Authors: Alexander Key
Here is another puzzle: Why do we build the lower levels of our houses the way we do? They are cut deep into the hillsides and are more like caves. It's just an old custom, we say, and very practical for storage. But I suspect our ancestors first built them as hiding places. Only, what were they hiding from? Radiation, or poison air from volcanoes or meteors? Extreme cold or heat? Vicious animals? I understand there were once some monstrous bears that were highly dangerous to humans, but there are no records that our ancestors had actual conflict with them.
Boy Jaim paused with a quick intake of breath. Bearsâmonstrous bears! Were they like the Golden One? His eye raced on:
So many centuries have passed that any written records would have crumbled to nothing. What really happened at the Barrens and in the long period afterward when our ancestors must have struggled to live are puzzles we may never solve. Unless, as Emmon says, we learn to make better use of the Pool of Knowledge. Occasionally we've been able to dip into it a bit. The ability is a rare one, but Jenna and I are beginning to hope our son may possess it. Boy Jaim is too young to show it at this writing, yet already he has developed a remarkable ability to converse with animals.
Most animals, I have noticed, are telepathic. Not only can they communicate to some extent with each other, but they also know in advance when trouble threatens. If Boy Jaim can somehow manage â¦
There was more about himself, but Boy Jaim did not read it. The words suddenly blurred as a startling thought came to him. Abruptly a switch seemed to click in the back of his mind.
He visioned Scatterbrain hurrying to store away foodâand the Golden One driving the goats to destroy it. Somethingâsomething unknown and namelessâwas going to happen, and the little chipmunk knew it. The great bear knew it also. Food meant survival, and the lack of food could mean death. Even Emmon had been afraid that there might be a terrible shortage of food. He had advised that no seed be wasted.
The Golden One was cleverly trying to bring about the destruction of all the future food supplies. Did that mean he knew what was going to happen?
Of course the beast knew!
Boy Jaim stared blankly in front of him while his clenched hands beat slowly on the chair arms. A great dread began to grow in him. Suddenly he lurched to his feet. A startled Scatterbrain chittered questioningly as he sped past and rushed up the steps, but he did not notice.
In the upper hall he paused briefly, thinking of transportation. Should he call L'Mara?
Instantly he decided against it. She'd want to go with him, and there was bound to be danger. But there ought to be a usable air sled around here somewhere.
He turned, ran to the end of the hall, jerked the rear door open, and raced into the courtyard.
he youngest herder thought of his dog and stared unhappily into the night while he waited for his star to rise. When the star appeared, serene and beautiful, he caught his breath and forgot the anger and the hurt and the confusion in him. The hunters were still out, and the beast that had caused so much trouble was still eluding them. But at the moment it did not seem to matter.
In his mind he could see again the planet he'd imagined. For a moment he saw it as a peaceful place, then he realized that man, if he lived there, might have his troubles. After all, if there were beasts around with the power to hurt man
He shook his head, and suddenly wondered why man and beast were always at odds. Did man really have the right to kill?
n the right of the courtyard Boy Jaim threw back the wide doors of a storage structure and ran inside. Long ago he'd helped take the better sleds over to Andru's house, but here, in a corner, were a pair of old ones that had been left behind. They were rough, open affairs for use in the fields, though one of them, he remembered, had a power unit strong enough to carry him anywhere.
It did not occur to him, until he had hurried over to it and was reaching for the switch, that the sled might have lain too long away from the sunlight. The switch, turned on, brought no response. The solar batteries were dead.
In dismay he tried the second sled. It was as useless as the first. Hurriedly he hauled the heavier sled out into the courtyard where the afternoon sun could reach it and wondered if he had time enough to wait for the power to build up. Or had he better call L'Mara?
She chose that moment to call him.
Boy Jaim, please
this is important! Where can I find you?
What do you want?
Emmon wants to see you right away, and so does Andru.
He knew he'd better avoid Andru as long as possible, but the Elder was another matter. Suddenly he wished Emmon had the ability to communicate with him as easily as L'Mara. But few people could, and with most of them it required great effort and concentration.
Do you know what Emmon wants?
” he asked.
He didn't say
but I can guess. I'm at home now, and he's just left for his place to study some star charts. He's awfully worried
The Elder, he thought, had a right to be worried.
I'd better see Emmon,
” he told her. “
I'm at the old house, out back, and I don't have a sled. Will you come and get me? And hurry!
While he waited for her he walked in circles, trying not to think of what might happen if he failed in what lay ahead. He could feel excitement and fear in every direction and hear the constant rush and whistle of speeding air sleds in the distance. Never in his memory had the Five Communities been so upset.
A sudden quick scuffling from the rear of the courtyard caught his attention, and he turned to see Doubtful squeezing his small body under the back gate.
Boy Jaim said, “Why didn't you bark? I'd have let you in.”
“Didn't want to bother you,” Doubtful told him. “You got things figured out now?”
“Hardly. All I know is what I've got to do.”
“That's what I mean. You taking me?”
“No. It wouldn't be safe.”
The dog looked at him reproachfully. “Be safer with me.”
“Maybe it would. So you know where I'm going, do you?”
“Sure. Always know.”
L'Mara arrived then, coming so swiftly that she was forced to bank and circle before she could manage a sideslip and spin into the courtyard. It took unusual skill and quickness, for the sled she was using hadn't been built for that sort of flying. Just watching it gave Boy Jaim a chill.
“Are you crazy?” he snapped at her. “When I told you to hurry I didn't mean for you to pull any silly tricksâ”
“I know what I'm doing!” she flared back. She shook her bronze hair from her face and glared at him with her big eyes full of fire. For a moment she looked like an angry little red squirrel. Then she wilted and became very small and young and frightened.
“IâI'm sorry, Boy Jaim. It seems like everybody's gone crazy, and it's got me all upset. Why did that horrible beast have to come here and ruin everything?”
“I can't understand it,” he muttered, as he leaped aboard after Doubtful. “But maybe it's a good thing he came. Let's get on to Emmon's.”
She sent the sled upward and turned it toward the Elder's distant hill. “W-what did you mean by saying it's a good thing? I don't see anything good about it. It's awful!”
He drew a deep breath. “Look, L'Mara, something's going to happen, and that bear knows it. If he hadn't come, we might have been caught by it. But now, maybe I can find out in time so we'll know what to do. Don't you see?”
She nodded quickly. “Emmon thinksâwell, wait till you talk to him. Father's furious with you for running off. He'd hurried to cut out some special tips for you, but when you wouldn't come home he called over Hiras and the other members of your archery team. Before they could get their arrows ready, the North Com team flew down, and then Councilman Traml came with a chemical he'd mixedâ”
“Hey,” he interrupted. “What's going on?”
“IâI told you everyone's gone crazy. It's the bearâbeing allowed to kill it, I mean.”
“Butâ” A new kind of horror was rising in him. “Areâare you trying to tell me they all
to kill it?”
“Yes. Everybody wants toâeven Father! The North Com team has challenged the West Com team to see who can locate it and put the first arrow in it. The East Com team wants to take part. They're supposed to be getting ready to fight off goats, but they're coming anywayâand the South Com team as well.”
“But didn't Emmon tell them what the bear is like? Don't they realize what will happen if they get too close to it?”
“Of course Emmon told them! Do you think that made any difference? They don't really believe him. They want to kill that bear. A lot of them are being stiff-backed and noble about it, as if they were everyone's saviorsâand some are even saying you ran off because you were afraidâbut the truth is they're all secretly excited about going hunting and killing something.” She paused and gave him a quick, worried look. “W-what are you going to do, Boy Jaim?”
He struck his clenched hands together. “I've got to stop them, if I can. But first I must see Emmon.”
The Elder was waiting for them on his terrace. It was late in the afternoon now, and Emmon was showing the strain he had been under by a growing irritability. His eyes were glittering and he was impatiently twisting a ruler in his frail hands.
“Well!” he snapped at Boy Jaim. “You knew you were needed! What do you mean by running off at a time like this?”
“IâI'm sorry, sir, but I just had to go somewhere and think.”
“Think!” Emmon shrilled. “Thunder above! You haven't learned how to think yetâyou're being driven by your emotions. Think indeed! Now forget that impossible beast for a moment and listen to what I have to say.”
“I've had another look at my charts, and there's no question about our being in for trouble. It's a far more serious matter than that devilish bear.”
“IâI know that, sir.”
“Eh?” Emmon's voice was hardly more than a squeak. “What do you know that I don't know?”
“It's something about food,” Boy Jaim hastened to say. “The small creatures are hiding it as fast as they can. They know something's going to happen. The bear knows it tooâthat's why he's trying to destroy our food, so we'll die. I wish you'd get on the radiophone and tell everybody in East Com and North Com to get out in the fields and pick everything that can be eaten, even though it's not ripe. They'd better start right away and work all nightâ”
“But what of the goats?” Emmon cried. “You know that beast will drive them there tonight if he isn't killed.”
“Not tonight. Pshaw, a goat's a goat. When he's tired he won't go a stop farther than he wants to go, even if the Golden One kills him. And before someone kills the Golden One I've got to try to talk to himâ”
“Talk to him!” the Elder shrilled. “Don't be a fool. You've tried talking to him onceânow forget him and listen to me.”
“It's this: Years ago, both your parents and I knew you were developing abilities uncommon to the majority. Because of them, we believed a certain extra ability would show up later.” Emmon prodded him impatiently with the ruler, and squeaked, “Do you know what I'm talking about, young man?”
“Y-yes, sir.” There flashed through Boy Jaim's mind the words his father had written in the journal about the Pool of Knowledge. “But I haven't got it. Why don't you ask Malla? Maybe, if she triedâ”
“Bah!” Emmon exploded. “I don't want hazy prophecyâI want facts. Understand? Factsâhow, what, when, how longâfacts we can use. Of course Malla's right about the Time of Trouble being on us. How does that help us? Skies above, science tells me trouble is dueâbut it doesn't give enough facts so we'll know which way to jump.”
“That's what I said! We're coming under cosmic and planetary attractions that can kill us allâwith burning heat, flooding rain, or freezing cold. The pressures could cause earthquakes, or start volcanoes spouting from the sea again. Where are we going to live? In our stone houses during earthquakes? Ha! But suppose it's freezing outside, or the air's so full of volcanic dust you can't breathe it? Understand?” In his concern and impatience the Elder had been twisting the ruler in his frail hands. Now suddenly it broke. He hurled the pieces away and added, “This is a life-and-death matter. We need facts to stay alive. Even one fact could be enough. If we just knew
was going to happenâ”
“The bear knows,” said Boy Jaim.
“Eh?” Old Emmon's glittering eyes twitched at the corners, slowly closed, then opened again. “The
knows? How do you know that he knows?”
“I just know it,” Boy Jaim said simply. “That's why I've got to find him and try to talk to him again. Ifâif he won't talk, maybe I can learn something anywayâI mean, just from his thoughts.” He turned toward the sled, then paused and added, “It's the only chance we have, so I'd better hurry and see Andru and try to stop those archery teams for a while. If you'll call the people and tell them to get out in the fields â¦”
The Elder blinked at him a moment, seemingly undecided. Suddenly he burst out, “Don't waste time on AndruâI'll take care of him and those silly archers! Go find that devilish beast!” He looked quickly at L'Mara. “Are you going to pilot the sled?”
“No!” Boy Jaim cried. “I'm not having her alongâthis is something I'd better do alone.”