4

Standing there, halfway out of the hole, he stood fast for a sudden moment of panic. This passed quickly when he realized that the heat was not increasing and that the sun was growing no closer. It moved, of course, but slowly in order to take a half a day to cross the sky. Even though it was hot, it was not uncomfortably so, and he would be out of the way long before it passed. With calculated speed he threw his burden out upon the blue surface of the sky and closed the cover behind him. He kept his head turned from the sun since its light was blinding when he looked anywhere in its general direction. Then, with the water in one hand the weapon in the other, he put his back to the sun and started toward the north end of the valley, beyond which lay the concealed tunnels of the Watchers. His shadow, black and very long, stretched far out in front of him to the point the way.

Now that he was a little more used to it, there was an excitement to all that was happening that was greater than anything he had ever experienced before in his life. He walked, filled with a great elation, over a wide blue plain. It was flat in front of him, and apparently endless, while on both sides it swept up in an easy curve. Above him, where the sky should have been, the world was suspended. Sharp-tipped mountains came down on both sides and cut across in front of him. It was ground, solid rock beneath his feet, he knew that now, so that it no longer bothered him that the world he had grown up in, the only one that he had known up until a few days ago, hung over his head like a monstrous weight. He was a fly, crawling on the ceiling of the sky, looking down on the poor prisoners trapped below. When he had placed enough distance between himself and the sun he stopped to rest, sitting on the blue sky, and opened the container of water. When he raised it to his lips he looked up at the valley above, at the pyramid and temple almost directly over his head. He put the water down and lay flat on his back, his arms under his head and gazed down on his home. When he looked hard he could almost make out the workers in the fields. The cornfields looked rich and green and would be ready for harvest soon. The people went about their work and their lives without realizing that they were in a prison. Why? And their captors, prisoners themselves in their termite tunnels, what was the hidden reason for their secret observation and the girl’s strange talk about the Great Designer?

Yes, he could see tiny figures moving from the fields toward Quilapa. He wondered if they could see him up here, and he moved his arms and legs about and hoped that they could. What would they think? Probably that he was some kind of bird. Maybe he should take the metal weapon and scratch his name in the sky, flake away the blue so that the rock could be seen. CHIMAL it would say, the letters hanging there in the sky, unmoving and unchanging. Let the priests try and explain that one!

Laughing, he rose and picked up his burdens. Now, more than ever, he wanted to find out the reason for all this. There had to be a reason. He walked on.

When he passed over the rock barrier that sealed the end of the valley he looked up with interest. It was real enough, though the great boulders looked like tiny pebbles from here. Beyond the barrier there was no continuation of the valley, just gray rock from which rose the peaks of mountains. Artificial, all of them, made to give an illusion of distance, since the farther peaks were smaller than the ones closest to the valley. Chimal walked over them and past them, determined to see what lay beyond, until he realized that he was walking up a slope.

It was only a small angle at first, but the slope quickly steepened until he was leaning forward, then climbing on all fours. The sky ahead stretched in a monstrous curve up and up until it reached the ground, but he was never going to get there. In a sudden panic, afraid that he was trapped in this barren sky forever, he tried to climb higher. But he slipped on the smooth sky and slid backward. He lay, unmoving, until the fear had ebbed away, then tried to reason his way out of this.

It was obvious that he could not go ahead — but he could always retrace his steps if he had to, so he was not really trapped out here. What about moving to the left and right? He turned and looked up the slope of the sky to the west, where it rose up and up to meet the mountains above. Then he remembered how the tunnel under the sun had appeared to curve upward yet had been flat all the way. There must be two kinds of up in the world outside the valley. The real up and the one that just looked like up, yet appeared to be flat when you walked on it. He took the container and the weapon and started for the mountains high above.

This was the up that really wasn’t. It was as though he were walking in a giant tube that turned toward him as he advanced. Down was always beneath his feet, and the horizon advanced steadily. The mountains, which had been above him when he started, were halfway down the sky now, hanging like a jagged-edge curtain before him. They drifted downward steadily with every step he took forward, until they finally lay directly ahead, pointing at him like so many giant daggers.

When he came to the first mountain he saw that it was lying flat on its side against the sky — and that it only came up to his shoulders! He was past surprise, his senses dulled by days of wonder. The peak of the mountain was tipped with something white and hard, apparently the same substance as the sky only of a different color. He climbed onto the tip of the mountain that lay flat on the ground of the sky and pointed at him like a great wedge, and walked along it until the white ended and he came to the solid rock. What did this mean? He saw the valley, now only halfway up the sky ahead of him and tilted on edge. He tried to imagine how this spot would look from the valley, and closed his eyes to remember better. Looking from the base of the cliff beyond Zaachila you could see over the pyramid to the great mountains outside of the valley, and the even more distant, immense and high mountains, that were so tall that they had snow on their peaks all year round. Snow! He opened his eyes and looked at the shining white substance and laughed. Here he was perched on a snowy mountain peak — if they could see him from the valley he must look like some sort of monstrous giant.

Chimal went on, climbing among the strange, lying-down mountains, until he came to the opening in the rock and the familiar metal rungs that vanished out of sight below. It was another entrance to the tunnels.

He sat down next to it and thought very hard. What should he do next? This was undoubtedly an entrance to the burrows of the Watchers, a part he had not been to yet, since it was far across the valley from the doorway he had first used. He had to go down here, that Was certain, since there was no place to hide among the barren rocks. Even if there were a place to hide, his food and water would not last forever. This reminder of the food sent a rumble of hunger through him and he took out a package and opened it.

What was he to do after be entered the burrow? He was as alone as no one had ever been before, with every man’s hand turned against him. His people in the valley would kill him on sight, or more probably hamstring him so the priests would have the pleasure of giving him a protracted death. And the Master Observer had called him a non-person, therefore a dead person, and they had all worked very hard to put him into that condition. But they had not succeeded! Even their weapons and their cars and all the things they knew had not helped them. He had escaped and he was free — and he intended to stay that way. In which case a plan was needed to insure this condition.

First he would hide his food and water out here among the tumbled rocks. Then he would enter the tunnel and, bit by bit, would explore the surrounding caverns to discover what he could of the secrets of the Watchers. It was not much of a plan — but he did not have any other choice.

When he had finished he hid his supplies, and the empty food wrapper, then threw open the lid of the entrance. The tunnel below was rock floored and began just below the opening. He went along it cautiously until it joined a wider tunnel that had two sets of tracks down the center. There were no cars in sight, nor could he hear any approaching. He had no choice but to go down this tunnel. Holding the killing thing ready he turned right, toward the valley’s end and set off between the tracks at an easy trot, covering the ground quickly. He did not like this exposed position and he turned into the first opening that appeared. This proved to be the opening to some circular metal stairs that ran down and around and out of sight in the rock below. Chimal started down them, going steadily even though he became dizzy from the constant turning.

As he went lower he heard a humming sound that grew louder while he descended. At the bottom he came out in a damp tunnel that had a trickle of water down the middle, and the hum was now a hammering roar that filled the shaft with sound. Chimal went forward carefully, alert for any motion, until the tunnel ended in a high cavern that held towering metal objects from which the torrent of sound poured. He had no idea what their function might be. Great round sections of them vanished up into the stone above, and from one of these sections came the dribble of water that ran across the floor and into this tunnel. From the security of the entrance he ran his eye down the row of immense things, to the far end where brighter lights shone on a board of smaller shining objects before which a man sat. Chimal drew back into the tunnel. The man’s back was to him and he had certainly not seen the intruder yet. Chimal went back down the tunnel and past the metal stairs. He would see where this led before he went back to the chamber of cars.

As he walked the noise behind him lessened and, when it had died away to a distant hum, he was aware of the sound of running water coming from somewhere ahead. Darkness filled the mouth of the tunnel. He stepped through it onto a ledge above the blackness. A row of lights, curving away to his left, reflected from a dark surface. He realized that he was looking at a vast underground lake: the running water sounded far out ahead of him and small waves trembled the reflections on the surface. The cavern that held the water was vast and the echoes of the falling water sounded on all sides. Where was this place? In his mind he ran through the turnings he had made, and tried to estimate how far he had come. He was much lower than when he had started, and had come north, and then east Looking up he could imagine his route — and there above would be the swamp at the north end of the valley. Of course! This underground lake lay beneath the swamp and drained it. The things back there in the cavern did something to force the water through pipes back to the waterfall. And where did the row of lights go that skirted the edge of the dark lake? He walked forward to find out

A ledge had been cut from the rock of the cavern wall and the lights were spaced along it The rock was slippery and damp and he went carefully. One quarter of the way around the water it went, then ended at another tunnel. Chimal realized that he was tired. Should he go on, or return to his hiding place? That would be the wisest thing to do, but the mystery of these caverns drew him forward. Where did this one lead? He started into it. It was damp, mustier than the other tunnels, though it was lit by the same evenly spaced windows of light No, not as even as the others, a black gap showed ahead like a missing tooth. When he came up to this spot he saw that one of the smooth objects was inset there — but this one’s fire was gone and it was dark. The first one he had seen like this. Perhaps this tunnel was rarely used and this had not been noticed yet. At the end of the tunnel was another round stairway of metal up which he climbed. This emerged into a small room that had a door in one wall. When he put his ear to the door he heard nothing from the other side. He opened it a narrow crack and looked through.

This cavern was quiet, empty, and the largest one he had yet encountered. When he entered it the sound of his footsteps made a tiny rustle in its towering vastness. The lighting here was far less than that of the tunnels, but it was more than enough to show him the size of this cavern, and the paintings that adorned the walls. These were lifelike and strange, people and unusual animals and even odder metal objects. They were marching, all of them, a torrent of frozen motion, going toward the far end of the cavern where there was a doorway flanked by golden statues. The people of the paintings were dressed in different and fantastic Ways, and were even of different skin colors, but they all went to a common goal. The pressure of these silent marchers drove him that way too, but not before he looked about him.

The other end of the cavern was sealed with immense boulders that, for some reason, looked familiar to him. Why? He had never been in this place before. He walked closer to them and looked up at their piled magnitude. They reminded him very much of the rock barrier that sealed the end of the valley.

Of course! This was the other side of that same barrier. If the gigantic boulders were removed the valley would be open, and he did not doubt for a second that the powers that had been used to carve these tunnels and build a sun could be used to throw aside the rocks in front of him. From outside there had appeared to be no exit from the valley — because the exit was sealed inside the rock. Could the legends be true? That some day the valley would be open and his people would march forth. To where? Chimal spun about and looked at the high opening at the far end of the chamber. What did it lead to?

He passed between the large, golden statues of a man and a woman that flanked the portal, and then continued down the tunnel beyond. It was wide and straight and patterned with gold designs. Many doors opened off it but he did not examine any of them: that would wait They doubtless contained many things of interest, but they were not the reason for this passageway. That lay ahead. Faster and faster he walked until he was almost running, up to the great double doors of gold that sealed the end. There was only silence behind them. There was a strange tautness in his chest as he pushed them open.

Beyond was a large chamber, almost as big as the other one, but this one was undecorated and dark, with just a few small lights to show him the way. There was a rear wall and sides, but the far wall was missing. The opening faced out on the star-filled night sky.

It was no sky that Chimal had ever seen before. There was no moon in sight and no valley walls to form a close horizon. And the stars, the stars, the overwhelming quantity of them that broke over him like a wave! The familiar constellations, if they were there, were lost in the infinity of the other stars as numberless as grains of sand. And aft of the stars were turning, as though mounted on a great wheel. Some faint, tiny; others blazing like torches of many colors, yet they all were hard and clear points of light without lie flickering of the stars above his valley.

What could this mean? In uncomprehending awe he walked forward until he collided with something cold and invisible. The sudden spurt of fear dissipated as he touched it with his hand and realized it must be the same kind of transparent substance that covered the front of the cars. Then this entire wall of the room was a great window, opening out on — what? The window curved outward and when he leaned into it he could see that the stars filled the sky to left and right, above and below. He had a sudden vertigo, as though he were falling and pressed his hand to the window, but the unaccustomed cold of it was strangely ominous and he quickly pulled away. Was this another valley facing the real universe of stars? If so, where was the valley?

Chimal stepped back, unsure, frightened by this new immensity, and as he did he heard a faint sound.

Was it a footstep? He started to jump about when the killing thing was suddenly jerked from his hand. He fell back against the cold window and saw the Master Observer and three other men standing before him, all of them pointing the deadly flame weapon at him.

“You have come at last to the end,” the Master Observer said.

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