World of tiers 04 behi.., p.1
World of Tiers 04 - Behind the Walls of Terra, page 1
Behind the Walls of Terra
Philip Jose Farmer
This adventure of Kickaha is dedicated to Jack Cordes, who lives in the pocket universes of Peoria and Pekin.
The sky had been green for twenty-four years. Suddenly, it was blue.
Kickaha blinked. He was home again. Rather, he was once more on the planet of his birth. He had lived on Earth for twenty-eight years. Then he had lived for twenty-four years in that pocket universe he called . Now, though he did not care to be here, he was back "home."
He was standing in the shadow of an enormous overhang of rock. The stone floor was swept clean by the wind that traveled along the face of the cliff. Outside the semi-cavern were mountains covered with pine and fir trees. The air was cool but would get warmer, since this was morning of a July day in southern California. Or it should be, if his calculations were correct.
Since he was high on the face of a mountain, he could see very far into the southwest. There was a great valley beyond the nearer smaller valleys, a valley which he supposed was one near the Los Angeles area. It surprised and unnerved him, because it was not at all what he had expected. It was covered with a thick gray poisonous-looking cloud, that gave the impression of being composed of many many thousands of fumes, as if the floor of the valley below the cloud were jammed with geysers boiling and bubbling and pouring out the noxious gases of internal Earth.
He had no idea of what had occurred on Earth since that night in 1946 when he had been transmitted accidentally from this universe to that of Jadawin. Perhaps the great basins of the Los Angeles area were filled with poison gas that some enemy nation had dropped. He could not guess what enemy could do this, since both Germany and Japan had been wrecked and utterly defeated when he left this world, and Russia was sorely wounded.
He shrugged. He would find out in time. The memory banks below the great fortress-palace at the top of the only planet in the universe of the green sky had said that this "gate" opened into a place in the mountains near a lake called Arrowhead.
The gate was a circle of indestructible metal buried a few inches below the rock of the floor. Only a dimly stained ring of purple on the stone marked its presence.
Kickaha (born Paul Janus Finnegan) was six feet one inch in height, weighed one hundred and ninety pounds, and was broad-shouldered, lean-waisted, and massively thighed. His hair was red-bronze, his eyebrows were thick, dark, and arching, his eyes were leaf-green, his nose was straight but short, his upper lip was long, and his chin was deeply cleft. He wore hiking clothes and a bag on his back. In one hand he held the handle of a dark leather case which looked as if it contained a musical instrument, perhaps a horn or trumpet.
His hair was shoulder-length. He had considered cutting it before he returned to Earth, so he would not look strange. But the time had been short, and he had decided to wait until he got to a barber shop. His cover story would be that he and Anana had been in the mountains so long he had not had a chance to clip his hair.
The woman beside him was as beautiful as it was possible for a woman to be. She had long dark wavy hair, a flawless white skin, dark-blue eyes, and a superb figure. She wore hiking garb: boots, Levi's, a lumberman's checked shirt, and a cap with a long bill. She also carried a pack on her back in which were shoes, a dress, undergarments, a small handbag, and several devices which would have startled or shocked an Earth scientist. Her hair was done in the style of 1946 as Kickaha remembered it. She wore no makeup nor needed it. Thousands of years ago, she had permanently reddened her lips, as every female Lord had done.
He kissed the woman on the lips and said, "You've been in a number of worlds, Anana, but I'll bet in none more weird than Earth."
"I've seen blue skies before," she said. "Wolff and Chryseis have a five-hour start on us. The Beller has a two-hour start. And all have a big world in which to get lost."
He nodded and said, "There was no reason for Wolff and Chryseis to hang around here, since the gate is one-way. They'll take off for the nearest two-way gate, which is in the Los Angeles area, if the gate still exists. If it doesn't, then the closest ones will be in Kentucky or Hawaii. So we know where they should be going."
He paused and wet his lips and then said, "As for the Beller, who knows? He could have gone anywhere or he may still be around here. He's in an absolutely strange world, he doesn't know anything about Earth, and he can't speak any of the languages."
"We don't know what he looks like, but we'll find him. I know the Bellers," she said. "This one won't cache his bell and then run away to hide with the idea he'll come back later for it. A Beller cannot endure the idea of being very far away from his bell. He'll carry it around as long as he can. And that will be our only means of identifying him."
"I know," Kickaha said. He was having trouble breathing, and his eyes were beginning to swim. Suddenly, he was weeping.
Anana was alarmed for a minute, and then she said, "Cry! I did it when I went back to my home world once. I thought I was dry forever, that tears were for mortals. But coming back home after so long exposed my weakness."
Kickaha dried his tears and took his canteen from his belt, uncapped it and drank deeply.
"I love my world, the green-skied world," he said. "I don't like Earth; I don't remember it with much affection. But I guess I had more love for it than I thought. I'll admit that, every once in a while, I had some nostalgia, some faint longing to see it again, see the people I knew. But. . ."
Below them, perhaps a thousand feet down, a two-lane macadam road curbed around the side of the mountain and continued upward until it was lost around the other side. A car appeared on the upgrade, sped below them, and then was lost with the road. Kickaha's eyes widened, and he said, "I never saw a car like that before. It looked like a little bug. A beetle!"
A hawk swung into view and, riding the currents, passed before them not more than a hundred yards.
Kickaha was delighted, "The first red-tail I've seen since I left Indiana!"
He stepped out onto the ledge, forgetting for a second, but a second only, his caution. Then he jumped back in under the protection of the overhang. He motioned to Anana, and she went to one end of the ledge and looked out while he did so at the other.
There was nobody below, as far as he could see, though the many trees could conceal anybody who did not want to be seen. He went out a little further and looked upward then but could not see past the overhang. The way down was not apparent at first, but investigation revealed projections just below the right side of the ledge. These would have to do for a start, and, once they began climbing down, other hand and footholds had to appear.
Kickaha eased himself backward over the ledge, feeling with his foot for a projection. Then he pulled himself back up and lay down on the ledge and again scrutinized the road and the forest a thousand feet below. A number of bluejays had started screaming somewhere below him; the air acted as a funnel to siphon the faint cries to him.
He took a pair of small binoculars from his shirt pocket and adjusted three dials on their surface. Then he removed an earphone and a thin wire with a male jack on one end and plugged the jack into the receptacle on the side of the binoculars. He began to sweep the forest below and eventually centered it on that spot where the jays were raising such a ruckus.
Through the device, the distant forest suddenly became close, and the faint noises were loud. Something dark moved, and, after he readjusted the binoculars, he saw the face of a man. More sweepings of the device and more adjusting enabled him to see parts of three other men. Each was armed with a rifle with scope, and two had binoculars.
Kickaha gave the device to
She put the glasses down and said, "Yes."
"He must know about these gates, then, and he's set up some sort of alarm device, so he knows when they're activated. Maybe his men are stationed close, maybe far off. Maybe Wolff and Chryseis and the Beller got away before his men could get here. Maybe not. In any case, they're waiting for us."
They did not comment about the lack of a permanent trap at the gates or a permanent guard. Red Orc, or whatever Lord was responsible for these men, would make a game out of the invasion of his home territory by other Lords. It was deadly but nevertheless a game.
Kickaha went back to viewing the four beneath the trees. Presently, he said, "They've got a walkie-talkie."
He heard a whirring sound above him. He rolled over to look up and saw a strange machine that had just flown down over the mountain to his right.
He said, "An autogyro!" and then the machine was hidden by a spur of the mountain. He jumped up and ran into the cavern with Anana behind him.
The chopping sound of a plane's rotors became a roar and then the machine was hovering before the ledge. Kickaha became aware that the machine was not a true autogyro. As far as he knew, a gyro could not stand still in the air, or, as this was doing, swing from side to side or turn around one spot. The body of the craft was transparent; he could see the pilot and three men inside, armed with rifles. He and Anana were trapped, they had no place to run or hide. Undoubtedly, Orc's men had been sent to find out what weapons the intruders carried. Under these conditions, the intruders would have to use their weapons, unless they preferred to be captured. They did riot so prefer. They spoke the activating code word, aimed the rings at the machine, and spoke the final word.
The needle-thin golden rays spat once, delivering the full charges in the rings' tiny powerpacks.
The fuselage split in two places, and the plane fell. Kickaha ran out and looked down over the ledge in time to see the pieces strike the side of the mountain below. One section went up in a white and red ball which fissioned into a dozen smaller fire globes. All the pieces eventually fell not too far apart near the bottom and burned fiercely. The four men under the trees were white-faced, and the man with the walkie-talkie spat words into the transmitter. Kickaha tried to tighten the beam so he could pick them up, but the noise from the burning machine interfered.
Kickaha was glad that he had struck the first blow, but his elation was darkened. He knew that the Lord had deliberately sacrificed the men in the gyro in order to find out how dangerous his opponents were. Kickaha would have preferred to have gotten away undetected. Moreover, getting down the mountainside would be impossible until night fell. In the meantime, the Lord would attack again.
He and Anana recharged their rings with the tiny powerpacks. He kept a watch on the men below while she scanned the sides of the mountain. Presently, a red convertible appeared on the left, going down the mountain road. A man and a woman sat in it. The car stopped near the flaming wreckage and the two got out to investigate. They stood around talking and then they got back into the car and sped off.
Kickaha grinned. No doubt they were going to notify the authorities.
That meant that the four men would be powerless to attack. On the other hand, the authorities might climb up here and find him and Anana. He could claim that they were just hikers, and the authorities could not hold them for long. But just to be in custody for a while would enable the Lord to seize them the moment they were released. Also, he and Anana would have a hard time identifying themselves, and it was possible that the authorities might hold them until they could be identified.
They would have no record of Anana, of course, but if they tracked down his fingerprints, they would find something difficult to explain. They would discover that he was Paul Janus Finnegan, born in 1918 near Terre Haute, Indiana, that he had served in a tank corps of the Eighth Army during World War II, and that he had mysteriously disappeared in 1946 from his apartment in a building in Bloomington while he was attending the University of Indiana, and that he had not been seen since.
He could always claim amnesia, of course, but how would he explain that he was fifty-two years old chronologically yet only twenty-five years old physiologically? And how would he explain the origin of the peculiar devices in his backpack?
He cursed softly in Tishquetmoac, in Half-Horse Lakotah, in the Middle High German of Dracheland, in the language of the Lords, and in English. And then he switched his thinking into English, because he had half-forgotten that language and had to get accustomed to its use. If those four men stuck there until the authorities showed up ...
But the four were not staying. After a long conversation, and obvious receipt of orders from the walkie-talkie, they left. They climbed up onto the road, and within a minute a car appeared from the right. It stopped, and the four got in and drove off.
Kickaha considered that this might be a feint to get him and Anana to climb down the mountain. Then another gyro would catch them on the mountainside, or the men would come back. Or both.
But if he waited until the police showed up, he could not come down until nightfall. Orc's men would be waiting down there, and they might have some of the Lord's advanced weapons to use, because they would not fear to use them at night and in this remote area.
"Come on," he said to Anana in English. "We're going down now. If the police see us, we'll tell them we're just hitchhikers. You leave the talking to me; I'll tell them you're Finnish and don't speak English yet. Let's hope there'll be no Finns among them."
"What?" Anana said. She had spent three and a half years on Earth in the 1880's and had learned some English and more French but had forgotten the little she had known.
Kickaha repeated slowly.
"It's your world," she said in English. "You're the boss."
He grinned at that, because very few female Lords ever admitted there was any situation in which the male was their master. He let himself down again over the ledge. He was beginning to sweat. The sun was coming over the mountain now and shining fully on them, but this did not account for his perspiration. He was sweating out the possible reappearance of the Lord's men.
He and Anana had gotten about one-third of the way down when the first police car appeared. It was black and white and had a big star on the side. Two men got out. Their uniforms looked like those of state police, as he remembered those of the Midwest.
A few minutes later, another patrol car and an ambulance appeared. Then two more cars stopped. After a while, there were ten cars.
Kickaha found a path that was sometimes precarious but led at an angle to the right along the slope. He and Anana could keep hidden from the people below part of the time. If they should be seen, they would not have to stop. The police could come after them, but they would be so far behind that their pursuit would be hopeless.
Or so it seemed until another gyro appeared. This one swept back and forth, apparently looking for bodies or survivors. Kickaha and Anana hid behind a large boulder until the craft landed near the road. Then they continued their sidewise descent of the mountain.
When they reached the road, they drank some water and ate some of the concentrated food they had brought from the other world. Kickaha told her that they would walk along the road, going downward. He also reminded her that Red Orc's men would be cruising up and down the road looking for them.
"Then why don't we hide out until nightfall?" she said. "Because in the daylight I can spot a car that definitely won't be Orc's. I won't mind being picked up by one of them. But if Orc's men show up and try anything, we have our rays and we can be on guard. At night, you won't know who's stopping to pick you up. We could avoid the road altogether and hike alongside it in the woods, but that's slow going. I don't want Wolff or the Beller to get too far ahead."
"How do we know they didn't both go the other way?" she said. "Or that Red Orc didn't pick them up?"
They started off. The air was sweet and clean; birds sang; a squirrel ran onto the branch of a tall and half-dead pine and watched them with its bright eyes. There were a number of dead or dying pines. Evidently, some plant disease had struck them. The only signs of human beings were the skeletal power transmission towers and aluminum cables going up the side of a mountain. Kickaha explained to Anana what they were; he was going to be doing much explaining from now on. He did not mind. It gave her the opportunity to learn English and him the opportunity to relearn it.
A car passed them from behind. On hearing it, Kickaha and Anana withdrew from the side of the road, ready to shoot their ray rings or to leap down the slope of the mountain if they had to. He gestured with his thumb at the car, which held a man, woman, and two children. The car did not even slow down. Then a big truck pulling a trailer passed them. The driver looked as if he might be going to stop but he kept on going.
Anana said, "These vehicles! So primitive! So noisy! And they stink!"
"Yes, but we do have atomic power," Kickaha said. "At least, we had atomic bombs. America did anyway. I thought that by now they'd have atomic-powered cars. They've had a whole generation to develop them."
A cream-colored station wagon with a man and woman and two teenagers passed them. Kickaha stared after the boy. He had hair as long as Kickaha's and considerably less disciplined. The girl had long yellow hair that fell smoothly over her shoulders, and her face was thickly made-up. Like a whore's, he thought. Were those really green eyelids?
The parents, who looked about fifty, seemed normal. Except that she had a hairdo that was definitely not around in 1946. And her makeup had been heavy, too, although not nearly as thick as the girl's.
by Farmer, Phillip Jose have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes