Usually the house sang. It was built to make music out of the
seven winds that found it on its desert rise. Vents in the walls,
cunning terraces, cleverly-angled embrasures in the canted terrazo
facings drew them in; three spiral core-shafts tuned them into
vortices and descants, threw them across galleries, flung them
around precise cornices and carefully filigreed escarpments so
that more than anything the house resembled the ancient breathing
caves of the Nullarbor.
Which many said was Cheimarrhos' intention, that his great granite
and limestone pylon was nothing less than an inverted network
of caves set in the sky, chimnies and vaults and inclines in a
structure such as Sumer must have seen, or Ur of the Chaldees,
or Teoteochan of the Toltecs.
Paul Cheimarrhos called his house Balin, and on the day he finally
showed me the roof-field there was a stillness on the red sand
beyond the large deep-set windows, a lull I could not help but
take personally, knowing Paul as I did, as an omen of some sort,
as if my presence had caused it to be.
And, accordingly, as if unable to bear that terrible quiet, the
middle-aged, incredibly vital Three-line tycoon talked about winds.
Obliquely but inevitably. As we walked along the polished limestone
corridor of Gallery 52, Paul rounded on me yet again, fixed me
with his piercing blue gaze.
"When was the last time, Tom?"
"Only the once, Paul, three years ago. You used to come out
to the coasts. I was here for the Anderlee hearings, but never
got this far up. There were too many of us."
"The Anderlee thing, yes. I'm sorry." The polite show
of regret quickly vanished from his eyes. He was too excited.
"Thenthis makes up for it. Today is unusual, Tom. We usually
get one of the four. The brinraga reaches this far north, and
leftovers from the angry red-sky larrikin. I tune them down to
gentle house-guests, mere palimpsests. Balin can do it. I'm so
glad you're here."
We reached a corner window and looked out on the desert once more,
but on a new vista entirely, stretching red and empty to the horizon.
"We even get spill-off from the sanalatti at this latitude,
can you believe it? The experts say it's impossible but I know
better. It's why Tyrren and I chose this spot, this exact place.
I know the Soul when I feel it. Those scatterlings are unmistakable."
We stood looking out on the empty desert and I couldn't help but
wonder how he did view my presence. Portentously, no doubt - the
visitor who had arrived on the first windless day in four months.
"Are you familiar with the name Memnon?" he asked.
Knowing Paul Cheimarrhos' interest in antiquities and the ancient
Mediterranean civilizations, I welcomed the change of subject.
"One of Alexander's generals?"
But of course Paul had been talking winds. He laughed, throwing
back his thick mane of silver hair so it shifted like a magnesium
shower along the shoulders of his cobalt house-robe.
"You are thinking of the general who led the Persian Greeks
atGranicus. No, I mean the Colossi of Memnon, Tom. Two seated
statues of Amenophis III on the Nile banks near Thebes. Some still
believe they were designed so the sunrise and sunset winds made
"A plaintive hooting song, yes. But that was an accident,
nothing more than a freak thing. Others claim the Great Pyramid
sang before it was sealed, that the engineering equations covered
that. Some say Djoser's pyramid at Saqqara did the same, that
Architect Imhotep was master of the micro-zephyrs, expert in a
whole secret art of hierocantrics. These tales are apocryphal.
Balin exists and does all this. David Tyrren worked with me on
I made a sound of acknowledgement to show him I knew what pretty
well anyone did, that the great architect had worked on the house,
pylon, monument - though I knew that Paul had done all the initial
layouts himself. It was his own design, despite the careful elaboration
that had made the design a reality.
We were walking again because that filled the silences, turning
up into Gallery 55-B, working our way to the final upper levels,
to the elaborate totemic roof-field at the pylon's crest where
the wind-banks stood and the rows of strange acroteria were laid
out like memorial pieces in a graveyard in the sky.
I needed to see that field, to find out if Paul Cheimarrhos had
in fact done what David Tyrren suspected, and had - after much
agonizing - revealed to Council at long last. It seemed I was
Gallery 55-B was blind, no windows there to show the desert and
sky in its twin infinite registers of red and blue, just cool
limestone and granite - part of a wind-race when the vents and
conduits were aligned and operating.
The whole truncated pyramid of Balin was a wind-trap, a man-made
mesa over three hundred metres high, full of cave-chambers - every
one part of some cunning, precisely-reckoned equation - and with
a 'cemetery' field on its flattened crest. With its canted sides,
its cavetto cornice and taurus moulding, it did look very much
like the pylon of some great ancient temple gate never completed,
never given its companion pylon or connecting wall, with no temple
precinct at its back.
We turned into the wide transverse apron of Gallery 60, and there
it was, laid out before us under the hot blue sky: the summit
field set all over with shimmering, totem-like acroteria, tall
blank ceramic and stone pillars, some elaborately painted, others
bone-white and glaring in the sunlight, pierced with fibrile openings,
set with airfoils and sonic wires.
It was exhilarating to see it all at last, and deeply disturbing
- for at the very centre was a shallow basin, like a radar dish
thirty metres across, and at the middle of that, so I believed,
so Tyrren had confirmed, Paul Cheimarrhos' great act of sacrilege.
The twenty-six wooden burial poles were ancient, without doubt
the undeclared cache stolen from the Vatican collection decades
ago, smuggled back into Australia in ones and twos, hidden in
black market havens, finally incorporated into Balin, perhaps
the ultimate purpose of the place, though I quickly put that fancy
aside. It was hardly likely - the idea was a measure of my own
reaction to being here at last, to seeing the forbidden relics
set up so boldly on this vast open deck.
Each post had its special ceramic cap, making it safe from orbital
surveillance. Tribal comsats scanning the site saw nothing more
than a shallow dish set with one more group of aerodynamic wind-posts.
The angle of curvature of that depression had to make oblique
scanning impossible as well.
Paul stepped down on to the flat roof-field, looking for all the
world like some notable out of antiquity with his blue robe and
silver hair, a Chaldean prince or an Akkadian merchant atop a
ziggurat in ancient Ur or Sumer. Or again - allowing my fancies
free rein, trying for the composure I needed - some of the acroteria,
the totemic signs carved on them, took me half a world away -
from Mesopotamia to Meso-America, and I imagined I was an Aztec
priest in jaguar headdress and cloak of human skin stepping out
to officiate at a ceremony to Chac Mool. Balin invited such notions.
I was hurrying ahead now, heart pounding, so that Paul was following
me, making no attempt at all to keep me from the depression at
the centre. He did want me to see it.
Only when I remembered what hung in the sky high above us did
I slow my pace, force myself to look less eager, more the casual
visitor overwhelmed by this magnificent display.
Slowly, more slowly, I completed a gradual arc towards my real
goal, giving Paul time to catch up. Then, together again, our
footsteps ringing on the limestone flagging, we made our way to
the very edge of the dish and looked down at the cluster of poles
at the centre.
"Every now and then," I said, quietly in the vast expanse
of air and light, "a National does something like this. Luna
Geary. Tony Wessex. Dominic Quint. If we're lucky, Council learns
of it before the tribes do. And I hope we're lucky this time,
Paul, though I doubt it."
"The tribes who made those poles died out long ago, Tom.
Bloodlines lost, only revenant DNA trace, languages forgotten.
This is as fitting a place for them as any."
"How we see it isn't important, you know that. It's what
they think. Every act like this - even suspected acts, rumoured
acts - harm Nation."
"The tribes can't blame Nation for what I do. It's like privateering
in the sixteenth century, the sea-captains operatingon a special
brief from the Crown. Drake, Hawkins and Frobisher were not legal
agents of Elizabeth Tudor but they acted for her."
"A handy rationalization."
"No, Tom!" One hand cut the air, a dramatic sudden gesture,
a measure of the force of his feelings. "It is exactly what
I say. It's like Iran-Contra once was and the Special Operations
Division of the CIA..."
"Secret agenda. Deceiving the populace."
"No! No!" Again the hand cut the air. "We are both
privateers, Tom. Me with Balin, you on Rynosseros, keeping back
details from all but a trusted few..."
"And having them kept back from me."
He took the reproach calmly.
"Who told you? Tyrren?"
"No. We asked for the plans. There's been a tribal satellite
tethered above Balin for a month. That's what really brought me
"Ah, yes. My Star above Bethlehem."
"A very deadly star. It can't be simple reconnaissance. Not
coincidence. I'd say a warning."
"Tom, I've had those poles for twenty years..."
"They're from the Vatican catalogue. The ones they didn't
give back. Part of a cause celebre."
Paul Cheimarrhos said nothing for a moment. His clear blue eyes
flashed in the sunlight.
"You're well informed."
"You know I work with Council."
"Exactly what I mean! A privateer!"
"All right, a privateer myself. I didn't bring Rynosseros,
but my coming here will have been monitored. That roadstop you
specified, seven k's out..."
"Sabro, yes. There were tribesmen there. No questions were
asked; the continent-crosser dropped me; it was a routine transit
stop. But I made no attempt to conceal my identity either. That
would've alerted them. It's why I wrote instead of using tech.
The invitation had to come from you."
"I'm glad to have you."
"Despite the omen of no wind?"
Cheimarrhos laughed. "Despite that omen, yes!"
We were silent for a moment, each of us alone with our thoughts,
gazing down into the dish at the small forest of shapes clustered
there. The glare from the hollow and the surrounding field made
it easy to shut my eyes, to escape the ancient painted posts masked
from the sky by their insulated caps. Paul's voice startled me
when he spoke.
"Tom, I will tell you something you will not know. What Three-line
is, or was. Thirty years ago I invented a device which could measure
haldane force around individual Clever Men, show which ones could
access the most powerful vectors."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Council knows about this?"
"No. Secrecy was a condition. I tell you only because of
our guest upstairs."
I resisted the urge to look up. This was incredible.
"The tribes couldn't allow such a device to be used,"
Paul continued, "especially by non-Ab'Os. They bought the
Three-line patent, demanded it, the plans and prototypes, made
sure it remained a lost invention. They gave me this concession,
on tribal land because the winds fell here, with enough funds
and tech support to build Balin and establish a fortune in service
"Those gave me a certain limited political power, as you
know, which I've finally managed to pass on to my sister. Some
of those companies help me acquire antiquities for my collection.
The tribes permit them to operate. Ironically they made it possible
for me to get these Vatican posts."
"But you've kept them," I said, my thoughts racing,
wanting more than anything to ask more about the device. "You
haven't given them back."
"As I say, Tom, the bloodlines no longer exist. Or if they
do, only as revenant imposters. Who makes the claim? Who truly
can? I do nothing more than collectors of antiquities and objets
d'art have always done. For my pleasure I accumulate and keep
safe objects which even their makers and inheritors might damage
or ruin. It's the paradox of antiquarians and special collections
everywhere." He looked into the sky. "My own Star now.
I've been watching it. I have an antique Meade LX6 over there.
It does the job."
"A laser strike at any moment, Paul. Balin might not survive
"What do they see, Tom? Nothing."
"There's more," I said. "Earlier this month, authorities
in Rome finally confirmed that a special collection of burial
posts - part of a personal gift to the Popes - was stolen in the
years after Balin was built. An antiques smuggler was named; he
named someone once attached to Three-line who has since disappeared.
Nothing definite, all very tenuous, but your Star suggests how
they're seeing it."
Paul surveyed the silent glade before us. "I've had them
twenty years. I'm for this land, Tom, for all this. I'm the right
sort of collector..."
"How they're seeing it, I said. You didn't even try to trade
for such relics."
Paul laughed. "Oh, I made enquiries. But why haven't they
confronted me? Sent in a search team, demanded entry, interrogated
my staff? Why no formal investigation?"
I hesitated. He seemed perfectly serious; as if the obvious answer
had not occurred to him? It made me cautious.
"You tell me, Paul, assuming you can trust your staff here,
assuming they're not serving outside interests. I can only guess
that it's part of the deal you made - what? - thirty years ago?
This Three-line device you created would seem by its nature to
weigh in as something between a holy artefact, something pertaining
to the Dreamtime, and a National crisis. I'd say they made a deal
with you at the level of their belief systems. Gave oaths, never
expecting this. Now they have a dilemma requiring careful deliberation."
Paul turned away from the small forest of posts.
I followed him back across the roof-field, not wanting to ask
my next question under the naked sky. Gain-monitors could never
reach down so far, but scan could, and how did we seem, I wondered?
Like conspirators? Very much Paul's privateers?
"One more thing," I said as we reached the open gallery
that would lead us back into Balin's great mass. My heart was
pounding as I said the words. "Did you hold back any Three-line
knowledge? Plans? A duplicate prototype?"
"Of course not," Paul said, and was as closed to me
then as a new moon, as the invisible satellite was - his Star,
that sinister moonlet locked and turning with the world, geo-tethered
by its micro-filament to the parent facility over the equator.
Paul Cheimarrhos smiled. "So serious, Tom. Come. We must
not be late for lunch. Sarete is Three-line now. She might never
"Paul, I have to know. The device..."
"Later. Come now." There were six of us for lunch, and
the others were already seated at the long cedar table before
a breathtaking view of the western desert: Sarete Cheimarrhos,
Paul's reputedly formidable sister, her dark-skinned Islander
assistant, Naese; to her left one of Paul's actor friends, the
renowned John Newmarket, looking splendid in the Edwardian finery
that was his Todthaus trademark, and next to him, white-suited,
so urbane, the economist, James Aganture, agent for one of Three-line's
longstanding European clients.
Sarete had been overseas during my visit to Balin three years
before. I had heard a great deal about this celebrated woman;
even Tyrren had issued several cautions. Now here she was rising
to greet me.
If the flamboyant and expansive Paul could be likened to a messianic
Beethoven cast in silver and blue, then his calm and elegant sister,
with her black gown, long dark hair and sombre, appraising gaze,
was something from the shadowed spaces of the El Greco that hung
on the room's northern wall. She was ten years younger than her
brother by all accounts, but the smooth untanned skin gave her
a timelessness, a twenty year range of possibilities at least.
There was a smile, a generous one, but it never reached the eyes,
and in the instant I knew that this pale, severely pretty woman
intended me to see this duality of response. I was Paul's guest,
the luncheon no doubt his idea. Just as Balin was completely his
domain, the administration of the Three-line holdings was hers,
and this had to be taking precious time out of a very busy day.
Rather than feeling affronted, I was glad of the hard honesty.
There were probably enough lies in this great house already.
"Captain Tyson," she said as we shook hands. "I
believe you and John know one another." I nodded and smiled
at the actor. An answering smile softened those famous gaunt cheeks.
"This is James Aganture, one of our European consultants."
Aganture and I exchanged smiles as well. "And this is Naese,
A fitting assistant for her employer, I decided, an Islander woman,
quite dark, middle-aged, with small eyes and small fleeting smile.
Naese rose, gave a slight bow of the head. I did the same.
We took our places. I was seated next to James Aganture at Sarete's
right, opposite John Newmarket and Naese. Paul spoke a word to
Anquan, the major-domo, and joined us, immediately taking charge
of the dinner conversation by asking James Aganture to bring us
up to date on the situation in Europe.
The svelte, white-suited European did that until the food arrived,
when the business of eating gave me an opportunity to study Sarete
and the others, though I found it harder to do that than I expected.
Thoughts of what Paul had said about his invention kept crossing
my mind, and I was glad when the meal was over at last and I could
adjourn to my quarters for siesta.
Around 1500 there was wind.
I was drawn from sleep by the deep swelling song, went to the
windows and looked out, used house tech to bring different vistas
to the wall-screen, one cycling after the other, every angle but
where the posts stood.
It was thrilling to see and hear - the outward signs of Balin
coming alive. The pennants and long windsock drogues at the corners
of the roof-field stirred on their poles, the helium- filled outrider
kites floating high above the house started shifting in the sky,
inditing their signatures on the bright air. Spinner caps turned,
the most sensitive of the sonic acroteria began to sound. Like
some great ship advancing through time, trailing cloud-wrack and
windsong, Balin was on its way again.
Tolerances were adjusted: within ten minutes the field was thrumming
and whistling, within twenty howling and keening. From further
down the great sloping mass came a deep moaning that meant one
or more of the induction vents were cycling open, the spiral cores
engaged, that power-cells were regenerating and airflow was being
guided through the mighty house. There were corridors now where
my casual passage from one room to another would vary pitch and
tone, add a subtle difference to the house- song. This was Paul's
great legacy. This!
I must have stood there for fifteen, twenty minutes, reading the
land, studying how this structure stood upon it, considering what
micro-climates might exist in its shadow. Then the phone chimed,
drawing me back, and it was Naese's face in the glass.
"Forgive the interruption, Captain. Sensors showed tech use
in your quarters - we assumed you were awake. If it's convenient,
my mistress would appreciate your calling on her in, say, fifteen
The request did not surprise me.
"Certainly," I said. "I'll be ready."
On Balin's sloping west wall was a small open place like a col
or cirque on the side of a mountain, and in the sun-trap made
there was a walled garden, little more than some lawn and a grove
of dusty orange trees.
A house-servant, Cristofer, led me there, opened the low bronze
door and let me out into the tiny grove. The westering sun warmed
the spot; the sloping planes of the wall-face came together above
me in a gradual point, with stone wind-masks spinning on their
pins in the vents.
The wind had strengthened, I noticed. The pressure systems over
the desert had shifted - it was probably the brinraga which struck
the parapet of the garden, stirring the fruit trees, whistling
up the granite face to the vents above, where extruded murtains
randomized the flow, altering its direction, tailoring it to the
Tyrren had built well. The massif of Balin sang but the garden
was a pocket of calm, not only a sun-trap and a wind-haven, but
also a place sheltered from the vast music forming all around
Sarete was sitting on a white wooden bench amid the trees, wearing
a gown of dark green polysar and speaking softly into a comlink
at her wrist. Though Three-line's Chief Executive, she apparently
did much of her work from Balin, away from the coasts, privileged
with the com tech that required. I marvelled at such easy luxuries.
Near her, on another bench and using a lap-scan, sat Naese.
Both women looked up when I approached, but Naese turned her attention
back to the scan display almost immediately. Sarete gave a polite
smile and switched off the link.
"Thank you for coming. Paul considers you his so I won't
keep you long."
I went to make some appropriate remark, but thought better ofit.
This audience was wholly on her terms; she had reminded meas much.
"We could not discuss it at lunch, but tell me frankly, Captain,
what does that comsat mean?"
"They're geo-tethered, as you know. The logistics of moving
them, aligning them..."
"Yes. They use them that way all the time, but it means filing
deployments, getting clearances, logging variations. It's a busy
"So I've discovered. It tells us how seriously they regard
"It does. It may be a routine shift, simple reconnaissance,
"Council sees it as a warning."
"Because David talked."
"No, Sarete. Tyrren told us nothing, simply confirmed what
was already available through channels."
"Ah, channels. And do you think there is an agent in our
After Paul's empassioned evasions, again I found this directness
"Can you doubt it? I would have thought infiltration preceded
a tech commitment like this." And I glanced briefly upwards.
"Given what Balin is, I would assume infiltration occurred
a long time ago. This is unique."
"How large is your staff?"
"Here? Seven including Naese. All trusted. All here a long
time. Some rarely go above. We keep house secrets, Captain."
"Possible. Unlikely. They will not see the...relics either.
But what can that station do? I've been given general configuration
data but I'd like you to tell me."
So you can make a decision, I realized. Make policy for Three-line.
"We read lenses deployed. It's probably irijinti. Given twenty
minutes it could effectively demolish Balin."
"Which took eight years to build. Twenty minutes."
"Depending on intensity and duration. They sometimes move
deployed like that..."
"Target the roof-field?"
"Easily. To a square metre, possibly less. But hardly their
intention." I glanced at the Islander woman sitting quietly
among the trees. "They'd want to commandeer the...relics."
"Naese knows everything, Captain. Should I leave?"
It was such an unexpected question that I hesitated.
"You understand that I'm still making up my mind about all
"All right. Then as Three-line you should. But only if it's
a regular routine to do so. Anything could seem provocative now.
Do you leave Balin often?"
"Occasionally. You like Paul, don't you? You're like him."
'Like' and 'like', both words revealing more about Sarete and
her relationship with her brother than she perhaps intended.
"We understand something in common, something difficult,
probably irreconcilable in our affairs."
"Ah, your role as privateers."
"Paul's word, Sarete. I suppose it suits."
"What would yours be? Patriot? National? Romantic?"
"Privateer will do."
"You have no satellite over your head."
"I do now. And for all I know I may have one for every Ab'O
Prince I've ever dealt with as Blue."
Naese looked up suddenly, made a hand-sign. Sarete raised a hand
to excuse herself for a moment.
"Foreman has entered the Manada."
"Excellent. Send on that." And to me: "Your advice?"
"In what capacity?" I said it to remind her of the levels
that separated us, wanting the distinctions to matter. There were
different values at work here; Naese's interruption, this allocation
of time, had shown me that.
"As a State of Nation man?"
"Persuade him to give the poles back. Or leave here immediately."
"As the Blue Captain?"
"As Paul's friend?"
"As his friend?"
"I'm still deciding, but I'd say stay. Risk it."
"If Balin is struck and the reason is given as sacred relics,
there are many who will not believe. The tribes are seen as ruthless
aggressors, hostile to Three-line, to Nation, to all non-Ab'Os,
displeased with past concessions because of a device Paul invented
"Nation knows about the device?" It was the first time
I had seen surprise on Sarete's face. The eyes first widened,
then narrowed. Her mouth drew into a line. Alarm, disappointment,
annoyance, I couldn't tell.
"No. Paul told me before lunch."
Sarete nodded. Her head lifted a fraction. She glanced out at
an errant drogue - orange, red and bright blue - cutting the wind
forty metres away. I could not be sure, but I believed she did
it to conceal something contained in her gaze - or perhaps missing
from it. More than ever she resembled the El Greco madonna above
the cedar table.
"What will you do?" she asked finally. "As yourself?"
I smiled, watching the kite as well, seeing it as some complex
bird-equation worked out upon the registers of air, left to find
resolution, to create its own fragment of meaning. It occurred
to me, absurdly, very fondly, that Paul would probably have namesfor
his kites. This was his house, his ultimate statement. Everything
belonged, made for the homeostasis Paul Cheimarrhos needed, externalized
in kite and corridor and wind-chase. In the burial poles in that
No wonder he had been glad to relinquish the operation of Three-line.
Dreamer, idealist, monomaniac, he wanted none of it. Who knew
what wonders, what pieces of self, Balin's vaults and chambers
contained? This was more than a vast schema of the Nullarbor's
Breathing Caves, those hundreds of miles of underground conduits,
chambers, tortuous chimnies. This was a living extension of the
man, every corridor, each framed vista and spinning wind-mask.
Seeing it any other way just didn't begin to give the truth.
He had to continue, remain just what he was. He had no choice.
The kite, set upon its wall of air, mindlessly navigating, brought
that in, gave that answer. Just as he had set it there, given
it that brave and futile task, serving, being, till it was finally
destroyed and replaced, he had put Balin upon the land, raised
it up for its time. His statement. His stand.
I watched the woman whose lift of head, whose gaze had led me
out to the kite, realizing, imagining what she too had been through,
the years of dealing with this reality of Paul's.
She had seemed hard and alien before. Now she seemed trapped and
committed, caught at the moment of deciding. Caught in the choices
of others. As I was. As Paul might yet be.
"I will remain here till that satellite moves away,"
I said. "If my presence can deter them, provide another reason
for not striking, then good. Do you mind having one more house-guest,
"It's not my place..."
"I'm asking you anyway."
"Not at all, Captain. It was good of you to see me."
Again the safe courtesy, the illusion of my having gifted her
and not the reverse. She was alien again in that moment, and I
found myself hating it, hating what she represented, this seeming
lack of connection, the cool pragmatism, the failure to read or
simply accept one set of equations because she had equations of
I left the garden but did not return to my quarters. Instead I
climbed the escarpment, gallery by gallery, to a viewing lounge
close to the summit. There I stood amid the low ochre-coloured
furniture, safe behind the thick glass, watching the sturdy outrider
kites hanging in the sky and the long streamers of dust and cloud
which boiled off this stone massif and converged at the horizon
as lines in an endlessly moving yet strangely constant perspective.
The house-song was clear but at a comfortable remove - like an
orchestra tuning somewhere else. I began to see the great structure
as something to be maintained in that other sense, and wondered
which of the staff members - Anquan? Cristofer? Deric? - might
abseil down these vast faces, clearing wind-wrack from the vents,
carrying out service checks, replacing fixtures, tuning the structure
I recalled the meeting in the garden. Could Sarete not see the
virtue in this vital reality? It was an eternal act of defiance,
this great demense, a continuing statement of identity, personal
for Paul, but for Nation too, a crucial affirmation.
Or was that just my bias?
I tracked clouds to the horizon and considered equations, found
myself coming back to the new integer, probably the ultimate issue
in all this.
What a device Paul must have created to be allowed such a thing
I sensed someone at my back, turned to find the calm figure of
James Aganture standing near me, the cultured, white-suited gentleman
from our luncheon. Like me, he was gazing out at the desert, deep-set
brown eyes filled with admiration.
"Amazing, isn't it? It just goes on forever."
He moved in beside me, stood watching the sweep of the land, the
boiling ribbons of red dust streaming past, gloriously capped
now with low cloud, trimmed with gold by the afternoon sun.
"You lose a sense of such scale in Europe," he said.
"It might be said that here you lack density, weight of identity,
but that surely is changing. We stand upon a great symbol. Another
waits above. It is a testing of symbols really."
During lunch I had imagined what conversations I might have with
someone like James Aganture, had wondered what talk there could
be with that avenging moon fixed in our sky, steadier by far than
those trembling outriders at the ends of their cables. That he
had almost read my thoughts startled me.
I nearly smiled as he worked his way into what he wished to say,
Sarete's question, no doubt Paul's. My own.
"Will it strike?" he said.
"Will it strike?" I answered him.
"I ask you the same question, James. And I wonder why you
remain when the risk is so great."
Aganture's well-shaped mouth turned down, his dark eyes widened.
"A visit planned weeks ago. I did not know until I arrived."
"Of course. So will you leave soon?"
Aganture did not answer. He waited a few moments, bringing his
long hands together before him, then came to it again. This time
he was even more direct.
"What will Council do, Captain?"
"Excuse me, James, but I'm still not sure what you mean."
"I know you are here as a representative of Nation,"
he said. "I know about the posts. It is why I was sent."
"Sent? By whom?"
"The Vatican, Captain Tyson. I am Monsignior James Aganture,
the instrument of the Cardinals Elect and the Holy See."
"Hm. Your interest here, Monsignior Aganture?"
"Please. It is James. And it is merely a visit to negotiate
for full restoration of the posts."
"How did you learn of them?"
The man smiled. "Our own investigators. There are those who
saw to the actual handling who could later be bought. Thieves
prosper in this. Once they had disposed of the merchandise, theystill
had information to sell. Once we had the principal's name..."
"Cheimarrhos would be an expensive name, I imagine?"
"Expensive enough. We had made reasonable guesses. Balin
is world-famous. Our host is known for his collecting. And he
is hardly subtle. Once he even enquired about direct sale; he
is on public record as a 'liberator' and 'protector' of relics."
"Does Paul know?"
"Not yet, Captain. I have not lied, simply withheld. I am
a senior operative for a legitimate corporation dealing with Three-line
in other areas. It was easy to come here. My firstloyalty, however,
is to Mother Church. I thought it best I learn of Council's intentions
before declaring myself. And, yes, we know about the satellite.
It will settle eveything, ne?"
I met the churchman's gaze. "I hold Blue. I have full executive
authority where Council is concerned in matters like this."
"I suspected as much. Will you order him to return the posts?"
"Order him? First you ask what will Council do, as if it
can do anything, and now this."
"Captain, please. You will understand, I hope, when I say
that you are not altogether the best choice here, ne? You are
Paul's friend, you are a champion of National interests. Is it
not provocative to have sent you?"
I fought down my anger. "Sent, Monsignior?"
Aganture frowned, clenched his hands again, though elegantly,
"But...forgive me, Captain. I naturally assumed that was
how it was. I know you can travel where you will..."
"James, go and declare yourself. Make your official representations
and get away from here. That is a very deadly star."
James Aganture nodded, studied the striations of dust and cloud
beyond the glass, the sharp and startling perspectives of the
"Yes. But this is as delicate as it is urgent."
"You are here as a businessman as well as a friend."
"Exactly. We mean to buy them back if we can. Make them a
gift to the tribes."
"Ah, I see. All good business, Monsignior Aganture. Curry
favour for the Church."
"Captain, it really is not that simple."
"Of course. It isn't for Council either. They can't help
themselves. I like to think I am here for simpler reasons."
"I see that now, of course. May I ask what they are?"
"Paul is an old friend. At a distance, it is easy to take
positions, have the luxury of serving ideologies and some greater
good. I came to make up my mind. I needed to know."
"Yes. I'm glad we've had the opportunity to speak. And please..."
"Your identity is safe for the moment."
"Thank you, Captain. You must understand that I cannot afford
to jeopardize my organization's trade dealings with Three-line.
It is difficult to know what to do for all of us."
"Keeping options open just in case."
"Very awkward, yes."
"You have spoken to his sister?"
But I saw at once that he had, that this was Sarete's answer too,
and more of her questions. James Aganture was here at the invitation
of Sarete Cheimarrhos, I was suddenly sure of it. I left him no
time to answer.
"You ask for confidentiality. You impose upon my duty to
my friend. I now ask you to tell him who you are. I give you until,
let us say, dinner this evening, Monsignior, yes?"
"Yes. Yes, Captain."
And I left him, found my way down to my quarters on Level 42,
welcoming the option of silence and opaqued windows, needing the
time to consider what really had to be done, thinking of the Three-line
device and wondering what my real reasons now were.
At sunset we saw the view that made Balin renowned across the
world - the Inferno, great boiling lines of cloud plunging towards
the horizon, meeting in the pit of the sun, drawn like great rivers,
like tattered banners, cohorts, cables of molten gold laid upon
the sky, the angles of a mad geometer hauled and hurtled into
the blazing, settling point like a rehearsal for the end of days.
Even Sarete and Naese were there for it. We sat and stood about
the lounge and could not find enough words for conversation, no
moment when the few comments made did not do more than force silence
There was only the sky, the whole world drawn to that single ravenous
point. And finally, as if in scorn, the sun closed its mighty
eye in one slow blink, denying the clouds their lustre, turning
them to lead where they sailed, streamed, panicked in the sky:
you are too late, too late, little brothers, I turn my gaze from
We subsided where we sat or stood, muscles loosened, sighs sounded
above the rolling, healing frenzy of the house-song. John Newmarket
tugged at his collar; James Aganture slowly shook his stately
head. Naese sat with what seemed like a rapt expression on her
face, considering the changed world beyond the glass. Sarete saw
me give a deeper unsounded sigh, allowed the faintest trace of
a smile to touch her pale lips.
Paul turned to us all, stood with his back to the glass.
"The world has many great identifying winds, enabling winds,
precise expressions of the pneuma. The simoom, the sirocco, the
kham-sin, the monsoons and the santanas. Pieces of the patchwork.
"I accept the reality; I accepted the challenge as Imhotep
did. Here is the codex that lets us read what it tells us: not
understand, never understand, but know. Just take in and know.
The wind moves upon the land. It completes an equation in the
soul, resolves itself through only those devices nature has raised
up, precisely designed, to read what such things mean. Us. We
are the world's way of apprehending itself. We complete all that
out there. Our affirmations, our emotions, are the lock for that
great key. This house reminds us."
I smiled. Paul had uttered similar words at the Anderlee gathering
three years ago. I was an easy convert; I used my own ship to
affirm such truths in myself, such a rich and simple knowing.
"Tomorrow," he said, "there will be towers of cumulus
and laze-lions all day, nothing like this. This is justice, Tom,
for Fate having served up a windless man, trying to build some
new Tarot here. So you never add this to your legend! Comprendez?"
"I do, Paul," I said, laughing. "I'll hobble you
with eclipses and minor comets from now on. Nothing less!"
"Apology accepted, gracious man. And you, James?" Paul
was exalted, magnanimous; it was a pointed gaze, laden with irony
and fond reprimand that he gave the clergyman. James Aganture
had no doubt confessed.
"We have riches, an embarrassment of all that humanity has
wrought. Cloisters, scriptoria, great art collections, antiquities,
centuries of sophistry and clever talk, the doctrines and arguments.
Now I find the simplicity of my God here. I remember that my eyes
are the windows of the first and last cathedral I shall ever know."
"Accepted. And you, Honest John? You've seen it before. Anything
I was interested to see that lean, spirited John Newmarket also
"I lost words for this ten years ago, Paul," the actor
said inhis rich full voice. "This must endure at all costs."
Which reminded us all and stole the edges from Paul's smile for
a moment, though just a moment. Our host was not to be discouraged.
"Tonight we hold a starwatch in honour of our uninvited guest.
We dress warmly. We go above. We find our personal monkey-moon
and regale it, drag it up close, count its legs, tell our fortunes
on its parts. I'll name every wind that troubles us. Yes?"
There was general assent, but I caught quick unguarded glances
from Newmarket and Aganture towards Paul's sister, then found
myself at the end of Naese's own coolly appraising gaze.
"Dinner is at 1900," Sarete announced, and led the way
out of the lounge.
Paul held back, like some captain reluctant to leave the bridge
of his ship, and I held back as well, not surprised when his expansive
mood fell away like the gold of the departed sun.
"Do you know what Aganture is, Tom?" he said when we
"He told you!" Surprise and suspicion sat in Paul's
eyes for a brief, flickering instant. "Well, he hinted at
trade cutbacks. Direct dealings with the tribes. Circumventing
Three-line altogether. All veiled, of course, the spineless fool!"
"What will you do?"
"About your Star?"
"They'll do it, you think?"
I shrugged, not mentioning the device, determined to keep away
from that topic for the moment. "You said it yourself earlier
today. The bloodlines are gone. They may not care about the poles
at all. What you are becoming is a very useful example. If they
strike at you, it's a warning to everyone else. They may need
"Do you know who Newmarket represents?"
The question surprised me. "Newmarket?"
"A Tosi-Go subsidiary, a Three-line rival. A mercenary actor,
Tom. My friend. Leave the posts where they are but sell them to
Tosi-Go so the tribes dare not act. Not why he visited, oh no.
Just happened to have been approached; thought he'd mention it
like a caring friend."
"So what will you do?"
"No offers, Tom? Nothing from Council?"
They were bitter words, from a man who was trying hard to reconcile
different realities. Forcing himself. Again.
"Nothing. I told Aganture. I cannot be who I am and come
here without representing Council, but I do not follow their specific
"And what are their specific wishes, do you think?"
"I imagine to see you continue. To see Paul Cheimarrhos and
Balin and Three-line survive."
"In that order? Well, two of those I heartily agree with,
though I'm not sure I believe you. I'm no longer Three-line. It's
an alien thing."
"You know what I mean. Council can't order you. They want
you to remain as a symbol. That's your great worth to Nation.
The posts matter because they put you and Balin at risk. That's
how I think they'd see it anyway."
"Hm, well thank them for that. That much I can accept."
I discovered it was what I wanted, Paul believing that I was here
for reasons of my own, out of friendship and personal esteem,
for reasons ultimately as elusive and mysterious as his own. Learning
of the Three-line invention had complicated the issue; I found
myself needing to ask about it, realized how partisan I now felt,
would be the moment I asked the questions that had tormented me
"What would you advise?" Paul said.
"What I told Sarete earlier. I'd stay."
"Good. The poles?"
"Hardly the issue."
Perhaps I could ask about it. Paul had mentioned the device to
me. Knowing my background, of my time in the Madhouse, he had
brought it up. But again I hesitated, knowing that the moment
I did ask, I was no better than Newmarket or Aganture.
"It's what I was leading up to earlier when you showed me
the posts. It's the Three-line holding itself that concerns them.
Not the company - this great house of yours. The concession was
given a long time ago and it's become too celebrated, too newsworthy,
too steady a slight. I would think getting you to admit to having
the poles will be used as counter-propaganda to discredit you
in National and International eyes, making you appear as someone
plundering, stealing away art treasures for his own material gain.
Pirate rather than privateer, Paul, the critical difference. Just
one more exploiter and opportunist. I believe the satellite is
meant to force your hand."
"They won't strike?"
"They'd possibly destroy what they're overtly trying to save,
if that matters. It seems un unnecessarily dramatic thing, using
Paul nodded, finally asked the inevitable question.
"Why haven't they mounted a land assault or at least done
a search? Sent Kurdaitcha in?"
"Because they already have."
"Your guess. I told Sarete this afternoon. I would assume
it was done long before they moved that station."
"But who?" Paul was genuinely amazed; it obviously had
not occurred to him at all. Again I could see that the dream was
being spoiled. "Our staff has been here since Balin was built.
Cristofer and Deric came in from other Three-line holdings..."
"Exactly how I would have done it. Planted someone when Balin
was being built. Before then, if I could."
"Kurdaitcha?" Paul was making himself accept another
way of thinking, a hated spoiling pragmatism.
"To keep an eye on Three-line initially, yes. To make sure
no new inventions came along. To keep an eye on acquisitions."
"So what happens when I don't frighten?"
"A land strike, I'd say. They must already have verification
that the poles are here, so it depends on how willing they are
to sacrifice a handful of relics. If they can't neutralize what
Balin represents by embarrassing you, they could use the posts
as an excuse to destroy it anyway. A regrettable casualty. But
whatever this is, Paul, it's the final stages of some carefully
"One Coloured Captain may suggest all the Captains are involved.
And the other Captains will come if you ask. It may stay their
hand. You're a symbol, Paul, just as we are. Not Balin, you. There
can be other Balins, other ways of doing this. It's you we can't
replace. And that's my comment, Paul, not Council's, not the Captains'."
"Yes. Yes. Thank you, Tom."
We watched the streaming, shadowing chains of cloud racing forthe
edge of the world. The words of my handful of desperate questions
were right there, held back, barely held. It might have been the
sight of Paul that stopped me. His hands were fists at his sides.
"Tom, I have changed my will. In view of circumstances. Regarding
Balin. Will you be notary to it, take the signed original back
"Whichever way it goes, Tom, I want it officially lodged.
"I'll be glad to take it."
"And see the terms are carried out?"
The fists, the tension across his shoulders, were more vivid than
words, than any other persuasion.
"Yes. If I can. Yes."
"I'll give it to you before dinner. Before we go above. Come
to me in my quarters at 1840."
And he left me standing there with my questions, with sudden relief
and self-reproach, and before me the rushing, frenzied, cloud-wrack
chasing the sun, lean, iron-grey conquistadores seeking gold but
succeeding only in building night in the far hidden places of
After showering and changing, by the time I knocked on his door
at precisely 1840, I had put my curiosity aside, determined to
wait, trusting that he would reveal more later.
When the door slid back, I entered and found Paul sitting on a
divan by the windows, the last of the day a tattered ruin of light
behind him in the western sky. He was examining a Canopic jar,
one of a set of four 18th Dynasty pieces resting on a low table
to one side, replacing the jackal-head stopper. He set it down
as I approached, took an envelope from inside his black and gold
house-robe, and handed it to me as I sat down.
"A formality, Tom. I've involved Council. It's fair they
know my position."
I put it in a pocket of my sandsman's fatigues and went to tell
him again that it was a pleasure, but Paul spoke first.
"Tom, why were you in the Madhouse?"
I tensed immediately, feeling the barest edge of panic, residual
reflex fear. It never failed to surprise me. This was the question
no-one asked, that was only rarely answered if ever, that now
permitted my questions to him. Paul asking it mattered. I didn't
give any of the usual replies.
"I don't remember. They would not tell me."
"Tartalen. He was in charge. One day I'll return. I'll ask."
He kept at it. "You should."
"There is a mystery about you. You're a National and a sensitive.
The field is strong..."
"The other Captains..."
"No. I've met them. They've all been here at one time or
another. You're different."
There was a knock at the door.
"Dinner and starwatch," he said. "This will be
"Gain monitors, Tom. We may have an audience. Later."
We went to the door, found Sarete and John Newmarket waiting there.
"We go to study our demon," Sarete said, pleasantly
enough. "The others will be waiting."
"On to the feast!" Paul said, and together we headed
along the corridor, the house adding our variables to its ongoing
Dinner was an easy affair, first Paul then John Newmarket telling
stories; James Aganture giving his views on the future of Mother
Church in view of new tech embargoes recently imposed.
Finally the dishes were cleared away, and the six of us started
our climb to the summit. In the Gallery of Record, Cristofer and
Deric gave us jackets; warmly dressed, we stepped out onto the
dark windy field.
It sang under the moonless sky. Under our feet, the house moaned
deeply to itself. We crossed the plateau, the acroteria looming
beside us like funerary totems, bleached bones keening in the
cold brinraga. We made our way through the restless shapes, keeping
well clear of the central depression, heading for the northwestern
corner where Anquan had set up the old Meade telescope, its short
thick barrel pointed at the sky directly overhead.
"The refreshments, please," Sarete told the old major-domo,
raising her voice above the rush of wind so she could be heard,
and Anquan went off with Cristofer to get the evening's collation.
Paul sat on the low stool before the telescope and used the eye-piece,
made some quick adjustments.
"I have him," he said, his voice strong above the air-flow.
"Very wicked-looking deployed like that. They really do know
how to use psychology. Who's first? James?"
The churchman moved to the stool, settled himself and peered through
the eye-piece. Paul stood beside him, looking straight up, silver
hair streaming in the wind.
"See it?" he asked loudly so we could all hear. "The
red lights are mainly tactical - 'barrican stars' to frighten
us. Tom will confirm it. They're supposed to light up like that
just before a strike."
"Really?" Aganture said, moving clear of the stool.
"Is that true, Captain?"
"Yes," I said, studying the small group as best I could,
dark shapes, blowing shapes, wanting to ask Paul about his comments
earlier, concerned that we may have been overheard and interrupted
deliberately, deeply worried by what that might mean.
"Your turn, John," Paul said, and the actor took his
place at the telescope.
"It does look angry," was all he said.
Paul laughed. "It wants us to think that. It's trying to
be hot and raging up there, but in reality it's a very cool thing,
Newmarket rose and moved away. "I've seen enough. Captain?"
"Sarete?" I said.
"No, thank you."
"No, Captain. Thank you."
I positioned myself on the stool, and after a split-second of
auto-focus saw the irijinti, saw it again in actual fact, since
I'd seen the displays Council had at Twilight Beach, beganmatching
its configuration with other comsats I had seen up close this
way, started when Paul whispered at my ear.
"The Canopic jar," he said. "is a second prototype.
Get it away from here. Say a gift!"
The wind sang about us. Possibly no-one heard.
I made myself stay calm; my heart racing as I peered up at the
evil red lights.
It explained everything. Not the posts. Not Balin. Not just those
things. Far more serious, much greater danger. Paul had broken
The jar, a duplicate. He had used it to read me!
"Finished already?" he said, speaking for the others
I rose from the stool. "Let me get my configuration lists.
I still say irijinti, but I want to type it. I can almost make
out its markings." My voice sounded steady above the wind.
"I'll try for a better fix," Paul said, calmly enough,
taking his place at the eye-piece once more.
I hurried from the field, entered the Gallery, ran down the ramps
towards our chambers. My footsteps echoed on the polished stone,
set a desperate percussion into the air-flow.
The palm-lock to Paul's rooms had been keyed to me, no surprise
at all; the door swept aside at my touch. I crossed the softly-lit
interior, immediately went to the four jars on the low table:
monkey-head, falcon-head, human-head, jackal - seized the jackal-head,
removed the ceramic cap, saw the dull black tech that gave it
its extra weight, the recessed contacts and displays.
What had it shown? What?
"I will take that, Captain."
I turned at once. Naese stood in the doorway, a laser baton in
"I'm sorry. This is a gift to me from Paul. Ask him."
She raised the baton, aimed it at my heart.
"Captain, I am Kurdaitcha in the final moments of a very
long, very old mission."
"Colour, Hero status, mean nothing compared to my brief,
do you understand? Without that jar and the contents of the envelope
in your pocket, I will be sung. I dare not fail. Save your life."
"The envelope contains Paul's will."
"No. His will was lodged with Nation long ago. What you havecontains
blueprints for what you hold in your hands. Look and see."
I placed the jar on the divan, brought out the envelope and opened
it, saw words and schematics.
"Yes?" Naese said. "They are mine. Paul's life
might still be yours if you hurry."
I threw the plans onto the divan and ran for the door. She let
me pass but called after me. "Captain! Wait!"
I ignored her, running for the ramps, needing to get Paul from
the roof, away from the telescope and the field and the line of
sight of that deadly watcher, aware that it already had all the
commands it needed.
I saw the result of those commands as I leapt out upon the field,
a thread, a wire, the tiniest filament of dazzling light connecting
Balin for just an instant to its attendant moon, then the tearing
scream of its brief and deadly anger above the keening windsong.
I did not need to go out to where the telescope had stood. There
would be time later. I waited by the door as the three figures
came to me across the windy field, Sarete in the lead, head raised,
cool and detached, resolved as ever, yes, leading them, John Newmarket
and James Aganture to either side, eyes downcast, ashamed.
As I watched them approached, their faces lit from the doorway,
I heard Naese at my back, panting lightly from her run. She did
not have the jar or the plans; she no longer held her weapon.
"Your mistress has done well," I said.
"She has saved Three-line and Balin," Naese replied.
"She made a difficult choice. An only choice."
"What did Paul read, Naese?"
"What do you mean?"
"With the contents of the jar?"
"That you are a sensitive. That's all."
"I don't believe you."
Sarete and her companions reached us, stopped before the doorway.
Her words might have come from Naese, from a script of exculpation
they had jointly devised.
"He knew the consequences, Captain. He made a choice, without
considering anyone, never consulting others. Something had to
be done. I made a choice too."
More words than I would have expected. Still James Aganture and
John Newmarket looked in different directions at the night. Only
Sarete and Naese met my gaze.
"It wasn't the posts," I said, so nothing was hidden.
"There was a second Three-line device. A duplicate."
Aganture and Newmarket both looked at Sarete.
"Nonsense," she said calmly.
"Nonsense, Captain. There was never a duplicate."
She knew. Of course she knew. Naese did not say a word.
"I see. Privateering."
"What, this?" Sarete asked.
"I suppose so. Not your kind, but yes."
"Not my kind, no. Never my kind."
I went out onto the field then, went to the where the old Meade
telescope had stood, came back with the lines of blood painted
on my cheeks.
Sarete grimaced with distaste when she saw them. "Captain,
is that really necessary?"
"Tell her, Naese."
The Kurdaitcha frowned. "He is Blue, Sarete. He has made
vendetta against this house."
"You're joking. I am this house now."
"No, Sarete," I said. "I think you will find that
Paul has bequeathed it to Nation. Years ago. Naese can check."
"Ridiculous! That can be negated."
"Naese," I said, drawing rage and loss into that small
"You don't understand, Sarete. Those signs. In front of witnesses,
he has sworn vendetta. He can strike at anything to do with Three-line,
at any ships coming here. Through him, Council can. You must leave
here. All of you."
"This is not the end of this," Sarete said.
"No," I was able to say. "It is not."
On the desert near Sabro, there is a mighty house, a vast pylon
set against the sky. Though left to Nation as a final bequest
from the man who caused it to be, it is deserted now, neither
National nor tribal, a monument at the interface. The great vents
stand open; the structure howls and sings and braids the winds
into endless tapestries, strange proclamations of desire. At the
crest is a field and a shallow empty dish thirty metres across.
Once a year, seven ships go to that great house, the only ones
who can since it is reached by crossing tribal land. The crews
climb aloft and reach that field. While the crew-members do small
acts of maintenance, the Captains sit in the depression and talk.
Sometimes there is a ritual of watching sunset, sometimes a starwatch.
Kites are set upon the air, new pennants added to the dream.
At such times, coincidentally, no satellite ever crosses thatsky.
The comsats studiedly avoid the place as if contemptuous of something
all too futile.
The Captains smile in the windy darkness or in the flowing riot
of the dying sun. More than anyone, they know the worth of dreams.
They know it is never that.
Originally appeared in Blue Tyson, Aphelion 1992.
Copyright © 1992 Rynosseros Enterprises.
Reprinted with kind permission of the author.