The barefoot man in the gray friar's habit reached the top of a rise and paused, taking a look at the country ahead of him. In that direction, the paved road he was following continued to run almost straight under a leaden sky, humping over one gentle hill after another, cutting through scrubby woods and untended fields. The stones of this road had been laid down in the days of glory of the great Continental Empire; there was not much else in the world that had survived the centuries between then and now.
From where the friar stood, the road appeared to be aimed at a slender tower, a sharp and lonely temple spire, gray and vague in the day's dull light, which rose from an unseen base at some miles' distance. The friar had walked with that spire in sight for half a day already, but his goal still lay far beyond.
The friar was of medium height and wiry build.
His appearance seemed to have little relation to his age; he might have been anywhere between twenty and forty. His scantily bearded face was tired now, and his gray robe was spotted with mud of darker gray. Here along the shoulders of the road the fields were all ankle-deep in mud, and they showed no sign of having been plowed or planted this spring or last.
"Oh, Holy One, I thank you again that I have had this pavement to follow for so much of my journey," the friar murmured as he started forward again. The soles of his feet looked as scarred and tough as those of well-used hiking boots.
Except for the distant spire, the only sign of any recent human presence in this unpromising landscape was a heap of low, ruined walls at roadside just ahead. Only the fact of ruin was recent; the walls themselves were old and might have been a part of a caravanserai or military post in the days of the Empire's strength. But last month or last tenday a new war had passed this way, dissolving one more building into raw tumbled stones. What was left of the structure looked as if it might be going to sink without a trace into the mud, even before the spring grass could start to grow around the foundations.
The friar sat down on the remnant of the old wall, resting from his journey and looking with minor sadness at the minor destruction about him. After a bit, in the manner of one who cannot sit entirely still for very long, he leaned over and took one of the fallen stones in his lean strong hands. Looking at the stone with what might have been a mason's practiced eye, he fitted it deftly into a notch in the stump of wall and sat back to study the effect.
A distant hail made him raise his head and look back along the way he had come. Another lone figure, dressed in a habit much like his own, was hastening toward him, waving both arms for attention.
The first friar's thin face lighted gently at the prospect of company. He returned the wave and waited, forgetting his little game of masonry. Soon he got to his feet.
Presently the approaching figure resolved itself into a man of middle height, who was almost stout and who had recently been clean-shaven. "Glory to the Holy One, revered Brother!" puffed this newcomer as he arrived at last within easy talking distance.
"Glory to His name." The bearded friar's voice was warm but unremarkable.
The portly one, a man of about thirty, seated himself heavily on the low wall, wiped at his face, and inquired anxiously, "Are you, as I think, Brother Jovann of Ernard?"
"That is my name."
"Now may the Holy One be praised!" The heavier man made a wedge sign with his hands and rolled his eyes heavenward. "My name is Saile, Brother. Now may the Holy One be praised, say I-"
"So be it."
"-for He has led me in mysterious ways to reach your side! "And many more shall follow. Brother Jovann, men will flock to you from the four corners of the world, for the fame of your heroic virtue has spread far, to the land of Mosnar, or so I have heard, and even to the lands of the infidel. And here in our own land-even at this moment, in the isolated villages of these remote hills-some of the most backward peasants are aware of your passage."
"I fear my many faults are also known hereabouts, for I was born not far away."
"Ah, Brother Jovann, you are overly modest. During my arduous struggles to reach your side, I have heard again and again of your holy exploits."
Brother Jovann, his face showing some concern, sat down on the wall again. "Why have you struggled, as you say, to reach my side?"
"Ahh." What a struggle it had been, said Saile's head shake. "The flame of my determination was first kindled several months ago, when I was told by unimpeachable sources, eyewitnesses, how, when you were with the army of the Faithful in the field, you dared to leave the sheltering ranks, to cross no-man's-land into the very jaws of the infidel, there to enter the tent of the arch-infidel himself and preach to him the truth of our Holy Temple!"
"And to fail to convert him." Jovann nodded sadly. "You do well to remind me of my failure, for I am prone to the sin of pride."
"Ah." Saile lost headway, but only for a moment. "It was, as I say, upon hearing of that exploit, Brother Jovann, that it became my own most humble wish, my most burning and holy ambition, to seek you out, to be among the very first to join your order." Saile's eyebrows went up questioningly. "Ah, it is true, then, that you are on your way to Empire City even now, to petition our most holy Vicar Nabur for permission to found a new religious order?"
The thin friar's eyes looked toward the spire in the distance. "Once, Brother, God called me to rebuild fallen temples with stone and brick. Now, as you say, I am called to rebuild with men." His attention came back to Brother Saile, and he was smiling. "As for your becoming a member of the new order when it is formed, why, I can say nothing yet of that. But if you should choose to walk with me to Empire City, I will be happy for your company."
Saile jumped to his feet, to bob up and down with bowing. "It is I who am most happy and most honored, Brother Jovann!"
Saile prolonged his thanks as the two men walked on together. He then commented at some length on the unpleasant prospect of yet more rain falling and was discoursing on the problem of where, in this deserted-looking land, two mendicant friars might hope to obtain their next meal, when there occurred a distraction.
A speedy coach was overtaking them on the road. The vehicle was not ornate, but it was well built, looking as if it might belong to some nobleman or prelate of lower-middle rank. The friars' ears gave them plenty of warning to step aside; four agile load-beasts were making the wheels clatter over the leveled stones at a good speed.
As the coach rumbled past, Brother Jovann felt his eyes drawn to the face of an occupant who rode facing forward, with his head visible in profile and one elbow extended slightly from a window. So far as could be judged, this man was of stocky build. He was well dressed, old and gray-bearded, though the short-cut hair on his head was still of ginger color. His thick mouth was twisted slightly, as if ready to spit or to dispute.
"They might have given us a lift," Brother Saile muttered unhappily, looking after the coach as it dwindled into the distance. "Plenty of room. There were no more than two passengers, were there?"
Brother Jovann shook his head, not having noticed whether there had been any other passengers. His attention had been held by the old man's eyes, which had probably never seen the friars at all. Those eyes, fixed in the direction of the Holy-City a hundred miles and more away, were clear and gray and powerful. But they were also very much afraid.
* * *
When Derron Odegard walked out on the victory celebration at Time Operations, he had no clear idea of where he was going. Only when he found himself approaching the nearby hospital complex did he realize that his feet were taking him to Lisa. Yet, it would be best to face her at once and get it over with.
At the student nurses' quarters he learned that she had moved out the day before, after having gotten permission to drop out of training there. While being tested and considered for other jobs, she was sharing a cubicle with another woman in a low-rank, uplevel corridor.
It was Lisa's new roommate who opened the door to Derron's knock; since she was in the midst of doing something to her hair, she went back inside the cubicle and pretended not to be listening.
Lisa must have seen Derron's news in his face. Her own face at once became as calm as a mask, and she remained just inside the half-open door, letting him stand in the narrow corridor to be brushed by the curious and incurious passersby.
"It's Matt," he said to her. When there was no reaction, he went on, "Oh, the battle's won. The berserkers are stopped. But he sacrificed himself to do it. He's dead."
Proud and hard as a shield, her mask face lifted slightly toward him. "Of course he is. He did the job you gave him. I knew he would."
"Understand, Lisa-when I went to him with that sales talk I thought he was going to have a chance, a good chance."
She was not going to be able to keep the shield up, after all; with something like relief he saw her face begin to move and heard her voice begin to break. She said, "I-knew you were going to kill him."
"My God, Lisa, that wasn't what I meant to do!" He kept his hands from reaching out to her.
Slowly dissolving and melting into a woman's grief, she leaned against the doorjamb, her hands hidden behind her. "And now-there's-n-nothing to be done!"
"The doctors tried-but no, nothing. And Operations can't go back to do anything for Matt in the past-it'd wreck the world if we tried to pull him out of that mess now."
"The world's not worth it!"
He was murmuring some banality and had reached out at last to try to comfort her, when the door slammed in his face.
* * *
If Lisa was the woman he needed, he would have stayed there; so he thought to himself a few days later as he sat alone in his tiny private office on the Operations Level. He would have stayed and made her open the door again or else kicked it down. It was only a door of plastic, and behind it she was still alive.
The fact was, of course, that the woman he did need had been for a year and more behind the door of death. And no man could smash through that. A man could only stand before that door and mourn, until he found that he was able to turn away.
Derron had been sitting in his office staring into space for some little time before he noticed an official-looking envelope that some courier must have left on his small desk. The envelope was neat and thick, sealed and addressed to him. After looking inertly at it for a while he took it up and opened it.
Inside was the formal notice of his latest promotion, to the rank of lieutenant colonel, ". . . in consideration of your recent outstanding service in Time Operations, and in the expectation that you will continue ..." A set of appropriate collar insignia was enclosed.
The insignia held in his hand as if forgotten, he sat there a while longer, looking across the room at an object-it was an ancient battle helmet, ornamented with wings-that rested like a trophy atop his small bookcase. He was still doing this when the clangor of the alert signal sounded throughout Operations and pulled him reflexively to his feet. In another moment he was out the door and on his way to the briefing room.
* * *
Latecomers were still hurrying in when a general officer, Time Ops' chief of staff, mounted the dais and began to speak.
"The third assault we've been expecting has begun, gentlemen. Win or lose, this will be the last attack the berserkers can mount outside of present-time. It'll give us the final bearing we need to locate their staging area twenty-one thousand years down."
There were a few scattered expressions of optimism.
"I suggest that you don't cheer yet. This third attack gives every indication of involving some new tactics on the enemy's part, something subtle and extremely dangerous."
The general performed the usual unveiling of some hastily assembled maps and models. "Like the previous attack, this one is aimed at a single individual; and, again, there's no doubt about the target's identity. This time the name is Vincent Vincento."
There was a murmur at that name, a ripple of awe and wonder and concern. There would have been a similar reaction from almost any audience that might have been assembled on Sirgol. Even the half-educated of that world had heard of Vincento, though the man was some three hundred years dead and had never ruled a nation, started a religion, or raised an army.
Derron's attention became sharply focused, and he sat up straighter, his feeling of inertia slipping away. In his prewar historical studies he had specialized in Vincento's time and place-and that locale was also oddly connected with his private grief.
The general on the dais spoke on, in businesslike tones. "Vincento's lifeline is among the very few ultraimportant ones for which we have provided continuous sentry protection along their entire effective lengths. Of course, this doesn't mean that a berserker can't get near him. But should one of them try to do violent harm to Vincento, or even to any other person within a couple of miles of him, we'd be on to its keyhole in a couple of seconds and cancel it out. The same thing applies if they should try to kidnap or capture Vincento himself.
"This special protection actually starts back in Vincento's grandparents' time and runs along his lifeline until his completion of his last important work at the age of seventy-eight, and we can assume the enemy knows that this protection exists. That's why I said that this time the berserkers' plans are no doubt subtle."
After going into the technical details of the sentry protection against direct violence, the general moved on to discuss another point. "Chronologically, the enemy penetration is not more than a tenday before the start of Vincento's famous trial by the Defenders of the Faith. This may well be more than a coincidence. Suppose, for example, that a berserker could alter the outcome of this trial to a death sentence for Vincento. If the Defenders should decide to burn him at the stake, the berserker's part in his death would be too indirect to give us any help in finding its keyhole.
"And also remember-an actual death sentence would not seem to be necessary for the enemy's purpose. Vincento at the time of his trial is seventy years old. If he should be put to torture or thrown into a dungeon, the odds are high that his life would be effectively ended."
A general seated in the front row raised a hand. "Doesn't he historically undergo some such treatment?"
"No. That's a fairly common idea. But, historically, Vincento never spent a day of his life in prison. During his trial he occupied a friendly ambassador's quarters. And after his recantation, he passed the few years left to him in physically comfortable house arrest. There he gradually went blind, from natural causes-and also laid the foundation of the science of dynamics. On that work of his, needless to say, our modern science and our survival most heavily depend. Make no mistake about it, those last years of Vincento's life after his trial are vital to us."
The questioning general shifted in his front-rank chair. "How in the world is an alien machine going to influence the outcome of a trial in an ecclesiastical court?"
The briefing officer could only shake his head and stare gloomily at his charts. "Frankly, we've still a shortage of good ideas on that. We doubt that the enemy will try again to play a supernatural role, after the failure of their last attempt along that line.
"But here's an angle worth keeping in mind. Only one enemy device is engaged in this attack, and from all screen indications it's a physically small machine, only about the size of a man. Which immediately suggests to us the possibility that this one may be an android." The speaker paused to look round at his audience. "Oh, yes, I know, the berserkers have never, anywhere, been able to fabricate an android that would pass in human society as a normal person. Still, we hardly dare rule out the possibility that this time they've succeeded."
A discussion got going on possible counter-measures. A whole arsenal of devices was being kept in readiness in Stage Two for dropping into the past, but no one could say yet what might be needed.
The briefing officer pushed his charts aside for the moment. "The one really bright spot, of course, is that this attack lies within the time band where we can drop live agents. So naturally we'll count on putting men on the spot as our main defense. Their job will be to keep their eyes on Vincento from a little distance; they'll be people able to spot any significant deviation from history when they see it. Those we choose as agents will need to know that particular period very well, besides having experience in Time Operations. . . ."
Listening, Derron looked down at the new insignia he was still carrying in his hand. And then he began at last to fasten them on.
* * *
About two miles along the road from the spot where they had met, Brother Jovann and Brother Saile topped yet another rise and discovered that they were about to catch up with the coach that had passed them so speedily not long before. Its load-beasts unharnessed and grazing nearby, the vehicle stood empty beside the broken gate of a high-walled enclosure, which crouched under slate roofs at the foot of the next hill ahead.
Atop that hill there rose the already famed cathedral-temple of Oibbog, much of its stonework still too new to bear moss or signs of weathering. Holding its spire now immense and overshadowing against the lowering sky, the graceful mass seemed almost to float, secure above all human effort and concern.
The ancient road, after passing the broken gate of the monastery at the foot of the new cathedral's hill, swerved left to meet a bridge. Or the stub of a bridge, rather. From where the friars now stood they could see that all of the spans were gone, together with four of the six piers that had supported them. The river that had torn them down was raging still, jamming tree trunks like forked spears against the supports that remained. Obviously swollen to several times its normal flow, the current was ravaging the lowlands on both its banks.
On the other side of the torrent, beyond another stub of bridge, the walled town of Oibbog sat secure on its high ground. People could be seen moving here and there in those distant streets. Inside the town's gate, which opened on the Empire road, more coaches and load-beasts waited, having been interrupted in journeys outbound from the Holy City.
Brother Jovann watched leaden clouds still mounting ominously up the sky. Fleeing from these clouds was the river, a great, swollen, terrified snake being lashed and goaded by distant flails of lightning, a snake that had burst its bonds and carried them away.
"Brother River will not let us cross tonight."
When he heard this personification, Brother Saile turned his head slowly and cautiously around, as if he wondered whether he was expected to laugh. But before he had time to decide, the rain broke again, like a waterfall. Tucking up the skirts of their robes, both friars ran. Jovann sprinted barefoot, Saile with sandals flapping, to join the occupants of the coach in whatever shelter the abandoned-looking monastery might afford.
* * *
A hundred miles away, in what had been the capital of the vanished Empire and was now the Holy City of the embattled Temple, the same day was warm and sultry. Only the wrath of Nabur the Eighth, eighty-first in the succession of Vicars of the Holy One, stirred like a storm wind the air of his luxurious private apartments.
This wrath had been some time accumulating, thought Defender Belam, who stood in robes of princely scarlet, waiting in silent gravity for it to be over. It had been accumulated and saved up till now, when it could be discharged harmlessly, vented into the discreet ears of a most trusted auditor and friend.
The vicar's peripatetic tirade against his military and theological opponents broke off in mid-sentence; Nabur was distracted, and his pacing stopped, by a dull scraping sound, ending in a heavy thud, which floated in from outside, accompanied by the shouts of workmen. The vicar moved to look down from a balconied window into a courtyard. Earlier, Belam had seen the workmen down there, starting to unload some massive blocks of marble from a train of carts. Today a famed sculptor was to choose one block, and then begin work on Nabur's portrait-statue.
What did it matter if each of eighty predecessors had been willing to let their worldly glorification wait upon posterity?
The vicar turned from the balcony suddenly, the skirts of his simple white robe swirling, and caught Belam wearing a disapproving face.
In his angry tenor, which for the past forty years had sounded like an old man's voice, the vicar declaimed, "When the statue is completed we will have it placed in the city's Great Square, that the majesty of our office and our person may be increased in the eyes of the people!"
"Yes, my Vicar." Belam's tone was quite calm. For decades he had been a Defender of the Faith and a Prince of the Temple. From close range he had seen them come and go, and he was not easily perturbed by vicarial tempers.
Nabur felt the need to explain. "Belam, it is needful that we be shown increased respect. The infidels and heretics are tearing apart the world which has been given by God into our care!" The last sentence came bursting out, a cry from the inner heart.
"My faith is firm, my Vicar, that our prayers and our armies will yet prevail."
"Prevail?" The vicar came stalking toward him, grimacing sarcastically. "Of course! Someday. Before the end of time! But now, Belam, now our Holy Temple lies bleeding and suffering, and we ..." The vicarial voice dropped temporarily into almost inaudible weakness. "We must bear many burdens. Many and heavy, Belam. You cannot begin to realize, until you mount our throne."
Belam bowed, in sincere and silent reverence.
The vicar paced again, skirts flapping. This time he had a goal. From his high-piled worktable he snatched up in shaking fist a pamphlet that was already worn from handling, and wrinkled, as if it had perhaps been once or twice crumpled up and thrown across a room.
Belam knew what the pamphlet was. A contributing if not a sufficient cause of today's rage, he thought, with his cool habit of theologian's logic. A small thorn compared with others. But this particular barb had stabbed Nabur in the tenderest part of his vanity.
Nabur was shaking the paper-covered booklet at him. "Because you have been away, Belam, we have not yet had the opportunity to discuss with you this-this back-stabbing abomination of Messire Vincento's! This so-called Dialogue on the Movement of the Tides! Have you read it?"
"The wretched man cares nothing about the tides. In this pamphlet his purpose is to once more promulgate his heresy-tainted dreams. He clings to his wish to reduce the solid world beneath our feet to a mere speck, to send us all flying around the sun. But even that is not enough. No, not for him!"
Belam frowned now in real puzzlement. "What else, my Vicar?"
Nabur advanced on him in a glow of anger, as if the Defender were the guilty one. "What else? I will tell you! The arguments of this pamphlet are cast in the form of a debate among three persons. And Vincento its author intends one of these fictional debaters-the one who defends traditional ideas, who therefore is described as 'simple-minded' and 'below the level of human intelligence'-he intends this person to represent ourself!"
Nabur nodded vigorously. "Oh, yes. Some of our very words are put into the mouth of this simpleton, so-called!"
Belam was shaking his head in strong doubt. "Vincento has never been moderate in his disputes, which have been many. Many? Nay, continuous, rather. But I am convinced that he has not in this pamphlet or elsewhere intended any irreverence, either to your person or to your holy office."
"I know what he intended here!" Vicar Nabur almost screamed the words. Then the most honored man in the world-possibly also the most hated, quite possibly also the most burdened by what he saw as his God-given tasks-groaned incontinently and, like a spoiled child, threw himself into a chair.
Arrogance remained, as always, but the spoiled-child aspect did not last long. Irascible humors having been discharged, calm and intelligence returned.
"Have you yet had time to study this pamphlet, while on your travels perhaps? I know it has been widely circulated."
Belam gravely inclined his head.
"Then give us your considered opinion."
"I am a theologian, my Vicar, and not a natural philosopher. Therefore I have taken counsel with astronomers and others and find my own opinion in this matter generally confirmed. Which is that Vincento's arguments in this pamphlet concerning the tides really prove nothing regarding the movement of the celestial bodies, and are not even very accurate as regards the tides themselves."
"He thinks we are all fools, to be dazzled by brilliant words into accepting whatever shoddy logic he offers us. And that we will not even realize it when we are mocked!" The vicar stood up for a moment, sighed, and then tiredly resumed his seat.
Belam chose to ignore the theory, which he did not for a moment believe, that the pamphlet's aim was sacrilegious mockery. The real issue was vital enough. "As the vicar may possibly recall, I had occasion some years ago to write to Vincento regarding his speculations on the idea of a sun-centered universe. Then, as now, such theorizing caused me concern in my capacity as Defender."
"We recall the occasion very well, ha hum. In fact, Messire Vincento has already been summoned here to stand trial for his violation in this pamphlet of your injunction at that time. . . . Belam, what were the precise words of your warning, again?"
Belam thought awhile before answering and then spoke slowly and precisely. "I wrote him, first, that mathematicians are quite free to calculate and publish whatever they wish regarding the celestial appearances or any other natural phenomena- provided they remain strictly in the realm of hypothesis.
"Secondly, it is quite a different matter to say that in fact the sun is in the center of the universe. That in fact our globe spins from west to east each day, while revolving round the sun each year. Such statements must be considered very dangerous; though not formally heretical, they are liable to injure faith by contradicting the Holy Writings."
"Your memory, Belam, is even more than usually excellent. Just when did you write this letter of injunction?"
"Fifteen years ago, my Vicar." Belam showed a dry smile momentarily. "Though I must admit that I reread our archive copy this morning." He was utterly serious again. "Thirdly and lastly, I wrote Vincento that if some real proof existed of the sun-centered universe he champions, we should then be forced to revise our interpretations of those passages in the Holy Writings which would appear to say otherwise. We have in the past revised our scriptural interpretations, for example in regard to the roundness of the world. But, in the absence of any such proof, the weight of authority and traditional opinion is not to be set aside."
Nabur was listening with great attentiveness. "It seems to us, Belam, that you wrote well, as usual."
"Thank you, my Vicar."
Satisfaction appeared mixed with anger in the vicarial mien. "In this pamphlet Vincento has certainly violated your injunction! The debater into whose mouth he puts his own opinions advances no convincing proofs, at least none that can be grasped by mere mortals like ourselves. And yet he does argue, at great length, that in very truth our globe spins like a toy top beneath our feet. To convince the reader of this is his plain intention. Then!" The vicar stood up dramatically. "Then, on the last page, our argument-often expressed by us as a means of compromising these difficult philosophical matters- our argument, that God may produce whatever effect He likes in the world, without being bound by scientific causes-our argument is quoted by the simpleton-debater who has been wrong about everything else, quoted as coming from 'a person of high learning and wisdom, supremely above contradiction.' And at this the other debaters piously declare themselves silenced and decide to adjourn for refreshment. One cannot fail to see them, and their author, laughing up their sleeves!"
While the vicar struggled to regain his breath and calm once more, there was silence in the apartment, save for the workmen's shouts and laughter drifting in. What were they doing out there? Oh, yes, only the marble. Belam uttered a brief prayer that he might never again be required to order a stake prepared for a heretic.
When Nabur spoke again, it was in a reasonable tone. "Now, Belam. Other than this weary argument on tides, which all seem to agree is inconclusive, do you suppose there can exist anywhere any evidence for Vincento's spinning world? Anything he might impertinently introduce at his trial to ... disrupt its course?"
Belam drew himself up, slightly but perceptibly. "My Vicar, we shall of course conduct Vincento's trial, or any other, with the greatest zeal for the truth that we can muster. Vincento may argue in his own defense-"
"Of course, of course!" Nabur interrupted with a rapid dismissive waving of his hand; it was the gesture he used at a time when another man might apologize. But then he still waited for an answer.
After frowning thoughtfully at the floor, Belam began to give what a later age would call a background briefing. "My Vicar, I have through the years made an effort to keep abreast of astronomers' thinking. I fear many of them, religious and laymen both, have become Messire Vincento's enemies. He has a relish and skill for making others look like fools. He has arrogance, in claiming for his own all that these new devices, telescopes, discover in the heavens. An arrogant and argumentative man is hard to bear, and triply hard when he is so often in the right." Belam glanced up sharply for a moment, but Nabur had not taken the description as applying to anyone but Vincento. "My Vicar, is it not true that this pamphlet was brought to your attention by some priest-astronomer whom Vincento has offended and bested in some debate?" Though Belam knew of a number of such men, he was really only guessing.
"Hmm. It may be so, Belam, it may be so. But Vincento's offense is real, though it may have been maliciously called to our attention."
The two of them were pacing now, with old men's measured tread, sometimes orbiting each other like perturbed planets. The Defender of the Faith said, "I raise the point to show the difficulty of obtaining unbiased testimony in this matter from other scholars. They are certainly unlikely to rush to Vincento's defense. Nevertheless, I believe that most astronomers now perform their calculations using the mathematical assumption that the planets, or some of them, at least, revolve about the sun. Of course, that idea is not original with Vincento, nor is the idea that our globe is only a planet. It seems these assumptions make the mathematics of celestial movement more elegant and somewhat more satisfying to the scholar; fewer epicycles need be included in the orbits to make them fit the circular form-"
"Yes, yes, Vincento makes the mathematics more elegant. But stick to the point. Can he have proof, mathematical or otherwise? Plain evidence of any kind?"
"I would say rather the contrary."
"Ha!" Nabur stopped pacing and faced Belam squarely, almost smiling.
The Defender said, "Had Vincento any plain proof, I think he would have printed it here. Arid there is solid evidence against him." Belam gestured with his scholar's hands, frail fingers unsure of technicalities but still grasping firmly whatever they were required to grasp. "It seems that if our globe did make a yearly journey round the sun, the relative positions of the fixed stars should appear to us to change from month to month, as we approached certain constellations or drew away from them. And no such displacement of the stars can be observed."
Vicar Nabur was nodding, looking satisfied.
Belam made a shrugging gesture. "Of course, it is possible to argue that the stars are simply too distant for our measurements to discover such displacement. Vincento will always have arguments, if he wants to use them. ... I fear that no other astronomer is going to be able to prove him wrong, much as some of them would love to do so. No, I think we must admit that the celestial appearances would be essentially the same if we did go round the sun."
"That is enough for any reasonable man to say."
"Exactly, my Vicar. As I wrote Vincento, where there is lack of other certainty, we have no excuse for turning our backs on tradition and substituting strained interpretations for the plain meaning of the Holy Writings." Belam's voice was rising gradually, achieving the tone of power that it would have in court. "We of the Temple have the solemn duty before God to uphold the truth that those Writings reveal. And, my Vicar, what I wrote to Vincento fifteen years ago is still true today-I have never been shown any proof of the motion of the world we stand on, and so I cannot believe that any such proof or any such motion exists!"
The vicar had resumed his seat. Now his face was gentle, as he raised his hands, then clamped them down decisively on the arms of his ornate work chair. "Then it is our decision that you and the other Defenders must proceed with the trial." Nabur spoke regretfully at first, though as he went on his anger gradually returned, less vehement than it had been. "We do not doubt that he can be convicted of violating your injunction. But understand, we have no wish to visit any great punishment upon our erring son."
Belam bowed his grateful assent to that.
Nabur went on, "In charity we grant that he intended no attack upon the Faith and no insult to our person. He is only headstrong, and stubborn, and intemperate in debate. And sadly lacking in gratitude and humility! He must be taught that he cannot set himself up as a superior authority on all matters temporal and spiritual. Did he not once attempt to lecture you on theology?"
Belam once more inclined his head in assent, meanwhile sharply warning himself that he must guard against taking any personal satisfaction in Vincento's approaching humiliation.
Even now Nabur could not let the subject drop, not yet. "Ah, I could curse the man! In the past, we ourself have been among the first to heap praise on his achievements. We have granted him hours of private audience. We have shown him friendliness to a degree we do not always extend to princes! Before ascending to this chair, we ourself once even wrote a pamphlet in his praise! And now, how are we repaid?"
"I understand, my Vicar."
* * *
"I see you have requested assignment to one particular time, Colonel Odegard." Colonel Lukas spoke the words around his cigar, while at the same time using the formal style of address. He was a sometime drinking acquaintance of Derron's, who might be finding it a little difficult to strike the right balance in his role today of examining psychologist. If he had been a close friend of Derron's he would probably have disqualified himself as examiner. But what close friends did Derron have these days among the living? There was Chan Amling ... an old classmate, yes. Bosom buddy, no. The fact was that he had none.
Lukas was looking at him. "Yes, I did," Derron answered, somewhat tardily.
Lukas shifted his cigar. "The two days Vincento spends near the town of Oibbog, delayed on his way to his trial. Waiting to cross a flooded river. Had you any particular reason for wanting that time?"
Oh, yes, he had. He had not put it into words, however, even for himself, and was not about to try to do so now. "Just that I know the locale very well. I once spent a long holiday there. It was one of those places that didn't change very much in three, or four hundred years." Of course, the town and cathedral of Oibbog, like all the other surface landmarks of the planet, were now in the past tense. Derron's particular reason was that the long holiday there had been with her. He caught himself sliding forward tensely on his chair again and forced himself to slump a little and relax.
Squinting through his cigar smoke, Colonel Lukas shuffled uncertainly through the papers on his desk and then threw one of his sneaky fast balls. "Have you any particular reason for wanting to be an agent at all?"
For Derron that question immediately called up an image of Matt and Ay, two forms blending more and more into a single kingly figure as they receded from the moving moment of the present. Their heroic image seemed to be growing steadily larger with distance, the way a mountain in the old days on the surface had sometimes seemed to swell as you hiked away from it.
But that was not the sort of reason a man could talk about, at least not without all of a sudden sounding far too noble and dedicated.
Derron made himself slide back in his chair again. "Well, as I said, I know the period very well. I believe I can do a good job. Like everyone else, I want to win the war." He was uttering noble sentiments after all, and too many of them. Better stretch it into a joke. "I want prestige, I suppose. Accomplishment. Promotion. You name it. Did I hit the right one yet?"
"What is the right one?" Lukas shrugged glumly. "I don't know why I'm required to ask that-why does anyone want to be an agent?" He shaped his papers into a neat stack before him. "Now, Colonel. Just one more thing I want to bring up before certifying you as good agent material. That is the matter of your personal religious views."
"I'm not religious."
"How do you feel about religion?"
Relax, relax. "Well, frankly, I think that gods and temples are fine things for people who need crutches. I haven't yet found any necessary."
"I see. I think this is a valid psychological point which should be raised, because there are dangers inherent in sending back to Vincento's time anyone who is likely to find himself susceptible to ideological fever." Lukas made an apologetic gesture. "You as an historian understand better than I how thick dogmas and doctrines are in the air back there. Religious and philosophical controversy seems to draw all the energy of that era."
"Yes." Derron nodded. "I see what you mean. You don't want a fanatic of any stripe. Well, I'm not what they call a militant atheist. My conscience will let me play any part that's necessary." Maybe he was explaining too much, talking too much, but he had to make this point, he had to be allowed to go. "I'll be a rabid monk and spit on Vincento if required."
"I don't suppose Time Ops will ask that of you. All right, then, Derron. You're in."
And Derron tried not to show too much relief.
* * *
What Operations really decided was that he would do best in the part of a traveling scholar. They gave him a name-Valzay-and started to build for him an identity that had never historically existed. He was supposedly from Mosnar, a country distant from Vincento's but for the most part faithful to the Holy Temple. Valzay was to be one of the itinerant intellectuals of Vincento's time, who wandered somewhat like sacred cows across minor political and language boundaries, from one university or wealthy patron to another.
Derron and a dozen other chosen agents, mostly male, were rushed into preparation. Working singly or in pairs, they were to keep Vincento under practically continuous observation during the now doubly critical days of his life just preceding his trial and during it. Each agent or team would remain on the job for a day or two and then be relieved by another. Chan Amling, now a captain, was assigned as Derron's team partner; they would not often be together on the job, but would alternate in keeping Vincento more or less in sight. Amling was to play the role of one of the wandering friars who in Vincento's day were quite numerous, and for the most part only loosely disciplined.
The program of preparation was hurried and rugged, beginning with the surgical implantation of communications transducers in jawbone and skull. This would enable each agent to remain in contact with Operations without having to mumble aloud or wear anything as bulky as a helmet.
There were speech and manners to be rehearsed, some knowledge of events current in Vincento's day to be memorized, and some knowledge to be repressed, of events in the immediate future of that time. There were the techniques of communications and weaponry to be mastered-all this is a few days.
Amid his fatigue and concentration, Derron noticed almost without surprise that Lisa was now working in Operations, one of the calm-voiced girls who relayed orders and information to individual sentries and could do the same for slave-unit operators, or for live agents when some of them took the field.
He had only scraps of free time now and made no effort to use any of it to speak to her. The knowledge that he was on his way back to Oibbog had crowded almost everything else out of his mind. He felt like a man going to a rendezvous with his own true love; the people of flesh and blood around him, Lisa included, took on the semblance of shadows for him even as the dead past grew more vivid.
Then one day, as he and Amling sat in folding chairs at the side of Stage Three, resting between behavior drills, Lisa came walking past and stopped.
"Derron, I want to wish you success."
"Thanks. Pull up a chair, if you like."
She did. Amling decided he wanted to stretch his legs, and he ambled away.
Lisa said, "Derron, I shouldn't have accused you of killing Matt. I know you didn't want him to die, that you felt as bad as I did about it. What happened to him wasn't your fault." She was speaking like someone who had lost a friend among other friends in war, not like someone whose life had been destroyed with the life of her beloved. "I've just been mastering my own internal difficulties-you know about that-but that's no excuse for what I said. I should have known you better. I'm sorry."
"It's all right." Derron shifted uncomfortably in his chair, sorry that she felt so bad about it. "Really, it's . . . Lisa, I thought you and I might have had- something. I suppose not the whole thing there can be between a man and a woman, but still something good."
She looked away from him, a faint frown creasing her forehead. "I had some feeling like that about Matt. But that much of a feeling would never be enough for me."
He went on hurriedly, "As far as anything permanent and tremendous is concerned, well, I've tried that already, once in my life. And I'm still up to my neck in it, as you may have noticed. I'm sorry, I've got to get moving." And he jumped up out of his chair and hurried to where Amling and the others were not yet ready for him.
* * *
When the day came for the drop, the costumers dressed Derron in clothing that was slightly worn but good, suitable for a fairly successful gentleman-scholar on his travels far from home. In his haversack they placed a reasonable supply of food, along with a flask of brandy. Into his wallet went a moderate sum in the proper coins, silver and gold, and also a forged letter of credit on an Empire City bank. They hoped he would not need much money, and plans did not call for him to get to within a hundred miles of the Holy City. But just in case.
Chan Amling was issued a somewhat worn and soiled gray friar's habit, but very little else, in keeping with his mendicant role. He did half-seriously request permission to take along a pair of dice, arguing that he would not be the first friar in history to go so armed. But Time Ops was soon able to establish that such equipment was scarcely standard issue for religious, even in Vincento's time, and he turned down the request.
Both Derron and Chan had hung around their necks abominably carved wooden wedge symbols. The images differed in detail of design, but each was big enough to conceal the bulk of a miniaturized communicator and too ugly and cheap-looking for anyone to want to steal. If any of Vincento's contemporaries should be moved to wonder audibly why Derron wore such a thing, he was to say that it was a present from his wife.
From an arsenal assembled in Stage Three, Odegard and Amling were issued sturdy travelers' staffs. These again were dissimilar in outer detail, but both were much more effective weapons than they appeared to be. All of the agents were armed, with staffs or other innocent-appearing devices; they were all to be dropped within half a minute of one another, present-time, though, of course, they were to arrive in different places and on different days.
Their processing for this mission had been too hurried and with too much individual attention for them to get to know one another very well. But during the last few minutes before the drop, as the masquerade-costumed group bade one another good luck and good berserker hunting, there was an atmosphere of joking camaraderie in Stage Three.
Derron felt it. It crossed his mind that once again he had good friends among the living. The launching file formed on order, and he took his place in it calmly, looking forward over short Chan Amling's gray-cowled head.
Amling turned his head slightly. "Five will get you ten," he whispered, "that I land up to my crotch in mud someplace. Out of sight of the bloody road, at least."
"No bet," said Derron automatically, as the count began. The line moved briskly forward, one figure after another in front of him abruptly vanishing from his sight. Amling made some last remark that Derron could not catch, and then Amling too was gone.
It was Derron's turn. He swung a booted foot in a long stride out over the mercurial launching circle, then brought it down.
* * *
He was standing in darkness, and around him was the unmistakable, never-to-be forgotten feeling of open air. Except for a mere whisper of breeze and a drizzle of rain, he was immersed in an echoless silence, a great loneliness in which his materialization must have passed unnoticed. Good.
"Reverend Brother?" he inquired of the darkness in a low voice, speaking in Vincento's language. There was no answer; Amling might well have come down in some mud hole out of sight of the road. He had a knack for achieving what he was willing to bet on.
As Derron's eyes grew more accustomed to the gloom, he realized that the hard surface under his own boots did indeed seem to be the stones of the old Empire highway that passed through Oibbog. Operations had put at least half of the team spatially on the bull's-eye, then. Whether they had done as well temporally remained to be seen, though rain and darkness were reassuring signs.
Subvocalizing, Derron tried to reach Operations for a routine check-in, but the communicator seemed utterly dead. Some kind of paradox loop would be blocking contact. Such things cropped up now and then; there was nothing to do but hope that the condition would not last long.
He waited the agreed-upon few minutes for Amling, meanwhile opening his staff at one end and consulting the compass thus revealed, to make sure of the direction he was facing on the road. Then, after calling once more to his reverend brother with no result, he began to walk, boots clopping solidly on the pavement. Lightning flashed distantly at irregular intervals. He drank deep breaths of the washed air.
He had not gone far before the transducer behind his ear gave him a sudden twinge. "... Odegard, can you read me yet? Colonel Odegard ..." The male voice sounded weary and bored.
"This is Colonel Odegard; I read you."
"Colonel!" Sudden excitement. Off mike: "We've got contact, sir!" Back on: "Colonel, it's plus two days and three hours here since you were dropped. Time scale has been slipping."
"Understand." Derron kept his speech subvocal. "I'm about plus five minutes since dropping. Still on the road in the rain, at night. No contact with Amling yet."
"Odegard, you're blurring on the screens." It was Time Ops' voice speaking now. "But it looks like you're farther from the cathedral than we intended, just about two miles. You may be outside the safety zone, so get in closer to Vincento as fast as possible." By "safety zone," of course, Time Ops meant the zone of protection against any direct violence from the berserker, a zone created by the intense concentration of sentry observation around Vincento's lifeline. "We've just pulled out the team ahead of you. They report all's well with Vincento. You say you haven't seen Amling yet."
"Right." Derron stepped up his pace a trifle, though he was having to tap along with his staff to be sure of not floundering off the pavement into the mud.
"We haven't found him either. Can't see his line in this blurring on the screens. It may be just the time slippage and a paradox loop."
Lightning flared directly ahead of Derron, obligingly showing him that his road ran straight for some distance in that direction and giving him a glimpse of the cathedral spire, which was farther off than it should have been. He supposed it was about two miles away.
He reported this to Operations, meanwhile puzzling over something else that the lightning had shown him-a dully gleaming object in the center of the road ahead, lying atop a line or thin trench that seemed to have been scratched or dug across the pavement.
". . . I'm just coming up to it now. Looks like . . ."
It was soft to the prodding tip of his staff. He waited for the lightning, which flashed again in a few seconds.
"Never mind trying to contact Amling anymore." The body was quite naked; it could have been here a day or an hour. Derron stood over it, describing the situation as best he could. Human robbers might have stolen a staff and even a cheap pectoral wedge, but would they have taken a friar's habit?
He bent to touch the deep scratch mark that cut across the road beneath the body. No medieval tool had made that ruler-straight slice through stone; quite likely it had been carved by the same cybernetic limb that had removed the back of Amling's head.
"Ops, I think it's marked the boundary of the safety zone for us. To let us know that it knows about it."
"Yes, yes, you may be right, Odegard, but never mind that now. You just move in close to Vincento quickly. Protect yourself."
He was moving that way already, walking backward and holding his staff like a rifle while all his senses probed as best they could the rainy night through which he had just passed. Not that all his alertness would do him any good, if the enemy was out there and able to strike.
But Derron lived. After a hundred paces he turned and walked normally ahead, once more making good time. The berserker had killed casually, in passing, leaving its mark like some defiant human outlaw. And then it had gone on to its more pressing business here.
* * *
By the time Derron had reached the place where the road bent sharply to the left toward the washed-out bridge, the lightning had gone on over the horizon; he felt rather than saw the bulk of the hill and its cathedral ahead of him and above. But nearer, close by the side of the road, he could make out the monastery's high wall, the tumbled stones of what had been an arched gateway, and the remnants of a broken gate. And when he stood before the gateway he could distinguish, just inside, a coach that he knew must be Vincento's, standing deserted in a puddle. From the shelter of a cloister came the gentle mumbling and grunting of load-beasts. Derron paused only a moment before plodding on through the gate and across a soggy garth toward what looked like the main entrance of the main building, which was a sprawling one-story structure.
He made no effort to be quiet, and the dark doorway before him promptly emitted a challenge. "Who's there? Stand and give your name!"
The dialect was one that Derron had expected to run into. He stopped in his tracks and, as the beam of a lantern flicked out at him, he answered. "I am Valzay of Mosnar, mathematicus and scholar. From the coach and animals I see here, I judge that you within are honest men. And I have need of shelter."
"Step for'ard, then," said the wary male voice that had challenged him. A door creaked, and behind the door the lantern retreated.
Derron advanced slowly, displaying hands empty save for an innocent staff. When he had gotten in out of the rain, the door was shut behind him, and the lantern brightened. He found himself in what must have been the common room of the monastery. Facing him stood a pair of soldiers, one armed with a crude pistol and the other with a short sword; judging by their patchwork uniforms, they were members of one of the mercenary companies that were now multiplying in this war-torn land.
When they could see his gentleman's clothes more plainly, the soldiers' manner became more or less respectful. "Well, sir, how d'you come to be a-wanderin' afoot and alone?"
He scowled and swore, wringing water from his cloak. He related how his skittish load-beast, scared by lightning, had run off with his light sulky. A plague was too good for that animal! If he could catch it in the morning, he'd have some of its hide off in narrow strips, they could bet on that! With whip-cracking vehemence he shook water from his broad-brimmed hat.
Derron had an effortless feel and skill for acting when there was a need for it, and these lines had been well rehearsed. The soldiers chuckled, relaxed most of their vigilance, and became willing to chat. There was, they said, plenty of room for another boarder here, because the proprietary monks had all cleared out long ago. The place was no tavern with girls and ale, worse luck, and even firewood was in short supply, but the roof did keep the rain off. Yes, they were from a mercenary company, one that was now in the pay of the Holy Temple. Their captain, with the bulk of his men, was now in Oibbog across the river.
"And if the cap'n can't do no more'n wave to us for the next couple days, why, that's all right with us, hey what?"
For all the jocularity, they still maintained a minimal professional suspicion of Derron-he might conceivably be a scout for some well-organized band of brigands-and so they did not tell him how many soldiers had been caught on this side of the torrent when the bridge they had been guarding collapsed.
He did not ask, of course, but he gathered there were not many.
In answer to a question he did ask, one of the soldiers said, "Naw, no one but the old gentleman as owns the coach, and his servant an' his driver. And a pair o' friars. Plenty empty cells, sir, so take your pick. One's about as damp as the next."
Derron murmured his thanks and then, with some brief assistance from the lantern, groped his way down a vaulted passage lined with doorless cells and into one of these, which was pointed out to him as unoccupied. Built against the cell's rear wall was a wooden bunk frame that had not yet been ripped out for firewood. Derron sat down to pull off his squelching boots, while the lantern's light receded once more down the passage and vanished.
His boots off and tipped to drain, Derron stretched out on the wooden frame, the knapsack under his head, a dry garment from the knapsack over him for cover, his staff within easy reach. He did not yet have the feeling of having achieved his goal and returned to Oibbog. Amling's death seemed a bit unreal. Neither could he quite grasp the fact that Vincent Vincento in the living flesh was somewhere within a few meters of him, that one of the founding fathers of the Modern world might even be the author of the snore that now drifted faintly down the passage.
Lying on his wooden bed, Derron reported briefly to Operations, bringing them up to the minute on his progress so far; then, genuinely tired, he found himself drifting toward sleep. The sound of rain was lulling, and there was nothing he could do about getting a look at Vincento until the morning. Even as his consciousness dulled, it struck him as mildly odd that his thoughts were occupied neither with his mission for Operations nor his private mission of return. Not with the staggering fact of time travel, or the loss of Amling, or the menace of the berserker. Simply with the fading sound of diminishing rain and the freshness of the infinite clean atmosphere around him. It was the theme of resurrection. . . .
He was jarred out of the beginning of sleep when Operations put a throbbing behind his right ear. He came wide awake at once, with only a mild start, and tucked his carven wedge symbol closer under his chin.
"Odegard, we're starting to read through some of this blurring on the screens. We can count fourteen lifelines in or near that monastery-temple complex. One of them, of course, is your own. Another is Vincento's. Another one seems to be an unborn child's line; you know how they show on a screen in dots and dashes."
Derron shifted his position slightly on the creaking wooden rack; he felt oddly comfortable and snug, hearing the last dripping of the rain outside. He mused subvocally, "Let's see. Me, Vincento, his two servants, and the two soldiers I've seen. That makes six. And they said there were two friars. Eight, which would leave six more unaccounted for. Probably four more soldiers and a camp follower who's picked up a little dotted line she won't want to carry. Wait a minute, though-that one soldier did say something about there being no girls here. Anyway, I suppose your idea is that one of the apparent people I find here will have no lifeline showing on your screens-meaning he or she is really our hypothetical berserker-android."
"That's our idea, yes."
"Tomorrow I can count noses and . . . Wait." .
In the darkness of the entrance to Derron's cell, a shape of lesser blackness became discrete with movement. The figure of a hooded friar, utterly faceless in the gloom, came a half-step into the cell before halting abruptly.
Derron froze, recalling the hooded robe missing from Amling's corpse. His hand moved to his staff and gripped it tightly. But he would not dare to use his weaponry without being very sure of his target. Even then, at this close range, the staff would be torn from his hands and broken before he could aim it ---
Only an instant had passed since the hooded figure had entered. Now it muttered a few indistinguishable words, which might have been an apology for entering the wrong cell. And in another moment it had withdrawn into the blackness, as noiselessly as it had come.
Derron remained half-risen on one elbow, still gripping his useless weapon. He told Operations what had just happened.
"It won't dare kill you there, remember. Be very sure before you fire."
"Understand." Slowly he stretched out again. But all comfort had gone with the last of the rain, and resurrection was a lie.
* * *
When Vincento was awakened by a touch, and found himself in darkness, bedded amid damp straw with bare stone walls close about him, he knew a moment of sinking terror. The worst had already happened, and he lay in the Defenders' dungeon. The terror was deepened when he saw the faceless monk-hooded figure bending over him. He could see it by the moonlight which now filtered through the tiny window-evidently the rain was over.
The rain ... Of course, he was still on his way to the Holy City, his trial was still to come! The intensity of his relief was such that Vincento accepted almost with courtesy his being awakened. "What do you want?" he muttered, sitting up on his shelf of a bed and pulling his traveling rug closer about his shoulders. His manservant Will slept on, a huddled mound on the dark floor.
The visitor's hooded face could not be seen. The visitor's voice was a sepulchral whisper. "Messire Vincento, you are to come alone to the cathedral tomorrow morning. At the crossways of nave and transepts you will receive good news from your friends in high places."
He tried to digest this. Could it be that Nabur or perhaps Belam wanted to send him some secret reassurance of leniency? That was possible. More likely, this was some Defenders' trickery. A man summoned to trial was not supposed to discuss the matter with anyone.
"It will be good news, Messire Vincento. Come alone, and be willing to wait if you are not met at once. The crossways of nave and transepts. And do not seek to learn my name or see my face."
Vincento maintained his silence, determined to commit himself to nothing. And his visitor, satisfied that the message had been delivered, melted away into the night.
* * *
When Vincento awakened the next time, it was from a pleasant dream. He had been back in his own villa,-on the estate that had been provided for him by the senate of his city, safe in his own bed with his mistress's warm body solid and comforting beside him. In reality the woman had been gone for some time-women no longer meant very much- but the estate was still there. If only they would let him return to it in peace!
This time he had been aroused by a touch of a different sort-the touch on his face of a shaft of morning sunlight, which came striking into his cell from the high thin window of the cell across the corridor. As he lay recalling with curiosity his strange midnight visitor, making sure in his own mind that that had been no dream, the sun shaft was already moving slowly away from his face. And instantly that motion made it a golden pendulum of subtle torture, driving all other thoughts from his mind.
The pendulum he really faced was that of choice. His mind could swing one way, tick, and meet in foresight the shame of swallowed truth and swallowed pride, all the humiliation of an enforced recanting. And if he swung his thoughts the other way, tock, there they confronted the breaking agony of the boot or the rack or the slower destruction in a buried cell.
It was not a dozen years since the Defenders had burned Onadroig alive in the Great Square of the Holy City. Of course Onadroig had been no scientist, but rather a poet and a philosopher. The consensus these days among scholars was that he must have also been a madman, an utter fanatic who had walked into a fire rather than give over his theories. And what theories had possessed him! He had believed that the Holy One had been no more than a magician; that the chief of devils would one day be saved; that there were infinite worlds in space, that the very stars were peopled.
Neither in the Scriptures nor in nature could the least justification for any of these absurd ideas be found-so Belam and the other Defenders had argued, indefatigably but fruitlessly trying to change Onadroig's mind during the seven years' imprisonment that had preceded his burning as an incorrigible heretic.
To Vincento himself, the crude physical torture was a remote threat only. He or any other reputable scholar would have to show very deliberate, and prolonged stubbornness before the Defenders would employ any such methods against him. But the threat would be in the background, all the same. At his trial he would be formally threatened with torture, perhaps even shown the instruments. All ritual, no more. But it was not impossible that it should come to that. They would say, with genuine unhappiness, that a defendant who absolutely refused to yield to all milder methods of persuasion forced them to take harsh measures, for the good of his immortal soul and the protection of the Faith.
So-his pendulum of choice was imaginary. He had no real choice but to recant. Let the sun move any way they wanted it to. Let it go whirling around the globe in an insane yearly spiral, to please the arrogant, shortsighted fools who thought they had already read all the secrets of the universe in a few dusty pages of the Holy Writings.
Lying on his back, Vincento raised a hand veined with ropy vessels against the slow-swiveling torture blade of the sun. But the sun would not be stopped in its motion by any man's hand. It mocked him all the more, making bright translucent wax of the old bones and flesh of his fingers.
On the floor, Will stirred sluggishly in his rug cocoon. Vincento barked him awake and chased him outside to rouse the coachman, Rudd, who slept beside the beasts-Rudd to look at the river's level, Will to make some tea and get a little food ready for breakfast. Vincento had had the foresight to provision his coach well.
Left alone, he began the slow, humiliating process of getting his aging bones unlimbered and ready for what the day might bring. In recent years his health had been poor, and now each day began with a cautious testing of sensation. But he was not sick now, only old. And, yes, he was afraid.
By the time Will came to inform him that a fire and hot tea were ready in the monastery's common room, Vincento was ready to step forth. Somewhat to his surprise, he discovered when he entered the common room that another wayfarer had arrived during the night, a youngster who introduced himself as Valzay of the distant land of Mosnar.
Valzay, as he put it himself, made a modest claim to scholarship. Hearing this, Vincento studied him more carefully. But, for a wonder, the youngster was decently respectful, seeming to regard Vincento with genuine if restrained awe, and murmuring that even in his distant homeland Vincento's discoveries were known and praised.
Vincento acknowledged all this with pleased nods, meanwhile sipping his breakfast tea and wondering if this youth was the bearer of the good news he was supposed to hear this morning from someone in the cathedral. Might it after all be a word of hope from Nabur? He scowled. No, he would not let himself hope, like a vassal, for another man's kindness, not even when the other was the Vicar of the Holy One himself. He straightened his back. Anyway, he was not going to rush up the hill to the temple at once.
Rudd came to report that the river was no longer rising, but was still too high and dangerous for anyone to think of trying to ford it here. In one more day it would probably be safe.
So Vincento took his time at finishing his tea and consuming a little food. He left word with Rudd to take some- food to the two friars and then strolled leisurely out into the sunshine to warm his bones. If he came late to his trial, there were plenty of witnesses here to tell the reason. Let the Defenders inveigh against the river, if they liked. No doubt the torrent, in deference to their superior knowledge of the Holy Writings, would dry up. No doubt all of nature would do their bidding; it was likely the ruined bridge here would rebuild itself if they came to threaten the stones with torture.
But no, away with such thoughts; he must begin to practice his humility. He called to Will to fetch him his writing materials from the coach and then went out through the broken gate to sit alone in the sun beside the road, with one tumbled block of stone for a bench and another for a table. He might as well put his time to use, start writing his statement of recantation to present during the trial.
Of course, the accused was not supposed to know why he had been summoned. Probably the Defenders' first question would be whether or not he had any idea of what he had been charged with. No doubt such an opening sometimes brought unsuspected crimes bursting to light from guilty lips, but in Vincento's case there could hardly be any doubt of the reason for his summons. It had been fifteen years since Belam's warning injunction, which Vincento himself had since managed almost to forget. Other scholars before and since had talked of the heliocentric hypothesis with impunity and had used it in their published calculations. But when the Defenders' summons came, Vincento realized that he had bitterly antagonized men who were in high places and who never forgot anything.
The first paper he pulled from his portable escritoire was the old letter of injunction from Defender Belam. Involuntarily, Vincento's eye went at once to the words, "no proof of our globe's motion exists, as I believe, since none has been shown to me."
No proof. Vincento wiped at his forehead with a tremulous hand. Now, with mortal fear to enforce bleak clarity of thought, he could see that the arguments he had conjured from tides and sunspots really proved nothing at all about the motions of sun and planets. The truth about those motions had become apparent to him before he had ever thought of the need for proving it. He had looked long through telescopes and he had thought long and deeply about what he saw. With eyes and mind he had weighed the sun, he had grasped at stars and planets and comets, and truth had come through some inward door, like a revelation.
His enemies who cried him down were, of course, far lesser men than he. They were stupid and blind in their refusal, or their inability, to see what he showed them as the truth. And yet he knew that those who were to sit as his judges were shrewd enough logicians when they set themselves to think within their formal rules. If only there were some firm proof, simple and incontrovertible, that he might set before them . . . Oh, what would he not give for that! His mind ached, his fists clenched, his very guts contracted at the thought. If he had one solid simple proof he would risk all, he would dare anything, to confront and confound his enemies with it, to rub their long arrogant noses in the truth!
But since in fact he had nothing to support this mood of glorious defiance, it soon passed. The truth was, he was old and afraid and he was going to recant.
Slowly he got out pen and ink and blank paper; slowly he began his first draft. From time to time he paused, sitting with closed eyes in the sun, trying not to think.
* * *
Derron counted seven soldiers around the breakfast fire, and he found each of them overjoyed to accept a swallow of brandy from his traveling flask and willing enough to talk. No, there was no one he had not seen in the monastery or the cathedral, or anywhere nearer than the town across the river. Not that they knew of, and they would know.
When he was alone in the privy a few minutes later, Derron did some subvocal mumbling. "Operations?"
"Time Ops here."
Maybe the Commander never had to sleep, but Derron himself was sufficiently tired and strained to dispense with military courtesy. "Count the lifelines here again. I make it just thirteen of us. If you can make it twelve, then one of my smiling companions has clockwork for guts. But if you come out with fourteen again, then either there's some bandit or deserter lurking in a corner I haven't seen or you're misreading your screens. I think that dotted line at least is a mistake in interpretation; I consider it unlikely that any of us here is pregnant, since we're all men."
"We'll recheck right away. You know how tricky screen interpretation can be sometimes." Time Ops' tone was quietly apologetic, which was somehow more disturbing to Derron than a chewing-out would have been. It meant that his position here was now considered so vital that Operations would bend every effort to make things go more smoothly for him.
The soldiers, after finishing their morning meal and emptying Derron's brandy flask, had for the most part settled down to serious loafing. Rudd, Vincento's coachman, was leading his load-beasts forth in search of grass. Following the animals through the gate, Derron located Vincento, sitting peacefully alone and apart with his writing materials. Well and good.
Remembering his imaginary load-beast and sulky, Derron put on an exasperated expression and strolled along the road toward the ruined bridge, scanning the fields in all directions as if in search of his missing property.
At the bridge stump were the two friars, gray cowls thrown back from their unremarkable heads. Judging by their gestures and a word or two that floated Derron's way, they were talking of ways in which the bridge might someday be rebuilt. Derron knew that within a year to two there would indeed be new arches of stone spanning the river here. And those arches would still be standing solidly more than three hundred years later, when a young postgraduate history student would come striding over them on a hiking tour, the girl he loved striding just as eagerly beside him. Both of them would be enthusiastic about seeing for the first time the ancient town and the famed cathedral of Oibbog. The river would look much different then, gentler, of course, and there would be more trees along its banks. While the stones of the ancient Empire road would still look much the same . . .
"May the Holy One give you a good day, esteemed sir!" It was the stouter of the two friars whose voice broke in upon Derron's reverie.
The interruption was welcome. "Good day to you also, reverend Brothers. Does the river still rise?"
The thinner friar had a loving face. In hands that seemed all bone and tendon, he was weighing a small chunk of masonry, as if he meant to start this minute to rebuild the bridge. "The river falls now, sir. How does the course of your life go, up or down?"
The falsehood about beast and buggy seemed dreary and unnecessary. "That can hardly be an easy question for any man to answer."
Derron was spared any further probing for the moment, as the attention of both friars had been distracted. Seven or eight of the local peasantry had materialized out of mud and distance and were plodding their barefoot way along the drying bank of the torrent toward the bridge stump. One man walking in front of the others proudly swung a string of large and silvery fish, fresh enough to be still twitching and twisting.
A few paces away from the edge of the pavement, the peasants halted. Together they bowed rather perfunctorily in Derron's direction; he was not dressed finely enough to overawe anyone and he was obviously not the person the peasants had come to see.
The man who carried the fish began talking to the friars, in a low tone at first but raising his voice as the others began almost at once to interrupt him. In a few moments they were all squabbling over who had the right to speak first and whose was the right of disposal of the fish. They had come to strike a bargain. Would the holy brothers accept the biggest and freshest of this fine catch ("From me!" "No, from me, Holy Brother, it was my fish line!") and in return say some potent prayers for the giver's crops?
Derron turned away from what promised to become a nasty quarrel among the peasants, to see that Vincento was still sitting alone. And it was then that the full sunlit view of the Cathedral of Oibbog caught him almost by surprise.
The narrowed tip of the central spire held its gilded symbolic wedge two hundred and sixty feet above the flattened hilltop. The stones of tower and wall, of arch and flying buttress, were rich clear gray, almost shining in the morning light. Inside, he knew, the stained-glass windows along the eastern wall would be like living flame. If fragile glass and spire had risen from the dust, then surely she too must be alive, not only alive but somewhere near where he might reach her. At the moment the resurrected reality before him held more conviction than any rein of logic. At any second now, her voice might call to him, he might be able to reach out and touch . . .
There was a splash nearby. The stout friar was wearing a caricature expression of anger, disappointment, and surprise, while the thinner one stood with a hand stretched out over the water. A big fish now jumped and splashed again; one of the slippery catch had evidently escaped.
. . . touch her warm and living skin. Now even a detail that he had somehow forgotten, the way her hair moved sometimes in the wind, came back to him with the visual clarity of something seen only a minute ago.
Derron's feet took him away from the bridge stump and back along the road. He noted dutifully with half his mind that Vincento still sat alone in the sun. But Derron did not go back to the monastery. The hill raised the mighty cathedral before him, and he began steadily to climb.
* * *
Brother Jovann kept looking sadly at the peasants, even as he seemed to address his words to the splasher in the water. "Brother Fish, I have set you at liberty not because we do not need food, but so you may be able to praise God, who sends all blessings-the fish to the angler and freedom to the fish." Sorrowfully, Jovann shook his head at the peasants. "We men so often forget to give thanks when they are due, so often we spend our energy instead in trying to get ahead of one another!"
The fish splashed, and leaped, and splashed again. It was as if the pain of the hook, or the time spent gilling air-or something else-had driven it quite mad.
Jovann looked down with new distress upon this watery uproar. "Be still now, Brother Fish! Enough! Live in the water, not the painful air. Give praise and thanks as a fish may naturally do!"
The splashing stopped. The last ripples and foam were swept away downstream.
Silence hung in the air. Every peasant's hands were raised in the wedge sign, and they darted their eyes at one another as if they would have liked to take to their heels in flight, but did not dare. Brother Saile was gaping as blankly as any of the fish, while he swung his eyes from Jovann to the river and back again.
Jovann beckoned Saile away and said to him, "I am going apart for an hour, to pray to the Holy One to cleanse me of anger and pride. And also for these poor men's crops. Do you likewise." And Saile was left still staring, as Jovann walked slowly away alone, on up the road toward the monastery's gate.
* * *
As Derron climbed the steps that switch-backed up the face of the cathedral hill, the irrational sense of his love's presence faded, leaving him with only the bitter certainty of her permanent loss. It crossed his mind that at this moment in time her genes were scattered in the chromosomes of some two thousand ancestors. That was as close as he could come to her today, the closest he would ever be able to come. He knew that a solid palisade of paradox loops would forever bar him from revisiting the days of her life, what he thought of as the time of his own youth.
The truth was that he had never forgiven her for dying, for being helplessly killed with all the other millions, for her crime of emptying his world. Maybe forgiving her was what he had come back to Oibbog to try to do. So, he told himself, do it. Do whatever is necessary to end it now, today. Get it all over with somehow, out of your system once and for all, so that you can be some good to yourself and to someone else again.
By now the roof of the monastery had fallen below the level of his climbing feet. When he looked back he saw the valley spreading out, flood-ravaged now and wilder in its beauty than he remembered it, but still essentially the same. At a turn on the stairs he passed a sapling and with a pang of realization he knew that in three hundred years this slender stem would be a gnarled and mighty trunk, with heavy branches to shade out the summer sun. And beside it he would stand with her, looking out over the valley, the two of them choosing a hill for themselves-that hill there, oh God, though no trees grew on it now!-where one day they intended to build their home and raise the pair of kids they meant to have.
He kept right on climbing. He felt that if he stopped here now he might never go on, and going on was necessary. Now at last his eyes rose above the level of the paved space before the main entrance of the cathedral. His memory recognized the very pattern of the paving stones here, where her feet and his would one day stand. If he stood here now, looking straight ahead at remembered hedges and statues, his vision bounded by the gray stone of the cathedral's front-why, for all that he could see or hear, holiday and youth and love might still be true, war and grief no more than bad dreams passing.
The twigs of the hedges were green again, with rain and late spring sunshine. But her voice was not to be heard here, nor would he ever again feel her touch, though he were to stand here till he fell. And for a moment he thought he might be going to fall, or to kneel and pray, or to cry aloud, because the knowledge of her passing from him was almost too much-but then, at long, long last, that knowledge could be accepted.
The process of acceptance was not over in an instant, but once it had fairly begun he knew he was not going to collapse. His eyes were none too clear, but he was not going to weep. He was just going to stand here and go on living.
No, he was not finished yet. To complete the process of acceptance and release he had still to go into the building, where he had spent a morning helping her photograph the stained glass. He remembered wishing aloud at that time that the supposed Author of the universe would come out of hiding and make an appearance in this, supposedly His temple, because the young historian had a few sharp questions that he wanted to ask. Questions having to do with the unnecessary amount of injustice in the world.
The great door was just as solidly hung as Derron remembered it. He wondered briefly if a wooden door in steady use might last three hundred years. No matter. He tugged it open, hearing the booming reverberation of the broken closure come back with repetitions from the building's cavernous interior. Just then it crossed Derron's mind that his traveler's staff with all its weaponry was resting back in his monastery cell. But that was no matter; immediate violence from the berserker was not a danger.
He went in and paced down the center of the nave, which was only about thirty feet wide between the rows of columns that divided it from the side aisles, but enormous in its other dimensions-three hundred feet long, the keystones of its arches a hundred feet above the floor. There seemed room in here for God and berserker both to hide, with plenty of corners left to conceal some deserter or pregnant waif whose lifeline might be showing up to confuse Operations.
Along the eastern wall the stained-glass windows flamed. Centuries of candle smoke had not yet darkened the high arches. Most of the cathedral had been built during the last generation; in fact, construction had not been quite completed when this latest war had resulted in the workmen being ordered or frightened off the job. Much scaffolding still surrounded columns and clung to walls, here and there festooned with the workmen's abandoned ropes and cables, which were as steady in the motionless air as if carved from stone themselves. A few abandoned tools were very slowly gathering dust where they had been set down.
Whether because of the combatants' reverence or superstitious fear, or only through chance, war had not trampled here. Even the stained glass was all intact, splintered only by the sun coming in to fire the mild gloom with richness. The wide steps that led to side chapels, and most of the paving of the nave, were no more than a century old, still flat and practically unworn; three centuries and more of random footsteps would be required to shape them into standard distribution curves.
As Derron approached the center of the building, where nave and transepts intersected, a movement caught the corner of his eye. One of the friars, hood worn over his head here in God's house, was approaching him down a side aisle.
Derron stopped, nodding politely. "Reverend Brother." And then it struck him as odd that one of the men he had left down at the bridge should have hurried here ahead of him. Peering closely, he saw that the face beneath the cowl was not quite a face. And the hands reaching out to grab him as the figure shot forward were dummy flesh, split open now to show the steel claws.
* * *
The leaner of the friars had come dragging along, head bowed, up the road from the bridge. He passed the monastery's gateway, and Vincento was just thinking with some relief that the man was going right on by him, when at the last moment the friar appeared to become aware of Vincento and, after a little startled pause, changed course and came toward him.
He stopped a couple of paces away, smiling now, a gentle and bedraggled figure. "God will reward you, Vincent, for providing my companion and me with food."
"God knows I have some need of His favor, Brother," Vincento answered shortly. He supposed the mendicant had learned his given name from Rudd or Will. Curiously, he did not feel offended by the familiar form of address; the dusty beggar before him seemed, like an infant, beneath any question of status.
But Vincento remained wary. It was just possible that this friar was one of the Defenders' agents.
The friar was looking at the papers spread out before Vincento as he might have regarded some friend's' unbandaged wound. "Vincent, why do you waste your mind and soul in all these struggles and disputes? Their outcome does not matter, really. But one thing matters, and that is the love of God."
The mad innocent sincerity of these words all but wiped away Vincento's suspicions and could provoke him to nothing stronger than a smile. "It seems you have taken the trouble to learn something of my affairs. But, reverend Brother, what do you really understand of my disputes and why I have them?"
The friar drew back with a little quiver of distaste. "I do not understand them. I do not wish to; it is not my way."
"Then, Brother, pardon me, but it seems to me you should not lecture on what you do not understand, nor stand here disputing with me as to why I have disputes."
The friar accepted the rebuke so meekly that Vincento felt a momentary pang of something like regret for having spoken it. And with that the dispute between them, if one could really call it that, was over, Vincento having scored his point with the ease of an armored knight knocking down a child.
The friar did not turn away before he had raised his hands in blessing and murmured a few words that were not addressed to Vincento. Then he departed at once, walking slowly on along the road-once hesitating as if on the point of turning back, then going on. It crossed Vincento's mind that he had once again won an argument and perhaps lost something else-though what it was one lost on these occasions he could not exactly say. He almost called after the man, feeling an impulse to try to reach across the gap between them. But he did not call. Really, he thought, we have nothing to say to each other.
Now that he had been distracted from the humiliating task of writing his recantation, he did not want to take it up again. And so Vincento summoned Will, gave him the escritoire and papers to take in charge, and then turned his own steps restlessly upward in the fine sunlight.
Thinking it over now, he decided that the meeting supposedly arranged in the cathedral was most probably a snare of the Defenders-or, more likely, of some of Vincento's enemies, religious or laymen, who would be eager to trick him into some compromising utterance or behavior on the eve of his trial. Very well, let them try. He would see through the scheme, whatever it was, before they had gotten very far with it. He might be able to turn the tables on them completely. Vincento might fear men who overmatched him in power, but he knew full well that none could overmatch him in intelligence.
He was patient with his old legs, resting them for a single breath after every two or three steps, and so they served him well enough on the climb. After a longer pause for rest at the top of the stairs, he entered at the cathedral's main door and tugged it firmly closed behind him. He devoutly hoped that no one was going to meet him simply to offer sympathy. A sympathizer was at best a secret gloater, having always at least some implied claim to be the equal-more like the superior!-of the one he supposedly was trying to console. Pah!
Vincento strolled through the nave, a stone-sealed space too vast to give the least sense of confinement. To his right and left, the vault-supporting columns towered in their parallel rows. Distance diminished the apparent space between each column and the next, until at fifty paces ahead of him each row became opaque as a wall. No matter where a man stood inside this unpartitioned space, half of it would always be blocked from his view-more than half, if one counted the areas of the transept arms and the chapels.
When he reached the appointed meeting place, the crossways of nave and transepts, Vincento could look directly up nearly two hundred feet into the shadowed interior of the temple's mighty central spire. There were workmen's platforms even there, reached by ladders mounting from the clerestory level, which in turn must be accessible by some stair coiling up within the wall from the level of the floor Vincento stood upon.
In this temple, built in the grand old style, there were no chandeliers, and no breezes to swing them if they had existed. If in Vincento's youth this had been his parish house of worship, he would have had to begin to work out the laws of pendulums somewhere else, and not during a drowsy Sabbath sermon.
A single cable of great length descended thinly from the uttermost dark interior of the spire. Vincento's eye followed this cable down, to discover that there was a pendulum here after all, at least in potential. For bob, there hung on the end of the long cable a ball of metal that would be as heavy as a man. This weight was pulled to one side, held by the merest loop of cord to one of the four thick columns that stood at the corners of the nave-transept intersection.
Looking up and down, up and down again, tended to make an old man dizzy. Vincento rubbed his neck. But there was an offense to logic here that was beyond his power to ignore. What use could the builders have had for such a patriarch of pendulums?
It could, he supposed, be something that they swung when hard stone and mortar had to be demolished-but that was hardly a satisfactory explanation. And if it was only a plumb line, why so weighty? A few ounces of lead would serve that purpose just as well.
Whatever they had intended or used it for, it was a pendulum. The restraining tether of cord, with its single knot, looked insubstantial. Vincento thrummed the taut little cord with his finger, and the long, lone cable gently whipped and swayed. The massive weight made little bobbing motions, dipping like a ship at anchor.
The oscillations quickly died away; the stillness of the cathedral soon regained ascendancy. Once more cord and cable and bob were as steady as the stone columns in the still gray air. The pendulum-ship was dry-docked.
Set sail, then! On impulse Vincento tugged once at the end of the restraining cord. And with startling ease the knot dissolved.
Starting from rest, the weight for a moment seemed reluctant to move at all. And even after it had undeniably begun its first swing, still it moved so slowly that Vincento's eye went involuntarily racing once more up into the shadows of the spire, to see how it was possible that mere length of cord should so delay things.
A man might have counted four without haste before the weight for the first time reached the center, the low point, of its swing. Almost touching the floor, it passed that center in a smooth fast rush and immediately began to slow again, so that it needed four more counts to climb the gentle gradient of the far half of its arc. Then the weight paused for an unmeasurable instant, not quite touching the column at the opposite corner of the crossways, before it crept into its returning motion.
Majestically the bob went back and forth, holding its cable taut, describing a perfect arc segment about ten yards in length. Vincento's eye could find no diminution in the amplitude of the first half-dozen swings. He supposed that a weight so heavy and so freely suspended as this might continue to oscillate for many hours or even for days.
Wait, though. Here was something. Vincento squinted at the pendulum through one swing. Then, leaning against the column it had been tethered to, and holding his head motionless, he watched the pendulum's swing end-on for another half-dozen cycles.
What was it he had come in here for? Oh, yes, someone was perhaps going to meet him.
But this pendulum. He frowned at it, shook his head and watched some more. Then he started to look around him. He was going to have to make sure of something he thought he saw.
Some workmen's sawhorses were standing not far away. He dragged a pair of these to where he wanted them, so that the plank he now took up and set across them lay beneath the end of the pendulum's arc and perpendicular to that arc's direction. On the bottom of the swinging weight he had noticed a projection like a small spike: whatever it had been meant for, it would serve Vincento's present purpose well. He laid a second plank atop the first, and slightly readjusted the position of his whole structure, in careful increments. Now on each swing the spike passed within an inch of the topmost board.
He would make marks upon the board . . . but no, he could do better.. Somewhere in here he had seen sand. Yes, piled in a mixing trough, there by the entrance to the first side chapel. The sand was satisfactorily damp from the long spell of wet weather; he brought handfuls of it and dumped them on his upper board. Along several feet of the board's length he patted and built the sand into a tiny wall, an inch or two high and just thick enough to stand. Then, in an interval between swings, he slid that upper board just slightly forward, taking his sand wall into the edge of the pendulum's arc.
A neatly designed experiment, he thought with satisfaction. On its first return, the moving spike notched his little sand fence delicately, tumbling a tiny clot of grains down the minute slope. Then the weight pulled its taut cable away again, taking another slow nibble of eternity.
Vincento held his eyes from blinking as he watched the pendulum's return. Holding his breath too, he could now hear for the first time the faint ghostly hissing of the swing.
The spike as it moved back to the wall of sand made a new notch, though one contiguous with the first. Then the weight once more departed, in a movement huge and regular enough to be the cathedral's stately pulse.
And sixteen seconds later the third notch was new again, by the same margin and in the same direction as the second. In three vibrations the plane of the pendulum had shifted its extremity sideways by half a finger-width. His eyes had not deceived him earlier; that plane was slowly and regularly creeping clockwise.
Might this effect be due to some slow untwisting of the cable? Then it should soon reverse itself, Vincento thought, or at least vary in amplitude. Again he stared up into the high shadows, oblivious of his aching neck.
If he could, he would someday, somewhere, hang another pendulum like this one and study it at leisure. Yes, if he could. Even supposing that his health held out and that he was spared prison, it would be difficult. Enclosed towers of this height were anything but common. In another big temple or at some university, perhaps-but he had no intention of stooping to collaboration.
. . . Suppose now that the puzzling sideways progression was not due to the cable's unwinding. He thought he could feel that it was not, in somewhat the same way as, after study, he had come to feel certain of the stability of the sun. This clockwise creeping had something too elemental about it for him to be able to credit a trivial cause.
Already the width of two fingers had been nibbled from the top of his little parapet of sand.
He wondered how the cable was fastened at the top. Younger legs than his would be required to find that out, and Vincento departed to obtain them. Several times in his passage down the nave he turned, frowning back at the ceaseless pendulum as he might have stared at an unexpected star.
* * *
Of it all, Derron had seen only an upper segment of the moving cable. He saw even that much with only one eye, for his face was being held with steady force against the rough planking of the high platform to which he had been carried, helpless as a kicking infant in the grip of the berserker. Inhumanly motionless, it crouched over him now, one chill hand gripping his neck and holding part of his coat gaglike in his mouth, the other hand twisting one of his arms just to the point of pain.
Obviously the machine had no intention of killing or crippling him, not here. Still, his captivity seemed less like a period of time than a segment of eternity, measured out by the meaningless regularity of the swinging cable. Having him prisoner, the berserker was content to wait, which meant he had already failed. He had not had time even to communicate his situation to Operations: the berserker had at once known his pectoral wedge for what it was; it had ripped the wooden carving from his neck and cracked it like a thin-shelled nut, squeezing the meat of metal and components into trash between its fingers.
Perhaps it thought that he could see nothing from the position in which it held him. That was almost true. From the tail of one eye he could just descry that metronomic cable, its arc narrow at this height, but its slow movement speaking of its enormous length.
At last the cathedral door far below boomed shut for the second time since he had been captured. And only then did eternity begin to come to an end; the berserker let him go.
Slowly and painfully he raised his half-numbed body from the wood. Rubbing the cheek that had been ground against the platform and the arm that had been twisted, he turned to face his enemy. Under the monk's cowl he saw a pattern of seamed metal that looked as if it might be able to open and slide and reshape itself. He knew that he was facing what was probably the most complex and compact machine that the berserkers had ever built. Inside that steel skull, could there be plastic skin that could evert to become the convincing mask of a human face? There was no way to tell that much, let alone guess what identity it might be able to wear.
"Colonel Odegard," it said, in a voice machine-tailored to neutrality.
Taken somewhat by surprise, he waited to hear more, while the thing facing him on the high platform squatted on its heels, arms hanging limp. The hands were as ambiguous as the face; they were not human now, but there was no saying what they might be able to become. The rest of the body was hidden under the shapeless robe, which had probably once been Amling's.
"Colonel Odegard, do you fear the passage from life to not-life?"
He didn't know what he had expected to hear, but hardly that. "And if I do, what difference does it make?"
"Yes," said the berserker in its flat voice. "What is programmed goes on, regardless of any passage."
Before he could try to make any sense out of that, the machine jumped precisely forward and grabbed him again. He struggled, which of course made no difference. It tore strips from his coat, ripping the tough cloth with precise and even sounds. With the strips it gagged him again and tied him hand and foot-tightly, but not so tightly that he felt no hope of ever working free. It was not going to blunder into being responsible for a death here in the safety zone.
After it had bound him, the machine paused for a moment, moving its cowled head like a listening man, searching the area with senses far beyond the human. And then it was gone down the ladder in utter silence, moving less like a man than like a giant cat or an ape.
He could only strain desperately to get free, the gag choking back his curses.
* * *
A second group of peasants, from some village higher in the hills, had come along the road to the cathedral. It was Brother Saile they met first; when they learned that he was not the saint and miracle worker of whom the whole countryside was talking, a brief glow of hope died from their faces, leaving only bitter anxiety.
"Tell me, what is it you wish to see Brother Jovann about?" Saile inquired magisterially, clasping his hands with dignity across his belly.
They clamored piteously, all at once, until he had to speak sharply to get them to talk one at a time and make sense. Then he heard that, for several days past, a great wolf had been terrorizing their little village. The monstrous beast had killed cattle and even-they swore it!-uprooted crops. The peasants were all talking at once again, and Saile was not sure if they said a child had been devoured, or if a herd boy had fallen and broken his arm, trying to get away from the wolf. In any case, the villagers were desperate. Men scarcely dared to work their fields. They were isolated, and very poor, with no powerful patron to give them aid of any kind, save only the Holy One Himself! And now the saintly Jovann, who must and would do something! They were utterly desperate!
Brother Saile nodded. In his manner there showed sympathy mixed with reluctance. "And you say your village is several miles distant? In the hills, yes. Well-we shall see. I will do my best for you. Come with me and I will put your case before good Brother Jovann."
* * *
With a puzzled Will now walking beside him, Vincento entered the cathedral once more and made the best speed that he could down the nave. Back at the monastery, Rudd had chosen this time to bother him with warnings and complaints about the scarcity of food for the beasts. And when he had disentangled himself from that, his old legs had rebelled against climbing the hill a second time, even with Will's help. Now as Vincento hurried, wheezing for breath, back to his still-swinging pendulum, more than an hour had passed since he had first set the bob in motion.
For a few seconds he only stared in thoughtful silence at what had happened since his departure. The tiny battlement of sand had been demolished by continuous notches, up to the point where the pendulum's turning plane had left it behind altogether. That plane had by now inched clockwise through ten or twelve degrees of arc.
"Will, you've helped me in the workshop. Now this is another such case, where you must follow my orders precisely."
"First, keep in mind that you are not to stop the swinging of this cable here or disturb it in any way. Understood?"
"Good. Now I want you to climb; there seem to be ladders and platforms enough for you to go up all the way. I want to discover how this swinging cable is mounted, what holds it at the top. Look at it until you can make me a sketch. You have a fair hand at drawing."
"Aye, I understand, sir." Will craned his neck unhappily. "It's a longish bit o' climbin', though."
"Yes, yes, a coin for you when you're down. Another when you've given me a good sketch. Take your time now, and use your eyes. And remember, do not disturb the cable's swing."
Derron had made only moderate progress toward getting the bonds loosened from his wrists when he heard clumsier feet than the berserker's climbing toward him. Between the ladder's uprights, Will's honest face came into view, then predictably registered shock.
"Bandit!" Derron spat, when his hands had been cut free and he could rid himself of the gag. "Must've been hiding in here somewhere . . . forced me up here and tied me up."
"Robbed ye, hey?" Will was awed. "Just one of'em?"
"Yes, just one. Uh ... I didn't have any valuables with me, really. Took the wedge from around my neck."
"That's fearsome. One o' them lone rogues, hey?" Wondering and sympathetic, Will shook his head. "Likely he'd a' slit your throat, sir, but didn't want to do no real sacrilege. Think he might still be hereabout?"
"No, no, I'm sure he was running away. Long gone by this time."
Will went on shaking his head. "Well. You'd better liven up your limbs, sir, before you starts to climb down. I'm going on up, bit of a job to do for master."
"Aye." Will was already climbing again, seemingly meaning to go right on up into the spire.
Still on all fours, Derron peered down over the edge of the platform. Vincento's ginger-colored hair marked a toy figure more than a hundred feet below. Down there the mysteriously moving cable ended in a dot, a ball of some kind that was tracing back and forth with sedate regularity. Derron had seen a pendulum of this size and shape before, somewhere. It had been used as a demonstration of...
Derron's muscles locked, after a moment in which he had been near falling over the platform's edge. He had suddenly realized what Vincento was looking at, what Vincento doubtless had been studying for most of the time Derron had been held captive. On old Earth they had honored its earliest known inventor by naming it the Foucault pendulum.
* * *
Vincento looked around in surprise and annoyance to discover the young man, Alzay or Valzay or whatever his name was, hurrying toward him in obvious agitation, having evidently just descended from the tiny coiled stair where Will had just begun his climb.
Valzay came hurrying up as if bringing the most vital news, though when he arrived all he had to relate was some imbecilic story about a bandit. Valzay's eyes were looking sharply at the sawhorses and planks and the little wall of sand, even as he spouted pestiferous wordage that threatened to tangle Vincento's thoughts.
Vincento interrupted him. "Young man, I suggest you give your recital to the soldiers." Then he turned his back on the intruder. Now. If it was not the cable untwisting, and if it proved to be not some trick of the mounting above-then what? Certainly the bones of the cathedral were not creeping counterclockwise. But yet . . . His mind strained forward, sounding unknown depths. . . .
"I see, Messire Vincento, that you have already discovered my little surprise." Derron saw very clearly how the game was certain to go, how it perhaps had gone already. But he also saw one desperate gamble that was still open to him and he seized the chance.
"Your-little-surprise?" Vincento's voice became very deliberate. His brows knit as if presaging thunder, while he turned slowly back to face Derron. "Then it was you who sent that rascally friar to me in the night?"
The detail of the friar was confirmation, if any was needed, of what the berserker planned. "It was I who arranged this!" Derron gestured with proprietary pride at the pendulum. "I must confess, sir, that I have really been here for several days; at first in the company of some friends, who aided me in this construction."
It was a big lie that Derron was improvising, and one that would not stand investigation. But if it had the initial impact that he hoped it would, Vincento would never want to investigate.
As he told the silent, grim old man how he and his imaginary aides had installed the pendulum, Derron visualized the berserker here at work, catlike, monkey-like, devilish, arranging mounting and cable and weight in order that. . .
". . . you see before you, Messire Vincento, a firm proof of the rotation of the globe!"
There was a startled gleam in the old eyes, but no real surprise. Beyond a doubt the desperate gamble had been justified. Now, to see if it could be won, Vincento had become a waiting statue, mouth twisted, eyes unblinking.
Derron spoke on. "Of course, I have followed your example, distinguished sir, and that of several of our contemporaries, in protecting my rightful claim to this discovery while still keeping it secret for my own advantage in further research. To this end I have sent to several distinguished persons, in several parts of the world, anagram messages which encode a description of this experiment.
"This to keep the secret yet awhile was, as I say, my plan. But when word reached me of your present-difficulties-I found I could not stand idly by."
Vincento had not yet moved. "A proof of our globe's rotation, you say." The tone was flat, suspended.
"Ah, forgive me! I had not thought an explanation in detail would be-um. You see, the plane of the pendulum does not rotate, it is our globe that rotates beneath it." Derron hesitated briefly-it was just occurring to Valzay that old Vincento had most likely become just a little slow, a trifle senile. Derron put on what he hoped looked like a faintly indulgent smile and spoke on, more slowly and distinctly. "At the poles of the world, such a device as this would trace daily a full circle of three hundred and sixty degrees. At the equator it would appear not to rotate at all." Speeding up gradually, he poured in merciless detail his three and a half centuries' advantage in accumulated knowledge. "Between these extremes, the rate of rotation is proportional to the latitude; here, it is about ten degrees per hour. And since we are in the northern hemisphere, the direction of apparent rotation is clockwise."
From high above, Will was shouting down to his master, "She be mounted free to turn any way, but there be nothing turning her!"
Vincento shouted up, "Come down!"
". . . bit more study if 'ee wants a sketch-"
"Come down!" The thick lips spat it out.
Derron kept the pressure on as best he could, switching the emphasis now to relentless generosity. "My only wish, of course, it to help you, sir. I have put aside thoughts of personal advantage to come .to your rescue. In bygone days you have accomplished very substantial things, very substantial, and you must not now be cast aside. My lance is at your disposal; I will gladly repeat this demonstration of my discovery for the authorities in the Holy City, so that the entire world may witness-"
"Enough! I have no need of help!" Vincento made the last word an obscenity. "You will not-meddle-in-my-affairs. Not in the least degree!"
In his contempt and wrath the old man became a towering figure. Derron found himself physically retreating-even as he realized that he had won his gamble, that Vincento's pride was indeed as monumental as his genius.
The outburst of proud anger was short-lived.
Derron ceased retreating and stood in silence as Vincento, shrinking once more under his burdens of age and weariness and fear, shot him a parting look of hate and turned away. Now Vincento would never use the Foucault proof, nor believe it, nor even investigate in that direction. He would force the whole thing from his mind if he could. The smallness and jealousy that were leading Vincento on to trial and humiliation existed not only in other men, but in himself.
Derron knew from history that at his trial Vincento would not only recant, he would go beyond what his judges asked or wanted of him and offer to write a new pamphlet, proving that the sun did after all fly in a circle around the world of men.
My only wish is to help you, sir. Vincento's shuffling figure dwindled at last to the end of the nave, and at last the door boomed shut behind him. Exhausted, Derron sagged against a column, hearing now in the silence the pendulum's unperturbed, repeated hiss. Will came scrambling down the stair to scowl uncomprehendingly at him and then hurry on after his master.
And now even Vincento's tragedy could be forgotten for the moment. Real victory and real hope were powerful stimulants. They gave Derron energy enough to hurry out of the cathedral by a side door and go skipping down a steep stair that led directly to the monastery. If the berserker had not also smashed the backup communicator hidden in his staff, he could transmit the joy of victory at once to all the Modern world.
The enemy had not bothered with anything in his cell. As he hurried toward it along the vaulted passage, an emergency summons from Operations began to throb in the bone behind his ear.
* * *
Brother Saile was puffing, though he had certainly been making no effort to hurry. The narrow cattle path the friars were following went mostly up and down hill, winding its way through scrubby bushes and thin woods. Saile was actually hanging back, and trying, with almost every labored breath, to discourage Brother Jovann from going on.
"I thought-to have said a few prayers in the village-would have been sufficient. These peasants, as you know-are often foolish. They may have- greatly exaggerated-the depredations of this-supposed wolf."
"Then my own peasant foolishness is not likely to cause any harm," said Jovann, leading on implacably. They were miles from the cathedral now, deep in the wolf's supposed domain. Their peasant supplicants and guides had turned back through fear a quarter of a mile earlier.
"I spoke too harshly of them. May the Holy One forgive me." Saile wheezed to the top of a hill and gathered breath for readier speech on the descent. "Now, if this one beast has really caused in a few days all of the death and damage attributed to it, or even half so much, it would be utter folly for us to approach it, unarmed as we are. It is not that I doubt for an instant the inscrutable wisdom of Providence that can cause a fish to leap for joy after you have released it, nor do I doubt the story that is told of the gentle little birds listening to your preaching. But a wolf, and especially such a wolf as this, is quite another . . ."
Brother Jovann did not appear to be listening very closely. He had paused briefly to follow with his eyes a train of scavenger insects, which crossed the path and vanished into the brush. Then he went on, more slowly, until a similar file appeared a little farther along the trail. There Brother Jovann turned aside and walked noisily into the brush, leading his companion toward the spot where it seemed the two lines of insects must intersect.
* * *
Staff in hand, Derron made the best cross-country time he could, running fifty steps and walking fifty.
"Odegard!" Time Ops had cried out. "There's another lifeline just as vital as Vincento's right there with you. Or he was with you. Now he and one of the others have moved out a couple of miles; they're about to leave the safety zone. You've got to get there and protect him somehow. The berserker will have him cold if it's out there waiting!"
And of course it would be out there, in ambush or pursuit. The attack on Vincento had been in deadly earnest, as the first punch in any good one-two should be. But it was the second punch that was really expected to get through and do the damage. And humanity had been left wide open for this one.
Running fifty steps, walking fifty, Derron steadily covered ground along the bearing Operations had given him. He asked, "Just who am I looking for?"
And when they told him, he thought he should have guessed the name, should have been alerted by his first look into that loving face.
* * *
In the midst of the thicket there had been havoc. It had happened days ago, for the tree branches that had been broken were now quite dead. And though the insects were still busy amid the wreckage of bone and gray fur on the ground, there was no longer much for them to scavenge.
"This was a very big wolf," said Brother Jovann thoughtfully, bending to pick up a piece of jawbone. The bone had been shattered by some violent blow, but this fragment still contained teeth of impressive size.
"Very big, certainly," agreed Brother Saile, though he knew little about wolves and had no wish to learn any more. He kept looking about him nervously. The sun was slanting into late afternoon, and to Saile the forest seemed ominously still.
Jovann was musing aloud. "Now, what manner of creature can it be that deals thus with a big male wolf? Even as I in my greed have sometimes dealt with the bones of a little roast fowl. . . But no, these bones have not been gnawed for nourishment. Only broken, and broken again, as if by some creature more wantonly savage than any wolf."
* * *
The name of Brother Jovann symbolized gentleness and love to Modern historians as well as laymen, to skeptics as well as the orthodox temple members who venerated him as a saint. Like Vincento, Saint Jovann had become a towering folk figure, only half-understood.
"We're just this hour catching on to Jovann's practical importance," said Time Ops' voice in Derron's head as Derron ran. "With Vincento stabilized, and all our observers concentrated on the area you're in, we're getting a better look at it than ever before. Historically, Jovann's lifeline goes on about fifteen years from your point, and all along the way it radiates support to other lines. What has been described as 'good-turn-a-day stuff.' Then these other lines tend to radiate life support in turn, and the process propagates on up through history. Our best judgment now is that the disarmament treaty three hundred years after Jovann's death will fall through, and that an international nuclear war will wipe out our civilization in pre-Modern times, if Saint Jovann is terminated at your point."
When Time Ops paused, a woman's voice came in briskly. "A new report for Colonel Odegard."
Walking again, Derron asked, "Lisa?"
She hesitated for just an instant, then continued, business first. "Colonel, the lifeline that was described to you earlier as having an embryonic appearance is moving out of the safety zone after the other two. It seems to be traveling at a high rate of speed, faster than a man or a load-beast can run. We can give no explanation of this. Also, you're to bear five degrees left."
"Understand." Derron turned five degrees left, as near as he could judge. He was getting out of the lowlands now, and there was a little less mud to impede his progress. "Lisa?"
"Derron, they let me come on because I said I'd tend strictly to business."
"Understand. You do that." He judged he had walked fifty steps and began to run once more, his breath immediately turning into gasps. "I just want to say-I wish-you were carrying my baby."
There was a small, completely feminine sound. But when Lisa's voice came back on intelligibly, it was cool again, with more bearing corrections to be given.
* * *
From the corner of his eye Brother Saile caught the distant moving of something running toward them through the trees and brush. He turned, squinting under the afternoon sun, and with surprise at his own relative calm he saw that their search for the wolf had come to an end. Wolf? The thing approaching should perhaps be called monster or demon instead, but he could not doubt it was the creature that had spread terror among the peasants, come now to find the men who dared to search for it.
Poisonous-looking as a silver wasp, the man-sized creature was still a hundred yards away, running through the scrub forest silent, catlike, four-legged. Brother Saile realized that he should now attempt to lay down his life for his friend, should shove Brother Jovann back and rush forward himself to distract the thing. And something in Brother Saile wanted to achieve such heroism, but his belly and feet had now turned to lead, leaving him immobile as a statue. He tried to shout a warning, but even his throat was paralyzed by fear. At last he did manage to seize Brother Jovann by the arm and point.
"Ah," said Jovann, coming out of a reverie and turning to look. A score of paces away, the monster was slowing to a halt, crouching on its four slender legs, looking from one friar to the other as if to decide which of them it wanted. Peasants glimpsing the creature might call it wolf. Shreds of gray fabric festooned it here and there, as if it had been clothed and then had, beastlike, torn itself out of the garment. Naked and hairless and sexless, terrible and beautiful at once, it flowed like quicksilver as it took two rapid strides closer to the men. Then it settled again into a crouching, silent statue.
"In God's n-name, come away!" Brother Saile whispered, his jaws shivering. "It is no natural beast. Come away, Brother Jovann!"
But Jovann only raised his hands and signed the horror with the wedge; he seemed to be blessing it rather than exorcising.
"Brother Wolf," he said lovingly, "you do indeed look unlike any beast that I have ever seen before, and I know not from what worldly parentage you may have sprung. But there is in you the spirit of life; therefore never forget that our Father above has created you, as He has created all other creatures, so we are all children of the one Father."
The wolf darted forward and stopped, stepped and stopped, inched up and stopped again, in a fading oscillation. In its open mouth Saile thought he saw fangs not only long and sharp, but actually blurring with vicious motion like the teeth of some incredible saw. At last there came forth a sound, and Saile was reminded simultaneously of ringing sword blades and of human agony.
Jovann dropped to one knee, facing the crouching monster more on a level. He spread his arms as if willing an embrace. The thing bounded in a blur of speed toward him, then stopped as if a leash had caught it. It was still six or eight paces from the kneeling man. Again it uttered a sound; Saile, half-fainting, seemed to hear the creak of the torture rack and the cry of the victim rise together.
Jovann's voice had nothing in it of fear, but only blended sternness with its love.
"Brother Wolf, you have killed and pillaged like a wanton criminal, and for that you deserve punishment! But accept instead the forgiveness of all the men you have wronged. Come now, here is my hand. In the name of the Holy One, come to me, and pledge that from this day on you will live at peace with men. Come!"
* * *
Derron, approaching at a staggering, exhausted run, first heard a murmur of speech, and then saw the figure of Brother Saile standing motionless, looking off to one side at something concealed from Derron by a thicket. Derron lurched to a halt, raising his staff but not yet aiming it. He knew now that Saile was not the berserker. What Operations had reported about the embryo-like lifeline had fitted in at last in Derron's mind with something the berserker had said to him in the cathedral, fitted in to make a wondrous kind of sense. Three steps sideways brought Derron to where he could see what Saile was gaping at.
He had come in time to see the berserker-wolf take the last hesitant step in its advance. To see it raise one metal paw-and with its steel claw-fingers gently touch the kneeling friar's extended hand.
* * *
"So, my guess was right; it had become a living thing," said Derron. His head was resting in Lisa's lap, and he could if he chose look up past her face at the buried park's real treetops and artificial sun. "And, as such, susceptible to Saint Jovann's domination. To his love ... I guess there's no other way to put it."
Lisa, stroking his forehead, raised her eyebrows questioningly.
Derron put on a defensive frown. "Oh, there are rational explanations. The most complex and compact machine the berserkers ever built, driven up through twenty thousand years of evolutionary gradient from their staging area-something like life was bound to happen to it. Or so we say now. And Jovann and some other men have had amazing power over living things: that's fairly well documented, even if we rationalists can't understand it."
"I looked up the story about Saint Jovann and the wolf," said Lisa, still stroking his brow "It says that, after he tamed it, the animal lived out its days like a pet dog in the village."
"That would refer to the original wolf. I guess the little change in history we had wasn't enough to change the legend. I suppose it was the berserker's plan all along to kill the original animal and take its place during the taming episode. Killing Jovann then might make people think he had been a fraud all his life. But tearing the original wolf into bits was an irrational, lifelike thing to do-if we'd known about that sooner, we might have guessed what'd happened to our enemy. There were other little clues along the way-things it did for no reason that would be valid for a machine. And I really should have guessed in the cathedral, when it started babbling to me about passages between life and not-life. Anyway, Operations isn't as trusting as Jovann and his biographers. We've got the thing in a cage in present-time while the scientists try to decide what to ..."
Derron had to pause there, to accommodate a young lady who was bending over him with the apparent intention of being kissed.
"Did I mention how nice some of that country looked around there?" he went on, a little later. "Of course, the big hill is reserved for the rebuilding of the cathedral. But I thought you and I might drop into a Homestead Office sometime soon, you know, before the postwar rush starts, and put our names down for one of those other hilltops. . . ."
And Derron had to pause again.
Not science nor music nor any other art encompasses the full measure of life's refusal to succumb. The pattern is as deep as the blind growth of cells, as high as the loftiest intellect—and broader than we can see as yet.