Thot Slayerearliest post first | most recent post first
"So, uh... you girls like ice cream?"
I'd found a washcloth and was dabbing at the ice cream on their pinafores, and gloves.
"WE JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH," they said, in unison. Creepy.
I don't know how they had made this big a mess in such a short time. They managed to not only create a mountain of soft serve surrounding the machine, but had sprayed it over the entirety of the canteen.
"WE MADE A PATH. SEE?"
And there, laid out on the white of the soft serve smeared throughout the mess was a trail of napkins, laid out like a dotted line. It started at the soft serve machine, the looped to the east and up through a pair of small soft serve slopes, just like route we took from McMurdo. Then dead south... just like we had gone. And there was the looming Transantarctic range... obviously the girls had taken the time to form the soft serve into these shapes, a smooth and delicious topography of creamy ice milk... with at trail of napkins, leading to--
"Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. Can you come down here for a moment?"
"Well those twins aren't creepy at all," I said.
"Hello dears," said the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. "Yes! The machine is all warmed up now and properly chilled. It's in the mess. I assume you know how to operate it yourself! Cake cones and waffle cones at your disposal!"
The Lorentz twins left to find the galley on the Thot Slayer.
"They're the whole reason we brought along the soft serve," the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl said. "They were the grizzled old man's biggest customers."
"How did you know that?"
"I looked at his books."
"When did you have time to look at his books?"
"You and I use our time differently. On account of my computational power."
The giant roiling beam of light continued to dominate the horizon.
"Won't their parents be worried?"
"Their parents disappeared on a scientific trip to the pole. They were raised as infants by the McMurdoans."
"They were born here?"
"Following their parent's first trip to the pole."
The ship suddenly swung and reoriented itself around another roiling beam of light to the port bow. A much smaller beam, but it had us in its grip.
"Magnetic eddies," the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl said. "The 'mines' the grizzled old shopkeeper mentioned. Compensating..."
The Thot Slayer swung around the gravitational well of the little beam of light and headed off near the direction we'd been headed.
"How did you know about those?"
"I've been running simulations. Quite a few simulations, in fact."
"WE NEED HELP." The Lorentz twins appeared back on the bridge. They had quite a bit of soft serve ice cream on their pinafores.
"I anticipated this," said Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. "Would you mind lending them a hand below?"
YOU SAID SOFT SERVE?
"I guess there IS something at the pole!" squealed the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. She was downright giddy.
Through the bridge front windows we beheld a massive beam of light in the distance, heading up and out at a weird angle.
"It's pointing straight out of the magnetic south," said the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl, seemingly awestruck. "And so tall that it curves like that, from our perspective."
It was a roiling beam of light, amber and yellow erupting from someplace still beyond the curve of the earth. But it lit up the drifts of ice and snow for miles around it.
There was a squeak, and the door to the bridge opened behind us.
There was a pause. And then the head of one scruffy grade school girl peeked out.
And then an identical head of the scruffy grade school girl peeked out.
"It's the Lorentz twins, from McMurdo Station!" exclaimed the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl, elated again. "Henriette and Loretta!"
Retrofitting the Thot Slayer for Antarctic travel was a relatively simple matter. "Relatively" in that while the necessary parts and equipment were all close at hand, the remaining inhabitants of McMurdo were somewhat begrudging in their assistance.
"There's nothing but DEATH for you at the pole! DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!!!" screeched the gray haired hag.
"Don't you mind old Darla," said the grizzled old shopkeeper. "But she's right."
However, not only can the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl move at incredible speeds, she can also lift and manipulate very large objects.
"I'll let you in on a little secret," she said. "My little arms alone aren't that strong. It's my--" she took a moment to look coyly around the hangar to make sure we weren't being overheard "--field effect powers! Shhhhhh!"
She winked at me as she directed another sheet of ultralight insulating material around the Thot Slayer's gondola.
"While you were napping," she continued, "I also upgraded the engines to be able to operate at the extreme temperatures we'll be enduring. And refilled the soft serve machine."
"I'm sick of it!" said the grizzled old shopkeeper. "Soft ice cream, hard ice cream, slushies, slurpees, you can take the lot of it for all I care! What I want is Red Hots! Hot tamales! Give me Sour Patch!"
The rest of the remaining inhabitants slowly gathered in the hangar to watch the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl do her work.
"You sure nobody'd like to come along with us for the ride?" I asked. "Sure might be handy to have a local guide."
The McMurdoans looked uncomfortably at the floor or up into the rafters. None of them would look me in the eye.
"Look, you know there's no way out by heading north, past the barrier."
The McMurdoans murmured vaguely that they agreed.
"And my co-pilot here is pretty clever."
The McMurdoans grumbled that they had to agree on that, from what they'd seen of her working on the Thot Slayer.
"And we just want to take a little look, farther south. And if there's something to be learned by reaching the pole, maybe it can help us all!"
The McMurdoans raised their eyes to mine, and started to mumble in agreement with each other.
"And we've got all the delicious soft serve ice cream you could want!"
With that, the McMurodans all groaned, turned around, and left the hangar, returning to their solitary abodes.
"So, how many can your ship fit? 15? 20? There's not even twenty of us left... that we know of... there's me, Harbinger Jed, Miss Sam, Carlos and Jorge, the Lorentz twins--"
"Your gate is not operational," said the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. Which was news to me. "It deactivated immediately after bringing us here. The grid remains closed. Unless you have a way to open it?"
The grizzled old man looked dumbfounded.
"Well if we could open it up, you think we wouldn't have left here already? Didn't you say you knew Dean Hammer? He sent you here to rescue us!"
"Uh... yeah... yeah..." I broke in. "The Dean's a great guy. But there's, uh... trouble with the gates. We've got to take the, uh, OTHER way, you know?"
The grizzled old man shook his head. "T'ain't no other way! You think we would have stayed marooned all these years if there'd been another way out? And we lost good ships trying... the Thoth Amon, the Loch Ness, the Julia Dream... all those good people... It's the Energy Barrier! It's not like the Dean doesn't know about it!" The grizzled old man collapsed in a weeping heap on the floor of this convenience store.
The Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl took me aside.
"Antarctica is a no-man's land. Off limits. It was the landing base of the Ancient Ones. But once the new order was established, it just fell off the maps. No portal routes, cold and windy all the time, people just wrote it off."
"So... how do we get out of here? What's close? The tip of South American can't be THAT far..."
"The Energy Barrier. Like the grizzled old man said. It's like this permanent wall of auroras. Popular tourist destination but no way through it."
The Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl and I looked each other in the eyes. She has little sparkles inside hers.
"We're headed to the pole," she told the grizzled old shopkeeper.
The little holographic tour guide girl made short work of the grizzled store keeper. She turned electric blue and the air crackled with electricity and he dropped the shotgun like it had shocked him. Most of the lights stayed on, but thankfully not the boom box.
"Oh lord I knew this day would come!" the old man said, grovelling on the floor. "By all that is holy kill me now! I've got no stamina for your mines and eternal torture pits! Please!!!"
"You've been a very inhospitable host!" said the little holographic tour guide girl, looking down at him with fists on her hips. "We're just two weary travelers who have lost their way. And we've got gift cards from Mr. Hammer that we can use as much as we want."
The old man looked up. "Mr, Hammer, you say? Dean Hammer?"
"Yes, the CEO of Zephyr Air. This is a Zephyr Air Quick Station, right?" I asked.
The old man looked confused. Then relieved.
"I knew old Dean wouldn't forget about us," he said. "You're here with the rescue team! Hooray! Hooray!" and he leaped up from the floor and began to dance like a leprechaun, his long gray hair and beard flying this way and that.
"I do not think this shopkeeper is a good judge of character," said the little holographic tour guide girl.
A neon OPEN sign sputtered in the window of the McMurdo Zephyr Air Quick Station. But it didn't look very open. In fact, the entire dirty little outpost seemed deserted. We hadn't seen a soul since landing, and had to handle trying down the Thot Slayer entirely by ourselves.
The door swung open easily enough. We shut it behind us to keep the wind out, and stomped the snow and mud off our shoes.
"We need to get you a nice puffy coat!" said the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. "And boots!"
There were dim fluorescent lights in the tiny room, which smelled a little like mold. There were shelves of canned food and snacks, beer and pop in the back. No one was at the register, but there was a boom box behind the counter playing an old song:
'Going to the city, got you on my mind,
Country sure is pretty, I'll leave it all behind'
"Hello!!!" called the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. When there was no answer she called again, using her Penetrating Sonic mode. It made the cans of Pringles rattle on their shelf.
"Hey! Watch it!" I yelled, covering my ears.
There was a crash from the backroom of the tiny store, like a wall of cans falling over. Then another crash, like broom and mops falling on the cans. Finally, the door to the backroom burst open, having been kicked from the other side, and a grizzled old man with long gray hair and beard appeared, pointing a rather antiquated looking shotgun right at us. His eyes were wild.
'Cause I'm a fool for the city, I'm a fool for the city,
I'm a fool for the city, I'm a fool for the city'
"This is not how I pictured Fiji," I told the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl.
The Thot Slayer rattled and leaned into the blast of cold wind. At least I assumed it was cold, based on all the ice on the ground.
"That is the McMurdo portal," said the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl, pointing out the windscreen at the portal we'd just come through. It was like the other portals we'd seen, that is to say a big metal ring floating in the sky. Except all those portals had been busy, with lines of airships coming and going. Aside from a few sad looking hulks on the ground, there wasn't another ship around. Just a few shacks and more ice and occasional dirt.
"But we most clearly went through the Suva portal. I didn't even see a McMurdo portal back in Auckland," she continued. "I bet it's that mean old Mister Hammer playing tricks. Oooooo that burns me up...." and the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl began to make fists and get that blue glow when her eyes turn white and sparks start coming out of her head.
"Hey hey hey, you, uh, just take it easy, Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl. I'm sure it was all just some kind of mix up. Oh look, there on the ground. Isn't that one of those Zephyr Air Quick Stations? Don't we get free Cokes or something at any one we visit?"
"Sure, we get free everything at Zephyr Air Quick Stations. Unless that mean old Mister Hammer was lying about that too."
"Well you just take it easy, and we'll make a pit stop and see what they know about the portal. Sound okay?"
The Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl sulked for a moment, and then lit up. I mean, in the good way.
"Oh little boy or girl or self described other," she said. "You always know just how to cheer me up. Let's go!"
I was spending some time alone in the observation bar. Sky Tower didn't get a lot of visitors, so I had the place to myself. Seemed like it hadn't been properly cleaned since the Confusion, and the worn out office carpet could really use a zoom brooming, but the little pouches of peanuts I found behind the bar were still edible. Luckily the whole place had stopped rotating after Mr. Hammer agreed to our demands. Auckland looked nice.
"Well, I've got it all planned out!" said the Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl, who appeared out of nowhere and whose name I'd begun to capitalize. I'd never thought to ask her name. Do little holographic tour guide girls have names? Was it that long alphanumeric code on her tour guide girl badge maybe? Anyway, she had a way of just popping out of the blue, which in this case made me spill my peanuts.
"Oh I'm so sorry, did I startle you, young boy or girl or self described other? Tour guide girls must remember never to approach visitors in a way that is startling. Oh my I must report myself for a recalibration--"
"No, no no no. You're fine. Please -- no diagnostics are necessary. I'm looking forward to leaving you a five-star review."
"Oh that would be very sweet, young boy or girl or self described other. But not until the assessment survey! Which I'm sure is coming sooner than ever, now that I've booked the series of portals that will lead us to the wondrous land of Arvada!"
"That's very kind, Little Holographic Tour Guide Girl, but I promise you that Arvada is not so wondrous. Or at least is didn't used to be."
"Well anywhere with your mommy in it is just BOUND to be wondrous! But I will say I had to chart us an interesting route. The usual portals were closed to us, and the portals that are available between here and Arvada may be in some disrepair."
"Closed? To us?"
"I'm sure it was just some network latency error because we're already so far off the main grid. But don't you worry! I've been overseeing Mr. Hammer's repairs to the Thot Slayer and do you know what I had him include?"
"I hope you like soft serve ice cream!!!!"