Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXII: A Watery Grave.
The water was quickly up to our ankles and still coming.
“Is there a way out?” I asked.
“Not until the water drains out,” Miss Kun replied.
“When does that happen?”
“About fifteen minutes after the corridor fills to the top. Then the water drains out, and the doors on this end open so Daddy’s minions can come in and clean out the bodies.”
“And you had a plan to deal with this problem?”
“My plan,” she said as the water reached our knees, “was to think of something along the way.”
“And did you?”
“No. You kept distracting me.”
“Well, as I see it,” said Weyland, “we have only one chance, and it depends on your being able to concentrate completely. Will you follow my instructions to the letter?”
“Of course,” I instantly agreed, and Tluxapeketl nodded her assent.
Miss Kun was not so quick, but acceded in a few seconds. “I’m used to giving instructions, not taking them. But temporarily, I’ll allow you to instruct me, as long as you don’t expect to make a habit of it.”
The water was up to waist level as Weyland began: “This is a form of meditation I learned from a Tibetan monk in Ellwood City. You must concentrate on yak butter. You must fill your minds with yak butter, creamy yellow yak butter, nothing but yak butter, everywhere the same, undifferentiated. Then you must chant the syllable ‘Mo,’ over and over again.”
“I thought Tibetans chanted ‘Om,’ I said.
“That is to reach enlightenment. We are trying to achieve complete stupefaction. You must chant ‘Mo’ over and over until the very sound of it becomes yak butter to you, until you hear nothing but creamy yellowness all around you. You must relax completely. It is the only thing that will save you: relax with all your might. Relax or die. Are you ready? Here we go: Mo……….. Mo……… Mo……… Mo………”
The water came higher and higher, but we all joined in the chant: “Mo……… Mo……… Mo………” I thought of yak butter, yellow and creamy, thick and everywhere the same; and as I chanted, the sound became the butter, the sight became the sound, and I lived in a universe of thick yellow homogeneity. Utter buttery tranquility subsumed all sensory input, and I knew nothing but fatty yellow peace until I came to myself some time later with Tluxapeketl gently shaking me.
“The river is gone,” she said. “You are alive.”
I opened my eyes and looked around. I was sitting on the floor of the empty corridor, dripping wet but alive indeed. Weyland and Miss Kun were already standing.
“No time for lallygaggying, Peevish,” said Weyland. “You all did very well; my Tibetan friend would have been very happy with your performance. Not everyone can suspend all vital functions for fifteen minutes on the first try.”
“And now,” said Miss Kun as I stood up, “we enter the Great Rotunder.”
“The Great Rotunda?” I repeated.
“Rotunder,” she corrected me as she stepped through the open doorway at the end of the corridor. And the moment I stepped through after her, I could see the reason for he correction. The next chamber was a vast dome, but upside-down. The interior of the dome was a huge hemispherical depression in the floor, coffered like the inside of a great dome, and with an allegorical fresco at the very bottom. The ceiling, however, was flat.
“Daddy didn’t see why domes always had to be in the roof,” Miss Kun explained. “He thought a dome in the floor would be much more of a challenge.”
“That’s a remarkable fresco,” said Weyland, looking into the depths of the dome.
“Yes, the Apodaemonosis of Kun is famous all over eastern Andorra.”
“Well, this shouldn’t be too hard,” Weyland remarked as we began to climb down the coffers inside the dome. “All we have to do is climb around to the other side.”
“Actually,” said Miss Kun, “it’s not quite that simple.”
I felt a slight lurch; I might have thought nothing of it had I not noticed that the exit on the other side seemed to be moving a little to the right.
“The exit is moving,” I remarked.
“From a relativistic point of view that is correct,” said Weyland. “A more parsimonious explanation, however, is that we are moving rather than the universe around us.”
As he was speaking, the doorway I had been looking at was sealed off by a sliding steel door. And I could see that Weyland was right: the entire inverted dome was slowly turning counterclockwise.
“Pink men build strange rooms,” said Tluxapeketl.
The rotary motion was rapidly accelerating.
“Sorry about this,” said Miss Kun. “The only way to stop it is to make it all the way to the other side of the Rotunder.”
“We should be able to do it,” said Weyland. “Just keep climbing and ignore the turning.”
But that was increasingly hard to do as the dome turned faster. Centrifugal force was pushing us outward toward the side of the dome.
“Whee!” shouted Tluxapeketl. She had a big smile on her face: she looked happier than I had seen her yet.
I was not quite so happy. I was trying to ignore the spinning of the dome, but it seemed to be trying to throw me. Only by edging along the perimeter could I make any progress, and that very slowly, as the centrifugal force had increased to such an extent that I seemed to be carrying a hundred pounds of extra weight. I was ashamed to see the two women well ahead of me, and in fact they reached the other side first, before either Weyland or I did.
As soon as they reached the other side, the dome began to slow, and by the time I reached the same point it had nearly stopped. As we came around the last time, we stopped in front of the exit, and the steel door slid open.
“Can we make it spin again?” asked Tluxapeketl, bright-eyed.
“No,” the other three of us answered at once.
We leaped through the exit. Now we were in a great Gothic hall, with a pair of huge wooden doors at the other end.
“What do we have to look out for in this room?” Weyland asked.
“Nothing,” Miss Kun replied.
“No death traps? No disorienting illusions?”
“Nothing,” she repeated. “We designed this entry to give intruders a false sense of security before they moved on to the death traps beyond.”
We walked unmolested across the stone floor and at last reached the great wooden doors.
“And now,” said Miss Kun, pulling open the right-hand door, “freedom!”
She moved to step through the door, but stopped.
“A bit too much freedom,” she said.
Looking past her, I could see what she meant. The door opened on a sheer drop of hundreds of feet.
“I took the precaution of removing the bridge,” said the voice of Kun behind us.
We turned to see the foyer rapidly filling with Kun’s lightning-bolt minions. In the middle of them stood Kun, with an evilly self-satisfied smile under his beard and mustache.
“It was very impressive how you survived the flooded corridor,” he said. “And of course I have had to punish my Pyrosaurus for letting you distract it like that. I sent it to bed without brimstone.”
“Big meany,” Miss Kun grumbled.
“But now I have finished playing games with you, Elsie, and with the rest of you as well. Guards, restrain them and take them to my laboratory.”
Several of the most muscular guards came forward and grasped our arms. They tied our hands behind our backs and marched us out through a side door.
“I suppose you have a plan to get us out of this,” I said in a low voice to Weyland.
“None whatsoever,” he replied. “But that’s what makes it fun, isn’t it? You’re an American, Peevish—show a little jazz spirit and improvise.”
I didn’t see how I had much of a theme to improvise on. The guards had total control of me: they marched us all the way to Kun’s laboratory, where four poles had been prepared for us. We were tied to the poles facing Kun’s death-ray machine.
“You may be interested to know,” said Kun once we were arranged to his satisfaction, “that I have brought my death ray to perfection. And I am giving you a signal honor—all four of you. You will be the first four to die by my death ray, apart from a few lab technicians of course. The first of millions, doubtless, since with my death ray I will be unstoppable, and they will pay! Oh, yes, they will pay for not being Andorran.”
“You’re a big meany,” said Miss Kun, “and you’re so mean I’ve decided to be good! What do you think of that, Daddy? I’m turning good!”
“My own daughter!” Kun growled. “Just for that, I’ll let you watch your friend Norbert Weyland die first.” He took up a position behind the drum of the death-ray machine and turned the thing so that the tube was pointing straight at Weyland.
“And now,” said Kun, “I think a countdown adds to the innate drama of the situation, don’t you? Every wicked tyrant loves a good countdown. The countdown to your doom, Mr. Weyland! Ten… nine…”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: