Friday, January 4, 2013

Decker #45

The four unlikely adventurers stood on the stone river walk. Tut had procured four backpacks and they'd put together a traveling kit. "The less we rely on your conscious power in this venture," the turtle had said, "the more likely I surmise it will be that we will find what we are looking for." "I just thought of something," Decker said. "I never went to Degren's world through one of these, er, cave portals. Tut, where's the portal to that reality?" "The passage to the reality fractal wherein occurs the planet Horu, Degren's home world, branches off just a little downstream and on the other side of the river from yours. We'll have to ford the river, which will mean going a kilometer or two downstream. I have not been able to locate my old boat, so I fear we'll have to walk." "Fer chrissakes, yuh mean I gotta get these nice boots all wet?" Cletus shook his head and commenced to muttering, then dug in his coat for a bottle. After a long draught, he gave Tut the owly eye and said, "Well then, let's git this all-fired medicine show on the road." Coxli, whose anterior fin made conventional backpacking difficult, had his pack strapped to his belly and was waddling on four legs like a crocodile. "Arr buggle bunkies, now I know how it must feel to be gravid with eggs," he grumbled. "Hope it's not too far to these silly cacti we're looking for." They came to a straight, wide run in the river where there were myriads of phosphorescent rills weaving hypnotic patterns shore to shore. "Ah, here is our crossing place, gentlemen," Tut declared. "Mind the moss and step carefully; one never knows where the odd portal will manifest. We had charted most of the more discrete realities before things went, er, belly up, as you might say, but we had not yet established formulas for predicting random generation. To your left and upstream seven or eight paces, for instance," he pointed to an area where the water seemed to eddy in a Volkswagen-sized circle, "is what I surmise may be one such random eventuality." Decker noted that it was moving down the riverbed at about the pace of a lazy carp, and planned his steps accordingly. "What a wild and woolly theme park this place would be if a family had time to explore," he said as he hiked up his pants futilely before stepping off the shore. They wended their way across, Coxli on his hind legs and leaning on whomever he could to keep from overbalancing, Cletus falling once as his pussyfooting style and his stacked-heel boots kept him in an arm-gyrating, teetering clown dance, Tut belly-down and stable and Decker relying on the catlike balance of his Horuan physique to make the crossing with a modicum of grace. The stone walkway was much narrower and rougher on this side of the river, and followed the stony bluff up and down as the natural formations allowed. They had to go single file in many areas, and a couple times found themselves edging along a crumbling ledge barely wider than a boot; here Tut's anatomy was not such an advantage, so Decker and Cletus bracketed him, a hand on either side of his shell to keep him from tipping. The passage to Horu started off with a series of hand- and footholds carved in a nearly sheer cliff, extending about seventy five feet diagonally up and left from the narrow ledge. Coxli took off his pack and skittered up to where a metal staircase, set here and there with what appeared to be electric lamps on hooded poles, terminated abruptly and tied off a length of rope. Decker found an outcropping in the ledge where he could secure the bottom of the rope, roughly in line with the climbing path. They sent Cletus, moaning and protesting adamantly, up first, then Decker climbed up behind. There was no way Tut was going to make the climb, so he untied the bottom end of the rope and they lifted Coxli's and Tut's packs to the stairs and dangled the rope straight down. Tut fashioned a rude harness with the bitter end of the rope and they hauled him up last. The stairs creaked and groaned a bit, (the abrupt end of the stairs seemed to be where some terrible force had sheared the last flight down to the ledge, jarring loose some of the lower attachments) but everything held together. Puffing and blowing, they warily made their way up to the first landing before they stopped for a breather and a swig or two from their canteens. The rest of the climb was exhaustingly long but uneventful. At the top of the stairs a long, rough-hewn round tunnel with a shallow water channel at the center ran straight through the bedrock at a gentle slope. If there were lights in the tunnel, they must have been turned off or burned out; no light was apparent and the darkness swallowed up the view before perspective could. They were quickly out of the lamp glow, in nearly total darkness, within a couple hundred paces. "Shittledy-shit, why didn't we think to bring flashlights?" Decker nursed a weeping abrasion on the side of his head where he'd repeatedly grazed stone projections while dragging his hand along the tunnel wall as a guide. "Tut, how long could this freakin' tunnel be? I'm not gonna have a head left if it goes on much farther!" "Er, at the slow inclination it follows, it's hard to say... a steeper incline would weigh toward the probability of a shorter passage, as the vertical limits of the bedrock are significantly more limited than the horizontal, of course... the architects of this monitoring system were limited to some degree by the terrain at the site of entry, but they would certainly attempt to utilize the shortest path, with consideration toward remaining covert..." "OW! Shitfuckshit, nevermind, I think it's too late for my head anyway..." "Hyuk hyuk, Decker's melon's bin busted," Cletus guffawed just before his boot heel caught in a crack and he lurched sideways, knocking off his drover's hat and banging headfirst into an unlikely stalactite, "Eyow, whutthehell..." "Serves you right for laughing, shit-for-brains." Decker rubbed his own head and wondered if using just a little of his power to get a taste of revenge would influence the outcome of their mission. It was the dimmest of glows and a gentle giggle of falling water that finally indicated the end of their spelunking; starlight seemed almost as bright as day when they emerged over a pile of rubble and through a thick curtain of brush and vines at the tunnel mouth. they were in a wide, low arroyo that snaked down a slow slope from the stony bluff behind them. An artesian spring originated just a stone's throw above the tunnel, creating a little waterfall and a small pool right at the mouth. The arroyo was dry, which seemed to indicate that all the water currently flowed down into the tunnel. Beyond the pool there was little vegetation to be seen in the weak starlight. Shadowy bluffs and hills were just visible on the near horizon. The air had a dry, cold feel, reminding Decker of Arizona nights. "I wonder if this water is any good," he said. "Feels like we might be in for a dry adventure here. If we can, I think we'd better fill our canteens." "The prudent thing to do now," Tut said, would be to sample the water here and then rest. We'll know, then, if it is going to have any adverse effects before we proceed." All four of them were quickly belly-down at the pool, slurping up the cold, sweet water. It had been a long, mouth-parching, exhausting delve. Having quenched their thirst, they found the nearest flat spot to spread their sleeping gear

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