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"What about the cars and the men on the road?" I said. "And the landing at Penrith, and so on?"
"We don't know anything about that."
She hesitated and then said, "We found out-we weren't officially notified-that one of the Nine is coming, too. One of Doc's friends dropped in-he's important enough to get through the military cordon-and he told us we're going to get a surprise visit."
"What about it? Why so alarmed?"
Clio entered then. I said, "What's so frightening about this visit from the Nine?"
"Who's scared?" she said.
"I've lived with you long enough to know you," I said. "Besides, I can smell the fear from both of you."
"Oh, Jack!" Clio said. "We were going to wait until you were stronger before we told you! But there's really not time now to put it off!"
Trish said, "Doc is alive!"
It was a shock, but I felt glad. Perhaps, now that he was alive, he would have felt the same sense of the madness drained off which I had experienced. The third time I awoke, even with the pain, I felt an exultation. This resulted, not from the inflooding of sensation but from the departure of a sensation. I knew that the physical linkage between my s.e.xual behavior and killing was gone. It was as if I were a bottle uncorked and turned upside down and emptied of a black stinking decayed fluid.
The shock of being castrated by Caliban may have done it. And perhaps-I hoped it was so-the shock of what I had done to him had had a similar effect on him.
I would not be absolutely certain that I was back to normal until my testicles had regenerated. That should not take much longer than the month required after the ritual excision of one testes. And it should take much less time than the six months required to regrow my right leg below the knee. I had lost this when the RAF bomber of which I was pilot crashed after a mission over Hamburg.
Trish said that Doc was sleeping on a bed behind a screen at the other end of the room. He would live. That is, until the Nine found out he was not dead.
"Doctor Hengist could not believe that Doc was still breathing. He said that he would have to die soon. It was just as well, because the Nine would not let him live. Neither Clio nor I knew that the Nine had decreed you two must fight to the death."
Trish began to cry. She said, "It's wrong-evil-to have to murder each other. And it's hideously evil that the Nine can now say that Doc will have to be put out of his misery. Or that you two should have to fight again after you get back on your feet."
"I was weak once," I said. "I accepted the gift of immortality because the price seemed worth it. Not now. I intend to fight the Nine. But we have to be cunning until we are able to run."
"That's what Doc said," Trish cried, "when he was able to talk for a short time. Listen! Don't worry too much about losing the elixir. Doc has been working for thirty years on it. He couldn't get any samples of the elixir, of course, because the Nine controls it so rigorously. But he figured out that our tissues must be saturated with the elixir. Two years ago he cut off his own fingers and managed to isolate the elements of the elixir. He still hasn't been able to synthesize them correctly, but he says that it's only a matter of a short time until he will be able to do so."
"Is Caliban in good enough shape so that he could dispense with Hengist's services?" I said. "Could you and Trish take care of him, with remote-control advice from me? When I can get out of bed and take a look at him, I'll take over the active doctoring."
She nodded, and I said, "Very well. Wheel him into the room behind the fuel room. Hengist doesn't know about that, does he?"
Trish said, "I didn't know about it, either."
"When Hengist next comes, you tell him that Caliban died. He'll want to know where, because I am supposed to bring his head and genitals to the Nine."
Trish and Clio winced.
I said, "The Nine will have to be satisfied with what they can get. You tell Hengist that you two sunk Doc in the moat. If he insists that Doc be pulled out of the moat, then we're in for it. Knowing the Nine as I do, I imagine that they'll have to have positive evidence that he's dead. We may have to buy some time with an accident for Hengist or whoever acts as agent for the Nine."
"Oh, Jack!" Clio said. "More killings?"
"If we're going to resign from the ranks of the immortals, we will do it now," I said. "And we'll have to drop out of sight swiftly. You know that's increasingly difficult in this ever-narrowing world."
Trish and Clio left to wheel the sleeping Doc into the hidden room. An hour later, Hengist entered. He did not seem surprised that Caliban had died. Nor did he say anything about recovering the body. The next day, however, he notified us that the visit from one of the Nine had been cancelled. An agent, a Sir Ronald Hawthorpe, would bring me instructions and also interrogate me.
After he left, I tried to walk into Doc's room, but the pain between my legs discouraged this. I allowed Clio to wheel me in beside his bed. He was lying there with a stiff plastic collar around his neck. Clio had done a professional job in doctoring his broken neck. He was flat on his back and staring up at the ceiling. Tears formed pools with a deep golden-green bottom in his eye sockets, and tears ran down his cheeks. Trish was crying also, but at the same time she was smiling.
"He hasn't wept since he was a little child," she said. "Not even when his mother died or his father died, did he weep. He must have an ocean down there, and I thought it would never come. Oh, I'm so happy!"
If he did not stop crying, she would not be so happy. He could be suffering a complete breakdown, or he could be on the road to a healthiness he had never had.
I said, "Doctor Caliban, why are you crying?"
He did not answer. I waited a while and then repeated my question. After another long period of silence, he said, in a choked voice, "I am crying for Jocko and Porky and for the other wonderful friends I had. I am crying for many people, for Trish especially, because she loves me and I gave her almost nothing back. And I am crying most of all, and I cannot help it, for me."
Clio, always ready to be triggered with empathy, sniffled.
I said, "Then you must feel as I do, that you've suffered a strange sea-change, as it were?"
"I have," he said.
"Perhaps," I said, "we may be doing the Nine an injustice. Perhaps they knew that we would be all the better after having gotten through the effects of the elixir."
"I doubt it very much," Doc said. "They would not know exactly what the end-results would be. They must have gone through this themselves, though it's been so long ago they may have forgotten. You must not forget that they put us through hell before we met and that they ordered us to kill each other afterwards. No, they are evil, evil!"
Clio said, "But won't we go through something like that, too?"
"Nobody can say, except the Nine," I replied. "And they're not talking, of course. It may be that only those descended from the Old Stone Age people, those who have the genes for it, react to the elixir in this fashion. But we'll never find out. The question now, Doc, is something only you can answer, though I can predict what your answer will be, I believe. Are you prepared to give up the elixir and fight the Nine?"
"Trish said she told you about my experiments. I think we'll have the elixir ourselves some day. But whether we do or don't, I am no longer obeying the Nine. And he who disobeys, you know, is their deadly enemy."
I wheeled closer and took his hand. "They divided us, brother," I said. "But united . . ." I did not feel brotherly, as yet, and I suppose he did not. But this was a man I could admire and respect and the best ally anyone could want. The odds were greatly against us, but if any two could put up a better fight, I did not know them.
Clio gave him another shot, and he was soon asleep. Trish stayed behind to watch him adoringly for a while. Clio and I returned to the room, where I slowly and painfully got back into bed.
Clio sat down and looked at me for a long time. Then she said, "Trish told me about you two."
"Oh?" I said.
My heart was beating faster than if I'd heard a leopard prowling in the African bush.
"When you two made love," she said.
"We weren't making love," I said. "We were loving each other. Fucking passionately and lovingly."
She reddened slightly. No matter how uninhibited her behavior, she still reacts to certain words.
"She said that nothing might have happened if you hadn't been so concerned about being crippled by your aberration."
"I did not explain to her why I was doing that," I said. "But she was essentially correct. Although I think the same thing would have happened even if I was not concerned about my aberration."
She did not go into a furious tirade or start weeping, as I had expected. She said, "The trouble with retaining complete youthfulness and its vigor is that a couple cannot grow old and fade away together. We're 80 and so should be weak and set in our ways and thoroughly accustomed to each, like a wheel in a rut. A wheel that doesn't want to leave the rut. But we know each other to the last atom, and, while we love each other very much, we are youthful and we are beginning to want some variety. So . . ."
"So?" I said.
"So I think we'll have to have some variety now and then. The little vacations in the caverns provided that, but those are gone."
Suddenly, she stood up and bent over and threw her arms around me.
"What am I saying?" she cried. "I love you and only you! I really want no other man!"
She was sincere, and I loved her very much at that moment. I always love her, although there are some moments when the intensity is less. And, certainly, when I was in Trish, I was not thinking about Clio. Fairness is fairness. She really did not want another man-as her permanent mate. But she was right. Immortality has its prices, and it is impossible to confine yourself to one mate forever if you have the vigor of youth.
This problem would have to work itself out whichever way it would go. At the moment, we had more vital business to attend to. Hawthorpe arrived that afternoon and, after some formalities, got to the instructions.
First, we must get Caliban's body up and remove the head and send it off to the Nine. Usually, the victor took the head himself, but since I would not be able to move for some time, that just could not be done. Hawthorpe would carry it to the Nine.
Second, I was to come to London as soon as I was able and not one second later. I would then be flown to Uganda and taken through the secret routes of the caverns. This time, I would not be blindfolded. After going through the ceremony of seating me, the Nine would hold a conference. This was the most serious meeting since 1945. Hawthorpe could not tell me much, but the discussion would be about the means used for solving the population problem.
The Nine did not intend to let the over-crowding and the pollution go on any longer. The only question was not when but how.
The Nine have a way with temptation.
For a minute, I visualized a world something like that into which I had been born but much better. The jungles and the savannas could return, and Africa would again have its millions upon millions of zebras, antelope, hippos, elephants, and its thousands upon thousands of leopards and lions. The human population would be few and scattered and living naked in thatched huts and fighting each other with spears. I would have vast areas to roam in. Perhaps, the gorilla could be saved from extinction, and if I could find just a few of The Folk left, their numbers could be increased to the point where they might become as numerous as they were 50,000 years ago.
It was a beautiful vision.
And, of course, it would have to be paid for, one way or another.
I might not like the payment.
In fact, I didn't like it.
Moreover, I would have to buy an entrance ticket with Doc's head.
I said, "It may take a few days before we can get Caliban's body up."
"Oh, no," he said quickly. "I have two men fishing for it now. I'll take care of everything."
"That's decent of you," I said.
"Not at all, just carrying out orders," he said.
If I tried to convert him to our side, I would be warning the Nine. It would be of no use anyway.
I said, "Come here, Hawthorpe," and when he was close enough I grabbed his throat with one hand and the top of his head with the other. He was a big bull-necked man but squeaked like a mouse before I twisted his neck. I then sent Clio and Trish out after the other two. They called them inside and shot them, and then dropped the weighted bodies into the moat.
Both were shaken. Though they were old veterans and cool enough in defending themselves or attacking enemies on the alert, killing in cold blood was new. I told them that they'd have more of that before we were finished, one way or the other.
An hour later, after some difficulty in getting Doc into the back of a station wagon, we drove off. I stopped once before entering the woods to say farewell to the estate. I doubted that I would ever be able to return. I looked at the castle, the ashes of the Hall, the barns, garages, servants' quarters, the broad meadows and the question-shaped tarn, the woods beyond, and at the great boulder on the hill, beside which rested the first Randgrith. The old man would sit when the two ravens returned, the local saying went. I knew now what that meant. The old man, our grandfather, would never sit because he was forever dead, and, the two ravens would not return.
Neither would I. Not for many years, anyway.
We drove away as the sun dropped behind the High Chair. The soldiers on sentinel duty let us through without delay. It would not be long before the Nine knew that the three of us had gone, however. Doc was hidden under some blankets and luggage. As soon as Hawthorpe failed to report in as schedulled, the Nine would investigate, and they would know that Caliban was still alive and with us.
Then the hunt would be on.
Hunter, beware the prey!
Before this is over, there may be more than one empty seat at the table of the Nine, and the world may be aware of its secret masters.