Repairmen of Cyclops by John Brunner

better.” He gulped the rest of the drink he had been sip-

ping while he relaxed for the evening. “Yes, certainly

not later than tomorrow morning, on any account!”

He was sweating like a river when he cut the con-



Soraya was woridng as vsaal at the waterworks, and

having the inevitable argument with Firdausi about mar-

rying him, which he had been urging on her ever since

she achieved puberty, when she heard her name being

frantically shouted.

She motioned Firdausi to be silent, and peered through

the wraiths of steam from the main cauldron, trying to

make out who it was. The voice was a child’s, but so

hoarse with agitation she could not recognise its owner.

The waterworks consisted of three parts. First, there

was the dipper which brought water from the natural

pool; this was a chain of buckets on two big wooden

pulleys, driven by a yorb which seemed quite content to

walk around all day in a circle and get an evening re-

ward of food for its trouble. The dipper emptied its

water into the main cauldron, under which a hot fire

burned all the time, raising sluggishly bursting bubbles in

the contents. Although the water seemed perfectly clear

and pure when it was raised from the pool, a scum al-

ways formed during boiling, and it was in removing this

scum with wooden ladles that Soraya and Firdausi were


Then the water was run off, a little at a time, into the

cooling tank, a tapered cylindrical container of heavy-

stones mortared with natural cement, whence the towns-

folk could fetch it in bucketfuls for use at home.

“Can you see who it is?” Soraya demanded.

Firdausi clambered down from the ladder on which

they were working, to get below the clouds of steam,

and reported. “It looks like the youngest from next door

to youBaby Hakim.”

“Oh no\” Soraya gulped, and dropped to the ground

with a lithe flexing of her long legs. Firdausi’s eyes fol-

lowed her hungrily. She was by far the most beautiful

unmarried girl in the whole town: sloe-eyed, olive-

skinned, with long dark hair and supple, graceful limbs.

He wished achingly that his parents were not so con-

cerned with mundanities like a dowry and would give

him permission to marry her anyway. He was sure she

would make an excellent wife . . .

“Hakim baby!” she cried, dropping on her knees and

sweeping her arms around the tearful youngster who

came charging up to her. “What’s wrong?”

Between sobs of exhaustion and terror, the child

forced out the news: Soraya’s mother had been taken ill

yet again.

“You go straight home,” Firdausi instructed. “I’ll

bring Marouz to you there.”

She shot him a smile of gratitude and went racing

back to the town.

It consisted of two rows of wattle-and-daub houses

facing one another, widely spaced, with large vegetable

gardens and runs for livestock surrounding them. Teth-

ered yorbs regarded her incuriously as she sped past, feet

splashing in puddles left by the overnight rain which the

sky threatened to let flood down again at any moment.

In the fifth house from the left was her home; she

slammed back the crude wooden gate in the fence en-

closing its garden, and ran indoors.

Hakim’s elder sister, Yana, was bending over the bed

on which lay the wheezing form of apparently an old

woman. In truth, Soraya’s mother was no more than

thirty-seven, but in this harsh environment age descend-

ed with the swiftness of tropical night.

And yet it was not mere ageendurable, because vis-

ited on everyonewhich afflicted her. It was something

random, and more deadly. There was a name for it; the

quakes. But simply to have a name was no help. What

was needed was a cure.

Sick with despair, Soraya glanced at Yana. “Has she

been like this long?”

“I found her on the floor by the hearth,” the other girl

answered in low tones. “See, her dress is scorchedit was

lucky I chanced to look in, or she might have been

burned to death.”

Soraya shuddered. “When? Just now?”

“So long ago as it took Hakim to reach you.” Yana

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Categories: John Brunner