The Enchanted Duplicator

by Walter Willis and Bob Shaw

Chapter 14

In Which Jophan Starts Across The Desert Of Indifference

As they progressed ever further into the wilderness the hot sun and scorching sand began to take their toll of Jophan's strength, and he realised more fully the magnitude of the task before him. He also came to appreciate more fully the virtues of his native porters. Although the Subrs preserved their unnatural silence, uttering no word either of praise or condemnation of Jophan's behaviour, whatever it might be, they showed their feelings clearly enough by their actions. Twice when Jophan, unnerved by the hardships of the desert, spoke tactlessly to them or made some error of judgement, some of them quietly left the expedition and were never seen again, but, on the other hand, whenever he exhibited his better qualities, reinforcements appeared to arrive from nowhere. Thus, by studying their reactions carefully, he was able to increase the strength of his party by quite a substantial number.

It would have fared ill with him had he not done so, for as day followed day the strain of the journey began to tell on him. The heat of the sun seemed to dry up the very marrow of his bones, and its setting brought only momentary relief, for with nightfall the air became bitterly cold, and he passed many sleepless hours shivering under the meagre protection of his blanket. The loyal support of the sturdy Subrs was a great comfort to him, but willing as they were they could carry only a certain amount of their dried food and it seemed to accord ill with his constitution. It was of a tasteless and insipid nature, affording only the merest sustenance and gravely deficient in energy-producing qualities. Jophan, though in no danger of actual starvation, began to grow weak and faint of purpose, and at times his eyes strayed longingly to the green Glades of Gafia to be seen clearly in the distance.

So it was when after many days the party came upon the first signs of other life in the desert. It had appeared in the distance to be a small hut, but on approaching more closely Jophan saw that it was actually a species of altar before which crouched a pale and sickly Neofan. He seemed to be in the process of muttering some prayer or incantation, and Jophan waited patiently until he had finished before addressing him.

"Good day, friend," he said politely, when the Neofan seemed to have completed his mysterious rites. "My name is Jophan, and I am on my way to Trufandom to obtain the Magic Mimeograph, so that I may publish the Perfect Fanzine."

"Good morning, Neofan," said the other, somewhat superciliously. "My name is Sycofan, and I am on a similar errand. I trust you will set up your altar at a reasonable distance from mine."

"Altar?" asked Jophan, surprised. "What for?"

"Why, to invoke the BNFicient spirits," said the other condescendingly. "Surely you don't imagine that you can cross the desert without their help?"

"I did not know that it was possible for a mere Neofan to have any intercourse with the BNFs until he reached Trufandom," said Jophan wonderingly.

"Why, of course it is," said the other. "You must --" At this point there came a blinding glow of light above the altar, and Sycofan threw himself on his knees and began beating his head on the ground.

Jophan remained erect and gazed curiously at the phenomenon. In a few moments there was a loud clap of thunder, and a small solid object fell on the altar and rolled off on to the ground.

"There!" said Sycofan smugly, snatching it up and showing it to Jophan. It seemed to be a sort of thin pancake or waffle, rolled up like a scroll of paper.

"What is it?" asked Jophan.

"It's called a manna-script," said Sycofan, devouring it greedily. Jophan watched enviously until the other had swallowed the last succulent morsel.

"I suppose you will be resuming your journey now?" he asked.

An uneasy expression crossed the other's face. "Er . . . no," he said, rather shamefacedly. "I think I shall wait here until my strength is built up. The manna-scripts need a great deal of praying for, and I haven't enough of them yet."

Jophan looked a Sycofan's weak face and privately decided that it was doubtful if he would ever complete the journey to Trufandom. After pondering the matter for some minutes he came to a conclusion.

"I was told," he said earnestly, "that the journey to Trufandom is one that can be accomplished only by a fan's unaided efforts, and I believe this to be true. I cannot believe that if the BNFicient spirits give aid to one who merely asks it they would withhold it from one who shows that he deserves it. I urge you to leave your altar and come with me."

"Why, you're only a Neofan," sneered the other. "Why should I associate with you when I can have the help of BNFs?"

"Even they were once Neofen like me," said Jophan quietly. "Yet they are wise and will not waste their gifts. You may find," he warned Sycofan gravely, "that they will not continue to feed you indefinitely."

But Sycofan would not abandon his parasitic existence, and instead promptly embarked on another session of prayer.

Shaking his head regretfully, Jophan left him and resumed his journey.

Before he had gone much further, Jophan was both delighted and relieved to find that his surmise had been correct. To the accompaniment of a blaze of light and a clap of thunder a bulky manna-script fell beside him; and before disappearing the light moved on towards Trufandom as if in encouragement.

Thereafter the manna-scripts fell with increasing frequency during the remainder of his journey so that he had no longer any cause to worry on the score of food. -

This version is from GHUTENBERG'S BHIBLE -- Section 7-b (Appendix B) -- Copyright © 1994 by Greg Hills. All rights reserved.

All rights to the original material is retained by the authors.