Chapter V.

7 Aug

The crepuscular shadows of evening were creeping over Lake Digit almost inperceptively. Cacique and Flero sat together on the veranda of the hotel, discussing the dilemma they shared. Both of them were experiencing a sense of vague alarm.

“What are we going to do?” asked the designer, sitting beside the director. “Yie, Joa, and Gui are out there in a valley, yet we have no communication from them at all. My fear is that something terrible has befallen them. I can only guess at what it might be.”

Flero turned his eyes on his friend and partner.

“If we remain uncertain, there is nothing definite for us to do. If we decide on any one alternative, it may turn out the worst one of all, though.”

“Then, we have to remain inactive?”

“At times, that is the only rational way to deal with a situation without clear contours. How else can we meet our dilemma, Cacique?”

The latter did not reply, his eyes catching a distant shadow.

Flero, noticing this stare, also looked in that direction.

Both men clearly distinguished a short line of equines, in which rode a number of riders wearing red-colored headgear. The first of those watching to say anything was Cacique.

“They will soon be here at the hotel. What can we do?”

Flero answered at once with a specific plan he thought up at the moment, as if in an instant.

“No one knows you are here. I plan to stay in the hotel and attempt to confuse and delay the Red Hats. That should give you time to run away with a head start. Do you understand? It is your duty to find the others and warn them about the appearance of our mortal enemies. The responsibility for this will be yours. Their future safety and well-being will be in your hands.”

Cacique hesitated only a second.

“It is perhaps a wild hope, that of locating our friends, but I will attempt to accomplish it. Good-bye for now, Flero. I think it wisest to take the path away from the lake, heading westward into the valleys. Good-bye, my friend. Until we see each other again.”

“We shall come together again,” Flero assured him. “I am certain that we shall.”

Yie met with Joa and Gui in the room occupied by the latter.

All three kept their voices low, fearing someone would overhear.

“I can see some hope of our being released,” whispered Yie, “if it is possible to move the conscience of the tiny man called Eter. And I believe that he could convince Hegumen Tiso that there is no danger to him and his authority from any of us. That appears possible to me.”

The next to give an opinion was Joa.

“Yes, I know how it is with high officials like my father. They do not give any ear to outsiders, only trusted members of their own claustrum.”

“It will be a risky operation for you,” noted Gui. “What if the mechanician reacts negatively to proposals to liberate us?”

Yie thought a moment. “I must be very careful not to provoke the little man. A lot of thought has to be taken about how to approach and handle him. I have told the Brothers watching over us that I wish to talk with him sometime today.”

“Let’s allow Yie to think out what strategy to follow, Gui,” said Joa, her brow furrowed with worry. A great gamble lay ahead for them, they all realized.

Yie decided that their only chance for successful release lay with the mechanician named Eter. He asked to see him again, and was escorted to the small man’s quarters by the Red Hats guarding him and his two companions.

Once they were seated, Yie started off with a brazen, provocative question. “Tell me, do you harbor hatred for the belowers of the valleys?”

The answer came slowly and grudgingly.

“Of course, I do not. At least that is what my conscious mind says to me. Yet I realize how much animus there is among many of my Brothers. I cannot measure how much of it may have seeped into me without my being aware of it. That can happen unconsciously without knowing it. That is a possibility. I don’t know if I can accept it as the truth.

“So I claim that I nurse no hatred for them, but question whether I am perfectly certain of it. Why did you ask me that?”

Yie posed a further question, not giving the other an answer.

“Would you oppose me and my friends should we attempt to bring the benefits of heliac light to the people of the lowlands? What would your reaction to it be?”

Eter became visibly agitated. His hands and fingers shook for several seconds. A shadow seemed to fall over his grayish face.

“Such a thought has never occurred to me. Excuse me if I hesitate to give an immediate answer. My feeling is this: I know that it would be wrong for me or anyone else to harm the belowers by forcing them to continue to live in so much darkness as they now do. But would I be willing to take any positive action on their behalf? That is hard to say. All that I am certain of at the moment is that I would not stand in the way of their progress and well-being. That could not be justified in any way.

“But why are you asking such a speculative question? What you propose is not possible, is it?”

He looked at Yie with a searching expression, not sure what the prisoner might say in reply.

“I do not know as much about high optics as you do,” said Yie slowly, cautiously, “but others have demonstrated for me how the valleys of our planet may one day be provided a longer period of illumination at all levels, in all the regions. That could enable us to exploit the rays of our heliac, the way that the Red Hats of the mountain claustra use galactic rays from space for the iotic power that they generate.”

Eter grew excited, forgetting that he was supposed to be questioning the outsider about a completely different matter.

“The idea you describe is not entirely new to me,” responded the highlander. “In my own mental wanderings, I have many times imagined Tegumen different in relation to heliac light. If only we knew how to bend the corpuscula descending from out of the sky. If only we were able to transmit it where we wished.

“But why waste our thoughts on what is impossible to achieve?”

The two were silent for a few moments, until Yie took up the challenge the other had presented him by his last statement.

“What if the angling of light is possible, using the right instruments?”

Ester made a grimace that reflected his doubts. “Pardon me, but your words sound absurdly preposterous to me,” he declared.

“What if the corpuscles of light were reflected in a new direction? What if their angle could be changed to a different one?”

“No mirror that large can be constructed,” asserted the expert mechanician. “It would have been done by now, were it possible.”

“There is a way to bend heliac light without the use of any mirror,” said Yie in a level, controlled tone. “I know how it can be done.”

All at once, the diminutive Eter rose out of his low chair and stepped toward the man who appeared to be teasing him.

“I cannot compel or force you to tell me,” pleaded the runt-like scientist. “All I can do is to beg you to reveal what you think can be done.”

He looked at Yie with complete concentration, as if having forgotten what his role was supposed to be.

Realizing that he was now in control of the situation, Yie began to toy with the small one.

“I ask myself this: can I trust any Red Hat with that knowledge? Might it not turn out to be a big mistake to reveal what I know? There are considerations that make me hesitate to do so.”

He gazed at the Red Hat with intense concentration.

“I will not mishandle that knowledge if you share it with me,” solemnly promised Eter. “My word can be trusted and depended on. I am not a person who breaks confidences given by others.”

Looking with confidence at the little man, Yie suddenly beamed a smile.

“A prismoid with a certain deviation can send a load of corpuscula in a specified direction, bending vertical light in a horizontal direction. The most desirable result is totally polarized light which can spread and diffuse through any valley with any shape to it.

“If we create a prismoid with planes of light that come out in polarized form, we could direct the heliac rays at any oblique angle desired. A great number of these prismoids could send corpuscula at different angles, suffusing open space with polarized light. There would not remain a single situs not illuminated. They would be under total immersion of light.

“There, I have told you what I know to be possible.”

Eter gazed down at the floor, not sure what to say or do.

“We must talk again soon,” muttered the mechanician. “You have provided me much to think about. I thank you for your explanation. You will be informed once I have formed a definite decision.”

Realizing he was being dismissed, Yie swiftly left the room. His mind was unable to gauge what effect his words might or might not have had on his listener, the mechanician.

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