Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Knowledge Port and the Pirates

Dear Sir/Madam,

I regret to inform you that several issues have arisen back at the Colony and Caledon that require my immediate attention. To that end I find it necessary to cut short my advancement Eastwards along the Northern Coast. However, I am happy to report at least partial success as I have located a safe passage between the Southern and Northern Continent, as detailed below. I am still intending to confirm this passage with the assistance of Mr Sputnik at his earliest convenience, but feel it would be useful sharing this location with my fellow explorers in the hope it will save them from having to brave the threat of slavery, torture and piracy that I have discovered in the North East of the Southern Continent.

A safe channel between the continents seems to exist around the coordinates: ANWR 97, 158 , 22

I must apologise once more for the curtailment of my explorations, however I am sure that you understand that the safety of my family and friends must take priority over this endeavour.

Your Faithful Servant,

Professor Alfonso Avalanche

As I readied the balloon the next morning I felt the unnerving feeling of being watched. As I turned towards the huge statue I saw a figure perched atop its head, silhouetted in the morning sun. I reached for my camera to get a picture, but far too quickly the figure was gone. I lifted the balloon off and made one more check of the base of the statue, searching for any names or description of the construction, but still found none. The balloon obediently wheeled North Eastwards following the coast and I headed onwards.

More of the usual Mainland buildings drifted by, including several more “Privacy Barriers”. I even found a gentleman standing alone inside one of these fields; obviously in the process of construction as the base plywood structure so common in Mainland architecture was still on display. I called out a greeting, but he did not respond. I suspect the “Privacy Barriers” may act to filter out unwanted sound as well as unwanted visitors.

Rounding the curve of the coast I came upon a marvellous ship obviously of advanced Mainland construction. The opportunity to study a seagoing marvel such as this was more than I could resist and seeing Mainland engineering up close would no doubt prove invaluable information to the ship builders of Caledon.

Landing beside a man-made waterfall, I surveyed the best way onto the vessel. Floating not several metres away was a cube marked “Info”. Maybe this would help. As soon as I touched it, I was informed that this area was rented out for the next 9 days. I presume it meant the ship. Obviously this craft was available on some kind of rental agreement. No matter how often I touched it, the cube would explain no more about the craft. I hailed the deck for permission to come aboard, but receiving no reply I scrambled up over it's side.

At one end of the deck stood two beautiful glass doors. Looking inside I found a cabin outfitted with much strange technology which sadly I could not operate. The doors within were equally well decorated with carvings of dolphins. These led to further cabins and corridors and steps leading upwards to higher lookout decks. To the far side of the ship stood a jetty, what appeared to be a little park and Mainland shopping structures. I checked the other end of the ship with similar results, except the lookout deck on this side bore a large target with an “H” shaped symbol in its centre. Maybe it was a navigational marker or something to allow for quick identification from the air, or maybe it was as it appeared to be, a practice target marker.

There was no sign of access to engineering decks or to the mechanisms of the ship. In fact I had seen no sign of any methods of steering or navigating the craft. Maybe it was another of the Mainland conventions of things not being what they appear. Although looking like a ship, this vessel did not seem capable of going anywhere.

Perplexed by the “fake” ship, I decided to investigate the neighbouring park. The retail buildings I passed proved interesting. Here and there were signs of Caledon-like civilisation: tea sets, a red telephony box (similar to the one in Mayfair), picnic baskets, brooms, scrubbing brushes and butter churns, but all mixed in with the peculiar incomprehensible artefacts of the mainland.

Looking in the nearby buildings I found something even more familiar to me: A bar! Again, the place was empty and I was about to rap on the counter when I noticed something stuck to the bar top – a price tag. This wasn’t just a bar…it was a shop that sold bars. How disappointing and intriguing at the same time. I was briefly tempted, but then the practicalities of transporting a full size bar on the rest of my exploration struck me. No, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea...

The park area was arranged to give the appearance of a natural lake, despite being suspended over the ocean. The water had also been given the appearance of being frozen despite its salt water content. Perhaps this was just to create a wintry feel? Standing fishing in this artificial lake were two very friendly gentlemen by the names of Mr Rune Schlag and Mr Adaquine Priestman. Another gentleman sat on a bench nearby, by the looks of it in the midst of playing a banjo, however he never moved or spoke the entire time I was there. Mr Adaquine explained that this was a lovely relaxing fishing spot and he was catching more than a usual amount of “Boney Fish”. A small shack stood nearby where bait and fishing equipment could be purchased and signs declared the champion fisherman in the area. Apparently each fish was worth points (depending on its size and type) which could be traded for prizes. As I chatted to Mr Priestman and Mr Schlag, two more fishermen emerged from a hole in the “ice” and sat themselves on an island in the middle of the lake. They had forms even more outlandish than those of the usual Mainlander so I have taken a plate that may prove interesting to Caledonian anthropologists.

I didn’t want to stay chatting too long in case I disturbed the fish, so I headed back to the balloon and plotted a path onwards.

Little did I realise that the next two buildings to appear along the coastline would create such a mixture of emotion within me.

The first of these was built incredibly beautifully and this is the main reason I stopped to explore the place further.

The structure appeared to be an interactive dictionary, encyclopaedia and park all rolled into one. On the walls were words, touching the words gave information on the meaning. As I wandered further I found more words and more meanings and finally a central office that held the promise of even more information.

This office contained two maps, 0ne showing my current location (a place called Knowledge Foundry and Knowledge Point) and one showing locations further up the coast. This second map indicated two further libraries, one dealing specifically with Mainland construction (Knowledge Port) and the other with exploration (Knowledge Park).

This was incredible! It appeared that I had stumbled across the location of the great libraries of the Mainland. I had to continue further along the coast immediately and seek out these places. Buoyed up by both excitement and warm air I continued onwards venting as much of the balloon’s burner to propulsion as I dared. I should have realised such thoughts were about to lead to a fall.

As Knowledge Point dropped behind me an even larger, more spectacular structure loomed ahead of me. “Another library?” I wondered to myself. I reduced the burner and carefully brought the balloon in to land. I positively leapt from the basket and only barely remembered to secure the balloon before I dashed off to see what delights lay within.

I made good my escape just as quickly when I discovered what did!

I still find it difficult to write what I found even now, and I’m afraid I was a little too overcome at the time to record any photographic plates. The building appeared to be some kind of giant torture chamber! The entire upper dome of the structure was filled with all kind of fiendish equipment ranging from ancient wooden contraptions all the way up to those featuring what looked like Tesla coils and Jacob’s Ladders. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen…and so close to an obvious Mainland centre of learning (and, as I discovered as I drifted away from the malevolent structure, so close to an area obviously designed for children).

How could the Mainlanders put up with such things? Was the Mainland truly as barbaric as we had heard? First hints of slavery now evidence of torture? For the first time on my journey I almost considered returning to Penan, packing up the colony and being done with the Mainland forever. Then I realised that the reason we were here was as much to teach the Mainland the ways of Caledon as to teach Caledon of the ways of the Mainland. We were here to help educate the locals to the fact that such practices were wrong. It was going to be a difficult task, but we had to press on with it, no matter what our personal feelings were.

My anger and sadness however only deepened as I swept in over the jetties of Knowledge Port for there, it’s guns holding full range across all approaches, stood a fully rigged ship flying the familiar skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger. It appeared that pirates had taken the Port and the bright hopes I had of the Mainland had taken a further step into the darkness…

Despite everything, I was not going to let a bunch of pirates keep me from the valuable information that may be found at Knowledge Port. Keeping low to the ocean I slipped the balloon onto the shore just short of the Port and awaited nightfall. I kept a close eye on the docks, but saw very little movement during the afternoon and evening. I suddenly realised that piracy, torture and slavery may well account for the low numbers of Mainlanders I had encountered on the coast all this time.

As dusk approached, I dashed from my hiding place, the Webley in my hand but concealed in my jacket. I made it across the jetty and onto a wide open area without being spotted. Hanging in the air in front of me stood a series of what looked for all the world like magic mirrors, their surfaces flowing and moving in the air like mercury. I reached out to touch one and suddenly found myself presented with a map marked with a red dot and an offer of an aetheric transport to its location – the Mainland Governor’s mansion. Incredible! I tried another, a different map, a different dot - a place called “Help Island”, by the looks of it just a little way up the coast. No wonder the pirates had taken this place: In a similar fashion to the “Stargates” Mr Buchanan had discovered, these mirrors appeared to offer transportation all over the mainland, maybe even the entire grid. The only disadvantage with this means of transportation was the stark warning nearby that once entered there was no way back.

I checked that there was still no one about and moved on touching mirrors and receiving many, many more maps, until….exactly what I was looking for! A map showing a passage between the continents.

As I reached out to touch another I felt a delicate touch on the back of my hand. A tiny quivering butterfly had dropped from the sky and as soon as it landed I knew that something was amiss.

Fuschia seems to have an odd connection to her little messengers and usually the little things flitter in gaily carrying their tiny magical parcels (that unfold into full packages of letters and notes – I did ask her once exactly how they managed it, but she just giggled and said it was because they were butterflies, and would offer no more explanation). But this one looked exhausted. It’s tiny body vibrated and twitched, it had obviously been flying as fast as it’s little wings could carry it and I just knew this wasn’t a good sign.

I cupped the little creature gently in my hands as I raced low and fast back to the safety of the balloon. I propped myself against the side of the basket, panting for breath and eased the tiny courier off onto a sandbag where the little creature wove it’s magic and presented me with a letter and series of pictures from Fuschia.

As I read the last few lines I realised that my journey East was at an end. For now, at least, I was heading back to the Colony, Caledon and home.

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