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کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 6

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6 - The Happy Medium

AGAIN they focused their eyes on the crystal ball. The earth with its fearful covering of dark shadow swam out of view and they moved rapidly through the Milky Way. And there was the Thing again.

“Watch!” the Medium told them.

The Darkness seemed to seethe and writhe. Was this meant to comfort them?

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. Then, slowly, the shining dwindled until it, too, was gone, and there was nothing but stars and star- light. No shadows. No fear. Only the stars and the clear darkness of space, quite different from the fearful darkness of the Thing.

“You see!” the Medium cried, smiling happily. “It can be overcome? It is being overcome all the time!”

Mrs. Whatsit sighed, a sigh so sad that Meg wanted to put her arms around her and comfort her.

“Tell us exactly what happened, then, please,” Charles Wallace said in a small voice.

“It was a star,” Mrs. Whatsit said sadly. “A star giving up its life in battle with the Thing. It won, oh, yes, my children, it won. But it lost its life in the winning.”

Mrs. Which spoke again. Her voice sounded tired, and they knew that speaking was a tremendous effort for her. “Itt wass nnott sso Uongg aggo fforr yyou, wwass itt?” she asked gently.

Mrs. Whatsit shook her head.

Charles Wallace went up to Mrs. Whatsit. “I see. Now I understand. You were a star, once, weren’t you?”

Mrs. Whatsit covered her face with her hands as though she were embarrassed, and nodded.

“And you did—you did what that star just did?”

With her face still covered, Mrs. Whatsit nodded again.

Charles Wallace looked at her, very solemnly. “I should like to kiss you.”

Mrs. Whatsit took her hands down from her face and pulled Charles Wallace to her in a quick embrace. He put his arms about her neck, pressed his cheek against hers, and then kissed her.

Meg felt that she would have liked to kiss Mrs. Whatsit, too, but that after Charles Wallace, anything that she or Calvin did or said would be anticlimax. She contented herself with looking at Mrs. Whatsit. Even though she was used to Mrs. Whatsit’s odd getup (and the very oddness of it was what made her seem so comforting), she realized with a fresh shock that it was not Mrs. Whatsit herself that she was seeing at all. The complete, the true Mrs. Whatsit, Meg realized, was beyond human understanding. What she saw was only the game Mrs. Whatsit was playing; it was an amusing and charming game, a game full of both laughter and comfort, but it was only the tiniest facet of all the things Mrs. Whatsit could be.

“I didn’t mean to tell you,” Mrs. Whatsit faltered. “I didn’t mean ever to let you know. But, oh, my dears, I did so love being a star!”

“Yyouu arre sstill verry yyoungg,” Mrs. Which said, her voice faintly chiding.

The Medium sat looking happily at the star-filled sky in her ball, smiling and nodding and chuckling gently. But Meg noticed that her eyes were drooping, and suddenly her head fell forward and she gave a faint snore.

“Poor thing,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “we’ve worn her out. It’s very hard work for her.”

“Please, Mrs. Whatsit,” Meg asked, “what happens now?

Why are we here? What do we do next? Where is Father?

When are we going to him?” She clasped her hands pleadingly.

“One thing at a time, love!” Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who cut in. “As paredes tern ouvidos. That’s Portuguese. Walls have ears.”

“Yes, let us go outside,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Come, well let her sleep.”

But as they turned to go, the Medium Jerked her head up and smiled at them radiantly. “You weren’t going to go without saying good-by to me, were you?” she asked.

“We thought we’d just let you sleep, dear.” Mrs. Whatsit patted the Medium’s shoulder. “We worked you terribly hard and we know you must be very tired.”

“But I was going to give you some ambrosia or nectar or at least some tea—”

At this Meg realized that she was hungry. How much time had passed since they had had their bowls of stew? she wondered.

But Mrs. Whatsit said, “Oh, thank you, dear, but I think we’d better be going.”

“They don’t need to eat, you know,” Charles Wallace whispered to Meg. “At least not food, the way we do. Eating’s just a game with them. As soon as we get organized again I’d better remind them that they II have to feed us sooner or later.”

The Medium smiled and nodded. “It does seem as though I should be able to do something nice for you, after having had to show those poor children such horrid things. Would they like to see their mother before they go?”

“Could we see Father?” Meg asked eagerly.

“Nno,” Mrs. Which said. “Wwee aare ggoingg tto yourr ffatherr, Mmegg. Doo nnott bbee immpatientt.”

“But she could see her mother, couldn’t she?” the Medium wheedled.

“Oh, why not,” Mrs. Whatsit put in. “It won’t take long and it can’t do any harm.”

“And Calvin, too?” Meg asked. “Could he see his mother, too?”

Calvin touched Meg in a quick gesture, and whether it was of thanks or apprehension she was not sure.

“I tthinkk itt iss a mistake,” Mrs. Which was disapproving. “Bbutt ssince yyou hhave menttionedd itt I ssupposse yyouu musstt ggo aheadd.”

“I hate it when she gets cross,” Mrs. Whatsit said, glancing over at Mrs. Which, “and the trouble is, she always seems to be right. But I really don’t see how’it could hurt, and it might make you all feel better. Go on. Medium dear.”

The Medium, smiling and humming softly, turned the crystal ball a little between her hands. Stars, comets, planets, flashed across the sky, and then the earth came into view again, the darkened earth, closer, closer, till it filled the globe, and they had somehow gone through the darkness until the soft white of clouds and the gentle outline of continents shone clearly.

“Calvin’s mother first,” Meg whispered to the Medium,

The globe became hazy, cloudy, then shadows began to solidify, to clarify, and they were looking into an untidy kitchen with a sink full of unwashed dishes. In front of the sink stood an unkempt woman with gray hair stringing about her face. Her mouth was open and Meg could see the toothless gums and it seemed that she could almost hear her screaming at two small children who were standing by her. Then she grabbed a long wooden spoon from the sink and began whacking one of the children.

“Oh, dear—” the Medium murmured, and the picture began to dissolve. “I didn’t really—”

“It’s all right,” Calvin said in a low voice. “I think I’d rather you knew.”

Now instead of reaching out to Calvin for safety, Meg took his hand in hers, not saying anything in words but trying to tell him by the pressure of her fingers what she felt. If anyone had told her only the day before that she, Meg, the snaggle-toothed, the myopic, the clumsy, would be taking a boy’s hand to offer him comfort and strength, particularly a popular and important boy like Calvin, the idea would have been beyond her comprehension. But now it seemed as natural to want to help and protect Calvin as it did Charles Wallace.

The shadows were swirling in the crystal again, and as they cleared Meg began to recognize her mother’s lab at home. Mrs. Murry was sitting perched on her high stool, writing away at a sheet of paper on a clipboard on her lap. She’s writing Father, Meg thought. The way she always does. Every night.

The tears that she could never learn to control swam to her eyes as she watched. Mrs. Murry looked up from her letter, almost as though she were looking toward the children, and then her head drooped and she put it down on the paper, and sat there, huddled up, letting herself relax into an unhappiness that she never allowed her children to see.

    And now the desire for tears left Meg. The hot, protective anger she had felt for Calvin when she looked into his home she now felt turned toward her mother.

“Let’s go!” she cried harshly. “Let’s do something!”

“She’s always so right,” Mrs. Whatsit murmured, looking towards Mrs. Which. “Sometimes I wish she’d just say I told you so and have done with it.”  “I only meant to help—” the Medium wailed.

“Oh, Medium, dear, don’t feel badly,” Mrs. Whatsit said swiftly. “Look at something cheerful, do. I can’t bear to have you distressed!”

“It’s all right,” Meg assured the Medium earnestly. “Truly it is, Mrs. Medium, and we thank you very much.”

“Are you sure?” the Medium asked, brightening.

“Of course! It really helped ever so much because it made me mad, and when I’m mad I don’t have room to be scared.”

“Well, kiss me good-by for good luck, then,” the Medium said.

Meg went over to her and gave her a quick kiss, and so did Charles Wallace. The Medium looked smilingly at Calvin, and winked. “I want the young man to kiss me, too. I always did love red hair. And it’ll give you good luck, Laddie-me-love.”

Calvin bent down, blushing, and awkwardly kissed her cheek.

The Medium tweaked his nose. “You’ve got a lot to learn, my boy,” she told him.

“Now, good-by. Medium dear, and many thanks,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “I dare say well see you in an eon or two.”

“Where are you going in case I want to tune in?” the Medium asked.

“Camazotz,” Mrs. Whatsit told her. (Where and what was Camazotz? Meg did not like the sound of the word or the way in which Mrs. Whatsit pronounced it.) “But please don’t distress yourself on our behalf. You know you don’t like looking in on the dark planets, and It’s very upsetting to us when you aren’t happy.”

“But I must know what happens to the children,” the Medium said. “It’s my worst trouble, getting fond. If I didn’t get fond I could be happy all the time. Oh, well, ho hum, I manage to keep pretty jolly, and a little snooze will do wonders for me right now. Good-by, everyb—” and her word got lost in the general b-b-bz-z of a snore.

“Ccome,” Mrs. Which ordered, and they followed her out of the darkness of the cave to the impersonal grayness of the Medium’s planet.

“Nnoww, cchilldrenn, yyouu musstt nott bee frrightennedd att whatt iss ggoingg tto hhappenn,” Mrs. Which warned.

“Stay angry, little Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.”

Without warning Meg was swept into nothingness again. This time the nothingness was interrupted by a feeling of clammy coldness such as she had never felt before. The coldness deepened and swirled all about her and through her, and was filled with a new and strange kind of darkness that was a completely tangible thing, a thing that wanted to eat and digest her like some enormous malignant beast of prey.

Then the darkness was gone. Had it been the shadow, the Black Thing? Had they had to travel through it to get to her father?

There was the by-now-familiar tingling m her hands and feet and the push through hardness, and she was on her feet, breathless but unharmed, standing beside Calvin and Charles Wallace.

“Is this Camazotz?” Charles Wallace asked as Mrs. Whatsit materialized in front of him.

    ”Yes,” she answered. “Now let us just stand and get our breath and look around.”

They were standing on a hill and as Meg looked about her she felt that it could easily be a hill on earth. There were the familiar trees she knew so well at home: birches, pines, maples. And though it was warmer than it had been when they so precipitously left the apple orchard, there was a faintly autumnal touch to the air; near them were several small trees with reddened leaves very like sumac, and a big patch of goldenrod-like flowers. As she looked down the hill she could see the smokestacks of a town, and it might have been one of any number of familiar towns. There seemed to be nothing strange, or different, or frightening, in the landscape.

But Mrs. Whatsit came to her and put an arm around her comfortingly. “I can’t stay with you here, you know, love,” she said. “You three children will be on your own. We will be near you; we will be watching you. But you will not be able to see us or to ask us for help, and we will not be able to come to you.”

“But is Father here?” Meg asked tremblingly.

“Yes.”

“But where? When will we see him?” She was poised for running, as though she were going to sprint off, immediately, to wherever her father was.

“That I cannot tell you. You will just have to wait until the propitious moment.”

Charles Wallace looked steadily at Mrs. Whatsit. “Are you afraid for us?”

“A little.”

“But if you weren’t afraid to do what you did when you were a star, why should you be afraid for us now?”

“But I was afraid,” Mrs. Whatsit said gently. She looked steadily at each of the three children in turn. “You will need help,” she told them, “but all I am allowed to give you is a little talisman. Calvin, your great gift is your ability to communicate, to communicate with all kinds of people. So, for you, I will strengthen this gift. Meg, I give you your faults.”

“My faults!” Meg cried.

“Your faults.”

“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”

“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy on Camazotz. Charles Wallace, to you I can give only the resilience of your childhood.”

From somewhere Mrs. Who’s glasses glimmered and they heard her voice. “Calvin,” she said, “a hint. For you a hint. Listen well:

… For that he was a spirit too delicate

To act their earthy and abhorr’d commands,

Refusing their grand bests, they did confine him

By help of their most potent ministers,

And in their most unmitigable rage,

Into a cloven pine; within which rift

Imprisoned, he didst painfully remain….

Shakespeare. The Tempest.”

“Where are you, Mrs. Who?” Charles Wallace asked. “Where is Mrs. Which?”

“We cannot come to you now,” Mrs. Who’s voice blew to them like the wind. “Allwissend bin ich nicht; doch uiel ist mir bewisst. Goethe. I do not know everything; still many things I understand. That is for you, Charles. Remember that you do not know everything.” Then the voice was directed to Meg. “To you I leave my glasses, little blind-as-a-bat-. But do not use them except as a last resort. Save them for the final moment of peril.” As she spoke there was another shimmer of spectacles, and then it was gone, and the voice faded out with it. The spectacles were in Meg’s hand. She put them carefully into the breast pocket of her blazer, and the knowledge that they were there somehow made her a little less afraid.

“Tto alii tthreee offyyou I ggive mmy ccommandd,” Mrs. Which said. “Ggo ddownn innttoo tthee ttownn. Ggo ttogetherr. Ddoo nnott llett tthemm ssepparate yyou. Bbee sstrongg.” There was a flicker and then it vanished. Meg shivered.

Mrs. Whatsit must have seen the shiver, for she patted Meg on the shoulder. Then she turned to Calvin. “Take care of Meg.”

“I can take care of Meg,” Charles Wallace said rather sharply. “I always have.”

Mrs. Whatsit looked at Charles Wallace, and the creaky voice seemed somehow both to soften and to deepen at the same time. “Charles Wallace, the danger here is greatest for you.”

“Why?”

“Because of what you are. Just exactly because of what you are you will be by far the most vulnerable. You must stay with Meg and Calvin. You must not go off on your own. Beware of pride and arrogance, Charles, for they may betray you.”

At the tone of Mrs. Whatsit’s voice, both warning and frightening, Meg shivered again. And Charles Wallace butted up against Mrs. Whatsit in the way he often did with his mother, whispering, “Now I think I know what you meant about being afraid.”

“Only a fool is not afraid,” Mrs. Whatsit told him. “Now go.” And where she had been there was only sky and grasses and a small rock.

“Come on,” Meg said impatiently. “Come on, let’s go!” She was completely unaware that her voice was trembling like an aspen leaf. She took Charles Wallace and Calvin each by the hand and started down the hill.

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns. The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small, rectangular plot of lawn in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door. Meg had a feeling that if she could count the flowers there would be exactly the same number for each house. In front of all the houses children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it. She looked at Calvin, and saw that he, too, was puzzled.

“Look!” Charles Wallace said suddenly. “They’re skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone’s doing it at exactly the same moment.”

This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

Then the doors of all the houses opened simultaneously, and out came women like a row of paper dolls. The print of their dresses was different, but they all gave the appearance of being the same. Each woman stood on the steps of her house. Each clapped. Each child with the ball caught the ball. Each child with the skipping rope folded the rope.

 Each child turned and walked into the house. The doors clicked shut behind them.

“How can they do it?” Meg asked wonderingly. “We couldn’t do it that way if we tried. What does it mean?”

“Let’s go back.” Calvin’s voice was urgent.

“Back?” Charles Wallace asked. “Where?”

“I don’t know. Anywhere. Back to the hill. Back to Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. I don’t like this.”

“But they aren’t there. Do you think they’d come to us if we turned back now?”

“I don’t like it,” Calvin said again.

“Come on.” Impatience made Meg squeak. “You know we can’t go back. Mrs. Whatsit said to go into the town.” She started on down the street, and the two boys followed her. The houses, all identical, continued, as far as the eye could reach.

Then, all at once, they saw the same thing, and stopped to watch. In front of one of the houses stood a little boy with a ball, and he was bouncing it. But he bounced it rather badly and with no particular rhythm, sometimes dropping it and running after it with awkward, furtive leaps, sometimes throwing it up into the air and trying to catch it. The door of his house opened and out ran one of the mother figures. She looked wildly up and down the street, saw the children and put her hand to her mouth as though to stifle a scream, grabbed the little boy and rushed indoors with him. The ball dropped from his fingers and rolled out into the street.

Charles Wallace ran after it and picked it up, holding it out for Meg and Calvin to see. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary, brown rubber ball.

“Let’s take it in to him and see what happens,” Charles Wallace suggested.

Meg pulled at him. “Mrs. Whatsit said for us to go on into the town.”

“Well, we are in the town, aren’t we? The outskirts anyhow. I want to know more about this. I have a hunch it may help us later. You go on if you don’t want to come with me.

“No,” Calvin said firmly. “We’re going to stay together. Mrs. Whatsit said we weren’t to let them separate us. But I’m with you on this. Let’s knock and see what happens.”

They went up the path to the house, Meg reluctant, eager to get on into the town. “Let’s hurry,” she begged, please! Don’t you want to find Father?”

“Yes,” Charles Wallace said, “but not Blindly. How can we help him if we don’t know what we’re up against? And it’s obvious we’ve been brought here to help him, not just to find him.” He walked briskly up the steps and knocked at the door. They waited. Nothing happened. Then Charles Wallace saw a bell, and this he rang. They could hear the bell buzzing in the house, and the sound of it echoed down the street. After a moment the mother figure opened the door. All up and down the street other doors opened, but only a crack, and eyes peered toward the three children and the woman looking fearfully out the door at them.

“What do you want?” she asked. “It isn’t paper time yet; we’ve had milk time; we’ve had this month’s Puller Prush Person; and I’ve given my Decency Donations regularly. All my papers are in order.”

“I think your little boy dropped his ball,” Charles Wallace said, holding it out.

The woman pushed the ball away. “Oh, no! The children in our section never drop balls! They’re all perfectly trained. We haven’t had an Aberration for three years.”

 

All up and down the block, heads nodded in agreement.

Charles Wallace moved closer to the woman and looked past her into the house. Behind her in the shadows he could see the little boy, who must have been about his own age.

“You can’t come in,” the woman said. “You haven’t shown me any papers. I don’t have to let you in if you haven’t any papers.”

Charles Wallace held the ball out beyond the woman so that the little boy could see it. Quick as a flash the boy leaped forward and grabbed the ball from Charles Wallace’s hand, then darted back into the shadows. The woman went very white, opened her mouth as though to say something. then slammed the door in their faces instead. All up and down the street doors slammed.

“What are they afraid of?” Charles Wallace asked. “What’s the matter with them?”

“Don’t you know?” Meg asked him. “‘Don’t you know what all this is about, Charles?”

“Not yet,” Charles Wallace said. “Not even an inkling. And I’m trying. But I didn’t get through anywhere. Not even a chink. Let’s go.” He stumped down the steps.

After several blocks the houses gave way to apartment buildings; at least Meg felt sure that that was what they must be. They were fairly tall, rectangular buildings, absolutely plain, each window, each entrance exactly like every other. Then, coming toward them down the street, was a boy about Calvin’s age riding a machine that was something like a combination of a bicycle and a motorcycle. It had the slimness and lightness of a bicycle, and yet as the foot pedals turned they seemed to generate an unseen source of power, so that the boy could pedal very slowly and yet move along the street quite swiftly. As he reached each entrance he thrust one hand into a bag he wore slung over his shoulder, pulled out a roll of papers, and tossed it into the entrance. It might have been Dennys or Sandy or any one of hundreds of boys with a newspaper route in any one of hundreds of towns back home, and yet, as with the children playing ball and jumping rope, there was something wrong about it. The rhythm of the gesture never varied. The paper flew in identically the same arc at each doorway, landed in identically the same spot. It was impossible for anybody to throw with such consistent perfection.

Calvin whistled. “I wonder if they play baseball here?” As the boy saw them he slowed down on his machine and stopped, his hand arrested as it was about to, plunge into the paper bag. “What are you kids doing out on the street?” he demanded. “Only route boys are allowed out now, you know that.”

“No, we don’t know it,” Charles Wallace said. “We’re strangers here. How about telling us something about this place?”

“You mean you’ve had your entrance papers processed and everything?” the boy asked. “You must have if you’re here,” he answered himself. “And what are you doing here if you don’t know about us?”

“You tell me,” Charles Wallace said.

“Are you examiners?” the boy asked a little anxiously. “Everybody knows our city has the best Central Intelligence Center on the planet. Our production levels are the highest. Our factories never close; our machines never stop rolling. Added to this we have five poets, one musician, three artists, and six sculptors, all perfectly channeled.”

“What are you quoting from?” Charles Wallace asked.

“The Manual, of course,” the boy said. “We are the most oriented city on the planet. There has been no trouble of any kind for centuries. All Camazotz knows our record. That is why we are the capital city of Camazotz. That is why CENTRAL Central Intelligence is located here. That is why IT makes IT’s home here.” There was something about the way he said “IT’ that made a shiver run up and down Meg’s spine.

But Charles Wallace asked briskly, “Where is this Central Intelligence Center of yours?”

 ”CENTRAL Central,” the boy corrected. “Just keep going and you can’t miss it. You are strangers, aren’t you? What are you doing here?”

“Are you supposed to ask questions?” Charles Wallace demanded severely.

The boy went white, just as the woman had. “I humbly beg your pardon. I must continue my route now or I will have to talk my timing into the explainer.” And he shot off down the street on his machine.

Charles Wallace stared after him. “What is it?” he asked Meg and Charles. “There was something funny about the way he talked, as though—well, as though he weren’t really doing the talking. Know what I mean?”

Calvin nodded, thoughtfully. “Funny is right. Funny peculiar. Not only the way had he talked, either. The whole thing smells.”

“Come on.” Meg pulled at them. How many times was it she had urged them on? “Let’s go find Father. He’ll be able to explain it all to us.”

They walked on. After several more blocks they began to see other people, grown-up people, not children, walking up and down and across the streets. These people ignored the children entirely, seeming to be completely intent on their own business. Some of them went into the apartment buildings. Most of them were heading in the same direction as the children. As these people came to the main street from the side streets they would swing around the corners with an odd, automatic stride, as though they were so deep in their own problems and the route was so familiar that they didn’t have to pay any attention to where they were going.

After a while the apartment buildings gave way to what must have been office buildings, great stem structures with enormous entrances. Men and women with brief cases poured in and out.

Charles Wallace went up to one of the women, saying politely, “Excuse me, but could you please tell me—” But she hardly glanced at him as she continued on her way.

“Look.” Meg pointed. Ahead of them, across a square, was the largest building they had ever seen, higher than the Empire State Building, and almost as long as it was high.

“This must be it,” Charles Wallace said, “their CENTRAL Central Intelligence or whatever it is. Let’s go on.”

“But if Father’s in some kind of trouble with this planet,” Meg objected, “isn’t that exactly where we shouldn’t go?”

“Well, how do you propose finding him?” Charles Wallace demanded.

“I certainly wouldn’t ask there!”

“I didn’t say anything about asking. But we aren’t going to have the faintest idea where or how to begin to look for him until we find out something more about this place, and I have a hunch that that’s the place to start. If you have a better idea, Meg, why of course just say so.”

“Oh, get down off your high horse,” Meg said crossly. “Let’s go to your old CENTRAL Central Intelligence and get it over with.”

“I think we ought to have passports or something,” Calvin suggested. “This is much more than leaving America to go to Europe. And that boy and the woman both seemed to care so much about having things in proper order. We certainly haven’t got any papers in proper order.”

“If we needed passports or papers Mrs. Whatsit would have told us so,” Charles Wallace said.

Calvin put his hands on his hips and looked down at Charles Wallace. “Now look here, old sport. I love those three old girls just as much as you do, but I’m not sure they know everything.”

“They know a lot more than we do.”

“Granted. But you know Mrs. Whatsit talked about having been a star. I wouldn’t think that being a star would give her much practice in knowing about people. When she tried to be a person she came pretty close to goofing it up. There was never anybody on land or sea like Mrs. Whatsit the way she got herself up.”

“She was just having fun,” Charles said. “If she’d wanted to look like you or Meg I’ m sure she could have.”

Calvin shook his head. “I’m not so sure. And these people seem to be people, if you know what I mean. They aren’t like us, I grant you that, there’s something very off-beat about them. But they’re lots more like ordinary people than the ones on Uriel.”

“Do you suppose they’re robots?” Meg suggested.

Charles Wallace shook his head. “No. That boy who dropped the ball wasn’t any robot. And I don’t think the rest of them are, either. Let me listen for a minute.”

They stood very still, side by side, in the shadow of one of the big office buildings. Six large doors kept swinging open, shut, open, shut, as people went in and out, in and out, looking straight ahead, straight ahead, paying no attention to the children whatsoever, whatsoever. Charles wore his listening, probing look. “They’re not robots,” he said suddenly and definitely. “I’m not sure what they are, but they’re not robots. I can feel minds there. I can’t get at them at all, but I can feel them sort of pulsing. Let me try a minute more.”

The three of them stood there very quietly. The doors kept opening and shutting, opening and shutting, and the stiff people hurried in and out, in and out, walking jerkily like figures in an old silent movie. Then, abruptly, the stream of movement thinned. There were only a few people and these moved more rapidly, as if the film had been speeded up. One white-faced man in a dark suit looked directly at the children, said, “Oh, dear, I shall be late,” and flickered into the building.

“He’s like the white rabbit,” Meg giggled nervously.

“I’m scared,” Charles said. “I can’t reach them at all. I’m completely shut out.”

“We have to find Father—” Meg started again.

“Meg—” Charles Wallace’s eyes were wide and frightened. “I’m not sure I’ll even know Father. It’s been so long, and I was only a baby—”

Meg’s reassurance came quickly. “You’ll know him! Of course you’ll know him! The way you’d know me even without looking because I’m always there for you, you can always reach in—”

“Yes.” Charles punched one small fist into an open palm with a gesture of great decision. “Let’s go to CENTRAL Central Intelligence.”

Calvin reached out and caught both Charles and Meg by the arm. “You remember when we met, you asked me why I was there? And I told you it was because I had a compulsion, a feeling I just had to come to that particular place at that particular moment?”

“Yes, sure.”

“I’ve got another feeling. Not the same kind, a different one, a feeling that if we go into that building we’re going into terrible danger.”

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