
Celman fell silent. He looked around.
“Whom could this facility help if it can’t help me? “
He hated to think it might fall into the hands of people like Suarez and Diana Zoob.
Determined that it wouldn’t happen, he looked for some way to make sure it never would.
“Commander,” temporized Celman. “Exactly what emergencies would shut down this facility, or impair its ability to make war?”
Wally III instantly itemized a number of emergencies that would damage and even destroy the facility.
Some emergencies were so mundane as a drop of temperature or a rise in humidity beyond a certain point. Fire, naturally, was high on the list.
“So all these mechanisms, despite their great age, are that delicate,” the doctor thought quickly. “Well, that’s just too bad for them!”
Suddenly, he knew what to do.
He had matches for his cigars, and he went to a waste basket and found paper. A moment later, he had a nice blaze.
He emptied the flaming papers out over the consoles.
Sirens blew at the same time. Water sprinklers suddenly showered the room and the fire was put out, but by then damage was done.
A number of monitors flickered and crashed.
Digitized messages detailing damage flashed across a reader board.
Dr. Celman, not waiting to be apprehended, ran into the adjoining command room and did the same to the equipment. This time he lit several waste baskets and poured the flaming contents on equipment.
This time, Celman saw, the fire he started would do even more damage before it could be put out.
Racing back down the corridor Celman got to the ladder and scrambled up to the hatch. Was he gasping for breath? Not nearly so much as earlier. All this activity was amazing for a man who had spent a relatively sedentary life in an academic cloister, yet he found it enormously to his taste. Not since his early youth had he exercised so much, but now, as a free man, he felt wonderfully invigorated instead of drained.
The ship's guardian angel broke in on him with its calm reporting voice.
“I am assessing your behavior, Dr. Celman. I cannot permit you to leave,” said Wally III. You will remain on board until damage is assessed and--
Wally III’s voice broke off, then resumed. “I am experiencing major modal systems failure--I--”
Background Cha Cha died. The electric eye worked, however. And the hatch depressurized and opened.
He leaped out like he had been spring-loaded.
There was no sign of the Jamaicans.
Best of all, their boat was tethered by rope to the ladder.
Slipping down by the rope, he got into the boat and cut himself free.
Soon he was stepping ashore.
Certain the queen and the blackguardly Canoe were conspiring to kill him on sight, Celman crept warily into town the back way. He used footpaths and alleys thieves and murderers dared not tread.
Free of the queen’s tyranny, the news quickly spread to all the people. Though the queen was gone, the government troops and palace honor guard, led by “Generalissimo” Suarez, charged out of the palace and barracks to subdue the city. Those citizens slow to show allegiance were hacked to pieces. Meeting with more and more resistance in the alleys and byways, they had turned and beat a bloody path back to the palace.
John Canoe was fortunate he had escaped all this.
He had come to Buenos Aires intending to make himself lord of all. Now he lay with pigs, hand ringless and head wigless.
A revolt, meanwhile, was in progress, as no one could hold back the great stream of events once set in motion.
Not knowing the queen was dead or that there was an uprising, John Canoe revived enough to crawl out onto the drier cobblestones. His whole body pained, but he wasn’t so much concerned about that as he was afraid he had lost his money forever.
Searching frantically in his robe pockets, he found nothing--not even a copper centavo.
A groan erupted from him. He was so anguished by his losses, he had to retrieve his money, whatever the danger to his person.
Wiping the bloody stub of his finger on his bedraggled robe, he staggered forth into what looked like a Gypsy carnival going full blast. Hearing the imperials had retired to the palace and barricaded themselves in, the people grew all the more strong. Taking the retreat as proof of weakness and their own triumph, people milled about by the hundreds, laughing, dancing, and waving little paper flags with La Calaca on them.
And now they had a leader! Someone they all recognized as one of their own, though of the highest rank, of course.
Crowds cheered as a red victory flag of La Calaca unfurled above the hotel where the peoples’ general after an appearance at the balcony, had set up headquarters for “The Grand Revolutionary Interim Government of Free Republican Argentina.”
“Free! We are free!” ecstatic throngs chanted outside the Hotel Herakles as their commander worked furiously to organize his army for the attack he knew was coming from Suarez’s forces.
Within minutes, the first major battle erupted.
For the second time, fully equipped troops stormed from the palace to make a clean sweep of all opposition. They would have succeeded, no doubt, but a most amazing thing had happened, a general had arisen among the people and had his men stationed along the imperial’s route of attack.
While the fighting went on, the rejoicing continued, and no one much noticed the mud-spattered specter that was old John Canoe of Jamaica. Unmolested in the chaos of the streets, he wandered dazedly about, looking at the excited, cheering people and the heaps of bodies.
Now that the tyrannical, money-hungry empress was gone for good, the people, formerly so listless and dispirited, were roused to violent emotion and acts of supreme bravery.
“Death to the imperials!” they cried, shaking fists at the palace or any troops that showed themselves in the streets. “Down with the oppressors!” youth and little boys cried, rushing at fully-armed imperial soldiers with wooden swords and cobblestones.
Moving through the celebrating, chanting crowds, John Canoe, still not knowing why they were so happy, remembered his mission. He must find the queen, he reasoned, and demand the return of his confiscated gold. Surely, she would not be able to keep it if she expected another loan or re-mortgage of her palace and country. All he had to do was threaten foreclosure, and she would have to listen to reason and give back the money.
As he approached the palace gate he passed fallen troops, imperials by the looks of their uniforms, who had charged the hotel on horseback but been thrown back.
The palace honor guards would not let him pass. They just stood blocking his way and utterly ignored him.
“But I need to speak to Her Royal Majesty, Queen Diana!” he protested.
When they still ignored him, he was forced back into the square.
“But where should I go?” he wondered.
Then he had an idea. Everyone was shouting about their wonderful new general. Perhaps, that was the man who he had to see to get his money. He was desperate to try and waddled across the square and went down a street.
The fire of Suarez’s mittraileuses and Gatlings had swept the street as far as the Herakles. But the other general’s commandos had returned fire and knocked them out, one by one.
Dark blue bomb smoke hung in the street where the battle had just taken place. Amazingly, Indian and Gypsy children ran back and forth through the carnage carrying little holiday La Calaca flags.
Ahead of John Canoe lay a row of dead imperials and a barricade of overturned wagons. But one imperial still manned a Gatling. There was a shot, a plume of smoke exploding from a nearby blackened window, and the imperial toppled into the gutter to the cheers of the children.
Before Canoe could go any further, some women ran out to strip the bodies of medals and finery. One he recognized in her red sequined dress and feathers.
“Thief!” he cried. “You stole my ring and money purse!”
The woman did not so much as glance at him now.
“You there, listen to me!” he cried. “I’ll have you whipped and imprisoned if you don’t!”
Utterly unnoticed, Canoe’s felt as if his sails had gone limp, leaving him like a ship dead in the water.
Bewildered, he passed by them, but they paid him no attention as they went to work.
Penniless, without his Maroons’ protection, Canoe could only think of getting to the general and presenting his claim.
Closer to the general’s headquarters he came to men heaping up dead imperials to be carted to the river.
As for the horses, they would not be wasted. Already, the starving citizenry had hacked off the flesh and left only the bones for dogs to gnaw.
“It must be a revolution!” the befuddled Canoe realized at last. “And it is ruining my investment!”
He groaned as he looked about the bullet-riddled hotel.
Clearly, he needed to speak to the rebel general and get him to stop hostilities.
This realization made him hurry, anxious to find the general before any more of his valuable property was destroyed.
Approaching guards at the entrance he demanded to be shown to the general at once.
Their eyes went right through him and he could get them to do nothing.
Shaking his fist, Canoe slipped around them and went in search of the general who was causing all the mayhem.
No one stopped him as he climbed the main staircase, his body dragging like cement.
Canoe wheezed breathlessly, leaning on the marble balustrade for a moment. Below him in the spacious lobby, rebel troops massed jowl to jowl, smoking captured cigars, cleaning captured rifles and swords, all while eagerly awaiting the command to take the offensive.
Continuing by slow stages, he made it to the top of the stairs. There in the hall he encountered a number of men in captured uniforms he took to be officers, and perhaps aide de camps of the commander.
They allowed him to approach without a glance, though he was forced to step aside when several marched right at him.
He came to a door where more armed men were stationed.
The door opened. Someone was coming out, then changed his mind but left the door open.
Going in, Canoe tried to speak to the first officers he met, but they coldly ignored him.
Astonished, Canoe could think of no protest. Fortunately, the doors to the general’s suite further in opened. He glimpsed and recognized Dr. Celman at a desk.
“No, it couldn’t be!” Canoe cried, momentarily unable to accept that so much had changed in a such a short time.
Now how could he demand compensation from his former prisoner?
Yet, he knew he hadn’t any alternative. The imperials were his enemies. Celman especially! Yet he might listen to reason, that a little mistake had been made and a re-mortgage was quite possible.
Feeling better, Canoe decided to try it, for he reasoned he had much to lose in his present situation and an equal amount to gain.
Going in to the general, who was busily signing a pile of papers, John Canoe paused, trying to look dignified and not like a cringing suppliant.
But after he had waited and the general showed no sign of recognizing his presence, Canoe could not restrain himself no longer. His reasonable words changed to outright demand.
“You, Boy!” he shrieked in Celman’s olive-skinned face. “Stop this bloody nonsense out there in the streets of my city, or I’ll have you taken into custody, do you hear?”
A pretty young woman came in, shutting the doors. Now it was just the three of them, Celman, the young woman, and Canoe.
Wearing a palace page’s captured uniform and doing more than full justice to it, she went and, resting her ample thigh on the desk, lit a fresh cigar for the general, handed it to him and giggled.
He glanced up from his work.
“Well, when will we get the million gold pesos Suarez promised we would get if we joined him in a new government?”
The sound of cheering and applause from outside the windows flooded the room momentarily.
Celman shook his head. “I doubt they have that much to give us, Colonel, after outfitting that absurd expedition. But we will take their horses as collateral. Good, we need well-fed horses, not gold at the moment. I intend to secure the outlying guard posts as soon as possible so Suarez won’t be able to encircle us in this new ‘government’.”
“Why not just shoot him like the criminal he is and form the government yourself, General? We are all waiting for that. After all, the only reason they don’t want to fight us anymore is that they know they will lose.”
Celman smiled up at her with eyes in which introspective dreaminess had completely lost out to keenness. “I will shoot him, but at the right moment. Right now it’s to our advantage to use them. Another battle would just kill a lot of fine horses!”
“Oh, you are a genius--and handsome too!” cried the young woman. “It’s too bad my ugly husband is still alive. Isn’t there some position you could put old Frederico where he might meet with a little bullet--P”
Thoroughly enjoying a life of action, Celman’s acute eyes gleamed merrily. “Of course, I think I know just where he would fit best. He can lead the first detachment out to attack those Indians who took over the post at Tucumen and Rosario. It ought to be a good, stiff fight and many men and officers like your good husband maybe will meet with a little bullet or two!”
The two laughed together. The young lady took the general’s cigar and took a puff, then put it back between the general’s smiling lips.
Desperate to break in on the conversation, Canoe went to Celman’s side, to compel the little Argentine’s attention.
As he reached to grasp the general’s uniform he saw something besides Celman had changed. His remaining nine fingers! Instead of fingernails, they sprouted heads of serpents!
Staggering back away from the general, Canoe stared at his serpentine hands. Beside himself in terror, he fell toward the windows. He was bleating in African Ewe.
He held out his hands. The hideous white, black-striped serpents were bigger than ever. They fanned the air in front of his belly with diamond-shaped heads and darting tongues.
Stumbling to get away from them, Canoe fell backwards through the wall. And he kept falling. Falling.
While the victorious general-for-a-day completed last negotiations with the imperials and got the desired horses, an event took place in the flagship submarine, Eva Invictus.
Fire damage accomplished what no amount of counter-intelligence could have achieved without the right codes. Impulses streaked to the right circuits without anyone having to sign in the codes. At that moment, all that was required to launch the fleet’s remaining warhead was an asterisk.
A red beam, shooting through the hull of the Eva, supplied it.
The triggered warhead and missile were discharged. Hurtled heavenwards, it might have been able to deflect one in-coming comet, but it turned and plummeted on target, which happened to be Buenos Aires, pre-programmed for an expected revolt from the long-dead world empire of Dr. Marcus Chillingsworth.
The Super H-bomb exploded in the air above B.A., living village and dead megalopolis.
In the beginning, there was a single white dot, so small it could not be seen by any human eye. Released, it flew and struck another dot, which split in twain and reddened to flame, which struck other dots until all were striking each other in every direction, creating a shape of a gigantic flowering of radiant rose colors.
Drawn away from the eastern front by the swelling, high-stemmed cloud in the west, a blue butterfly, lone and grieving, darted into the reddening circle of flaming dots, trying to send them back to their former positions, but it grew impossible, even to a Cray like Wally IV.
“Wally III! Please report!”
He was forced to fly to a safe distance, lest he too be split into tiny dots and burn to ash.
An all-devourer, the cloud thundered into the sky, as 25th Century brick and adobe and 22nd Century crystal melted the same as human hair and bone and flesh. Everything melted and burned in the ascending furnace, in a river of agony cascading upwards.
Into the burning, twirling Rio de las Muertos poured a myriad of things, human and vegetable, mind and soul, ordinary and strange--including the ziis of the brave lady in the red sequined dress and a Jamaican zombie, along with the ideal republic and a philosopher-king turned Judas, not to mention the papers of Dr. Pikkard, Wally III and an obsession for Cha Cha.
Such a fighting stance sent a signal to OP, which, by the looks of things, had the game wrapped up.
Comets, SAWBH, Nova and Supernova, not to mention plague and a hydrogen bombing, were formidable last plays on the board.
Ordinarily, they should have provided a checkmate, capping off a winning series that stretched all the way back to two ships and iceberg in the North Atlantic.
Giving the last operative Cray the benefit of a doubt, a flash of red pierced the sky over the Black Lake in South America’s heartland, just ahead of the in-coming Custer comet.
Garcia struggled out through smashed timbers and pieces of iron hull and put his head up into the light. He saw that not only was the water down at least two feet along the shore but the ship was thrown over on its side and dragged up on the jagged tosca reef.
He climbed and stood on a wall of the wheelhouse and peered down into wreckage-strewn water. Salvage of the New Atlantis was, he saw, out of the question. The reef had stripped and gouged away the hull all along its length.
As he watched, a long, dark, wavy-shaped creature glided into the watery hold. A gleam of white also caught his eye. The prow of a lifeboat! Still tethered to its long rope, it bobbed in a shaft of light before moving back out of sight.
It cost him to reach the rope. Drawing it, he pulled the craft out.
Then he called out. As the name of each expeditionary floated through the charmed, utterly still air, it began to seem hopeless when he finally got to Orfeo and no one had answered.
Garcia’s chin dropped to his breast and his eyes closed for several minutes. His closed eyes streamed and his hands clenched and reclenched on the boat’s rope.
Finally, he climbed down into the boat.
Rowing, he drew near to shore. There, near sodden, swelling masses of washed-up vegetation, he glimpsed a mass of bones.
Garcia stopped and stared at them, then crossed himself several times.
Hurled from the decks and drowned, they had met the usual fate of any animal in tropical waters. He could tell at a glance, from the bits of clothing, all of them--the artiste, cartographer, engineer-helmsman, captain, commander, historian, and mining engineers--had perished. And with them had gone, he knew, all possibility of saving Queen Diana’s debt-wracked kingdom.
Now utter darkness was assured, he reflected. Buenos Aires, perhaps the world’s last city, would collapse. Then the light of civilization, poor and flickering though it was, would go out, just as the ancient University of Lima, after nine centuries, turned away students, let Dr. Celman and other faculty go, and closed its doors.
He rowed toward the water passage egressing to the outside world and was almost there when a blue butterfly alit on the prow.
After the flood had passed over the New Atlantis, Orfeo dragged up upon the beach. Some persistent piranha still clung to him as he crawled to the edge of a mountain of tangled vines at the shoreline.
There he collapsed and lay for some time. During unconsciousness, warm rains washed over his gashed body, but he felt nothing. Then a miasma steamed up from the ground beneath him, which made him feel cold.
Finally, the first scream of a bird shook the artiste out of his black night.
Orfeo tried to move. Huddled in a tight knot, he panicked when his limbs refused orders. But soon he was able to crawl a bit. He rose up on all fours.
Orfeo groaned. He shouted, but his voice made only bird-like rasps.
He staggered down to the shore, for suddenly he felt a raging thirst. There he discovered the shoal of white, clean-picked bones. A school of piranha turned away from them and snapped at his bleeding feet. Though forced from the water, he saw an image, a shocking glimpse of something wild and naked.
For a moment the life left his body as he stood looking stupefied by what he had become.
“No!” he cried, but his throat only whistled horribly.
Holding his bruised, matted head, he let his first tears stream down his cheeks.
But they burned the cuts on his face with salt. Wiping his eyes, he looked out for a sign of the ship, hoping against hope it had not blown too far from shore.
Then he saw it, and again life left his body. In its doomed condition he read his own fate, written plain in smashed timbers and ripped iron hull, all torn to ribbons and strewn across what had been, before the disaster, a sunken reef.
That hideous laughter he had heard in the midst of the storm and flood--it echoed in his ears even now! It was a devil, he thought, mocking poor, lost man in his misery.
Feeling totally helpless and crushed, Orfeo again began to weep, but his eyes had run dry, and instead he jerked with spasms that only hurt his badly bruised rib-cage. Yet he heard the sound of a man moaning for help, and realized, startled, that he had got his voice back.
What should he do now? he wondered. He could think of no reason to hope he would ever get out of such a mess. Without the ship and a gun, he was at the mercy of wild beasts, and if he was not eaten, he would surely starve or die from his wounds.
Then he realized how naked and vulnerable a man was without civilized things. Before, he had always liked removing as many clothes as possible. Now as prey, nakedness terrified him.
Suddenly, he felt there was nothing more important than finding something to wear. Anything at all would serve to make him feel a man again. After all, he wasn’t an animal! he thought.
For some reason, he could not bring himself to touch the clothing tangled among the bones.
The apparel afloat in the water would do, and he hurried to take a long branch and fish for the first thing at hand. After some difficulty, he snagged something. Drawing it out, he discovered a pair of drawers of red satin, which he would have recognized as M. Barbiere’s except that the cartographer had been too fastidious to allow his cabinmates to see him undressing.
He put them on.
Now a shirt!
He tried again and was more successful, for this time he brought forth Quijarro’s expeditionary coat. Stripped of buttons, medals, and epaulets, it was still serviceable, and Orfeo drew it on, wet as it was. Though the arms were much too short, the length was a compensation, for pulled together it afforded the cover his drawers lacked.
His nakedness decently covered, it seemed to his fevered mind he might ultimately reach civilization after all--Buenos Aires, City of Fair Winds and Fair Women!
Despite fever and pain in his body from many wounds, he began busily to gather lianas so he might lash together a raft of logs in order to reach the ship’s stores. With some food and medical supplies, he would stand a much better chance of surviving a long trip downriver by raft to Asuncion.
Something glittered whitely in the corner of his eye. He looked across the water, but he could not make it out. Suddenly, however, he saw again a distinct spot of light glowing in the direction of the glyphs. Squinting, he thought he saw the flash of tiny, white oars.
For a moment, he did not react. Then he grabbed a palm branch and hobbled along the shore. When he fell he struggled back to his feet, waving and roaring with a return of the horrid, rasping sound for a human voice.
Vines, brush, branches, thorns, he rushed though it all, and his clothes and flesh were slashed. A boat! Who could it be? Who?
Soon he collapsed, exhausted. He lay without hope, until the back of his head grew so heated he was forced to get up. Uncontrollable thirst drove him back to the sunken shoreline for another drink.
He let himself drop and painfully gulped the sickening, warm brew. Once so refreshingly cool, the flood had turned the entire lake tepid, it seemed
His right forearm stung. If a flaming brand had struck his flesh, it would not have pained him worse. He brushed his arm furiously, until a tiny, black scorpion dropped away to hide beneath a palm branch.
His mind reeling from the poisons of his diminutive foe, Orfeo sank back to the black sand in his tattered finery. He knew at that moment he would die for certain if he did not get back to his feet.
Retching, he disgorged the water, which steamed on the ground. He rose, holding his swelling arm, which hung in his grasp. His mind about to go any moment, he started to drag himself away, knowing his life depended on getting away as far as possible from the Lago Negro before nightfall.
Stunned by his multiple calamities, he wondered seriously if it would be better to drop and die. What woman would want him now? He was reduced to a wretched animal, like the single survivor of an ancient expedition Barbiere had described.
Recalling that jaguars came out at dusk, Orfeo found he still had the instincts of a living man. He forgot all about La Boca’s women. Sheer terror drove him to try to escape.
He was still struggling through almost impassable thorn-bush, strangler vines, and mangroves when a blue butterfly set down on a branch in front of him.
“No, not you again!” rasped Orfeo. “Why don’t you go and drive someone else mad?”
“You have a friend who wants to help you. Will you listen to me?”
“Who can help me? I’m a dead man. Now leave me alone! You make me think I’ve lost my mind! But I know you can’t exist!”
“Oh, you will find I am real enough for the purpose. And if you will hear me, Dr. Garcia is coming in a boat and should be here in a few minutes.”
Orfeo, however, could not wait. The scorpion had done its work well. He slowly collapsed where he stood.
“Orfeo!” the artiste heard someone cry, though he could not respond. “Villa-Lobos!”
“He is no longer breathing. Do you have something for him?” another voice said.
The stricken man felt a blow on his upper chest, then a strange, fiery sensation that spread, like the scorpion’s sting, through his body.
“Strychnine is very dangerous, but it will revive him until we can get more medicine.”
Orfeo felt arms gripping his body, pulling him to his feet. Together they began to stumble through the jungle.
The artiste’s eyes jostled open. He glimpsed blurry foliage and trunk-sized liana vines, then a head of white hair.
“Orfeo, you’ve got to help more, or we’ll never make it!” gasped a white-haired apparition with Dr. Garcia’s voice.
“What happened to your hair?” rasped Orfeo. It’s all white!”
“But, Orfeo, you must try to move your legs. My strength is not enough for both of us.”
Orfeo made a supreme effort to get going on his own and took a faltering step.
“That’s better. Oh, what’s that?”
Something reverberating across the sky neared in a blinding surge of light.
“The comet I could not deflect,” said the butterfly, as Orfeo’s eyes shot open under the intense light and saw Wally IV suspended before him and Dr. Garcia.
At first they thought they would be utterly consumed in the fiery dragon of light, but it seemed to falter a degree or two in its trajectory, then there was a noise as if the world had come to an end.
“It just melted the glacial shield in the mountains. We must hurry. We must get inside the mountain immediately. The shock wave will be here in less than two minutes, then the water and rubble from the impact will run over this entire area and merge with the Atlantic in--”
Orfeo, hearing this as he revived, desperately tried to regain use of a rag-doll body. Fortunately, the strychnine was working and he felt a sudden surge of new strength.
“I can walk by myself now!” he gasped to Dr. Garcia, who let him go.
“We don’t have time to walk,” said the doctor. “I’m afraid we will have to run!”
The butterfly-dragoman leading, they made for the Crystal Mountain.
As they scrambled up the slopes as best they could, they could already sense a regional change, even a continental-sized alteration as the sky darkened and lightning flashed. Gusts of wind began to rip through and flatten the forests. Behind the wind there was a thunderous roar, as of an ocean coming.
As Orfeo glanced back he saw, face to face, the thing the comet had unleashed.
Millions of trees, blown out of the ground by the wind, were tumbling along in front of towering walls of water.
“How could there be so much water in ice and snow?” he idly wondered as the churning floodwaters rolled closer and closer.
In a few seconds the Black Lake and the Crystal Mountain, he realized, would be buried in an avalanche of water and rubble.
The sight hypnotized him, draining the will to go on.
But he felt a fierce yank on his swollen arm.
Awakened from his trance, the artiste fought his way upwards after Dr. Garcia. They passed the damaged spot where, unknown to them, the grand administrative tower of the facility had once hung anchored in geo-stationary orbit.
Thanks to strychnine and sheer terror, they reached the spot where the butterfly waited.
Suddenly, a beam shot from the butterfly and the whole side of the mountain began to shudder and roar.
A 2,000-ton steel door decompressed and slid aside. Plantlife and mud avalanched into the opened tunnel in the mountain side.
Crystal flashed blindingly from the gaping hole.
“Hurry in, and I will shut the entrance airlock,” said the butterfly.
Tumbling, crawling, mostly tumbling, the men descended the slope of debris into the facility.
Outside a roaring cyclone grew so deafening they thought the butterfly would not get the doors shut in time and they would be drowned and buried.
“Hey, what’s the problem up there?” Orfeo yelled.
“There’s too many trees and branches in the way!” cried Dr. Garcia. “He cannot get the door closed!”
They looked back. They saw the real problem, and it wasn’t mud, trees, and vines.
But what was it?
A flaring red spark had joined the butterfly in the portal and circled, accompanied by a raging wind that grew worse with each passing second.
“What is that?” Dr. Garcia shouted to Orfeo.
Orfeo just shook his head and watched, unable to tear his astonished eyes off the strangest scene he had ever encountered.
Nearly flattened by the wind, the men felt something else--waves of superhuman power and ferocity that threatened to snuff their lives out right on the spot.
Unknown to the men, it was time for Wally’s wild card. Just as the floods from the glaciers cascaded down, a slender beam from the butterfly shot out and flew toward his far-off base in Tutasix.
A most powerful woman’s voice suddenly cut into the midst of the cataclysm. The glowing red spot stopped orbiting and flew off at a sharp angle.
The door slammed shut, just as the first great waterfalls of rock, ice, water and mud crashed down on the mountain and the lake.
Explosions of sound, concussions and reverberations took over. The whole mountain, the continent, and the Earth itself, began to shake as they would blow apart beneath the men’s feet.
Overwhelmed, Garcia and Villa-Lobos collapsed, helplessly staring at each other. There was nothing to be done but wait.
And it was but the beginning.
“We must proceed without delay,” said the butterfly to the shaking men. “We must move the planet immediately. There are many more comets coming in a few minutes. We have just had a mere foretaste of what they can do. Much worse is in store. The planet cannot maintain its integrity much longer.”
But Dr. Garcia had something he had to do first.
He got to his knees.
The artiste turned on the doctor. “Nothing can help us now, Padre! You might as well curse our fate and die! So why pray?”
Garcia finished and rose.
He looked around and saw signs that a savage battle, long ago, had been fought there at the entrance. The walls were scorched black and blown open, revealing pipes and crystal. Uniformed skeletons lay scattered about.
A reader board nearest them still worked and flashed a digitized “Quark Unit Interstellar Propulsion Plant--All Personnel and Authorized Visitors With Security Clearance Must Suit Up and Wear Booties.” Without stopping to put on the required gear, spared deadly security scanning knocked out in that long-ago raid, they followed Wally IV.
“Why must you call me padre?” Dr. Garcia gasped to Orfeo as they ran, passing more uniformed skeletons. “You know I am not a practicing priest. Are you just taunting me? Any man can pray and seek God if he chooses.”
“Curses are a poor man’s bread!” Orfeo sneered. “Prayers are for the pious rich!”
The butterfly led them through airlocks, each opening at his beam of light.
In one corridor a crack ripped through the concrete and ceramic floor and water was oozing into the corridor, then spouting up in a geyser. It happened so quickly they just had time to get through another airlock and shut it or they would have been swept away.
Lights flickered in another corridor and sirens wailed.
“We will be safe against the flooding in the main turbine room. I see both of you are in need of emergency medical and food supplies,” the butterfly said. “Fresh stocks can be generated with formulae at the clinic just inside the next airlock.”
Finally, the last airlock squeezed shut. The men found themselves on a broad, tracked roadway, a clinic to one side and a blackened, bomb-blasted security-reception and computer center on the other. The heaps of uniformed dead stopped here, personal effects strewn as if a bomb had scattered them.
Orfeo’s eye was caught by the glint of gold. He stooped to snatch a neck chain from the floor. It held a gold filigree rose. Fortunately, the chain was not damaged. He put it on and looked about and found a ring with an elephant incised in a green stone. Eagerly, he searched for more treasure. But, Garcia was beckoning, and he had to go.
They hurried up the ramp after Wally. Beyond loomed gold arc lights and cathedral-sized dynamos ranged in a line as far as they could see. There was no sign of further damage.
The butterfly did not wait for them to look around but sped directly toward a small black box on a black crystal pedestal. At the base was taped an armed explosive powerful enough to destroy it and the entire array of turbines, but its digital clock was harmlessly running backwards.
Gasping for breath, hardly able to stand, the men came up and sank down on chairs in the engineers’ control center.
“Please make yourself comfortable,” said Wally. “Those will be your battle stations for the duration of the voyage.”
Orfeo combed his hair back with his hands and admired his gold rose necklace. The doctor held a hand pressed to his own heaving chest, then took out a handkerchief and moped his brow.
As time was short, Wally briefly explained things.
“Though the external administrative wing of the facility was blown up by terrorists, security forces inside the mountain succeeded in disarming the devices that would have blown this room up too. It was the main objective of its attackers, but except for the Facility Cray all we need for the project has survived. Quark turbines are operative, as you should know after losing your ship in a periodic maintenance flush of the coolant system. Power is adequate to send this planet as far as we wish, but I cannot activate them unless I have the encoded data in this box. And before I can use the record I must have your VNC, voiceprint notarized cooperation.”
“Do you really intend to move the Earth?” said Dr. Garcia, shock tightening his features as he jumped up from his chair. “Has God given you the right?”
Orfeo’s face also lost nearly all its color. He glanced at the turbines, then at the butterfly, and finally back to the doctor.
“Doctor,” he cried, “listen to him! He may be trying to save us. I wouldn’t listen on the ship and nearly died for it!”
He jerked a thumb toward the turbines. “Perhaps, the ancients were not so stupid! Just look, padre! You see what I see! Perhaps they did create machines that can fly us and the Earth to the stars!”
Dr. Garcia shook his head doggedly. “I cannot agree unless I know Almighty God is directing such a thing. Even if our beloved Earth--”
Orfeo shrugged and turned to the butterfly. “Oh, forget the holy fool! I say we do it!”
“I am sorry, “ replied Wally IV, “According to the provisions of the governing ‘Protocol, ” Section Ten, Paragraph Four, Item 3, we must have a consensus of all present participating players, or I cannot proceed.”
Orfeo threw his hair back and struck his already damaged hand against the chair’s armrest. “Then we’ll all die down here like rats! Just think, Padre, no more hunting, fishing, and pretty women!”
Dr. Garcia sat down and suddenly put his hands over his eyes. “Wait! Something just came to me, not from the Holy Book, but an ancient Roman.”
“Well, what is it, Padre? Do you agree with moving the world?” cried the impatient artiste.
The doctor, dropping his hands, was very pale. But there was wonder in his voice as he quoted Seneca’s “There will be another Typhis, another Argo to bear chosen heroes. Maybe this is it! The Earth itself!”
Orfeo burst out laughing. He looked at his mismatched clothing and muddy, bare feet, then at the equally disheveled, grizzle-headed doctor, and finally at their butterfly mentor. It made him laugh all the more.
“But we don’t look like heroes, or like the ancient Argonauts!” he gasped, worn out and also hurt from all his laughing.
“Then you agree to the project?” said the butterfly to the doctor. “I know the source you have referred us to. I could have quoted it but I am prevented from influencing any player’s decision.”
Dr. Garcia sighed. “I suppose it is my seminary training. I would prefer a holy scripture or a church scholar to a pagan sage, but, yes, I will concur, though I too am at a loss to see how I fit the prophecy as a ‘chosen hero’.”
He gazed about with astonished eyes, particularly toward the butterfly.
“For how can I ask the old prophets of the Holy Book to confirm what no man could have grasped with his frail human mind, even though his eyes looked upon it? You are our Earth’s savior? A butterfly! Or so you appear. I cannot but think how reduced we must be from our original proud estate in the Garden of Eden to come to such dependence--on a mere butterfly! I don’t wish to offend you saying so, but it is especially humbling to citizens of such a formerly great nation and civilization as Argentina! From the books I’ve read, we used to have millions of people, churches, convents, charitable orders, schools, factories, farms, ranches, ships beyond counting--though there is little or no sign of such prosperity in my time!”
The mountain shook as if it would split apart--an earthquake of 9.7 magnitude.
“In that case, I may proceed,” replied the butterfly matter-of-factly as the facility rocked on its giant 1,000 ton steel springs and shock absorbers.
Meanwhile, the comets refused to wait for men to make up or change their minds at the last moment. Another, even larger than Custer, struck Europe out of existence. Others exploded on Asia and Africa, doing the same for them. Australia next vaporized. The planet convulsed as the crust and plates comprising the continents broke up and began to swirl in the last stage of a planet’s disintegration.
Hearing and feeling the latest comets struck a note of finality that made both men shudder.
Now that the process could not be reversed, Orfeo began to have sudden second thoughts. He rose up in his chair, at the same moment the doctor was rising in his.
Wally IV immediately beamed into the black box. A second later, panels sprang up from the floor, enclosing the men and the emergency archives node box.
“I am now the operative Cray in this facility,” announced the butterfly to men, now too astonished to protest any further.
“Now, since you the representatives of Earth agreed to it, I will begin evacuation procedures, but you must strap yourselves into the chairs. This facility was kept secret, intended to relocate the Earth in the most extreme emergency of a 'Terra-Crossing Cometary Challenge,' but it suffered too much damage in a raid and was never used. I may be able to adapt it to our present need.”
The butterfly vanished before they could protest.
“Hey, come back!” Orfeo shouted.
“If you don’t mind, Wally V,” replied a voice in mid-air, “I have work to do.”
Orfeo collapsed back into his chair, thrown there by the heaving floor.
“Hey, Padre,” said Orfeo as he hung for dear life to his chair.
“Yes, my son?”
“Ha, so you admit to being one after all!”
“No, I am just tired of your little game. But it is not a game to play, my son. Some things in life are serious.”
Orfeo said nothing, but stared at Dr. Garcia.
“Why are you looking at me that way?” the doctor asked.
Orfeo closed his eyes. “I was thinking. How much of the holy life you must know at your advanced age. I, a youth, know nothing.”
Dr. Garcia looked surprised at him. “But you were laughing and heaping scorn on religion a moment ago! You are, indeed, a young man of quick temperament.”
Suddenly, Orfeo’s eyes shot open. He seemed to be seeing something, as his pupils widened.
Dr. Garcia would not have said anything, but Orfeo’s face began to drip with tears.
“Orfeo, what is wrong?” Dr. Garcia broke in gently and put his hand on the artiste’s arm.
Orfeo wrenched his arm away.
“My friend, what is it?” the doctor insisted. “I think I know why you aren’t a priest!” Orfeo snarled. “You’re really just like the rest of us.”
The doctor dropped his eyes and put his hands over his face.
“Yes! But Orfeo, I was young and thought I could live the holy life of my vows. I thought I had the strength and zeal to do it. But I--”
Orfeo turned to face him, self-reproach in his face. “No, I am wrong. You are not the same as us. I have been watching you, hoping you would call me Gypsy or get angry or do something that would show what a fraud you are. But you have the power of God! You really do!”
Orfeo flung himself out of the chair and at the astonished doctor’s feet.
“Tell me, how you got the power of God to be as you are! Tell me!”
The older man spoke very quietly, and finally Orfeo went back to his own chair.
Dr. Garcia had a hard time not staring at the artiste. Never had he seen a man of such habits change so fast before his eyes. He was a different Orfeo already.
But something else was radically, irrevocably changing--a world and its Sun!
The problem was that they could see too much change on the video display screens.
Garcia’s attention was drawn to watch Custer rampage, the cascade of water and giant boulders racing over land as far as the seacoast after the collision in the Cordilleras.
Orfeo sat up straight in his chair and observed the latest in-coming comets devastate the Earth’s surface.
It was so terrible both men could hardly bear to look. As comets struck the crust and plunged twenty five miles or more into the mantle, first there was the pluming of fragments high into the air, with lightning forking from towering, mesocyclonic dust clouds.
Thanks for the shielding crystal mountain, the two men could witness the destruction unscathed, but their knees shook as they tried in vain to keep up with events unfolding at incredible speed.
Mountains and plateaus, buoyed up by upwelling, superheated gases, suddenly jutted out of the mid-Atlantic, the crust buckling upwards on another screen. Seas erupted so high on impacts that huge gouts of water and rock flew into orbit around the badly wobbling globe.
Yet another screen revealed a truly strange thing. Gleaming at the mouth with what seemed to be captured stars, something was sucking up all the whirling gas, dust and rock of exploded planets as it moved toward the Galaxy’s single remaining star and tiny, blue-green satellite.
Neither man could know he was looking for the first time at a Black Hole. Instead, a more spectacular sight claimed attention.
“Is that our Sun?” burst out Orfeo, his face agonized as he pointed. “What has happened?”
Dr. Garcia was aghast. Where the Sun had been, now a monstrous, flaring incandescence swept across an entire screen.
They had to shield their eyes with their hands. Quickly, the other screens that pictured the Earth revealed lakes and seas boiling and steaming off into space. Earth, trailing long clouds, burned and blackened in the glare of the fiery monster.
The realization broke on both men at the same time, apparently. In their eyes as they looked at each other was dawning despair.
Orfeo started to cross himself, then stopped.
“It’s too late. We’re going to burn up! God has not answered your prayers. We are finished, Father!”
Wally IV shot into view--a blazing, torchlike blue that shone even bluer against the screens blazing with the fires of the supernova.
“Launch!” declared the butterfly as he beamed the command into the system.
The physical sum of 6.6 sextillion tons of scorched and comet-riddled planet shuddered in orbit as the turbines began to thrust.
The men suddenly found the floor tilting slightly and beneath them springs and shock absorbers groaned with tremendous stresses.
Despite being strapped in, they both grabbed at their chairs and, mercifully, passed out.
Meanwhile, screens fell dark, except one that showed a rapidly receding flare that was the agony of SN2457 A along with a horde of a million comets in convergence with a planet that suddenly vanished directly ahead of them.
Past Hercules, Indus, and Ton Galactic Superclusters, now 5.6 billion light-years from SN2457 A, the great second ARGO flew into the outer Universe.
Then at 7.3 billion light years the quarkship neared a supercluster, 3C 295, and began to slow for approach. At that point Mahalia broke out with “Amazing Grace.”
Penetrating one of the galaxies, centering on one point of light, at last the planet came to rest in orbit around a stellar gas cloud.
Captain Wally had purposely steered away from the galaxy’s two hundred or so billions of suitable G-compatible stars like that of the Earth’s lost Sun.
“At least, if OP follows us here, a cloud is not so easily blown up,” reasoned the Cray. It was an unpleasant thought, but he had to consider the possibility.
With the Earth in orbit and gradually thawing out, the Cray could relax, if that could be said of a supercomputer.
The voyage successfully completed, his ship safe in harbor and riding at its gravitational anchor, the captain flew outside the facility to look around. With the atmosphere either stripped away or still frozen, smoking craters everywhere, his vessel showed a most urgent need of extensive repair after its strategic retreat, but something else gave him pause.
“Oh, not you again!” Wally blurted out.
The Opposing Player winked on for a billionth of a second, but that was enough.
Indeed, they had been followed! The Wargame was still operative!
Wally immediately wondered what new moves were already on the board. Knowing the Enemy’s tactics, he was certain no time had been wasted.
Yet there was a more sobering fact to consider. It was obvious to him now that the Opposing Player never gave up or surrendered. That meant it had to be utterly defeated, not just bested in a single battle. But what could defeat it? Whatever it was, it had shown itself the most slippery, elusive thing in the Universe.
Yet, as Wally IV waited, nothing worse happened than had already occurred. Earth continued to orbit peacefully around its new energy source as though it had always done so.
“Will there be a breathing space after all?” the Cray wondered. “Perhaps, the Opposing Player has to plot new strategy now that we are in a vastly different location. But how long will it be before the next move? The Opposing Player had eliminated the Solar System and the Sun, and nearly finished the Earth and Moon. The Milky Way Galaxy no doubt was next to be destroyed. And--the Moon?”
Wally realized, with a start, he had forgotten the Moon in the heat of last minute moves on the board. Now he had no idea where it was.
With no Moon, the Earth’s oceans and lakes would be tideless-an unthinkable change. He realized he needed to do something--and soon.
But where was he going to get a Moon of the right size? And how?
A turbine from the Crystal Mountain facility could be used to bring one in from somewhere in 3C 295, only the freight entrance was buried too deep for a turbine to be extracted, even if it were completely disassembled.
Where would he get another quark engine?
That, he reflected, was a real problem. It had taken over two thousand years of Earth’s slow growth from barbarism to the Crystal Age to finally produce one.
Yet men inside the mountain facility--one still much in need of medical attention--were waking from their dreams. Practical considerations drew the butterfly-captain back indoors. Besides, there was much explaining to do, since the Cray knew he had told the men very little of what needed to be said.
After showing Dr. Garcia the medical supply machines and diagnostic instruments, he left them while Dr. Garcia treated Orfeo and himself. At every step, voices came out and issued instructions, so there was very little to be confused about.
Twenty minutes later, Wally IV returned, having made a circuit of the planet and a comprehensive map of the damage. It was as he had expected. And Tutasix? His facility, except for some water seepage, had come through in remarkably good shape. What puzzled him, however, was that the Opposing Player had never bothered to knock out his facility and eliminate him from the Game.
“Perhaps,” thought Wally “it wants to finish the Game without taking such obvious advantage, so as to prove that it is superior and wins strictly on its own merit, not through a lot of hedging and cheating.”
It was a generous, sportsmanlike thing to think anyway.
Feeling much better after extensive treatment, Orfeo listened intently to all the butterfly had to say on his return
The men learned Earth’s atmosphere was rapidly renewing as it steamed up from miles-thick crust of ice and snow in which it was trapped. Though the whole globe was presently wrapped in thick clouds, Noahic rains would soon wash a hole in the sky so light could get through. Before long, the star cloud would melt most of the ice and warm the earth. And with light and warmth people who had hidden away in caves would no doubt sense a new day had dawned and it was safe to come out.
Of course, riddled with gigantic comet craters, they would find the Earth very different from what they remembered. Three continents had broken up and sunk, taking many lives. North America had split apart in the Mississippian River Basin and Rocky Mountains region. An ocean had flowed in and the continent the Indians called “Big Turtle Island” was now two island continents.
Vegetation had all but perished and the stripped land was covered with rubble and downed trees. Humanity would find it hard to breathe for a time, for the air was thin and lacking much oxygen. At sea level it would be like standing at 14, 000 feet. Worse than gasping for air, the star cloud was hotter than the Sun had been, which meant far more desert wildernesses in the future. It was going to take a lot of adjustment, with constant, withering that could reach 150 degrees at midday.
“Will there be any animals?” Orfeo had to ask.
“Perhaps,” said Wally IV. He then told them about Coxie’s Gigantic 3-Ring Circus, which had gone into hiding in the Azores. The islands, of course, were no longer what they had been. Coxie and his performers and circus animals would crawl out of their mountain cave redoubt only to discover a vast new arena for their performances--a new continent had risen around them.
All this, with no Moon, no other planets, and no Sun of the type they had known!
It was so much change the men felt great dismay at first.
“This is, indeed, a new world, “ observed the doctor gravely. “But I see it is a more difficult one than mankind has ever had to face.”
Wally IV added a few details on how to use an emergency passage out of the mountain, then vanished on another errand.
After the lecture on how things stood with them, the men were silent for some moments. Then Orfeo turned to Dr. Garcia.
“What are you praying?”
“Just something from the Holy Book. A psalm of encouragement for a time of great danger and tremendous challenge.”
“Then pray it so I can hear!”
“Indeed, you have changed!” observed the doctor.
He began the 23rd Psalm and quoted with so much feeling he was barely able to finish.
Afterwards, the artiste looked at the older man with gleaming eyes. “I like the sound of that, as far as it goes, though I would like to be followed by some pretty women, not just goodness and mercy.”
The artiste began to move toward the far-off emergency exit at the rear of the turbines, for Wally had told them the way in was totally blocked with fallen rock and ice.
Dr. Garcia looked doubtful.
“You’re just been treated and are still in no condition to go out there now. Neither is the Earth ready, from what we’ve just been told!”
The artiste kept moving, limping determinedly in his scarlet rags and green bandages. “But I’m going if I have to dig a way out with my bare hands! Father, are you coming with me? “
He turned and gave the older man a wink. “I’m going to find two good women for us if I have to search the whole world!”
Dr. Garcia smiled. Even in tattered coat and short pants, nothing could disguise qualities that made Orfeo the ladies’ man of La Boca.
“But I think I can get on as I am now. Just look at my head, how white it’s become! Do you think any woman would want such an old lover, whose very hair testifies that he is acquainted with grief and trouble? That’s not what women want to marry! No, they are attracted to someone like you.”
Orfeo laughed. “All right then, I’ll find one for you with white hair to match, who has gone through some hard times and prefers a man with some knowledge of suffering. Now are you coming?”
So they started for the emergency shaft Wally had told them about.
They started up the road, and had nearly reached it when Indian women suddenly surrounded them with sharp planting sticks.
“What?” Orfeo cried. “Wally didn’t tell us about them!” The artiste flashed a smile and held out his gold chain and rose as bait toward one of the youngest. That was as far as he got. And older, white-haired female warrior jabbed at him, just missing his head with the point of her stick.
“My son, I think we better do exactly as they say,” whispered Dr. Garcia as he crossed himself.
“Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking, Padre,” sighed Orfeo, running his tongue over his upper lip.