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The house of power, p.8
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       The House of Power, p.8

           Patrick Carman
 
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  The two boys sat down in the chairs at the table, and Edgar was at once mesmerized by the sight of the large, open book.

  “Are there many books in the Highlands?”

  “Oh, yes. Thousands. Everyone has books, not just us.” He was referring to the people who lived in the House of Power. “They’ve always been here, but there are never any new ones, so we take special care of them. That one is all about Poseidon.”

  “About who?” asked Edgar.

  “It’s mythology. He’s the god of water, my favorite.”

  Edgar didn’t understand what Samuel was talking about. Though he wanted to hear more about books, he was also feeling unexpectedly tired. The food had settled in his stomach, and all the events of the day and night had taken every ounce of energy he had. And yet there was so much to talk about. He had important news to share with Samuel.

  “I have to tell you something. I’ve done some asking around, and I don’t think your father fell.”

  Samuel appeared cautious, uncertain of how to react. “What do you think happened to him?”

  “I don’t know, but the only thing I’ve heard about that might have fallen out of the sky is a giant four-legged animal. I saw one today when I was hiding. One of those might have fallen once.”

  “It did!” Samuel said. “One of them did fall, I remember that. My parents were very concerned. The House of Power debated a great deal about what they should do.”

  “Samuel, what are those things?” Edgar was afraid of them, but didn’t want to say so.

  Samuel felt increasingly surprised by how different the worlds of Tabletop and the Highlands were.

  “They’re just horses, Edgar. They eat grass and carry people around. You don’t need to be afraid of them.”

  Edgar breathed a sigh of relief.

  “There’s something I need to tell you as well,” said Samuel. He leaned in a little closer to Edgar, somehow feeling the need to whisper what he was about to say. “Did you say the man who ran the grove was called Mr. Ratikan?”

  Edgar nodded, immediately suspicious of his old caretaker.

  “I overheard something tonight. He’s done some sort of experiment, something Lord Phineus wanted him to do. Maybe you should look around if you go back.”

  “That’s all you heard? Nothing more?”

  “Lord Phineus and the others went behind a closed door after that, but there was a tone in their voices, like they were plotting something devious.”

  It was getting awfully late and there was so much to talk about, but Edgar was sensitive to the fact that nothing was as important as what he carried with him from the cliffs. The horses, books, and plots overheard would have to wait. He pulled the book of secret things out of his pocket and handed it to Samuel.

  “I’m so tired,” said Edgar, heaving a great sigh to try to rouse himself awake. “But I think this book might be even more important than we thought. Atherton is changing, and this book may be able to tell us why. Let’s at least read a few pages while I can still keep my eyes open. Maybe it will go faster this time with the better light.”

  Samuel was ecstatic at the sight of the mysterious book. He took it from Edgar’s outstretched hand and held it nearer to the light on his desk. The light came from a bowl filled with a clear liquid that had a wick in the center. The waxy substance was derived from the fat of animals and burned like fuel. The same kinds of lights were used in Tabletop, so Edgar was not surprised to see them, though he’d never seen so many in one little room before. Fuel, water, and food were scarce in Tabletop and were regarded as precious. Edgar didn’t sense that people in the Highlands felt the same way.

  Samuel turned to the page where he and Edgar had stopped two nights before, and he began to read. He was growing accustomed to deciphering the scribbles on the page, and the added light helped Samuel pick up his pace. He spent the next twenty minutes reading the following entry out loud:

  As time is my enemy, this very short telling of events will have to do. I will try to explain this in simple terms that a boy can understand.

  Atherton is a made world, Edgar—a place created by men at a time when almost every part of the known world was used up. In the beginning, we farmed and gathered food and resources, and in doing so we wiped out a great many trees and animals. Many years later we developed machines to do our work for us. Do you know what a machine is? I suppose not. Machines made life easier—or so it seemed—as they ripped and tore at the earth and sky in ways we hardly understood. These first two developments—farming and the making of machines to do our work for us—should have taught us to care for the world, but they did not. We only learned to destroy it with more efficiency.

  Near the end, we made thinking machines, and these were our undoing. They became so very powerful that we used them to make places to live, food sources, almost everything. These machines finished off what was left of the forests and wild animals. I have utterly lost you, have I not? But I am a scientist, and I don’t know how to make it simpler. I will move on to something altogether different.

  There was a boy who came of age when the world was unraveling. I found him when he was very young, in a park filled with nothing but dirt and metal, a place where only poor children played. When he was ten he already understood science, math, and the world itself in ways that I couldn’t quite grasp. When he was twenty he showed me a glass tube set on its side with no openings. The tube contained a world of its own—bugs, earth, plants. With shaking hands he told me the tube had been empty but for a spot of dirt a week before. He had put all his knowledge of biology and science and machines to bear on the smallest strands of earth and built himself a world within a tube. It had grown from a speck of dirt into a tiny habitat teeming with life.

  This was the first experiment that, many years later, would lead to the making of Atherton, the place you call home. Atherton is full of mysteries even I don’t understand. It is a living world all its own, but it is unstable, and catastrophic changes are afoot. Atherton is not as ready for people as we once thought. The man who built it is not well. He has kept things from us, awful things that only a mad scientist could conceive of. He may have lost his mind in the making of Atherton.

  I will tell you as much as I can about how your world was made, why it was made, and by whom it was made—but first I must warn you of something. Edgar, if you have found this book, then it has come to you and the world has begun to change. How else would you find it? You must be on your guard. Trust only those you can be absolutely sure of. There are bigger changes ahead that will bring destruction, maybe even war. Do you know what war is, Edgar? I wonder if you do….

  Samuel stopped reading. He didn’t understand how Atherton had been made, but he knew what the word war meant, and it scared him. He had read about wars between gods in his books. They had been exciting on the page, but he had no desire to experience the terror of a real war.

  Samuel looked at Edgar and saw that his friend was only barely awake, trying with all his might to keep his eyes open.

  “Wake up, Edgar! Don’t you understand we have to keep reading? We have to know what’s going to happen to us.”

  Edgar had heard everything Samuel said, but he didn’t know the meaning of war. Even if he had known, he was so tired he wouldn’t have been able to register surprise or concern. He had unwound so far he couldn’t rile himself back up again.

  “I have an idea,” said Samuel. “You lie down under my bed and rest where no one can see you. I’ll look through the rest of the book of secret things. When you wake up, I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered.”

  Edgar wanted only to sleep, and for the first time he lost his will to protect the book. He stumbled over to the bed, slid underneath, and fell immediately into a deep slumber. Samuel struggled to put a blanket over Edgar and made sure he was well hidden, then returned to his desk.

  Hours passed and the only sound in the room was the occasional flipping of an old ragged page. Sometime in the night there came the s
ound of ripping paper, and it stirred Edgar for a moment, though he never came fully awake.

  “Why is your light on at such a late hour?”

  Edgar heard the voice from where he lay under the bed, loud and shrill in the night.

  “What have you got there? What’s that you’re reading?”

  The voice was that of a grown man. Disoriented, Edgar turned his head so that he could see out from under the bed, and then he remembered—he was in Samuel’s room. Edgar could see the light dancing on the floor, stirred by the door being shut. The man walked across the room with heavy steps and stopped where Edgar could see his boots.

  “Where did you get this book? WHERE DID YOU GET IT?” the man screamed at Samuel, but the boy wouldn’t answer. “Lord Phineus is going to be very interested to see this,” said the man. “And you.”

  Samuel was pulled out of his chair, and now Edgar could see all four feet moving for the door. He listened as Samuel was hauled out of the room and the door slammed shut.

  Edgar was alone. Samuel was gone, and the book had been taken by what sounded like a cruel man. Where had he taken Samuel, and what would he do to him? Edgar was surprised to find that he cared more about what happened to his friend than he did the book, his only true possession. He felt responsible for putting Samuel in danger. A new feeling of dread settled into his stomach that he’d never known before. I should never have come here.

  After his racing heart slowed, Edgar crept out from under the bed. He looked all around the small room, then sat down in Samuel’s chair and leaned forward over the table. He was startled by a crinkling noise, as if something were in the front pocket of his shirt. Edgar sat up straight, reached into the pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper, ripped and crumpled at the edges. The size and handwriting were familiar. It was a page from the book of secret things.

  But how had it come to be in Edgar’s pocket? And more importantly, what did it say? And then he had an awful thought that sent his heart racing once more.

  They will be looking for this page, and the first place they’ll come is here. I must get out.

  Edgar quietly opened the door, looked all around, and ventured out into the night.

  Lord Phineus stood at an open window in a private chamber at the top of the House of Power, surveying the world below. He was a tall man with a long face and short black hair that came to a widow’s peak high on his forehead. It was a haircut that heightened the severity of his face—the cold eyes, the bony nose.

  There was no higher place in the world than the window where he stood, and it pleased Lord Phineus to stand above it all, relishing the power he had attained. He alone controlled the water flow in Atherton. He lived in a mighty fortress of stone, and he had an army of Highlanders to protect him should the need arise. He had carefully built an inner circle of devoted allies in Sir Philip, Sir Emerik, and Mr. Ratikan. They were all indebted to him and motivated to do his bidding. He’d gotten rid of those who questioned his authority.

  And yet, as Lord Phineus stood at the window, he couldn’t help thinking about what would happen if ever the people in Tabletop were to revolt and try to find a way into the Highlands, and this thought wiped the wicked smile from his face. He had weapons and horses, which Tabletop didn’t have. The cliffs had always protected him, and he could never be reached by an army from below. Still, the idea of invasion troubled his dark mind as he looked out over the sleeping world. His entire army comprised just one hundred twenty men and horses. There were many more people below, over a thousand, and all of them serving the few in the Highlands.

  His anxiety had increased when people started reporting that the horses were restless. And there was something else, something more peculiar still. He had woken in the night several times and thought he’d felt a trembling. It was a deep, quiet movement he did not understand. In recent days the trembling had occurred during the day, and it had gotten stronger. Others had felt it, too. Could it be the water moving faster out of the spring below the House of Power? Or maybe it was the horses themselves—agitated by a force unknown—pounding across the fields with a fury?

  As Lord Phineus sat brooding over these developments, he felt it again. The soft and steady rumble went on for a time before he left his room in search of where it came from. He had only one thought on his mind now: What is that strange trembling?

  While Edgar was making his escape from the Highlands, a rabbit found a hole in his pen and slipped out of the Village of Rabbits. He hopped past the inn where Briney was busy tending the fire and his wife was sweeping the floor. After a time, the rabbit arrived at the cliffs leading up to the Highlands. He sniffed all around as the rock wall in front of him moved down.

  The rabbit hopped back and forth as he watched. He had spied a small bit of green grass growing out of the cliff five feet above and wished he could have it.

  He didn’t have to wait very long.

  Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that a man is who believes his native town is the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

  DR. FRANKENSTEIN

  FRANKENSTEIN, 1818

  MARY SHELLEY

  PART

  TWO

  “How could you let this happen? You knew he was unstable and you let him go anyway.”

  Dr. Kincaid didn’t know what to tell them. He was every bit as devastated as they were.

  “We always knew this could happen. As brilliant as he is, we knew there was a risk we’d lose him. A risk we’d lose everything.”

  “Not acceptable! There has to be a way to get it back. YOU have to get it back.”

  Dr. Luther Kincaid knew what they were asking was impossible. If Dr. Harding did not want to be found, he would get his wish, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

  “Do you remember when I found him? He was playing in the dirt at the edge of the park. Even then I knew there were risks. He was smashing the ants with a rock. He knew the power of Earth.”

  “What in God’s name are you talking about, Luther? You’re as mad as he is!”

  But Luther knew this wasn’t true. Even at seventy-eight years old he was in remarkably good health. Dr. Luther Kincaid knew himself well enough to know he hadn’t lost his mind.

  “There is yet a chance.”

  “What do you mean to say?”

  Luther clicked off the device and smiled vaguely, thinking of another time, another place.

  CHAPTER

  12

  A TREMBLING WORLD

  Sir Emerik was a man who was always trying to figure out how he might increase his own authority and put those around him on a lower footing. Such a man has a mind full of suspicious thoughts, forever on the prowl for someone to strip of power so that he might increase his own. It was just such a thought that led him to Samuel.

  That boy is sneaking around too much. He’s up to no good. I shall keep an eye on him.

  A few days after this thought emerged in Sir Emerik’s mind, he passed through the courtyard at night and saw the light under Samuel’s door. He wondered what the boy was doing so late in the evening and, hearing nothing, he banged on the door and barged in without invitation. What a magnificent surprise it was to find Samuel in possession of a secret document, one that held information sure to interest Lord Phineus.

  Sir Emerik grabbed Samuel by the arm and hauled him out of the room. As they went past Horace at the top of the main stairs, Samuel tried to speak, but Sir Emerik silenced him with an icy stare. They continued on until they reached a narrow stairway that was steeper than all the rest. Sir Emerik pushed Samuel onto the twisting case of stairs and followed him up. At the top was a door, which Sir Emerik unlocked and opened. He threw Samuel inside, and the boy tumbled onto the stone floor. It was cold and dark inside, with an eerie sense of emptiness.

  “I’ll be back,” he said, “with Lord Phineus. I hope you’re ready to do some explaini
ng.”

  After locking Samuel in the room, Sir Emerik made his way to Lord Phineus’s chamber, but stopped short just as he was about to knock on his master’s door. I really ought to read this book before I hand it over. Lord Phineus will keep it from me and I will miss my chance.

  He stood there a moment, clutching the book and considering his options, then he decided to retreat to his own room. When he turned to go, Lord Phineus was standing before him. Sir Emerik jumped with fright and tried to hide the book behind his back.

  “You startled me, Lord Phineus.”

  The lord of the House of Power was in a foul mood and he spoke with venom.

  “Is there something I can do for you, Sir Emerik?”

  “No, nothing—I was just turning in for the night. I had a question, but it can wait.” Sir Emerik was instantly sorry he’d said it.

  “What can wait?” said Lord Phineus. He was blocking the way to Sir Emerik’s room.

  “Ahhhh…” Sir Emerik hesitated.

  “Could it be about whatever you’re hiding behind your back?”

  Sir Emerik knew better than to try to trick Lord Phineus. He was caught. With some hesitation, he pulled the book out from behind his back.

  “I thought you might be asleep and I didn’t want to wake you, but now that I see you’re up—well—I caught the boy, Samuel, with this book. I’ve never seen it before, have you?”

  Lord Phineus took the book from him, his mood growing darker still. His brows set low over his eyes as he looked down at the thing in his hand.

  “How long have you had this in your possession?” His voice had deepened to a cold, raspy whisper. It was not a book he recognized, but there was something about it that made him anxious, as though he had seen it before but couldn’t remember when or where.

 
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