Declare, p.38
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       Declare, p.38

           Tim Powers
 
Page 38

 

  "They will shoot through the hull," said Elena, getting up on her knees. The hot rain was dripping rapidly off the spiky fringe of her white hair.

  Hale had rolled over onto a leather boot, and when he picked it up to toss it aside, it felt heavy. He looked into it and saw glistening meat and stumps of wet bone.

  With a smothered yell he let go of it, then kicked it away across the deck-and he noticed lengths of smeared white bone scattered among the ropes, and a gristly piebald sphere that, when he couldn't help but focus on it, he recognized as a stripped human head.

  He had tucked his gun back into his pocket to climb aboard, but now without thinking he snatched it out again, and he exhaled so harshly that the breath came out in a grating moan.

  Cassagnac had lifted his head to peer over the gunwale, but Elena looked back at Hale.

  "I think they won't shoot the boat," said Hale carefully. "I think it's the monster's boat. "

  Elena looked past him at the disordered deck, and shock made the skin of her face seem to contract, widening her eyes and pulling her lips back from her teeth. Perhaps involuntarily, her right hand darted to her forehead and she made the sign of the cross. "Bozhe moy!" she whispered.

  Cassagnac had heard Hale and glanced back, and now he too had taken in the spectacle of the boat's deck. "Ah, God," he said bleakly. "I think Lot is right. They will have to. . . storm the boat, board us. "

  As if to illustrate his statement, a thump and clatter started up at the stern, and Hale saw a blinking head in a rain hood appear beside the tiller. Cassagnac pointed his pistol at it and fired, and the head abruptly dropped out of sight.

  "How many bullets have we?" Cassagnac asked.

  "-Seven," said Hale.

  "Seven," said Elena.

  "And seven here as well," said Cassagnac. "Is that good luck? Count carefully as you shoot, and save the last round for yourself. " He laughed. "We should be finished here in less than a minute. "

  Elena was peering forward, over the bow. "The monster is on the far side of the Brandenburg Gate. "

  "You-shot at it?" Hale asked Cassagnac. "From the lot back there?"

  "With a flare-gun," the Frenchman agreed. "A specially manufactured round, an iron cylinder cored from a Shihab meteorite. The DGSS wizards in Algiers believed it contained the death of one of these creatures, and that firing the death into this one would kill this one. It appears they miscalculated-and I wish they were here now. "

  Hale knew that DGSS was de Gaulle's Direction Generale des Services Speciaux, which had operated out of Algiers during the last two years of the war; and for a moment he wondered what crazy trail had led Elena to employment with them.

  The paired posts of several ladders now clunked against the gunwales on both sides, and Hale sprang to the nearest port-side ladder and wrenched it sideways, feeling the resistance-to-leverage of a man's weight on the bottom end of it; Elena and Cassagnac both shot at figures crowding up on the other side, and then Hale and Cassagnac were able to scramble around the gruesomely littered deck and push all the ladders away toward the tapering bow. A couple of shots from the street whipped the rainy air over their hands, but neither of them was hit.

  Hale spat out the hot, foul rain. "Elena," he called, "I love you. "

  "Marcel," she cried with exhausted merriment in return, "I love you too. "

  "My name is Andrew. "

  "Andrew, I love you! D'un tumulte!"

  Cassagnac was laughing again. "This is the spirit for dying. The captain of a ship can perform marriages-and so I hereby pronounce you two man and wife. Kiss the bride quick, Andrew, before you die. "

  Hale crawled through the downpour over to where Elena knelt, and dropped his pistol to take her face in her hands and kiss her passionately on the mouth. And her hand was in his hair, pulling him to her, and he tasted the hot blood from her cut lip on his tongue.

  Their lips parted, but for several seconds their gazes stayed still linked, to the seeming exclusion of time and the world; but then Elena had turned away to crawl toward Cassagnac, and Hale blinked several times and picked up his pistol with shaking fingers.

  Elena was kissing Cassagnac now, and Hale heard them murmuring to each other. Then Elena had abruptly convulsed away from him and scrambled backward until she collided with the mast.

  "She's coming back," she called, in a voice that she barely kept from sliding up the scale to a scream.

  And she was-the tall wild crown of the whirlwind was stirring the clouds as she surged strongly back toward the east, filling the night sky, glittering in the rain-refracted electric light of headlamps and the searchlight. The inhuman singing battered Hale's eardrums with an emotion to which he could only hold up the inadequate word triumphal. And though his mind and very self were diminished and downcast by the intolerably close imminence of her, and terror was an implosive pressure against his skull, Hale found himself thinking, She walks in Beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies. . .

  - But it was not his thought. Hale was suddenly sure that it was the thought of someone else, someone watching this scene from a vantage point, a safe vantage point!-on the western side of the gate.

  He turned away from the terrible looming sight of her, and he forced himself to hold on to one thought as he crawled across the deck to shake Cassagnac's shoulder. "A knife!" he shouted in the man's ear.

  Cassagnac just shuddered and did not look away from the advancing whirlwind, but his hand reached into his coat and pulled out a doubleedged commando dagger. Hale took it from him and cut free a foot-and-a-half length of the tangled rope; then, working rapidly with trembling fingers, he stripped long fibers from the remaining rope-end and used them to tie the short length to the crosspiece and pommel of the dagger, in a loop.

  The result was an ankh, though the loop was bisected by the dagger's grip. Hale could hear Elena loudly reciting the Ave Maria in Spanish behind him, and he took a deep breath and tried to whisper some syllables of the Latin Pater Noster-and then he gripped the dagger by the base of the blade and stood up, lifting the makeshift ankh over his head-and he had to push the thing up through the air, as if through magnetic resistance.

  For an instant all thought and identity were blown out of Hale's head, and his knees sagged and he would have fallen if the ankh had not suddenly been pulling upward in his fist; then the intensity of the thing's surprise was abruptly gone, and Hale was again self-aware, a tiny sentient presumption in the face of something like a god.

  He staggered and swung his upraised arm to the left to steady himself-the ankh could only be dragged slowly through the nearly unyielding air, like tugging at a big gyroscope-

  - And with a shrill whistling that lashed spray up from the street, the whirlwind leaned over that way, seeming to overbalance the sky. Numbly, Hale flexed all the muscles in his arm and shoulder to force the ankh across the other way, to starboard-and the whirlwind stood up straight against the clouds and then swayed out over the bombed lots to the north.

  "What," shouted Cassagnac shrilly to be heard over the wind and the drumming percussion-the man was frowning, and Hale knew what a struggle it was to hold on to a thought here for more than a couple of seconds-"are-you doing?"

  "I have an ankh," yelled Hale. "An anchor. "

  "Give it to me. "

  Cassagnac struggled to his feet against the wind, and Hale leaned his weight toward him to reach across and press the hilt of the dagger into the man's palm.

  "The Russians," said Cassagnac loudly in his ear, "have certainly fallen back, for dread of this. Start the truck, and take Elena away. " And he climbed one-handed over the rope-topped gunwale and pulled the resistant ankh down with him to the truck bed. Hale stumbled to the gunwale, but he could already see Cassagnac jogging strongly away across the boulevard pavement toward the Western sectors, holding the ankh over his head like a heavy torch.

  "He's buying our
lives," Hale shouted to Elena. "Get in the truck cab. "

  Elena cast one long, wide-eyed look after the running figure of Cassagnac-and once again, but with obvious deliberateness this time, she made the sign of the cross-then she bit her bleeding lip and nodded, turning away to grip the starboard bow gunwale and swing one leg over it.

  Hale climbed down to the cab, and he was gripping his pistol when he pulled open the left-side driver's door, but any driver there might have been earlier had long since fled. The truck was vibrating, already idling in neutral, and after Elena had hoisted herself in beside him and pulled her door closed, Hale pressed the clutch to the floor and clanked the gear-shift lever into first gear.

  He let the clutch up, and they were rolling, and he steered toward the curb and the flattened masonry beyond the north side of the Brandenburg Gate. No one was shooting at them yet, and he stamped on the accelerator pedal.

  Hale glanced out the window to the south, and through the whipping veils of hot rain he saw Cassagnac plodding heavily, desperately, toward the western side-but sheets of water were being blown away from the pavement in all directions around the laboring figure, and the whirlwind was slowly bending down over him. Cassagnac lost his footing for a moment, touched the pavement with his knee and free hand as the wind slid him sideways around the compass of the ankh in his fist, and then he was up again, crouching low and thrusting himself forward with each contested step.

  Impulsively Hale shouted out the window, "O Fish, are you constant to the old covenant?"-and in the same moment he shifted up into second gear and again tromped the accelerator pedal flat against the floorboards.

  As he had shouted the words at the roaring wind-thing that leaned down out of the sky, he was giving pictures to the ideas behind the words-the Devil fish in the old stained-glass window in Fairford, and a row of soldiers standing resolute, and the boxy litter shape of the Ark of the Covenant as it had appeared in his school textbooks-but a moment later he wasn't sure he had shouted in English.

  In any case he had drawn the attention of the storm away from Cassagnac and onto himself and Elena. He clung to the truck's steering wheel as his weight increased and the Brandenburg Gate pillars swung from left to right beyond the streaming windscreen, and the engine was roaring as the rear wheels spun free of traction in the air.

  But their momentum was still westward, and when the truck crashed back down onto its wheels it was on the rubbled raised pavement at the north end of the gate, uprooting bushes and exploding bricks and broken stones in all directions; the back end was sliding around to the right as the truck rocked down off the west side of the raised pavement in a hail of leaves and mortar fragments, and the windscreen was abruptly crazed with a white spiderweb pattern of cracks as the boat's bow crunched a dent into the steel roof over Hale's head, and in the driver's mirror he glimpsed the boat's toppling mast and upturning keel as the vessel rolled heavily off of the truck bed.

  He whipped the steering wheel to the right and shifted back down to first gear, and when he hit the accelerator, the truck shuddered and coughed, then ground forward across the western Charlottenburg Chaussee lanes, thumping and shaking on at least two flat tires. The crane stood off to their left, apparently abandoned in place over the hole where the man had been shot that afternoon. Hale and Elena were now west of the place where the anchor stone had been installed.

  And so was Cassagnac, now. As Hale spun the wheel to steer south, staring out the open side window back toward the Unter den Linden lanes beyond the Brandenburg Gate, he saw a closer figure, running west-and when Hale trod on the brake pedal and tapped out the Rote Kapelle here code on the horn, Cassagnac slanted his course toward the truck.

  Cassagnac was waving both empty hands, and on the whipping wind Hale heard snatches of the man's shouting voice: "Alibi-go back there-all evening, dinner-I'll-tomorrow-"

  Hale waved acknowledgment, and he switched off the headlamps as he steered the laboring truck back to the right, leaning his head out of the window into the rain to see where he was going. Figures scattered away in the darkness, but he couldn't tell if they were Soviet soldiers or civilians.

  When he had driven the wrecked truck more than halfway across the distance to the skeletal dome of the Reichstag, he stamped on the brake. None of the anonymous pedestrians had followed them.

  "Now we go back to where we had dinner," he said breathlessly as he levered open the driver's-side door. "We want to establish that we never left. "

  "Incredible," said Elena as she climbed out on her side.

  Hale led Elena back through the kitchen entrance into the smoky restaurant, so that they wouldn't be seen to have entered through the street door; and the table at which they had sat earlier was still unoccupied. Both of them were soaked, dripping on the stone floor, but many of the dozen other diners were nearly as wet. Hale was at least profoundly glad to look around the long room and see that Philby was no longer present.

  Hale paid for a plate of Sturdy Max with a cellophane-sealed pack of Chesterfields, and when he had carried the plate across to their table and sat down, he discovered that he was in fact very hungry.

  Elena apparently was not. When the same old aproned waiter came to the table, she just ordered another brandy, frowning and speaking almost too quietly to be heard, without looking at him or at Hale; and Hale curtly told the man to make it four brandies.

  Elena had taken off her long woolen coat and laid it with unnecessary care on the bench beside her; the long-sleeved blue sweater she'd had on underneath it was not obviously wet, and she had pulled her white hair back over her shoulders. Hale's sport coat glistened with moisture, but he didn't take it off because his clinging shirt would look worse.

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