ALEXANDER KAZANTSEV. THE DESTRUCTION OF FAENA
Translated by Alex Miller
RADUGA PUBLISHERS MOSCOW
Translation from the Russian
Illustrated and designed by Mikhail Verkholantsev
Original Russian title: ГИБЕЛЬ ФАЭНЫ
На английском языке
(c)Издательство "Детская литература" 1974
English translation (c)Raduga Publishers 1989
From the author
Part One. Tension
Chapter One. The Wave
Chapter Two. Two Shores
Chapter Three. The Masters
Chapter Four. The Temple of Eternity
Chapter Five. Blood
Chapter Six. No Happiness in this World
Chapter Seven. The Forgotten Hump
Part Two. Explosion
Chapter One. The Little World
Chapter Two. The Golden Apple
Chapter Three. Paradise Lost
Chapter Four. At the Peak of Civilisation
Chapter Five. Craters in the Wilderness
Chapter Six. Judgement
Chapter Seven. The Star of Hatred
Part Three. Fragments
Chapter One. Twilight
Chapter Two. Mutiny in Space
Chapter Three. In the Name of Reason
Chapter Four. Spiders in Jar
Chapter Five. The Naked Leader
Chapter Six. The Testament of the Great Elder
Epilogue. The Talking Beast
From the author
Cosmogony is no less full of riddles than the history of Earth. And where there are riddles, there is room for fantasy. However, if it is divorced from reality and rejects verisimilitude and authenticity, fantasy is empty, it leaves no trace in the heart; the best it can do is to titillate the reader's senses. But I have always wanted to achieve "authenticity in the incredible", to write fantasy founded solely on real facts and unsolved mysteries.
One such riddle that excited me was the ring of asteroids (minor planets) between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter instead of the planet, as predicted by Kepler's law, which had exploded for some unknown reason, scattering fragments all round its orbit. How could that have happened?
If the planet had exploded from within because of certain processes, its fragments would have flown in all directions as from a high-explosive bomb and would have continued moving round the sun in elongated elliptical orbits... But they are moving round in their former almost circular planetary orbit. If the planet had perished because of a collision with another cosmic body, their common fragments would have tended towards a resultant, also acquiring elongated elliptical orbits; but they have virtually stayed where they were.
The planet apparently cracked as the result of a powerful impact received simultaneously from all directions; it then disintegrated under the influence of the gravity of Mars and Jupiter. Its remains kept colliding and breaking up, creating swarms of meteorites and stringing out round the whole former orbit of the planet. But what kind of explosion was it? The explosion of its water envelope, its oceans?
It so happened that I was able to put this question to the great 20th-century physicist. Nils Bohr when he met us Moscow writers.
"Can all a planet's oceans explode if a super powerful nuclear device is detonated in their depths?" I asked him.
"I don't deny such a possibility," he replied, and added, "but even if it weren't so, nuclear weapons must be banned in any case."
He understood it all at once! If the planet had perished when its oceans exploded, then there was a civilisation on it that had destroyed itself because of a nuclear war.
This was the stimulus for me as a novelist to write my trilogy The Faetians. Other problems found their way into it. Why has the missing link between man and the Earth's animal world never been discovered? Why does Mars seem uninhabited, and was it always so? Why did great cataclysms occur on Earth, such as the sinking of Atlantis and the rise of the Andes? According to some theories, the cause was a gigantic asteroid that fell onto Earth, or the appearance of the hitherto non-existent Moon in the sky over Earth. Is this so?
The reader will learn all about it in the novel as he follows the lives of the characters, who witnessed unprecedented catastrophes.
The author will be happy if this book helps the reader to acquire a taste for the great secrets of the Universe and of Earth's history.
Peace is the virtue of civilisation.
War is its crime.
Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,Profaners of
this neighbour-stained steel.
Will they not hear?-
What ho! You men, you beasts.
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins.
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground...
W. Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet
Translation of an extraterrestrial message inscribed in the language of the Faetians who lived on Faena a million years ago. (Books 2 and 3 of my science-fantasy novel, The Faetians, tell of who wrote and sent this message to Earth and who deciphered it.)
The only daughter of the Dictator of Powermania, an ancient continent of Faena, was named Yasna after her mother. Her father, Yar Jupi, had been hoping for a son, but he loved his daughter beyond measure. He kept dreaming that she would grow up, get married and leave him. When, as was the custom, he needed to give his grown-up daughter a final name, he could think of nothing better than calling her Mada, which meant Falling-in-love. Surnames on Faena were borrowed from the stars and planets. For example. Mar, Jupi, Alt or Sirus.
Mada Jupi took after her mother: she was called beautiful. Her face baffled the artists, being lively, always changing, now merry, now clear, now pensive. How could they paint her? She typified the best of the longfaces, but the oval of her features was moderate and soft, her nose was straight and her lips were firmly compressed.
This blue-eyed Faetess (as they were called on Faena) was met on the Great Shore by Ave Mar, a visitor to Powermania. The girl was coming out of the water, having chosen the moment when a breaker had crashed on the shore and was sliding back in a mass of hissing foam.
Ave wished he had been a sculptor. Everything he had heard about Mada from his hunchbacked secretary Kutsi Merc was pale, inadequate and dull compared with what he could see with his own eyes.
A fat, elderly Faetess, one of the roundheads, ran into the water and wrapped the girl in a soft, fluffy sheet as she emerged.
Mada took no notice whatever of Ave, although from what her companion had told her, she knew quite a lot about him. The nanny deftly put a folding chair down on the sand and Mada sat on it, wrapping the sheet round her as the ancients used to drape themselves in their robes.
Kutsi Merc noticed the impression that Mada had made on Ave, and he hunched his back even more as he bent down to speak.
"Shall we show this to the local natives?"
And with a significant smile on his clever, evil face, he held a small, smooth board out to Ave. Sitting on the sand and admiring Mada, Ave vaguely replied:
"Well, I didn't realise we'd brought that with us!"
"The proud and beautiful Mada Jupi is here," said the secretary encouragingly. Ave Mar stood up. Thanks to his impressive height, long, strong neck and piercing eyes, he gave the impression of looking over the heads of everybody else.
In obedience to his own impulse, as it seemed to him, he took the board from Kutsi and walked boldly with it into the water.
Without taking her eyes off Kutsi, Mada's companion whispered into the girl's ear:
"Look, Mada! The stranger from Danjab I was telling you about has taken a board with him."
In spite of the breakwater, built to make swimming easier when the tide was coming in, the waves were crashing violently onto the shore. Outside the barrier, they were truly gigantic, rearing up their foaming crests one after another as on the open sea.
"Where's he swimming to?" asked Mada's companion in alarm. "Shouldn't we call the lifeguards?"
"He's a better swimmer than you think," commented Mada vaguely.
"But why's he taken that board? It's frightening to watch."
Even so, she couldn't take her eyes off him.
Ave swam as far as the breakwater and climbed over it. He had now attracted the attention of many swimmers.
"Why did you decide he's that particular stranger?" asked Mada.
"Because of his companion. Roundheaded, like me; a hunchback into the bargain, yet he's as proud as if he was strolling along the beach of Danjab. I feel ashamed for our own people. Isn't anyone going to teach that show-off how to swim?"
"No, I don't want to," said Mada, watching as the gigantic breakers swept the foreign visitor up onto their crests.
And suddenly all the holidaymakers on the beach stirred in amazement.
The swimmer chose the moment when a particularly big wave lifted him up on its crest, jumped to his feet and waved his arms, as if wanting to fly like a bird. He did not take off, however, but simply kept his balance on the slippery board. He stood like that on the foaming crest and with frightening speed swept towards the shore, clad in foam and spray. It seemed incredible that he should stay on the moving watery mountain. But the madman not only held his position; laughing defiantly, he began gliding down the steep watery slope, then allowed the wave to throw him upon its crest again.
The crowded beach gasped at this bold display of skill.
"But I must see how that's done," said Mada determinedly, casting off the "ancient robe" and handing it to her worried nanny.
"What are you doing, my dear?" she protested, forgetting her recent advice. "He'll bump you with his board. And is it fitting for the daughter of Yar Jupi to swim beside him?"
Mada ran into the sea and dived into an oncoming wave. The dark cap of stretch material protecting her thick hair from the water bobbed amid the foaming crests.
Mada swam as far as the breakwater and climbed onto it. From there she saw the foreign swimmer going back to the sea with his board for another ride on the breakers. She waved to him, although he could not see her.
There was unlikely to be as skilful a swimmer on the Great Shore as Mada. The ocean waves bore her up onto their crests and tried to hurl her back. But she was not accustomed to giving up once she had set her heart on something. She decided that she absolutely must stand on that magic board, and no force in the world could have stopped her.
The foreigner swimming away from the shore didn't even look round.
Mada only had a glimpse of the stranger, but as she swam after him she had the distinct impression of an athletic figure in a loincloth, strong muscles rippling under the skin, and curly hair as tousled as that of a boy.
Suddenly, Mada saw him. He was standing on a foaming crest. The water seemed to be boiling under him, and with reckless abandon he began gliding down the watery slope straight at Mada.
Ave noticed her at the last moment and jumped, while Mada dived under the board.
It seemed to her that the wave had crashed down on her, but it was just the board grazing her slightly.
Mada surfaced and looked round. The stranger's eyes met hers as he bobbed up to the surface. He laughed joyfully and promptly began swimming towards her, seizing the board on the way.
"Hold on!" he shouted while still some distance off.
Mada could not make anything out, but she smiled in answer, since she realised that he was hurrying to her assistance. When he swam up to her, she said:
"I want to stand on that..." and she pointed at the board.
"Ave Mar will be happy to help..."
"You'll learn the meaning of joy, strength and happiness!"
The people standing on the shore watched what was happening on the other side of the breakwater. A sigh coursed along the beach when the two figures appeared standing straight up on the crest of a wave, holding on to one another and each evidently standing with one foot on the board. It seemed like a miracle. With their arms round each other's waists in full view of the onlookers and without falling, they were borne on the foaming crest towards the beach.
Never had Mada experienced such pleasure before.
Even so, when Mada and Ave crossed the breakwater and were returning with the board to the crowded beach, Mada felt uneasy. If someone had told her the day before that she was capable of such flightiness, she would have burst out laughing.
Ave held the board in one hand and was ready to help Mada with the other if the surf swept her off her feet. But Mada went ahead of him and, skipping over the gurgling foam with a laugh, was the first to run up onto the beach.
She seemed to be showing that, as the Dictator's daughter, she could do whatever she liked!
Her anxious companion wrapped her charge up in the fluffy sheet.
"How good it was! If you only knew how good it was, Mother Lua!"
"As if I couldn't know," she grumbled. "I nearly died, waiting for you. If anything happened to you, I'd surely be executed by order of Yar Jupi (may he be happy, the great man!)"
"It's a good thing you're alive and can help me with one or two little matters."
Mother Lua gave her a stern look.
"It frightens me to think of it, my dear."
Mother Lua had guessed rightly about her charge's intentions. Mada had always dreamed about a real Faetian, manly, noble and pure. The uncultured Faetians among the Superiors, flaunting a civilisation that had become static since ancient times, repelled her with their boorishness, arrogance and contempt for the roundheads, whose children her mother had once nursed. The stranger, as her nanny had told her, was alien to all gloomy superstitions of the Superiors; he was a scholar of Danjab who was not afraid to break free of the Science of Death there and end up at loggerheads with everybody. It was just such a Faetian that Mada could dream about, and he had, on top of all that, turned out to be athletic, daring and handsome.
It was innate in Faetians to be mutually attracted "at first sight", which they did not always admit even to themselves.
The daughter of Yar Jupi had justified the name her father had given her-she had fallen in love straightway with a visitor clad in foam and, in Mother Lua's opinion, had lost her wits.
"Think, my dear! If he was a longface, it would have been all right. But they're going to call this one a half-breed. Contempt and hatred! Think again, my dear! I taught you the truth about all the Faetians, but not for that!.."
"No," replied Mada firmly. "Let it be the way I want it. You will go to his companion and tell him where Ave and I are going to meet."
"You'll be noticed together! The Blood Guard will seize him. Don't wish him harm."
"It shall be as I have said. Others will not be able to look at us. We shall meet in the palace garden."
"The garden behind the Wall?" echoed Lua in alarm.
"You will escort them through the Blood Door."
Mother Lua looked downcast. But Mada paid no attention to her, walking on with her chin up.
The Blood Door! It was one of the most reliable of the devices in the Lair, as the Dictator's palace was called. Yar Jupi had long been racked by persecution mania. It seemed to him that there were conspiracies under way everywhere to assassinate him. Consequently, he had been living for many cycles without leaving the territory of the Lair and never letting himself be seen outside its walls. He communicated with his subordinates only over closed TV. He trusted no one. Security was maintained at key points by automatons who admitted only chosen Faetians with identifiable brain biocurrents.
Only the Faetians closest to the Dictator could use the Blood Door. There was no other key to it and no outsider could open it.
And now Mother Lua had to escort foreigners into the garden outside the Wall. She knew that her charge would not change her mind. Moreover, she did not want to obstruct Mada in any case.
Need it be said that Ave, the young Faetian, had also fallen in love? Inclined to extremes by nature, time and time again he relived the moments when, with their arms round each other's waists, he and the wonderful Faetess had ridden the surf together. He was in a fever, but he could not imagine how to see his beloved again, since she had turned out to be Yar Jupi's daughter.
Grunting as if carrying a heavy load, Kutsi Merc trudged along behind Ave. He was not in the least surprised to notice that the nurse had fallen behind her charge and was adjusting a shoelace.
Letting Ave go ahead, the hunchback hung back near the roundhead, and she, without straightening up, said almost inaudibly:
"As soon as shining Jupi rises in the sky, take your master to the ruins of the old shrine in the Dread Wall."
Kutsi Merc nodded, grinned craftily and caught up with his master.
"Success is the envy of failures. A tryst has been made at the old ruins in the light of Jupi, the brightest of planets."
Ave looked round suddenly.
"Are you jesting?"
"Jesting is of no avail in my profession. Kutsi Merc is too good a ... helper."
By a whim of the Dictator's, the Dread Wall round his Lair ran through a tiny ruined shrine dividing it into two halves. This screened from view the Blood Door, which was hardly noticeable in any case. The wall in the lower part divided in obedience to the brain biocurrents written into the program of the electronic automatons.
Mother Lua nervously gave the door its mental instructions and it opened.
Ave and Kutsi Merc, who were standing in the half-ruined portico, quickly proceeded through the gap, Lua followed them and the Wall closed behind her. Only the ruins on the inner side of the wall showed where to look for the vanished door.
Ave looked round. He was in a luxuriant garden. Sinuous lianas hung down like snakes guarding their prey. Beyond the shaggy tree-trunks lurked a gloom that seemed dense and clammy. Lua, the nocturnal luminary whose name the nurse bore, had not yet begun to rise, and Jupi, the brightest of the planets, was only just silvering the tree-tops. Under them it was as dark as on a starless night.
The young Faetian's heart was thudding in his breast.
Kutsi Merc's pulse was throbbing evenly enough. He had gained access to the Lair, into which not even a snake could crawl its way...
Ave Mar first met Kutsi Merc, his secretary, half a cycle before the encounter with Mada on the Great Shore.
Ave Mar's steamcar stopped that day in a mountain pass on the continent of the Culturals of Danjab.
The view took Ave's breath away. The ocean, revealed from high up, seemed to ascend to the very heavens. The misty band of the horizon looked like a ridge of lofty clouds.
Below lay Business City. The skyscrapers stood in concentric circles. They were linked by ring and radial streets and avenues, on both sides of which lay green parks and glittering lakes. In the city centre towered a skyscraper resembling the conical axis of the monstrous Wheel of Business Life.
Ave put his foot down on the pedal to open the high-pressure boiler valve. The steam drive slowly moved the car from its place, accelerating it to the required speed.
Steamcars had appeared very recently, but had quickly replaced the obsolete vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. In their time, these machines had poisoned the air of the cities with their exhaust gases. The fuel they consumed could have served as chemical raw material for clothing and other goods in daily use.
As he drove at top speed along the magnificent road, Ave Mar crossed the outer circle avenue on which stood the tower blocks of Business City.
From a distance, they seemed conical. In fact, they were stepped. They were girt by a spiral steamcar road which gave access to each storey in succession and to the garage entrances outside every flat.
The conical towers housed shops with corridors leading to exits onto the spiral road, restaurants, cafes, and also theatres and concert or viewing halls. There were production workshops and business offices in the centre of the multistorey building.
Moving staircases led to the garages under the living quarters.
The ordinary Faetians, toiling in the workshops, had no cars and hardly ever left their cramped little rooms, unaware of any world other than that shut in by the skyscraper's spiral roadway.
Ave stopped his steamcar. The garage doors opened automatically and closed behind him when he had driven in.
The car needed no maintenance, being permanently ready for use with the necessary steam pressure in its boiler. The heating device of disintegration matter was, so to speak, part of the machine and wore out with it.
Ave Mar was in a dejected mood. He dropped in on one of his friends; but the friend had summoned a secret meeting and had not invited Ave. Ave understood what it was all about and drove off immediately.
On the way back he saw the pathetic hovels of the Faetians who worked in the fields. He felt ashamed of himself for having, over his garage, several living rooms in which no one lived, in fact, except for himself.
He had never known lack of room, but he had known loneliness and could only call up his mother over the screen. Oh, Mother, Mother! Even at that enormous distance, she unerringly guessed what was in her son's heart and was always the first to appear on the screen.
Ave glumly stepped onto the upward moving staircase.
What was the meaning of life, if all that lay ahead was a blind alley from which the Faetians could not escape? It was madness to seek deliverance in wars of annihilation. Many Faetians understood as much...
But why did his friends not trust him? He needn't keep quiet with them. Did he not also subscribe to the Doctrine of Justice? But they didn't need him... No one needed him...
Ave went into the first of his round rooms and stopped dead in amazement. A broad-shouldered, burly hunchback came up to meet him with a guarded smile on his hard face.
"Ease and happiness!" said the stranger. "I am Kutsi Merc! The Ruler Dobr Mar gave me the key of this flat as his son's secretary."
Ave smiled bitterly.
"Is my father worried that his son is gnawed by misery?"
"Your father was thinking of something more important."
"Will it deliver me from bitterness?"
"Would it be a bad thing to visit the ancient continent of Powermania? High technology in the hands of barbarians who call themselves Superiors?"
"What's the sense of such dreams? I worked with Um Sat. I specialise in the disintegration of matter, so I am not allowed to travel overseas. We live in times of emptiness, disillusion, tension..."
"As your secretary, I shall help you in everything, even in a trip to the continent of the barbarians."
So saying, the hunchback went into the other room. He soon returned carrying vessels with beverages and two cylinders of compressed narcotic smoke which the Culturals loved to inhale when relaxing. Kutsi Merc's clothes were stretched tight over his hump, as if tailored for someone else.
Ave was amazed at the speed with which his new acquaintance made himself at home. The neglected flat was transformed. Mechanisms, switched on before the occupant's arrival, had cleaned the place up.
As he inhaled the smoke, the young Faetian studied Kutsi Merc.
"If only we journey to Powermania," he said reflectively, "before misery kills desire..."
"Desires must be fulfilled. Otherwise it is not worth desiring. The Faetesses over the ocean are very beautiful."
"How can that be of any importance? Even knowledge is powerless to lead the Faetians out of their blind alley. Soulless power politics, blind subordination to dogma! The blockheads refuse to listen to anything that is unfamiliar to them!.." Ave was suffering from rejection of his ideas and was airing his sense of injury.
"The great law of inertia! Inertia can be overcome by the application of energy. The law must be interpreted more broadly."
"Kutsi Merc is undoubtedly more than adequately equipped for the obligations of secretary."
"One must also overcome the inertia in oneself." Kutsi Merc blew out an intricate pattern of smoke.
The hunchback was certainly astonishing Ave Mar; but there were still more surprises to come.
Kutsi now came to see Ave Mar every day and tirelessly told stories about the legendary continent of a very ancient civilisation. It turned out that he knew Power-mania extremely well, was familiar with its history, art, and architecture, had evidently been there a number of times, and was fluent in the language of the barbarians, as he called the inhabitants of Powermania.
"Look and marvel. The depths of ignorance and the heights of knowledge, an alien technology and the wild theories of the Superiors, the slums of the roundheaded monsters and the legendary beauty, Mada Jupi."
"The Dictator's daughter?" asked Ave, interested in spite of himself.
"Brought up by a most cultured nurse of roundhead stock. Became a Sister of Health, looks after children in spite of her father's Doctrine of Hatred. He loves her so much that he will tolerate any of her whims."
"What does she look like?" asked Ave vaguely.
Kutsi brightened up.
"The long legs of the runner, but feminine. The lines of her body would make a classical sculpture. A soft heart and the hauteur of pride. It's hard to win her indulgence."
"It looks as though Kutsi Merc has been having a try."
With a bitter smile, the hunchback pointed to his hump.
"Kutsi Merc bears too heavy a burden in life."
He had now completely relieved Ave Mar of his daily household chores. He went on talking about Powermania, but didn't mention Mada again.
It was Ave Mar who raised the subject of a possible journey over the sea.
Kutsi Merc had apparently been waiting for this.
"The berths on the ship have been booked."
Ave Mar stood on the deck of the ocean-going ship and looked into the distance. This time, the ocean wasn't rising to heaven, as in the view from the mountain pass, but it was as boundless and no less striking to the imagination.
Dm Sat had confided a terrible secret to his pupil about this ocean. Every secret is a burden, and this one, concerning the destiny of all Faetians, was a particularly heavy weight on Ave's mind.
Kutsi warily tried to found out the cause of Ave's bad mood, but Ave avoided the subject by holding forth against scientists who would not accept his ideas about the possibility of life on other planets.
Kutsi grinned craftily and poked fun at the young Faetian, maintaining that the real reason was that he hadn't yet fallen in love.
The barbarians' continent appeared on the horizon. Sharp arrows seemed to be sticking up out of the water. Over the sea rose the weird buildings of the ancient continent, on which the houses were not round, but rectangular (how absurd!}. Incredibly crowded, they reached for the sky and gradually merged into a pile of irregular acute-angled pillars that suggested a cluster of crystals.
Almost leaping out of the water, a security launch raced towards the ship.
They were faced with the control procedure. Kutsi Merc sought out his master so as to be at his side.
Longfaced men with hooked noses were climbing aboard. They were all in identical angular clothes with collars upraised at the back and short dark hooded capes that became rectangular bands on the chest.
"Hey you, hunchbacked offspring of carrion-eaters! Make way before the Blood Guard!" snarled the first of the longfaces as he drew level with Kutsi Merc. "You'll have to get out of here and go back to your stinking island."
Ave Mar, who had specially learned the language of Powermania, flushed with rage but, on catching Kutsi's sidelong glance of warning, he kept quiet.
But Kutsi Merc arched his hump as he bowed, meekly lowering his head and using a manner of speech not his own, but typical of the local dialect.
"Perhaps the officer of the Blood Guard will be interested to know that the insignificant roundhead whom he sees before him is only secretary to this distinguished traveller, the clear-thinking Ave Mar, son of the Ruler of Danjab."
The longface, who was wearing a beard in imitation of Dictator Yar Jupi, glanced contemptuously at Kutsi.
Ave Mar offered him his tokens.
"The athletic son of Ruler Dobr Mar is recognisable even without his tokens," said the officer, showing off his familiarity with the old manner of speech. "As for this contemptible roundheaded cripple, he should be attached as if by a chain to his master while serving him, as is preordained by nature." And the officer made for the other passengers.
Kutsi Merc ran after him, humbly begging the return of the tokens. The officer threw them down; they landed on the deck with a jingle and nearly rolled overboard. Kutsi Merc bent over to snatch them up and even went down on his knees.
The officer laughed coarsely.
"That's how to welcome the land of Superiors-in the posture of the lizard from which you are not so distantly descended."
"May happy days last for a long time here," replied Kutsi Merc humbly.
The ocean-going ship sailed into a harbour which was surrounded on all sides by enormous, weirdly rectangular buildings. Among them, Ave Mar immediately recognised several famous temples which had been built in ancient times and had towered high over all the other buildings of that period. The city had risen since then and had blotted them from view.
So this was what it was like. Pleasure City!
Some of the gigantic blocks were linked by fantastical multi-tiered street-bridges crossing at various levels.
Ave thought that he was looking at a forest mound, which in his homeland was built by little insects with many feet.
This impression of the maritime city of the Superiors was strengthened even further when he and Kutsi Merc were on dry land. They were pushed and jostled by crowds of hurrying Faetians. In addition to the steam-cars, there were vehicles powered by obsolete internal combustion engines. Making an appalling din and poisoning the air, this medley of heterogeneous vehicles surged past the half-asphyxiated Ave or thundered overhead on the crazy bridges between the massive artificial canyons of the buildings. Squeezed into a corner of the tiny lift-cage by other Faetians, Ave and Kutsi were taken up to the tiny room set aside for them in the expensive Palace of Visitors.
While Kutsi Merc unpacked, Ave stood at the lancet window and looked out on an alien world. He could not see any of the old-time romance for which he had yearned since childhood. Everything here was an eyesore, beginning with the uniform of the coarse Blood Guards and ending with the awkward angles of the cramped little room.
"Don't torture your eyes with barbarian buildings," said Kutsi Merc. "We'll be on the Great Shore tomorrow."
A roundhead servant of low stature appeared and asked whether the new arrivals would prefer vegetable or animal food with blood for dinner, and whether they wanted, like all travellers, to look round the densely populated quarters of the city, and whether they had any other orders for him.
Kutsi Merc considered it necessary to display the traditional curiosity, so he and Ave did not allow themselves time for a rest, but trailed off into the famous roundhead quarters.
Although he knew the slums of his native continent, Ave had never imagined that Faetians could live in such filthy and overcrowded conditions. It was only possible to breathe on a street when it became a suspension bridge. But where the street was hemmed in by buildings and ran between them like a tunnel, it became, as it were, part of the living quarters. Not shy of passers-by, the Faetians kept their doors open, got on with their household chores, sat at the table with children born before the roundheads were banned from having children, ate their simple but acrid-smelling food and went to bed. The Faetesses poked their heads out of the open doors and, shouting loudly, conversed with the inhabitants on the second or third stories up. Here and there, only just above the heads of the passers-by, the inmates' washing had been hung out to dry; most of them did not know whether they would have to sweat at work on the next day as well.
Ave very much wanted to hold his nose when, accompanied by Kutsi, he fled from those evil-smelling quarters, famed for their openly exhibited poverty. The Power of Justice had only existed for a hundred and three days and it had not been able to help the residents...
"So what's the answer to this?" wondered Ave. "Is it really in the monstrous law of a Dictator who has forbidden these families to have children?"
Was it really to see all this that he had dreamed of coming here from across the ocean ever since childhood?
But next day he saw the Great Shore and Mada.
Dictator Yar Jupi's palace was part of the Temple of Eternity, in which worship had ceased after the Faetians forgot their religion. Now the Dread Wall separated the temple from the monastery buildings that had been converted for the Dictator's use. The soaring spire of black stone resembled a torpedo with a disintegration warhead. The ancient architects never suspected that they were anticipating the outlines of a future weapon. Even less could they have imagined that, in the event of a disintegration war, the cellars under the Temple of Eternity would house the Central Control Panel of Defence Automatons. The machines could unleash a death-dealing swarm of disintegration torpedoes against Danjab.
A session of Peaceful Space was now being held over these fearsome machines in the former shrine of the temple with its black columns soaring up into the sky. Its chairman was Dm Sat of Danjab, who had in his time discovered the disintegration of matter (By the disintegration of matter, the Faetians meant the nuclear reactions of fissionand synthesis, as a result of which, as is known, a deficiency of mass is observed; that is, matter diminishes; it disintegrates, releasing an enormous amount of energy) and had made a terrible mistake by publishing his discovery on both continents simultaneously. The great roundhead, as he was called, and the planet's first authority on matter, had decided that he was as great an authority on life. Believing that the simultaneous appearance of a superpowerful weapon on both continents would create a "balance of fear", he hoped that war would become impossible. However, the tension of the relations between the continents was growing. Urn Sat had only hit on one of the causes: overpopulation and hostility because of the lack of room. But the hostility over profits was far more dangerous. Overpopulation was aggravating all aspects of the struggle even further. The proprietors on both continents, while suppressing dissatisfaction of the toilers by force, were also threatening one another with force across the ocean. It seemed to them that they could, at the expense of their competitors, not only boost profits, but could pacify the malcontents in their own country with a small handout.
The horrified Um Sat was beginning to realise the inevitability of a disintegration war and he considered himself responsible for it. That is why he was now trying to find a solution for everything in the exploration of new space continents, dreaming about the partial resettlement of Faetians on them and about universal reconciliation.
Heavy responsibility, disillusion, care and fatigue had left their mark on the old Faetian's face. His high forehead under the dense shock of hair was furrowed by deep lines. The big, sad eyes were full of kindly wisdom and understanding. But with it all went a weak chin covered by a greying beard.
In spite of the Sat's tragic mistake, he was still respected for his tremendous achievements in science and for his unquestionable integrity of purpose. Consequently, the sages of learning from both continents met him in the hall with the greatest respect.
But at that moment, within only a hundred paces of the Temple of Eternity, behind the wall of the Lair, there was another world-famous Faetian whom no one respected but all feared.
Yar Jupi became Dictator during the black days when the Power of Justice was suppressed.
Before his daughter was born, he was merely an inconspicuous tradesman who did business with the roundheads. To please his clients, he took Mother Lua into service for Mada, who had lost her mother. The nurse replaced the child's real mother at the memorable time when the fury of the oppressed burst into the open. The uprising shook Powermania, depriving the proprietors of power and possessions.
Lying low in their burning hatred, they refused to reconcile themselves to defeat. They had the brutal experience of struggle amongst themselves. They had always fought to the death with the toilers and with one another. However, they were now ready to forget their own quarrels.
There were proprietors on both sides of the ocean. But since the discovery and settlement of the new continent of Danjab, the Faetians had lived there without the ancient prejudices; there wasn't even any favourable soil on which they could flourish. The result was that, under the new circumstances, both roundheads and longheads began enjoying equal rights and opportunities to make others work for them. Be that as it may, it led to the rapid growth of, if not a culture, at least a technology. The products of the Gutturals, as its inhabitants began to style themselves, invariably proved better and cheaper than those of Powermania's barbarians. And the proprietors of Danjab inundated the old continent with their products. In Powermania, crude and primitive means of manufacture still prevailed. The proprietors of that continent found themselves under threat of ruin. No matter how much they oppressed their toilers, the profits were slipping out of their hands. They came to seethe with hatred for everything from Danjab. Only a defeat in the struggle with the Justice Movement temporarily relegated a reckoning with the overseas proprietors to the background.
When Yar Jupi proclaimed his Doctrine of Hatred, he had only heard about the Council of Blood, not suspecting who the members might be. Once, when summoned to a secret meeting of the council in a cellar, he was shaken to recognise, under the cowls of those present, two important workshop proprietors and one big land proprietor.
"Our choice has fallen on you, Yar Jupi," declared the land proprietor. "Your Doctrine of Hatred could unite, for nothing unites better than common hatred. With its help, the Movement of Blood should suppress the Movement of Justice. But do not forget that purity of blood," he added significantly, "though regarded as the supreme ideal, is still only a weapon for suppressing the power of the riff-raff."
"The Movement of Blood will justify its name," affirmed Yar Jupi, who already considered himself as one of its leaders.
The proprietors exchanged glances.
"We shall deal with the roundheads both here and overseas," said the future Dictator with inspiration.
"You traded with the roundheads, your wife nursed their children," began a workshop proprietor insinuatingly, and he threw back his cowl. "That is advantageous to us, because, however loudly you may shout about hatred, the overseas proprietors can still trust you most of all for having been able to get on with the roundheads. You will go overseas and convince them that what has happened here will happen to them too. Let them help us to deal with the power of the 'seekers after justice', having thereby preserved their own possessions. Let them send good weapons to the contingents of your cutthroats. You will know how to use it. Both now ... and later. You understand?" And the workshop proprietor pulled the hood with its eyeslits down over his face.
Yar Jupi understood everything perfectly. Shrewd and cunning, he made his Doctrine of Hatred the main weapon against the Power of Justice. He even did not hesitate to publicise his maniacal plan for the seizure of the whole planet by the longfaces. The overseas proprietors turned a blind eye to this. It was most important of all for them to help the leader to deal with the hated power of the toilers, and if he also spouted empty phrases about conquests, then let him amuse himself, but he would at least be doing his job.
The ex-tradesman not only fooled the overseas proprietors, he surrounded himself with bands of cutthroats lusting for booty. He distracted the unstable elements from the defence of their own interests by encouraging them to persecute the roundheads. In a word, he did everything that was required.
The Power of Justice was smashed. Its leaders from among the toilers and also many roundfaced Faetians were exterminated. The continent swam in blood. Yar Jupi was carried to the top on a crest of bloody foam.
The Council of Blood made the subtle and obliging shopkeeper Dictator of Power-mania, counting on his subservience. No one, apart from him, knew who was a member of the Council of Blood and whose interests it defended.
After dealing with the toilers' revolt, the new Dictator proclaimed all roundheads (mostly toilers) to be inferior citizens. In the name of struggle with overpopulation on the planet, he forbade them to have children. Newborn infants and their parents were threatened with the death penalty. But the roundheads had to labour twice as hard as the rest. The use of overseas products was declared incompatible with the principles of blood. The proprietors of Powermania sighed with relief: their profits were safe.
The overseas proprietors came to their senses too late. Yar Jupi not only deprived them of profits on the old continent, but threatened them with a war of disintegration, of total annihilation. They had no option but to prepare for such a war in defence, above all, of their own power and profits.
The military leaders of both sides, fearing a disintegration war, intended to deliver the strike first. To ensure that it would also be the last, they demanded the build-up of disintegration weapons. The proprietors of both continents, equally demented and camouflaging their intentions behind phrases about a love of peace, compelled their workshops to produce even more frenziedly.
The naive hopes of Um Sat, the great Elder of learning, for a peaceful "balance of fear" came down with a crash and he now began voicing a demand for the total elimination of all reserves of disintegration weapons and a ban on their use. Many sober minds supported him.
In the tense pre-war atmosphere, Yar Jupi found himself hearing more and more often the name of Um Sat, who had discovered the secret of the disintegration of matter and was now appealing to the conscience of the Faetians so that it could be "covered up again".
The Dictator received reports of dangerous conversations: "If the roundheads could give the planet a Faetian like Um Sat, then how can they be declared inferior? Why do the roundheads have to work twice as hard as others, but throughout the life of one generation they must yield their place on Faena to the longfaces?"
Yar Jupi sensed a threat in these "brazen" questions!
Fearing another Uprising of Justice, the Dictator lost his peace of mind. He fell prey to persecution mania. He no longer left the Lair, where he led an ostentatiously ascetic life. He was equally mistrustful of the roundheads and the longfaces, and even of the proprietors of the Council of Blood, whom he served and to whom he could become useless.
To appease the people, who were boiling with rage, he stepped up his preparations for a disintegration war, promising that the ban on roundheads having children would be lifted after the successful end of the war and the resettlement of the victors on the overseas continent.
Alongside this, he muffled the discontent of the toilers with adventurist plans for the transfer of the roundheads to the planet Mar, where they would be free of all prohibitions (as if it was simply a matter of resettlement!).
He therefore encouraged the conquest of space and promoted the creation of Space Station Deimo near Mar. The Culturals already had a base there named Phobo. Yar Jupi even agreed to declare Outer Space "peaceful", since the interests of the proprietors clashed mainly on Faena.
However, the great learned Elder Um Sat, who had solved the mysteries of matter, could not fathom the depths of unscrupulous politics. For him, the "problem of overpopulating the planet" really blotted out everything else, although, in fact, it merely aggravated the burdens of the toilers and their struggle with the proprietors, not to mention the hostility of the proprietors amongst themselves. Evidently, in order to be a true Elder, it was still inadequate to be learned in one specific branch of knowledge.
No one had expected to see the cautious and calculating Yar Jupi at a session of Peaceful Space. He was too afraid of assassination. Obviously, it was not for nothing that Yar Jupi had chosen a place for the session near the Lair. The Temple of Eternity communicated with the former monastery by an underground passage.
During the session, Yar Jupi suddenly appeared out of the wall with two impressive robot bodyguards.
He was a tall, well-built Faetian with a long, clean-shaven face, a small dark beard, a hooked nose, a narrow, harsh mouth and suspicious, restless eyes that looked out from under the zigzags of irregular eyebrows. His egg-shaped skull, clean shaven on purpose, was considered to be of impeccable form among the Superiors. There was something bird-like and predatory in the expression on his face.
Yar Jupi addressed those present with a pompous speech in which he spoke about the innate striving of the Superiors for peace and about his agreement with the project for resettling Faetians on other planets to avoid war on Faena.
He had brought as a gift to Peaceful Space an interplanetary ship. Quest, ready for immediate lift-off together with an experienced astronaut commander; he offered Um Sat the opportunity to lead the expedition to Terr.
Then he announced the Council of Blood's decision to consider Um Sat an "honorary longface" with rights of the Superior amongst the Superiors. The basis for this was research by the "historians" of Blood, who had established that the name Sat in honour of the planet, marked with a noble ring, was only given to the purest longfaces.
Um Sat was flabbergasted. The expedition to Terr was a reality. On Danjab they had merely been arguing over how much to allocate for an interplanetary ship for Terr, whereas he could now lead such an expedition. But ... that falsification by the "historians"! The Dictator had not disdained to use it so as to take Um Sat from the roundheads. The learned Elder's first impulse was to turn down the Dictator's gifts; anyone else in his place would have acted likewise, but he refrained. After all, he stood for reconciliation, for the settlement of Faetians in space. How could he say no to the Faetians and refuse to survey the planet Terr, which could become their new home? Had he the right to display personal or racial vanity to the detriment of all Faetian society? Would it not be more reasonable to demonstrate the feasibility of space resettlement and divert the interest of the workshop proprietors to building spaceships instead of manufacturing torpedoes for a disintegration war?
In his answering speech, Um Sat controlled himself and expressed his gratitude to Yar Jupi both for the interplanetary ship being handed over to Peaceful Space and for the high rank bestowed on him, Um Sat. He promised to think about the possibility of personally taking part in the expedition.
He despised himself, but considered that he was making a great sacrifice.
The Dictator grinned and vanished through the gap in the wall with his robot bodyguards. Overseas technology never failed.
Dm Sat announced an intermission in the work of the Peaceful Space session. He needed to pull himself together and justify himself to himself. Of course, he was still the same roundhead-true, inwardly confused, devastated and now the owner of rights he did not need at all.
But these rights proved particularly necessary to his former pupil and favourite, Ave Mar.
Dobr Mar, Ave's father, the Ruler of Danjab, felt ill at ease in the round office with the vaulted ceiling. He was the nine-hundred-and-sixty-second ruler who had moved in there.
An angular chin and a bony jaw on the intelligent face spoke of will and energy; the fine mouth, turned down at the corners, testified to worry; the bags under the eyes and the balding head with its remnants of greying hair, to a hard life. He had been given the name Dobr (Kind) for his coming-of-age. Until then he had borne his father's name. Terrible Mar, with the addition The Second Junior. The Ruler was thinking of his son on the barbarians' continent, where an explosion could occur at any time...
In spite of himself, there arose in his mind's eye, in all its details, that accursed day half a cycle ago, when he had decided on an act for which he could now find neither justification nor forgiveness.
The robot secretary reported that Kutsi Merc was in the waiting-room. Since the time when Dobr Mar's predecessor had been shot in that very office by his own secretary, the Grand Circle had decreed that only robot secretaries should work in the Ruler's Palace. And now the "intelligent box" had shown Kutsi Merc on the screen. While waiting to be received, Kutsi had not noticed that he was being watched, but he was naturally alert. A typical roundhead, he had a face like the disc of Lua, Faena's eternal satellite. His narrow eyes were looking sideways at the door.
Relations were complex between Dobr Mar and Kutsi Merc. Only Kutsi knew how the Ruler had come to power. Dobr Mar had formerly been a "friend of the Ruler", and by law had to occupy the "first chair" in the event of his death.
No one abused the "mentally unstable" assassin more than Dobr Mar. He swore to pursue the same foreign policy as the late Ruler: the eternal hostility with Powermania was to be tempered and everything possible should be done to reconcile the planet's two continents and deliver the Faetians from the horrors of war.
Not long before the assassination of Dobr Mar's predecessor, Kutsi Merc had handed him the terrible conditions on which he could become Ruler: he must be the first to start a disintegration war.
Once he had taken his predecessor's place, Dobr Mar was in no hurry to pursue the lunatic policy of the "mortally unstable" who demanded that the war be won with disintegration weapons.
Dobr Mar ruled Danjab, finding work and living accommodation for the ominously growing population. He tried to reduce the tension in relations between the continents, put through a law making old goods subject to destruction so that new ones would be acquired and managed things so that Yar Jupi, satisfied by the cut in the import of overseas goods, was even forced to agree to joint actions in space.
...Dobr Mar had guessed why Kutsi Merc had come and what he was going to say. After all, the Ruler had not yet met the "special conditions". And on the eve of the elections, Dobr Mar was afraid of possible denunciations. What if he struck the first blow?
When he went into the office, Kutsi Merc halted. Squat, but well-built and broad-shouldered, almost without a neck, he looked like a wrestler before a match.
The match took place. Dobr Mar went trustingly towards him.
"The councillors of the Grand Circle are troubled by the information obtained by Kutsi Merc to the effect that the barbarians have mastered and even improved on the automatic machines they originally obtained from us, so that they have become dangerous."
"The Ruler is right. The automatic machines are dangerous. I have a reliable agent in the Lair."
"What guarantee is there that the automatic machines won't function by accident?"
"They're almost the same on Danjab."
"That's not enough! The barbarians must not be allowed to keep them. Such is the decision of the Grand Circle."
"I bow before the will of the first proprietors. But the barbarian automatic machines are under the Lair. Even a snake couldn't get through there."
"A snake couldn't, but Kutsi Merc could. Besides, he has a reliable agent there."
Kutsi Merc understood everything. Dobr Mar needed to show the proprietors that he was carrying out their conditions, and at the same time he could get rid of Kutsi Merc by sending him on an impossible assignment.
After his inevitable failure, Kutsi Merc could no longer prevent Dobr Mar from being re-elected.
Not a line moved on Kutsi Merc's face.
"It is clear," he said respectfully. "Penetrate into the Lair and destroy it and its automatic machines by using a disintegration charge." He thought for a moment and added almost casually, "A reliable cover will be needed."
"Fine," agreed the Ruler, walking round the horse-shoe table and settling himself in the comfortable armchair. Many of his predecessors had used that chair and he intended to keep his place in it for a long time to come.
"The cover would be Ave Mar."
"Ave Mar? My son?" Dobr Mar rose abruptly to his feet.
He turned away to hide his wrath. This experienced spy was playing an unworthy game with him, hoping that the father would not risk his son's life.
Before Dobr Mar had thrice put up his candidature for Ruler and had been defeated for refusing to become the "Ruler's friend", he had been the owner of vast fertile fields. His son Ave had been born in those fields, close to nature. He had been given his name Ave (Welcome) when he reached maturity. As a little boy, he had run around with half-naked children of roundheads working in his father's fields.
He had not only gone fishing with them to help them fill their bellies at least once in a while, he had climbed trees for the nutrient buds, but, like all generations of children, he had played at war.
Dobr Mar was proud of his son, although the boy had inherited his curly hair from his roundhead grandmother and his girlish curved eyelashes and his clear gaze from his mother. The father didn't particularly like his son looking at the world too ecstatically, naively believing in justice and the ancient laws of honour. Life had punished him many times for this old-fashionedness. But the father was flattered that his son worshipped him for his efficiency and love of peace. However, the son sometimes behaved rashly. On leaving his teacher Um Sat, "not wishing to serve the science of death", he openly spoke up against the fact that the decisive role on both continents was being played by the proprietors of the fields and big workshops who had profited from the over-populated lands and the labour of those working for the proprietors. Fortunately for him, as his father knew from the secret reports, he never managed to attach himself to the "current under the ice" of young people threatening to break through even here, on Danjab, in a new Uprising of Justice. Ave himself often heard seditious remarks by disciples of the Doctrine of Justice, but he didn't consider it necessary to report them to his father. Ave knew about the secret meetings, the participants in which as in token of greeting used to touch their right eyebrow with their left hand. But he was not admitted to these assemblies. The toilers apparently did not trust him because he was the Ruler's son. It never entered his father's head that Ave Mar's friends could safeguard him as a capable scientist. After leaving Um Sat, Ave devoted himself to the problem of a possible life for the Faetians on other planets. Dobr Mar knew but did not really understand his arguments that the authorities on astronomy were wrong in affirming that life was impossible anywhere except on Faena, since the other planets were either too far away from their star or, like Merc, Ven and Terr, had been incinerated by its rays. The Faetians had nowhere to go if they fled from their own planet, if you discounted the grim planet Mar, which was hardly capable of supporting life and had been earmarked by the Dictator of the barbarians' continent as a place of exile for roundheads. It turned out that the only means of purging the planet for future generations might be war and war alone. Ave, however, affirmed that the temperatures there were not as high as might be expected from its proximity to Sol, its star. What was decisive was the carbon dioxide content, which created the greenhouse effect, preventing the excess heat radiation into space. This effect made it possible for life to develop on Faena. On its horizon, the star rose solely as the brightest star, whereas on Terr it must have been a blinding disc to look at. Ave held that if there was less carbon dioxide than on Faena, there would be no greenhouse effect, the superfluous heat could be dissipated and any life forms could develop on its surface.
Ave's views were rejected by the experts as absurd. He became disillusioned in the Elders of learning, in the teachings and in himself, lost heart and began to pine away.
His father merely shrugged his shoulders. He would have preferred a son more adapted to life, although he loved and pitied him.
And now Kutsi Merc was demanding a sacrifice... To carry out the task, Dobr Mar must risk his son's life.
Kutsi Merc was certainly calculating that the Ruler would back down, but he was mistaken. The Ruler, too, was cornered.
...As he remembered all this, Dobr Mar, "defender of the right and culture", did not know what to do. He did not know how the operation on Powermania was going to turn out. Would the crazy mission succeed? Would the dangerous Kutsi Merc be eliminated, and would Ave survive?
THE TEMPLE OF ETERNITY
Every evening, when bright Jupi began shining over the Dread Wall, Mother Lua conducted the alien Ave to her charge.
She kept watch for them with the hunchback, who always accompanied his master. The nurse and the secretary did not get on very well with one another. The hunchback was trying to get Mother Lua to take him somewhere, but she was frightened.
One evening, Ave came into the garden looking downcast.
"What's the matter?" asked Mada in alarm.
Ave Mar confessed that he had to leave the Great Shore on the following day. The travellers were not allowed to stay any longer near the Dictator's palace. Kutsi had spotted that they were being trailed.
The young Faetians, as at their first tryst, were standing in the shadow of the trees. Mada rested her head on Ave's breast and wept. He stroked her hair, not knowing what to say. It was obvious that they loved one another and could not bear to be apart.
Mada held her head back and looked up at Ave. His curly hair blotted out the stars.
"Everything'll sort itself out," he said reassuringly. "We must use certain of your father's oddities-his attachment to the old customs, for instance. He refers in his teaching to the former monarchs; he even remembers that intermarriage between the children of hostile kings used to stave off war. I'm going to my father. I shall ask him to approach Yar Jupi with an offer of alliance between us."
Mada shook her head.
"What? Get married now?" Ave had read her mind.
"Yes. Before you leave."
Mada said this firmly, almost imperiously.
"You mean tonight?" asked Ave, perplexed. "But who's capable of marrying two polar opposites of hostility?"
Mada laughed, although her face was still wet with tears. Ave had an odd way of putting things in a foreign language.
"You just don't know the ways of the Superiors. It's the roundheads that need permission from the authorities to get married. But we longfaces are free. Any of the Superiors whose age exceeds the combined ages of the lovers can pronounce them man and wife."
"But where are we going to find such an elder? Ave is only a guest of the Superiors."
"What does 'guest' mean? Are you helpless to find an answer?"
Ave flared up.
"I was a pupil of Dm Sat himself, the first Elder of learning on the planet. He is old enough and he lives here."
"But he's a roundhead," said Mada disappointedly.
"Urn Sat has only just been proclaimed 'honorary longface' in Powermania. He is equal to the Superiors amongst the Superiors."
Mada pushed Ave away from her, but clasped his hands in hers as she looked adoringly up at him.
"Hurry to him! You're a true Faetian and you'll be able to convince him."
Bowing low, the hunchback Kutsi Merc conducted the young Faetian into Dm Sat's cell.
"Ave Mar? You have returned to your teacher?" said the Elder, half-rising from his chair to greet them.
"Yes, I have-at a most difficult moment in my life."
"You speak as though it were a matter of life or death."
"No!" Ave vigorously shook his head. "Much more. A matter of happiness!"
The Elder looked intently at his pupil's face.
"So that's it! But how can I help?"
"By using the rights bestowed on him by the Council of Blood, Dm Sat, by the law of the Superiors, has the right to join together for all time Ave Mar and she whom he loves more than life."
"The clear-thinking Ave Mar has chosen none other than the daughter of Dictator Yar Jupi, the beautiful Mada, in spite of the obstacles," interposed Kutsi Merc in the flowery language of Powermania.
"What? Roundhead Sat is to use the rights of the oppressors?" The old man was outraged.
"It is not just a matter of love," interposed Kutsi Merc again. "The marriage of the son and daughter of the rulers of two continents will help to avert a war... That is what Yar Jupi says in his teaching."
The cunning Kutsi knew how to convince Um Sat. The Elder became thoughtful.
"He talks sensibly. Though burning with shame, I did not reject the gift of the barbarians solely because I was thinking of how to avoid war."
"Then use your rights and help us to be happy!" responded Ave.
"What must I do?" asked the Elder.
"The ceremony is quite simple. Mada's nurse and Kutsi Merc will be the witnesses."
"Is that enough?" The Elder was amazed.
"Yes, for the age of Um Sat exceeds the combined ages of the lovers, and he has the right to join them in wedlock."
"So the man who created the doctrine of matter, the man who refuted the religions of the past," said the Elder with a smile, "will have to perform almost the function of an unworthy priest..."
"And, what is more, in the shrine of a former temple," interposed Kutsi Merc.
"Then let the marriage truly serve peace and remain a secret for the time being," decided the scientist. "The wedding will be announced when Ave returns to Danjab. May it help the father to come to terms with Yar Jupi, if the Dictator is really in the traditions of the ancient monarchs."
"So be it!" announced the hunchback.
"I will persuade my father. He's a politician and won't miss such a chance," said Ave warmly in support. "However, the ceremony absolutely must take place tonight."
"Why the hurry?" said Um Sat with a frown.
"Alas, travellers, even distinguished ones, cannot stay for long near the Dictator's palace. Besides ... it was Mada's request."
"There is no Faetess more beautiful and intelligent! She thinks of everything," commented Kutsi Merc.
"Well, then..." Um Sat shrugged his shoulders. "The shrine is empty. And old men don't need such a lot of sleep."
Ave silently embraced his teacher. Um Sat gazed sadly at him for a long time.
The Blood Door opened once again. Mother Lua, as usual, was waiting for Ave and Kutsi in the half-ruined portico. The three of them went into the ancient monastery garden, lit now by the faint light of Lua. The dangling lianas didn't look like snakes any more, they suggested the cords of costly curtains screening off the garden. The trees resembled colonnaded galleries.
There was a fragrance of rotting leaves and something strange and gentle-perhaps the flowers that Yar Jupi used to grow with such passion.
Mada was waiting for her beloved and rushed to meet him as soon as he walked through the Blood Door.
"Has he agreed?"
"Urn Sat has so far created reactions of disintegration, but now (may Kutsi Merc be forgiven for this!) he will have to accomplish the opposite," joked the hunchback, and he grinned, but quickly changed the grin into an ingratiating smile.
It had grown dark in the garden. The silver light had faded. Lightning began flashing beyond the outer wall, casting dense black shadows onto the shrubbery. One of the trees seemed to leap out of the darkness and blaze up, its white bark shining.
A bellowing noise came from somewhere far away. It was as if an enormous, lumbering machine had gone out of control and had finally plunged down into an abyss, deafening and blinding all like a disintegration blast.
Mada huddled closer to Ave.
It was now totally dark; the avenue colonnades and the tree with the white bark had disappeared.
"What a thunderstorm!" whispered Mada ecstatically.
"We'll be soaked as we go round the Dread Wall to the Temple of Eternity," observed the hunchback.
"Should we put it off till tomorrow, perhaps?" asked Ave cautiously.
"Never!" exclaimed Mada. "Are we going to be stopped by the thunder of heaven? As for the rain wetting our clothes, my nanny can take care of them."
"Of our clothes?" inquired Kutsi Merc. He held out his hand and felt the first raindrops fall on to his palm. "Yes, she'll have to take care of them."
"I can do without that care," grumbled Mother Lua. "I'd do better to take you there under cover."
"What d'you mean?" asked Kutsi Merc, suddenly on the alert.
"It's all quite simple," explained Mada. "An old underground passage leads from here to the Temple of Eternity. The priests used it once, but now we're going to walk along it. Nanny knows everything and will open the doors as we come to them."
"Does the passage run from the garden?" inquired Kutsi.
"Yes, we can go into it not far from here. Nanny will show us."
The rain began, a downpour from the start. They all ran, stumbling over the tree roots. Lua went in front, with Kutsi, Mada and Ave following on behind.
"This way! It's no darker here than outside. The old passage isn't much to look at. I'm sorry to say," said Mother Lua as she led them further.
"Still, it's better than in the rain," responded Kutsi.
Ave could smell the damp. When he touched the wall, it was wet and sticky. With the other hand he tightly squeezed Mada's fingers.
"Wait," came Lua's voice from in front. "I must make an effort."
"Does the good lady need a hand in lifting something?"
"I must concentrate."
It turned out that Mother Lua had to use will-power to open a certain door that would obey her brain biocurrents.
The young Faetians saw a bright rectangle in front of them, with Lua and Kutsi sharply silhouetted against it.
Mada and Ave went into a spacious underground, plastic-lined corridor.
"Aha!" said Kutsi Merc. "The ancient priests knew their materials."
"We turn left for the Temple of Eternity."
Kutsi Merc stopped and felt a thick cable in red braiding.
Mada firmly squeezed Ave's fingers in her little hand.
The footsteps of the Faetians rang under the low ceiling.
Ave looked back suspiciously to where the corridor made a turn. The light that had automatically come on when they appeared had already gone out.
Twice the Faetians were confronted by a blank wall, and each time, in response to Mother Lua's mental command, the barrier disappeared to let them pass through.
"I wouldn't like to be left here without our companion," commented Kutsi Merc.
"Has the visitor from Danjab no more to say than that?" said Lua reproachfully.
The secret passage had branches, but Lua confidently walked past them, leading the others along a route with which she was thoroughly familiar.
Finally, she stopped again before a blank wall and looked intently into the centre of a spiral ornament. This was enough for the wall to divide, and Lua let the young Faetians go first with Kutsi Merc, then went into the familiar shrine herself.
Mada huddled closer to Ave. She had not been scared of going along the underground passage, but the ancient temple with its shrine and a roof that disappeared into unseen heights had a disturbing effect on her imagination.
Something stirred in the semidarkness and a voice rang out:
"I welcome the happy ones! I guessed that because of the bad weather you would use the tunnel by which the Dictator of Power-mania came to the session."
Mada Jupi looked in agitation at the tall figure of the great Elder of learning, who was standing on a dais. She thought of the High Priest of the temple who used to deliver his invocations from that spot. And his voice had echoed under the dark vaults then as now, when Um Sat began addressing the young Faetians.
The Elder of learning tactfully performed a rudimentary wedding ceremony, ending it with the words:
"So be it!"
His voice echoed and re-echoed in the depths of the shrine, as if the ancient priests were chanting the responses.
Then Um Sat embraced each of the young Faetians and wished them happiness.
Ave wanted to take his leave of Mada, but Kutsi intervened, exchanging significant glances with Mother Lua.
"Isn't it worth going by the underground passage so as to see the young bride off? She will let us out through the Blood Door."
"Through our Blood Door!" said Mada, looking at Ave.
Mother Lua stood meekly beside Kutsi, as if entirely dependent on him.
And again Ave acted apparently of his own volition, expressing his willingness to go by the underground passage.
Mother Lua heaved a sigh. She had devoted her whole life to ensure that Mada took after her mother and not her father. What lay in store for the girl?..
Kutsi Merc was content and did not hide it.
Yar Alt, Supreme Officer of the Blood Guard, was proud that, on his coming-of-age, his strength of character had earned him the name of his maternal uncle, Yar Jupi himself.
He lived up to his nickname in the contingents of the Blood Guard, to which he had been appointed by the Dictator. Coarse, hot-tempered, ready to strike and even to kill, he despised the views of others and could not bear objections.
That was why the Dictator had given him the more important assignments. And it had certainly not been by chance that Yar Alt had met on board ship the son of Danjab's Ruler arriving with his secretary. Camouflaging himself with the rudeness typical of the security officers, he had been "checking" the new arrivals, having decided not to let them out of sight.
Finally, as Yar Alt had been expecting, the young Faetians and their companions entered the shrine through a gap in the wall.
During the improvised wedding ceremony under the temple vaults, apart from the nanny and the secretary, there had been one invisible witness. He had been unable to suppress a groan, as if echoing, like the officiating priests, the Elder's cry:
"So be it!"
Yar Alt had failed to win "full psycho-life contact" from Mada, while this foreign half-breed had achieved it without effort. In the depths of his soul, Yar Alt considered that he could have become a totally different Faetian if his love had been reciprocated. Tenderness, sensitivity and goodness would have blossomed in him if the beautiful long-face of his choice had not responded to him with proud disdain. That was why Yar Alt had come to hate the world.
And now, in fear and shame at having groaned aloud, he kept himself in hand so as to carry out his duty.
He waited until Mother Lua led the newly-weds and the hunchback into the secret passage, watched as Um Sat retired to his cell, and only after that did he risk going to the hidden door. He strained all his will as he ordered the wall to divide. And he sighed with relief. The wall parted to form an opening. Yar Alt dived through it.
The criminals shouldn't have gone far. The biocurrents of the Supreme Officer of the Blood Guard were effective. He would find the intruders while they were still underground and not give them a chance to shelter in the palace.
He ran along the passage, but the cursed lamps were coming on and going out again of their own accord. He stopped, realising that they would give him away. All it needed was for one of the party to look round...
If only the lovers could have suspected what they were walking past! The galleries of the Central Console! The heart of the disintegration war!
Why hadn't the alarm gone off? Or was it all because of the brain biocurrents of the roundhead woman whom the automatic machines recognised as friendly, just as they recognised him, the Supreme Officer of the Blood Guard?
So reasoned Yar Alt as he hurried in pursuit of the departing group. Suddenly, he stopped abruptly.
To one side, a gallery sloped steeply downwards; along it ran a cable in red braiding. It seemed to Yar Alt that the light had just gone out in this gallery, which certainly didn't lead to the Dictator's palace. Had the hunchback turned off for the Central Console? Why?
Yar Alt caught his breath. Enemies were sneaking up to the Console! It was not just a matter of purity of blood, but of a threat to the whole of Powermania!
Without another thought, Yar Alt also turned off into the gallery and ran headlong down the slope. He was blocked by a blank wall. The light switched itself on and a spiral, the symbol of the Superiors, became visible on the smooth surface.
Yar Alt had never been here before and did not know whether he would be able to open the door in the Wall. Terror and fury made the force of his gaze ten times stronger as he fixed it on the spiral. The moment before the automatic machines began working seemed agonisingly long. But the Wall divided. His status as Supreme Officer of the Blood Guard had helped. The biocurrents of his brain were familiar to these machines too.
Yar Alt rushed through the gap.
After a short while, he saw the secretary and the nanny walking ahead of him.
He drew a pistol loaded with poisoned bullets. Even a light scratch would stun a man.
Without warning, Yar Alt fired at the hunchback from behind. Kutsi started, but stayed on his feet. The bullet had ricocheted off his hump into the wall.
Alt fired again and yet again. The shock of the bullets threw the secretary onto his knees this time.
Yar Alt slowly walked up, waiting for his enemy to breathe his last.
But the other, who was lying on his back, suddenly kicked the weapon out of Yar Alt's hand. It clattered over the flagstones.
Alt flung himself on the enemy as he struggled to get up and tried to pin the hunchback down to the floor.
Kutsi Merc was unarmed. He had intentionally not brought a weapon with him, anticipating possible searches which could have ruined his whole plan. Endowed with exceptional strength, he would easily have coped with a lighter opponent had it not been for the heavy burden on his back.
Yar Alt drew a long stiletto that served him as a personal antenna in the Blood Guard communications system. Embracing the hunchback with one arm and breathing heavily into his face, he drove the stiletto into his back. But the point slid over something solid, slitting the cloth.
Yar Alt thought only of bullet-proof armour and of nothing else. This spelled disaster, and not only for him.
Almost without hope of success, Yar Alt stabbed his foe in the chest. Strange to say, the hunchback had no frontal armour. The stiletto went straight into Kutsi's heart. His grip loosened and he fell backwards. A pool of blood spread over the stones.
Yar Alt jumped to his feet and prodded the hunchback with his foot. Only then did he turn to Mother Lua.
But she was not there. She had snatched up Alt's pistol and disappeared during the brief struggle so as to warn Mada and save her life.
Yar Alt ran forward and immediately came up against the blank Wall. He fixed a malignant glare on the centre of the spiral, but it never budged. Yar Alt realised that Mother Lua was standing on the other side of the door and by effort of will was commanding the door not to open. That was why the automatic machines were not reacting to his own command!
A struggle began between Yar Alt and Mother Lua. Separated by a solid barrier, they glared furiously at the centres of the two spirals. The programmed machines were paralysed by the opposing wills.
Yar Alt was bathed in drops of sweat and his lips were flecked with foam.
It had been easier to kill Kutsi Merc than to cope with this damned witch. He knew that she composed forbidden songs. Her kind had once been burned at the stake.
Finally, the Wall shuddered and parted to leave a gap, but slammed shut again. Yar Alt just managed to catch sight of the nanny. Fortunately, it hadn't occurred to her to shoot at him. At the mere thought of this, Yar Alt's skin crawled. He had not noticed how exhausted she had been.
The Wall shuddered and was still by turns. Yar Alt ground his teeth. Mother Lua's mistake had suggested a plan of action. He wanted very little now: it was for a gap to open for only a fraction of a second. He himself would not, of course, be in front of it.
The perspiration streamed into his eyes. In a wild frenzy, he continued drilling the centre of the spiral with his eyes, commanding the Wall to open. He made ready, drawing his left arm back in order to throw the stiletto.
Mother Lua was almost losing consciousness. Her arms hung helplessly by her sides. She knew her own life and that of her favourite depended on her will-power.
The nanny swayed. The Wall opened just a little way. Yar Alt waited for the right moment and hurled his stiletto through the gap. It pierced the roundhead woman in the throat. Her eyes went blank and the Wall divided.
Yar Alt jumped over the fallen nanny. He tugged the stiletto out of her throat and started racing down the corridor. After a few strides he suddenly realised that he had not retrieved his pistol from Mother Lua. He was about to go back, but changed his mind, hurrying to catch up with Ave Mar and Mada. The traitress who had led the evildoer towards the Central Console had already received her deserts!
Yar Alt ran along the underground passage and the lighting went on as he approached and went out again behind him.
The Wall directly before the palace barred his way once again, but opened as soon as he glanced at the spiral.
He was now in the palace. The monastery building, reconstructed for the Dictator, still bore the features of the old architecture. Low vaulted ceilings, slit windows from floor to ceiling.
The rooms were sumptuously decorated for ceremonial assemblies that were no longer held for fear that the Dictator might be assassinated.
Yar Alt knew how to get through to Mada's chambers. Subtle taste and a woman's hand had completely transformed the austere cells and oratories. Yar Alt burst into one that had been decorated with pale blue fabric and silver cords, and it was there that he found Ave and Mada.
Mada was doing her hair. Beside herself with fury, she turned round and stamped her foot.
"How dare you burst in on me, you despicable robot of the Guard?"
Yar Alt showered Mada with threats.
"Silence, you boor!" exploded the furious Ave Mar, drawing himself up to his full height.
Mada shielded him with her body.
"Get out of here, you filthy robot! You're not worth a hair of my husband's head!"
"Husband?" Yar Alt bellowed with offensive laughter. "They are no longer alive, the unscrupulous witnesses of your ignominious ceremony under cover of which the enemies of the Superiors planned to wipe out our continent!"
"Blood on your hands and slander on your tongue-that is all you stand for! What can you know of goodness, love and nobility?"
Yar Alt pushed Mada roughly out of the way and hurled himself with his stiletto on the unarmed Ave. The other fended him off with a kick. As he fell, Alt seized hold of Mada and tried to stab her.
Ave Mar gripped his arm and twisted it so that the weapon tore Yar Alt's own tunic.
Yar Alt was an experienced fighter. Ave Mar was an experienced athlete. They locked in combat, rolling about the ancient oratory and leaving a trail of bloodstains on the carpet.
Mada stared transfixed and could not tell whose blood it was. Ave Mar's face was smeared all over with it.
Yar Alt stabbed Ave several times, but could not draw his hand far back enough for the fatal blow. Ave Mar sprang to his feet, seized a heavy chair and hurled it at his opponent. The other tried to dodge it, but a leg caught him on the head and he fell onto the floor. He nevertheless managed to draw back the stiletto, taking aim for a throw at Mada.
Ave Mar struck Yar Alt on the temple. His enemy was flung backwards, but threw out his legs and locked them round Ave's ankles. Turning with a jerk, he threw Ave to the floor, then, getting up onto his knees, raised the stiletto. Ave knocked the weapon out of his hand.
Two shots rang out in succession. Mother Lua crawled through the door, a pistol dancing in her hand. Yar Alt reached for his stiletto again to finish Ave off.
Mada rushed to Lua, snatched the weapon out of her failing hand and pressed the firing button. Yar Alt jerked convulsively, slumped, and lay still.
"He loaded it with poisoned bullets himself," gasped Mother Lua. "My dear, what will become of you?.."
Ave Mar rose to his feet and, breathing heavily, looked in amazement at the body of his adversary and at the unperturbed Mada. But she suddenly threw the pistol aside with revulsion.
"Blood! Blood!" she said in despair. "Now there can only be death. They will tear you to pieces, my husband. No one will believe it was I who did this."
Ave Mar himself couldn't believe it as he stared in bewilderment at his bloodstained hands.
NO HAPPINESS IN THIS WORLD
Mada Jupi was, of course, a pampered child. Her every wish was fulfilled, she was glorified and bowed down to. But she had nevertheless not become spoiled and capricious, or incapable of doing anything but give orders. Mother Lua, who preserved the wisdom of the people, had managed after the death of Mada's mother to inspire the girl with the idea of equal rights for all Faetians, whatever their outward appearance. Restrained, always calm. Mother Lua had the rare talent of the story-teller and an innate gift of influencing the minds of others. In another country, at another time. Mother Lua would have been the pride of the people; but on the barbarian continent of Power-mania's Superiors she was only a nanny-true, of the Dictator's daughter. She had always held up the girl's own mother as an example, convincing her that the daughter should follow suit.
Mada grew up resembling her mother, but she also took after her father to some extent. Perhaps in her ability to love and hate to extremes. Consequently, the meeting with Ave swept her right off her feet. She fell in love, and a soft tenderness was combined with ruthless determination, and bewilderment with irrepressible daring. She had shot Yar Alt as if he were a mad beast, yet she was dismayed at the sight of his body.
The nanny was dying. Mada kneeled in front of her, listening as she whispered something almost inaudible.
"Nanny is talking about her son. And she says that Yar Alt murdered Kutsi."
But Mother Lua could not say any more. Her strength had ebbed away. No efforts on Mada's part were of any avail, neither the kiss of life nor heart massage. The nanny's eyes closed and her body stretched out The hand that Mada had been holding began to turn cold. There was no pulse any more.
"It's the end," said Mada, and she burst into tears.
Ave now saw his companion as a weak and helpless girl. Like a child, she shook her nurse, kissed her cold hands and tried to wake her up.
Finally she turned her tear-stained face to Ave.
"My nanny is dead. She was so kind and clever! And we are finished." And she glanced at Yar Alt's contorted body. "Just think! He was my cousin."
"Maybe we should try and help him!"
"The bullets were poisoned. I don't know how my poor nanny came by his pistol." She began sobbing again.
Ave decided that he must do something. He lifted up the dead Alt, who had stiffened in his last convulsions, and carried him into a corner of the room behind the curtains.
Mada stood up determinedly and threw her head back.
"It's no use. The Guards will be here soon, and then my father." She picked Alt's pistol up off the floor. "Forgive me for taking charge of our last step. There is no need to fire a bullet. One scratch is enough. Death will be instant. We shall hold hands with a bullet in our palms. We shall leave this world in which there is no happiness for us."
Ave looked into her face: determination in her was struggling with despair.
Mada took the last round out of the pistol. The bullet was silvery and its sharp prickles were brown where the poisonous coating had been applied.
Ave resolutely gripped Mada's hand.
"No! Faetians don't give in so easily. We can still renounce life, but happiness... No!"
"There is no happiness in this world," replied Mada.
"Show me the way into the garden," said Ave masterfully, "and then through the Blood Door."
"You think we can flee somewhere? Dawn is near, the last in our life. Can you hear the birds singing? I shall follow you because you are my husband. But we shall take the prickly bullet with us. It will be a safe protection for us."
"Lead the way," urged Ave.
Mada looked at him curiously. Until now, she had thought herself the stronger.
They carried Lua's body to a couch and Mada spread over it a pale blue coverlet from her bed. Then she showed Ave a low door leading into a narrow passage that ended in a steep ladder.
Just before dawn, the garden had changed completely. A silvery cloud had filled the avenues, hiding the bushes and tree-trunks from view. It seemed to Ave that he and Mada were walking into another world above the clouds. He clasped her slender hand more tightly.
The quivering mist at their feet seemed treacherous, weightless and yet dense. It was as if there might be water under it one moment and an abyss the next.
Mada stepped fearlessly into the swirling mist and took Ave with her. The obedient Blood Door opened in front of her.
A dense mist had enveloped the ruins of the old shrine under the Dread Wall. As they walked breast-high through the cloud that lay on the stones, Ave and Mada seemed to be fording a river of foam.
Mada knew the way. They came surprisingly soon to the black building of the Temple of Eternity. Ave thought that the unfortunate Kutsi must have led them the long way round. Poor wretch! It cost Ave an effort to restrain himself; he did not even allow himself a sigh, but he felt sorry for the man.
Ave despised his own habitual changes of mood. But now he was firm and knew what had to be done. That was why he was taking Mada to Um Sat.
The Elder was astounded when he saw the newly-weds on the threshold of his cell once again.
He gave Mada a seat in an armchair opposite the table at which he had spent the whole night. Ave stood beside Mada.
"What's happened? Can I help you in any way?"
"There is no happiness in this world," cried Ave. "But in your power there is another world!"
The Elder raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
"There is another world in space," explained Ave, and he told the Elder all about what had happened.
Um Sat became thoughtful.
"So I must accept Yar Jupi's conditions and, in my turn, demand that he send his daughter to Terr? Doesn't that seem incredible? To take refuge in space?"
"But that would mean salvation not only for me and Ave," intervened Mada. "It would be the fulfilment of a dream: to help the Faetians, to find them a new world. Nanny and Mother were thinking about it. Not only Ave and I, but all of us could be happy there. It's not just for myself that I'm ready to fly to Terr. That's what I'm going to tell my father."
Mada understood global problems in no way more deeply than Um Sat.
"What duties as an astronaut can Mada carry out?" asked Um Sat sternly.
"I am a Sister of Health. We are needed everywhere. And not only for the children."
"That's true," agreed Um Sat. "Ave Mar, you will stay here, no one is going to look for your secretary. Mada must go to her chambers and lock herself in. Ave, see your young wife as far as the Dread Wall. It's a good thing that you both look on the trip to Terr as an exploit, not just as an escape."
After their departure, the Elder sat for a while in reflection. Then he summoned several sages of learning who had arrived for the session. They filled his cell. Many of them were roundheads, but there were longfaces as well. As they came in, each touched his right eyebrow with his left hand. When the cell was packed full, Um Sat asked if he should fly from Faena on the eve of possible events for which, in the name of Justice, the toilers and their friends had been preparing for so many cycles.
After all, he was an adherent of the struggle against the proprietors on both continents, although he had not fully fathomed its depths.
Those present decided unanimously that Um Sat, the personification and pride of learning on Faena, should go into space to find the continents that the Faetians needed. Many of them considered that in this way they would best safeguard the life of the great Elder, but no one said anything about it to him.
Um Sat threw his hands apart. He must submit to the general decision. He had now received the right to act. When Ave returned, Um Sat called the Dictator's secretary over the closed TV. The screen lit up and the slits of the secretary box glittered on it.
"Dictator Jupi, most illustrious of the illustrious, consents to receive the honorary longface Um Sat and is sending an escort for him," announced the box, which had been programmed to speak in the old style. The screen went blank.
"What?" whispered Ave Mar. "Go into the Lair? Doesn't this mean that Yar Jupi wants to take a hostage?"
The Elder smiled sadly.
"The risk is not so great."
An officer of the Blood Guard soon appeared in the cell. Ave's blood froze. Before him stood the living Yar Alt.
The caller bowed to the Elder, glanced casually at Ave and said pompously:
"The greatest of the great, the Dictator Yar Jupi, gave you the right, honorary long-face, to enter his presence. I have been sent to escort you to the palace."
Ave Mar had the impression that even the Blood Guard officer's voice was the same as Alt's. Had he really come back from the dead? Perhaps the paralysis caused by the bullet had only been temporary. But why didn't he rush at Ave the way he had done in Mada's room?
The officer of the Blood Guard merely glanced indifferently again at Ave Mar and bowed to him.
"In the name of the most illustrious Dictator, I bear apologies to the honoured guest."
As soon as the officer of the Blood Guard and Um Sat had gone out, Ave Mar rushed to the door of the cell. To his amazement, it was unlocked. Only then did Ave Mar realise that the officer's face had been innocent of a scar.
Dictator Yar Jupi was waiting impatiently for Um Sat Omnipotent by grace of the Blood Council, capable in favour of the proprietors of sending millions of Faetians to their death and ready to unleash a disintegration war at any moment, he was powerless to safeguard the one life that was the most dear to him.
Yar Jupi was a complicated person. He understood extremely well whom he was serving and how. After losing his wife in his time, he had come to hate the roundheads from whom she had contracted a fatal disease while nursing them. This hatred had finally found expression in a barefaced doctrine which it was impossible to believe, but which proved convenient to the proprietors from the Blood Council. Now, at the height of power, when he was ostensibly leading the life of an ascetic in voluntary seclusion, love for his daughter had become the only ray of light to Yar Jupi. Everything else was darkness: fear for his own life, terror of a war which he was nevertheless preparing himself, terror also of the toilers and of his own masters who were ready to get rid of him.
The thing that mattered to him most now was Mada's safety. She was the only one he would want to save from among the millions of doomed.
And so, in fulfilment of the complex plan that had occurred to him, he had appeared unexpectedly during a session of Peaceful Space in the Temple of Eternity. And now Um Sat was due to arrive.
The officer of the Blood Guard, Yar Alt's brother, handed Um Sat over to two security robots which led the sage of learning through low-ceilinged, sumptuously furnished halls.
Urn Sat glanced out of the corner of his eye at his unwieldy bodyguards or escorts with their cubic heads and hooked, scaly manipulators.
In one of the rooms, a box with glittering slits in it, just like the one that the Dictator used, said with programmed floweriness in the impeccable ancient manner:
"Urn Sat, honorary longface, may pass through the door in front of him, on the other side of which there awaits him the most blissful meeting with the greatest of the great, the most brilliant of the brilliant, Yar Jupi, Dictator of the continent of the Superiors."
The door opened of its own accord, the robot security guards fell behind and Urn Sat went into the grim, empty dungeon with the grey walls.
Yar Jupi, bearded, hook-nosed, with a shaven skull and upslanting eyebrows, rushed to meet the visitor, riveting him with a piercing, half-mad stare.
"Does Urn Sat realise what honour and trust has been afforded him?" he shouted.
"Yes, so be it," sighed the Elder. "Though I be unworthy of such honour, I may be trusted."
"I am going to talk as Superior to Superior, the more so since you are famous for your mind," said the Dictator more calmly this time.
According to the ritual, the guest was supposed to reply that his brains were below comparison with the divine and enlightened intellect of Yar Jupi, but Um Sat calmly said:
"I shall converse with the Dictator Yar Jupi as an Elder of learning with a politician, striving to understand and be understood."
Yar Jupi started, his nose twitched and his face was distorted by a nervous grimace. He looked sideways at a niche under the window. There were wonderful flowers standing in it. Their tender, dark-blue corollas with the golden sprinkling of the finest stars, each with up to six petals, looked down, dangling on bowed stems.
This was a miracle, bred by the nurserymen on the orders of Yar Jupi, a passionate lover of flowers. But it was not their evening beauty that attracted him. The submissive horticulturalists had managed to breed a vegetable miracle, or rather monster, which exuded an aroma that was poisonous, however gentle it might seem. Any Faetian who inhaled it was stricken down with a fatal disease. More than once, rare visitors to this study, excessively independent-minded comrades-in-arms, received by the Dictator with unexpected warmth, sometimes even a few of his over-discontented masters, the big proprietors, had been privileged to sniff the greatest of all treasures. On returning home, they had died in agony without suspecting why.
Needless to say, a reliable ventilation system was sucking the dangerous scent out of the room.
"Well?" asked the Dictator nervously.
"After thinking it over all night, I have decided to accept your offer and lead the expedition to the planet Terr."
Yar Jupi started and sighed with relief.
"Urn Sat, having become an honorary longface, you confirm your wisdom. I shall glorify this on both continents. However, yesterday in the Temple of Eternity, I had in mind one stipulation which you will have to observe."
"I also wanted to add a condition to my consent to head the expedition."
"I can't bear it when conditions are imposed on me," said the Dictator, raising his voice slightly.
"It is rather the first practical step to complementing the space crew."
"I shall complement the space crew with longfaces, the most worthy of the worthy."
"Perhaps Dictator Yar Jupi will remember yesterday's promise to include any of the longfaces in the crew."
"I confirm that, even if it means my daughter."
"The daughter of Dictator Yar Jupi?" Dm Sat was truly astonished. It had never even entered his head that the Dictator himself would talk about her first.
"Do you dare to regard my daughter as ballast on the flight when she is a Sister of Health?" said Yar Jupi, raising his voice.
Both men fell silent, studying each other. No matter how clever he might be, it had never occurred to Urn Sat that the Dictator had thought of saving his daughter from the horrors of a disintegration war by sending her on a space expedition; and however cunning and crafty Yar Jupi might be, he could not have presumed that Dm Sat had come to him solely in order to obtain his consent to his daughter's flight to Terr.
"So you don't want her to fly?" demanded Yar Jupi ominously. "You're worried about her? I appreciate that Would you care to go over to those flowers? They are beautiful, are they not? Have you ever seen the like? Savour their aroma!.."
"I have never seen anything more beautiful than the daughter of Dictator Yar Jupi. Have no doubt that she will be the fairest flower on Terr..."
"Then we shall leave those blossoms in peace," interrupted Yar Jupi curtly.
THE FORGOTTEN HUMP
The body of Kutsi Merc was lying in a damp underground passage behind blank walls with a spiral ornament.
The casing of the artificial hump had been pierced and the air was entering it, slowly destroying the safety fuse.
No one on Faena, however, had an inkling of this danger on the day of the ceremonial farewell to the astronauts leaving for the planet Terr.
The expedition consisted of three Culturals and three Superiors, one of the latter being Mada Jupi.
For the toilers in the fields and workshops of Powermania, the day of the send-off was declared a public holiday so that the Faetians could go out on the road all the way as far as Cape Farewell, as the Dictator had named part of the Great Beach near the cosmodrome. This was the usual point of departure for all space probes, and also for the ships of the Superiors who were maintaining contact with Space Station Deimo. The proprietors hoped to gain considerable profits from the possible colonisation of the planets and were not parsimonious with their out lays.
Mada and Ave could not escape the feeling that they would soon find themselves being pursued. They were riding in the same steam-car as Dm Sat The old scientist was pensive and sad.
The young members of the expedition kept either looking back over their shoulders or looking intently at the Faetians who flashed past, standing on either side of the road and throwing flowers under the wheels of the car. There were roundheads and longfaces among them. They stood closely packed side by side, as if there were no distinction between them. For many Faetians, a joint expedition of the two continents to a planet was a symbol of peace and inspired them with the hope that it might be possible not only to come to terms on Faena and avoid a war, so but to send part of the population to other planets.
Many Faetians had come out onto the road with their children.
The Faetian landworkers were conspicuous with their dark suntan. Those who toiled in the workshop buildings had earthy complexions. But particularly noticeable were the Faetians from the deep mines. The coal-dust had so ingrained itself into their pores that their skin seemed dark, as if they were of another race and were neither longfaces nor roundheads.
Mada had withdrawn wholly into herself, depressed by what was happening. Like a true Faetess, she evaluated everything through the images near to her. She hardly remembered her own mother, but her nanny was to her a symbol of everything that she was leaving behind on Faena. She felt troubled because happiness lay ahead of her, whereas here... She shut her eyes tight.
When she opened them again, she saw that the road had reached the ocean. She looked at Ave, and her expression spoke volumes.
Ave had been thinking all the time about the Faetians standing by the roadside. Tomorrow they would return to workshops filled with the noise of lathes and the reek of oil. They would take up their stations by moving belts conveying the frames of machines in the process of stage-by-stage assembly, and they would stay there with no hope of Justice, compulsorily and joylessly toiling to the end of their hopeless days.
Ave Mar knew that on his shoulders lay the responsibility for the outcome of the space flight and how much it meant to all these deprived people.
Millions of these Faetians were also dreaming of happiness and the right to have children, whatever shape their heads might be. The means of annihilation alone must no longer be taken from the civilised world. Faena could not exist like that!
Um Sat was thinking sadly about the same thing. He was reflecting that the laws governing life of the whole community of the Faetians must evidently be understood like the laws of nature. The most serious mistake, apart from the discovery and promulgation of the means of disintegrating matter, was that, having lived until old age, he did not understand those laws. Why, for example, were the Faetian toilers creating with their hands not only what was needed to all for life, but also that which was capable of cutting that life off? Why did these crowds now seeing them off tolerate the power of a maniac who had made war his goal in life? Yar Jupi had now conceived the idea of making a grand gesture, of sending out an expedition to look for new "space continents". But how would the settlers live out there? According to the former laws of Faena, taking injustice and the threat of wars into space? No, true wisdom was in seeking not only new planets to inhabit, for which even Yar Jupi was prepared, but new laws by which to live that would scare the daylight out of him. Only why had the half-crazed Dictator let his daughter go out into space so easily? It was no picnic, after all!..
As he compared one detail with another, the old sage of learning suddenly came to the frightening conclusion that the Dictator might be trying to save his daughter from an imminent disintegration war on Faena.
He looked in a different light at the crowds of Faetians who were seeing him off. Would he ever see them again?
Mada pressed Ave's hand and looked round eloquently. Ave understood her fears...
Her alarm was not unfounded... Much had indeed been discovered in the Dictator's palace.
Grom Alt, the brother of the dead Yar Alt, had stumbled on the trail. This was the Grom Alt who had escorted Um Sat to the Dictator.
The officer of the Blood Guard noticed a dark streak on the floor running from the Blood Door to Mada Jupi's chambers, to the underground passage. Grom Alt was of too humble a rank to use the "blood" passage. But he decided that at all costs he must check what that stain was. He scraped up a sample of the dried substance and hurried to the laboratory.
His hands shook when, in secret from the others so as not to share his discovery with anyone, he established the composition of the test, a method taught to Blood Guard officers while at school, where skilful use was made of foreign science.
He was so agitated that his hair became damp, although it was almost standing on end. He had established that the stain on the floor was blood!
He hesitated to report his discovery to the Dictator, especially since Mada had shown up and had seen her father. True, she had not been accompanied by her nanny as usual. If something had happened, she could have told the Dictator herself. But after his meeting with her, Yar Jupi had been aloofly solemn. He had proclaimed a historical decision that had left the whole palace and after that the whole continent dumbfounded, then delirious with joy. The whole leadership had choked with effusions in which they had pointed out to the ordinary people that the Wisest of the Wise was also the most Fearless of the Valiant, prepared even to risk his beloved daughter's life for the welfare of the Faetians, thinking of their distant future and also of universal progress and of peace between the continents.
The obsequious joy in the Dictator's palace impeded Grom Alt's investigation. Everyone he met could talk about nothing except the exploit of Yar Jupi and his daughter.
In such an atmosphere, it was positively dangerous to draw anyone's attention to a bloodstain that could cast a shadow on Mada, who had been pronounced heroine of the day. Grom Alt found it particularly suspicious that Mada had not left the Blood Door to her chambers open and that her nanny had still failed to show up.
He decided to consult his brother, even if it meant sharing the honour of the possible discovery with him. But Yar Alt had disappeared.
It could be that Yar Jupi had sent his trusted Supreme Officer on some mission, as often before.
Grom Alt decided to act at his own risk. While Mada, amid sobs and compliments, was being seen to the cosmodrome, Grom Alt, who had remained behind on duty, went to the girl's chambers. The Blood Door was locked, but not by automatic machines this time. All he needed was the skeleton key which he had been taught to use in the Blood Guard school. Grom Alt went cautiously into the pale-blue room.
He not only found the body of Mada's nanny lying on the couch, but that of his own brother.
A poisoned bullet!
Yar Alt's pistol was lying nearby. Such a weapon could only have been carried by the Supreme Officer of the Blood Guard.
Grom Alt examined the weapon. There were no bullets left in it. His brother was not the kind of Faetian to have had only one round left in the magazine and to have used it on himself. On whom had the others been used?
With mixed feelings of regret and disgust, Grom Alt looked at his brother's cold body. They had never been good friends in his lifetime. Yar Alt had forever oppressed his younger brother. And now there he was, lying dead at Grom Alt's feet, thereby giving him a foothold on the next rung of the career ladder.
Grom Alt was so pleased with his comparison of the corpse to a rung on the ladder that he could not withhold himself and set his foot on the body, but promptly jerked it away again and hurried out of the nauseating room into the garden, then straight to the Dictator.
It was not easy getting through to Yar Jupi, in spite of the shocking news that Grom Alt was bringing him.
The impartial secretary box would understand nothing. Feelings did not exist for it, and the security robots and the door automatic machines of the Dictator's study were controlled solely by that brainless box.
To tell the truth to the box would mean a refusal for sure, because the stupid machine would promptly record in its memory all the circumstances of the affair and send it for investigation to the officers of Criminal Investigation, who hated the officers of the Blood Guard. They would risk reporting the incident to the Dictator only after the findings of the Criminal Investigation officers who, of course, would squeeze Grom Alt out of the picture.
That was why Grom Alt decided to lie to the secretary box, inventing a version according to which he had a most important message for the Dictator; it had been given to him by Mada Jupi in person on the way to Cape Farewell. After all, she was his cousin!
"You may give me the gist of the beautiful Mada's words," jabbered the box, which was packed full with electronic circuits. "The Greatest of the Great will study it when he checks my daily entries."
"I have nothing to tell you, meritorious guardian of memory. I must deliver a certain object to the Greatest of the Great, the most Illustrious of the Illustrious. If you, as a guardian of memory, could take this object to the Greatest of the Great, I would be at peace."
The confounded box resisted for a long time, but gave way in the end.
The secretary box impartially reported to the Dictator that Grom Alt, officer of the Blood Guard, begged to be received without use of the screen.
The Dictator was very busy. He had held a conference of the higher military ranks who, of course, were not admitted to his presence but simply attended on the monitor screens in his office. On the eve of the disintegration war, no one had access to Yar Jupi. He feared his masters from the Blood Council perhaps more than his subordinates.
The conference ended at last.
"Officer of the Blood Guard Grom Alt," creaked the secretary box, "you may pass through the door to genuflect before the most Illustrious of the Illustrious."
The agitated Grom Alt went into the Dictator's unprepossessing office, afraid to raise his head and look at the face of the man who had invented the Doctrine of Hatred. Like his brother, he aped the Dictator's external appearance in every way.
According to the ritual, Grom Alt genuflected and, staring at the floor, told in a trembling voice about the trail of blood leading into the beautiful Mada's chambers and about the bodies he had found in there.
"Despicable robot of the guard! What are you drivelling about?"
"May your wrath descend on the foul murderers who plotted evil against you and your incomparable daughter, and whose traces I was able to uncover. I grieve over my brother's fate and am happy that your daughter did not become a victim of the villainous conspiracy."
"Conspiracy?" roared the Dictator, and he quivered from head to foot.
He stood with clenched fists and glared with crazed eyes at the terrified officer, who did not know what was going to happen next.
Yar Jupi only reflected for a moment. The discovery of this over-zealous officer of the Blood Guard could upset all his calculations and force him to cancel the orders he had only just given to his military men.
Yar Jupi roared with laughter.
"So that's how it is, is it?" shouted the Dictator through his laughter. "You bring me news of the infinite grief of the Faetians who could not bear to part with my incomparable Mada?"
"I meant something altogether different"
"Brainless insect! Answer my questions!"
"I am in fear and trembling."
"Why did my Supreme Officer Yar Alt die?"
"He was poisoned by a bullet."
"Who had such bullets, apart from him?"
"Then is it not clear to you, insect, that, enamoured of the beautiful Mada, the Supreme Officer committed suicide in her room as a mark of his hopeless yearning for her?"
"But the nanny's body..."
"Was she not attached to her mistress? Did not the low creature understand that with the departure of her mistress to another planet, she would become an ordinary roundhead, insignificant and despised, as is only right?"
"What? She took her own life?" Grom Alt was dumbfounded, remembering the wound in Lua's throat and shaking with fear at the thought that he had displeased the Dictator.
Yes, he certainly had displeased the Dictator. Yar Jupi was not at all disposed to ascertain why only two had been killed when at any moment hundreds of millions of Faetians could perish. The more so that this could hold up the space expedition that was meant to save Mada's life.
"However, this stripling from the Blood Guard will hardly keep his mouth shut," thought Yar Jupi.
The Dictator gently raised the terror-stricken officer off his knees.
"My good sentinel Grom Alt! You have every justification for replacing your suicide brother. Thank fate that true Faetians are the slaves of their feelings. If you should ever fall in love with a beautiful Faetess and she does not reciprocate your feelings, behave as did your elder brother. But allow me, as one who is proud of a daughter capable of inspiring such powerful emotions, to thank you for your faithful service and for bringing me news that has made my heart rejoice. I shall show you the treasure of my flower collection, which is unrivalled on Faena. These blooms are as beautiful as the Faetesses of our dreams. Savour their aroma."
Grom Alt obediently went to the niche where he could see the incredibly beautiful blossoms, dark-blue as the sky before evening and glittering with the gold spangles of new-lit stars.
"How do you like that perfume, my trusty sentinel?" asked Yar Jupi, turning away.
"I have never breathed anything more enchanting. I feel an uncommon lightness all over my body. I feel like flying."
"Perhaps you will indeed fly one day, as the incomparable Mada is flying at this moment. If she discovers a life-supporting planet, then many longfaces will fly there to turn new continents into lands of the Superiors."
"Those words must be engraved on eternal stone. Each thought in here is like a disintegration explosion; it flashes and it casts down."
"The scent of the flowers is undoubtedly calling forth your eloquence. Order yourself the tunic of a Supreme Officer of the Blood Guard."
A blissful Grom Alt, who had never expected such a turn of events, flew out of the Dictator's office as if on wings.
If the secretary box had somehow been able to fathom the feelings of living Faetians, it would have noticed Grom Alt's unusual state of mind. But the box was only a machine and merely noted how much time the visitor had spent with the Dictator. Very little...
And it took very little time for Grom Alt to feel ill. He collapsed in the Blood Guard barracks and died in dreadful agony.
In the meantime, the automatic secretary began compiling a report on the state of the armed forces after the preparations announced by the Dictator for a disintegration war. But Yar Jupi switched off the power supply to the pestilential box in a fury. He had been watching on the screen the last moments of the expedition's lift-off for Terr, mentally seeing off his daughter. With his whole being he suffered the parting with her and squeezed his temples between the palms of his hands until it hurt.
He had seen Mada, with a strange look on her face, run her eyes round the cosmodrome before she entered the lift-cage, her gaze resting on the ocean with its white bands of foam on the crests of the waves. She was followed by a Faetian, evidently one from the other continent.
For a moment, Yar Jupi was troubled at seeing a curly-haired half-breed so close to his daughter, but then he remembered that she would at least stay alive. He sighed heavily. He had a feeling that he had stepped on a steep and slippery surface. He could not keep his footing. And below him yawned an abyss.
Ave Mar and Mada were looking through the barred lift-cage. The ocean was expanding and the horizon seemed to be lifting up the clouds. Ave turned round and saw on the opposite side another ocean, a living one of massed Faetian heads with their faces upturned to the rocket. As if to symbolise Faena's overpopulation, they were jammed incredibly close together. A sudden spasm of yearning clutched at Ave's throat. Would he ever come back again? But he looked at Mada. They had chosen this course themselves, and let it not be only the course of their own happiness. Ave still had little understanding of the true forces driving Faena into war. He only wished with all his heart that the mysterious planet Terr would prove suitable for settlement by Faetians and that the danger of a disintegration war would be over and done with forever. Ave again remembered Kutsi Merc, who had brought him here, brought him and Mada together and had, in fact, given his life for their happiness. May his bones rest in peace...
Kutsi Merc's bullet-riddled hump had not been taken to its goal, but the delayed-action fuse, decaying under the action of the air, was measuring out the last moments of peace on the planet Faena.
End of Part One
далее: PART TWO >>
ALEXANDER KAZANTSEV. THE DESTRUCTION OF FAENA