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Moonseed

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год

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They were silent for a while.

She leaned forward. ‘Do you have to go back to work?’

‘Yes.’ He thought about it. ‘No, not necessarily.’

‘Maybe we could skip dinner.’

He looked into her eyes. ‘Oh.’

She said nothing.

He thought it over. ‘Let me pick up the tab.’

‘No. My shout.’

They stood up.

They went back to Henry’s hotel room, in the Balmoral.

It was … memorable.

She was tender, loving, funny. Whereas Geena had always had that chilling air of assessing his athletic prowess the whole time.

But it wasn’t as if they were obvious soul mates. Jane was smart, and logical, but she was obviously coming to quite different conclusions about the world from his own.

Maybe they were complementary, somehow.

He remembered a story, he thought by Plato. How, at the beginning of time, human beings were split in two, by a malevolent god, into halves: male and female. They ran around the Earth thereafter, searching blindly, never happy.

Unless the two halves of a whole, by chance, met up and joined. Once joined, they were complete, and would never part again.

With Jane, it felt like that.

He hardly knew her, he realized. But he felt comfortable in her silence.

Later, lying beside her, he found himself thinking about the liquefaction patch.

He’d been up there, to the Seat, two or three times a week since they first found that puddle. And every time he’d found it had grown.

It was hard to be precise – much of the spread was subsurface – and he was only measuring with shoe leather anyhow. But he was pretty sure the growth was exponential. Doubling every few days.

He recalled Jane’s question about telling somebody.

What the hell was this? And how, indeed, could it be stopped?

Because if it couldn’t –

He started to worry.

He leaned over in bed, and picked up the phone. ‘Can you tell me how to get an outside line?’

He got out of bed, and padded to the cupboard where he’d hung up his jacket. In his wallet he had a card with the number of VDAP, the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program at the US Geological Survey.

He dialled the number, and tapped the card on his teeth. ‘Never leave home without it … Hey.’ He checked his watch. ‘Sorry to disturb you so early. Could you put me through to Blue Ishiguro?’

II

Henry emerged from the lab’s fluorescent harshness into bright afternoon daylight. In his rental car he drove the short distance to Holyrood Park, and, pulling on his rad-proof poncho, walked up the Seat, leaving the traffic noises behind. He drank in the warm, fresh air of this mid-April day. He was coming to like Scotland, he thought; there was something refreshing about the air here, the very light. Something northern.

He had now got into the habit of doing this, walking out to monitor the disfigurement of the Seat, every day.

Today he found the biggest dust pools had been cordoned off by plastic police tape fixed to metal posts. Not far from the site where St Anthony’s Chapel used to stand – now just an anonymous patch in the glass-smooth surface of a dust pit – a young policewoman was standing. She wasn’t like the cops back home. She wore a blue sweater and tie, and the heavy equipment that dangled from her belt was just a radio. No gun. She didn’t look like she needed it.

Henry walked up to her, introduced himself, and told her he was here to study the site. He offered to show her some credentials, but she waved him away.

‘Go ahead, Dr Meacher.’ Her accent was crisp and precise; she was cheery, dapper, competent, very Scottish. ‘I’ve seen you on the TV.’ That was likely; he’d featured, to his chagrin, as a strange-but-true item on the local news, the eccentric Yank here to study the Moon rock. ‘Besides,’ she said, ‘I can see the hammer on your belt. Just don’t fall in.’

‘I won’t.’

‘There are Government scientists coming up to study this. It’s caused quite a stir.’

‘I’ll bet it has.’

She nodded. ‘We’re going to need more cordon tape, aren’t we?’

‘That you are. Take care, officer –’

‘Constable Decker.’

He left her at her post.

He set himself to walk around the perimeter of the primary pool at the summit – as close as he could get, given the police tape – counting his paces as he went.

The pool lay over the craggy agglomerate like a silvery blanket, dimly reflecting the afternoon sun, like a splash of mercury paint. In some places it had actually adjusted the shape of the Seat; bits of the old plug had subsided into the spreading silvery pool, as if dissolved in some powerful acid.

He approached his starting point once more.

There was Constable Decker, standing relaxed, and a little further down the hillside there was the patient group of cultists. Just like every day, they seemed happy; he could hear guitars, folk songs, raucous laughter. A TV crew was making some kind of report, a girl reporter being filmed against the glimmering background of the Seat’s wound. The reporter was in a radiation-proofed smock, but most of the other people here weren’t.

The whole incident was turning into a kind of low-grade circus, he thought, an item for the end of the TV news, a little scary but too strange to take seriously, like skateboarding dogs and skydiving wedding parties and Moonstruck Yank geologists.

Henry had a palm-top computer in his jacket pocket; he pulled it out. He entered the paces he’d counted, made an adjustment for the fact that he hadn’t been able to approach the rim of the pool as closely as before because of the tape, divided by pi on the assumption that the pool was circular … He entered the new data point onto a log-log graph he’d set up in the palm-top. The graph reduced the growth pattern to a straight line.

The new point was close to the line he’d established with his earlier data.

The growth he saw today was just what he’d found before. Steady. Relentless.

‘I was right about the damn police tape,’ he muttered.

He expanded the scale of his graph. He would be able to figure out how far out this shit would reach, given time … It wasn’t reassuring.

This was the easy part, of course. And he had already started to skew the work in the lab, focusing on this accelerating phenomenon, with studies of field samples, literature searches and phone calls to check on comparable cases (there were none). That was easy, too, all under his control, more or less.

The tough part was figuring out what the hell to do about this, how to tell people. From that, he found himself shying away. It wasn’t any part of his career plan to become a prophet of doom.

But if his numbers were right – if the phenomenon wasn’t self-limiting, if this inexorable growth continued – soon he wasn’t going to have a lot of choice.

Afterwards, Henry walked up the glacial tail of Castle Rock, towards the Castle grounds themselves.

The crest of the tail was topped by a chain of streets known collectively as the Royal Mile. The buildings here, the heart of the Old Town, were antiques, and some were imposing, like the uncompromising block of St Giles’ Cathedral; and it was startling to see, peering through steep alleys, a glimpse of the blue waters of the Firth. But to Henry the place was polluted by twee tourist shops selling junk, kilts and bagpipes and whisky marmalade and Scottish ancestry gizmos.

But some of the pubs were good. And he had to admit he had paid his dollar to go see the Camera Obscura, a Victorian sightseeing gimmick that worked better than he had expected.

Castle Rock was another volcanic plug, smaller than Arthur’s Seat but of the same vintage, sprouting from the same underground magmatic complex. The Castle itself was a sandstone mound of buildings, walls and turrets and battlements, looking as if it had grown out of the basaltic crag on which it was built.

He walked around the grounds, inspecting the basalt that underpinned the Castle – in some cases, rocky outcrops had simply been incorporated into the walls – but to Henry’s relief there was no sign here of the contamination which had disfigured the Seat.

He climbed to the Upper Ward, and looked out from the cannon-platform terrace to the north. He could see the railway line and Princes Street, two great avenues stretching west to east, converging towards the odd structures on Calton Hill to the north-east. Between the rail line and Princes Street was the garden, that old drained loch. It was studded with trees, a little marred by a huge white marquee where – Henry had learned – a band played during the summer arts festival. Beyond that was the cluttered landscape of the New Town, with its sandstone monuments – the Scott Monument, his own Balmoral Hotel, the banks and insurance companies on George Street – jutting out of the forest of roofs, and beyond that, serene and calm, was the blue surface of the Firth of Forth, and the rocky northern coast.