Posts filed under “Novels”
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…”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
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.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling installment:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XX: Into the Inferno.
“But Daddy!” Miss Kun complained, moving in front of us, “you promised!”
“Be quiet, Elsie,” said the Devil King. “You know I dislike it intensely when you contradict me.”
“It’s not fair,” she declared, stamping her foot to accent the word “fair.” “You promised. You said I could play with him first.”
“Please do not try my patience, Elsie.”
“You made a promise, Daddy!”
“Guards,” said Kun, “throw my daughter off the balcony, too.”
“A daughter was never essential to my plans. More of an unintended side-effect of leisure activities which I have long since abandoned to concentrate on the pursuit of world domination.”
“You’re a big meany,” said Miss Kun, “and I just have one thing to say to you: WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE?”
She pointed behind him and to his right, and Kun and all the guards turned to see what she was pointing at.
Miss Kun grasped Weyland’s hand and pulled him with her; he grasped Tluxapeketl’s hand, and she grasped mine, and we all ran out through a heavy Gothic door, which Miss Kun slammed behind us and barred with a huge wooden bolt.
“So he thinks he can run his evil empire without me,” she said, walking briskly down a stone corridor while we followed behind. “Well, I’ll show him. I’ll turn good, that’s what I’ll do. Serve him right. How do you go about being good, Mr. Weyland? You’ll have to explain it to me.”
“Let’s save our lives right now,” said Weyland, “and then we’ll have plenty of time to be good. How long will it take them to break through that door?”
“Five minutes. Daddy will try his disintegrator ray for four and a half minutes, and when that doesn’t work they’ll chop the door down. In here.” She turned into a short corridor that led to a pair of double doors, which opened at our approach. Beyond them was a large elevator. Miss Kun pressed a button inside marked “Labs, Princess,” and the doors closed. We began to descend.
“I say,” said Weyland, “is your name really ‘Elsie’?”
Miss Kun stared at the door in front of her with a lowering brow. “Lots of perfectly evil people have been named ‘Elsie.’ There’s nothing wrong with ‘Elsie.’”
“Of course not,” we all agreed hastily.
“I’m sorry,” she said, turning to Tluxapeketl, “I know the names of these two gentlemen, but I don’t know yours. If I’m going to be good, I probably ought to know your name.”
“I am called Tluxapeketl.”
“That’s quite a name,” said Miss Kun. “Is there some way I could abbreviate it a little?”
“When I was a small girl, my youngest brother used to call me ‘Tluxapeket’ for short. He had trouble saying ‘Tluxapeketl,’ you see.”
“I suppose I can learn to say the whole thing.—Here we are.”
The elevator doors opened, and Miss Kun pressed a button marked DISABLE ELEVATOR TO DISCOURAGE PURSUIT BY IRATE FATHER.
“An interesting feature,” I remarked, reading the plaque by the button.
“When I was a teenage prodigy, my father didn’t like some of my boyfriends,” she explained as we stepped out into what appeared to be a smaller version of the great laboratory we had seen before. “I built my private laboratory to take that into account.”
“Some of your boyfriends?” Weyland asked. “How many boyfriends did you have?”
“As many as I wanted,” she replied, striking a pose that explained the statement.
I took a look around the room. A Jacob’s ladder was buzzing in one corner. An oscilloscope was showing a steady wave pattern. A Tesla coil sat gathering dust against the wall. Miss Kun walked to a set of shelves on the far side of the room; we followed her and watched as she rummaged through a large stock of aerosol cans.
“Wicked Red…Evil Charcoal… Here we are: Virtuous Purple. Miss, uh,—”
“Tluxapeketl,” said Tluxapeketl.
“Yes. You need to dress more appropriately for the climate. We’ll take care of that right now. Gentlemen, if you could turn around for a moment…”
Weyland and I turned away and waited. In a moment we heard the sound of spraying for a few seconds.
“Much better,” Miss Kun declared. “You can turn around now, gentlemen.”
We turned to see Tluxapeketl dressed in a single tight-fitting garment just like Miss Kun’s, but in iridescent purple.
“This is what you call virtuous?” I asked.
“Well, all my aerosol catsuits are more or less wicked, but this is the best we can do right now,” Miss Kun replied.
“Dashed clever how you do the zipper,” said Weyland. “How does that come out of the spray can?”
“That is a patent-pending trade secret,” said Miss Kun. “I’d have to kill you if I told you, and worst of all I wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy it now that I’m trying to reform. —I’ve put Miss Tluxapeketl’s old clothes in a Number Ten envelope in case she needs them again. Now I think it’s time to make a plan to take over the castle and then conquer the world for the forces of good.”
“Actually,” said Weyland, “good people generally don’t try to conquer the world. It’s not done, you know.”
“But if you don’t conquer the world, then won’t the evil people take over every time?”
“We generally prefer to let people choose their own government, and trust them to make the right choice.”
“Well,” said Miss Kun, “I’m willing to be good, but I’m not willing to be an idiot. I think the forces of good could use some new management. Right now, though, we need a power base. My bandits will follow me anywhere if I bring them Bakelite, so if we can get back to the bandit cave we’ll have a small army. It’s not much against my father’s Andorran hordes, but it’s a start.”
“How do we get there?” Weyland asked.
“My father will be watching the elevators and the main stairs. We’ll have to go the back way through the caverns. Follow me.”
We followed her out into a corridor roughly hewn out of rock. A small whirring device on wheels whirred past us and stopped in front of us.
“What is that?” asked Tluxapeketl.
“One of Daddy’s all-seeing eyes,” Miss Kun answered. “It sends televisual images back to him by means of oculo rays.”
“Good heavens!” Weyland exclaimed. “Do you mean to say your father has solved the problem of television and actually created a practical working system? What a tool for the manipulation of the masses!”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” said Miss Kun. “Ordinary people would never sit still to watch flickering images on a little box when the world is full of interesting things to do. I can’t imagine television ever being anything more than a security tool for megalomaniacal archfiends.”
“But does this mean Kun knows where we are right now?” I asked.
“Yes, and he can hear us, too, so he knows I think he’s a big meany!” She kicked the machine across the floor; it hit the wall and whirred off on a staggering irregular trajectory. “Let’s go this way.”
We walked down the corridor and came to a broom closet from which Miss Kun took four brooms, handing one to each of us.
“We don’t use the back stairs much,” she explained. “Sometimes there are spiderwebs.”
At the end of the corridor was a door marked BACK STAIRS—BEWARE OF SPIDERS. Miss Kun opened it and pushed a button, and illumino rays revealed a descending spiral stairway apparently hewn out of the rock. Spiderwebs were everywhere; I was glad to have the brooms to sweep our way through them. Some of the rather large spiders muttered curses as they shuffled out of the way. One of them yanked my broom out of my hand and tried to chase me with it, but Miss Kun gave it a withering look, and it dropped the broom and sulked away.
Eventually, after descending what seemed like quite some way, we came to another door. Opening this one, Miss Kun led us out into a great cavernous chamber. About twenty feet up on the far left side was a metal balcony; in the opposite wall was a huge roundish hole apparently leading into a dark tunnel.
Miss Kun stood still and looked quite confused.
“Is something wrong?” Weyland asked.
“This is supposed to be a corridor,” she replied. “I’ve never seen this chamber before.”
“That,” said a voice from the balcony, “is because you know nothing of my latest experiments.”
We looked up to our left to see Kun standing on the metal balcony sneering down at us.
“I think you’ll be surprised,” he said. “Shortly after that, I think you’ll be incinerated.”
A bright orange glow suddenly illuminated the tunnel opposite us. A rumbling roar came through the tunnel and echoed in the great chamber.
“For my newest creation,” said Kun, “I have been experimenting with the effects of certain rays on biology.”
Another orange glow, another roar, and then a hideous reptilian head, as big as the dinosaur heads in the natural-history museum, appeared in the entrance to the tunnel. And what was even more frightening was that flames were issuing from its nostrils.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” said Kun. “What do you think of my Pyrosaurus, Elsie?”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XIX: The Castle of Evil.
“How did you get here from South America?” Weyland asked.
“We had rather good luck with a hurricane,” said Miss Kun. “And how convenient that you should already have been introduced to my loyal if excessively operatic bandits. —Is that tiger always so…lightheaded?”
“He is currently under the influence of catnip, I believe,” Weyland replied.
“Oh! How…cute. Well, gentlemen, and your still-underdressed lady friend, I find myself in a position to continue with my original plan, which was to take you to my father—with a stop in my private playroom, of course. I have such a delightful collection of toys! Some of them belonged to dear old Torquemada himself. And now that I have three of you to play with…”
Instinctively I stepped in front of Tluxapeketl. “You’ll have to kill me before you touch her,” I said defiantly.
“Oh, Mr. Peevish!” said the Devil Princess. “How delightfully gallant! In honor of your chivalry, I might almost give you your wish, though it would be more entertaining to kill you after. My father has no interest in you, after all, so there is no limit to the fun we can have together.” She addressed her bandit friends. “My loyal subjects, you have done well to deliver these three, and their portable tiger, to my custody. There will be Bakelite for all—”
The bandits immediately began singing:
“With all our might
We strive and fight
For our delight—
From mountain height
The world is br—”
“Thank you,” said Miss Kun in a penetrating voice. “That will be sufficient. I will be taking these three, along with their tiger, to my father’s castle, and—”
Kitty began to float away. Weyland had let go of the rope.
“The tiger is no concern of yours,” Weyland said as Kitty floated off into the evergreen woods, rolling and purring.
“It makes no difference. I’ll take you to my father’s castle,” Miss Kun said, “and we shall dispose of you from there.”
We were marched between two rows of muscular bandits until we reached a kind of horseless sleigh almost the size of a streetcar. “My private snow yacht,” Miss Kun explained as a pair of bandits opened the door for us.
The interior was warm and luxuriously appointed, something like the interior of a Packard limousine, but on a larger scale. As soon as we were seated, with watchful bandits beside us, Miss Kun took the controls, and we began to glide across the snowy hills at a very fast clip.
We passed over a blackened patch of ground; looking out the window, I could see that more blackened patches continued into the distance across the mountains, forming a dashed line.
“Welcome to Andorra,” said Miss Kun.
“Are we near your father’s castle, then?” asked Weyland.
“Oh, no, my father’s castle is on the other side of the country. It will take us literally minutes to get there. But we’re about to enter Andorra la Vella, our splendid capital city. There—what did you think of it?”
“It was very…compact,” Weyland replied.
I leaned over to Weyland and asked him in a low voice, “Do you really think she’s taking us to Kun himself?”
“No question, old man,” he replied. “By my calculation, we have only eleven and a half chapters left. This is the proper time for us to meet the principal villain at last.”
We slid quickly along over bouncy hills and vales, and soon a castle loomed up before us. It was built on a commanding crag overlooking a mountain pass, and it appeared utterly inaccessible. Indeed, it seemed as much a natural part of the mountain as the rocks upon which it was built, probably owing to its having been built with the local stone. Turrets and projections jutted out at every angle, taking advantage of the natural features wherever they offered the smallest opportunity for more castle.
We seemed to be heading straight for the wall of rock below the castle, but shortly before we smashed on the rock it split open and revealed a hollowed-out chamber big enough for several vehicles the size of Miss Kun’s snow yacht. We entered and stopped in the middle of it.
Miss Kun turned around to face us. “Welcome to the capital of the world,” she said. “Welcome to Kun the Devil King’s Castle of World Domination.”
“You haven’t conquered the world yet,” Weyland reminded her.
“We have the archdiocese,” she said. “St.-Pierre and Miquelon will inevitably follow, and then—the world! With a few intermediate steps. Follow me, please.”
Our bandit escorts indicated their preference that we should obey her, so Weyland, Tluxapeketl, and I all left the snow yacht and found ourselves surrounded by guards wearing some sort of one-piece blue and red uniform with a yellow lightning bolt across the front. We were apparently transferred into their custody, since the bandits left us at that point. With a line of lightning-bolt guards on each side of us, we followed the Devil Princess through the vast space to a pair of bronze doors at the rear.
Tluxapeketl whispered to me, “Mr. Weyland has a plan to save the world, has he not?”
“He always has,” I replied. “Sometimes two or three.” It would have been more comforting, however, if I had had some idea of what the plan was.
The bronze doors were decorated with a moderne pattern of lightning bolts—my first indication that, at least at the lower levels, this castle was not quite as medieval as it appeared on the outside. The doors opened, and Miss Kun led us into a vast space filled with machinery and devices of every description. The largest was something like a large tube projecting from a great metal drum.
“You can see,” Miss Kun told us, “that we lead the world in technical progress. Whatever can aid us in world domination is being invented in this laboratory right now. Even the death ray,” she added, indicating the tube-and-drum construction.
“Death ray?” I asked in disbelief.
“We have already perfected the bad-cold ray, and we have made very promising tests of a moderate-nausea ray. We cannot be far from the true death ray. In fact, my father and I see a future of entirely ray-based technology. This entire castle, for example, is lighted by illumino rays.”
“How are those different from electric lights?” Weyland asked, looking up at a suspended light fixture.
“Well, they’re not. But we like the sound of ‘illumino rays.’”
“What’s this over here?” Weyland asked, pointing to an elaborate machine on a pedestal.
“That is a single-serving coffee maker. The coffee grounds are housed in an individual round container, which, when inserted in the machine, is penetrated by a pair of pins, upon which hot water is dribbled through the grounds into the cup below. The used grounds and container can then be disposed of neatly as a unit.”
“Extraordinary!” said Weyland. “This device must be seventy years ahead of its time!”
“We think it has great potential. It uses infrared rays for the heating, of course. Right now it is expensive to operate, because the individual containers must be hand-carved from balsa wood by skilled craftsmen; but that will present no problem when the remainder of the non-Andorran race is enslaved.”
Now we came to another pair of doors with the same lightning-bolt pattern; they slid open to reveal an elevator. We entered behind Miss Kun, and a large number of lightning-bolt guards entered with us, making an uncomfortable crowd. The doors closed, and we could feel the elevator rising quickly.
In a few moments, the elevator slowed again, and when the doors opened, we found ourselves in a very Gothic throne room. At the other end of the room, a man in royal purple robes rose from the throne. He had a black beard that fell in waves to his chest, and even at this distance his thick black eyebrows made a strong impression.
“Daddy!” cried Miss Kun, running toward the throne. “I brought you Norbert Weyland and two of his friends! Aren’t you proud of me?”
“Moderately,” said the man we now knew to be Kun, the Devil King. His daughter embraced him, but he paid very little attention to her. “Mr. Weyland,” he said as the guards brought us forward toward him, “I have wanted to lay eyes on you for some time.”
The guards brought us up to stand right in front of the mad, and he looked us over carefully, especially Weyland.
“And now I’ve seen you,” the Devil King said at last. “So there’s no more reason to keep you alive. Guards, take these men and their lady friend and throw them off the balcony.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XVIII: Cave of the Bandits.
We were surrounded by men with primitive but effective weapons, and our tiger had been neutralized. Under the circumstances, we had no choice but to go where we were directed to go. We were marched along a path that led down into a picturesque ravine with a cascading stream fed by melting snow. The bandits had tied a rope around Kitty’s neck, and he floated about five feet off the ground like a tethered balloon, still thoroughly enjoying his catnip.
I leaned over to Weyland and said in a low whisper, “I assume you have a plan.”
“Pyrenean mountain bandits,” he replied quietly, “are intensely operatic. I rely on their innate musicality.”
I was not at all sure what he meant by that, but I was reassured that Weyland must already have matters well in hand, and his giant brain must already have seized upon the one weakness that we could exploit to free ourselves from the grip of the bandits.
After some distance, the ravine opened out into a small valley, and the bandits led us toward the steep hill on our left. I wondered whether we were going to have to climb the uninviting slope, but instead we slipped behind a thick copse of evergreens, the branches of which completely hid the entrance to a cave.
“Actually,” said the bandit chieftain, “I think I was supposed to blindfold you before we brought you here. But if you could just consider yourselves honor-bond not to reveal the location of our treasure cave, we’ll say no more about it.”
“Oh, of course,” said Weyland. “We understand perfectly.”
We therefore entered the cave—the bandit leading Kitty had to reel him in a bit to get him under the top of the low irregular hole in the rock—and found ourselves in a treasure-house of wonders. Torches along the walls illuminated great piles of treasure; although, as I gave the piles a closer look, I noticed a peculiar absence of gold and silver.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” said the bandit chieftain. “Without a doubt the most lavishly stocked treasure cave in the Pyrenees. And we are very selective about our treasure.”
“For example,” said Weyland, “this appears to be a stopped electric wall clock with the minute hand missing.”
“Pure Bakelite frame,” said the bandit chieftain.
“And a perpetual desk calendar,” Weyland added, picking something else out of the pile.
“Made of Bakelite,” the bandit chieftain pointed out.
“And this daylight film-developing tank is—”
“One hundred per cent pure Bakelite,” said the bandit chieftain. “We believe this to be the largest single accumulation of Bakelite objects on the European continent.”
“So you are saying that you collect only Bakelite treasures?”
“Well, no. We also collect money and valuables if they can be readily exchanged for more Bakelite.”
“So your treasure cave,” said Weyland, “is filled with Bakelite.”
“Exactly. As I said, we are very selective.”
“But why Bakelite?”
“Ah!” The bandit chieftain made a gesture and was immediately surrounded by musicians with guitars, mandolins, violins, rustic flutes, and a C-melody saxophone. “Well may you ask!” he said as the orchestra played a two-bar introduction.
“A merry band of bandits we:
A merrier band you’ll never see.
What is it makes our spirits light?
What else but Bakelite?
“When others seek for treasures old,
For tarnished silver, hefty gold,
What glimmers in our torches’ light?
What else but Bakelite?”
A chorus of Pyrenean maidens suddenly made their way to the front of the orchestra and sang in perfect harmony:
“From darkest night
To noonday light
What sets us right
There is no sight
That matches quite
The sheer delight
Weyland leaned toward me and remarked, “I told you they were operatic.”
“Is this where we escape?” I asked.
“Not quite yet. But be ready.”
“And now,” the bandit chieftain announced, “in honor of our beloved Bandit Queen, the Bakelite Dance!”
The orchestra played a brisk polka, and the bandits and maidens began to link arms and swirl around the piles of treasures, picking their legs up as they went. More than one of the Bakelite treasures was accidentally kicked that way, but it seemed to be a price the bandits were willing to pay for a good Bakelite dance.
“Let’s join them,” said Weyland.
He linked arms with Tluxapeketl, and she linked arms with me, and we swirled and kicked our way around and between the piles of treasure. With many evolutions and figure-eight patterns, we were slowly coming closer and closer to the cave entrance. Weyland took hold of the rope attached to Kitty, who was still floating in the air at about eye level thoroughly enjoying the effects of a very strong dose of catnip, and brought him with us in our turns and figures. We had just reached the cave entrance when Weyland announced, “Now!”
He slipped out of the cave, taking Kitty with him, and we slipped out right behind him.
Immediately on the other side of the concealing evergreens we were confronted by a semicircle of well-armed bandits. And in the middle was Miss Kun, the Devil Princess.
“Ah!” said the voice of the bandit chieftain behind us, how delightful! My honored guests, it is my privilege to introduce you to our beloved Bandit Queen.”
Immediately the bandits in front of us began to sing in chorus:
“Our bandit queen! What bandit heart
Does not beat somewhat faster
When merely walking past her?
Our bandit queen! We do our part
“Will you please cut that out?” said Miss Kun impatiently.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XVII. Prey of the Avalanche.
“I suppose we ought to run,” I said to Weyland as the roar of the avalanche came nearer.
“It would be futile,” said Weyland. “No one has ever outrun a Pyrenean avalanche. We have only one chance, and that a slim one. Peevish—you and Miss Tluxapeketl bring me some of those planks from the wreckage. We’ll need two for each of us, including Kitty. Excellent. You really are expeditious in an emergency. Now, while I make the necessary alterations, find me some long, straight branches, about five feet, green and springy. Well done. Strip the twigs and leaves, and there you go. Now give me your feet.”
Weyland had whittled the planks into well-shaped skis, which he strapped on our feet with supple green twigs. For Kitty he had made a slightly longer pair, which the tiger patiently allowed Weyland to strap to his feet, two feet on each ski.
“Hope you’re all up for some fancy skiing,” Weyland shouted over the roar of the approaching avalanche. “Follow me as exactly as you can.”
“Just watch me,” I shouted to Tluxapeketl, “and do what I do.”
We pushed off seconds before the avalanche was upon us, Weyland leading the way, and we hurtled down the slope just ahead of the roiling mass of snow and rock. Kitty kept up with us at every turn.
“Astonishing that a tiger can do that,” I called out to Weyland.
“Siberian tigers,” he replied, “coming from a land of ice and snow, are natural skiers. Get ready… Left!”
We all executed a sudden left turn, our momentum taking us up a gentle slope. I thought we would have eluded the avalanche, but when I glanced backward I discovered that the avalanche had turned to pursue us up the hill.
“What kind of avalanche is this?” I shouted.
“The Pyrenean avalanche,” Weyland replied, “is much more devious than the more familiar Alpine avalanche. It is a wily opponent, and it will take a great deal more than one sudden turn to fool it.”
We reached the top of the short slope and began to plunge down a steep incline on the other side, heading toward a stand of fir trees.
“How’s your slalom?” Weyland called back to us.
“Tolerable,” I answered; but I could not speak for Tluxapeketl and Kitty. There was no time to worry about that, however; the forest was upon us, and I had to put all my effort into avoiding the trees. Kitty navigated the woods with remarkable skill, and sailed ahead of me to join his master; Tluxapeketl, at home in the forest, drew up even with me.
We came out of the stand of trees at speed, and continued down the irregular slope. The trees had slowed the avalanche somewhat, as it had to divide itself into multiple channels to weave its way through the woods; but now in the open it coalesced again and gained momentum.
“It’s still behind us,” I reported.
“Let’s see if it can handle this,” Weyland replied.
We were headed for another upward slope, but this one terminated abruptly. I watched as Weyland and Kitty sailed off the end and both executed perfect reverse somersaults in the air. Tluxapeketl and I did the same, following close behind. We landed on a smooth downward slope and kept going. I glanced backward just in time to see the avalanche pour off the embankment and execute a perfect double loop in the air.
“Now it’s just showing off,” I grumbled.
“Don’t let it rattle you, Peevish!” Weyland responded. “That’s what it wants! But we’ve still got one more trick up our sleeve. Be ready to make a sudden turn to the right.”
We were coming down toward what looked to me like a sheer drop. The closer we came, the more it confirmed my impression of its sheerness and its droppiness. I could see an edge, and beyond it landscape that seemed very distant. We were approaching it more and more rapidly as the downward slope became steeper and steeper.
Then suddenly Weyland made his move. “Right turn!” he shouted, and just before the edge he and Kitty made a sudden dodge to the right. Tluxapeketl and I followed immediately, just missing the edge of what was indeed a fearful precipice. There was a roar behind us, and I glanced backward to see that the avalanche, evidently less maneuverable than we were, was pouring off the edge of the cliff.
We coasted along the edge for a while, pulling back far enough to be out of danger as soon as we were certain that the avalanche was completely gone.
“Well done, everyone,” said Weyland. “We can count ourselves very fortunate, or possibly very clever. Few are the travelers who have managed to outwit a Pyrenean avalanche.”
“Is the land of pink men full of such dangers?” asked Tluxapeketl.
“Not…” Then I thought of auto accidents and train wrecks and world wars and steamer sinkings and aeroplane crashes and tornadoes and pedestrian mishaps. “Well, I suppose you could say so.”
“How exciting! The Amazonian jungle seems so dull by comparison.”
“Look down there,” said Weyland. “It’s a camp of some sort.”
The land was sloping gently downwards, and the sheer cliff had given way to a more moderate hill. Straight ahead of us, where the slope seemed to meet a mountain road of some sort, was an encampment of motley caravans.
“Should we stop there or avoid them?” I asked.
“We’re going to need some more suitable clothes,” Weyland said, “especially Miss Tluxapeketl. I think we ought to see whether a few charitable souls might be found in that camp who would be willing to take a promissory note in exchange for a warmer wardrobe.”
We approached to within a short distance of the camp and then removed our skis, finding it more convenient to walk up to the door of one of the caravans. We had decided to approach the largest and most elaborate of the lot, which was on the opposite side of the rough circle that made up the encampment.
But just as we reached the middle of the circle, all the caravans burst open at once, and we were surrounded by men with knives, rude swords, polite swords, axes, pointed sticks, and sharp objects of every description.
“Capitulez immédiatement,” said the most elaborately dressed of the men, a black-bearded individual wearing multiple layers of colorful fabric and multiple layers of knives and swords. “Fuir, c’est mourir.”
“Pyrenean mountain bandits!” Weyland exclaimed.
“Ah!” said the bandit chieftain. “You speak English? Jolly good, old chaps, what ho, and all that sort of rot. Hand over your valuables, if you’ll be so kind, with particular attention to any objects that may happen to be made of Bakelite, and we might be persuaded to spare your lives.”
“I’m afraid we have no valuables,” said Weyland.
“No Bakelite shaving kits?”
“No elaborate Bakelite clocks?”
“Dollar watch from Connecticut. Keeps marvelous time, mind you.”
“The lady isn’t concealing a stash of Bakelite jewelry?”
Tluxapeketl removed my jacket.
The bandit chieftain coughed. “Evidently, uh, not. Well, in that case, we can’t rob you of anything, can we?”
“It would seem not,” said Weyland.
“So,” the bandit chieftain continued, “we’ll just have to hold you for ransom.” He turned to the man beside him, who was also festooned with sharp objects. “Take them to the cave.”
“I think,” said Weyland, “that you have reckoned without one important fact.”
“And what is that?” asked the chieftain.
“I have a tiger. —Kitty, explain to these gentlemen why it would be better for them to leave us alone.
Kitty snarled and approached the bandit chieftain.
The man beside the chieftain reached into his pocket and pulled something out. He tossed what looked like dried tea or some other kind of vegetable matter at the tiger.
Kitty stopped. He sniffed. Then he rolled over, purring, with all four paws in the air, rubbing his back in the snow until he began to rise from the ground as if levitating.
“The fiends!” Weyland exclaimed. “They’ve got catnip!”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XVI. Master of the Elements.
The gondola rocked wildly; the lightning flashed almost continuously; the rain pounded the windows like a hostile army. Nothing I did could restore any control of the airship; the tempest was in command.
“Have you any suggestions”?” I shouted over the constant roar of rain, wind, and thunder.
“Unfortunately,” said Weyland, “all my best ideas involved avoiding the hurricane before we reached it.”
“I can’t control the ship,” I said.
“And we can’t control the weather,” Weyland added.
“In my tribe,” said Tluxapeketl, “we have a traditional rain dance that is always effective.”
“We don’t need more rain,” Weyland pointed out.
“Perhaps she could dance it backwards,” I suggested.
“It sometimes needs two or three days to take effect,” Tluxapeketl told us. “But it invariably rains within two or three days. In fact, it is so completely effective that we invariably get rain whether we do the dance or not.”
“That may be because you live in a rain forest,” I said.
“Well, I had thought of that, but I did not wish to be the first of my tribe to say it.”
Weyland began, “If only——”
A mighty gust turned the gondola almost on its side for a moment and flung us against the wall—all but Kitty, who maintained his position by digging into the floor with his substantial claws.
We righted ourselves, and Weyland began again:
“If only we had a butterfly!”
“Darkly amusing, isn’t it?” said Weyland. “We spent all that time in the Amazonian jungle surrounded by butterflies, but I never thought to capture one in case we needed it later.”
“When I was a girl,” said Tluxapeketl, “I used to amuse myself by folding butterflies out of leaves.”
Weyland’s face lit up with hope. “Could you do it now? From paper, perhaps?”
“It would be child’s play, so to speak,” she replied.
“Peevish! Find me some paper! As much as the lady needs, and a sheet for me as well! Hurry—it’s our only chance!”
I looked around the room. A desk built into the wall on the other side seemed promising. I made my way across the wildly bucking floor: I had to resort to crawling, but I got to the desk at last. In the first drawer I opened I found a stack of blank paper with a printed letterhead:
Air Navy of
Kun the Devil King
P. O. Box 39
Andorra la Vella
“Found it!” I declared. I started to crawl back, but the gondola was flung sideways again, and we all ended up against the same wall, me with a handful of paper, Tluxapeketl with a lapful of tiger, whom she gently stroked as the gondola righted itself.
”Here’s the paper,” I said.
“Splendid work, Peevish,” said Weyland. He took a sheet and immediately began scribbling on it with his mechanical pencil. Tluxapeketl, meanwhile, took a sheet for herself and began carefully tearing and folding. With the violent movement of the gondola, it took her a few minutes, but she eventually had a butterfly almost indistinguishable from the real thing, if there were a species of butterfly that grew the letters NDORR on its left wing.
“Is this what you needed?” she asked.
Weyland looked up from his paper, which he had covered with differential equations. “Perfect,” he declared. “Peevish, we need to get that window open.”
“Open?” I asked dubiously.
“It is essential,” Weyland insisted. “Miss Tluxapeketl, the butterfly, please.”
With difficulty, I managed to stand, and—with more difficulty—to push the window open. Wind and rain poured in through the opening.
“Don’t breathe,” said Weyland.
He manipulated the wings of the butterfly so that it appeared to be fluttering in a very natural manner.
Suddenly the wind died, the rain stopped, the thunder faded away, the clouds parted, and the sun shone in through the open window.
I was stunned for a moment, but Weyland appeared to be unsurprised. “Thank you, Miss Tluxapeketl,” he said. “You fold an excellent butterfly.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“It is well known that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can have a profound effect on the weather,” he explained, “thanks to the principle of Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions. It was merely a matter of calculating those conditions with sufficient accuracy. I admit to being a little rusty—otherwise I should not have taken so long—but the important thing is that we succeeded.”
“You see, Kitty?” said Tluxapeketl, stroking the purring tiger under the chin. “I told you Mr. Weyland would think of something.”
“Where do you suppose we are?” I asked.
Weyland looked out the window. “We’re coming to the coast of Europe,” he said. “Amazing, really. The hurricane propelled us all the way across the Atlantic. I’d say we’re approaching the border of France and Spain.”
“How can you tell?”
He pointed to the view out the window. “Do you see that dashed line along the mountains, with the violet wash on the northern side of it and the orange wash on the other? That is the border marking installed by the European Borders Commission, an international body established to make sure national borders are visible from airships, autogyros, aeroplanes, and other aerial vehicles that begin with A. The commission has adopted the color standards promulgated by your own National Geographic Society.”
“Then we’re not too far from Andorra,” I remarked.
“True,” said Weyland. “We may be able to prepare a little surprise for the Devil King.”
At that point we passed into a cumulus cloud, and we were surrounded by blank whiteness. We drifted along that way for some time, as if the world had been erased with a big rubber.
“Quite a difference from the hurricane clouds,” I said. “It’s rather calm and peaceful in here. A very pleasant way to travel.”
“It is,” said Weyland. “But we must not forget that a blanket of cloud may conceal unknown dangers.”
“Such as what?”
“That, for example.”
The cloud had parted just in time for me to see a huge snow-clad peak looming in front of me.
“An Alp!” I exclaimed, running for the controls.
“Actually, a Pyrenee, I believe,” Weyland responded.
I had no chance to reach the wheel: the airship smashed into a huge snowbank on the side of the mountain, toppling us all and setting the gondola at a rakish angle.
We were fortunately not injured, but the airship was grounded. A jagged rock had ripped a huge gash in the gas bag, and all the goesuppium had escaped.
“We are here?” Tluxapeketl asked.
“A bit of an unexpected landing,” said Weyland, “but we seem to be all right. We’re somewhere high up in the Pyrenees, and we shall have to find our way to Andorra from here. Come on: might as well get started.”
We pushed open the door and found ourselves on a steep slope covered with snow.
“What is the crunchy white coating on the ground?” asked Tluxapeketl.
There was a curious low cracking sound somewhere in the distance; at the time I thought nothing of it.
“I suppose you’ve never seen snow before,” I said. “It’s quite common where we come from. It’s a kind of frozen water.”
There was another cracking sound, and a short rumble.
“It is very cold,” Tluxapeketl said. “No wonder pink men wear so many clothes. I am a little chilly.”
I insisted that she take my jacket, which she accepted this time. Now I was a little chilly,. But I certainly was not willing to let Tluxapeketl face the snow nearly as nature had made her.
“Is snow dangerous?” she asked.
I laughed. “No—it’s just fluffy solid water. It’s not dangerous at all.”
At that moment there was a much louder crack, and then a distant rumbling roar. I looked up toward the sound and saw that a tremendous avalanche had broken from the side of the mountain near the peak and was pouring down the slope straight toward us.
“Usually,” I corrected myself. “Usually snow isn’t dangerous at all.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XV: Swept Up in the Tempest.
The rumble of propellers was all around us in the sky, drowning out the sound of our own engines. Planes were swooping left, right, before, behind.
“Can you think of any more attractive options?” I asked Weyland.
“A long shot,” he replied, “but we do have the fruit.” He turned to Tluxapeketl. “Miss Tluxapeketl, do you know the song ‘Tico tico no fuba’?”
“Of course,” she replied. “Every true Brazilian, no matter how remotely located, knows ‘Tico tico no fuba.’”
“Peevish!” said Weyland. “Help me with this fruit. We haven’t a moment to spare.”
“What are we doing?” I asked as we began to unload the chest of fruit.
“Our only chance of salvation is to convince the Air Corps that we are not enemies of Brazil. There is one means by which we can infallibly accomplish that object, if Miss Tluxapeketl is willing. Quick, Peevish—get the fruit on her head.”
“On her head?”
“Arrange it as artistically as you can, but quickly. Use the pineapple as a base; it should give your arrangement some structure. Good. Now apples, bananas, kumquats (not too many, Peevish, or she’ll never get them out of her hair), quinces, boysenberries,—but leave the durian, thank you. Better yet, toss it out the window. Well done! Now up to the roof, and we’ll rely on you, Miss Tluxapeketl, to give the performance of your life.
Outside the main control room was a ladder that gave access through a square hatch to the roof of the gondola. The three of us ascended the ladder; Kitty the tiger waited patiently at the foot of it for his master’s return.
For the second time I found myself on the breezy roof of an airship gondola. The planes were sweeping all around us, but the appearance of Tluxapeketl had effected an immediate change in their demeanor. They had stopped firing at us, and more and more of them were coming parallel to us, as if to have a closer look at the beautiful lady in the fruited hat.
Weyland stopped and began to beat a loud samba rhythm on the roof. I found that the taut steel cables suspending us from the gas bag produced different pitches when plucked, and I began to accompany Weyland’s drumming.
“Now, Miss Tluxapeketl!” Weyland shouted. “Sing! Sing for all you’re worth!’”
Tluxapeketl found her place in our rhythm, and she began to sing “Tico tico no fuba” very enthusiastically and very loud. Weyland kept up the samba beat, and I improvised what I believe to have been a very effective counterpoint to Tluxapeketl’s melody; but it was Tluxzapeketl’s performance on which our success depended, and her performance was extraordinary. She sang and she danced, and the very atmosphere seemed to have caught her rhythm.
Soon we began to hear additions to our music, and to our delight we discovered that many of the intrepid Air Corps flyers had joined in the performance with trumpets, trombones, saxophones, guitars, and a euphonium in one of the planes.
“Look over there!” Weyland called out to me. Following his gaze, I saw a movement on the wings of one of the planes. As two figures rose on the upper wings, I saw to my astonishment that they were young women in glittering costumes, who began to dance the samba on the wings very enthusiastically. No sooner had they appeared than others stood up on other planes all around us.
“The Brazilian Air Corps Wing Dancers!” Weyland shouted. “We’ve done it, Peevish!”
Tluxapeketl kept singing, and the orchestra all around us kept playing, and the dancers kept dancing, until we finally reached the river delta at the Atlantic Ocean. Then, as we left Brazilian airspace, the planes all swooped around us and in front of us, forming intricate patterns, until they finally moved into formation to spell out the words VIVA BRASIL. With that they left us, and we ended our musical performance.
“Delightful folks, Brazilians,” said Weyland. “Intensely patriotic. That was what I relied upon, of course.”
“It is a little windy now,” said Tluxapeketl.
“The wind has picked up a bit, hasn’t it?” I remarked.
“And it is getting cloudy,” Tluxapeketl added. She pointed forward toward the east, where, following her indication, I turned my gaze.
What I saw was a massive wall of cloud, such as I had never seen before, except perhaps in my nightmares.
“That looks ominous,” I said.
“We’d better steer clear of it,” Weyland replied. “To the control room.”
He immediately descended the ladder, with the two of us close behind. As soon as Weyland reached the floor, Kitty greeted him enthusiastically, rubbing against his hip.
“Turn us back, Peevish,” said Weyland as we entered the control room. “That storm looks like a little more than we can handle.”
The gondola was beginning to sway a little as the wind grew stronger and gustier. I made my way across the rocking floor to the controls and tried to spin the wheel, but no matter how much pressure I applied the thing would not turn.
“It won’t budge,” I reported.
“The wind must be too strong for the rudder,” said Weyland, and even as he spoke we could hear and feel the wind increasing in intensity. “Try reversing the engines.”
I pulled the lever from FORWARD to BACKWARD, and the motors whined and groaned. But we continued to run with the wind, faster and faster, hurtling toward the wall of cloud.
“How fast is the wind blowing now?” asked Weyland.
I looked at the wind-speed gauge. “What does it mean when it shows an eight on its side?”
“It means it’s blowing a little faster than we’d like,” said Weyland.
Suddenly the heavens burst open all around us, and we were surrounded by roaring rain, flashing lightning, and crashing thunder.
Tluxapeketl was scratching Kitty’s neck. “Don’t be afraid, Kitty,” she said. “Mr. Weyland will think of something.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode:
Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XIV: Battle in the Sky.
Leaping like a gazelle, Weyland wrapped his arms around Miss Kun and toppled her. They rolled on the floor together, and the tiger just missed them by inches.
They had no time to congratulate themselves on their escape, however. Weyland was pinned to the floor by the weight of Miss Kun on top of him, and already the tiger had turned and was pouncing again. I could hardly bear to watch the sequel: I was certain it would not go well for them. But just as the tiger reached them, Weyland’s one free hand came up under the tiger’s chin. Suddenly the tiger stopped. Its neck began to stretch out, and its eyes were closing in an expression of extreme feline contentment.
“Good kitty,” I could hear Weyland murmuring. “Calm kitty.”
There was another sound now, a deep rumbling like the sound of in internal-combustion engine. The tiger was purring. Weyland continued to scratch under its chin, and the tiger stretched its neck more and more.
Cautiously Miss Kun extracted herself from Weyland’s embrace and raised herself to a sitting position. For some time she simply watched as Weyland reduced the ferocious beast to a state of complete docility. Finally she stood.
“I owe you my life, Mr. Weyland,” she declared.
Weyland sat up, still scratching the tiger exactly where tigers like to be scratched. “So you’ll let us go?”
“No, of course not. But I think I owe you a certain amount of very intense experience before I turn you over to my father.” She smiled wickedly; it chilled my blood, but to judge from his expression it had the opposite effect on Weyland. “And now,” she continued, stepping back toward her throne, “it’s time to get ready for our departure. Mr. Thompson, prepare my airship for launch. We’ll want something to eat along the way. Do you like fruit, Mr. Weyland? Fruit to give you some energy. Lots of fruit, Mr. Thompson.”
Mr. Thompson made a gesture, and one of his henchmen departed through the back door.
“I thought your airship was wrecked,” said Weyland, standing up. The tiger rubbed against him, and Weyland scratched the top of its head.
“My dear Mr. Weyland, we have a whole fleet of airships here at Pleasant River. It is a perfect location for one of our secret aerodromes.”
“But we saw nothing from above,” said Weyland.
“Clever, isn’t it?” she responded, sitting on her throne. “The camouflage was my own idea. My father is not the only evil genius in the family, you see. I also invented the magneto-oscillo-chromatograph and“—indicating her own extraordinarily tight-fitting clothing—“the instant iridescent catsuit in a spray can. —Mr. Thompson, take Mr. Weyland and his friends back to the cell until we’re ready for them. And get rid of that tiger.”
“I hear and obey, Mistress,” said Mr. Thompson.
But as soon as Mr. Thompson attempted to approach us, the tiger, sensing his hostile intent, let out a fang-bearing roar.
Mr. Thompson and his henchmen stopped and froze.
“I gave you an instruction, Mr. Thompson,” said the Devil Princess.
Mr. Thompson took a step forward. So did the tiger. Mr. Thompson stopped.
Miss Kun was not pleased. “Are you afraid of an overgrown tabby cat?” she demanded.
“Yes, Mistress,” replied Mr. Thompson.
“More than you are of me?” she added with a certain menace.
Mr. Thompson was silent: there was probably no good answer to that question.
“Oh!” the Devil Princess said with a huff, “men are such cowards.” She stood up. “I’ll—”
The tiger turned to face her and let out a roar that shook the whole building.
“—just stay right here,” Miss Kun finished.
“A wise decision,” said Weyland. “I think we’ll just be going on our way. Come on, Peevish, and Miss Tluxapeketl of course.”
We followed Weyland and his tiger out the back door, finding ourselves on a pleasant street with neat clapboard houses.
“What do we do now?” I asked Weyland as we walked, the tiger keeping pace and refusing to leave Weyland’s side.
“We find one of those airships,” he said, “and we get ourselves far away from here.”
“And Kitty comes too,” said Tluxapeketl.
“Of course he does!” said Weyland. “The brave fellow gave us our only chance at escape.”
We came to a corner with a more substantial building (identified by a sign as the First Anthropophagical Congregation of Pleasant River) and looked up the street to our right—and there, not far away, were at least a dozen airships much like the one that had brought us to South America.
“There they are!” I said. “Why didn’t we notice them from up in the air?”
“Look!” said Tluxapeketl, pointing up. The gas bags were all painted on the top half with a pattern exactly resembling the vegetation in the surrounding clearing.
“Dashed clever,”said Weyland. “Let’s appropriate one of them before Miss Kun’s minions get over their fear of tigers.”
We half-ran to the nearest airship and boarded the gondola, the interior of which was much like that of the one that had brought us.
“I’m casting off,” said Weyland when we were all inside. He untied the stout rope that tethered the thing, and we began to drift lazily. “Peevish, do you think you can fly this thing?”
I had been looking over the controls. There was a big ship’s wheel, and beside it one lever marked UP and DOWN and another marked FORWARD and BACKWARD. “Seems simple enough,” I said. I pushed the one lever toward UP, and we began to ascend.
“Excellent,” said Weyland. “And look—provisions! Quite a lot of fruit,” he said, looking into a big chest sitting on the floor. “And alcoholic spirits—never know when those might be needed.” He dropped a bottle into his jacket pocket.
As we were now high enough to clear any obstruction, I began to move us forward. A powerful motor engaged the fore and aft propellers, and we began to head eastward at a good clip.
“Champagne, too,” said Weyland. “Even some salmon for tigers.”
We began to enjoy a feast such as we had not had since before our adventures began. Weyland was just about to make a champagne toast when suddenly his glass shattered in his hand.
“Odd,” he said.
It was more than odd when a few more things in the room also broke or accumulated small holes.
“I think someone’s shooting at us,” Weyland declared.
At that moment, a biplane swooped by outside the window. Another followed, and another.
I risked sticking my head out the window to look backward. The sky was full of planes, all in the same green and blue livery.
“More on the way,” I announced.
“It’s the Brazilian Air Corps!” said Weyland. “They must have mistaken us for Paraguayan air pirates, who are well known to use airships like this!”
“What will we do?” I asked.
“Well,” said Weyland, “one option is to let them shoot a hole on our gas bag. We know the results of that.”
“What’s another option?” I asked as the biplanes surrounded us.
“They might shoot several holes in the gas bag. Then we’ll probably just fall two thousand feet and die.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: