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streaming from his frog-like head, hands raised in an attitude of menace, a
blaze of light pouring from his helmet.
"Strangman!" he shouted at it involuntarily.
"Kerans! What is it?" Strangman's voice, closer than the whisper of his own
consciousness,
file:///F|/rah/J.%20G.%20Ballard/Ballard,%20J...0-%20Book%201%20-%20The%20Drow
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rowned%20World.txt cut across his panic. "Kerans, you fool . . . !"
"Sorry, Strangman." Kerans pulled himself together, and advanced slowly
towards the approaching figure. "I've just seen myself in a mirror. I'm up in
the manager's office or control room, I'm not sure which. There's a private
stairway from the mezzanine, may be an entrance into the auditorium."
"Good man. See if you can find the safe. It should be behind the picture frame
directly over the desk."
Ignoring him, Kerans placed his hands on the glass surface and swung the
helmet sharply from left to right. He was in the control booth overlooking the
auditorium, his image reflected in the glass sound-proof panel. In front of
him was the cabinet which had once! held the instrument console, but the unit
had been removed, and the producer's swing-back seat faced out unobstructed
like an insulated throne of some germ-obsessed potentate. Almost exhausted by
the pressure of the water, Kerans sat down in the seat and looked out over the
circular auditorium.
Dimly illuminated by the small helmet lamp, the dark vault with its blurred
walls cloaked with silt rose up above him like a huge velvet-upholstered womb
in a surrealist nightmare. The black opaque water seemed to hang in solid
vertical curtains, screening the dais in the centre of the auditorium as if
hiding the ultimate sanctum of its depths. For some reason the womb-like image
of the chamber was reinforced rather than diminished by the circular rows of
seats, and
Kerans heard the thudding in his ears uncertain whether he was listening to
the dim subliminal requiem of his dreams. He opened the small panel door which
led down into the auditorium, disconnecting the telephone cable from his
helmet so that he would be free of Strangman's voice.
A light coating of silt covered the carpeted steps of the aisle. In the centre
of the dome the water was at least twenty degrees warmer than it had been in
the control room, heated by some freak of convection, and it bathed his skin
like hot balm. The projector had been removed from the dais, but the cracks in
the dome sparkled with distant points of light, like the galactic profiles of
some distant universe. He gazed up at this unfamiliar zodiac, watching it
emerge before his eyes like the first vision of some pelagic Cortez emerging
from the oceanic deeps to glimpse the immense Pacifics of the open sky.
Standing on the dais, he looked around at the blank rows of seats facing him,
wondering what uterine rite to perform for the invisible audience that seemed
to watch him. The air pressure inside his helmet had increased sharply, as the
men on the deck lost contact with him by telephone. The valves boomed off the
sides of the helmet, the silver bubbles darted and swerved away from him like
frantic phantoms.
Gradually, as the minutes passed, the preservation of this distant zodiac,
perhaps the very configuration of constellations that had encompassed the
Earth during the Triassic Period, seemed to Kerans a task more important than
any other facing him. He stepped down from the dais and began to return to the
control room, dragging the air-line after him. As he reached the panel door he
felt the line snake Out through his hands, and with an impulse of anger seized
a loop and anchored it around the handle of the door. He waited until the line
tautened, then wound a second loop around the handle, providing himself with a
radius of a dozen feet. He walked back down the steps and stopped half-way
down the aisle, head held back, determined to engrave the image of the
constellations on his retina. Already their patterns seemed more familiar than
those of the classical constellations. In a vast, convulsive recession of the
equinoxes, a billion sidereal days had reborn themselves, re-aligned the
nebulae and island universes in their original perspectives.
A sharp spur of pain drove itself into his eustachian tube, forcing him to
swallow.
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Abruptly he realised that the intake valve of the helmet supply was no longer [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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