The Pool of Fire: (The Tripods Trilogy, Book 4)

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9780020427216: The Pool of Fire: (The Tripods Trilogy, Book 4)

Will Parker has managed escape from the City of Gold and Lead, where he served as a slave to one of the Masters who rule the modern world. And he has not only discovered what lies behind the Tripods' power, but how the Masters heartlessly plan to destroy the Earth.

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About the Author :


John Christopher (Sam Youd) was born in England in April 1922, during an unseasonable snowstorm. His early years were spent in Lancashire and Hampshire. He left school at sixteen to work as a local government clerk until being called up for army service in 1941, and spent the following four and a half years with the Royal Corps of Signals, in Gibraltar, North Africa, Italy, and Austria.

On leaving the army he renewed a teenage ambition toward being a writer, and in 1947, on the basis of an unfinished novel, won an Atlantic Award, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled him to devote himself to writing for a year. He tried to justify the award by writing serious novels, but subsequently also wrote detective thrillers, light comedies, novels based on cricket, and science fiction, to which he had been passionately devoted in his early teens. After several adult science fiction novels, he was asked to write for the young adult field, and ended up writing sixteen books in that genre, including The Guardians, The Lotus Caves, Dom and Va, Empty World, and the Sword and Fireball trilogies, as well as the Tripods trilogy. Following a BBC television series in 1984 based on the Tripods books, he wrote a prequel, When the Tripods Came, explaining how it all came about.

Sam Youd is a widower with five children and numerous grandchildren, and lives in Rye, in the county of Sussex, England.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :


Chapter One: A Plan of Action


Everywhere there was the sound of water. In places it was no more than a faint whisper, heard only because of the great stillness all around; in others, an eerie distant rumbling, like the voice of a giant talking to himself in the bowels of the earth. But there were places also where its rushing was clear and loud, and the actual torrent was visible by the light of oil lamps, flinging itself down dark rocky water-courses or spilling in a fall over a sheer edge of stone. And places where the water lay calm in long black reaches, its sound muted to a monotonous drip...drip...drip...which had continued for centuries and would continue for as many more.

I was relieved from guard to go to the conference, and so went through the dimly lit tunnels late and alone. The work of nature here mingled with the work of man. The earth's convulsions, and the action of long-dead rivers, had hollowed out these caverns and channels in the limestone hills, but there were marks of the ancients, too. Men had been here in the past, smoothing uneven floors, widening narrow gaps, sinking handrails into an artificial stone to aid and guide the traveler. There were also long ropelike cables, which had once carried the power called electricity to light bulbs of glass along the way. Our wise men, Beanpole had told me, had learned the means of doing this again, but needed resources that were not available to them here -- nor would be, perhaps, while men were forced to skulk like rats in the dark corners of a world governed by the Tripods, those huge metal monsters who strode on three giant legs across the face of the earth.

I have told already how I left my native village, at the urging of a strange man who called himself Ozymandias. This happened during the summer which was to have been my last before I was presented for the Capping ceremony. In that, boys and girls in their fourteenth year were taken up into one of the Tripods and returned later wearing Caps -- a metal mesh that fitted close to the skull and made the wearer utterly obedient to our alien rulers. There were always a few whose minds broke under the strain of Capping, and these became Vagrants, men who could not think properly and who wandered aimlessly from place to place. Ozymandias had posed as one of them. In fact, his mission was to recruit people who would fight against the Tripods.

So I went, with my cousin Henry who also lived in my village, and later with Beanpole, a long journey to the south. (His real name was Jean-Paul, but we nicknamed him Beanpole because he was so tall and thin.) We arrived at last at the White Mountains, where we found the colony of free men Ozymandias had spoken of. From there, the following year, three of us were sent as a spearhead to penetrate into the City from which the Tripods came and learn what we could of them. Not quite the same three, however. Henry was left behind, and in his place we had Fritz, a native of the land of the Germans in which the City stood. He and I had got into the City, served as slaves of the Masters -- monstrous three-legged, three-eyed reptilian creatures who came from a distant star -- and learned something of their nature and their plans. But only I had escaped, plunging through the drain of the City into a river, and from there being rescued by Beanpole. We had waited, hoping Fritz might do the same, until, with snow falling and winter coming on, we had been forced to return, heavyhearted, to the White Mountains.

We had reached them to find that the colony had moved. This had been the result of a prudent decision by Julius, our leader. He had foreseen the possibility of our being unmasked by the enemy, and of our minds being ransacked once we were helpless in their grasp. So, without telling us of it, the plan had been formed to evacuate the Tunnel in the White Mountains, leaving only a few scouts to await our hoped-for return. The scouts had discovered Beanpole and myself, as we stared miserably around the deserted fortress, and had led us to the new headquarters.

This lay a long way to the east, in hilly rather than mountainous country. It was a land of narrow valleys, flanked by barren, mostly pine-wooded hills. The Capped kept to the valley floors, we to the ridges. We lived in a series of caves that ran, tortuously, for miles through the heights. Fortunately there were several entrances. We had guards on them all, and a plan for evacuation in case of attack. But so far all had been quiet. We raided the Capped for food, but were careful to have our raiding parties travel a long way from home before they pounced.

Now Julius had called a conference and I, as the only person who had seen the inside of the City -- seen a Master face to face -- was summoned from guard duty to attend it.


In the cave where the conference was held, the roof arched up into a darkness that our weak lamps could not penetrate: we sat beneath a cone of night in which no star would ever shine. Lamps flickered from the walls, and there were more on the table, behind which Julius sat with his advisers on roughly carved wooden stools. He rose to greet me as I approached, although any physical action caused him discomfort, if not pain. He had been crippled in a fall as a child, and was an old man now, white-haired, but red-cheeked from the long years he had spent in the thin bright air of the White Mountains.

"Come and sit by me, Will," he said. "We are just starting." It was a month since Beanpole and I had come here. At the outset I had told all I knew to Julius and others of the Council and handed over the things -- samples of the Masters' poisonous green air, and water from the City -- which I had managed to bring with me. I had expected some kind of swift action, though I did not know what. Swift, I thought, it had to be. One thing I had been able to tell them was that a great ship was on its way, across space, from the home world of the Masters, carrying machines that would turn our earth's atmosphere into air which they could breathe naturally, so that they would not have to stay inside the protective domes of the Cities. Men, and all other creatures native to the planet, would perish as the choking green fog thickened. In four years, my own Master had said, it would arrive, and the machines would be set up. There was so little time.

Julius might have been speaking to me, answering my doubts. He said, "Many of you are impatient, I know. It is right that you should be. We all know how tremendous a task we face, and its urgency. There can be no excuse for action unnecessarily delayed, time wasted. Every day, hour, minute counts.

"But something else counts as much or more; and that is forethought. It is because events press so hard on us that we must think and think again before we act. We cannot afford many false moves -- perhaps we cannot afford any. Therefore your Council has deliberated long and anxiously before coming to you with its plans. I will give you them in broad detail now, but each one of you has an individual part to play, and that will be told you later."

He stopped, and I saw that someone in the semicircle in front of the table had risen to his feet. Julius said, "Do you wish to speak, Pierre? There will be opportunity later, you know."

Pierre had been on the Council when we first came to the White Mountains. He was a dark, difficult man. Few men opposed Julius, but he had done so. He had, I had learned, been against the expedition to the City of Gold and Lead, and against the decision to move from the White Mountains. In the end, he had left the Council, or been expelled from it; it was difficult to be sure which. He came from the south of France, from the mountains which border on Spanish land. He said, "What I have to say, Julius, is better said first than last."

Julius nodded. "Say it, then."

"You talk of the Council coming to us with its plans. You talk of parts to play, of men being told what they must do. I would remind you, Julius; it is not Capped men you are talking to, but free. You should rather come to us asking than ordering. It is not only you and your Councillors who can plan how to defeat the Tripods. There are others who are not lacking in wisdom. All free men are equal, and must be given the rights of equality. Common sense as well as justice demands this."

He stopped speaking, but remained on his feet, among the more than a hundred who squatted on the bare rock. Outside it was winter, with even these hills mantled with snow, but, as in the Tunnel, we were protected by our thick blanket of rock. The temperature never changed here, from one day or season to another. Nothing changed here.

Julius paused for a moment, before he said, "Free men may govern themselves in different ways. Living and working together, they must surrender some part of their freedom. The difference between us and the Capped is that we surrender it voluntarily, gladly, to the common cause, while their minds are enslaved to alien creatures who treat them as cattle. There is another difference, also. It is that, with free men, what is yielded is yielded for a time only. It is done by consent, not by force or trickery. And consent is something that can always be withdrawn."

Pierre said, "You talk of consent, Julius, but where does your authority lie? In the Council. And who appoints the Council? The Council itself does, under your control. Where is the freedom there?"

"There will be a time," Julius said, "for us to discuss among ourselves how we shall be governed. That day will come when we have destroyed those who now govern humanity all over the world. Until then, we have no room for squabbling or dispute."

Pierre began to say something, but Julius raised a hand and silenced him.

"Nor do we have room for dissension, or the suspicion of dissension. Perhaps what you have said was worth saying, whatever the motive with which you said it. Consent, among free men, is given and can be withdrawn. It can also be affirmed. So I ask: will any man who wishes to challenge the authority of the Council, and its right to speak for this community, rise to his feet?"

He stopped. There was silence in the cave, apart from the shuffle of a foot and the unending distant roar of water. We waited and watched for a second man to get to his feet. None did. When time enough had gone by, Julius said, "You lack support, Pierre."

"Today. But perhaps not tomorrow."

Julius nodded. "You do well to remind me. So I will ask for something else. I ask you now to approve this Council as your government until such a time as those who call themselves the Masters are utterly defeated." He paused. "Will those in favor stand up?"

This time, all stood. Another man, an Italian called Marco, said, "I vote the expulsion of Pierre, for opposing the will of the community."

Julius shook his head. "No. No expulsions. We need every man we have, every man we can get. Pierre will do his part loyally -- I know that. Listen. I will tell you what we plan. But first I would like Will here to talk to you of what it is like inside the City of our enemies. Speak, Will."

When I had told my story to the Council, I had been asked by them to keep silent to others for the time being. Normally this would not have been easy. I am talkative by nature, and my head was full of the wonders I had seen inside the City -- the wonders, and the horrors. My mood, though, had not been normal. On the way back, with Beanpole, my energies had been taken up by the arduousness and uncertainty of the journey: there had been little time in which to brood. But after we had come to the caves it had been different. In this world of perpetual lamp-lit night, of echoing silences, I could think and remember, and feel remorse. I found I had no wish to talk to others of what I had seen, and what had happened.

Now, under Julius's instruction to speak, I found myself in confusion. I spoke awkwardly, with many stops and repetitions, at times almost incoherently. But gradually, as I continued with my story, I became aware of how closely they were all listening to it. As I went on, also, I was carried away by my recollection of that terrible time -- of what it had been like to struggle under the intolerable burden of the Masters' heavier gravity, sweating in the unvarying heat and humidity, watching fellow slaves weaken and collapse under the strain, and knowing this would almost certainly be my own fate in the end. As it had been Fritz's. I spoke, Beanpole told me later, with passion and with a fluency that was not naturally mine. When I had finished and sat down, there was a silence in my audience that told how deeply the story had affected them.

Then Julius spoke again.

"I wanted you to listen to Will for several reasons. One is that what he says is the report of someone who has actually witnessed the things of which he tells. You have heard him, and you know what I mean: what he has described to you he has seen. Another reason is to hearten you. The Masters are possessed of tremendous power and strength. They have traveled the unimaginable distances that lie between the stars. Their lives are so long that ours, by comparison, seem like the dance of mayflies for a brief day over a tumbling river. And yet..."

He paused, and looked at me with a little smile.

"And yet Will, an ordinary boy, no brighter than most, a trifle on the small side -- Will has struck at one of these monsters, and seen it collapse and die. He was lucky, of course. There is a place where they are vulnerable to a blow, and he was fortunate enough to discover it and to strike there. The fact remains that he killed one of them. They are not all-powerful. We can take heart from that. What Will managed by luck, we can achieve by planning and resolution.

"This leads me to my third point, my third reason for wanting you to hear Will's story. It is that essentially it is a story of failure." He was looking at me, and I felt myself flushing. He went on, calmly and unhurriedly: "The Master was made suspicious by finding in Will's room the notes he had made about the City and its dwellers. Will did not think the Master would go into his room, where he would have to wear a mask to be able to breathe; but this was shallow thinking. After all, he knew his Master was one who took more care of his slaves than most, and knew that he had, before his own time, arranged for small extra comforts to be installed in the refuge room. It was reasonable that he might do so again, and find the book with notes in it."

His tone was level, considering rather than critical, but the more damning for that. My shame and embarrassment grew as I listened to him.

"Will was able, with Fritz's help, to salvage a great deal from the situation. He escaped from the City, and returned with information whose value to us is beyond computing. But still more could have been gained." His eyes were on me again. "And with time to plan things better, Fritz might have come back, too. He passed on to Will as much as he could of what he had learned, but it would have been better if he had been able to testify himself. Because every tiny item counts in the struggle."

Julius spoke...

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Christopher, John
Edité par Alladin (1988)
ISBN 10 : 0020427212 ISBN 13 : 9780020427216
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John Christopher
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