Only the drear Sergei was standing behind, unwilling to join the company.
“Serge, why are you standing there all alone? Come to us,” Valentina called him amiably.
He came closer and pertly asked:
“So? I must bow to these rocks or what?!”
“Not to the rocks, but to the ghost of the Altai Princess. She blesses for the further traveling. She brings good luck in journeys,” explained Semyonych patiently.
“What a load of crap! What Princess? These are just bogus stories made up by some morons. Unscientific nonsense!”
“You’re wrong!..” Semyonych lowered his head with displeasure. “The Princess feels everything. The spirits of this place and her ghost may avenge that. It’s wrong to disturb the dead.”
“But there’s nothing here already. It all has been taken away by the smarty-pants with eye-glasses.”
“All the more so you shouldn’t disturb this place. The spirits won’t like it. They may avenge. The Princess will be displeased with you.”
“So you say!”
“She led astray those who showed disrespect to her and desecrated her tomb, and they lost the way.”
“Take the story with the excavations, for example. She did punish the people for disturbing her remains. Don’t you remember that severe earthquake?”
“Just a coincidence.”
“Then why did it happen at that very time?”
“That’s why it’s called a coincidence,” snarled Sergei.
“All right, and why, when a similar tomb was excavated in China, was there a wave of earthquakes, which keep on convulsing that region? There are large quakes across China almost every year.”
“’Cause there are mountains there. And where there’re mountains, quakes are frequent there,” summed up this apology for a geologist.
“It’s no good talking to you,” said Semyonych vexedly, making a helpless gesture.
“So just don’t talk to me. I ain’t making you,” he snapped pertly. “I’d better go check out what these smartass grave robbers haven’t taken yet.”
With these words the stubborn man went to the remains of the burial mound. Stepping on the stones, he was carefully looking at the ground under his feet.
“Sergei, don’t do it, it’s dangerous,” Valentina tried to dissuade him from it.
“If I ever need a woman’s advice, I’ll sure ask you what to do. But now… Excuse me!”
“I’ll sure excuse you, it’s not the first time I’m facing a dolt like you, but the Princess won’t.”
“We’ll see now. You’re no smarter!”
The woman only gave a wave of her hand.
Sergei stooped down, picked up a boulder and threw it aside. Then he picked up another one, and then one more.
“Don’t do it, stop until it’s too late,” Kirill exhorted him.
“Calm down, son, I know what I’m doing.”
The vandal went on with his search. He kept throwing the rocks attempting to find something, he even tried to pick at the soil with his ice axe, but he found nothing except for a some stones and earth. He went on like that for about an hour.
The group was sitting aside watching his “exploits” with reproof. At last, quite drained and exhausted, he made a vexed gesture and snapped out nonchalantly:
“Ah! They’ve worked through this place all right, these smartass diggers. Damn these Novosiberians. Sons of bitches! Damn smart asses! They could have left at least something for us, ordinary mortals. No, it’s always them, everything is only for their good selves! They just artfully use science as a cover, I’m telling you. They won’t take me in with that!”
“You should be grateful that you’re safe and sound for now,” replied Vera, lowering her voice.
“Ah! It’s a load of crap,” he waved away, sitting on a rock and lit up a cigarette. “There’s one thing I can’t figure: why some get everything and others don’t get a damn thing. How comes it?”
Everyone exchanged puzzled glances. By that time the fellow travelers had understood that there was no use talking to him, and kept silent. Nobody answered him. So he was talking to himself, just thinking aloud.
“Never mind, there still are barrows in the Altai that haven’t been plundered clean. I’ve heard that from many people. Some day I’ll pack up and go try my luck. I’m no worse than these nerds. Perhaps I’ll be of more use to science?! Rumor has it they thawed the Princess out of permafrost with boiling water. And they call it a caring attitude to objects of scientific interest! It’s for the birds! And if I find a decent barrow, I’ll be rich till the end of my days. Just you wait! I’ll show you all!”
Carelessly dropping the cigarette butt to the ground, the madman gazed defiantly at his companions.
“Whatcha looking at me like that for? I’m bad, you think, right?!”
Their only answer was stern silence.
“Ah, screw you! You may think whatever you like.”
“Time to go,” said Semyonych.
“Phew, damn, I haven’t had any rest.”
“But who made you bother with the rocks? We have to find a good place where to stay for the night before sunset. There isn’t much time left. Sorry, buddy.”
“All right, I guess I’ll have to put up with it. I don’t mind…” he snapped out with displeasure and, loading himself with the backpack, shouted crossly at the girls:
“Don’t stand about! Shoulder backpacks, chop-chop!”
They giggled awkwardly but didn’t reply to him. So the entire group got ready and set off.