Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXIII: Countdown to Oblivion.
“Daddy!” Miss Kun called out as her father continued to count backwards. “You’re only giving us ten?”
“Nine… eight…” her father continued.
“You’ve got to give us more than ten!”
“Nine… eight… seven…”
“You big meany! You’ve been making my life miserable since I turned sixteen!”
“Fifteen… fourteen… thirteen…”
“I hate you, Daddy! I’ll hate you till I’m ninety-five!”
“Ninety-four… ninety-three… ninety— Elsie! Stop that! Be silent and let me concentrate! Now I have to start over. Ten… nine…”
Weyland was facing death with an uncharacteristic expression of terror. His head was turned to the side, away from the death ray, and his face was contorted into a hideous grimace that bared all his teeth. It seemed very unedifying to me, and I made a mental note to say something to him about it after we were killed.
“Three… two… one… Good-bye, Mr. Weyland!”
The machine buzzed to life with a loud electrical hum. The tube began to glow with a purplish light, and the hum grew louder and louder——
Then suddenly, with a loud pop, the drum erupted in sparks and smoke.
Simultaneously Miss Kun leapt from her pole, her bonds falling to the floor, and pounced on her father, pressing the blade of a knife against his throat.
“Order your men to release the others!” she told him.
“My daughter! My death ray! What happened?”
Weyland explained, “I have a gold filling in one of my molars. It’s very reflective, you see.”
“And all my spray-on catsuits come equipped with a hidden dagger,” Miss Kun added. “That was even harder to work out than the zipper, I can tell you, but it’s useful when I’m tied to a pole. Now order your men to release the prisoners, or I’ll see what else the dagger is good for.”
“Elsie! You wouldn’t harm your own father!”
“You were just about to obliterate your own daughter with your death ray!”
“That’s different. Parental prerogative.”
“Give the order now!”
Kun sighed. “Release the prisoners,” he said.
Some of the guards came to us and untied our bonds, and we gratefully joined Miss Kun at the other end of the death-ray machine.
“Now,” she said, “send all your guards out of the room. Tell them to go to the throne room and await instructions.”
Kun hesitated, but the knife was pressed into his throat a little harder, and that was enough to persuade him. “Guards! Retire to the throne room and await instructions.”
With much sulky mumbling, the guards left the laboratory. We watched the last of them leave, and then Kun asked, “Now what do you intend to do?”
“Now,” said Miss Kun, “I think I’ll just kill you and get it out of the way.”
“Elsie! You ungrateful brat!”
“See, this is what makes me want to kill you.”
“Miss Kun,” Weyland interrupted, “good people generally don’t commit parricide. It isn’t done, you know.”
She huffed. “Well, heck, you make it sound as though good people don’t have any fun at all.” But seeing that Weyland was immovable on this subject, she said, “Al right, then, what do you suggest?”
“We’ll take him with us. Kun, how do you enter and leave the castle if the bridge is gone?”
“I use my private ornithopter, of course.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do. Miss Kun, do you know the way?”
“Like the back of my hand,” she replied, pointing to the front of her hand. “Come on, Daddy, let’s go for a ride.”
“Don’t expect anything special for your birthday this year, young lady,” said Kun as she hustled him out of the laboratory.
“Ha! Last year you gave me a doorstop.”
“I gave you the complete works of Nietzsche bound in calfskin!”
“They were boring. I used them a a doorstop. You used to give me fun books, like the set you gave me when I turned eighteen.”
“The works of the Marquis de Sade?”
“Yeah! Those were fun. That’s the kind of book I like.”
We had come some distance down the corridor to an elevator door marked PRIVATE ORNITHOPTER VIA PRIVATE ELEVATOR TO PRIVATE ORNITHOPTER DECK. Kun, still aware of his daughter’s knife at his back, pushed the button by the door, and when the door slid open we all stepped inside. Kun pushed the button marked ORNITHOPTER DECK.
The doors closed.
Soft music of the most simperingly banal character filled the elevator. Suddenly life seemed meaningless: I felt as if it would be better to give up and let the earth close over me.
“I can feel the will draining out of me!” Weyland gasped.
Tluxapeketl added, “I want to be eaten by the jaguar!”
“Doesn’t work on me, Daddy,” Miss Kun growled. “It just makes me want to perforate you more. Turn it off.”
“Curses!” grumbled Kun, and the music stopped.
Shortly after that, the elevator came to a halt, and the doors opened.
We walked out on a windy flat stone deck high on the mountain; and there, in the middle of it, was a magnificent machine. It was the size of a small passenger aeroplane, but it was shaped much more like a huge bird, all plated in brass.
“Remarkable!” Weyland remarked. “A true ornithopter! Do you find that it has any advantage over the conventional aeroplane?”
“Yes,” said Kun. “It looks way cooler. What, if I may ask, is our destination?”
“The League of Nations in Geneva,” said Weyland.
“And no silly tricks,” said Miss Kun. “It didn’t go well for the last man who tried to take me somewhere I didn’t want to go.”
“Really?” asked Kun. “Sometimes, Elsie, you almost make me proud of you.”
As we approached the great machine, a door in the front opened downward and formed a stairway.
“We let the big bird eat us?” asked Tluxapeketl dubiously.
“It’s another kind of airship,” I explained.
“Oh! Will there be another hurricane? The hurricane was fun.”
“I can’t promise another hurricane.”
The interior of the ornithopter was small but luxurious, with six leather-upholstered seats, including the two pilots’ seats. The controls resembled those of a modern aeroplane, as far as I could tell. Weyland installed himself in one of the middle seats; Tluxapeketl and I took the two back seats; and Kun and his daughter took the two pilots’ seats.
Miss Kun made some adjustment at the lower right side of her seat. “There,” she said. “I’ve disabled my ejection seat, just in case you were thinking of trying one of your funny little tricks.”
“Curses,” Kun muttered under his breath.
“Now let’s get going,” said his daughter.
An engine hummed to life—a surprisingly quiet one, like the motor of a well-tuned Pierce-Arrow. The great machine rolled forward slowly; we could see the edge of the platform coming nearer through the big windows in the front. Surely, I thought, we could not take off at this speed. But Kun and his daughter seemed blithely unconcerned as we neared the edge.
All at once we tipped forward, and then we plunged off the edge of the platform and began hurtling almost straight downward. The ground was straight ahead, which seemed to me like the wrong place for it, and coming nearer every second. Tluxapeketl was gripping my hand.
“It always does this,” Miss Kun called back over the loud rush of the wind.
Faster and faster we dropped, until, very near the rocky ground below, there was a loud grinding sound, and the two huge wings unfolded themselves from our craft. We quickly pulled out of our dive and soared parallel to the ground.
“It saves a lot of flapping if we gain some momentum by gravity,” said Miss Kun.
We were soaring over mountain forests, with higher craggy peaks to the left and right of us. Heading northeast, we had quite a bit of Pyrenean mountain scenery to enjoy, and I could see that Tluxapeketl especially was enchanted by the view.
“If anyone wants a drink,” said Miss Kun, “there’s a bar in the cabinet between the middle seats. Some of the bottles are actually deadly poisons, of course, but several of them definitely aren’t.”
Weyland, Tluxapeketl, and I all agreed that we weren’t thirsty.
“We should be in Switzerland by nightfall,” said Kun. “Then what do you intend to do with me?”
“Turn you over to the proper authorities, of course,” said Weyland.
“And they’ll kill him?” Miss Kun asked optimistically.
“Look,” said Tluxapeketl. ”A big bird.”
“Actually,” said Weyland, “good people usually put criminals on trial, so that they have a chance to defend themselves, and the court can decide whether they’re really guilty of the crimes of which they’re accused.”
“That is a very big bird,” said Tluxapeketl.
“Well, that’s pointless,” said Miss Kun. “Everyone knows Daddy’s guilty of any crime you can think of. Name a crime you’re not guilty of, Daddy.”
“It is a really, really big bird,” said Tluxapeketl.
“Adultery,” said Kun. “I never married your mother, so technically—”
A shadow darkened the cabin, and the view was blocked by—feathers!
A moment later, there was a powerful impact, and Kun and his daughter struggled to regain control of the machine. Through the side window, I could see the retreating form of an impossibly enormous bird, a bird even larger than Kun’s ornithopter.
“An Iberian roc!” Weyland exclaimed.
“Don’t be silly,” said Miss Kun. “It’s a huge bird, not a rock.”
“I meant R-O-C,” Weyland explained as the monstrous bird in the window began to turn. “I thought they were extinct.”
“Not extinct enough,” said Miss Kun as the huge bird came swooping back toward us.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
TALONS OF THE ROC.