Chapter IV.

6 Aug

The Brothers went about their tasks of restoring life to the claustrum after the blizzard of snowfall ended. Breakfast was brought to the three prisoners, and Yie was told that he was to meet with a person who wished to see him.

Who could that be? wondered the captive as he finished eating his bowl of burghul. Was a new series of interrogations going to begin with an unnamed questioner? He would have to wait to see who the instrument of the Hegumen turned out to be.

Joa and Gui were told that something new was about to happen to Yie. Shortly after, the Red Hats came to take him to the far end of the settlement. Guards escorted him along a covered outer corridor, then ordered Yie to enter a room through a quercine door.

Once inside, the prisoner saw a small figure, a dwarflike person with tiny legs and arms, sitting at a low, benchlike table.

“Sit down,” commanded the tiny man in a high, fluttering voice.

When Yie had done so, he stared into the milky eyes of the strange creature. Why had the Hegumen summoned him to meet such a disfigured form as this?

The man behind the table began to address him.

“My name is Eter. I am Chief Mechanician of this settlement. That makes me the one in charge of energy works and devices. All magnetics fall under my purview. I am the one who enables the conventicle to use light rays from the sky for practical purposes. That is my main responsibility.”

The pair stared searchingly at each other for a time. At last, Yie felt he had to ask the question weighing on him.

“Can you enlighten me as to why I was brought to meet with you?”

“I saw the Hegumen early this morn. He informed me on how you were found with the belowers of the dorp Besoin and brought up here. The chief of our claustrum was dissatisfied with the answers given by you and your two companions. The session with the villagers was, according to you, involved with folklore legends of some sort. That is what you claim is the truth.

“Late last evening, after the three of you returned to your rooms, one of our Brothers remembered something that had, in the crush of action, been momentarily forgotten and not recalled. Twice, the man said, he had heard you mention light. Why was that so? I was told to ask of you. Was it folk traditions concerned with light that you were trying to elicit from these belowers? What did you learn from the people in Besoin? Were you attempting to provoke dissention somehow?

“Since I am a specialist on cosmic radiation, the task was assigned me. I have to find out what your expedition in the valley has to do with light. What sort of light were you discussing when our Brothers placed you under arrest? Why such great interest in that particular subject?”

Yie had a sense of great unease. What was he to say to this? How was he to conceal the nature of his ultimate project from these Red Hats?

His words carefully weighed and measured, Yie answered as best he could. He hoped to put off the little technician with clever diversions.

“I have always been interested in the subject of light, and our legends and history tell me that the inhabitants of all our valleys share in that. So, I was trying to learn how various dorps in different valleys cope with their lack of heliac light. That is, I tried to find out what are the explanations of the situation of inadequate illumination, of the severe shortness of the day. There are numerous, varying legends in different places. That was what we were after. That was the ultimate goal of our journey.”

“I see,” said Eter in a surprisingly low, guttural tone. “But what did you learn from the inhabitants of Besoin? And why did it take so long to glean that from the dorpers?”

Yie attempted a disarming smile.

“It is not easy to get belowers to reveal matters like that. We had to let them discourse on and on at extraordinary length. The talkers that we found here were loquacious, digressing far afield. Much time was wasted on trivial subjects before we brought them to the main topic.”

“Which was light,” smiled the little man.

“Correct. It took hours of effort before the dam broke. Then, a flood of information was transmitted to us.”

“Tell me the nature of what they revealed, please,” insisted Eter, his voice surprisingly firm and strong.

Yie decided that he had to spin a fable for his interrogator.

“At one time far back in the forgotten past, all the migrants to this world of Tegumen lived where light was shared by all. Where it penetrated both deep valleys and the highest mountain tops. Shadow was only temporary. Hours of illumination equaled those of darkness. There were no hours of murky twilight, without true day. Both those high and those low possessed light in equal measure. All people enjoyed its benefits on the same level.

“But then came catastrophic inner explosions and eruptions of their planet, till it no longer was habitable. The time came when all recognized they had to escape. So, using skycraft of all sorts, the population went out to seek a new planetary home far away, among strange stars. They could not remain where they were any longer.

“Tegumen was the chosen destination. But it was the piloting crews who made this specific decision. The reason for that has been lost in the mists of history. The belowers suspect that what happened was that the navigators and their families took the mountain peaks for themselves, settling the bulk of the passengers as tillers and herders in the lower elevations of this planet of uplands and valleys.

“Thus, some came to have a number of times the light of others. The mechanisms of optical exploitation remained on top with the descendants of the sky crews, while the passenger population was assigned to the shadows in the valleys.

“That was what we had learned from the dorpers when the Red Hats placed the three of us under arrest and brought us up here.”

“Was that all that was related to you in Besoin?” inquired Eter. “Was there nothing said about legends concerning future times? Did they convey to you what they believed about what is going to be in time to come?”

Yie thought fast, hunting for a way to take the little man off the scent of what he was concealing. “We never reached that time, not at all. Everything the dorpers said concerned the far distant past, not the present or near times.”

“But different people perceive that same past differently,” mused the mechanicist. “It is one history for some, another for others, depending upon where they are located. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

“I’m not at all sure. Can you be more specific about what you mean?” countered the prisoner.

Eter gave a laugh, then went on to provide some kind of an answer.

“Our perspective of how light is distributed cannot be the same as the one you claim to have found down in Besoin. When the migrants arrived this far, they had no choice but to land on Tegumen. You see, their fuel was exhausted and there was no way to renew it. So, this had to be the planet for landing and settlement.

“The terrain was unlike that of our previous home, of course. A new adaptation was necessary,for both crew and passengers. They had to organize their life into a system unfamiliar to everyone who descended here. The energy rays that fell on the high mountain zone had to be tamed and utilized. This became the specialty of our technicals who had control of the vehicular engines of our space vessels. Their knowledge was then transferred to Tegumen and its unique conditions. They set up our present system that uses galactic rays to produce iotic power. The passengers who became the new world’s belowers were sent down into the valleys, since they could not take command of any type of energy by themselves. A more primitive, simpler life remained available for them. With time, their hamlets and villages were able to sustain cities based on crafts and commerce. But the photonic science remained the special preserve of those who from the first inhabited the highest places, the peaks where light shined the most.”

“Must the Red Hats, then, consider all others to be inferiors?” murmured Yie.

Eter made a sour face of distaste. “No, that is not the necessary result of these conditions. The belowers are only somewhat different from us. That is so because of the unique environment we dwell in. That is the reason for the enormous divide between us.”

Yie found himself saying what might lead to trouble for him. He grew increasingly anxious as he expressed his thoughts.

“But couldn’t the rays of the heliac be somehow harnessed by those at lower levels? Perhaps not in the past or the present, but someday yet to come? Isn’t that a possibility in their legends and folklore?”

“I do not know if it is or isn’t. Have you come upon anything of that nature in your travels through the valleys?”

The face of Yie reddened. What was he to say? Eter had put him in a position difficult to squirm out of without making too much visible and evident. The prisoner groped for an answer.

“One never knows with these dorpers, sir. When they speak of the far distant past, their thoughts may be focused on the present or the future. Their minds are dense forests, full of snarls and tangles of all sorts.”

The mechanicist stared at Yie with opaque milky eyes.

“I guess what you say about these people is true. But they are experts at concealment and subterfuge. They may have been pulling your leg, as well as those of your companions. Is there anything else of importance they may have said to you about the subject of light?”

“Not that I can immediately think of,” prevaricated the prisoner. “If I remember anything more, it will certainly be brought forward by me.”

“You can go back to your quarters now,” commanded Eter, looking away to the side as if unwilling to look any longer at a person he was certain was not telling him the truth.


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