Posts filed under “Novels”
The first chapter of a new novel now in print from Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Publishing Empire.
Important visitors—and it is a principle of the Sultan’s hospitality that every visitor is important—are invariably asked whether they would like to see this collection; and since they have been warned beforehand that an affirmative answer would be wise (for the Sultan’s ministers like it best when the Sultan is happy with his guests and there is no mess to clean up afterwards), they invariably accept his invitation.
So it happened when the Maharajah of Istanistan and his retinue paid a visit to the Sultan some time ago: the party adjourned from the immense dining hall after a particularly lavish feast and made its way through passages that were half corridor and half garden toward the collection rooms, as dozens of other parties of guests had done on dozens of other occasions. On this occasion, however, the Sultan’s ministers observed a few signs of uncertainty in their master. The signs were invisible to all but those who had known the Sultan for most of his life, but they were there: a smile (or at least a width of mustache) just a little too broad, a voice just half a step too high, a slight syncopation in his normally regular rolling gait. And the ministers knew the reason for these signs: the Maharajah was also a collector, and his collection was said to rival the Sultan’s. Since the Maharajah was an equal and a carefully cultivated ally, there could be no question of adding his head to the Sultan’s collection. But someone would suffer if the Maharajah proved insufficiently impressed. The Sultan’s ministers were worried.
Their worries did not diminish as the Maharajah was introduced to some of the glories of the collection. The Maharajah was scrupulously polite: he greeted every object with a bland smile and a few appropriate words of appreciation, always adding the disturbing information that he possessed something very similar.
“The head of Prometheus by Archippus,” the Sultan announced, looking up at his guest to judge his reaction. The Sultan was a naturally small man, though the constant attention of the best cooks in his domain had rounded him into a sphere. “It is all that remains of his colossal Prometheus Bound, mentioned with such admiration by Pliny.”
“Yes, very fine indeed,” the Maharajah replied after a cursory examination of the huge head, which was a good bit taller than he was—and the Maharajah was a tall man, whose natural taste for asceticism had given him the appearance of one of those spindly pillars that formed thick forests in many parts of the Sultan’s palace. He looked down at the Sultan, but he might have seemed to be looking not so much at his host as at his own reflection in the Sultan’s perfectly oiled helmet of black hair. “I have his Ariadne. A remarkable composition—perfectly intact, of course.”
There was a slight twitch in the Sultan’s upper lip: it might have passed entirely unnoticed had not his immense and luxuriant black mustache amplified the movement, so that by the time it reached the ends the mustache seemed to be trying to fly away like a raven. Nevertheless, the Sultan proceeded with what was probably a smile to the next item, a water organ that played, by an ingenious arrangement of cams on a wheel, a simple but very loud melody without the intervention of a human musician. The Sultan’s ministers discreetly stopped their ears, and the Maharajah’s party listened with petrified smiles; but the Maharajah himself maintained his cheerful blandness throughout the brief performance.
When the tootling ended and the mechanism hissed and clattered to a stop, the Maharajah rendered his appreciation: “Very elegantly constructed. Mine plays “The Lament of the Amazons.’ ”
In their minds some of the Sultan’s lesser ministers began to consider how they might formulate their wills.
So it was with most of the exhibits. The Maharajah pronounced the brazen oak with singing silver birds quite lovely: his own had birds made of gold, but the same mechanical principles were employed. The crystal tank with live sea-elephant was quite fascinating in its way: the Maharajah could offer some helpful advice on feeding the creature, based on his own success in keeping a breeding colony of the things.
With each successive exhibit the Sultan seemed less confident to his experienced ministers, who in turn were losing confidence in the attachment of their own heads to their bodies.
But the Sultan had not finished yet. “My dear Maharajah,” he said at last, “surely your collection must be one of the wonders of the world, and in almost every way the equal of my own. There remains, however, one thing in my collection that is unique, a precious treasure so rare and exquisite that I must keep it separately. Would you like to have a glimpse of it?”
“My dear Sultan,” the Maharajah replied, “nothing would please me more.”
“Unicorns are rather naughty and require a firm hand to prevent mischief. They are forever poking their horns into things with no other motive (to all appearances, at least) than to see what will happen. A single unicorn may be discouraged by loud noises or quick movements, but unicorns gathered in groups (for they do not exhibit any principle of organization, and therefore forfeit the name of herds) may be destructive and require the prompt attention of a determined virgin. It is best not to allow the beasts to gather in the first place; and if a collection of unicorns must be maintained, each animal is to have his own individual stall with room for at least limited frolicking.”
So we find in De Unicornu, lib. IX, cap. VII; but only in the posthumous edition, which was in press when Schenckelius departed this world. I have found a proof sheet among Schenckelius' papers, in which the word virginis is struck out, and the word feminae written (in the hand of the author) in the margin; but the sheets were never returned to the printer, and the error remains uncorrected in that edition.
Suppose your name is Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt Ritchie. Think of all the possibilities for authorial pseudonyms you have ready to hand:
Anna Ritchie Ogden
Cora Ogden Ritchie
Cora Ritchie Mowatt
A. C. Ogden
C. Ogden Ritchie
Ritchie Ogden Mowatt
Instead, she publishes an epic, and the title page says “By Isabel.”
The most astonishing adventure in the history of the Internet is now the most astonishing adventure in the history of paper and glue. Devil King Kun, the tale of globe-spanning intrigue, danger, and repeated plunges from precipices that gripped the world by the throat and shook it for all of September, is now a paperback book of 230 pages, small enough to carry on the streetcar but big enough to throw at the dog. Order the book from Amazon now, or request it from your favorite bookseller. Order a crate of the things and give them out instead of candy this Halloween, and watch the angelic smiles light up the faces of the little demons at your door. As always, Dr. Boli has painstakingly hand-crafted every single letter in the book, a service no other author of rip-roaring adventure stories can offer you.
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 ground 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 foe, 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: