Posts filed under “Novels”
Concluding the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXX: Castle in the Air.
Kun retired behind his Pyrosaurus, leaving us facing the horrible monster, with a small army of lightning-bolt minions blocking the exit behind us.
The Pyrosaurus rumbled. It snorted, causing twin balls of fire to billow up from its nostrils. It began to lumber toward us, and my nose filled with the stench of brimstone.
“Stop!” Miss Kun barked with percussive force. She began walking toward the monster, which rumbled ominously.
“Miss Kun!” Weyland exclaimed. “For heaven’s sake—don’t sacrifice yourself!”
“I haven’t had much to do with heaven,” she replied, “but this is a reptile. I can do reptiles.” In the same commanding voice as before, she called out, “Bad dragon!”
The rumbling growl turned into a low interrogative whine, and the beast’s glowing eyes widened.
“Elsie!” Kun shouted from behind the beast. “Stop that! Pyrosaurus, incinerate them all!”
The Pyrosaurus grunted and took one step forward.
“Stay!” Miss Kun commanded it.
The Pyrosaurus snorted and stopped.
“Good boy!” called Miss Kun, continuing to approach. “Sit!”
The Pyrosaurus lowered its hindquarters and watched expectantly.
“Oh, for the love of Mike!” cried Kun. “This is the last time I muck about with biology! From now on it’s strictly rays!”
“Good dragon,” Miss Kun said in an encouraging tone. “Down!”
The beast obediently lay on the floor with its head between its enormous front feet.
“Good boy! Who’s a pwecious widdle fwaming monster-wonster? Stay! Good boy!”
And then, to the astonishment of everyone else, Miss Kun simply climbed up the creature’s right front leg, hoisted herself up on its shoulders, and sat behind its head.
“Up!” she commanded.
The monster rose obediently, with Miss Kun riding on its neck.
“Turn,” she said, leaning a little to the right, and the beast turned itself around in the tunnel.
I heard Kun’s angry voice from behind the thing: “Is this how you respect your father, young lady? I should never have given you riding lessons!”
“You see that man in the purple robe?” Miss Kun said to the beast. “He’s a big meany! Go get him!”
The Pyrosaurus began to stomp forward into the tunnel.
“We’re going to have a serious talk, young lady,” the voice of Kun declared, “just as soon as I’m through running for my life.”
“Hyaaah!” cried Miss Kun, and her enormous mount took off into the tunnel at a canter.
“Follow her lead,” Weyland told us. “Apparently she knows what she’s doing.”
He ran after the Pyrosaurus, Kitty bounding along at his side, and Tluxapeketl and I followed close behind.
The Pyrosaurus came to an intersection in the tunnel, and Miss Kun expertly turned it into the left-hand passage. Again we followed, until we came to the same great open space where we had first encountered the Pyrosaurus. By the time I got there, Kun was already hurriedly unscrewing a hose from a large valve.
“Whatever you’re doing, stop it now, Daddy,” Miss Kun demanded.
“I’ve finished,” said Kun, standing in an open doorway. “And now I must bid you farewell. I’ll send you my forwarding address.”
“Daddy!” Miss Kun shouted. “Daddy, you wouldn’t!”
There was a loud crack, and a din of stone scraping stone, and the whole section of wall that included Kun’s doorway began slowly rising. I looked up: the ceiling was rising, too, and cracks of daylight were appearing around the edges.
“What’s happening?” Weyland called up to Miss Kun.
“He’s filled the castle walls with goesuppium gas!” she said, coming down from her mount, which obediently lay on the floor for her convenience. “It’s our last-ditch emergency protocol!”
She had not finished speaking when Weyland suddenly ran toward the rising wall. With a vigorous leap, he managed to cling to the large valve from which Kun had detached the hose.
“What are you doing?” Miss Kun shouted as the wall rose more and more rapidly. “Come back here! If you kill yourself, I’ll make you wish you were dead!”
Weyland was rising quickly now. The whole castle above us was gaining velocity as it went up and up. Soon the whole structure was in the air above us, with Weyland as a tiny ant-like figure clinging to the bottom of it.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But I don’t want him to die. Why do I care whether he dies? What has he done to me? He’s going to pay for this!”
Then suddenly the castle, which had been rising like a balloon, took off like a rocket and shot across the sky until it disappeared over the horizon.
“Look!” cried Tluxapeketl, pointing into the sky.
A tiny figure was up above us, falling toward the earth. No—not falling: as he came closer, we could see that Weyland was gently floating down, as if he were attached to an invisible parachute.
As we watched the puzzling descent, Kun’s army of minions came out of the tunnel and filled the broad space that was now under the open sky.
Instantly Miss Kun took control. “My loyal friends!” she said in her most commanding tone. “Since my father has been unexpectedly called away, you are my minions now. Await your orders.”
There was some murmuring of assent, but most of the minions wee occupied, like us, in watching Weyland’s inexplicably gentle descent.
At last he touched down, bending his knees just a little to cushion the landing, only a few yards from where we were standing. Miss Kun immediately ran and embraced him, and Kitty rubbed against him with a loud rumbling purr.
“What did you do?” Miss Kun asked.
“Remembering our experience with your air yacht,” Weyland explained, “I simply opened the valve all the way and allowed all the goesuppium to escape at once. I calculate that the castle’s trajectory should bring it down in the Atlantic about sixty nautical miles east-northeast of Madeira.”
“But how did you keep from falling?”
“Oh, that was very simple. Before I opened the valve all the way, I was able to introduce enough goesuppium gas into my underwear to assure a gentle descent.”
“What is ‘underwear?’” asked Tluxapeketl.
“I have no idea,” replied Miss Kun.
“So,” I asked, “does this mean Kun is dead?”
“Almost certainly not,” Weyland answered. “It is not in the nature of archfiends to die. They suffer temporary defeats, but then regroup in a few years when there is demand for a sequel.”
“And we’ll be ready for him,” Miss Kun declared. “We have a fire-breathing dragon, a tiger, and an army of lightning-bolt minions, all at the service of the forces of good.”
“So you think you can manage to stay on the side of good?” Weyland asked her.
“I’ve thought about that,” Miss Kun replied, holding him tighter, “and I’ve decided that I can just about manage to be good in public, as long as I can be very, very wicked in private.”
Weyland smiled. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Are you sure, Mr. Weyland? You may think you knew suffering and terror as my enemy, but that is nothing compared to being my boyfriend.”
“I think you know me well enough to call me ‘Norbert,’” he said.
“I think you know me well enough to call me ‘Mistress,’” she said.
“Oh, look!” Tluxapeketl said as the minions began to cheer and whistle. “Pink men know how to kiss!”
“Well, of course we do,” I responded.
“But how would I know? You never did it to me.”
She was looking at me expectantly, and I could hardly help giving her what she expected, taking her in my arms and kissing her for a very long time. Her response was very enthusiastic.
When at last she was finished responding, she said, “That was a very good first try.”
“Tluxapeketl,” I asked, and I was dreading the answer, “now that this is all over, will you be going back to your Amazonian forest?”
“Oh, no!” she replied. “I will stay with you and be your wife and save the world from evil archfiends.”
“You will? My darling, how marvelous! And you won’t miss the forest?”
“Not at all. Jaguars, waterfalls, strangler figs, crocodiles—it’s always the same thing in the jungle. But civilization is a new adventure every day!”
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXIX: The Flying Mountain.
We all leaped to the side, and a moment later there was a great clanging crash as a huge pile of wood and strings detonated on the ground.
“He dropped a piano!” I gasped, looking back at the wreckage.
“In fact,” said Weyland, “I believe you’ll find that was a harpsichord. The harpsichord plucks the strings rather than striking them with hammers, and—more relevant in this situation—has no cast-iron plate, which means that its—”
“Look out!” shouted Tluxapeketl, and we all leaped out of the way of the next falling object, which crashed to earth with a great clong.
“That was a piano,” said Weyland.
“I think we should start running,” Miss Kun remarked, and she did not wait for us to agree.
“But in a serpentine path,” Weyland said as he followed her, “so as to make it—”
A big cast-iron stove fell, narrowly missing him; it would have hit him had he been running in a straight line.
“Point taken,” Miss Kun called back over her shoulder.
By now we had reached the highest point of the pass, and as we began to descend around a curve to the right, I was suddenly confronted with perhaps the strangest sight I had ever seen in my life. Just ahead and to the right was a rocky peak, with a substantial growth of forest; but it was hovering in the air, with a space of perhaps seven feet between the bottom of it and the ground.
“He is dropping a mountain on us!” cried Tluxapeketl.
“No!” Miss Kun shouted back. “It’s—”
An old automobile crashed to earth right beside us.
“That was a Maxwell,” said Weyland. “They’re no longer manufactured.”
“Everyone under the floating mountain!” Miss Kun shouted, running in that direction.
“Under it?” I repeated in disbelief.
“It’s our only—”
There was an almighty crunch, and a trolley landed on its side just a few feet from me as I ran.
“A tram,” said Weyland, “of the type formerly used in Barcelona.”
Miss Kun was now standing under the impossible floating peak frantically motioning for us to join her. Weyland and Kitty got there first; Tluxapeketl and I reached them just as the most horrendous crash yet met my ears. I looked back to see a switching locomotive smashed upside-down on the trail.
“Isn’t the rock going to fall on us?” I breathlessly asked.
“It should be stable for months,” Miss Kun said. “It’s a natural—”
There was a tremendous series of bangs and smashes as something huge bounced off the floating peak (which only bobbed a little) and crashed to the ground nearby.
“Battleship,” said Weyland, “of a type used by the French navy about thirty years ago.”
“These hills,” said Miss Kun, “are riddled with natural goesuppium deposits. Every once in a while a whole section of mountain becomes detached and floats, hovering about here and there. The peaks can float indefinitely as long as the goesuppium gas doesn’t escape.”
“It must have tremendous lifting power,” said Weyland. “I had thought that hydrogen was the lightest gas in the universe.”
“Hydrogen is the lightest,” Miss Kun explained, “but goesuppium is the only gas that’s actually counterheavy. It’s the secret of my father’s airships, and of course of his ability to hoist a battleship and drop it at will.”
“So we’re sheltered from falling objects,” I said. “But now what? We can’t leave our shelter, or Kun will start dropping things again, unless he’s lost interest already.”
“Which he hasn’t,” said Miss Kun. “Daddy can be very patient.”
“In that case,” said Weyland, “what we need to do is to stay under the shelter and move forward at the same time, which should be easily accomplished. Look on the ground under the rock for stout branches Long ones, like this one. This is the sort of thing we need. Everyone look for branches like this. Why, thank you, Kitty—that’s exactly what I meant. Now, everyone find a spot on the underside of the rock where your branch can catch, like this. Good. Now all we have to do is push forward as we go, like this. See? We’re perfectly safe.”
We were walking along the trail pushing the mountain along like a canopy above us. A hail of objects crashed all around us—washing machine, double bed, tuba, Linotype, drill press, samovar, thresher, steamroller, drafting table—but we were quite safe under the impenetrable rock.
“Daddy is throwing a tantrum,” said Miss Kun.
“And everything else,” Tluxapeketl added as a kitchen sink clanked to the ground not far away.
But we made it through the rest of the pass, and it was clear from the increasing distance between us and the rest of the falling objects that we were out of range of Kun’s barrage. Just as well: the slope was turning downward again, and we had reached the point where our branches were not long enough anymore to touch the underside of the floating peak. It continued to drift off in the direction we had last been pushing it.
“Now, which way to your father’s castle?” asked Weyland.
“Up there, where the trail starts to rise again, there’s a secret back entrance to the underground complex,” said Miss Kun, pointing. “The good news is we can sneak in there. The bad news is that Daddy knows we’re coming, and he probably expects us to sneak in there.”
“And how should we get from here to there?”
“I was planning to walk,” Miss Kun replied.
So we left our branches on the round and walked on, relying on Miss Kun’s apparent confidence. We walked swiftly, but nothing happened: apparently we were well out of range, and the Devil King’s tantrum was over. It only made me wonder what fiendish outrage he was plotting next.
The secret back entrance to Kun’s underground complex was cleverly disguised, but Miss Kun slid the perfectly balanced rock aside with one hand and revealed a gate big enough to bring a locomotive through.
“Now,” she said as we walked into the darkness of the huge tunnel beyond, “all we have to do is get through the underground complex, make it upstairs to the castle, capture my father, and get a message through to the Archbishop telling him to get out of Wilkes-Barre and take back control of the Archdiocese, and we’ve saved the world for the forces of good.”
“And how easy will that be to do?”
“If I know my father,” Miss Kun replied, “practically impossible.”
“Completely impossible,” said the voice of Kun from the darkness in front of us. But it was not dark for long. Twin torches silhouetted the Devil King from behind; and as their light intensified, we could see that the torches were in fact columns of fire from the nostrils of the Pyrosaurus.
“Under the circumstances,” Weyland remarked to us, “it might be best to run.”
All of us, Kitty included, agreed with his assessment, and as one we turned and dashed back toward the entrance.
But as we neared the gateway, it was suddenly blocked by a horde of lightning-bolt minions.
I glanced back into the tunnel. Kun was walking toward us, with the Pyrosaurus following behind him.
“You won’t escape, of course,” Kun said. “My entire staff of minions has been deployed at the only exit you can reach from here. And my Pyrosaurus has been broken of his unfortunate habit of fetching sticks, Mr. Weyland, so that trick will do you no good. And now, if you’ll just wait right here, I think my Pyrosaurus has some unfinished business with all of you.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXVIII: The Perilous Pass.
We were walking across a clearing between patches of forest, with Miss Kun, Weyland, and Kitty leading the way.
“How do we get to Kun’s castle from here?” I asked.
“It’s easy,” said Miss Kun. “From this direction, we just have to go through the Perilous Pass.”
“The Perilous Pass?” I repeated. “Isn’t there some slightly nicer pass we could take?”
“There are only two other passes through these mountains. There’s the Good Luck Pass—”
“Could we take that one?” I asked.
“Good luck,” she replied.
“No one has ever survived the Good Luck Pass,” the bandit chieftain explained.
“And the other,” Miss Kun continued, “is the Rainbow Pass.”
“Has anyone ever survived that one?” I asked.
“Once,” she replied.
“He wasn’t quite the same when we found him,” said the bandit chieftain. “He kept saying, ‘Look at the pretty rainbows.’”
“So this Perilous Pass is a difficult climb?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” said Miss Kun. “Gentle slopes, broad trail, well marked…”
“Then what makes it perilous?”
That was enough of an explanation.
We had walked a few minutes, gradually ascending, by the time we came to the broad blackened patch that marked the border.
“How far to the pass?” Weyland asked.
“That’s it up there,” Miss Kun replied. She was pointing to a broad space between two peaks, not far ahead of us.
Weyland stopped and turned to face the band of bandits. “Men,” he said, “we are about to face a powerful and ruthless for, a man who will not hesitate to use every means at his disposal to oppose us. I need not dwell on the character of the man: not without reason is he known to you as the Devil King, and he is both as wicked and as devious as that name implies. The way ahead of us will be fraught with perils unknown, and more than a few of us may not return. It will require more-than-heroic fortitude to face these dangers, and I would not speak this way to ordinary men. But I know that each one of you is more than an ordinary man. I see stout hearts and brave souls before me, and I would not trade this little band of heroes for any military force in the world. For that reason I make this announcement, knowing in advance what your answer will be. If there is anyone among you whose heart fails him, who feels overwhelmed by the thought of the dangers to come, let him return in peace. I would rather proceed with a diminished force than compel a man to come with us against his will. There will be no adverse consequences, and no one will think the worse of you. Let only the brave remain, and any man who is afraid to advance go home to his caravan.”
Immediately all the bandits turned as one man and ran back down the slope, and we could hear them singing as they ran:
“We take our flight
And run away,
And live to fight
Because to die
Won’t suit us well,
And that is why
We run like…”
That was all we could hear of their song; the increasing distance made the rest of the words indistinct.
“Well, that was absolutely brilliant,” said Miss Kun, and a sensitive interpreter might have detected a hint of sarcasm in her tone. “We had a power base, and you just flushed it down the toilet. Now I’m left with two men, and one woman from a tribe that’s still thinking about inventing clothes.”
“And a tiger,” Tluxapeketl pointed out.
“Better they should abandon us now than betray us later,” said Weyland.
“Not really,” Miss Kun responded. “I could have had some real fun with the traitors. Now what do you expect me to do?”
“We shall simply continue as before. The smaller the force, the more nimble.”
“In that case,” she said, “I should just kill the three of you, and I can be nimble as all get out.”
“Good people,” said Weyland, “don’t generally—”
“It seems to me that good people just get themselves walked all over. No wonder good people are so rare. It’s natural selection.”
“In any event,” said Weyland, “our task now is to infiltrate your father’s castle without being detected, if that’s possible. Then we simply avoid his death traps and his army of lightning-bolt minions, capture Kun himself, and undo the steps he has taken so far in his plot to take over the world.”
“Oh, that’s all, is it?” asked Miss Kun.
“Obviously I have left out a few intermediate steps, which we’ll fill in as the need arises. But the fundamental outline of the plan is sound.”
“Well, it may be. But it all depends on getting through that pass alive.”
So we resumed walking up toward the pass, trudging through the shallow coating of snow in almost eerie silence. Kitty took a few opportunities to roll in the snow, but otherwise we continued with only the sound of our own footsteps until we entered the pass between the peaks. Warily we trudged forward at a slower rate, keeping an eye to the left and right for any signs of danger, but seeing nothing—until there was a loud crash of pottery smashing just in front of us. A geranium in a terra-cotta pot had landed on a nearby rock.
“My father’s work!” Miss Kun declared. “It’s started.”
“Just a flowerpot?” Weyland asked. “That doesn’t seem like much of a peril.”
Suddenly Miss Kun, looking up, grasped Weyland’s arm and yanked him to the right.
A moment later, a large potted palm hit the ground where Weyland had been standing.
“He starts with the smaller ammunition and ramps up from there,” said Miss Kun. “We can expect— Run!”
By instinct I looked up and saw something above me, but at the same instant Tluxapeketl pulled me hard to the left, almost toppling both of us. A large chest of drawers crashed to the ground where I had been standing a moment before.
“I see why they call it the Perilous Pass,” I remarked.
“Not yet you don’t,” said Miss Kun, pointing upward. “But that might give you some idea.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXVII. Song of Despair.
The bear was examining us carefully, and I could not determine to my satisfaction whether it was assessing us as a threat or as lunch. I strongly suspected the latter.
Tluxapeketl, who found herself on the same branch with Miss Kun, asked her, “Could you control it the way you did the snakes?”
“I can only dominate lower forms of life, like reptiles and arachnids and men. It doesn’t work with higher mammals.”
The bear was pacing now, looking up at us and licking its chops.
“There are four of us,” I pointed out.
“Perhaps more nutrition than one bear needs,” Weyland agreed. “It may eat only one or two of us.”
“I understand,” said Miss Kun, “that certain Amazonian tribes have a noble tradition of self-sacrifice.”
The bear was pacing faster.
“I might be able to do something if I had a spindle, a barometer, and a 4B drawing pencil,” said Weyland.
Suddenly the bear’s head turned to our left with an expression of abject terror, and then the bear took off in the opposite direction. A moment later there was a flash of orange and black, and a Siberian tiger landed in the space where the bear had been.
“Kitty!” Tluxapeketl exclaimed with delight.
Weyland began to climb down at once. “By Jove,” he said as he reached the ground, “it certainly is good to see you, old friend!”
Kitty immediately rubbed against Weyland, and even from ten feet up I could hear the deep rumble of a tiger’s purring.
We all followed Weyland to the ground, Miss Kun last and very warily. But as soon as she set foot on the ground, the tiger rubbed against her affectionately, purring like a motorcycle.
“This cat hated me before,” she said. “Why does he like me now?”
“When he attacked you at Pleasant River,” Weyland explained, “you were working to further your father’s evil plan for world domination. Now you have abandoned him and allied yourself with he forces of good. Tigers can detect these changes: they are very sensitive, ethically speaking.”
“I thought Siberian tigers attacked people and ate them,” said Miss Kun.
“I didn’t say they were flawless. I only said they were sensitive.”
Miss Kun experimented with scratching the top of Kitty’s head, which he obviously enjoyed very much.
“I hear people,” said Tluxapeketl.
And indeed I could hear the sound of voices as well. They came closer, and now I could distinguish the sound as men singing.
“My bandits!” said Miss Kun.
Just then the men began to appear over the crest of a hill some little distance away, and now the singing was much clearer:
“Across the snow
With eager step
We gaily go
And swiftly schlep.
Why is it so?
Because there might
(You never know)
“Now we’ll have a power base,” Miss Kun said.
“What is a ‘power base’? asked Tluxapeketl.
“It’s a bunch of people who are good at beating other people up.”
By now the bandits had spotted us, and their reaction was immediately apparent in the way they stopped in their tracks, stared straight ahead, and changed from a jaunty march to a stately adagio.
“But what is this? Our eyes behold
Our Bandit Queen!
That she had come we were not told!
What can it mean?”
Miss Kun was approaching them, and she wasted no time in apprising them of her intentions. “My loyal bandits! How delightful it is to see you here, since it turns out I have need of your services. I rely on your personal loyalty to myself, of course—”
“Our arms are strong, our hearts are pure,
O lady royal!
Through thick and thin, you may be sure,
We will be loyal!”
“Look, the singing is adorable, but do you think you could cut it out before I punch somebody? Thank you.”
“Your Majesty,” said a man I recognized as the courteous bandit chief, “what assistance we can render is yours to command. We saw an ornithopter crash some distance from here, and we came out to comb the wreckage for Bakelite; but at your merest whim we are ready to abandon our quest and serve you, no matter where it takes us.”
“That’s just what I wanted to hear,” said Miss Kun. “It turns out that my father has become my mortal enemy, and we’re going to storm his castle and take over his empire of evil.”
The men looked at one another, and there was some whispered conferring. Eventually the bandit chieftain turned forward and resumed speaking to Miss Kun.
“The men would like me to clarify that at your merest whim we are ready to abandon our quest and serve you, no mater where it takes us, as long as it isn’t to the castle of the Devil King, oh please no for the love of everything holy.”
“I don’t think you quite understand,” said Miss Kun, walking slowly closer to the bandit chieftain. “The prospect of my father’s castle may seem fearful in your imagination, but…” She stopped inches from his face and gazed straight into his eyes: “I’m right here.”
The man’s complexion turned noticeably paler, and the rest of the men looked stricken. Again they conferred in low whispers, and then the chieftain turned back to Miss Kun and announced,
“The men would like me to inform you that we have rescinded our recent clarification.”
Miss Kun smiled an icy smile. “Excellent. Well done. You’ve made a choice you won’t regret, or at least not as soon as you would have regretted the alternative. Now, which way is the Andorran border?”
The chieftain pointed to his right. In the near distance we could see a dashed line picked out in blackened patches that rambled across the mountains.
“Not far at all,” said Miss Kun. “Follow me!”
She turned and started in the direction of the border; the rest of us followed, the bandits singing as they went:
“Across the snow
We march in file
And sing, although
Our fate is vile:
The way, we know,
Is strewn with traps.
But still we go,
Because we’re saps.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
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:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXV. The Snow Crash.
“Daddy! You”—there was a brief pause while Miss Kun searched her vocabulary for a term strong enough to express her feelings —“poopyhead!”
We could see Kun through the left window: he was sitting comfortably in his seat, which was floating gently earthward, and he was waving with a smug smile under his beard.
“How is he doing that?” Weyland asked.
“The seat has a reserve tank of goesuppium,” Miss Kun explained.
“Can we get out the same way?”
“No. Only the front two seats are set up like that, and I let the ejector fluid out of mine. It’s still got the goesuppium, but there’s no way to eject.”
“Then we’ll have to do something else. Can you bring this machine down?”
“Down is no problem. It’s just surviving the impact that’s tricky. It takes a lot of flapping to land safely. But any time we like we can fold our wings and drop like a stone.”
“All right,” said Weyland, “so right now we’re soaring like a bird. Then we need to think like a bird. Do you mind if I take the controls?”
“Be my guest,” said Miss Kun, rising from her seat and standing hunched in the space where her father’s seat had been.
“Thank you,” said Weyland, squeezing past her to sit in the vacated seat. “I did some glider experiments with Mr. Curtiss, so if I can just— What are you doing?”
“Sitting on your lap,” said Miss Kun, sitting on his lap.
“That’s very distracting.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. I was beginning to wonder about you.”
“Do you have to—”
“Look, I’m trying to be good, okay? But you’ve got to let me do it in easy stages.—Oh, I could get used to this.”
“I wish you wouldn’t move quite like that.”
“Just tell me how you want me to move, Mr. Weyland.”
“If you’ll just let me save our lives now, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about other things later.”
“Oh, all right, I’ll be good.”
“Thank you. Now, do you see those—”
“Yes.—Do you see those vultures circling over there?”
“They must have found a carcass, the sweet little dears.”
“More importantly,” said Weyland, “they’ve found a thermal—a patch of warm air rising. I’m going to take us over there, and we can circle while we plan our next move.”
The ornithopter banked to the left, and in eerie motorless silence we soared over to join the vultures, which unsurprisingly scattered at our approach.
“We’re too heavy to gain altitude,” said Weyland, “but at least we’re not descending very fast. I’m going to circle here, and—oops—sorry about that…”
“Do that again and I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
“I’m sorry. It’s hard to manipulate the controls without, you know—”
“I meant that in a good way, Mr. Weyland.”
“Do you see that snow field over there?” asked Weyland. “It’s a bit of a slope, but we might be able to set down there. I don’t see anywhere else that’s not either forest or rock.”
“I don’t either,” said Miss Kun. “If you can set us down there, the snow might cushion the impact.”
We began to bank to the right, and, leaving the thermal, we lost altitude rather quickly. We spiraled downward over the snow field, the ground coming closer more quickly than I liked to see.
Tluxapeketl seemed to be watching Weyland and Miss Kun—an impression that was confirmed when she said to me, “The red lady likes Mr. Weyland very much.”
“It looks that way,” I agreed.
“I am happy. I was afraid she might like you.”
“Now,” said Weyland in a voice obviously meant to be heard in the back seats, “I suggest everybody get on the floor at once. We might hit a bit hard. —You, too, Miss Kun. I don’t want you to get hurt. I have to keep a hand on the controls, but the rest of you crouch down and brace yourselves.”
Tluxapeketl and I followed instructions, squeezing ourselves between the rear and middle seats. I tried to make sure we were as well padded as possible, keeping our heads down, and thus I saw nothing of our descent until Weyland announced, “There we are. You can get up now.”
Cautiously Tluxapeketl and I poked our heads up above the seats.
We were on the ground, with snow all around us, and the nose of the craft pointing downward on the moderate slope. I had not even felt the landing.
Miss Kun was as surprised as I was. “You call that hitting a bit hard? I can hit a lot harder than that. You’ll find that out when you get to know me better.”
“Well,” said Weyland, “I suppose my glider experience served me in good stead. I thought I might be able to make a soft landing, but I wasn’t certain. It’s always best to be prepared for the worst.”
“An excellent principle,” I agreed. “But now that we’re safe—”
Suddenly there was a loud crack, and the ornithopter began plunging down the slope, with a large broken section of the snow field coming along for the ride. Tluxapeketl and I fell back on the floor as the machine bounced, turned, and skipped over the irregular ground until we came to a stop and seemed not to be going any farther.
The ornithopter was on its left side, and Tluxapeketl and I were lying on the left wall, a little bruised but not seriously injured.
Miss Kun was also lying on the left wall, somewhat behind where her father’s seat had been. Weyland was beside her.
She sat up and leaned over toward Weyland. “Are you all—”
The machine began to tilt forward ominously.
Miss Kun quickly leaned back the other way, and the ornithopter fell back to its previous position.
“That can’t be good,” she said.
“I hate to ask this,” said Weyland, not moving from his prone position, “but can anyone see outside?”
Slowly I stood up, and Tluxapeketl with me. We looked out the back window, and then toward the front.
“Behind us I see a long track in the snow and one of our wings broken off about a hundred yards back,” I reported.
“In front is a big nothing,” said Tluxapeketl.
“When you say ‘nothing,’ Miss Kun asked, “do you mean, if you’ll pardon my language, virgin snow, or—”
“Air,” said Tluxapeketl.
“So you mean,” said Weyland, “that we are at the edge of a precipice.”
“It would seem so,” I admitted.
“I thought as much,” said Weyland. “I have always had a peculiar, almost magnetic attraction for precipices. They seem to seek me out.”
“Well, what are we going to do about it?” Miss Kun demanded.
“I’m going to think,” said Weyland.
“How will that help?”
“It often does. All I need is a short time, and I should be able to work out—”
“While you think, I’m going to see if I can get out,” said Miss Kun. “Maybe I can—”
She had moved slightly toward the open roof panel that had been above Kun’s seat, and was now to her left just a little in front of her; but the machine began to tip forward again. Quickly she leaned back toward the tail of the machine, and it fell back into place.
“Think harder,” she told Weyland.
“I just need a little more time,” he said. “I think I’m just about there…”
“Mr. Weyland always thinks of something,” Tluxapeketl told me confidently.
“Aha!” cried Weyland. “I have it!”
There was another loud crack, and the ornithopter slipped off the edge into the void.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXIV. Talons of the Roc.
“The big bird is coming back,” said Tluxapeketl.
It was completely unnecessary for her to remind us, since the immense wings of the roc now filled the view through the side windows. The thing was approaching us as if it meant to collide with us; but at the last moment it swooped upward and struck us a glancing blow with its talons—a blow that nevertheless made our ornithopter shudder and drop some distance before Kun regained control.
“Go faster, Daddy,” said Miss Kun. “See if we can get away.”
We heard that grinding sound again, and the great wings of the machine began to flap. I could feel my back pressing into the seat as the ornithopter surged forward.
“A remarkable machine,” Weyland reiterated.
“I think it’s a bit show-offy,” said Miss Kun.
“Showing off is nine-tenths of the art of being a successful archfiend,” said her father.
“The big bird is coming back,” said Tluxapeketl again; she had turned to look out the small rear window.
The pitch of the grinding sound rose, and the great brass wings flapped faster.
“Can you go faster than this?” Miss Kun asked.
“Not without stressing the wings beyond the breaking point,” Kun replied.
“Didn’t I tell you an autogyro would be more practical? I distinctly remember telling you that.”
Another impact, and again the machine reeled and shuddered.
“Why is the big bird chasing us?” asked Tluxapeketl as the roc again began to wheel about in front of us.
“Perhaps it thinks we’re another roc invading its territory,” I suggested.
“I’m afraid it’s worse than that,” said Weyland.
“Worse than there’s a monster bird and it wants to kill us?” I asked.
“I don’t think it sees us as an enemy,” Weyland replied. “I think it sees us a a potential mate.”
The roc swooped toward us again; Kun tried to dive to evade it, with the result that this blow was not quite as hard as the previous ones.
“The female Iberian roc is a pale golden brown color, described by the Moorish poet Ibn Alfred as ‘like brass,’” Weyland explained. “I think our ornithopter appears to be a female of his species in the eyes of the roc.”
“You mean these are amorous overtures?” I asked incredulously.
“Can we make it think of baseball statistics or something?” asked Miss Kun. “I don’t think I want to mate with a monster bird. Even I have my limits.”
The roc pounded us yet again, and this time the impact was hard enough that Kun seemed to lose control of the machine for a moment. We turned violently on our left side; Kun soon had us righted, but I wondered whether the ornithopter could take many more impacts like that one.
“We may have a chance,” said Weyland. “It depends, of course, on certain assumptions. The Arabian conquerors established the roc wherever they took up residence, but information on the Iberian subspecies is sparse and unreliable. If we presume, however, that its mating habits are, barring certain local variations, the same as, or at least similar to, the habits of the species as a whole in the rest of its range, then we may be able to—”
“Are you going to do something, Mr. Weyland?” asked Kun. “Because, if we are simply going to die, I should be happy to die without the ornithological lecture.”
The bird swooped in again, and Kun just barely managed an evasive drop that spared us the worst of the impact from its massive talons.
“How maneuverable is your ornithopter?” asked Weyland.
“It took first prize in the Bucharest All-Europe Ornithopter Trials three years ago,” Kun replied.
“Let’s put it to the test. If you can follow my instructions to the letter, we may just have a chance. Start with a hard roll to the right.”
Kun immediately complied, and the machine tilted strongly to the right, nearly tipping us out of our seats.
“Good!” said Weyland. “Now dive, about fifty meters if you can manage it, and then pull up hard and continue about two hundred meters straight up.”
“Wheeee!” cried Tluxapeketl as we suddenly dropped and then just as suddenly pulled up out of the dive. She was enjoying the ride a good bit more than I was.
“Now,” said Weyland, “hard roll to the left, and then again fifty meters down, two hundred up.”
“I hope you realize,” said Kun as the machine tilted to the left, “that all this is using a great deal of fuel, and ornithopter fuel is not cheap.”
“We could have had an autogyro,” said Miss Kun as the dive began again; “but no, you had to have the flashy brass and flapping wings.”
Once more we began to ascend, and again it seemed to leave my stomach two hundred meters below.
“Now,” said Weyland, “do you think you can dive in a clockwise spiral?”
“Do you think I can’t?” Kun asked as the machine suddenly began to spiral downward.
“Now you’ve done it,” said Miss Kun. “Daddy’s a big showoff.”
“Down three hundred meters,” said Weyland, “and then pull out.”
“I do hope you know what you’re doing, Mr. Weyland,” said Kun. “The roc is still out there.”
“I make no guarantees,” Weyland said as we pulled out of the spiral dive. “But at least it has not attacked again. Now we go through the whole thing once more—roll right, dive fifty meters.”
“Ornithopters are such fun!” Tluxapeketl declared as we plummeted through the sky.
“Up two hundred,” Weyland said, and there was that stomach-dropping sensation again a we shifted abruptly from straight down to straight up.
We went again through the left roll, dive, ascent, and spiral dive. This time, once we had pulled out of the spiral, Tluxapeketl pointed out the side window and declared, “The big bird is going away.”
Indeed we could see, off to the left, the roc flying away, and it did not appear to be coming back. We watched it go until it had become an indistinguishable spot in the sky over the distant mountains.
“Well, Mr. Weyland,” said Kun, “it appears that, whatever you had us doing, it worked. I suppose that is a rather impressive accomplishment for a non-Andorran.”
“What did we do?” I asked.
“Like many birds,” Weyland explained, “the roc has a complex mating behavior that is governed by a highly ritualized mating dance. What we perceived at first as its attacks were, in fact, the male’s attempt to initiate the mating dance. It was thus up to us, in the role of the female bird, to respond to those overtures.”
“How did we respond?”
“Fortunately I studied medieval Arabian ornithomythology in some depth back in my undergraduate days. I simply directed you to give the response that, to use the vernacular, means ‘Amscray, I’m not interested.’ The male thus, though disappointed, retired, convinced that he had been rejected.”
“Poor birdie,” said Tluxapeketl.
“Well, then, we have successfully avoided the roc,” said Kun, “and that is very good news. The bad news is that, in doing so, we have used up all our fuel.”
“What happens now?” I asked.
“The most likely outcome,” Kun replied, “is that the ornithopter crashes and everyone on board dies. Oh, and by the way, Elsie, do you remember how you disabled your ejection seat before we took off?”
“Yes…” Miss Kun replied.
“You may also remember that I didn’t disable mine.”
There was a sound like “phutt,” and Kun was gone. A square hole had appeared in the roof above him, and both the man and the seat he had been sitting in had vanished.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
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:
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…”
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Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXI: Corridor of Terror.
“It is a deadly monster capable of incinerating everything within a distance of fifty meters!” Kun declared with obvious pride.
“That’s what makes it cute,” his daughter replied; and, to the monster, “Who’s a pwecious widdle fwame-bweaving dwagon?”
“Enough!” Kun shouted. “Pyrosaurus! Incinerate them all!”
A loud, shrill whistle pierced my ears: it had proceeded from Weyland, who was now holding his broom high over his head.
“Here boy!” he shouted. “Look at the stick!”
The beast snorted. A huge pink tongue rolled out of its mouth like a carpet.
“What are you doing?” Kun bellowed. “Stop that!—Pyrosaurus, finish them off!”
“Fetch, boy,” Weyland called out to the beast. “Fetch the stick!” He threw the broom with remarkable force over the beast’s head. The creature jumped, turned, and snorted, and ran back into the tunnel.
Miss Kun looked up at her father. “What do you think of that, Daddy? Pttthhhhht!”
“None of your witty banter, young lady! You come back here and take your punishment like a—”
But we heard no more, because we had retreated to the stairway and closed the door.
We dashed back up the stairs, swatting the grumbling spiders out of the way, and ended up in the corridor outside Miss Kun’s laboratory again.
“That was a big crocodile,” said Tluxapeketl. She was the only one of us not breathing heavily from the exertion of our run up the stairs.
“How did you toss that broom so far?” Miss Kun asked Weyland.
“Peevish can tell you: the old broom toss was a favorite street game when we were growing up. I was the undefeated neighborhood champion. —It seems our plans have changed. If the back way is inaccessible, what about the front way?”
“It will have to be the front way,” Miss Kun replied. “But Daddy won’t make it easy.” She led us past her laboratory to another elevator, whose doors were already open. I was about to let Tluxapeketl step inside when Miss Kun put out her arm to stop us.
“Just a moment,” she said.
She reached inside the elevator and pushed one of the buttons.
As soon as she withdrew her hand, the doors closed with us still standing in the hall, which seemed counterproductive to me. But in a moment we heard a tremendous crash from behind the doors. The racket went on for some time, ending at last with a few final plops and tinkles.
“I thought so,” said Miass Kun. “Emergency protocols. I helped design them. I think we’ll take the stairs.
We walked a little farther down the hall to a door marked STAIRS. Again I was about to open it, but again Miss Kun prevented me.
“That’s not a good idea. The first step is fifty feet down, and the bottom is paved with spikes. It’s my father’s idea of a joke.”
She led us farther along to a door marked PIT OF RATTLESNAKES.
“This is the stairway,” she explained, opening the door. Illumino rays revealed another curving stone stairway, this one much cleaner, so that we had no need of the three brooms we were still carrying.
“I suppose mislabeling the door like that is another one of your father’s jokes,” said Weyland as we walked down the stairs.
“Oh, it’s not mislabeled,” Miss Kun replied.
A symphony of rattling suddenly met our ears as we rounded the curve at the bottom of the stairs. The floor below was covered with rattlesnakes of all descriptions.
“Gangway,” said Miss Kun. “Make room.”
The rattling diminished considerably.
“I don’t want to have to discipline any of you,” she added.
The rattling ceased, and there was quite a lot of slithering as snakes scurried to the left and to the right. A broad path opened in the middle, leading to a doorway on the other side of the snake pit.
“Come on,” said Miss Kun. “They won’t bite you, if they know what’s good for them.”
Like Israelites through the Red Sea, we passed on bare floor through the midst of the sea of serpents. Only one dared to rattle at us, and the glance it got from Miss Kun sufficed to silence it immediately.
“Remarkable how you control them like that.”
“Snakes have a sort of phobia about me,” Miss Kun explained as we reached the door on the opposite side of the snake pit. “Of course, I did have to make a few examples.”
We passed through the door into another room that seemed completely empty, but Miss Kun stopped near the entrance.
“Now, the easiest way to get through this one is to sacrifice one of us,” she said. “How about her?” She pointed at Tluxapeketl.
“How could you suggest such a thing?” I demanded, moving in front of Tluxapektl.
“Well, I like men, but women I can take or leave.”
“What will happen if we do this?” Weyland asked, taking my broom from me. He tossed it into the middle of the room. Just as it reached the middle, two huge stone slabs swung down from the ceiling in opposite directions and clapped together with a mighty smack, squashing the broom between them in mid-air.
“Yes,” said Miss Kun, “I suppose that would work. She continued into the room, now apparently unconcerned; and we followed her, stepping around the dangling stone slabs.
Next we came to a long corridor that seemed completely featureless, but I was beginning to think of that as a bad sign. Miss Kun confirmed my suspicions.
“Daddy and I had a bit of fun with this one, I’m afraid.”
“What does it do?” Weyland asked.
“Mostly it disorients you,” she replied, “till you get to the end.”
“Then it kills you.”
“What should we do?” I asked.
“Tackle one problem at a time, I suppose. Come on.”
We walked a few feet into the hall, and suddenly things seemed very different. We appeared to be walking on the ceiling.
“Why is down up?” asked Tluxapeketl.
“Just ignore it,” said Miss Kun. “It’s a silly trick. It’s all done with mirrors and disoriento rays.”
“Now down is left,” Tluxapeketl remarked.
“Mr. Peevish,” said Miss Kun, “you might want to hold her hand.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you two make a cute couple. If the hand-holding goes well, I can provide you with a number of more advanced suggestions.—Oh, just ignore it.” This last came out because we now appeared to be walking on a tightrope over the gorge below Niagara Falls.
“Pretty,” said Tluxapeketl. Almost without thinking about it, I found that I had taken her hand, or perhaps she had taken mine.
We seemed now to be about to step off the roof of the Oliver Building, but we continued walking out into what appeared to be thin air.
“A remarkable illusion,” said Weyland.
“I did this next one all by myself,” Miss Kun said proudly. The scene changed again: we were walking on the deck of a ship at sea, but all around us we could see what appeared to be the interior of a giant bottle. “Daddy thought this one was a little too silly, but I say you might as well have fun with your evil deathtrap or there’s no point in doing it.”
“You certainly have done remarkable work in creating disorienting impressions,” said Weyland. “You must have studied psychology in great detail.”
“Not half as hard as I studied anatomy,” Miss Kun replied. For some reason Weyland jumped a bit. It might have had something to do with the position of Miss Kun’s hand, which was behind him where I was not able to observe it.
Now we appeared to be climbing the side of a tornado, but we simply ignored what our eyes were telling us. Eventually the illusion faded, and we were back in the unadorned corridor again, having nearly reached the other end.
Suddenly panels in the walls near the middle of the corridor opened up, and water began to pour out into the corridor with a loud rush.
“I say,” Weyland remarked, “it even feels wet! Is this really just another one of your illusions?”
“No,” Miss Kun replied. “This is where it kills you.”
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