Once again, the dreamy smile. “I have a better idea. That’s why I need your help . . . I want to pop the cork at Gibraltar and let the Atlantic into the Med Basin. Drown the exotics like rats in a barrel. I’ll do the heavy blasting, and you’ll show me where to put the shots so the walls come tumbling down.”
The gondola lurched but Felice clung easily to the web of cables. The balloon seemed to be dragged through the sky by a genie force. It crossed the Gibraltar crest a kilometre high and came to a halt in emptiness above the dry Alborán Basin.
“Now look under the rocks again,” Stein said. “As deep as you can. Tell me what you see.”
“Um . . . the shadows make this big bend. A huge U-shape lying between Spain and Africa. The bottom of the U points to the Atlantic. But the cracks are all different here. There are smaller ones branching out of the U’s curve. And way, way down is this hot thing – ”
“Stay the hell out of that! You’re starting to blast at the surface now. But below sea level, on this eastern slope. About where the yellow rock layer is. You grab? Tunnel in. Push the junk out of the way. Hit the caves. Then blow the roof out. Never mind about making the cut wide or straight. Just dig deep and head in the general direction of that other slanting fault you were working on.”
She nodded, turned her back to him. There was a fearful blaze of light and unending noise. The balloon’s gondola swayed gently as the girl shifted position; but the other two passengers felt none of the shock waves, tasted none of the dust. They floated unscathed while Felice smote the earth and debris boiled up. The easterly wind carried streamers out over the Atlantic. The girl sent bolt after bolt of psychoenergy into the landbridge which was, at sea level, perhaps twenty kilometres wide at the narrowest part. She hacked out a long crevice, never more than fifty metres across except where some great cavern’s roof was undermined, creating a sinkhole. Clogging masses of rock exploded into dust for the winds to scatter.
She struck. She struck! Five kilometres in. And ten. Carve and rend! Make a sluiceway for the cleansing waters. Fifteen kilometres in. Blast. Blast! Slower now, through the heart of the rotten isthmus. On to where the Atlantic waits. Strike. Strike. Wearily now, but continue. Find the energy somewhere. In some other space, some other time? Who cares where the power comes from. Only focus. Hit ! Hit again. Again. And now so close. And now . . . now . . . yes. Through.
Laugh. See, Felicia Tonans, ignorant child-flinger of mindbolts! See what you’ve done, boobing it!
You’ve let the cut become shallower and shallower as you drove westward, weakening. And now the breakthrough, when it comes, is a ridiculous anti-climax. The penetration is a scant metre below natural sea level. The Atlantic enters diffidently, trickling along the rough hot floor of your incompetent chasm. It has been long millions of years since the waters flowed in this direction, toward the Empty Sea. The way is strange . . .
“Felice! For God’s sake! You gotta do better than that – it’s just piddling through! Plane out that friggin’ gradient!”
She drooped, still clutching the balloon cables. The protective bubble attenuated. Around them, heat rose. With it came a smell of rock dust and molten minerals.
“Tired. So tired, Steinie.”
“Get on with it! The rock underneath is busted to hell along the main fault. Keep going! Hit the sucker, I tellya! The rock’ll rupture from water pressure if you just get the cut deep enough. Can’t you see that with your damn X-ray vision?”
She didn’t reply, didn’t even cuss him out, only swayed a little with her eyes shut and her little bare dirty feet trying to grasp the gondola’s padded rail.
He screamed at her. “Do it, you almighty bitch! You can’t just stop. You said you could do it! God – you said you could do it!” The car rocked with the vehemence of his rage, his fear, his shame. Oh, shame.
Felice was nodding slowly. Somewhere, the strength she needed might be found.
Call for it, seek it. Search it out among these infantile, asynergic sparks of life-force that are Earth’s Pliocene Mind. The two-in-one (now oddly separate) refuse you, as you knew they would. And the many-in-All so much farther out, who had also helped before on the River Rhône, now withhold and try to show you other ways. But you have chosen and it must be, and there is one other source of the energy, so bright, so early-rising, who will not turn away. Here then is a better Unity for you, and here is power to brim your height and depth and breadth at least until the end. So you accept. The energy comes. You harness it with your creative metafunction; mold, compress, convert. And then you hurl it down . . .
With no metapsychic shield in place, the balloon caught the full force of the shockwave and was thrown far up and away. Stein gave a great shriek and so did another. Bodies inside the gondola flopped as helplessly as dolls, crushed against decamole surfaces, against bruising human flesh and bone.
Deafened, Stein and Sukey struggled together in the tossing basket. Neither could help the other. The tough envelope billowed, struck the hot grid of the generator but rebounded unscorched, whirled in a vortex. Spiraling upward, the balloon broke free at last from the storm-cell of ionized turbulence. What had been a distorted, kiting scarlet blob smoothed and reexpanded. It sailed in the high thin air, slowly descending to its altitude of equilibrium.
Stein dared to rise, to look out.
Below, the waterfall of the western ocean flowed.
All of the smoke and dust was streaming over the Atlantic, making it easy for him to see what they had done. The gap in the isthmus widened even as he watched. Brown and yellow rocks on either side appeared to melt like sugar in the torrent’s press. To the east, the cataract outflow poured into the Empty Sea across a front nearly ten kilometres wide. A blanket of mist, grayish tan from suspended dust that muddled the droplets, hid the Alborán Basin floor.