I was about Rose's age when I heard some CBC radio announcer reading Longfellow's Nineteenth Century "inspirational" poem, and making fun.
Spoiler: he dies. I'm sure that Rose doesn't lie in bed in the early morning listening to CBC radio, but she probably heard the poem somewhere equally nerdy. It's a slice of life, yo.
|I saw this outfit at Mountain Equipment Co-op the other day. The hose is very practical for summiting.|
Book 5, 45: Upwards and Ever Onwards
Rose turned around and looked at the Fourth Sword. “So I’m just assuming that a spy ray works like the name says it does? Our cover is blown? Those women with swords in the chain mail bikinis are on their way here to send us back to Earth?”
The Fourth Sword put his right hand to his sword hilt, drew it an inch out of its scabbard, and then clicked it back. “Valeite spy rays will not penetrate a shield made in Aphasium. They haven’t seen me. You foreigners are another matter. Your science is young, and lacks subtlety.”
“You don’t sound upset that upset about it,” Charlotte pointed out.
“I need to speak with the Second Sword of Vale, and your presence will draw her out. I am content.”
“And the Beadle-Prodomus? How do you think he will react?”
The Fourth Sword didn’t answer, only glowered at Charlotte.
“I’m not sure I understand. How are you so sure that the Beadle-Prodomus is an agent of . . . Kilbern, Goblin Boy?” Agent Ayre asked.
“I’m not,” Bruce said. “But the last time we were here, he acknowledged meeting with Professor Paradigm and convincing him that Auralia wasn’t in the Temple of the Forgotten God. Suspicious, right? But then we were ambushed down in the city by someone who knew how to fiddle with local equipment. Okay, I wouldn’t put that past Paradigm. He’s smart. But, the Beadle-Prodomus hardly reacted. That’s not how you keep your cover! Especially not with the locals, who are going to launch a major investigation into the incident, right? The explanation for that is that he’s not Paradigm’s agent at all, but he wants us to think that he is. So he’s somebody else’s agent. Kilbern’s.”
“That’s just grasping at straws. Look, he’ll be here in a moment. We can talk to him about this, maybe find out where Auralia is really being kept.”
Charlotte had to admit that that sounded like a good idea, and was about to say so when Bruce replied.
“I don’t think so. Look, Auralia is being hidden somewhere around here. We know that, just from finding Professor Brown’s body. There’s got to be a local connection; and, on the odds, it’s to the priests of the temple of the Forgotten God. Someone went to a lot of trouble to set up an ambush the last time we were in Vale, and if there’s one thing my aunts and uncles always tell me, it’s that the second time you’re in the same situation, you’re an idiot if you aren’t prepped for it.”
“Yeah,” Dora said. “They always win the second encounter, because they’re prepped. Hey, look, Catwoman, turns out that I had this convenient kryptonite boxing glove arrow all along. Now, let’s smooch!”
“Okay, I admit that that’s probably a better plot for a Batman/Superman movie than anything Zack Snyder is going to come up with,” Bruce said, “But my aunts and uncles aren’t Batman, and I’m sure not.”
“So, what, there’s not going to be any smooching? ‘Cuz Catwoman’s gettin’ pretty hot.”
Just what Charlotte needed, locked down in her positive-atmosphere fatigues. A whole-body blush. She reminded herself that she had to keep her cool and ignore Dora. Because . . . Because reasons? She just had to talk to Dora about Bruce, soon.
“Look, we’re set up to beat the Beadle-Prodomus by evasion, but we’re not going to evade him if we just sit here waiting for him! Now let’s get a move on.”
Charlotte squeezed Telus gently between her knees, and the big horse responded by moving into a trot, up the path towards the skyline that the Fourth Sword had come down. The pebbled slope looked too steep and treacherous for a horse, but the stallion moved towards it without slacking.
“Wait one moment, here,” Dora said behind them, “Got a move I’ve been working on.” A golden nimbus formed beneath them, and a platform lifted beneath her horse’s hooves. Telus started, and Charlotte, the fingers of her left hand braided into his mane, leaned forward, stroking his neck and whispering reassurances into his ear as the needfire platform slid, faster than a horse could gallop, never mind faster than a human could hike, up the slope.
At its top, the slope opened up on another valley, higher and steeper sided than the one they had just come out of.
“Oops,” Bruce muttered, and Charlotte could somehow sense his body going tense. But when the platform had slid to the bottom of the valley, an Old World airship appeared, hovering just off the ground, anchored by a single cable, he relaxed.
The platform came in close to the airship, swooping next to it on a curving angle that Charlotte would have enjoyed way more on a skateboard than a horse. As it hit the top of the curve and slid back, Bruce muttered, “Got it, Dora, pulled a saggy, liquidy balloon out of the back pack that he had, for some reason, been wearing, and threw it at the bow of the airship.
It hit, and bright, yellow lights suddenly flashed at both ends of the ship.
“What have you done, whelp?” The Fourth Sword shouted, angrily.
“Well, I hope that I’ve triggered your ship’s black box, so now it’s on the radio and going, ‘Beep-beep, spaceship down, please come and save us,’ and that will distract the Beadle-Prodomus. Otherwise, I was lugging this water balloon around with me for no reason at all, and I need to go back to Bat-God school.”
Then, Bruce reached into his pack and pulled two more balloons out, dropping them on the ground with a fat burst of water. Charlotte couldn’t help smiling at that, because of course Bruce took precautions in case he missed. Would Scout have done that, she wondered?
The Fourth Sword glanced at the bracelet on his wrist, which presumably wasn’t a Fit Bit, because who in their right mind would even want a Fit Bit? “No, you’re right. You activated it,” The Fourth Sword said. “You are also right. The distress beacon will be sounding in the Beadle-Prodomus’s spy ray! But how did you know?”
“Well, Bruce said. “I try to listen to my friends. Charlotte was sure that you were going to have a crisis of conscience, and that you were going to say, ‘Oh, heck, I was wrong about who should be in charge of the White Fleet, so maybe I was wrong about who I should be dating.’ So, off you would go to Vale to stalk the Second Sword and hope that some miracle would lead to true love conquering all. ‘Course, my plan would go all to heck if you just manned up and flew right into town and asked her for a date, but, I figured, what were the odds of that when you’d been mooning over her for so long? So where would you be? Lurking up here in a significant direction, that’s where! And wherever you were, there would be your ship, and on a desert planet, your ‘Oh-My-God-We’re-Going-To-Crash’ sensors would be sensitive to water, and activating it would be the perfect diversion So, plan, execution, now let’s for God’s sake move!”
“I’m pretty sure that the Second Sword is not going to be impressed that the Fourth Sword is stalking her,” Charlotte pointed.
“Look, I’m not writing a love column for nerdboys here,” Bruce said. “I’m just predicting how a fellow dude is going to screw up his life, if you let him, and maybe helping him out. So, how ‘bout it, Fourth Sword? Wanna expose the Beadle-Prodomus’s treachery right in front of the Second Sword, maybe with some duelling, followed by dinner at Red Robin and a movie?”
“It’s not like I have any choice now,” the Fourth Sword said. Stop this flying carpet of yours for a second while I reprogram my autopilot.”
A moment later, Dora’s platform continued in its motion towards the farther, higher end of the valley. Behind them, sliding at the same speed and the same height across the terrain, but in the opposite direction, the Fourth Sword’s airship flew away. Hopefully, leading the Beadle-Prodomus along with them.
Over the slope they went, this time onto a short bench. “Which way?” Dora asked.
The Fourth Sword pointed along the bench, and they followed the contour of the slope, while above them the mountains climbed up and away so that their summits were invisible behind their own almost-bare and stony bulk. Charlotte took a moment to feel sorry for the lizard-wolf-dogs that tried to find a living on this barren world. Was Old Mars really this lifeless?
Then they came to the first sign of human life since the airship. A set of weathered old stone steps leading up the mountain side. At the bottom, forming an entrance, were two statues, worn, or, perhaps, carved smooth so that you could barely tell that it was a guy with a funny hat.
“This is it,” the Fourth Sword said. “The Pilgrim’s Stair.”
“This is the part where you say that no-one’s ever come back down it,” Rose said.
“That would be pretty stupid,” the Fourth Sword said. “You wouldn’t get many pilgrims after the first thousand years, and the ones you did get would be pains in the rear. They do say that half the pilgrims who go through this gate, never come back.”
“Oh, half!” Dora said. “That’s a relief.”
“You know, when Burroughs wrote this bit, it was pretty stinging criticism of organised religion,” Twelve pointed out. “The Red and Green Martians go on their last pilgrimage to die and be with their gods, and instead they end up slaves to the White Martians in their hidden caves. White Martians. Can’t help mentioning that last bit.”
“Did you know that Wes Anderson is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ great grandson?” Agent Ayre asked.
“Just because the One Percent run the world now doesn’t make some social criticism from a hundred years ago, wrong,” Twelve answered.
“It’s awfully interesting that they leave that bit out of movie, though,” Charlotte pointed out. That part of the movie had kind of sucked for her, because after all the build-up, John Carter and Deja had spent their first minute of quality time alone together doing exposition. And stupid exposition, too, considering that all the writers had to do was add in a time travel element to make the astronomy work. Talk talk talk, light show light show light show. And no kissing! If the sequel was cancelled, Charlotte knew who she’d blame.
“Okay, everybody, here’s the problem,” Bruce said. “Once the Beadle-Prodomus catches up with our diversion, he’s going to know that we’ve headed for the Stair. He’ll fly over it, and if we’re climbing it, he’ll catch us with our pants down.”
“So we don’t follow it,” Agent Ayre said.
“But then we lose the trail,” Charlotte pointed out. “We need someone to follow it. Someone who won’t get caught. Rose?”
Rose, who was suddenly flushed and breathing heavily, looked at her phone. “According to my compass and altimeter app, I just ran three kilometers due east while rising 600 meters, then down again. That’s quite a gradient, especially considering it goes down almost as often as it goes up.”
She paused and looked at Dora. “That’s science-talk for it’s steep.”
Dora stuck her tongue out at Rose, who continued. “There’s some especially steep and narrow bits, and some of the steps are tippy and dangerous, so I can see people falling off. There’s even a few small graveyards along the way, although I’m thinking that those would be for people who had heart attacks, because mostly if you fall off, you plunge thousands of feet down to a rocky ravine, and there wouldn’t be much left to bury even if someone climbed down for you. Although, now that I think about it, these guys have flying boats, so maybe? It’s long way down, is what I’m saying.”
“And the temple?” Dora asked. “Does it look just like a Martian whatever?”
Rose nodded. “It’s pretty small, and I didn’t look inside, because the door is locked, and it must weigh ten tons or so. But it does remind me of that altar on Mars.”
“Locked?” Agent Ayre asked. “How does that work?”
“Like the bathroom at the Dairy Queen,” Bruce said. “You ask for the key down in Vale before you leave.”
“They probably have some spares,” Dora said.
“That would be more convenient,” Twelve replied, “Although expensive. More likely, the pilgrims will get up there, realise they can’t get in, and have to climb all the way down again. Or they wait for the first pilgrim to come out, and get the keys, even though it’s line jumping.”
“Or maybe there’s a spare key under the flower pot,” Charlotte added.
“No flower pot, just lichen,” Rose said. “Although there is a statue. Usual stuff, you know? I took a close look, in case it had a Marvin the Martian hat, but it didn’t. It just did this.”
Rose struck a heroic pose, the kind where you stare nobly upwards, pointing at the top of the mountain. “I thought it was symbolic, you know, ‘Upwards and ever onwards?’”
“Nerd,” Dora muttered.
Rose looked at her friend. “Someday, when you least expect it, I’m going to borrow your sweater and stretch it.”
“Hey, you started it!” Dora protested.
“Love you, Dora. Anyway, I now propose an alternative theory. He is pointing to where the spare key is. Or the washrooms. One or the other.”
Agent Ayre shook his head, and Charlotte couldn’t help giving him a that-guy-with-no-sense-of-humour look that she was always fighting. He didn’t seem to notice, though.
“There’s one way to find out,” Charlotte said, instead. “We head up there and have a look around.” Her horse stamped its approval.