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"And if we can't?"
Catherine turned her head, looking about her at the Age she had written, then looked back at
Atrus, her green eyes burning. Burning with such an intensity that he felt transfixed, frozen,
utterly overwhelmed by this strange woman and the odd powers she possessed. And as she held his
gaze, she reached out for his hand, clenching it tightly in her own, and spoke; her voice filling
him with a sudden, almost impulsive confidence. "We can do wonders, you and I. Wonders."
The sun slowly set. Atrus stood on the top of the tiny plateau, his glasses pulled down tightly
over his eyes, his journal open in his hand, looking out across the Age he had written. Below him
lay a cold, dark sea, its surface smooth like oil, or like a mirror blackened by age, its sterile
waters filling the great bowl that lay between the bloodred sandstone cliffs.
On the shores of that great sea, the land was bare and empty; more desolate even than the desert
he had known as a child. Titanic sandstone escarpments, carved by the action of wind and sun,
stretched to the horizon on every side, their stark, bloodred shapes interspersed with jagged,
night-black chasms.
He had written in the bare minimum this time. Enough to conduct his experiment and no more. Enough
to see whether his theories about the flaws in the Age Five book were true or not.
He had built ten such Ages in the past few weeks. Two for each experiment. In this and one other
he was testing whether the changes he sought to make in the orbital system of Age Five would have
the desired effects, while in others he was experimenting with the structure of the tectonic
plates beneath the planets crust, the type and strength of the oceanic currents, fluctuations in
gravitational fields, and the composition of the crust itself.
What he had done, here and elsewhere, was to recreate the same underlying structures that he had
found in the Age Five book, only incorporating specific minor alterations-additions mainly-to the
way the thing was phrased. If that new phrasing was correct, then this Age was now stable. And if
this was stable, then so would Age Five be once he had written the changes into the book.
Looking about him, he jotted down his observations, then, closing the journal, slipped it into his
Thus far his tests had proved one thing conclusively. Age Five was doomed. It would degenerate and
be destroyed within a generation, unless he made these vital, telling changes to the book.
Lifting his glasses, he blinked, then rubbed at his eyes. He was tired, more tired than he'd been
in years, yet he could not let up now. It was only ten days until the ceremony, and everything-
everything-had to be ready for that time.
Pulling his glasses back down, Atrus waited. The moon would be rising soon, and then he'd know.
If he was right, Gehn had placed Age Five's single moon well inside the synchronous orbital
distance from the planet. This had the effect of increasing the planet's tides dramatically, and,
ultimately, would result in the moon being dragged into ever-lower orbits until it would finally
smash into the planet's surface. That final catastrophe would take many lifetimes, but long before
that happened, the great tides generated by the moons ever closer orbit would destroy the island,
smashing it into the surrounding sea.
He needed to push Age Five's moon back into a stable, synchronous orbit: one where its rotation
rate would be equivalent to the planet's. What complicated the task was that he would have to
achieve this in a matter that could not be directly observed.
As the light dimmed, Atrus pulled his cloak tighter about him. The air here was thin and cold, and
it would be good to get back to D'ni, if only for some sleep.
He waited, watching as the sun winked then vanished beneath the edge of the horizon. Atrus turned
and, pulling up his glasses, looked for the moon. He saw it at once, directly behind him in the
sky, low down, the silver-blue orb huge and ominous.
Wrong, he thought, chilled by the sight. It's much too close.
The tremors began at once, the tiny plateau gently vibrating, as if some machine had started up in
the rock beneath his feet.
The sea was stippled now, like a sheet of black, beaten metal.
Atrus stared up at the moon. What had gone wrong? Had he written in a contradiction of some kind?
Or were the changes he'd made simply the wrong ones?
Or, in his tiredness, had he mixed up the two books? Was he in the wrong Age-the Age where he had
exaggerated the moons deteriorating orbit?
The trembling grew, became a steady shaking. There was groaning now from deep within the earth,
sharp cracks, the sound of rocks falling, splashing into the sea below, while the sea itself
seemed to be boiling, as if in a great cauldron.
In the distance, the land was glowing, not with the silver-blue of moonlight but a fiery orange-
A cold wind gusted across the plateau.
Frowning, Atrus stepped over to the edge and, lowering his glasses, increased their magnification. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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