The Puzzle of Priipiirii can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



THE BRAVELY questing light of Hartwick's helmet beam disclosed the tunnel abruptly becoming five more as it dipped sharply down. He halted, perplexedly scratching his transparent visor with a metal-gloved hand.

Unable to stop short, Boule, the expedition's photographer, tripped into him, cursed, and cursed again as the three scientists piled up against his back with weirdly echoing crashes of spacesuit against spacesuit.

"Careful, Hartwick, careful!" Lutzman's bass voice warned into their headsets from the rear. "Another tangle like that and we'll rip the line to Bhishani."

The guide nodded abstractedly at the bioareologist. He spent a long, careful glance at the faintly fluorescing cable connecting the loops in their suits and stretching lengthily behind them through corridor after intersecting corridor to the assistant archaeologist on the surface. The cable was their link with life.

"Five more branchings," he stated at last, pointing ahead.

"An honest-to-Minotaur labyrinth," Punnello, the senior archaeologist, muttered as he extricated himself from between Boule and Lutzman and peered over Hartwick's shoulder. "We differ from Theseus only in that we use an insulated wire instead of a spool of thread."

"And that we won't find a Martian version of the hull-man monster in the heart of this neurotic temple," the bioareologist pointed out. "Not that I look forward to it; he'd be rather hungry after—how long?"

Punnello shrugged his shoulders resoundingly. "At least a quarter of a million years since Priipiirii had a worshipper. No, from those wall friezes we've been passing, I'd say he was arthropomorphic enough—as crustacean as the race which conceived him."

"Which isn't very crustacean according to Earth standards," Lutzman observed. "Why does he continually change his sex? When we dug away the sand and stepped through that first trapdoor on the roof, there was a large statue of him as a male in front of the cross-passage. After the first level, there were only female representations; they became hermaphrodite and later neuter. Down here, he shifts back and forth through all four in each frieze. And yet the Priipiirii ideogram on each of his pictures is unmistakable.

"Why, for the matter, isn't there an occasional hint of the daily life of the average mortal, such as we found in the other temples? They showed their gods being worshipped and occasionally disregarded; here, there is a steady reiteration of Priipiizii only—Priipiirii at work and at play, as it were. Odd, that business of play, considering how evil other Martians thought him."

"Don't you?" Boule asked suddenly. "I've been snapping flash shots of this jovial character in all his phases and I like him less all the time. I don': know why ancient Mars tabooed him, but he sure radiates the impression of happy executioner. Frankly, I'm sorry I came on this jaunt. I don't relish wandering around in the place where the Martian devil was worshipped; and I still haven't accepted those trapdoors on the roof of the temple-as if the inhabitants knew it would be buried by the desert one day."

Hartwick paused in the middle of an impatient gesture at the five tunnels ahead of them and swept his helmet light through the gloom until it came to rest on Boule's visored face. Back in Bubbleburg, when he'd been commissioned to lead an expedition to the fabled temple of Priipiirii, the Martian Archaeological Foundation had assured him that the scientists of the party would all be picked, psycho-certified men.

But they'd said nothing about guaranteeing the photographer's stability, the desert guide remembered uncomfortably. Boule was one of the few lens-hounds in the archaeological paradise that the dead planet had become: he'd taken pictures of the early excavations at Gulthum and Yeyarneh when the first mumbling hints of the Priipiirii cult had been noticed; he was a logical...

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