Harry Harrison: Captive Universe

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Harry Harrison Captive Universe
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Captive Universe: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A young man in a primitive valley, terrorized by despotic rulers, cruelty, superstition and by very real monsters of awesome power sets off on a quest for freedom. When he reaches the world outside his valley, however, he makes an astonishing discovery, at once terrible and wonderful, about the nature of his entire world!

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Captive Universe

by Harry Harrison


O nen nontlacat
O nen nonqizaco
ye nican in tlalticpac:
in manel nonquiz,
in manel nontlacat.
ye nican in tlalticpac.

In vain was I born,
In vain was it written
that here on earth:
I suffer,
Yet at least
it was something
to be born on earth.

Aztec chant


Chimal ran in panic. The moon was still hidden by the cliffs on the eastern side of the valley, but its light was already tipping their edges with silver. Once it had risen above them he would be as easily seen as the holy pyramid out here among the sprouting corn. Why had he not thought? Why had he taken the risk? His breath tore at his throat as he gasped and ran on, his heart pulsed like a great drum that filled his chest. Even the recent memory of Quiauh and her arms tight about him could not drive away the world-shaking fear — why had he done it?

If only he could reach the river, it was so close ahead. His woven sandals dug into the dry soil, pushing him forward toward the water and safety.

A sibilant, distant hissing cut through the silence of the night and Chimal’s legs gave way, sending him to the ground in a spasm of terror. It was Coatlicue, she of the serpent heads, he was dead! He was dead!

Lying there, his fingers clawing uncontrollably at the knee-high corn stalks, he struggled to put his thoughts in order, to speak his death chant because the time of dying had come. He had broken the rule, so he would die: a man cannot escape the gods. The hissing was louder now and it sliced through his head like a knife, he could not think, yet he must. With an effort he mumbled the first words of the chant as the moon rose above the ledge of rock, almost full, flooding the valley with glowing light and throwing a black shadow from every cornstalk about him. Chimal turned his head to look back over his shoulder and there, clear as the road to the temple, was the deep-dug line of his footprints between the rows of corn. Quiauh — they will find you!

He was guilty and for him there could be no escape. The taboo had been broken and Coatlicue the dreadful was coming for him. The guilt was his alone; he had forced his love on Quiauh, he had. Hadn’t she struggled? It was written that the gods could be interceded with, and if they saw no evidence they would take him as a sacrifice and Quiauh might live. His knees were weak with terror yet he pulled himself to his feet and turned, running, starting back toward the village of Quilapa that he had so recently left, angling away from the revealing row of footprints.

Terror drove him on, though he knew escape was hopeless, and each time the hissing sliced the air it was closer until, suddenly, a larger shadow enveloped his shadow that fled before him and he fell. Fear paralyzed him and he had to fight against his own muscles to turn his head and see that which had pursued him.

Coatlicue!” he screamed, driving all the air from his lungs with that single word.

High she stood, twice as tall as any man, and both her serpents’ heads bent down toward him, eyes glowing redly with the lights of hell, forked tongues flicking in and out. As she circled about him the moonlight struck full onto her necklace of human hands and hearts, illuminated the skirt of writhing snakes that hung from her waist. As Coatlicue’s twin mouths hissed the living kirtle moved, and the massed serpents hissed in echo. Chimal lay motionless, beyond terror now, accepting death from which there is no escape, spread-eagled like a sacrifice on the altar.

The goddess bent over him and he could see that she was just as she appeared in the stone carvings in the temple, fearful and inhuman, with claws instead of hands. They were not tiny pincers, like those of a scorpion or a river crayfish, but were great flat claws as long as his forearm that opened hungrily as they came at him. They closed, grating on the bones in his wrists, severing his right arm, then his left Two more hands for that necklace.

“I have broken the law and left my village in the night and crossed the river. I die.” His voice was only a whisper that grew stronger as he began the death chant in the shadow of the poised and waiting goddess.

I leave

Descend in one night to the underworld regions

Here we but meet

Briefly, transient on this earth…

When he had finished Coatlicue bent lower, reaching down past her writhing serpent kirtle, and tore out his beating heart.


Beside her, in a small pottery bowl set carefully in the shade of the house so they would not wilt, was a spray of quiauhxochitl, the rain flower after which she had been named. As she knelt over the stone metatl grinding corn, Quiauh murmured a prayer to the goddess of the flower asking her to keep the dark gods at bay. Today they drew so close to her she could scarcely breathe and only long habit enabled her to keep drawing the grinder back and forth over the slanted surface. Today was the sixteenth anniversary of the day, the day when they had found Chimal’s body on this side of the riverbank, torn apart by Coatlicue’s vengeance. Just two days after the Ripening Corn festival. Why had she been spared? Coatlicue must know that she had broken the taboo, just as Chimal had, yet she lived. Every year since then, on the anniversary of the day, she walked in fear. And each time death had passed her by. So far.

This year was the worst of all, because today they had taken her son to the temple for judgment. Disaster must strike now. The gods had been watching all these years, waiting for this day, knowing all the time that her son Chimal was the son of Chimal-popoca, the man from Zaachila who had broken the clan taboo. She moaned deep in her throat when she breathed, yet she kept steadily grinding the fresh grains of corn.

The shadow of the valley wall was darkening her house and she had already patted out the tortillas between her palms and put them to bake on the cumal over the fire when she heard the slow footsteps. People had carefully avoided her house all day. She did not turn. It was someone coming to tell her that her son was a sacrifice, was dead. It was the priests coming to take her to the temple for her sin of sixteen years ago.

“My mother,” the boy said. She saw him leaning weakly against the white wall of the house and when he moved his hand a red mark was left behind.

“Lie down here,” she said, hurrying inside the house for a petlatl, then spreading this grass sleeping mat outside the door where there was still light. He was alive, they were both alive, the priests had simply beaten him! She stood, clasping her hands, wanting to sing, until he dropped face down on the mat and she saw that they had beaten his back too, as well as his arms. He lay there quietly, eyes open and staring across the valley, while she mixed water with the healing herbs and patted them onto the bloody weals: he shivered slightly at the touch, but said nothing.

“Can you tell your mother why this happened?” she asked, looking at his immobile profile and trying to read some meaning into his face. She could not tell what he was thinking. It had always been this way since he had been a little boy. His thoughts seemed to go beyond her, to leave her out. This must be part of a curse: if one broke a taboo one must suffer.

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