The Chronicle of Belthaeous
by John W. Steele
Chapter 17: To Rule in Hell
We entered the nylon Quonset that served as our mess tent; an open, walled canopy stretched over supporting poles and was secured to the glacier with pitons and boulders. Near its far end the Sherpas had erected a platform made of glacial debris and blocks of ice. Adrian climbed up on the deck and prepared to deliver his farewell address.
Jigme sat to his right, at a small wooden table. He unlocked a hefty aluminum attaché case filled with Swiss gold certificates. He would act as paymaster and dole out the rewards to the faithful Sherpa guides.
Nacroanus surveyed the assembly and cleared his throat. “I’m going to make this short and sweet, gentlemen. We’ve all worked hard to make this expedition a success. You’ve served Genibolic with courage and dedication. I know most of you are anxious to receive your bounty so you can get on with your lives.
“You understand the rules. Anyone who talks about what happened here will never live long enough to enjoy the fortune they’ve amassed. Genibolic has made you all millionaires by the standards in this land, and we have eyes and ears everywhere. It behooves you to obey the clauses in your contract.”
No one spoke. The Sherpas stood like parishioners listening intently to his every word. In the lonely peaks at the top of the world, Nacroanus beamed like a triumphant general. In a confident voice he continued his litany.
“The cache is ten million dollars, a generous sum from your benefactors at Genibolic, don’t you agree? Divided between the twenty-five original members of the expeditionary party, it means you’re all worth more money than you’d ever dreamed possible, enough to provide you with the means to live like kings here in your chosen paradise.”
A murmur spread through the crowd. The Sherpas grinned and responded with a roaring applause. They whistled and laughed. Some of them raised their fists and cried out Thrangu’s name.
Nacroanus grew thrilled by their bombastic display. He raised his arm and made the sign of the fist. In a graphic gesture he pounded the clenched knuckles over his heart, then extended his arm and cried, “Sieg Heil!”
A few of the Sherpas responded in a similar fashion, “Sif Hi.” I thought it was strange, how quickly the gesture infected them. The idea of returning to civilization grew stronger by the moment.
“Oh, but there’s a bonus,” Adrian said. “Since your leader Thrangu and three others died, their portion will go to you as well. A double portion will go to your captain, Jigme, but the rest will be yours. Congratulations, gentlemen, your net worth has just increased by nearly one hundred thousand American dollars.”
Like a ringing ghost chorus at the end of the world, catcalls, shouts, and Sif Hi’s roared inside the tent.
When the ruckus subsided, I faced Adrian and pointed at the strongbox on the table. “Dr. Nacroanus, without Thrangu this mission would not have been possible. I ask that we give the portion of the reward due to those who died in the quest for Belthaeous to their families.”
The color drained from Jigme’s face. He frowned and shot up from his chair. “That’s our money,” he cried. “Thrangu is dead. He has no need of it now. He had no part in recovering the Avatar. We risked our lives to aid your noble cause. The money belongs to us. There is no room for the thoughts of a woman in this band of soldiers and conquerors.”
Nacroanus surveyed the Sherpas. Many of them hung their heads and grumbled. The wind picked up and pounded the shelter until it rumbled like a drum.
“It appears there is some support for this idea, Dr. Neumann. We’ll put it to a vote. All those in favor of giving Thrangu and the others their fair share, raise your hand.”
Without hesitation the arms of all but three of the Sherpas shot into the air. The dissenters were the ones I called Jigme’s robots. They stood apart from the others and rarely spoke.
Jigme hand shot into the air and his allies followed suit.
Adrian gazed into the crowd. A peculiar grin appeared on Jigme’s face. Nacroanus responded with his eyes, eyes I’d grown to understand after years of working with him. Together they shared a nonverbal transmission.
Adrian opened his arms to the assembly in an overstated gesture of benevolence. “My respected comrades Genibolic is an honorable corporation. We’ve agreed to award the money to those who served us. It doesn’t matter to me where it goes. It appears the general consensus is that we should provide for the families of those who died in the in the avalanche.” His face turned to stone, and he glanced at Jigme. “Make it so.”
Jigme glared at me, his face contorted until it resembled some kind of gross physical deformity. He drew a thick gob from his throat and spit in my direction. Without a word, he kicked over the table and barged from the tent. His crew followed behind marching into the darkness like a gang of baboons.
Adrian clapped his hands and addressed the crowd. “It looks like a minor rebellion, gentlemen. Wait here until I get this straightened out. You’ll all get what’s coming to you, I assure you.”
He stepped down from the platform and headed outside. “Come with me, Dr. Neumann. I may need your assistance.”
I hesitated and looked over at the Sherpas. They stood silent, their faces blank, and their arms at their sides. I didn’t like the idea that Dr. Nacroanus wanted to reason with Jigme, and I didn’t like Jigme, period.
Adrian turned his head, his eyes black and unforgiving. “Neumann, are you deaf? Get out of there now.”
I hurried towards the opening. Adrian led the way, and we walked gingerly along the ice crusted trail.
“Wait here,” Adrian said. “This will take but a moment.” He turned and walked over to Jigme and the others. Their voices buzzed in the icy wind but I could not make out what they were saying.
They exploded in a hoarse round of laughter. I watched Jigme and his team fade into the night.
Nacroanus returned. “Follow me,” he said. We headed towards a large boulder at the foot of the glacier.
“Where are you going, Dr. Nacroanus? The others went in a different direction.”
“I have something to tell you. Don’t worry about Jigme. He has agreed to deal with his problem. Let’s go.”
When we reached the ice wall, Adrian stopped. He raised his arm and pointed at a brilliant white star glimmering light-years away in another time. “Do you see that colossal sun burning somewhere in the distant cosmos?”
I thought the question was childish. “Of course I see it. How could you miss it?”
“That star is an illusion, it cannot be trusted. Its atoms are impermanent and subject to decay. That ancient immensity ceased to exist a million years ago. What you are witnessing is the light shadow of its former glory.”
“You’re mad, Adrian. How can you stand there and claim something so utterly absurd?”
“How can you deny the truth?” he replied. “If that mighty sun ceased to exist, how can we as men be any different? Listen to me, son: in this physical dimension, virtue is a curse. Forsake these notions you have about some God of Light that has abandoned you. Join us and serve our god, Mammon, the god any man of vision knows to exist. Why do you continue to deny the obvious and cling to this fantasy?”
He raised his arm and looked at his watch. “You want proof, don’t you? Do you want his power, Rodney? Do you want to see how Mammon deals with anyone who threatens him? I’ll show it to you now.” He turned and gazed up at the mess tent.
The sound of automatic gunfire exploded in the distance. Flashes of orange-yellow light pulsed at the top of the hill, and the cries of dying men filled the silence. My heart skipped a beat, and a sensation of numbness spread through my nerves.
I knew what happened; somehow I knew it all along. I looked at Adrian. His face held nothing at all.
“You’re insane!” I screamed. I paced to and fro on the ice shelf like some kind of cornered animal, helpless and doomed. “Have you no conscience, Dr. Nacroanus? The Sherpas were our friends. They would have died for us. How could you allow Jigme to do this?”
“Friends... there are no friends, only allies who cling to one another for security. The only sack of dung that can be trusted to keep a secret is a dead one, Dr. Neumann. Loyalty is a weakness. Like all virtues they only work correctly when they are self-serving. To rule in Mammon’s creation, you must be able to bend good into evil, and evil into good. Otherwise you will always be a victim.”
I fell to my knees and buried my face in the bosom of frozen snow. My heart sank into my bowels, but I knew Nacroanus was right: to rule in Hell, you must create Hell.
Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele