Declare, p.70
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       Declare, p.70

           Tim Powers
 
Page 70

 

  The 70-millimeter rockets in the seven-tube rocket launchers were cyclotol explosive packed in shells lathed from Shihab meteoric steel. A barrage of them should take care of everyone.

  In her earphones now she heard the helicopter pilot say, "Une dizaine minutes. " Ten minutes or so to target. Out the port windows she could see through the ground mists the white south shoulder of Ararat, still twenty miles away. She threw her cigarette onto the helicopter deck and ground it out under the toe of her boot; then she turned to the armament control panel and clicked up the switch that armed the rocket launchers. The green STANDBY light went out, and the red ARMED light was now glowing, right next to the red light that had all along been indicating that the gun-firing solenoids of the. 50-caliber machine guns were activated.

  "Montrez-moi," she said into the microphone by her chin. Show me.

  Chapter Eighteen

  Mount Ararat, 1963

  This is a tale of those old fears, even of those emptied hells,

  And none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells-

  Of what colossal gods of shame could cow men and yet crash,

  Of what huge devils hid the stars, yet fell at a pistol flash.

  - G. K. Chesterton, To Edmund Clerihew Bentley

  One of the Spetsnaz commandos had taken an end of static rope down the lee face of the Parrot glacier slope in a controlled glissade, using the butt end of his ice-axe as a rudder while he slid down the convex snow surface. When he reached the house-sized chunks of tumbled ice at the glacier's next broad step, fifty yards below, he plowed to a halt and began climbing over the broken serac toward the east, away from the supposed Ark site, while the men up at the top of the slope slowly fed out more rope and the slope between them grew steeper. Hale estimated that the Spetsnaz paid out thirty feet more of the rope. At last the man below waved, indicating that he had found a good place from which to proceed, and the Spetsnaz at the crest walked to a point over him and hammered pitons into the ice for mooring two descending static lines.

  Two of the Spetsnaz immediately crouched and lashed themselves to the ropes somehow, and then hopped backward and began descending the ice slope in long, descending bounds.

  Mammalian and Philby and Hale were to descend separately. Hale was to go first, and one of the Russian commandos knelt down in the snow with Hale and tied a yard-long looped cord to Hale's harness carabiner and then tied the free end to the descending rope in a fist-like Prusik knot; and he made Hale practice yanking on the knot and then flicking it upward, to show Hale that the knot would slide down the rope if it was loose but would grip the rope tightly if weight were put on it.

  The man gestured down the slope. The wind from the peak was flinging spirals of dry snow against them with increasing force, and it was easy for Hale to lift the cord and slide back and down. His legs slid out from under him in the snow and the cord tightened as he fell to his knees, but a moment later he had got his spiked boots under himself and had done it again, descending a good three yards and landing upright and balanced.

  The glacier grew steeper as he progressed downward, and when he was halfway to the bottom, he felt a thrumming in the rope. He looked up and saw that one of the Spetsnaz was leaping and sliding down above him, and Hale began to spring farther out from the ice slope with each jump and to let more of the rope buzz through the Prusik knot before reaching out with his toes to slow down and put weight on it.

  At last he was hanging with his boot-spikes dangling a yard above a patch of snow between two truck-sized ice-boulders. One of the Russian commandos standing below him took hold of his boots and pushed him upward, and Hale used the slack to slip the loop of cord right out of his carabiner; then he waved, and when the man let go of his boots Hale dropped and sat down, jamming the barrel of his slung machine gun into the snow.

  He got up and stepped away from the rope, trying to peer through his ice-clotted snow-goggles. From the shadows on the west side, another of the Spetsnaz reached out and caught Hale's hand and drew him along the narrow, back-slanting ledge to a sheltered hollow under an ice cornice. Hale swiped a mitten across his goggle lenses.

  The close landscape was all enormous surfaces of black stone and white ice tumbled together at slanting angles, with the wind whistling through it all as if the whole mountain were rushing up into space; there was no ground, and Hale was belatedly nauseated at the thought of having unsnapped himself from the rope to drop the last yard. The empty vault of gray northern sky in front of him was somehow obviously a high-altitude view, and he held on to the carabiner at the front of his harness, automatically blinking around for something to snap it onto.

  The Spetsnaz who had led him into the shelter now tugged him farther along the ledge; and mercifully it widened out as it slanted to the left, and after a few scuffing steps for which he had to brace himself with his hands against the stone walls, Hale stepped forward past the Russian and hopped down onto the flat ice of a long frozen lake, its surface littered with gravel and chunks of ice like bomb-shattered concrete. The steep mountain shoulder stood up from the ice-lake fifty yards in front of him, with the Parrot glacier blocking the sky ahead of him and to his left; twenty or thirty feet behind him was the margin of the lake and then the infinite void.

  He let his gaze rise from the ice-flat to the cliffs that were the body of the mountain, fifty yards away-and then through the veils of snow he saw the black wooden structure that loomed out from the glacier and shadowed that side of the frozen lake, and the only thing that kept him from falling to his knees was the recollection that this was not in fact Noah's Ark.

  The thing was huge, probably six stories tall, and rectangular-more like a long building imbedded in the ice than like any kind of ship. It hung above him out there, viewed almost end-on, and he could see that the underside was flat; the roof, which extended out past the high walls, was nearly flat, with a low peak at the center. The blacker squares of windows fretted the top edge, and a rickety wooden staircase, clearly of newer origin, had been erected across the flat front face and down to the ice.

  Snow whirled in dust-devil arabesques across the lifeless ice of the lake below the thing, and in the atonal whistle of the dry wind Hale was sure he heard familiar chords, as if the mountain were a vast Aeolian harp, wringing music from currents that came down raw from the stars. Under it all throbbed an alliance of subsonic tones that resonated unpleasantly in the tiny pulsing focus of Hale's ribs and made connected thought difficult.

  Derringer, he told himself as he stumbled out across the ice; then, in terrified derision and self-contempt, Derringer? I'd do them more harm throwing it at them.

  His balance was going-he had to keep glancing at the surface under his boots to assure himself that he was still vertical-and he sat down hard on the ice, resolved at least not to kneel. He clutched the drogue stone that hung in front of him, glad of the cross cut in its face.

  From over the shoulder of the mountain, on the side by the Abich I glacier, he heard booming and cracking; and then the earthbound thunder sounded to his right, and he saw that it was the noise of avalanches, galleries and valleys of snow moving down from the heights and separating into fragments, then tumbling and exploding into jagged bursts of white against the remote gray sky before they disappeared below his view.

  The cracks and thunders made syllables in the depleted air, but they didn't seem to be in Arabic. Hale guessed that they were of a language much older, the uncompromised speech of mountain conversing with mountain and lightning and cloud, seeming random only to creatures like himself whose withered verbs and nouns had grown apart from the things they described.

  The music was nearly inaudible to Hale's physical eardrums, but in his spine he could feel that it was mounting toward some sustained note for which tragedy or grandeur would be nearly appropriate words.

  Silently in the vault far overhead the clouds broke, and tall columns of glowi
ng, whirling snow-dust stood now around the black vessel, motionless; Hale reflected that it must be noon, for the shining columns were vertical. The mountain and the lake and the very air were suddenly darker in comparison.

  The columns of light were alive, the fields of their attentions palpably sweeping across the ice and the glacier face and the mountain, momentarily clarifying into sharp focus anything they touched; for just a moment Hale could see with hallucinatory clarity the woven cuffs of his sleeves.

  Angels, Hale thought, looking away in shuddering awe. These beings on this mountain are older than the world, and once looked God in the face.

  Which they will never do again, he told himself, and which I may, God willing. Against this spectacle he mentally held up his remembered view of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, especially as he had seen it in a dream, in which the cathedral had been the prow of a ship laboring through a black ocean.

  He rocked forward on the gravel-strewn surface, and by pushing downward with his hands he was able to stand up, shakily.

  He looked back toward the gap he had climbed out through, and saw two unsteady figures step down onto the ice-one had a snow-whitened beard, and he knew they were Mammalian and Philby.

  A new, louder note grew out of the mountain's resonance, and resolved itself, incongruously, into the whine of a turbine engine. The sound was droning from the void behind him, and Hale rocked around to look northwest-and he was disoriented to see the nose and glittering edge-on rotor disk of a helicopter hanging out there in the sky. It was growing in apparent size, clearly speeding toward the Rabkrin position.

  Even as he watched, two spots of fluttering white glare appeared below the onrushing cabin; but only a moment later the craft was climbing and banking to the east, and the machine-gun slugs blew a vertical series of bursts of white spray from the glacier face and then expended themselves away among the higher ravines as the helicopter, its guns still chattering in the thin air, disappeared with a roar over the mountain shoulder.

  It had been one of the new French Aerospatiale Alouettes, and before it disappeared Hale had seen the fasces tubes of rocket launchers slung under the fuselage.

  Why hadn't they fired the rockets?

  Probably they would on their next pass.

  In her earphones the pilot was angrily demanding an explanation for Elena's abrupt order to veer east.

  She ignored him and clung to a stanchion on the port bulkhead, staring through eyes blinded with tears at the two accusing red lights on the armament control panel.

  She had switched on the machine guns as the aircraft had climbed up for a sweep, and her finger had been poised over the button that would have sent a volley of rockets into the grotto where the obscene black structure protruded from the glacier and the tiny figures of the men were so conveniently clustered; but one lone figure had been out on the frozen lake, struggling to its feet-and she had somehow recognized the posture.

  It had been Andrew Hale, and in another moment the shattering tracks of the machine-gun patterns would have stitched right over him.

  Into her head had flashed an image of his bloody hand outside the garret window in Paris, when the Gestapo had been within seconds of breaking down the door, and she had heard again his voice in Berlin saying, I will not say good-bye ever.

  And reflexively she had ordered the pilot to veer hard east. The move had required that they climb steeply, and in a moment the aircraft had flown right up over the glacier. But she believed the tracks of the bullets had missed Andrew Hale.

  Out the starboard window she watched the clouds keep wheeling past-clearly the pilot was coming around for another pass.

  And she remembered that the pilot too had an armament control panel on his instrument board.

  Mammalian was shouting, but his voice barely reached Hale. "The angels must think the helicopter was ours! Approach them, quickly!"

  Philby, propelled by a push from Mammalian, was lurching blindly out across the ice toward Hale. And Hale could feel the man's approach in his mind, could feel the agitation of Philby's fears and jangled memories aligning themselves with his own to form some bigger, other mind.

  Father, where are you? I'm your son-we're your sons, we're your son-

  The inhuman music of the sky seemed to respond, and the dust-devils of snow were dancing over the ice. The smell of metallic oil on the icy air was exotic, exciting.

  I will not have this, Hale made himself think. I will not be the restored half of Kim Philby. God help me. Hale bit the mitten off of his right hand and thrust his hand into the deep pocket of his parka.

  Behind him sounded the abrupt ripping roar of full-automatic gunfire. Hale spun on the ice, crouching and blinking through the frosted lenses of his goggles-but the gunfire was not aimed out toward himself and Philby. Mammalian was shooting at the Spetsnaz commandos.

  Hale choked out an involuntary whimper as he turned back to face the Black Ark on the far side of the ice.

  And it wasn't a black wooden structure overhanging the ice now. The stone flank of the mountains was soaring obsidian arches and columns, and the ice cornices against the sky were gone, replaced by minarets shining in the sun, and the clouds were higher terraces and balconies of milky crystal, mounting away to the zenith. The towers of light stood in parallel out on the broad ice-paved square, each one wide as a house and taller than the mountain's peak, and the crescendo of their inorganic singing was shaking clouds of snow from the high glacier crest and calling up answering verses in the mind that was Hale and Philby.

  A cold white light was shining out of the high windows of the black structure, flowing out of it, to join the columns of living sunlight.

  Hale felt his mouth drop open, and he could feel Philby's mouth opening in the same moment, though Philby was twenty feet behind him; and now the welcoming towers of light had overlapped and entwined to become a figure whose brightness was nearly intolerable to human retinas-in the corona of glare, Hale could make out molten golden shoulders, a chest as deep as the Ahora Gorge, a vast face shining with challenge-

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