World of Tiers 02 - The Gates of Creation, page 7
He thought for a moment of ordering them back. They were in effect deserting their posts. The danger from the Nichiddor seemed to be over, but if the mercury shower became heavier, the island could be badly crippled or destroyed.
He shrugged and turned away. After all, he had no delegated authority. The cooperation among the Lords was only a spoken agreement; there was no formal agreement of organization with a system of punishments. Also, if he tried to interfere, he would be accused of doing so because of jealousy. The charge would not be entirely baseless. He did feel a pang at seeing Vala go off with another man. And this was a measure of what he had once felt for her, that after five hundred years and what she had tried to do to him, he should care even the fraction of a bit.
He said to Dugarnn, "How long does a shower last?"
"About a half-hour," the chief replied. "The drops are carried along with the black comets. The laughter of Urizen, we call them, since he must have created them. Urizen is a cruel and bloody god who rejoices in the sufferings of his people."
Dugarnn did not have exactly the same attitude towards Urizen that the Lords did. In the course of the many thousands of years that the descendants of the trapped Lords had been here, the name of Urizen had become that of the evil god in the abutal pantheon. Dugarnn had no true idea of the universe in which he was born. To him, this world was the world, the only one. The Lords were demigods, sons and daughters of Urizen by mortal women. The Lords were mortal, too, though extraordinarily powerful.
There was an explosion, and Wolff feared for a moment that one of the gas-bladders at the far end of the island had been penetrated. One of the abutal said that a Nichiddor nest had gone up. Less protected than the island, it had received a concentration of drops, one bladder had blown up another, and in the chain reaction the whole nest was hurled apart.
Wolff went over to where Theotormon crouched in a corner. His brother looked up at him with hate and misery. He turned his head away when Wolff spoke to him. After a while, as Wolff squatted quietly by him, Theotormon began to fidget. He finally looked at Wolff and said, "Father told me that there are four planets that revolve in orbit about a central fifth. This is Appirmatzum, the planet on which is his stronghold. Each planet is about the size of this one, and all are separated from Appirmatzuin by only twenty thousand miles. This universe is not a recent one. It was created as one of a series by our father at least fifteen thousand years ago. They were kept hidden, their gates only being activated when Father wished to enter or leave one. Thus, the scanners failed to detect them."
"Then that is why I've seen only three of the planets," Wolff said. "The outer ones are at the corners of an equilateral quadrangle. The planet opposite is always hidden by Appirmatzum."
He did not wonder at the forces which enabled such large bodies to be so relatively close and yet stay in undeviating paths. The science of the Lords was beyond his comprehension-as a matter of fact, it was beyond the understanding of any of the Lords. They had inherited and used a power the principles of which they no longer understood. They did not care to understand. It was enough that they could use the powers.
This very lack of knowledge of principles made the Lords so vulnerable at times. Each only had so many weapons and machines. If any were destroyed, lost, or stolen, a Lord could only replace them by stealing them from other Lords-if there were any still in existence. And the defenses they set up against other Lords always had holes in them, no matter how impregnable the defenses seemed. The vital thing was to live long enough while attacking to find these holes. So, no matter how powerless the group seemed at the moment, Wolff had hopes that he could win.
While waiting for the mercury shower to cease, he had time to think. From some corner of his mind came an irrelevancy that had been bothering him for a long long time. It had nothing to do with the present situation. It might have been sent by the unconscious to keep him from worrying about Chryseis, for whom he could do nothing at all at this moment.
The names of his father, brothers, sisters, and cousins had made him wonder ever since he had regained his memory of his life as Jadawin, Lord of the World of Tiers. Urizen, Vala, Luvah, Anana, Theotormon, Palamabron, Enion, Ariston, Tharmas, Rintrah, these were the names of the vast and dark cosmogens found in William Blake's Didactic and Symbolical Works. It was no coincidence that they were the same. Of that Wolff was convinced. But how had the mystical English poet come across them? Had he known a dispossessed Lord, wandering on Earth, who had told him of the Lords for some reason? It was possible. And Blake must have used some of the Lord's story as a basis for his apocalyptic poetry. But the story had been very much distorted by Blake.
Some day, if Wolff got out of this trap, he would do some research on Earth and also among those Lords who would let him get close enough to them to talk.
The pounding of the quicksilver stopped. After waiting for half an hour to make sure that the storm was all over, the islanders went back upon the maindeck. The floor was broken up, pitted, and scorched. The walls had been pierced so many times that the roots and leaves were rags of vegetation. The gondola had been hit by an especially heavy concentration and was a wreck. Tiny globules of mercury lay all over the deck.
Theotormon said, "The mercury shower can't be compared to a meteor shower. The drops are only traveling about a hundred miles an hour when they hit the atmosphere, and they are considerably slowed up and broken up before they reach the surface. Yet ..."
He waved a flipper to indicate the damage.
Wolff looked out over the sea. The surviving nests were drifting slowly away. The winged men had enough problems of their own without resuming the attack. One nest was so overburdened with refugees from others that it was losing altitude.
Dugarnn was sad. He had lost so many people that it would be very difficult to maneuver the island and impossible to defend it against another attack. Now they would drift helplessly around and around the world. Not until the children had grown up would they become powerful again. It was unlikely that the island would be left alone long enough for the children to become adults.
"My people are doomed," he said.
"Not as long as you keep fighting," Wolff said. "After all, you can avoid battle with other abutal islands and with the surface islands. You told me that the only reason two abuta get together for a conflict is that both maneuver to approach each other. You can quit doing that. And the Nichiddor are rare. This is the first tune in fifteen years that you have met a cluster of nests."
"What! Run away from a fight!" Dugarnn said. His mouth hung open. "That . . . that's unthinkable. We would be cowards. Our names would be a scornword in the mouths of our enemies."
"That's a lot of nonsense," Wolff said. "The other abutal can't even get close enough to identify you unless you let them. But that's up to you. Die because you can't change your ways, if that's what you want."
Wolff was busy helping to clean up the island. The dead and wounded Nichiddor were dumped overboard. The dead abutal were given a long burial ceremony, officiated over by Dugarnn, since the wizard had had his head twisted off during the battle. Then the bodies were slipped over the side and received by the sea.
Days and nights drifted by as slowly as the wind-driven island. Wolff spent much time observing the great brown spheres of the other planets. Appirmatzum was only twenty thousand miles away. So near and yet so far. It might as well be a million miles. Or was it truly so impossible to get there? A plan began to form, a plan so fantastic that he almost abandoned it. But, if he could get the materials, he might, just might, carry it out.
The abuta passed over the polar area, the surface of which looked just like the others. Twice, they saw enemy islands at a distance. When these began to work their way towards Dugarnn's island, Dugarnn sadly ordered his island to flee. The banks of gas-bladders on one side were operated to give the island a slow lateral thrust, and the distance between the two was kept equal. After a while, the enemy gave up, having used
Dugarnn explained that the maneuvers which brought two abuta into battle-conflict sometimes took as much as five days.
"I've never seen people so anxious to die," was Wolff's only comment.
One day, when it seemed to all the Lords that they would drift above the featureless waters forever, a lookout gave a cry that brought them running.
"The Mother of All Islands!" he shouted. "Dead ahead! The Mother of Islands!"
If this was the mother of islands, then her babies must be small indeed. From three thousand feet, Wolff could span the floating mass from shore to shore with one sweep of the eye. It was not more than thirty miles wide at the broadest and twelve miles long. But most things are relative, and on this world it was a continent.
There were bays and inlets and even broken spaces that formed lakes of sea-water. At various times, some force, perhaps collision with other islands, had crumpled up parts of the island. These formed hills. And it was on top of one of the hills that Wolff saw the gates.
There were two, hexagons of some self-illuminated metal, each huge as the open end of a zeppelin hangar.
Wolff hurried to notify Dugarnn. The commander was aware of the gates and was barking out orders. A long time ago, he had promised Wolff that when the gates were found, he would terminate the agreement. Wolff and the beamer and the Lords could leave the abuta.
There was not near enough time to valve off gas to lower the island. Before the desired altitude could be reached, the abuta would have drifted far past the Mitza, the mother. So the Lords hastened to the lowest deck, where jump-bladder harnesses were ready for them. They strapped the belts around their shoulders, chests, and legs and then were towed to the hatch. Dugarnn and the abutal crowded around them to say farewell. They said no words of good-bye to any of the Lords but Wolff and Luvah. These two they kissed, and they pressed the flower of the young gas-plant in their hands. Wolff said farewell and stepped through the hatch. He fell as swiftly as a man below an open parachute. The other Lords followed him. There was an open space among the fronds in which he tried to land, but he miscalculated the wind. He crashed into the top of a frond, which bent beneath him and so broke his fall. The others also made good landings, though some were bruised. Theotormon had an extra large jump-harness because of his four hundred and fifty pounds, but he came down faster than the others anyway. His rubbery legs bent under him; he rolled; and he was up on his feet, squawking because he had banged his head.
Wolff waited until they were recovered. He waved at the Ilmawir, who were peering down at him from the hatches. Then the island passed on and presently was out of their sight. The Lords made their way through the jungle towards the hill. They were alert, since they had seen many native villages from the abuta. But they came to the hill-gates without seeing the aborigines and presently were standing before the towering hexagons.
"Why two?" Palamabron said.
Vala said, "That is another of our father's riddles, I'm sure. One gate must lead to his palace on Appirmatzum. The other, who knows where?"
"But how will we know?" Palamabron said.
"Stupid!" Vala said. "We won't know until we go through one or the other."
Wolff smiled slightly. Ever since she had gone off with Palamabron, she had treated him with even more contempt and scorn than the others. Palamabron was bewildered by this. Evidently, he had been expecting some sort of gratitude.
Wolff said, "We should all go through the same one. It won't be wise to split up our forces. Wrong one or right one, we must be united."
Palamabron said, "You are right, brother. Besides, if we split, and one group were to get into Urizen's stronghold and kill him, then that group would have control. And they would betray the second group."
"That is not why I think we should stay together," Wolff said. "But you have a good point."
"On top of his head," Vala said. "Palamabron is no more of a thinker than he is a lover."
Palamabron reddened, and he put his hand upon the hilt of his sword. "I am through swallowing your insults, you vixen in heat," he said. "One more, and your head will roll off your shoulders."
"We have enough fighting ahead of us," Wolff said. "Save your fury for that which lies on the other side of one of those gates."
He saw a movement in the bushes a hundred yards away. Presently, a face showed. A native was watching them. Wolff wondered if any of the natives had tried to go through the gates. If one had, his disappearance would have terrified the others. Possibly, this area was tabu.
He was interested in the natives' reactions, because he considered that they might be of some help, someday. Just now, he did not have time or did not wish to take time. Chryseis was in Urizen's stronghold, and every minute there must be agony. It might not be agony only of spirit; she could be tormented physically by his father.
He shuddered and tried to put out of his mind the pictures that this thought painted. One thing at a time.
He looked at the others. They were watching him intently. Although they would have strongly denied it, they regarded him as a leader. He was not the oldest brother and one of his cousins was older. But he had taken immediate and forceful measures whenever any crisis had come up on this world. And he had the beamer. Moreover, they seemed to detect something different in him, a dimension that they lacked-although they would have denied this, too. His experience as Robert Wolff, the Earthman, had given him a grip upon matters that they had always considered too mundane to bother with. Insulated from hard labor, from having to deal with things at a primitive level, they felt lost. Once they had been makers and semi-divine rulers of their own private universes. Now they were no better-perhaps not as good-as the savages they so despised. Jadawin- or Wolff, as they were beginning to call him-was a man who knew his way around in a world of savages.
Wolff said, "It's one fate or the the other. A case of eenie meenie minie moe."
"And what barbaric language is that?" Vala said.
"Earth type. I'll tell you what. Vala is the only woman here . . ."
"But more of a man than most of you," Vala said.
". . . so why don't we let her pick out which one we enter? It's as good a method as any for choosing."
"That bitch never did anything right in her life," Palamabron said. "But I say, let her designate the gate. Then we won't go wrong if we enter the one she doesn't choose."
"Do what you like," Vala said. "But I say--that one."
She pointed at the right-hand hexagon.
"Very well," Wolff said. "Since I have the beamer, I’ll go first. I don't know what's on the other side. Rather, I know what is there--death-but I don't know what form it'll take. Before I go, I'd like to say this. There was a time, brothers, cousins, sister, when we loved each other. Our mother lived then, and we were happy with her. We were in awe of our father, the gloomy, remote, forbidding Urizen. But we did not hate him. Then our mother died. How she died, we still don't know. I think, as some of you do, that Urizen killed our mother. It was only three days after she died that he took to wife Araga, the Lord of her own world, and so united his domain with hers.
"Whoever murdered our mother, we know what happened after that. We found out that Urizen was beginning to be sorry that he had children. He was one of the very few Lords to have children being raised as Lords. The Lords are dying out; they are paying for their immortality, so-called, and for their power, with gradual extinction. They have also paid with the loss of that one thing that makes life worthwhile: love."
"Love!" said Vala. She laughed, and the others joined her. Luvah half-smiled, but he did not laugh.
"You sound like a pack of hyenas," Wolff said. "Hyenas are carrion-eaters, powerful, nasty, vicious brutes, whose stench and habits make them despised and hated everywhere. However, they do serve a useful function, which is more than I can say for you.
" 'Love,' I said. And I repeat it again. The word means nothing to you; it has been too
"Then we forgot we were brothers and sisters and cousins and became true Lords. Hateful, scheming, jealous, possessive. Murderers, cruel alike to each other and to the miserable beings who populated our worlds."
"Enough of this, brother," Vala said. "What are you getting at?"
Wolff sighed. He was wasting his breath.
"I was going to say that perhaps Urizen has done us a favor without meaning to. Perhaps we could somehow find it in ourselves to resurrect the childhood love, to act as brothers should. We. . ."
He stopped. Their faces were like those of stone idols. Time could break them, but love would never soften them.
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