Coming out of the terminal, they found themselves on a balcony hanging over Aevelye like an eagle's aerie. They stood in a bath of canary-yellow light and the sky over them had taken on an odd amber hue. Paddy and Fay crossed the balcony, stepped aboard an escalator which dropped them down, down, down to the white-columned city below.
They passed great residences perched on ledges, airy white houses set among the strangest vegetation of their experience. Stalks like stacks of tetrahedrons supported a foliage of crystalline spines or groups of olive-green slabs reticulated with slabs of red glass or flowers that were like an instantaneous photograph of an exploding opal-fragments held out from a center by invisible tendrils.
The buildings became of a more commercial character-shops displaying the richest wares of the universe, and presently Fay spied a sign reading, traveler's haven. They stepped off the escalator, walked along a trestle overhanging a thousand feet of clear space to a tall edifice of concrete waxy-green serpentine polished granite.
They entered, crossed to the desk. "We'd like lodgings," Paddy told the Shaul clerk.
The clerk flipped his hood casually, gestured to a small sign-Earther trade not solicited.
Paddy tightened his lips, narrowed his eyes. "You skin-headed little runt," he began. Fay clutched his arm. "Come, Paddy."
The clerk said, "The Earther hotel is down the slope." Outside Paddy snapped, "Don't call me Paddy. I'm Joe Smith. Do you want them jumping on my neck?"
"I'm sorry," said Fay.
The Earther hotel was a gray block in the lower part of the city between two. heaps of slag from a zinc refinery on the level above. The clerk was a wrinkled black-eyed Canope, crouching behind his desk as if he feared his guests.
"We want two rooms," said Paddy.
"Two?" The clerk looked from one to the other.
"My wife snores," explained Paddy. "I want to get a good night's sleep somewhere along the trip."
Fay snarled under her breath. The clerk shrugged. "Just as you like." He eyed Fay speculatively, handed them a pair of keys. "The rooms are dark and turned away from the view but it's the best I can do for you at the moment. Rent's a day in advance, please."
Paddy paid him. "Now we'd like some information. We're journalists from Earth, you see, and we're to take some pictures and we find our special lamp has come apart. Where can we have one made to our order?"
The clerk turned, punched a button, spoke into a mesh. "Is Mr. Dane there? Send him across, please. I've got some business for him."
He turned back to his guests. This is an old electrician that's down on his luck and he'll do for you. Is that all?"
"Where and what is Corescens?" asked Fay.
"Corescens?" The clerk's mouth opened a little. He blinked uncomfortably. "You'll find it hard seeing Coresscens-especially as you're Earthers. It's the dead Son's private residence out across the Fumighast Ventrole."
Dane hobbled in, a one-eyed skinny old man with a crooked neck, a long bent nose. "Yes, and what might ye be wantin'?"
Paddy said, "We need a special ultra-violet light source for our camera. It must have four separate units with variable frequency-controls for each unit over the range six hundred to three thousand one hundred angstroms. Can you make it up?"
Dane scratched his pate. "I'll see if I've got the proper valves. I think I can do it." He cocked a bright glance at Fay. "It'll cost you dear, though. Three hundred marks."
Paddy drew back in indignation. "Faith, now. I'll use my flashlight first. Three hundred marks for a few bits of wire and junk?"
There's my labor, lad, and my training. Long years now I've studied."
Two hundred fifty marks was the figure finally reached, delivery to be made in two days.
Darkness filled the valley outside like pale ink in a vast basin and the slope above was hung with a thousand colored lights-red, green, blue, yellow, all soft and vague as if their purpose were less to illuminate than to decorate.
On the terrace outside the hotel Paddy said to Fay, "Do you know, I can feel something of what the first Son loved in this planet Shaul. It's as violent and queer as a madman's whims but the color and now the softness of the night are wonderful. And out there across the valley there's another settlement and the lights glow across to us like fireflies."
Fay said softly, "Is it nicer than Skibbereen, Paddy?"
"Ah!" sighed Paddy. "And now you've touched me, my dear. When I think of the turf-smoke that they still burn after all these ages and how it comes reeking in from the bog and the old pub around from where I was raised and the River Ilen-yes, I'll be glad to get home."
"Then there's always the terrace at Meran," suggested Fay, "with the beer and the women."
"Ah!" cried Paddy. "The beer, it's like the nectar of paradise and the girls with their soft hands! If you catch the pearl in their navels with your teeth, then they must do your bidding for as long as you will-that's the custom of Maeve-and some of them wear pearls as big as plums."
"If you'll excuse me," said Fay coolly, "I'm going to buy a map and find Corescens. I'll leave you to your reminiscences."
"Here now," cried Paddy. "Faith, I was but teasing. And you started me out on it!" But she had disappeared.
Next morning they took possession of a rough-steering old sightseeing platform-the proprietor of the rental yard had been reluctant to trust Earthers with anything better-and loading the camera aboard they shoved off and out across the hazy valley.
Paddy said, "And now where's Corescens that you studied on last night?"
"We've got to find Fumighast Ventrole," said Fay. "It's supposed to be twenty miles north, a dead crater."
They rose out of the valley into the blaze of Almach's light and the complex face of Shaul spread out to all sides.
Fay pointed. "See that smoke rising? That's the volcano Aureo and just beyond is Corescens."
Fumighast Ventrole was another vast chasm in the planet, nearly circular in cross-section and so deep that its bottom could not be distinguished through the haze. The sides glistened and glittered, rays of light flashing and darting in a thousand directions like glass spears-back and forth, reflecting in sprays of pure primitive color, flickering, dazzling as the boat sank on snoring old jets.
As they reached the mouth of the gap there was a sudden swushhhh and a guard boat hung alongside.
"What's your business?" asked a Shaul with a black star painted on the inside of his hood.
"We're journalists from Earth and we want to photograph the home of the dead Son."
"Do you have a Decency Certificate from the Office of Rites?"
Paddy shoved his head forward. "Decency Certificate? Of course I'm decent, you insolent thrush! And I'll come aboard you in another minute."
Fay nudged him. "He means a permit That's their way of speaking."
Paddy subsided with ill grace.
Fay said cheerily to the corporal, "No, we don't have any permit but all we want to do is take a few pictures."
The corporal said stiffly, "I'm sorry but-"
A Shaul in civilian dress, standing beside him, muttered into his hood. The corporal stared at Paddy intently, "When did you arrive?"
The corporal dialed a communicator, spoke at some length, nodded. He turned to Fay and Paddy. "The orders are to let you down." Thanks," said Fay.
Paddy whispered, "The suspicious devils, they want to trap us and I'll bet you they watch us through telescopes all day."
Fay said, "It's a ticklish feeling-almost as if we're trapped in this hole."
"Hush now," said Paddy. "There's still the Blackthorn luck on our side."
Down into the glistening gap and they saw that the walls were lined with great banks of crystals, hanging like bunches of grapes. As Almach rose in the sky, the colors glanced and twinkled, wove magic nets across the gap, tangled meshes of near-tangible fire. On a ledge a thousand feet below the surface sat a great house, a hall with two wide white-columned wings in a wide garden of the peculiar crystalline plants.
Swooping from nowhere the guardship drew alongside again.
"As a courtesy due journalists from Earth you have been extended freedom of the house. The bereaved family is not at home but the servants have been instructed to assist you. They will serve you what food and drink you wish."
He bowed with sardonic courtesy and the guard-ship rose swiftly as if it had been jerked up by a cable.
"Rats in a trap," said Paddy.
"Probably they don't suspect us directly," Fay said thoughtfully. "They think we might possibly be some sort of accomplices. They're giving us plenty of rope. Well, we'll worry about it later. It's a chance we have to take."
They landed on the terrace amid utter silence. The cool space of the house opened in front of them and through the columns they could see the rich furniture for which the Shauls were famous-chairs of every height and inclination, walls upholstered in peach-colored floss.
There was no door, no glass-merely a curtain of gripped-air to exclude insects and dust. It parted in front of their faces with a slight sensation of bursting as if they had walked through a soap bubble.
The major-domo, bowed slightly and for the next hour conducted them about the villa, answering their questions but volunteering no information. Clearly he considered the task beneath his dignity. Paddy and Fay snapped pictures at random.
The area of interest for Paddy and Fay was the terrace behind the house. Shielded from the polychrome radiance of the chasm it was bathed in a soft cool light from the sky. At the rear the cliff rose, faced to a height of fifty feet with two-foot squares of aventurine quartz.
Involuntarily both counted three from the right, two up.
There it was, a clear yellowish slab, flecked with a million flitting spangles.
A womanservant appeared to announce lunch and the major-domo conducted them to a small table set with synthetic fruits, a platter of toasted fungus, yeast wafers and rods of a porous dark-brown substance which crunched and tasted like meat.
Paddy was gloomy. Twice he looked at Fay, started to speak but was deterred by her warning frown. The major-domo served them a light pink wine, which they carried to the railing around the terrace, where they stood overlooking the gulf.
Fay said without moving her lips, "I feel as if every word is being picked up and broadcast to a desk where three or four Shauls are listening in dead silence."
"So do I," muttered Paddy.
Fay sipped her wine, stared across the color-shot emptiness. "We can't do anything more today."
"No, let's get back to Aevelye and our ship."
As they cleared the mouth of Fumighast Ventrole the guardship bellied down, pulled alongside and the Shaul corporal requested the film pack of the camera for censorship purposes.
Glumly Paddy slid off the cartridge, handed it across the gap.
"It will be returned tomorrow," said the corporal.
Their ship had been searched. Nothing was out of place. Indeed the strongest indication of the search was a rather marked neatness to the cabin.
"Ah, the vandals!" Paddy ground between his teeth. Now I wonder if-"
He met Fay's eye. She gave him such a brilliant glance that he subsided, and did not more than mutter under his breath.
For half an hour they spoke nothing but generalities. Then, with Almach settled in its flame of lavender and orange light, they left the boat, walked to the edge of the field, looked out across the great gorge, which was already filled with pastel shadows and glowing tendrils of mist.
Fay said, "They may not have the ship tapped for sound and there may not be a spy cell peeking at us somewhere- but as you know they're suspicious creatures and they're probably overlooking no chances. It seemed to me that their search job was just clumsy enough for us to notice and then start frantically after any secrets we might have had."
"Fay," said Paddy gloomily, "we're at a dead end. We're at a standstill. Any pictures we take they'll scrutinize with eyes like currycombs. If we try to bust down there with our ship, take our pictures and lambaste out again, they'll have us bottled up like the Green Imp of Ballycastle."
Fay, rubbing her chin with a pale finger, said nothing. Paddy felt a sudden surge of the protective instinct. Glancing down at the blonde head beside him he wrapped an arm about her shoulders.
She said, "Paddy, I've got an idea…"
Paddy looked off into the night. "I've got one too."
She looked up quickly. "What's yours?"
"You tell me yours first."
"Well-you know that in all probability the Shaul data has been engraved or painted somehow in that aventurine quartz in a fluorescent dye which glows at the proper frequencies."
"Presumably the whole wall glows-but only the single plate will have a legible message when illuminated by the particular four frequencies."
"Tomorrow night we'll do some night photography-hundreds of shots."
"Ah," said Paddy, smiling whimsically down into her face, "and what a brain you hide behind that sober little face!"
She laughed. "Now, what's your idea?"
Paddy said with a stammer, "I want you to marry me, Fay."
"Now, Paddy Blackthorne," said Fay, "you don't want to marry me any more than you want to marry that Shaul corporal."
"Ah yes, I do-and never say I don't," said Paddy energetically.
"Pooh, it's propinquinty-animal spirits. A day ashore on Earth and you'll have forgotten all about me."
"Then you refuse me?" And Paddy narrowed his eyes.
Fay looked away. "I didn't say yes and I didn't say no. And I won't till after we're finished with this job and I see what kind of a gentleman you are and how you conduct yourself when there's temptation in front of you."
"Now, Fay," said Paddy, squeezing her to him. "Then it's yes?"
Fay pushed him away. "It's a no-for now. And a maybe if I find you've stopped thinking about those Maeve women. How'd I feel with a home and two or three little Paddys and you pinching at all those Maeve girls' legs?
"Now enough of this nonsense," she said. "We've got the most important job that's ever been and all you talk about is Maeve women…"
"Just one little kiss," pleaded Paddy. "Just so that if the Shauls get us, I'll die happy. Just a little kiss."
"No-well, just one… oh, Paddy… All right now, get away from me or I'll dose your food until you won't know a woman from a barn owl."