Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Here Be Crocodiles

Oolon’s cabinet deposited me only a few hundred metres from where it had abducted me a few days previously, which is pretty good accuracy for such a device I’m told. He had done nothing but apologise the whole trip for the unceremonious manner in which it had dislocated me across the Grid on the resupply attempt and kept muttering about it being a problem with the “Fluid Links” drying out. To be honest, it was a blessed relief: The chance to spend a little time with Fuschia (and of course Terry, himself and the good folks of Caledon) for a few days was just what I needed.

It had been fascinating to find that Caledon was keeping up with the reports of all the expeditions so far and I had plenty of offers from people wishing to join me or assist in my explorations. It will certainly be nice to have the company and Oolon has once more offered his services to ferry people to and from the mainland via the ether, as required. Such a nice chap!

Thankfully no wayward mainlander had made off with the balloon and it was still nestled in the shadow of the tree, although looking a little deflated. I recharged the burner and repacked extra supplies into the basket. Fuschia insisted that I take plenty more food (as I apparently hadn’t been eating properly) and several more jumpers to keep the chill off. The area was deserted as usual and there was no sign of Mr Tuck, so after making my final checks I took to the skies once more.

The air was choppy today and the grid winds tossed the balloon around the sky. Careful navigation was required around certain regions where a booming voice announced that I was not allowed to enter or that the land was full, although full of what precisely I have yet to ascertain. I take it that these are similar defence systems or engines of privacy created by the mainlanders to keep out trespassers or to stop overcrowding, as the electrical red “fences” I had encountered earlier. However, the sheer number I ran into led me to name this stretch of the coast the “Vale of Privacy”.

Dotted here and there, though, were little refuges and safe passages. The one pictured below reminded me of Miss Ladybird’s dream of building a pavilion in Mayfair and I include this plate for her. I did land and attempt to talk to the owner, however knocking on the door gained no answer and although the door was open, it didn’t seem quite right to walk into what appeared to be a private home unannounced.

Leaving the “Vale” I found a wonder of engineering. Below me stood a lift bridge, ready to be hoisted should any boats require passage further up the river. I tried to land so that I could inspect the mechanism, but the balloon and winds had different ideas… No matter how much I tugged on the control lines or adjusted the burner, the balloon continued on its path.

Glancing up into the sky something didn’t seem quite right with the sun’s position and my orientation with the land. I peered down at the balloon's compass (something I had neglected to do for a while, as I had been confident in simply following the coastline) and discovered I was right: I was now on a due South heading. The coastline had curved back on itself. Had I hit the East coast already? Scribbling down a few distance calculations it seemed unlikely; I was probably simply following an inlet. I tried to pull the balloon out on an Eastward course but straying too far from the land the weather conditions were so bad I had to turn back.
Heading South was bad news. It was taking me farther from my goal, but should (I hoped) turn East again. I decided to continue heading South for now; however if there was no sign of the land turning in a few days, I would head back to the Colony and strike out West from there in the search for a passage to the North. Afterall, I was only assuming that this wasn’t the East Coast from the rough measurements taken from the sketched charts I had seen, but perhaps the mainland wasn’t as large as we thought, or maybe our Colony was much further East than we previously assumed…?

Bump! My thoughts were interrupted as the basket clipped the side of a huge warehouse. The pencil and paper dropped away over the side forgotten as I grabbed for the venting ropes, trying to ensure the canvas did not scrape along the wall. I fought against the winds and managed to lift the balloon away, but venting the air had forced me down onto the wooden pier alongside it.

I clambered out to inspect the basket for damage and thankfully found little. However, the incident had been a little close and showed I needed a little walk to clear my head. The warehouse, which would not have looked out of place in New Babbage, proved to be a retail outlet in the usual mainland style; however the floor was constructed of glass with various sea creatures swimming beneath it. There were also people here! I tried engaging them in pleasant conversation, but received none back, so I left them to their standing and staring at the walls.

Over the bay stood a shop of the most shocking sort, displaying all manner of female nakedness and I include a picture here only for completeness. I have however removed the portions of the image that may prove offensive.

The peculiar juxtaposition of buildings on the mainland showed itself once more, for only metres away from this disgraceful structure stood a beautiful greenhouse and plant nursery. It is amazing that the mainland supports such beauty and crassness all crammed together. Even more amazing were the creatures that could be spied from the nurseries balcony…crocodiles! I had only read of such things in books and it was wonderful to see them in the flesh..er…scales..er..hide…whatever…

I was aware that time was pressing on and I would soon be losing the daylight and I was keen to find the Eastward turn in the coastline. As the balloon climbed, the sun glinted off another fabulous floating mainland construction that I was able to quickly catch with the camera before I was pulled onwards by the strengthening winds.

The speed of the wind was becoming a little alarming and my control over the balloon seemed to be waining. I could just about keep her to a steady pace but manoeuvring was becoming more and more difficult.

Ahead of me loomed a lighthouse, with what appeared to be an incredible silver statue of a horse atop it, but sadly I could not land and investigate further. The grid winds tugged me on and only by heaving on the ropes with all my might was I able to avoid collision with it.

I only just managed to grab a picture of a bell shaped monument bearing the name of the region before I was beyond it: “Harbinger's Haven”. An omen of a name, if ever I saw one…

I flared the burner, trying to climb up over the winds, and soon I was above the clouds and in the airspace of a giant building. The winds had calmed and the balloon now responded well. Climbing over the weather had been a good choice.

This giant structure appeared to be a race track of some kind, yet instead of horses the competitors rode small metal carriages (or “Karts” I believe one of the signs called them; probably a corruption of the Caledonian word “Carriage”). As I watched, an ominous figure in a cloak approached. He asked me if I was “Racing with anyone”? I wondered if he meant was I in some kind of balloon race? I said no and explained I was just trying to find out what was happening here; I received no response other than his unflinching gaze. Perhaps I had wandered somewhere I was not meant to be? I decided to withdraw back to ground level and just hoped the winds had died down.

The winds had abaited and would at least allow a safe landing. On the ground below the race track I found a decorated jetty, a huge fish, a wonderful house, a beautiful kite, and an open air room that reminded me a lot of the Colony. Standing at one end of this area were huge canvases explaining the secrets of something called the “Linden Scripting Language”. These were amazing to read and seemed to be some mainland treaties on the nature of the Grid and Avatars. It was difficult to tell if these were scientific or ritual in nature or a combination of the two. I have taken photographic plates of both sides of these objects for further study. Who knows what they may reveal of the mainland, the Grid or even ourselves…?

Note from the Colonial Office of Caledon:
Word has reached us that an uncensored version of the “shocking display of nakedness” picture is currently in circulation within the State of Caledon. The Colonial Office of Caledon wishes to make it clear that it is by no means responsible for this and does not, as one young man was heard to remark, “offer it for sale to discerning gentlemen”. We would request that citizens should please stop visiting us and asking for it; we do not have it. However, if anyone is in possession of such an item, please can you send a copy to our office in a plain brown packet. We require it purely for the sake of archive completeness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A most stimulating report, as always, Prof Avalanche!

I would humbly request that you post the location of the "Linden Scripting Language" library. I have been pursuing research into this arcane but interesting language and would welcome additional data.

I have placed it firmly in the Indo-European family, but require further examples to determine whether it is related to Finno-Ugric or Javan.

Best regards,
Your humble &c,
Burton Newall