5

Pavlos slowly felt a return to lucidity. He had recollections of wandering in the storeroom in back, searching among the memorabilia… for what, he couldn’t remember. He recalled walking among the great stacks of folded tapestry, drifting dazedly, open to the holographic images that flashed at him from the past.

And he remembered pawing through his pack, in the storeroom, inspecting each item as if for the first time. For an hour he shouted into the transceiver, screaming what would have to be incoherence to his friend the astronaut. Frank never replied.

He had probably been out of line of sight. Or perhaps the ancient mountain was shielded, somehow.

And maybe it was best Frank hadn’t heard him, after all.

For a while he watched Clotho at work, affixing her dyes to overlay the natural colors of the threads she had harvested. Finally, he sickened of her happy labor and went out into the night for a walk.

He had only their word for it that they were immortal.

Pavlos wondered about that. He still had his machete; and except for Moira, they looked like helpless old women. He had never killed before, although he had been willing to in the past, in border skirmishes and on expeditions into lawless lands. Surely he had the will now.

But Clotho had been terribly strong. And then there were the other heroes to consider.

Surely some of them must have tried a frontal assault. Obviously none had succeeded.

Similarly, escape was probably impossible. It was too obvious an idea. All they had to do, probably, was have Atropos pick out his thread from among the five billion and snip it. He would fall in the darkness, or be bitten by a snake, and that would be that.

Morosely, he looked up at the sky, with the bitterly clear stars shining overhead. Mount Ossa bulked darkly against the distant skyline.

He considered prayer. The same logic held of course. It was an obvious thing to try… and had never worked, apparently. Still, it might be worth it to make the effort.

Pavlos had never been a religious man. Nevertheless, he cast his thoughts outward for a time. It brought upon him a poignancy like nothing he had ever known; but when he turned around, the predicament remained the same.

With shoulders hunched, he turned away from the chill and slowly climbed the broad steps into the temple. Moira awaited him, standing a few feet from the loom where Lachesis and Atropos continued their labors untiring.

He watched them for a while. Lachesis’s fingers were a blur, yet there was a fascination to the rhythmic pattern of her movements. He tried to see the beauty translating from the whirling motions of her hands to the pattern of the weave, but was distracted by the incessant clicking of Atropos’s shears. He couldn’t make himself believe that he was seeing his own human society in the making, from moment to moment before him, in the microscopic lengthening of the abstract tapestry.

“Lately some of the patterns have developed a degree of spontaneity,” Moira said from beside him. “Not only are there more threads than ever, but Lachesis seems to have been giving them their head in contacting one another. It makes little sense, geographically. People seem to be on the move more… and the rate of travel has surprised us.

“I thought you controlled everything we do,” Pavlos said bitterly.

“That is true to an extent,” Moira agreed, “though what is controlled consists primarily in who a person meets during his life. Lachesis handles this by having thread contact thread—and in the way men and women feel about one another when they meet. That part is managed by Clothe’s dyes. Finally Atropos chooses the moment of death, constrained by the pattern in the tapestry.

“Thus it is Clotho, primarily, who drives the theme of mankind’s weaving, for her colors constrain Lachesis to fit them together in an arrangement that has meaning. Of late, however, our eldest sister seems to have become more imaginative in her patterning, causing threads to hop about like fleas upon a rug. We do not know why she is moving you humans about the world so, these days… Lachesis has not spoken to us for centuries, now. We are very interested in finding out how you are managing it physically. That is one reason why Clotho was so glad to learn that a hero had finally come.

Pavlos paused.

“You mean you don’t know—?” Then he stopped. By lamplight he saw something he had not noticed before. Four very large bobbins hung at the edge of the tapestry. Their size alone was hint enough, but when he saw the long, totally straight trace of those threads, visible among all of the others and leading interminably back into the weave, Pavlos felt a cold elation.

With a cry he leapt forward, the machete gleaming bright in his hand. He seized the large bobbins in his left hand and brought the machete down with all his might.

He felt a slicing… a sudden parting. His blood surged with battle fever. But when he looked down he saw the stump that his blade had become. Four gleaming pieces of steel lay on the ground.

He opened his left hand. The large bobbins were intact, still connected by undamaged thread to the loom. But also in his palm was a curling mass of tiny tendrils, attached to tiny balls smaller than ants.

There was a sound like thunder.

Lachesis finally took notice of him, barely. Almost as an afterthought, she pushed him aside. The force sent him reeling, the bobbins torn from his grasp. He slipped on the smooth marble floor and skittered until he tumbled, jarringly, into a massive pillar.

Atropos laughed.

“Good try, hero! Only one in ten thinks of that! And only a few are strong enough to break steel on us!”

Moira came up to him, smiling with a certain degree of pity. She offered her hand. It was such a natural gesture that Pavlos took it unconsciously. His ears were ringing and the rumble of thunder was growing.

Atropos peered at the section of the weave he had attacked. “And a stronger hero, even still! Not mighty enough to break our threads, I fear… but the first in a long time powerful enough to snap a few humans he grabbed along by mistake!”

“What?” Pavlos felt dizzy. Suddenly he remembered the curling wisps, the tiny, antlike bobbins in his hand.

“As I see it—” Atropos looked closely “—you snipped almost a hundred of them… not more than a few leagues from here!”

She sounded impressed. Pavlos stared.

The growling sound drifted in from the open portico, now punctuated with distant coughs and pops. Only slowly did Pavlos come to recognize it. With leaden footsteps, he followed it outside.

Flame leapt from a mountainside no more than twenty miles away. Several explosions followed one another, pealing across the hills like funeral drums. The tiny speck flickered with a hot, blue glare for long minutes, before settling down to a lingering, crimson flame.

“… a plane crash,” Pavlos muttered to himself, the cottony numbness gathering around him once again in a protective embrace. “Something straying from the main routes… maybe a military jet.”

Moira stood beside him, watching the disaster slowly burn down. Finally she asked, “What is a ‘plane’? And what is a—a ‘military jet’?”

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