7

The old man did not struggle. His hands fluttered limply for a moment and he rolled his eyes upward to look into Chimal’s face, but otherwise he made no protest. Though he swayed with the effort, Chimal held the Master Observer until he was sure the men outside had gone, then released him and pointed to a chair.

“Sit,” he commanded. “We shall all sit down because I can no longer stand.” He dropped heavily into the nearest chair and the other two, almost docilely, obeyed his order. The girl was waiting for instruction: the old man was almost destroyed by the events of the preceding days.

“Look at what you have done,” the Master Observer said hoarsely. “At the evils committed, the damage, the deaths. Now what greater evil do you plan…”

“Hush,” Chimal said, touching his finger to his lips. He felt drained of everything vital, even of hatred at this moment, and his calmness quieted the others. The Master Observer mumbled into silence. He had not used his depilatory cream so there was gray stubble on his cheeks, as well as pockets of darkness under his eyes.

“Listen carefully and understand,” Chimal began, in a voice so quiet that they had to strain to hear. “Everything has changed. The valley will never be the same again, you have to realize that. The Aztecs have seen me, mounted upon a goddess, have found out that everything is not as they always thought it was. Coatlicue may never walk again to enforce the taboo. Children will be born of parents of different villages, they will be Arrivers — but will not have an arrival. And your people here, what of them? They know that something is terribly wrong, yet they do not know what. You must tell them. You must do the only thing possible, and that is to turn the ship.”

“Never!” Anger pulled the old man upright, and the eskoskeleton helped his gnarled fingers to curl into fists. “The decision has been made and it cannot be changed.”

“What decision is that?”

“The planets of Proxima Centauri were unsuitable. I told you that. It is too late to return. We go on.”

“Then we have passed Proxima Centauri… ?”

The Master Observer opened his mouth- — then clamped it shut again as he realized the trap he had fallen into. Fatigue had betrayed him. He glared at Chimal, then at the girl.

“Go on,” Chimal told him. “Finish what you were going to say. That you and other observers have worked against the Great Designer’s plan and have turned us from our orbit. Tell this girl so she may tell the others.”

“This is none of your affair,” the old man snapped at her. “Leave and do not discuss what you have heard here.”

“Stay,” Chimal said, pressing her back into her seat as she half rose at the order. “There is more truth to come. And perhaps after a while the observer will realize that he wants you here where you cannot tell the others what you know. Then later he will think of a way to kill you or to send you off into space. He must keep his guilty secret because if he is found out he is destroyed. Turn the ship, old man, and do one good thing with your life.”

Surprise was gone and the Master Observer had control of himself again. He touched his deus and bowed his head. “I have finally understood what you are. You are to evil as the Great Designer is to good. You have come to destroy and you shall not succeed. What you are…”

“Not good enough,” Chimal broke in. “It is too late to call names or settle this by insult. I give you facts, and I ask you to dare deny them. Watch him closely, Steel, and listen to his answers. I give you first the statement that we are no longer on the way to Proxima Centauri. Is that fact?”

The old man closed his eyes and did not answer, then crouched in his chair in fear as Chimal sprang to his feet. But Chimal went by him and pulled the red-bound log from the rack and let it fall open. “Here is the fact, the decision that you and the others made. Shall I let the girl read it?”

“I do not deny it. This was a wise decision made for the good of all. The watchman will understand. She, and all the others will obey, whether they are told or not.”

“Yes, you’re probably right,” Chimal said, wearily, hurling the book aside and dropping back into his chair. “And that is the biggest crime of all. No not yours, His. The most evil one, the one you call the Great Designer ”

“Blasphemy,” the Master Observer croaked, and even Watchman Steel shrank back from the awfulness of Chimal’s words.

“No, just truth. The books told me that there are things called nations on Earth. They seem to be large groups of people, though not all of the people on Earth. It is hard to tell exactly why these nations exist or what their purpose is, but that is not important. What is important is that one of these nations was led by the man we now call the Great Designer. You can read his name, the name of the country, they are meaningless to us. His power was so great he built a memorial to himself greater than any ever constructed before. In his writings he says how the thing he does is greater than the pyramids or anything that came before. He says that pyramids are great structures, but that his structure is greater — an entire world. This world. In detail he writes how it was designed and made and sent on its way and he is very proud of it. Yet what he is really proud of is the people who live in this world, who will go out to the stars and carry human life in his name. Don’t you see why he feels that way? He has created an entire race to worship his image. He has made himself God.”

“He is God,” the Master Observer said, and Watchman Steel nodded agreement and touched her deus.

“Not God, or even a black god of evil, though he deserves that name. Just a man. A frightful man. The books talk of the wonders of the Aztecs he created to carry out his mission, their artificially induced weakness of mind and docility. This is no wonder — but a crime. Children were born, from the finest people in the land, and they were stunted before birth. They were taught superstitious nonsense and bundled off into this prison of rock to die without hope. And, even worse, to raise their children in their own imbecilic image for generation after generation of blunted, wasted lives. You know that, don’t you?”

“It was His will,” the old man answered, untroubled.

“Yes it was, and it doesn’t bother you at all because you are the leader of the jailers who imprison this race, and you wish to continue the imprisonment forever. Poor fool. Did you ever think where you and your people came from? Is it chance that you are all so faithful to your trust and so willing to serve? Don’t you realize that you were made in the same way the Aztecs were made? That after finding the ancient Aztecs as a model society for the valley dwellers, this monster looked for a group to do the necessary housekeeping for the centuries-long voyage. He found it in the mysticism and monasticism that has always been a nasty side path taken by the human race. Hermits wallowing in filth in caves, others staring into the sun for a lifetime of holy blindness, orders that withdrew from the world and sealed themselves away for lives of sacred misery. Faith replacing thinking and ritual replacing intelligence. This man examined all the cults and took the worst he could find to build the life you lead. You worship pain, and hate love and natural motherhood. You are smug with the years of your long lives and look down upon the short-lived Aztecs as lower animals. Don’t you realize the ritualized waste of your empty lives? Don’t you understand that your intelligence has also been dimmed and diminished so that none of you will question the things you have to do? Can you not see that you are just as much condemned prisoners as the people in the valley?”

Exhausted, Chimal dropped back in his chair, looking from the cold face of hatred to the empty face of incomprehension. No, they had no idea what he was talking about. There was no one, in the valley or out, whom he could talk to, communicate with, and a cold loneliness settled on him.

“No, you cannot see,” he said, with weary resignation. “The Great Designer has designed too well.”

At his words their fingers automatically went to their deuses and he was too tired to do more than sigh.

“Watchman Steel,” he ordered, “there is food and drink over there. Bring them to me.” She hurried to his bidding. He ate slowly, washing the food down with the still-warm tea from the Thermos, while he planned what to do next.

The Master Observer’s hand crept to the communicator at his waist and Chimal had to reach out and pull it from his belt. “Yours too,” he told Watchman Steel, and did not bother to explain why he wanted it. She would obey in either case. He could expect no more help from anyone. From now on he was alone.

“There is none higher than you, is there, Master Observer?” he asked.

“All know that, except you.”

“I know it too, you must realize that. And when the decision was made to change the orbit, the observers agreed but the final decision was made by the then Master Observer. Therefore you are the one who must know all of the details of this world, where the spaceships are and how to activate them, the navigation and how it is done, and the schools and all the arrangements for the Day of Arrival, everything.”

“Why do you ask me these things?”

“I’ll make my meaning clear. There are many responsibilities here, far too many to be passed on by word of mouth from one Master Observer to the other. So there are charts that show all the tunnels and chambers and their contents, and there are breviaries for the schools and the spaceship. Why there must even be a breviary for that wonderful day of arrival when the valley is open. — where is it?”

The last words were a demanding question and the old man started and his eyes jumped to the wall, then instantly away. Chimal turned to look up at the red-lacquered cabinet that hung there, in front of which a light always burned. He had noticed it before but never thought consciously about it.

When he rose to go to it the Master Observer attacked him, his aged hands and the rods of his eskoskeleton striking Chimal about the head and shoulders. Finally, he had understood what Chimal had in mind. The struggle was brief. Chimal prisoned the old man’s hands, clasping them together behind his back. Then he remembered the failure of his own eskoskeleton and threw the power switch on the Master Observer’s harness. The motors died and the joints locked, holding the man captive. Chimal picked him up gently and laid him on his side on the bed.

“Watchman Steel, duty,” the old man ordered, though his voice quavered. “Stop him. Kill him. I order you to do this.”

Unable to understand more than a fraction of what had occurred the girl stood, wavering helplessly between them.

“Don’t worry,” Chimal told her. “Everything will be all right.” Against her slight resistance he forced her back into the chair and disconnected her eskoskeleton too, tearing the power pack free. He tied her wrists together as well, with a cloth from the ablutory.

Only when they were both secured did he go to the cabinet on the wall and tug at its doors. They were locked. In a sudden temper he tore at it, pulling it bodily from the wall, ignoring the things the Master Observer was calling at him. The lock on the cabinet was more decorative than practical and the whole thing fell to pieces easily when he put it on the floor and stamped on it. He bent and picked a red-bound and gold decorated book from the wreckage.

“The Day of Arrival,” he read, then opened it. “That day is now.”

The basic instructions were simple enough, as were the instructions in all the breviaries. The machines would do the work, they had only to be activated. Chimal went over in his mind the course he would take, and hoped that he could walk that far. Pain and fatigue were closing in again and he could not fail now. The old man and the girl were both silent, too horrified by what he was doing to react. But this could change as soon as he left. He needed time. There were more cloths in the ablutory and he took them and sealed their mouths with them. If someone should pass they would not be able to give the alarm. He threw the communicators to the ground and broke them as well. He would not be stopped.

As he put his hand on the door he turned to face the wide, accusing eyes of the girl. “I’m right,” he told her. “You’ll see. There is much happiness ahead.” Taking the breviary for the Day of Arrival, he opened the door and left.

The caverns were still almost empty of people which was good: he did not have the strength to make any detours. Halfway to his goal he passed two watchmen, both girls, coming off duty, but they only stared with frightened empty eyes as he passed. He was almost to the entrance to the hall when he heard shouting and looked back to see the red patch of an observer hurrying after him. Was this chance — or had the man been warned? In either case, all he could do was go on. It was a nightmare chase, something out of a dream. The watchman walked at the highest speed his eskoskeleton would allow, coming steadily on. Chimal was unrestricted, but wounded and exhausted. He ran ahead, slowed, hobbled on, while the observer, shouting hoarse threats, ground in pursuit like some obscene mixture of man and machine. Then the door to the great chamber was ahead and Chimal pushed through it and closed it behind him, leaning his weight against it. His pursuer slammed into the other side.

There was no lock, but Chimal’s weight kept the door closed against the other’s hammering while he fought to catch his breath. When he opened the breviary his blood ran down the whiteness of the page. He looked at the diagram and the instructions again, then around the immensity of the painted chamber.

To his left was the wall of great boulders and massive rocks, the other side of the barrier that sealed the end of his valley. Far off to his right were the great portals. And halfway down this wall was the spot he must find.

He started toward it. Behind him the door burst open and the observer fell through, but Chimal did not look back. The man was down on his hands and knees and motors hummed as he struggled to rise. Chimal looked up at the paintings and found the correct one easily enough. Here was a man who stood out from the painted crowd of marchers, who stood away from them, bigger than them. Perhaps it was an image of the Great Designer himself: undoubtedly it was. Chimal looked into the depths of those nobly painted eyes and, if his mouth had not been so dry, he would have spat into the wide-browed perfection of the face. Instead he leaned forward, his hand making a red smear along the wall, until his fingers touched those of the painted image.

Something clicked sharply and a panel fell open, and there was a single large switch inside. Then the observer was upon Chimal as he clutched at it, and they fell together.

Their combined weight pulled it down.

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