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The amphibian - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Cristo had hoped that Salvator would send for him and say:

“You’ve saved my life, Cristo. From now on there will be no secrets for you in this place. Come with me, I’ll show you the ‘sea-devil’.” Or words to that effect.

But Salvator fell short of Cristo’s hopes. He generously rewarded the brave Araucanian and became all wrapped up in his research again.

So Cristo started his own research. The secret door proved a hard nut to crack but his patience was rewarded in the end. One day he pressed a boss on it and it swung slowly open, like the door to a strong room. Cristo slipped through and the door swung shut, taking him a little aback. He examined it, pressing every boss in turn; the door didn’t open.

“A fine trap I caught myself in,” he muttered. “Well, I might as well have a look round.”

He found himself in a hollow, thickly overgrown with trees and bushes and walled in on all sides with man-made cliffs.

The plants Cristo saw were of the kind usually growing on humid soils. The big shady trees did not let sunlight through to the numerous rivulets burbling underneath. Fountains, scattered among the trees, added to the moisture in the air. The place was as damp as the low banks of the Mississippi. Standing in the middle of the grounds was a small flat-roofed stone house with lichen-clad walls. The green blinds on the windows were pulled down. The house had a not-lived-in look.

Cristo reached the far end of the orchard. Judging by the rustle of pebbles that came to him from behind the wall the ocean was close at hand. So this is as far as Salvator’s holding goes, thought Cristo. In front of the wall was a huge square tree-lined swimming pool no less than fifteen feet deep.

At Cristo’s approach some creature he didn’t have time to see beyond a glimpse dashed from under the trees and across to the swimming pool, making a big splash as it plunged in. Cristo’s heart was beating nineteen to the dozen as he went closer. That must be him, the “sea-devil”, he thought. He was going to see him at last.

The Indian looked into the clear water.

On the bottom on white stone tiles crouched a big monkey. There was fear mingled with curiosity in its return glance. And it was breathing-breathing under the water! Spell-bound, Cristo couldn’t tear his glance away from its sides, heaving and falling, heaving and falling…

Presently, with a start, Cristo recovered himself and gave a short laugh. So the “sea-devil”, fisherman’s bogey, was just a monkey that could breathe underwater.

Cristo was at once glad and disappointed. Descriptions of the monster had led him to expect something quite different. What tricks fear and fancy play on us, thought the old Indian.

Now it was time for him to make good his retreat. Cristo retraced his steps to the secret door, climbed a big tree by the wall, got onto it and jumped down, hoping to God his old legs would not trip on him.

No sooner Cristo was safely on the ground than he heard Salvator’s voice.

“Hey, Cristo, where are you?”

The Indian grabbed a rake lying on the path and applied himself to gathering dry leaves.

“I’m here,” he shouted.

“Come along, Cristo,” Salvator said, striding onto the path and across to the secret door. “To open you press here,” and he pressed the very boss Cristo had just used.

A bit late, aren’t you, I’ve seen your devil, thought Cristo.

They went into the orchard. Salvator led the way past the lichen-clad house straight to the swimming pool. The monkey was still underwater, crouching where he had left it, letting out little bubbles of air at each exhalation.

At the sight of the monkey Cristo went through a little show of surprise, which, almost at once, turned to genuine.

For Salvator was paying no attention to the monkey, apart from waving his hand at it as if dismissing it. Promptly the monkey swam up, scrambled out, shook itself and climbed a tree. Salvator bent down and pressed in a small green panel, concealed in the grass. There was a hollow rumble and hidden hatches yawned open all along the bottom of the pool. The water gushed through. In a few minutes the pool was dry. The hatches snapped shut. An iron ladder, reaching down to the bottom, slid into view from its place somewhere in the side of the pool.

“Come on, Cristo.”

They climbed down. Salvator stepped on a tile and another hatch opened — in the centre of the pool. Iron steps led down into the darkness.

Cristo followed Salvator down into a corridor, faintly illumined by the light falling through the hatch. As they proceeded it soon gave way to complete darkness. The echo of their footsteps rang dully in the corridor.

“We’re nearly there, Cristo.”

Salvator halted and ran his hand along the wall. There was a click and floods of brilliant light. They stood in a stalactite cave, facing a brass door with lions’ heads gripping brass rings in their jaws. Salvator pulled at one of the rings. The stout door swung open, letting them into a dark hall. There was another click as a globular opaque lamp lit up a big cave whose far wall was all glass. Salvator worked the switches. The cave was dark again, then several powerful searchlights threw their beams into what looked an immense aquarium just behind the glass wall. Fish frisked among the seaweeds and corals. Suddenly Cristo saw a humanlike creature, with huge globular eyes and frog’s paws, step out from behind a tangled growth of seaweeds. The creature swam with easy grace towards the glass wall, in a close-up of immense eyes and silvery-blue scales, nodded to Salvator, entered an allglass cubicle that was at one side of the wall and shut the glass door. The cubicle was quickly emptying. The stranger opened the other door and was in the cave.

“Take off your gloves and goggles,” said Salvator.

The newcomer obediently took the things off and Cristo faced a slim good-looking young man.

“Please meet Ichthyander the amphibian, or the ‘sea-devil’ as he is also known,” Salvator introduced the young man to Cristo.

The young man was smiling amiably as he offered his hand to the Indian.

“Hullo,” he said in Spanish.

Cristo pressed the offered hand. He was too stunned for speech.

“The Black who’s serving Ichthyander is ill,” went on Salvator. “You’ll stay with Ichthyander for a time. Ill make it permanent if you are up to the mark.”

Cristo nodded in silence.

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