Chris Pasha set forth from Yusuf’s farm on horseback accompanied and guided by Carlo the robot who walked, tirelessly. The robot acted as Pasha’s guide. He seemed to have a map program. ("Actually, I’m satellite linked," he said.)
It took them two days to reach the foot of the Atlas mountains. They wound forward into the mountains along the narrow track beneath the snow covered peaks to pass to the other side where the path spilt them abruptly into a fjord-like desert valley. By the wayside cacti flowered. Before them was a palmery of tall stately trees. Beyond it stood a fortified adobe Saharan town: high mud-walled, castle-like and beautiful in the fierce sun's liquid light. As they approached the gate Chris felt he had retreated to a medieval era. The heat beat upon them, like an oven.
Carlo led them through a maze of alleys guiding them to the town’s central square. Here they intended to barter their horse for a camels. But this plan did not go well. The Shaihk of these people had decreed that there was to be no horse trading during the present moon, except by his personal dispensation. Kif kif camels.
But to cross the desert they must have camels.
They were told that they must wait!
They couldn't wait.
They would have to see the Shaihk, and yes, my friend, for a small consideration (do you have any smoke?), that could be arranged.
The Shaihk was not in town, but in his tents on the sands. The Arab "guide" led them out ono the dunes to an encampment of squat tents spread like black-skinned maws: the guide disappeared into the Shaihk's tent. Chris and Carlo followed.
It came as no surprise to Chris that the Shaihk was Sy.id.
"Well met." Said Sy.ed. "You need camels and I will provide you with camels. I will have three six day camels ready to leave in the morning, for I will go with you."
"Aum, you’re not a, invited," said Carlo.
"Three camels," said the Berber. "I will come too. There are some things I wish to see, and some things I wish to show you."
"Aum…" said Carlo.
"Fine," said Chris.
"Bioluminescence," said Carlo, "is a simple phenomenon, even though this fabrication of light without heat is still beyond the ken of your western science. Actually it was a cunning vibrational configuration of bouncing electron shells in clever molecules."
"But the Deofilus lights," said Chris, "seem to function on other levels, and perhaps it’s another stuff entirely. Isador and Elenor seemed in themselves, or through these lights, to constitute a conscious intellect. A purposive sentience."
"Figments," sa.id the Berber. "There is no substance to this insect glow."
"I didn't say substance. I said sentience. If awareness can dwell in an electrical protoplasmic brain, why not in organic light?" Chris was sure that the butterfly lights constellated a sea of consciousness. Not concrete matrixed media gating impulses in descrete-ish bits like a forest of nerves or microchips - but stuff and matrix mixed: an ocean of self-awareness, consciousness in one nebulus flux of light…
"Blah blah," said the Berber. "Specious speculations," he sneered.
They fell silent. The sand hushed against Christopher's feet, "Where's it at? where's it at?" the sands said.
"Juggle," said the Berber.
"What?" said Chris.
"Juggle your ideas," spat Sa.id disparagingly. "They are nothing. In a while I will show you something real." He stood apart from them looking into the wilderness as the tropic twilight blinked passed them into night. The Berber turned from the landscape to face the robot. "Incidentally, Carlo, I know. I know you are not a Company robot." Sy.id glanced at his crystal transistorised ring with which he communicated with the Company computer. "I know you are somehow nexed to the shaggy. And I know the masterword which will deactivate you! So be careful!."
"You’re not very friendly," Chris observed.
"My friend, sometimes it is not too good to be nice," said Siyed.
The night time in the Sahara is bitter cold. The air froze. They brewed coffee.
Chris sipped his coffee, smoked the Shaihk's chilum, and decided to try and be positive, but when it came to practice, he could only voice more criticism. "This festival you're planning to hold at El Stone, Sy.id, it's likely to be more of an Altamont than a Woodstock. The circumstances are to adverse. It is not well starred."
"Lots of stars," Sy.id protested. "I’ve got Milk and Honey and the Baters and as many Rolling Stones as I could gather. It is very well starred."
"Festivals aren't just about stars and supergroups. They're about feeling high, and dancing, having a good time, sharing."
"How about growth and learning?" asked Sy.id.
"Yes, and that."
"Well this time we will learn something new then. I will unveil Ultimo, the ultimate synthetic composer. Besides, I have two million hotdogs warehoused in Rabat."
"Kosher. To be successful in any enterprise one must attend to details," said the Berber.
"Is it true that you instigated the Company?"
"Assuming I am anyway involved, I would then say it is a question of the colloquium of power. Always there is a king in the castle and a dirty rascal, and I am the only someone I can trust. It has always been a nasty business being top dog. Someone must. The Company is just another. There is power. It is a fact. Something will fill a vacuum."
Chris huffed, "Ha!" and the Berber continued, "Did not Lincoln say, ‘You can screw all the people most of the time, and most of the people all the time."
"Ah but only the Messiah can pitch a perfect ball game," interjected the robot.
"You silly machine," said Sy.id, shaking his head.
"Now I will show you something," said Sa.id. At the heart of the Hoggar mountains they looked down into the ultimate valley. Light glared from something still several miles away near the centre of the valley some thing shone in the daylight bright like midnight headlights.
"Here is Murmur. No, don’t look now. Laser. It eats the eye with fire like the sun. We will proceed after dusk."
The Shaihk tied up the camels and they waited. The sun crept across the sky and as it touched the horizon the Berber stirred. "Right. Listen. We must make a chain. Hold the shoulder of him before. Vision is difficult, so I will lead you like the blind. Best therefore you should close your eyes. An exercise in trust."
"Open your eyes."
Mirrored images came and went unpredictably in the gemstone crystal walls where space went on forever in green and lilac hues. Images flickering and changing like music. The reflections that patterned round them were, of course, mostly aspects of themselves, but not just things they were doing. Things they had done already replayed in echo. And images flashed before them - from completely elsewhen. Echoes of other rooms and other times.
"There are images trapped in this labyrinth hundreds and hundreds of years. Thousands," said the Berber.
Mysteries flitted silently between the walls suspended in a near eternity, like light between the stars.
Carlo took off his burnoose and spread it on the floor so that it lent the mirrored surface an appearance of solidity. They sat on this make-shift flying carpet in the mirage of Murmur. Images came and went flowing around them. Chris saw again the creature with the binocular eye-goggle contraption that he had seen in the vision Sy.id had induced in Tangiers. With this came the recollection of the words spoken then, "Musical reflections... middle Egyptian."
"Of course. It's Professor Bookish. Then the Salvationists did save him," thought Chris. "And if that's Bookish, then Salvationism must be a Company subsidiary."
Prompted by this image of the Professor, Chris became aware of the auditory echoes whispering harmonies sloshing like a roulette ball round his head. He didn’t like it there. Echoing his sentiment, Carlo suddenly said, "I reckon we should leave."
"Yes," said Chris. "Has anyone seen my glasses? No? Yes. We should leave. For Roaratuni."
"But," said the Berber, "there are many things I wish to show you, and we must wait for them to arrive."
"No, a, we should leave," repeated Carlo.
"But we must leave by night because of the light."
"I can lead the way by day closing my eyes, and ears, and rerunning the program by which we arrived," said the robot.
"Okay. Waha. But there are yet two things I definitely must show to Pasha."
"Aa," voiced Carlo hesitantly.
"Just ten minutes, Mucktube, it is written."
Carlo, unaccountably, shivered as the Berber spoke.
"Look there." Sayed pointed. "How convenient is the world." Coming towards them from a great distance was a grey cloaked figure. Unlike the other images which came and went, it held and continued to approach, spiralling in from several directions (quadroscopically). They watched with fascination till they could see its face, and the whites of its eyes, and the veins on the leaves of its flowering staff, and still it came on until it seemed about to step into the room from several directions, and then, at this instant, it disappeared.
"That," said Sy.ed, "was Azuarus, the Wandering Jew, the oldest man, a long long time ago. There are many images of him trapped in the walls of this place. This which we have just witnessed must be from far. He is very young here. We are fortunate, or honoured, for the synchronicity to call up so ancient and stable a form. It is rare. I have been searching for knowledge of this man, but it is rare that I have I seen so clear a view. It is an Omen." Then, as an afterthought, the Berber added: "He is my father. And he is very much in this space. Is always return here. He too looks for something.
"He a didn't build this place," said Carlo.
"I know that. But he came here often to study. Here is much older even than he. The sages of the ancients have left this house of mirrors. Reflects an Egyptian feeling. Middle kingdom," quoath the Berber.
"Musical reflections?" said Chris. "What does that mean?"
"It’s aaa, jargon. It's a very complicated," said Carlo, "and we should leave."
"First, Chris Pasha, there is one more something that I would show you," insisted the Berber, Hadji Baba. "Come!"
Chris and Carlo moved forward together.
"No muckytubes," said Syed softly. Carlo froze.
("Muckytubes" was the master word that jammed and de-activated the robot. It is not to be confused with mucktube, the Arabic for, "it is written".)
"We will leave the robot here." Said Noname Khan. He smiled. "Come. Take my hand."
Chris looked at Carlo, stuck and statuesque.
"Come now. Run!" said the Berber in a mellow and trustworthy tone, reaching for his hand. Chris followed.
The images in Murmur were very confusing. Always one felt one was about to walk off into space or into a wall. It was hard to move and Chris was confused. "Close your eyes," Sa.id counselled.
Chris complied and closed his eyes. The Berber, Sy.ed, led him through spaces getting brighter, intense and then brilliant light, like cutting knifes. Chris peeped out. Before them stretched the sky. They were outside on a terrace looking at the viridian desert mountains. Only at these distant hills could one almost look. But there too the sun was reflected. And from the contorting walls of the city the light avalanched and struck like blows. Chris held his hand in front of his eyes.
The Berber, a meter ahead of Chris, now turned. Chris managed to look through the narrowest of chinks between his fingers. The Berber was wearing Christopher's sunglasses!
"Hey, those are..." Chris’ hand reached for his knife.
"Right! Chris Pasha, I want to talk to you. First we must deal with the subject of your paranoia. Don't interrupt. Listen! Why don’t you trust me? I’ll tell you why. Because you are the hungry powerfreak. Yes. Power-noid. That’s why. Yes? No?"
"Don't interrupt," said the Berber, shifting position to stand between Christopher and the sun. "And always also your hand is reaching for this knife, your precious knife. You are lost in grandiose delusions. Oh, you are so important, my little friend. To you, maybe. And would be so important. You don't trust me? Chris Pasha, it is I, it is I who am not trusting you. Even you can see how reasonable that is. I am the only person that I know who has held power humble and good. I have much experience. I had power and was Old Name in the Mountain, king of the castle, and I gave it away. Right? Me alone I can trust. But you, you who would be so special, mess, ay, after a moment I’ll show you something about yourself, you whose first is to grab. Ah, Christ Pasha, you the MESS YOU ARE!"
"That’s not quite right," thought Chris. "Of course I'm the mess I am, but not his mess."
During these moments Sy.id was taking something out from his robes: extracting the crystal, the gypsy's red crystal ball. He held it up before them.
"Look well, Chris Pasha, for now I am telling you the last words, which go like this… If I ask most people to describe this they might say, ‘It is sphere enough. It is red and beautiful,’ not ‘It is dangerous and will break if you throw It.’ Think of this., and… Here!" And the Berber threw the crystal high into the air. "Catch it.'" he cried.
The crystal fell towards Chris' face. Chris glanced towards it in order to dodge it, and the sun, red behind, suffused through it red over Chris, washing him red into another place...
I picked up the knife. 'Tis a beak. Fascinating. A bird's bill fashioned as a flute. With a hundred stops. Wow. You'd blow it up here, over the nostrils. Bring it to my lips.
The Brujo jumped extending his hand imperatively. "No! senor Pasha..."
But he blew it.
Chris Pasha, almost blind in Murmur, caught the gypsy's crystal ball. The Berber was stepping back away from him. The Berber had the knife.
"You see, you are not so good at all," the Berber said. "Yes, I'll have the crystal too. Please... Thank you. You may have your glasses back. I have learnt the trick of seeing in Murmur well enough."
"This is a day of great triumph for me," he continued. "Do not be sad. You were not the vessel to hold this power. If a pot has faults it will burst in the fire."
Christopher sank to his knees and buried his face in his hands. "Feeble feeble man. What a mess I are. Why did I let myself..."
"Why?" said Sy.id, reading his thoughts. "Because you are a fool. Yes, fool," said the Berber vicious in his triumph. "Go finish your journey to this Roaratuni, whereisit. Bring your magic tribe to me. I am holding the great Benefit Concert in El Stone this Hashishmas. There I will let everybody know I have taken over the world, and we can celebrate. You are all invited. What? You are not congratulating me? Poor loser."
Poor Chris. This was his darkest hour. In despair he cast his eye to the far eastern horizon as if to look for the dawn. A speck, a distant figure appeared there. Chris' eyebrows quivered. Hadji Hassan, too, followed his gaze. And they watched, silently, the longest time as coming towards them from far far away was a grey cloaked figure.
"It is he," said the Berber. "He comes. It is typical. I have searched and chased this man for a hundred and fifty years, and now he comes to me when I already have everything."
Slowly the figure approached. The Berber grew excited, and contradictory. "This is a great day for me. What words will we speak?"
Azuarus, the Wandering Jew, drew nigh. They waited. He drew nearer and stood beside them. Old beyond description, weathered contours, strangely radiant now here in the flesh, Azuarus calmly leaned upon his gnarled but flowering staff. He stood there and did not so much as look at Syiid. His eyes were on Chris alone.
"Chris(t).Man.go.od.to.see.you.(after).so.long." he said. And as the wanderer finished, "so.long", life faded, drained from his face. He collapsed, fell to the ground, dead.
Chris and Sy.id stood over the body, a lump of crumpled grey cloak, a wizened hand protruding. Dead as vanished dreams. They stood in silence.
"I'm sorry," Chris said at last.
A black cloud fixed the Berber's countenance. Bugger! Bugger plans had overtaken him - life surprised him - boo! Whose triumph was in his grasp, shaken, whole damned fabric threatened. Chris? Christ? Chris Christ? Implications only, but, even so… bugger!
"I don't like it," thought Say.d. "The world is slipping from my design, and this Pashanski, this fool, is sorry for me! But I do have the knife! I will just fade away low profile a while and learn to play it, and then... But Pashanski is the second coming and that will change all the rules with the coming of the Kingdom forever. I must stop him now."
Shaihk Syhed Khan lifted the flute knife to his lips.
"No! No! Not.. ." screamed Chris, diving, too late. The cry of the beak cut the day in two and through the crack came a blinding flash of sound…
Visions of an Inca priest tearing the heart from a virgin maiden swam round Chris’mind, elaborating through other scenes of power into a vision of the very centre of the sun.
Chris was in the air when the fire-cry blotted out his senses. Senseless he made impact on Sa.id, a glancing blow, but enough to topple Sa.id sideways to the ground. They landed separately.
Whether any appreciable period of time elapsed in these events (the flute-knife's call, Chris' leap, and fall) Chris couldn't say. Certainly now, after the event, time flowed in a slow meandering drift. As Christopher's senses began to recover he found himself within a swirling cloud. A pastel cream haze surrounded him on everyside. He turned to squat on all fours. He was on solid ground, so it felt. Beyond the fact that light was up, he couldn't see for the cloud. He did not understand what was happening. Perhaps the Berber had magicked him once more into limbo? He waited... The pastel cloud grew thinner. Shapes emerged from the mist. The ground surfaced. The earth's face had the same hue as the thinning cloud, the same pastel green, mauve, lilac - dusty, flat and smooth. There were two small mounds near to Chris, and then further off in the middle-ground stood a pastel cream cactus-shaped object and things began to make some sense to Christopher.
The two mounds in the foreground would be Sy.ed and Azuarus' bodies covered by dust. The dusty cactus standing in the middle-ground would be the dust covered robot Carlo. And crystal walls of Murmur had been crumbled in an instant into powder… by the call of the Phoenix, of course.
Chris bent to examine Sighed’s corpse, and retrieve the flute knife. A red patch was forming in the pastel dust over the Berber's chest, and spreading like an opening flower. With this clue Chris surmised, inspirationally, that the flute knife's scream had also shattered the gypsy's crystal, peppering Said's body piercing it through with shrapnel shards. Shattered splinters of the gypsy's glass had passed through the Berber's heart. Covered by dust, or lodged within his body, the shatters of the crystal ball lay scattered like so many red herring-bones.