Sahara Light: a Novel. Part III. Chapter X.

19 Mar

Hermes considered at length, with diligent effort, what course he should take.

The dictator who called himself the Prostagor held Echo in his clutches somewhere and was able to threaten unspecified harm to her. It was doubtful that empty research reports would satisfy him for very much longer. The fear arose that Nessos might catch on to the game being played at the Light Institute. Would he take revenge on Echo in angry retaliation when he realized what the scientist who was now the Director was up to?

Despite this terrible dilemma, some decision had become necessary. Continued falsification might be risky and dangerous and had to be replaced with truthful, accurate reports on experimentation, with successes and failures spelled out. Only if there were promising, positive breakthroughs would the fact have to remain secret.

If a time came when transilient light rays were produced, then a second decision on what to do with it would be needed. Would that become necessary any time soon? No one could say.

Hermes wished that he was in contact with Atlas Cimera and able to rely on his advice. Since that was impossible at the moment, he was compelled by circumstances to steer his course on his own.

Endymion Grion invited the city man into his office overlooking the circular basin at the center of the oasis. He offered him a cup of cactus wine. Atlas refused it, eager to keep his wits as sharp as he possibly could. Drinking can come later, he said to himself.

The casino-owner poured himself some retsina, took a sip, and began to talk in a calm voice.

“What you witnessed on the floor out there is not anything without precedent. There has always been official corruption attached to any gambling activity on the desert. It was around long before the general strike and ergati uprising in Gamara. The only difference is that it now has acquired incredible dimensions. There has never been anything to rival the magnified extortion by the present authorities. The current rulers use the new Phylax as their collectors and enforcers. Their avarice has no limits and continually grows greater. All businesses like mine face eventual ruin, unless something drastic is done in time. Today, I am operating without real profit whatsoever because of the heavy price I have to pay to continue open. But I am carrying unsustainable losses, and that cannot go on much longer.

“I have a feeling that, sooner or later, something is going to break or explode.”

Atlas had a sense of rising hope as he listened to the owner of the casino. He decided to add some thoughts of his own.

“Conditions are worsening every day in Gamara. I hear that from many of my sources in the city. That was my main reason for leaving there and going into the desert. There is no future for me there, because I refused to cooperate with the government of the Prostagor.” He stared a moment at the lanky entrepreneur, trying to estimate how far it was possible for him to go as a political critic and opponent of the dictatorship in power. “I believe there is nothing I would be unwilling to do in order to change the way things now are,” said Atlas in almost a whisper.

The face of Endymion was as expressionless as a sand rock. The owner looked over at a horologion on the wall, then slowly rose to his feet.

“Pardon me, my friend, but it is closing time. I have to see my bankers and dealers, but it won’t take me long. Stay right here and I will be back to continue our talk in a short while. You are an extremely interesting visitor, I must admit.”

Left alone in the private office, Atlas thought about what he had just heard. Grion was angry and dissatisfied. But how much, and how desperately? He sat musing in silence, till startled by the sudden opening of a side door he had not peviously noticed.

His eyes met those of a willowy, slender female nearly as tall as Endymion. She had the same hair, the same eyes. This must be the owner’s sister, he decided.

She was dressed in a traditional desert hunting costume: jacket of fawn-colored fennec fur, round soricine cap, and quickhatch breeches.

“Who are you?” the young woman flared. “What are you doing in here?”

Atlas succeeded in opening his mouth to answer her when the door from the hall flew open and Edymion Grion made his way into the office. His eyes caught sight of the new arrival.

“Callisto! I see that you have met my friend. Did he explain to you what it is he is asking me to do for him?”

“No. I have no idea who this is or what he is doing here. Please tell me that.”

“Let me explain it to you, then. He left Gamara because of the recent catastrophe there and decided he wished to become a desert hunter. But someone has to teach him all the venery skills or he will be defeated by nature out here on the sands. Who do you think has the time and the talent to accomplish that for this desperate man?” He looked at her with a twinkle in his eyes.

The sister brusquely examined the face and the figure of Atlas Cimera. The two of them exchanged direct looks of investigating curiosity.

“I can pay for my lessons,” muttered the candidate for hunter student. “It will be worth your while, have no doubts about that.”

Callisto glanced at her brother, who gave her a single, barely visible nod. Their communication was silently terse.

“All right,” she decided. “What shall I be calling you, sir?”

“Atlas. I am Atlas Cimera.”

“Come here, to the casino, tomorrow morning at dawn,” she told her new pupil. “I’ll be at the entrance with bows and arrows. We’ll go out to the desert with some chartonion targets we can use to find out what you are capable of. I must warn you that I intend to be very demanding. I am a very hard, demanding instructor. That is how I operate as a teacher.”

“Good,” grinned Atlas. “That is just what I need.”

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