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کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 7

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  7 - The Man With Red Eyes

“WE knew we were going to be in danger,” Charles Wallace said. “Mrs. Whatsit told us that.”

“Yes, and she told us that it was going to be worse for you than for Meg and me, and that you must be careful. You stay right here with Meg, old sport, and let me go in and case the joint and then report to you.”

“No,” Charles Wallace said firmly. “She told us to stay together. She told us not to go off by ourselves.”

“She told you not to go off by yourself. I’m the oldest and I should go in first.”

“No.” Meg’s voice was flat “Charles is right, Cal. We have to stay together. Suppose you didn’t come out and we had to go in after you? Unh-unh. Come on. But let’s hold hands if you don’t mind.”

Holding hands, they crossed the square. The huge CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building had only one door, but it was an enormous one, at least two stories high and wider than a room, made of a dull, bronzelike material.

“Do we just knock?” Meg giggled.

Calvin studied the door. “There isn’t any handle or knob or latch or anything. Maybe there’s another way to get in.”

“Let’s try knocking anyhow,” Charles said. He raised his hand, but before he touched the door it slid up from the top and to each side, splitting into three sections that had been completely invisible a moment before. The startled children looked into a great entrance hall of dull, ‘greeny marble. Marble benches lined three of the walls. People were sitting there like statues. The green of the marble reflecting on their faces made them look bilious. They turned their heads as the door opened, saw the children, looked away-again.

“Come on,” Charles said. And, still holding hands, they stepped in. As they crossed the threshold the door shut silently behind them. Meg looked at Calvin and Charles and they, like the waiting people, were a sickly green.

The children went up to the blank fourth wall. It seemed unsubstantial, as though one might almost be able to walk through it. Charles put out his hand. “It’s solid, and icy cold.”

Calvin touched it, too. “Ugh.”

Meg’s left hand was held by Charles, her right by Calvin, and she had no desire to let go either of them to touch the wall.

“Let’s ask somebody something.” Charles led them over to one of the benches. “Er, could you tell us what’s the procedure around here?” he asked one of the men. The men all wore nondescript business suits, and though their features were as different one from the other as the features of men on earth, there was also a sameness to them.

—Like the sameness of people riding in a subway, Meg thought. —Only on a subway every once in a while there’s somebody different and here there isn’t.

The man looked at the children warily. “The procedure for what?”

“How do we see whoever’s in authority?” Charles asked.  “You present your papers to the A machine. You ought to know that,” the man said severely.

“Where is the A machine?” Calvin asked.

The man pointed to the blank wall.

“But there isn’t a door or anything,” Calvin said. “How do we get in?”

“You put your S papers in the B slot,” the man said. “Why are you asking me these stupid questions? Do you think I don’t know the answers? You’d better not play any games around here or you’ll have to go through the Process machine again and you don’t want to do that.”

“We’re strangers here,” Calvin said. “That’s why we don’t know about tilings. Please tell us, sir, who you are and what you do.”

“I run a number-one spelling machine on the second- grade level.”

“But what are you doing here now?” Charles Wallace asked.

“I am here to report that one of my letters is jamming, and until it can be properly oiled by an F Grade oiler there is danger of jammed minds.”

“Strawberry jam or raspberry?” Charles Wallace murmured. Calvin looked down at Charles and shook Us head warningly. Meg gave the little boy’s hand a slight, understanding pressure. Charles Wallace, she was quite sure, was not trying to be rude or funny; it was his way of whistling in the dark.

The man looked at Charles sharply. “I think I shall have to report you. I’m fond of children, due to the nature of my work and I don’t like to get them in trouble, but rather than run the risk myself of reprocessing I must report you.”

“Maybe that’s a good idea,” Charles said. “Who do you report us to?”

“To whom do I report you.”

“Well, to whom, then. I’m not on the second-grade level yet.”

—I wish he wouldn’t act so sure of himself, Meg thought, looking anxiously at Charles and holding his hand more and more tightly until he wriggled his fingers in protest. That’s what Mrs. Whatsit said he had to watch, being proud. —Don’t, please don’t, she thought hard at Charles Wallace. She wondered if Calvin realized that a lot of the arrogance was bravado.

The man stood up, moving jerkily as though he had been sitting for a long time. “I hope he isn’t too hard on you,” he murmured as he led the children toward the empty fourth wall. “But I’ve been reprocessed once and that was more than enough. And I don’t want to get sent to IT. I’ve never been sent to IT and I can’t risk having that happen.”

There was IT again. What was this IT?

The man took from his pocket a folder filled with papers of every color. He shuffled through them carefully, finally withdrawing one. “I’ve had several reports to make lately. I shall have to ask for a requisition for more A-21 cards.” He took the card and put it against the wall. It slid through the marble, as though it were being sucked in, and disappeared. “You may be detained for a few days,” the man said, “but I’m sure they won’t be too hard on you because of your youth. Just relax and don’t fight and it will all be much easier for you.” He went back to his seat, leaving the children standing and staring at the blank wall.

And suddenly the wall was no longer there and they were looking into an enormous room lined with machines. They were not unlike the great computing machines Meg had seen in her science books and that she knew her father sometimes worked with. Some did not seem to be in use; in others lights were flickering on and off. In one machine a long tape was being eaten; in another a series of dot-dashes were being punched. Several white-robed attendants were moving about, tending the machines. If they saw the children they gave no sign.

Calvin muttered something.

“What?” Meg asked him.

“There is nothing to fear except fear itself,” Calvin said. I’m quoting. Like Mrs. Who. Meg, I’m scared stiff.”

“So’m I.” Meg held his hand more tightly. “Come on.”

They stepped into the room with the machines. In spite of the enormous width of the room it was even longer than it was wide. Perspective made the long rows of machines seem almost to meet. The children walked down the center of the room, keeping as far from the machines as possible.

“Though I don’t suppose they’re radioactive or anything,” Charles Wallace said, “or that they’re going to reach out and grab us and chew us up.”

After they had walked for what seemed like miles, they could see that the enormous room did have an end, and that at the end there was something.    Charles Wallace said suddenly, and his voice held panic, “Don’t let go my hands! Hold me tight! He’s trying to get at me!”

“Who?” Meg squeaked.

“I don’t know. But he’s trying to get in at me! I can feel him!”

“Let’s go back.” Calvin started to pull away.

“No,” Charles Wallace said. “I have to go on. We have to make decisions, and we can’t make them if they’re based on fear.” His voice sounded old and strange and remote. Meg, clasping his small hand tightly, could feel it sweating in hers.

As they approached the end of the room their steps slowed. Before them was a platform. On the platform was a chair, and on the chair was a man.

What was there about him that seemed to contain all the coldness and darkness they had felt as they plunged through the Black Thing on their way to this planet?

“I have been waiting for you, my dears,” the man said. His voice was kind and gentle, not at all the cold and frightening voice Meg had expected. It took her a moment to realize that though the voice came from the man, he had not opened his mouth or moved his lips at all, that no real words had been spoken to fall upon her ears, that he had somehow communicated directly into their brains.

“But how does it happen that there are three of you?” the man asked.

Charles Wallace spoke with harsh boldness, but Meg could feel him trembling. “Oh, Calvin just came along for the ride.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” For a moment there was a sharpness to the voice that spoke inside their minds. Then it relaxed and became soothing again. “I hope that it has been a pleasant one so far.”

“Very educational,” Charles Wallace said. “Let Calvin speak for himself,” the man ordered. Calvin growled, his lips tight, his body rigid. “I have nothing to say.”

 Meg stared at the man in horrified fascination. His eyes were bright and had a reddish glow. Above his head was a light, and it glowed in the same manner as the eyes, pulsing, throbbing, in steady rhythm.

Charles Wallace shut his eyes tightly. “Close your eyes,” he said to Meg and Calvin. “Don’t look at the light. Don’t look at his eyes. Hell hypnotize you.”

“Clever, aren’t you? Focusing your eyes would, of course, help,” the soothing voice went on, “but there are other ways, my little man. Oh, yes, there are other ways.”

“If you try it on me I shall kick you!” Charles Wallace said. It was the first time Meg had ever heard Charles Wallace suggesting violence.

“Oh, will you, indeed, my little man?” The thought was tolerant, amused, but four men in dark smocks appeared and flanked the children.

“Now, my dears,” the words continued, “I shall of course have no need of recourse to violence, but I thought perhaps it would save you pain if I showed you at once that it would do you no good to try to oppose me. You see, what you will soon realize is that there is no need to fight me.

Not only is there no need, but you will not have the slightest desire to do so. For why should you wish to fight someone who is here only to save you pain and trouble? For you, as well as for the rest of all the happy, useful people on this planet, I, in my own strength, am willing to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decision.”

“We will make our own decisions, thank you,” Charles Wallace said.

“But of course. And our decisions will be one, yours and mine. Don’t you see how much better, how much easier for you that is? Let me show you. Let us say the multiplication table together.”

“No,” Charles Wallace said.

“Once one is one. Once two is two. Once three is three.”

“Mary had a little Iamb!” Charles Wallace shouted. “Its fleece was white as snow!”

“Once four is four. Once five is five. Once six is six.”

“And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go!”

“Once seven is seven. Once eight is eight. Once nine is nine.”

“Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her—”

“Once ten is ten. Once eleven is eleven. Once twelve is twelve.”

The number words pounded insistently against Meg’s brain. They seemed to be boring their way into her skull.

“Twice one is two. Twice two is four. Twice three is six.”

Calvin’s voice came out in an angry shout. “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

“Twice four is eight. Twice five is ten. Twice six is twelve.”

“Father!” Meg screamed. “Father!” The scream, half involuntary, jerked her mind back out of darkness.

The words of the multiplication table seemed to break up into laughter. “Splendid! Splendid! You have passed your preliminary tests with flying colors.”  “You didn’t think we were as easy as all that, falling for that old stuff, did you?” Charles Wallace demanded.

“Ah, I hoped not. I most sincerely hoped not. But after all you are very young and very impressionable, and the younger the better, my little man. The younger the better.”

Meg looked up at the fiery eyes, at the light pulsing above them, and then away. She tried looking at the mouth, at the thin, almost colorless lips, and this was more possible, even though she had to look obliquely, so that she was not sure exactly what the face really looked like, whether it was young or old, cruel or kind, human or alien.

“If you please,” she said, trying to sound calm and brave. “The only reason we are here is because we think our father is here. Can you tell us where to find him?”

“Ah, your father!” There seemed to be a great chortling of delight. “Ah, yes, your father! It is not can I, you know, young lady, but will I?”

“Will you, then?”

“That depends on a number of things. Why do you want your father?”

“Didn’t you ever have a father yourself?” Meg demanded. “You don’t want him for a reason. You want him because he’s your father”

“Ah, but he hasn’t been acting very like a father, lately, has he? Abandoning his wife and his four little children to go gallivanting off on wild adventures of his own.”

“He was working for the government. He’d never have left us otherwise. And we want to see him, please. Right now.”

“My, but the little miss is impatient! Patience, patience, young lady.”

Meg did not tell the man on the chair that patience was not one of her virtues.

“And by the way, my children,” he continued blandly, “you don’t need to vocalize verbally with me, you know. I can understand you quite as well as you can understand me.” Charles Wallace put his hands on his hips defiantly. “The spoken word is one of the triumphs of man,” he proclaimed, “and I intend to continue using it, particularly with people I don’t trust.” But his voice was shaking. Charles Wallace, who even as an infant had seldom cried, was near tears.

“And you don’t trust me?”

“What reason have you given us to trust you?”

“What cause have I given you for distrust?” The thin lips curled slightly.

Suddenly Charles Wallace darted forward and hit the man as hard as he could, which was fairly hard, as he had had a good deal of coaching from the twins.

“Charles!” Meg screamed.

The men in dark smocks moved smoothly but with swiftness to Charles. The man in the chair casually raised one finger, and the men dropped back.

“Hold it—” Calvin whispered, and together he and Meg darted forward and grabbed Charles Wallace, pulling him back from the platform.

The man gave a wince and the thought of his voice was a little breathless, as though Charles Wallace’s punch had succeeded in winding him. “May I ask why you did that?”

“Because you aren’t you,” Charles Wallace said. “I’m not sure what you are, but you”—he pointed to the man on the chair—”aren’t what’s talking to us. I’m sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t think you were real. I thought perhaps you were a robot, because I don’t feel anything coming directly from you. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but it’s coming through you. It isn’t you.”

“Pretty smart, aren’t you?” the thought asked, and Meg had an uncomfortable feeling that she detected a snarl.

“It’s not that I’m smart,” Charles Wallace said, and again Meg could feel the palm of his hand sweating inside hers.

“Try to find out who I am, then,” the thought probed.

“I have been trying,” Charles Wallace said, his voice high and troubled.

“Look into my eyes. Look deep within them and I will tell you.”

Charles Wallace looked quickly at Meg and Calvin, then said, as though to himself, “I have to,” and focused his clear blue eyes on the red ones of the man in the chair. Meg looked not at the man but at her brother. After a moment it seemed that his eyes were no longer focusing. The pupils grew smaller and smaller, as though he were looking into an intensely bright light, until they seemed to close entirely, until his eyes were nothing but an opaque blue. He slipped his hands out of Meg’s and Calvin’s and started walking slowly toward the man on the chair.

“No!” Meg screamed. “No!”

But Charles Wallace continued his slow walk forward, and she knew that he had not heard her.

“No!” she screamed again, and ran after him. With her inefficient flying tackle she landed on him. She was so much larger than he that he fell sprawling, hitting his head a sharp crack against the marble floor. She knelt by him, sobbing. After a moment of lying there as though he had been knocked out by the blow, he opened his eyes, shook his head, and sat up. Slowly the pupils of his eyes dilated until they were back to normal, and the blood came back to his white cheeks.

The man on the chair spoke directly into Meg’s mind, and now there was a distinct menace to the words. “I am not pleased,” he said to her. “I could very easily lose patience with you, and that, for your information, young lady, would not be good for your father. If you have the slightest desire to see your father again, you had better cooperate.”

Meg reacted as she sometimes reacted to Mr. Jenkins at school. She scowled down at the ground in sullen fury. “It might help if you gave us something to eat.” she complained. “We’re all starved. If you’re going to be horrible to us you might as well give us full stomachs first.”

Again the thoughts coming at her broke into laughter.

“Isn’t she the funny girl, though? It’s lucky for you that you amuse me, my dear, or I shouldn’t be so easy on you. The boys I find not nearly so diverting. Ah, well. Now, tell me, young lady, if I feed you will you stop interfering with me?”

“No,” Meg said.

“Starvation does work wonders, of course,” the man / told her. “I hate to use such primitive methods on you, but of course you realize that you force them on me.”

“I wouldn’t eat your old food, anyhow.” Meg was still all churned up and angry as though she were in Mr. Jenkins’ office. “I wouldn’t trust it.”

“Of course our food, being synthetic, is not superior to your messes of beans and bacon and so forth, but I assure you that it’s far more nourishing, and though it has no taste of its own, a slight conditioning is all that is necessary to give you the illusion that you are eating a roast turkey dinner.”

“If I ate now I’d throw up, anyhow,” Meg said.

Still holding Meg’s and Calvin’s hands, Charles Wallace stepped forward. “Okay, what next?” he asked the man on the chair. “We’ve had enough of these preliminaries. Let’s get on with it.”

“That’s exactly what we were doing,” the man said, “until your sister interfered by practically giving you a brain concussion. Shall we try again?”

“No!” Meg cried. “No, Charles. Please. Let me do it. Or Calvin.”

“But it is only the little boy whose neurological system is complex enough. If you tried to conduct the necessary neurons your brains would explode.”

“And Charles’s wouldn’t?”

“I think not.”

“But there’s a possibility?”

“There’s always a possibility.”

“Then he mustn’t do it.”

“I think you will have to grant him the right to make his own decisions.”

But Meg, with the dogged tenacity that had so often caused her trouble, continued. “You mean Calvin and I can’t know who you really are?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t say that. You can’t know it in the same way, nor is it as important to me to have you know. Ah, here we are!” From somewhere in the shadows appeared four more men in dark smocks carrying a table. It was covered with a white cloth, like the tables used by Room Service in hotels, and held a metal hot box containing something that smelled delicious, something that smelled like a turkey dinner.

There’s something phoney in the whole setup, Meg thought. There is definitely something rotten in the state of Camazotz.

Again the thoughts seemed to break into laughter. “Of course it doesn’t really smell, but isn’t it as good as though it really did?”

“I don’t smell anything,” Charles Wallace said.

“I know, young man, and think how much you’re missing. This will all taste to you as though you were eating sand. But I suggest that you force it down. I would rather not have your decisions come from the weakness of an empty stomach.”

The table was set up in front of them, and the dark smocked men heaped their plates with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and gravy and little green peas with big yellow blobs of butter melting in them and cranberries and sweet potatoes topped with gooey browned marshmallows and olives and celery and rosebud radishes and— Meg felt her stomach rumbling loudly. The saliva came to her mouth.

“Oh, Jeeminy—” Calvin mumbled.

Chairs appeared and the four men who had provided the feast slid back into the shadows.

Charles Wallace freed his hands from Meg and Calvin and plunked himself down on one of the chairs.

“Come on,” he said. “If it’s poisoned it’s poisoned, but I don’t think it is.”

Calvin sat down. Meg continued to stand indecisively.

Calvin took a bite. He chewed. He swallowed. He looked at Meg. “If this isn’t real, it’s the best imitation you’ll ever get” Charles Wallace took a bite, made a face, and spit out his mouthful. “It’s unfair!” he shouted at the man. Laughter again. “Go on, little fellow. Eat.” Meg sighed and sat. “I don’t think we should eat this stuff, but if you’re going to, I’d better, too.” She took a mouthful. “It tastes all right. Try some of mine, Charles.” She held out a forkful of turkey.

Charles Wallace took it, made another face, but managed to swallow. “Still tastes like sand,” he said. He looked at the man. “Why?”

    ”You know perfectly well why. You’ve shut your mind entirely to me. The other two can’t. I can get in through the chinks. Not all the way in, but enough to give them a turkey dinner. You see, I’m really just a kind, Jolly old gentleman.”

“Ha,” Charles Wallace said.

The man lifted his lips into a smile, and his smile was the most horrible thing Meg had ever seen. “Why don’t you trust me, Charles? Why don’t you trust me enough to come in and find out what I am? I am peace and utter rest. I am freedom from all responsibility. To come in to me is the last difficult decision you need ever make,”

“If I come in can I get out again?” Charles Wallace asked.

“But of course, if you want to. But I don’t think you will want to.”

“If I come—not to stay, you understand—just to find out about you, will you tell us where Father is?”

“Yes. That is a promise. And I don’t make promises lightly.”

“Can I speak to Meg and Calvin alone, without your listening in?”


Charles shrugged. “Listen,” he said to Meg and Calvin. “I have to find out what he really is. You know that. I’m going to try to hold back. I’m going to try to keep part of myself out. You mustn’t stop me this time, Meg.”

“But you won’t be able to, Charles! He’s stronger than you are! You know that!”

“I have to try.”

“But Mrs. Whatsit warned you!”

“I have to try. For Father, Meg. Please. I want—I want to know my father—” For a moment his lips trembled. Then he was back in control. “But it isn’t only Father, Meg. You know that, now. It’s the Black Thing. We have to do what Mrs. Which sent us to do.”

“Calvin-” Meg begged.

But Calvin shook his head. “He’s right, Meg. And we’ll be with him, no matter what happens.”

“But what’s going to happen?” Meg cried, Charles Wallace looked up.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Now the red eyes and the light above seemed to bore into Charles, and again the pupils of the little boy’s eyes contracted. When the final point of black was lost in blue he turned away from the red eyes, looked at Meg, and smiled sweetly, but the smile was not Charles Wallace’s smile.

“Come on, Meg, eat this delicious food that has been prepared for us,” he said.

Meg snatched Charles Wallace’s plate and threw it on the floor, so that the dinner splashed about and the plate broke into fragments. “No!” She cried, her voice rising shrilly. “No! No! No!” From the shadows came one of the dark-smocked men and put another plate in front of Charles Wallace, and he began to eat eagerly. “What’s wrong, Meg?” Charles Wallace asked. “Why are you being so belligerent and uncooperative?” The voice was Charles Wallace’s voice, and yet it was different, too, somehow flattened out, almost as a voice might have sounded on the two-dimensional planet.

Meg grabbed wildly at Calvin, shrieking, “That isn’t Charles! Charles is gone!”

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