Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXVI: Free Fall (with Paid Purchase).
“Well,” said Weyland as we plummeted, “this changes things somewhat.”
“Next time think faster,” said Miss Kun. “You know, in the next life, when we’re all reincarnated as cockroaches.”
“There’s no need to panic,” said Weyland. “We must think the problem through logically.”
“How about we just hit things?” Miss Kun suggested.
“Why are we floating?” asked Tluxapeketl.
“That’s a very interesting question,” said Weyland. “My friend Professor Einstein has a remarkable new theory according to which, among other things, accelerated motion is indistinguishable from gravitation. Since we are accelerating in free fall at the same rate as the ornithopter, we no longer feel the effect of the earth’s gravity. Thus we appear to be floating within the context of the machine: that is, relative to the frame of ref—”
“Are you going to do something, or are you going to be the first thing I hit?” asked Miss Kun.
“I think this seat can be detached,” said Weyland. “Can you help me with the brackets?”
Miss Kun immediately launched herself toward the chair she and Weyland had been sitting in. In a moment the two of them had it separated from the floor, and it floated free with the rest of us in the plummeting ornithopter.
“Now, as I see it,” said Weyland, indicating something on the side of the seat, “this valve appears to control the release of goesuppium,. Is that how it works?”
“Makes you go down,” said Miss Kun. “The ballast release here makes you go up.”
“Now, do we have any rope?”
“If I know Daddy… Yes, here it is. He always keeps everything an archfiend might need for interrogations and such handy in case of an emergency.”
“Good. Tie me to the chair.”
“Mr. Weyland, do we really have time to play right now?”
“Please be expeditious, as we have already wasted some time with Miss Tluxapeketl’s question about the theory of relativity. Around my waist should do—leave my arms free, if you don’t mind. Now you get on my lap again and restrain yourself similarly. Well done. Now, Peevish, you and Miss Tluxapeketl are going to have to be rather athletic for this. I need you to cling to the arms, one of you on each side, and not let go, because letting go will certainly mean plunging to your doom, a result you would both probably find disappointing. And now the two of you are going to have to guide the chair out through that hole in the roof. Good. We’re free!”
“But we’re still plummeting,” I pointed out.
And indeed we were; only now, instead of plummeting in the ornithopter, we were plummeting beside it. Tluxapeketl and I clung to the chair for all we were worth.
“The ballast release is on the left,” said Miss Kun.
Weyland pulled a lever with his left hand, and something was ejected from the back of the seat. Our descent slowed.
“You’ll probably have to release them all,” said Miss Kun.
More objects were ejected from the back of the seat. With each release we slowed more.
“That’s all we had,” said Weyland after the lever stopped responding. “And we appear to have slowed our descent enough to make a safe landing. Unfortunately, I cannot release any of the goesuppium, because any acceleration would probably make our drop fatal. Therefore I have no control over the location of our landing.”
At that moment the ornithopter hit the ground below with a tremendous crash; but we had already drifted some distance, so that the crash was not only below but also behind us. We were descending gently over a patch of thick green forest, and it was pretty clear that we were going to end up in the trees.
“I think,” said Weyland, “that it would be wise to prepare for a treetop landing. You should untie us, Miss Kun, but be careful not to slip. Peevish, are you and Miss Tluxapeketl doing well?”
“Tolerably,” I replied, since I had no adequate words to describe the terror and the pain in my arms and shoulders that I was enduring.
“We’re coming down, I would guess, into the top of one or more fir trees, and I probably need not stress how important it will be to avoid proceeding at once from the top to the bottom. A more nuanced approach to descent, involving a number of intermediate branches, will produce more desirable results. At the moment of impact, therefore, I should advise everyone to grab a branch and hold on tight. I estimate the moment of impact to be about eight sec—”
At that moment we struck a particularly high tree, and I lost my grip on the chair. At the cost of a few minor scrapes, I was able to grasp a fairly stout branch before I fell very far. Once I had stabilized myself, sitting on the branch below and clinging with my arms to the one I had caught, I was able to take a look around.
Tluxapeketl had landed on a branch just below me.
“In civilization,” she asked, “is it customary to wreck every airship?”
“I think we’ve just been having a run of bad luck with aerial vehicles,” I replied.
Weyland’s voice came from a few branches below. “Well done, everyone. We seem to be all intact, and our immediate danger is past. Now, if we take care, we should be able to reach the ground without incident, the branches being dense enough that the descent should present no difficulty.
The voice of Miss Kun came from several branches lower: “And see if you can find those ropes. We might want to play with them later.”
We all began carefully lowering ourselves from one branch to another, which I discovered to be quite easy. In fact the descent was so completely without event that I thought perhaps luck had turned our way, until, nearing the ground, I saw Miss Kun rapidly coming back up toward us.
“Why are you going up instead of down?” asked Tluxapeketl.
“Because,” said Miss Kun, joining the other three of us in the lower branches, “down is where the bear is.”
I looked at the ground and saw, about twelve feet below, a huge brown bear looking hungrily up at me.
“Good heavens,” I said. “We seem to be at an impasse.”
“Not for long,” said Weyland.
“Oh!” said Tluxapeketl. “Do you mean you have thought of something clever, as usual?”
“No,” Weyland replied. “I mean that European brown bears are excellent climbers, so we won’t be at an impasse for long.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling installment: