Declare, p.67
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       Declare, p.67

           Tim Powers
 
Page 67

 

  "But," Mammalian went on, steepling his fingers in front of his beard and glancing from Hale to Philby and back, "the djinn did speak, that night. They said, in Arabic, 'Answer whom? The brothers are divided. '"

  A moaning gust of wind from the peak bellied the tent wall behind Mammalian and snapped the outer flap like a flag; Hale's nostrils constricted at a cold whiff of metallic oil over the bread-and-rubber smell of the tent.

  Mammalian shucked the leather mitten off of his right hand and began unsnapping his parka. "Wear your drogues outside your clothing!" he barked.

  Hale hooked a finger into the leather thong at his neck and drew out the flat rectangular stone Mammalian had given him yesterday, at the camp by the trucks on the plain. The stone was the size of a thick playing card, with a protruding ring at the top, and a cross had been grooved across its matte face.

  Each of the five men in the tent was clutching one of the stones now; and over the long course of ten seconds the keening wind outside diminished away to silence. Hale was braced for the ground-tremors of an earthquake, but none came.

  His pounding heartbeat didn't slow down. He didn't think it had slowed to less than a hundred beats per minute in the last forty-eight hours, and in his sleeping bag on this rubber floor last night he had not got more than two hours' restless sleep.

  Mammalian tapped his drogue stone. "These are better than your Egyptian ankhs," he said to Hale. "When Gilgamesh tried to take a boat to where the immortal Upanishtim could give him eternal life, do you recall that he nearly made the voyage impossible when he broke the 'things of stone' with which the boat was equipped? They were stone anchors in this shape, but more than just the kind of anchor that keeps a boat from being swept away. These fix the attention of the djinn, and thus impede new intentions. "

  "What brothers?" rasped Philby. Hale looked at him-the man's face in the parka hood was pasty and he was staring at the ridged rubber floor. "What brothers were divided?"

  "The two sons," said Mammalian, "of Harry St. John Philby. They are yourself and Andrew Hale. This is the truth. "

  Philby stared at Hale then, and Hale almost looked away-Philby's wet eyes were wide with hurt, and something like loss, and even sorrow. "I d-did know it, suspect it," Philby said thickly. "I-d-damn me!-I s-s-some-t-times thought I s-saw-him-in y-you. "

  Hale had to take a breath to speak. "And treated me accordingly?" The words came out with more bitterness than he had intended to show, and he glanced down at his boots to hide any tears that might well up in his own eyes. The lost father I used to daydream about, he thought. Have I seen him in you, Kim? I wouldn't have known.

  "You h-had n-no-right," Philby choked.

  "Nor say," said Hale shortly.

  "Together," said Mammalian in a loud voice, "you will approach their castle, today. Together you will be the one person who was consecrated to them in 1912, in Amballa. "

  Ten years before I was even born, thought Hale tensely. Mother, why in the name of Heaven did you-

  He glanced again at Philby, and thought he caught a flicker of wild, fearful hope there. No, Kim, Hale thought in sudden specific alarm-I will not serve as your fox; your father was willing, but I will not consent to sharing the ordeal of the djinn sacrament with you. Aloud, he said to him, trying not to speak quickly, "Did you ever go through the espionage-paramilitary course at Fort Monkton?"

  Philby blinked. "Y-Yes, in '49. "

  "I did it in '46. You remember the litany? 'Would you kill your brother?'" It hurt Hale's jaw to speak so much. "We both answered yes to that. Don't expect a lot of brotherly love, right?"

  He hoped that was innocuous enough not to rouse suspicion in Mammalian, and at the same time a clear enough message to Philby-If you tell them about me, about this Declare infiltration and sabotage, you will go through with the djinn sacrament, as the Rabkrin has planned-alone; and you will live ever after as a pampered imbecile in Moscow, never again able to read, or think.

  He saw the hope die in Philby's eyes as the import sank in, and Hale took a sip of his cooled tea to cover his frail relief: clearly the psychic sharing did have to be voluntary. Our father, Hale thought, loved you very much, Kim.

  "Brotherly love," echoed Philby emptily.

  "-is not called for here, fortunately," said Mammalian. "Plain professionalism will suffice. We are going to be ascending to the Abich I glacier today, and then traversing it to the top slope of the Parrot glacier. We may get snow, and the winds are constant, but no storm is expected. It will be dangerous nevertheless-the traverse will be across a convex snow surface at about a thirty-degree angle, so avalanches are a real possibility-and of course there are deep crevasses in the ice-but," he said, rocking his head toward the other tent, "our Spetsnaz commandos were chosen because they have mountain-climbing experience, and we'll all be roped in a line. It is what they call a static rope. Not much climbing should be required-simply follow the directions of the leader. If a man near you should fall into a crevasse, try to plunge your ice-axe into the surface near you, to moor yourself; and if you fall in, just hang there-don't thrash or struggle, lest you pull the rest of us in after you. "

  "Jesus," said Philby.

  "Prayer, I think," said Mammalian judiciously, "would be contraindicated. We will all carry our automatic rifles, but it's unlikely that we'll encounter opposition at this point; nevertheless you will have a full magazine loaded and a live round in the chamber. Radios are not likely to work this close to the Ark and its inhabitants, but we have flare-guns, and since we are so close to the Soviet border a Mil helicopter will be here in less than ten minutes if we fire them. "

  Mammalian paused and reached up to one of the hang-loops for his bottle; the liquid in it was cloudy, arak already mixed with water, and certainly it would be as cold as he could ask for. After he had uncorked it and taken a swig, he went on, exhaling licorice fumes, "In addition to the natural hazards of mountaineering, many climbing parties upon this mountain have been troubled by. . . irrational irritability and fear among the climbers, even abrupt insanity. Equipment has failed, inexplicably. These are evidences of resistance by the inhabitants of the peaks. We appear to have experienced nothing of the sort so far on this climb, which perhaps means that we are not unwelcome, but that condition may change when we get onto the higher glacier. So if you find yourself suddenly angry, or afraid, or disoriented, remind yourself that it is not a genuine, justified emotion! The Spetsnaz have been told this too, as clearly as seemed advisable. Simply stop, breathe deeply, recite the multiplication tables. And we have drugs that might help counter these effects. "

  He looked beside him at Philby, then at Hale. "The Ark is on a ledge, over a lake," Mammalian said. "It should be accessible, and we have enough men to dig it out if it is not. The two of you are to approach it, together. Don't bother to try to walk in step or anything of that sort-it will be enough that you are side by side. " To Philby he said, "You have the rafiq jewel. "

  "I contain it," said Philby.

  "As in 1948. " Mammalian took another sip of the arak and then corked the bottle and smiled. "As if that would stop us from taking it from you, if such was our purpose! The two of you may shout to the vessel, if there is no immediate response, but I think the Ark will open for you, at the mere approach of. . . the completed son. "

  "And what," asked Hale, not having to feign anxiety, "do we do then?"

  Mammalian spread his hands and smiled. "Improvise. "

  Hale nodded. That was what Hartsik had told him too. He remembered the djinn confined in the pool at Ain al' Abd saying, This is the Nazrani son-and he remembered the king of Wabar telling him, The ghosts of my people could see that you have not the black drop in the human heart.

  Prayer, I think, Mammalian had said here, would be contraindicated.

  "Could I, er, have a bit of your arak?" Hale asked.

  "I've got Scotch," said Philby suddenly, "and gin. Both. " He was lo
oking at the floor again.

  Hale gave him an uncertain glance. He had seen Philby drinking from a steel water bottle that he had topped up last night from a bottle of Gordon's gin, so Hale said, "Well, gin, actually. " He clenched his teeth, then made himself say, "Thanks. "

  He was peripherally aware of Mammalian smiling ironically at him.

  Improvise.

  Hale had been improvising without cease ever since Mammalian had ordered him into the Bombard inflated motorboat in the storm surf below the Normandy Hotel on the rainy night of the twenty-third. And his calculations had become more complicated when he and his escorts had joined the rest of the team at the camp below Ararat last night.

  Philby unsnapped a water bottle from a webbing harness on the floor, and Hale reached across to take it from him, willing his fingers not to tremble.

  When the time came, Hale would shoot his derringer upward, into whatever form the djinn assumed; perhaps he could do it with the little gun held down by his belt, so that it would not be obvious that he had fired it, or even that the noise had been a gunshot. There might well be other, covering noises. But how wide would the shot spread, out of the gun's short barrel?-widely enough to blow Hale's face off? And then-the djinn would die? What ferocities might that involve? If he had to shoot more than twice, he would have to reload, and then aim. What would the Spetsnaz commandos make of that? Short work was what they'd make of him. And he had to save one round to fire into Philby's back.

  He took a big mouthful of Philby's gin, and let it sting his mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it.

  "Thanks," he whispered more sincerely, handing the water bottle back to Philby.

  "Up," said Mammalian, slapping his hands onto his thighs. "Fuad and Umit will stay here-we take up our rifles and. . . ascend!"

  The big Armenian was cheerful as he stood up again and began refastening the snaps of his parka; and Hale remembered coming to the conclusion, on the St. Georges Hotel terrace eighteen days ago, that Mammalian's loyalties in this operation were to the djinn themselves, and not to the Rabkrin.

  Hale got to his feet, glad that the climbing pants were so thick as to hide the shaking of his knees, and he pulled the snow-goggles down over his eye sockets and the bridge of his nose. His crampons were slung at his belt beside the head of his ice-axe, and he shuffled to the corner of the tent and picked up one of the white-painted Kalashnikovs. It weighed about ten pounds with the full thirty-round magazine attached in front of the trigger guard, but its weight was comfortable when he had slung it over his shoulder Bedu-style. Five spare magazines clicked in his pockets as he shifted to tug the leather mittens on over his liner gloves.

  The tent had been cold, but he shivered when he had stepped out onto the snow and the icy wind found the gaps at his throat and wrists. Ice dust was sweeping down over the snowpack from the peak like the ghost of a fast, shallow stream, and he was glad that their route would not be taking them higher than the 14,000-foot level. Even under clouds the white glare of the snow field was dazzling, and the cornices of the Abich I glacier to the west glittered like diamonds.

  He sat down on the trampled area of ice outside the tent to strap the steel-spiked crampons tightly onto the soles of his boots. Under the trampled snow the surface of the Cehennem Dere glacier was black, impregnated with lava dust-and he remembered the black glass beads he had found at Wabar, and then he thought of the oval shot pellets in his derringer.

  The thought that he would be firing at least two shells of those pellets today made his belly flutter so loosely that he was afraid he might wet his pants; but he felt an aching tightness in his chest, as if his lungs were struggling against his closed throat for fresh air while he was submerged far under water. I'm forty-one years old, he thought as he took deep breaths of the frigid air to try to dispell the feeling. I didn't die at Ain al' Abd three weeks ago-will I really finally do it today?

  Pot's right, no more bets, showdown.

  He remembered his dismay at finding himself committed to a hand of cards without having honestly looked at the stakes, fourteen years ago. Had he been doing it again? But if the stakes were too frightening to consider, and the game was already lost, what value could there be in clear comprehension?

  "All I can do is play out the hand," he whispered. "I can't change anything at forff-forfeit-forty-at my age. "

  He stood up, still breathing deeply of the thin, icy air, and used his teeth to tug tight the wrist strap of the left mitten. The ten Spetsnaz commandos had filed out of their larger tent, and for the moment Hale avoided looking at them. Even seen peripherally they did look bulky, and he had to assure himself that a 7. 62-millimeter round would easily penetrate even the thickest layers of leather and nylon weave and kapok fiber. He tugged his bulky parka hood over his head and trudged forward behind the rocking white rifle-barrels slung on the backs of Philby and Mammalian.

  One of the Spetsnaz commandos pointed at Hale and barked some syllables in Russian. Hale forced himself simply to pause, and not to shuck his right hand free of its mitten to grab the Kalashnikov stock.

  Mammalian turned around to face Hale-his black beard below the gleaming snow-goggles was already powdered with ice dust, but was still a conspicuous spot in this white sky world-and he called, "He says you will kill someone accidentally, holding your gun that way. Sling it the way they do. "

  "Da!" yelled Hale obediently. But when he pulled the sling off over his head and then put it on again, the rifle barrel was pointed down, so that one yank on the barrel would bring it back to the Bedu position. The Spetsnaz seemed to be satisfied.

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