Iemy
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Back to Square 1:  Some Corridors and a Lot of Dust

  In which things take a more serious turn

The following is the tenth installment of the tale which began with Takeoff, and continued with Shopping Trip Parts I. through IV  and The Test Flight.  All prior installments should be read before this page, as that may help to render the following events marginally less obscure.

This installment was also very kindly provided to us by Professor Johann Schnarchhund of Miskatonic University.  Johann again assures us that this first person account, narrated by Isis Resillechat, is very much as it was received by his daughter, Taurina.  For additional information please see the Iemy Papers.

Previous Installment: Contact Part I

Star Date 14.3

I was lying on my so-called bed, enjoying the feeling of waking up slowly to the prospect of a day of sublime inactivity, when I heard Auntie's musical bellow drifting in from the corridor.

"Isis!" she was yelling.  "Are you up?  Times a-wastin'!"

"What's up?" I called, without moving.

"I didn't say anything was up -- I asked if you are up!"  Auntie replied.  "In point of fact, howsoever, I'm up, Snidly's up, Felix is up, Felicia is up, but, if I don't miss my guess, you're not up.  Am I right?"

So much, I thought, for my day of sublime inactivity.  I pulled a cushion over my head and told myself that if I could just go back to sleep, Auntie would go away and come back later.

It didn't work.

"Aha -- I was right! You're not up!"  Auntie's voice was much closer -- it sounded like she was right next to the bed.

A shudder ran through the pile of cushions. Auntie had plopped herself down next to me on the "bed".  I pulled the cushion more tightly over my head.

"What are we going to do with you, Isis?  You're well on your way to sleeping the whole day away -- why, it must be after eight -- or it would be if we were on Earth -- at least, if we were on Earth in Greenwich -- or Sudan, rather."

I groaned.

"Snidly, can you get her up?"

"Ituafe!"  I hadn't realized Snidly had come in with Auntie.

I felt someone start to lick my toes, which were sticking out of the covers.  I knew where this was leading:  After a dozen licks, if I still hadn't moved, it would be chomp!  And Snidly's teeth are very sharp.

I pulled my feet in, tossed the cushion aside, and said, "OK, you've won.  Just give me a minute to get dressed."  Whatever this crisis was, I wanted to face it wearing something a bit more formal than pajamas covered with little green mice.



It was more like ten minutes than one before we joined Auntie and Snidly in the corridor.  I dug through my marginally organized heaps of stuff and found a pair of overalls, a green flannel shirt, a pair of sneaks, and half a comb.  I tried to drag the comb fragment through my hair, but gave up after a few yanks and tossed it back onto a pile.  Next time we're at an Earthly drugstore, I'm getting some conditioner!

Dense had been sleeping on a cushion next to my "bed".  He doesn't understand much English, and wanted to know what Auntie wanted.

"What did she say?" in Iemy.

"She wants me to come with her."

"Is Snidly coming, too?"

"I don't know."

"Going where?"

"I don't know."

"To do what?"

"I have no idea."

"That sounds like fun.  Can I come too?"

And so when I joined Auntie in the corridor, Dense came along, too.

Zork (more or less) Auntie was carrying a huge, bright orange handbag, the strap slung diagonally across her left shoulder.  There were tiny Vitechat eagles, in black, all over the bag.  She was wearing a black shirt with tiny orange Vitechat eagles all over it, and bright orange pants.  The overall effect was somewhere between garish and hideous.  With the orange strap of the bag cutting diagonally across the shirt, and the big orange bag, she made me think of one of those workers who walk along the side of the highway, picking up trash.

"Auntie, where are we going?"

"I don't know!" she replied, in a delighted tone.

"Oh ... well, what will we do when we get there?"

"Come back!"

I tried a different tack.  "Snidly, where are we going?"

"Following Auntie."  Ah nuts.  Snidly never gives me a straight answer.

Auntie started off down the corridor.  As I hurried to keep up, I asked, "Is this a game -- like, follow the leader?"

"No, it's quite serious."

"What's the point?  We don't know where we're going and we're only going to come back -- why bother?"

"Isis," she said, in a serious tone.  "We're going spelunking."

"Spelunking?"  I was feeling totally confused.  "We're exploring caves?"  Pause.  "What caves?"

"The ones we're in -- these caves of steel."  Auntie rapped on the wall.  "Or congealed ice cream, or whatever this stuff is."

"Why?  Exploring where?"

"This flying saucer is huge, gigantic, bigger than anything which flies has any right to be, and we don't have a map.  I, at least, have seen only the smallest, tiny, vanishingly microscopic, even nanoscopic, little bit of it, and I dare say you haven't seen much more.  I'd like to know what's here.  Or, anyway, a little more of what's here than I do now."

"Doesn't the computer have a map?"

"Felix hasn't found one.  And if Felix can't find it, I dare say it's because it's not there."

That was news to me.  I'd just assumed the computer had a floor plan for the Erfout Eetjney.

"Where are we going? I mean, where are we going to go to start with -- what direction?"

"Well," said Auntie, "I thought we'd head along this corridor, heading away from the bridge, until we see where it goes, or doesn't go, and then we'd pick another, and see where it goes, or doesn't, as the case may be." She pulled out a notebook from her bag. "I'll keep track of where we go, and what we find, in this. And to be sure we can find our way back, we can chalk the corners where we turn." She pulled a piece of chalk out of the bag.

Auntie showed me the notebook. In it, she had pages of hand drawn maps of parts of the Erfout Eetjney, interspersed with notes on the parts of the ship which she'd seen.

"Have you seen the observation deck?" I asked her. "It's really cool."

"It's where I found Snidly," I added, as an afterthought.

"No, it's not, it's where I found Isis, when Isis lost," Snidly interjected.

"Can you add it to the map?" Auntie asked.

I sat down on the floor, and spent a while figuring out where I thought it was relative to the parts auntie had mapped, and then sketched it in with a stub of a pencil Auntie handed me.

"Do you want to go look at the observation deck right now?" I asked.

"No. We already know where it is. I want to find things we don't know about today. So let's go!"

As I got up and handed Auntie her notebook and pencil, I suddenly remembered the other thing which had been bothering me: We were heading away from the "kitchen".

"Auntie, wait!" I said. "I haven't had breakfast!"

"Well, I can't very well expect you to explore all of Carlsbad Caverns on an empty stomach, can I?" auntie replied, warmly. "But maybe we'll find something along the way."

"Huh?"

"And in any case I packed some sandwiches for us. Let's try to put a few yards behind us before we stop for brunch, though, shall we, dear? How about if we were to stop for a bite in the first likely picnic area we find once we're beyond the fields we know?"

"I suppose..." I said, reluctantly.

We set off down the corridor at a slow jog, Dense sauntering along a few paces behind us. Snidly trotted ahead, and soon disappeared around a bend in the corridor.

As we trotted along, I tried to work out just how big this job might be. How much "corridor" is there in the Erfout Eetjney, anyway? Since I don't really know how big the ship is, figuring it out is kind of an impossible task. I asked myself how Nim-nim would do it -- and realized she'd guess, or maybe make a couple of guesses. So I took a guess.

I also hurried up -- Auntie was about ten feet ahead of me, and the corridor was curving to the right. I didn't want to lose her. As I caught up, the corridor came to an abrupt end. Two narrower corridors continued, to the left and to the right. Auntie made a quick note in her book, and headed off to the left at a trot.

I followed her into the new corridor, as I continued working on my little problem in estimation. I'm pretty sure the ship's more than 100 feet across. I don't think it's more than 500 feet across. So, to get an idea of the worst it could be, I'll assume it's 500 feet in diameter. It's at least a few levels, too -- less than 10, I think.

The corridor had straightened out while I was thinking about this, and Auntie had picked up the pace a bit. She was about 20 feet in front of me. Snidly and Dense were trotting along between us. There were doorways off the corridor from time to time, but they just led into rooms similar to our cabins.

As we jogged along, I decided 500 feet is about a tenth of a mile, so if π is 3, the area would be about 3/100 of a mile, or if there were 600 acres in a square mile, that would be ... uh ... 18 acres on each floor. No way! Let's try that again!

While I was working this out, the narrow corridor we'd been following dead ended into a much wider passage. Auntie noted it in her notebook and headed off to the right. The new corridor immediately started curving to the left. I lost sight of Auntie as she went around the bend. I had slowed to a walk as I tried to work out the area of each floor of the Erfout Eetjney, and she was still trotting.

Oh, yeah, the area is πr2, not πd2, so it's (1/20)2·π or 3/400 square miles, or 1920/400 acres, or about 5 acres per deck. Yow, that's still a lot! Now, how many miles of corridor would fit in 5 acres? If the rooms are all 50 feet square, then...

Whump! I ran straight into Auntie's back as I rounded the bend after her. She had stopped.

"Oof!" she said, as she stumbled into the wall in front of her.

"Oops!" I replied, unconsciously quoting Dad. Then, "I'm sorry! What happened? Why did you stop?"

"We seem to have run out of corridor."

I looked around. In front of us, there was a wall with a low doorway opening into it. A corridor which was high enough to stand up, but very narrow, ran off to our left. To the right, a doorway opened into a corridor that was about three feet high, and about equally wide.

"Where are we?" I asked. "And where's Dense?" Snidly was sitting on the floor in the corridor to our left, watching us.

"We seem to have crossed the Edge of the Wild, I should think, and I'd say the time has arrived when we should start mapping." Auntie had her notebook out, and was writing something in it with the pencil stub.

"Where's Dense?" I asked, again.

"I don't know."

"Did you see him leave?"

"Yes."

"Well, where did he go?"

"Through there." Auntie pointed at the low doorway in front of us.

"Where's that go?"

"I don't know."

"Enough of this!" I thought, and got down on my hands and knees to see for myself.

At first I thought it was one of those cat-size corridors, but it wasn't -- as I looked into it I realized it was a doorway into a room. The doorway was maybe 18" high and about as wide, so I could get my head into it with no trouble, and at first I thought maybe I could wriggle all the way through it. But no -- I had just about gotten my shoulders through the opening when I realized there wasn't any floor on the other side! There was a sheer drop of about ten feet. The floors may be soft here but I still didn't want to go over that cliff head first.

"Yow!" I exclaimed.

"What is it? What's there?" called Auntie.

"Jim!" I heard Snidly say. Jim? I didn't know of any cats named Jim.

I looked around. The doorway opened into a large round room, about halfway between the floor and ceiling. It was large; at least a few dozen feet across. There was an open area in the middle of the room, surrounded by a ring of things that would have looked like trees if they hadn't been the same stale vanilla ice cream color as the ship's walls. They had thick, rough, twisted trunks, lots of branches, but no leaves. There was a sort of lattice work extending from the "trees" out to the walls. It was about eight feet above the floor, but irregular, so the height varied. The walls had funny little platforms sticking out of them here and there, and there were a number of odd post-like things with little platforms on them sticking up from the floors, and down from the ceiling, sort of like an infestation of giant mushrooms.

The thing I called a lattice, which actually looked more like a jumbled mess of pieces of second hand railroad track than what I think of as a "lattice", was dark brown (like rusted railroad track) with an occasional bright red segment to liven it up. The giant "mushrooms" growing on the floor, ceiling, and walls were mixed, some gray, some blue, and some bright green. I couldn't imagine what the point of it all might be.

I saw what looked like other doorways opening into the room at irregular intervals, some at floor level, some up by the ceiling, and a few others in the middle of the walls. They were various sizes, some larger than the one we had found, others much smaller.

And there were cats. There were a few curled up on the platforms, apparently asleep. I also thought I could see one peeking out from the branches of the nearest "tree". While I was looking in the trees, trying to spot more cats, one suddenly leaped out of a doorway up close to the ceiling, landed on one of the "tracks", and bounded off across the room toward the "trees". Before it reached the first "tree" a second cat leaped out of the same doorway and shot off after the first. They both vanished into the branches of the trees. Just playing? So I guessed.

There was also a large, orange cat sitting on the latticework at a point where two of the rails crossed, about a dozen feet away, and looking at me.

"Dense?" I called.

"Mrrowrr?"

"I don't fit. We're going another way."

"Mrrowrr?" Whatever... I wriggled back out of the doorway.

"So what is it in there?" asked Auntie.

"It's strange."

"Jim!" said Snidly.

"Say what? Who's Jim?" asked Auntie.

"Jim who?" I added.

Snidly made a disgusted noise and said, slowly, "Nay Zeeum. Ituafe."

"Jim Zeeum? Who's that?"

Snidly made another disgusted noise and said, "Not Jim Zeeum. Jim Nay Zeeum. Ituafe!"

The intercom interrupted our conversation. "Snidly to room 89001!" It was the Captain's voice. Snidly muttered something I didn't hear, and disappeared into a low corridor which led off to the right of the strange room.

Auntie suddenly laughed. "Isis! Jim isn't a who, it's a what!

"Huh?"

"It's what the room you looked into is!"

"It's a Jim Nay Zeeum?"

"Say it again, faster!"

"Oh" I said, suddenly feeling silly. And then, after a pause, "What should we do now?"

"We can't go forward. We can't go to the right. I don't want to go back yet. So let's go to the left."

"But Auntie, before we go on --"

"Yes, Isis, of course you're right -- before we go on I need to add this to the map!" She got out her notebook and pencil and started writing. "How big would you say the gym is?"

I described the room, trees and railroad tracks and all, and she asked, "Is it terribly dusty in there?"

"No, not at all."

"But if you and Felix and Felicia haven't been here before, who cleaned it up? After 6,000 years I shouldn't think it might be just a bit dusty, wouldn't you?"

"We never cleaned up anything -- the ship was clean when Dad found it. It was closed up tight; how would it get dirty?"

Auntie looked at me doubtfully, and started drawing the room in her notebook. A moment later I heard a faint "Snap!"

"Darn!"

"What's wrong?"

"Pencil point broke. Maybe I can kind of put the lead back in..." She fiddled with the pencdil stub.

"Oops! ... I'm starting to sound like Felix -- but I lost the piece. Isis, have you a pencil? Or a pen? Or a penknife?"

I didn't.

"Well -- I suppose we've updated the map enough for the time being!" she said, lightly. "I suppose it's also a good thing I brought the chalk, so we can mark the corners to find our way back!"

She put away the notebook and the now useless pencil stub, took out a piece of chalk, and put an arrow on the wall of the corridor pointing back the way we had come from. And she started off down the narrow left hand passage.

"Hey, wait!" I called, as I hurried after her. "Weren't we going to stop for breakfast?"

"Yes, of course -- as soon as we find a nice place to sit down and eat!" I continued after her, grumbling to myself about delayed meals. Dense, who had come back from the gymnasium while Auntie was updating the map, pattered along after me.



Several times, the corridor we were in dead-ended into another corridor, and we had to choose a direction. Each time, Auntie marked the wall with chalk to show the turn. In between, she put arrows on the wall from time to time to show we'd been here, and to show which way was "home".

Most of the rooms we passed were small cabins, just like all the other cabins.

After what seemed to me like several hours of walking, we go to the end of a low, narrow passage along which we'd been crawling and found ourselves in a round room with nine identical low doorways evenly spaced around the wall. The ceiling was high enough to comfortably stand up, and there were soft cushions scattered around on the floor -- all the same color of stale vanilla ice cream.

"And so they arrived at the Round Room!" announced Auntie as she chalked the wall next to the corridor where we came in. "Let's hope it's not running just now, or Our Intrepid Explorers may have some difficulty locating the path back -- not so bad as if it were Bedquilt, perhaps, but not so good, either, eh, Isis?"

I had no idea what she was talking about, and I didn't really care, either, since it wasn't food. I was starving. I sat down on a cushion, leaned back against the wall between two doorways, pointed oat my mouth, and said, "I want breakfast!"

"Nap first" muttered Dense, as he stepped up onto a cushion next to me and started kneading it with his front feet.

"Oh you poor dears you must be starved -- I had just entirely forgotten! Here, here, let me see what we've got to hold body and soul together until we get back to civilization." She was digging around in her orange bag with the little black Vitechat eagles on it.

"Here's something for our four footed contingent," she announced, pulling out a plastic bag of what looked like cat kibbles. Dense said nothing. He was snoring softly on the cushion next to me.

A moment later, with an exclamation of "Aha! Here we are!", she pulled out another plastic bag, with what looked like a squished-up bit of bread in it a with some kind of goo smeared all around on the inside of the bag.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Well, it started the day as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," Auntie replied, in an uncertain tone. "But while one might well assume all the same ingredients might still be present, I'm not entirely sure that it still warrants the name 'sandwich'. Perhaps we should call it a 'spread sandwich on flat-bread' or should I say 'on very flat bread'. Be that as it may, if you want it, you --"

"I want it!" I broke in. "I'm starving!"

While I ate the mutilated sandwich, Auntie dug out a second bag of squished bread and goo for herself. Dense woke up and joined the party, chowing down on the kibbles Auntie had brought.

"What else is there?" I finally asked, as I was trying to scrape the last of the peanut butter off the roof of my mouth with my tongue. "Some water, maybe?"

"That seems to be all there is, I'm afraid." Auntie was peering into the bag, and scrabbling in the bottom of it as though hoping to find something else. Since she'd packed it herself it seemed unlikely that she'd turn up anything she wasn't expecting.

"Then can we go back now?" I was still hungry, and since we had no pencil and couldn't add anything to Auntie's map, the expedition was seeming more and more pointless to me.

"Let's just explore one more passage, dear, then we can go back, OK? After all I'm sure there are just ever so many interesting rooms and things on this ship, and we haven't found much of anything on today's rather disappointing little spelunk except the gym, of course, and if we go just a little farther, who can say but what we might find something utterly unexpected, sort of like the Glittering Caves of Aglarond which were such a complete surprise!"

"Wrong story. But I guess we can look down one more passage."

So Auntie chose a doorway, apparently at random, and chalked the wall next to it. She vanished into it, and I crawled after her.

I was wishing we'd find a corridor where I could stand up, when Auntie gave a yell and vanished. I hurried up to where she'd been, and found that the floor of the corridor sloped steeply down into darkness. The floor was slippery here, but I managed to keep from sliding as I crawled after Auntie.

The awkward crawl down the sloping corridor seemed interminable, though I suppose I couldn't really have gone more than a few dozen feet when I put my hand down ... on nothing. I caught myself before I fell out the end of the tunnel.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There seemed to be no floor in front of me -- just a long, long drop to infinity. And above, there was nothing -- not a wall, not a dark corridor: Just empty space, filled with stars.

"Auntie -- are you there?" I called.

"I think so, but don't ask me where 'there' is!"

"What are you standing on?"

"I'm not."

"Huh? Not what?"

"Not standing on anything."

"Are you floating in the air?"

Auntie laughed. "No, dear, I certainly don't know how to do that!"

Grrrr. "Then, are you sitting on something?"

"Yes." Double grrrrr. When Auntie's not too prolix, she's too concise!

"So, what are you sitting on?"

"A cushion."

"What's the cushion on? Auntie, is there a floor in the room?"

"Yes, of course there's a floor -- or at least I think there's a floor. I certainly can't see one, though. But then I can't see much of anything; it's dark in here."

I fished out my flashlight and shone it into the darkness below me. Nothing -- the beam just vanished into empty space. But as I tried to put it back in the pocket of my overalls, it slipped out, rolled down the sloping floor of the corridor, and dropped off into the void -- where it fell straight down about two feet and bounced on something. So, there was a floor, after all.

I picked up the flashlight, crawled out the end of the corridor, and stood up ... on nothing, or so it seemed. The room was large and dark; I couldn't tell how high the ceiling was. But the entire floor, and one wall, were apparently missing; I seemed to be standing in open space. I saw the Milky Way a few thousand light years below my left foot. Between my feet, I could see a bright star which might have been Jupiter.

In the dim starlight, I could see a few cushions apparently hanging in space, on one of which Auntie was sitting, staring out into space. Dense, who had followed me into the room, was picking his way slowly across the invisible floor, making a puzzled sort of noise with each step.



Shortly after we made it back up the slanted passage from the observation room, I saw one of the marks Auntie had chalked on the wall. It was a reassuring sight in this maze of passages. It was a sort of an arrow, with half an arrow head and a faint streak of a tail.

"Here's one of your marks, Auntie!" I said as I passed it.

Auntie, who was behind me, paused at the mark. "That's peculiar," she said. "It certainly looks like my chalk, and it must be my mark, but I'm sure I drew a nice clear arrow every time. This is hardly more than half an arrow. Isis, did you brush against this after I drew it? You were following me on the way out, weren't you, dear?"

"I may have."

A few minutes later, we arrived at another of Auntie's marks. This one had just a short little blip for the arrow head, and the tail was hardly more than a faint smear of chalk dust on the wall. I stopped and stared at it. It didn't look smeared, like it would if it had been partly erased. But it was faint -- just disconnected particles of chalk stuck to the wall. I was looking at one of the particles ... when it vanished!

"What's wrong, Isis?" auntie asked, as she came up next to me.

"Your arrow's fading!" We both stared at the arrow, and a few moments later I saw another particle disappear. It seemed to sink right into the surface as I watched.

"Well my goodness goodness goodness!" exclaimed Auntie. "Now we know, we surely do!"

"Know what?"

"Why, why it looks like it does, of course!"

"Why what looks like what?"

"Why the ship looks so clean, I shouldn't think!"

"You shouldn't think what?" I find some of Auntie's expressions confusing.

"I shouldn't think that's surely not the reason the ship's not dusty, wouldn't you, dear?"

"I don't know but I think we'd better hurry if we want to get back before your arrows all fade away!"

And so we hurried, as best we could while crawling.



As soon as we got back to the Round Room, we searched the doorways for Auntie's arrow. It was nowhere to be seen.

"Wait," I said. "We can figure it out. I'm pretty sure the passage we took to the observation room was three doors to the right of the one we came in -- does that sound right, Auntie?"

"Yes, I think so -- or maybe it was four to the right..."

"But which door led to the observation room...?" I thought back to which doorway we'd come in through.

"This one!" said Auntie.

"I don't think so!" I was sure it was the door opposite the one she was pointing to.

"Cats never get lost. Ask Dense."

I asked Dense, in Iemy.

"Snidly would know!"

"But Snidly isn't here. Do you know?"

"Not so good with directions. When lost, always ask Snidly."



At first, the corridor we selected looked like the right choice -- I was sure the cross passages we passed were the same as what we'd seen when we first went to the round room. But then it took a sharp bend to the right and dead-ended into a cross corridor.

"Auntie, do you remember this? I don't."

"Maybe, dear. Try going to the right."

I did that. After a few dozen feet, the corridor started to slope upward. This definitely wasn't familiar -- the slope was increasing, to the point where the passage was almost vertical. I could see what seemed to be the end of the passage, a few feet above me. It looked like it ran into a dimly lit cross passage.

"I don't think I can get up this slope -- Dense, could you check this out?"

The passage here was wide enough for Dense to get past us. He climbed the slope with no trouble and disappeared. After a while, when he didn't reappear, I called to him. "What is it? What's up there?"

"It's strange." Not highly enlightening!

"Auntie, can you boost me up a bit? I can almost reach the doorway."

"Of course, dear. You can brace your feet on my shoulders."

I did that, and worked my way far enough to get my eyes over the threshold. It was another corridor, very dimly lit. Dense was a dozen feet away, looking down into a hole in the floor. As he'd said, it was strange -- it was a long, straight corridor, so long I couldn't see the ends in the dim light, and there were what appeared to be doorways opening off it here and there. But the doorways, if that's what they were, were in the floor! A few were in the ceiling, and in the distance I thought I could glimpse openings in the walls.

"What's up there, dear?"

"It's strange."

"Yes, Dense already told us that. Ouch, dear. Perhaps you should come back down now."

"Oh, Auntie, am I hurting your shoulders?"

"Rather a bit, dear."



Not really Zork, more like Adventure Back to the Round Room, and into the next passage. I was starting to feel like a character in a book I once read, who hears a knock at the door, and says, "Whatever that is, it had better be food, 'cause I'm gonna eat it!" I was starved.

At first, this passage seemed very promising. It looked just like the passage we'd followed to get here. But then, so had every other corridor we'd explored.

After passing some number of cross-corridors, the passage dead ended into a much larger way. "Oops -- I don't remember this!"

"I think I do, dear -- let's just try going down here to the right a bit."

And so we did, and in short order, we found ourselves at the end of the corridor -- and it looked almost exactly like the end of the corridor which led to the "gym".  Almost.

"I think we're home!" exclaimed Auntie.

"I don't," I replied, as I looked through the low doorway in front of us. This door was bigger than the one I recalled -- and it led to something I certainly hadn't seen before. Of course, Auntie wanted to check it out, so we all squeezed through the doorway into another round room. This had a number of passages opening into it, but on one part of the wall there were several low niches. They were each about a foot across, and a foot deep, round, and all but one had a flat bottom. They were level with the floor, and nearby, a number of buttons were set in the wall. There was one slightly larger blue button next to each niche.

One niche in the middle was different. Its bottom formed a bowl, and there was a stream of what looked like water dribbling slowly into it. The bowl was full, but not overflowing. The water must have been running out somehow, but I couldn't see any drain.

"I wonder what these do -- let's find out!" and before I could say anything, Auntie had pressed the blue button by the nearest niche.

A solid-looking pink sheet of something appeared, covering the opening. There was a sort of crackling noise, like electric sparks, and the pink cover disappeared again -- but the niche was no longer empty. There was a little pile of strange looking, yellowish, twisted flat things. They looked vaguely like noodles.

"Wow!" exclaimed Dense, and batted a few of them out of the niche. He picked one up in his mouth and crunched it.

"Yow! Dense! Is it edible? Is it food?"

He just made a purring noise, and went on crunching.

I was hungry enough to try just about anything, so I picked up one of the yellow things and put it in my mouth. Kind of salty -- I bit down on it.

"Oh help! Oh gack!" I yelled.

"What is it? Is it poison? Does it burn? Spit it out!"

I was much too hungry to spit it out! I swallowed it, as Auntie stared at me with the most horrified look. I couldn't help laughing as I explained, "They're Fritos!"

"Is that bad? And anyway, how can they be Fritos? That doesn't make sense! They must be something else."

"I have no idea how they can be Fritos but the sure taste like corn chips. I had enough of these things to last me the rest of my life before we got to your ch√Ęteau."



As we crawled along the corridor leading back toward the Round Room, I could hear Auntie's bag dragging on the floor behind me. She had decided we needed to "stock up", just in case, so her bag was now stuffed with Fritos.

I think we were about halfway back when Auntie suddenly called "Isis! This looks familiar!"

I certainly had to agree. The corridor was about two feet wide, maybe three feet high, with a smooth but slightly soft floor and an arched ceiling, uniformly lit, but with no apparent light source. The walls and floor were one monotonous shade, the color of stale vanilla ice cream. In short, it looked exactly like every other corridor we'd crawled along in this expedition.

"Huh?"

"Exactly! I think I know where we are! We're on the passage we first followed to the Round Room -- we just need to turn off at the right cross corridor! I'm sure of it!"

"Huh?"

"It should be coming up soon -- right after this bend!"

The corridor was curving slightly to the left. Maybe Auntie really had recognized it from the way it was curving, but I didn't feel very confident.

"Here we are, Isis! Turn right here!"

I obediently turned into a doorway on the right side of the passage. I found myself in a narrower corridor, barely wide enough to crawl along, which was so low it was brushing the top of my head. As I crawled along it started to slope steeply upward.

"I don't remember this at all!"

"Oh, I think I do, dear. Let's keep going -- we may be almost home!"

As I crawled up the slope, the light got dimmer. The air seemed to be getting cooler, as well. The corridor finally started to level off, and made an abrupt turn to the left. The light was so dim here that I was steering by feel, following the walls, which were so close together I really had no choice anyway.

And then, as I moved around the corner I put my left hand down ... on nothing.

"Oh, help!" I yelled, as I tried to catch myself with my right hand -- which also came down on nothing. I scrabbled with my feet, but it didn't help -- the corridor had started sloping down again just as it turned left. With a final yell, I plunged head first down into darkness.



"Isis, are you alright?"

I couldn't answer; I was too busy sneezing.

"I'll be right there, dear -- hold on!" Auntie called to me.

"No! Wait!" I managed to stop sneezing long enough to call to her, but as I was telling her to wait I heard her thump down behind me. "Oof!" I added, as she slid into me.

"Achoo!" added Auntie.

At the end of the passage, there had been a straight drop of a few feet; luckily for me, it didn't end in a level floor -- crash! -- but rather in a slope, down which I'd slid, to come to a soft but icky landing, face first, in what seemed to be 6000 years accumulation of dust mixed with cat hair. I sneezed again.

"Mrrrowwrrr?" called Dense, from the doorway above us.

"Dense -- wait! I think we may need you to get help!"

I heard a thump and a sliding sound, followed by an "Ouch -- watch the claws!" from Auntie. Dense hadn't waited.

The walls and floor here felt hard and slick, not at all like the slightly soft corridors everywhere else I'd been. I doubted Dense would be able to climb back up the slope -- and I was sure I couldn't.

"I don't recognize this," Auntie observed, rather uselessly. "I guess were still lost." She sighed. "Or shouldn't I say, loster. Do you have a flashlight, dear?"

I did, and even better, when I fished it out, it still worked. I shone it around. The walls were slick and gray, and seemed slightly damp. The floor was invisible, under a thick layer of dust and general crud. Whatever it was that kept the rest of the ship clean and ventilated, it didn't seem to be doing its job here. Looking at the cold gray walls, I realized I felt chilly -- the air here was clammy, and smelled stale, like the air inside a 6000 year old vacuum cleaner bag.

Unfortunately, the doorway through which we'd entered was about ten feet above the floor. There was a sheer drop below it of several feet, and below that, the wall slanted out, forming a steep ramp -- much too steep to walk up. Even Dense could get no purchase on the hard, slick surface.

"Since we can't go back, and we don't want to stay here" -- Auntie sniffed -- "Let's explore!"

"Want to take nap" opined Dense, scratching at the dust, as though trying to make a sensible bed out of it. He sneezed.

"I feel like Dense," I said. "I just want to go back -- but I don't see how."

"I don't either. Maybe Dense has an idea."

That seemed pretty unlikely to me, but I asked him anyway.

"Call Snidly -- Snidly could help!"

"Or maybe Sniggles!" added Auntie.

"Oh golly -- why didn't we think of that sooner?"

I called Sniggles. Auntie called Sniggles. Dense wailed, and called for Snidly. Nothing happened.

"I guess Sniggles can't hear us in here -- or can't manifest here..."

"Oh, well, then, it looks like we fall back to Plan B -- Let's explore!"

At this point I saw no alternative. I just hoped we would find another way out of ... whatever this place was.



Lost in space I shone my light all around us. We seemed to be at one end of a corridor which stretched away into the darkness. The one good thing I could see about it was that it was high enough to stand up straight.

Auntie and I got up. I immediately found that I could breathe better. Even though I raised a cloud of dust each time I moved my feet, it wasn't so bad up by my head. Maybe the dampness helped to hold the dust close to the floor.

Dense, however, was sneezing uncontrollably. Every sneeze raised more dust around him, and brought on another sneeze. I finally picked him up, which ended the sneezing fit; he made a grateful little organ-pipe noise and closed his eyes.

"Would you like me to take the flashlight, dear? You seem to have your hands full."

As we turned to start down the corridor, Auntie played the light over the walls. I realized they weren't uniformly gray -- they were blotched and streaked in lighter and darker shades of gray, with some brown stains here and there. A few feet from where we'd been sitting, there were some dark marks on the wall -- it looked like part of a large Iemy character. But most of it had been obliterated by a dark stain.

Auntie walked over to the stain and stared at it. "It looks like this wall was burned. I shouldn't think -- didn't think -- Isis, can anything burn the ship's walls?"

I had no idea.

A few feet farther down the corridor, the light vanished into a hole in the wall. As Auntie got closer to it, I saw that it was more like a pit than a hole. It was about a yard across, and about half a yard deep. The wall material looked crumbly in the pit. There were things like cables visible in it. It looked like they might have been embedded in the wall, and had been exposed when -- something -- made the pit. Two of them seemed to have been burned through, with their melted-looking ends hanging in the air.

This was the first time I'd seen anything on the Erfout Eetjney which looked like damage, or even wear -- save for the cracked dome, which had repaired itself in a few hours.

"This is creepy. Let's go; I really want to find a way out!" Auntie agreed with me, and we jogged down the corridor.

We had passed several more pits in the walls, when Auntie gave a shriek and fell forward. There was a hole a foot deep in the floor; she hadn't seen it under the dust.

As I helped her up (with one hand -- Dense was snoring softly on my other arm) I asked if she was OK. Her first response was a sneeze. Then she added, "The flashlight still works, and I've still got about 1 1/2 working ankles so I'll be fine, I suppose, but I don't suppose we should run any more in this dust."

As we continued, I saw what Auntie meant about her ankles -- she was limping. But there wasn't much we could do but continue on, and hope the passage would eventually lead to an exit.

A few yards farther, we found a gaping hole torn in the right hand wall. The flashlight beam revealed nothing in it -- just a ragged black mouth which swallowed the light.

And just a little farther, the corridor turned to the right -- and ended in a pile of debris.

The ceiling appeared to have been torn loose, leaving a deep gouge with the ends of cut cables dangling like black jellyfish tentacles. The corridor was jammed with more of the same -- irregular crumbling blocks of gray wall-stuff mixed with twisted black spaghetti.

"My, my" observed Auntie. "It looks like somebody didn't want somebody else to come down this corridor, shouldn't you say?"

"I don't know. But it sure looks like we're stuck here. What can we do?"

"Well I might suppose the somebody came down the corridor anyway, wouldn't you? So maybe we can go see where they were coming from."

"Huh?"

"The hole, dear! Let's see where it comes from!"



The hole torn in the wall was about three feet across. The wall here was about two feet thick, and the hole went clear through it. There was a blackened and cracked circle on the opposite wall of the corridor, the same size as the hole. Perhaps Auntie was right -- it looked like something terrible had come out of that hole! I shuddered.

"Do you think it's safe?"

"Of course, dear, unless one of trips and breaks a leg. Whatever happened here, it was a long, long, long time ago."

Auntie wriggled into the hole and vanished, leaving Dense and me in the dark, surrounded by the smell of stale dust. A long moment later, the bright eye of the flashlight reappeared in the hole, along with Auntie's voice. "Why don't you just pass me our bit of snoring baggage, dear, and then you can scramble on through, do you think?"

I handed her Dense, who made a soft complaining noise but didn't wake up. And then I crawled through the opening; the gray shards and broken cable ends weren't sharp enough to cut through my overalls. By the light of the flashlight which Auntie was holding, I could see that the dust-covered floor was no more than a couple feet below the hole. I came out head first, and sneezed.

"Now that I'm here, where are we?"

"Someplace large. More than that I cannot say."

Someplace large, dark, dusty, and dank, I thought to myself. A large room, perhaps a meeting hall?

We turned to the left, and walked along next to the wall.

After a few paces, we arrived at what must have been the main entrance to the room. We'd already seen it from the other side, and it was equally impassable from this side.

"What's this?" exclaimed Auntie a moment later. On the wall, a few yards to the side of the clogged doorway, there were some Iemy characters, which seemed to spell out "NOT MORE". Any following words were invisible, however, as the room's ceiling had collapsed here, and the remainder of the sentence, along with the wall, was buried in debris.

We had to turn away from the wall to get around the debris. As we moved out into the room, the floor sloped down, much as it did in the main conference room, where Captain Boots had announced the crew assignments shortly after our first launch. I suddenly realized that, to judge by the slope of the floor and the curve of the wall we'd followed, the room we were in must be quite a bit larger than the conference room.

"So what was this, anyway?" Auntie echoed my thoughts. "Town hall? It's not just a room, it's an amphitheater -- and how many cats were on this ship, anyway, back in the day? And what --" she broke off, abruptly, as we arrived at the "podium" in the middle of the room. It might once have been similar to the perch in the center of our conference room, but now it was just a stump. A couple feet above the floor, it was cut off. It looked partly burned, and partly melted.

A few feet to one side of the perch, there was a burnt-looking spot on the floor, and radiating away from it, up toward the area where the ceiling had collapsed, there was a wide groove in the floor. But as Auntie played the light along it, we saw that as the "groove" ran away from the center of the room, it deepened, until, where it vanished under the debris, it was a wide, deep ditch torn out of the material of the deck.

"Well goodness -- I shouldn't think..." Auntie trailed off. I felt the same way. But then she went on. "The Captain's descended directly from the first Captain, or so you said Felix said he said, didn't he?" She paused again. "So if that was the Captain's perch, I shouldn't think he shouldn't have left in a hurry before ... whatever ... shouldn't you?"

"I don't know. This is creeping me out -- let's go someplace else!"

"And I shouldn't think the ceiling wouldn't come down like that, unless ... what do you suppose ..." She was playing the light on the rubble, and on the burned spot on the floor at the start of the gouge.

"Let's go, Auntie! Please!"

Auntie finally left the remains of the podium. She led the way back up to the edge of the room, on the other side from the debris pile. The wall was pitted and burned, but between the craters that had been blown in it, we could see what looked like more lettering. Something had been written on the wall before the disaster.

"What's it say?" asked Auntie. I read what I could make out.

"This looks like 'home' -- and then I can't make this out -- and then this might be 'now'. So 'home something now'..." Nothing else was readable.

A little farther along we passed a low doorway, and then some much larger, neater text -- it might almost have been printed somehow, rather than hand lettered. But I could make out only one word: "Boots." The wall had been badly blasted all around it, and a number of cable ends were sticking out, like teeth from receding gums.

"I might suppose..." Auntie started, slowly.

"Auntie, I really want to get out of here!"

"Yes, dear. But this is disturbing..." I couldn't have agreed more. "One might guess the cats had an argument, a disagreement, maybe someone disagreed with the Captain, and maybe they said so ... and then the gloves came off..."

"Auntie, cats don't wear gloves."

"Perhaps they should, dear."



The area around the low doorway we had passed seemed less dusty than the other parts of the hall, and the thickest dust in the corridor behind it was near the walls, with a relatively clear path down the middle. This was lucky, because it was too low and cramped for me to carry Dense. If the dust had been as deep here as it was in the corridor where we came in, he'd have been in trouble, but after a stretch and a couple of sneezes he was OK with walking.

After exploring a couple of dead ends, we found ourselves in a steeply sloping corridor, going down to ... somewhere. The floor was hard and slick, and I was having trouble keeping from slipping into Auntie, who was leading the way.

Then Auntie gave a sudden yell, "Whoops! Careful, Isis -- it's steep!" and disappeared. A moment later I found myself on a steeper section of corridor, and started sliding after her.

But this time, the surprise at the end of the slope was a good one: The floor I landed on was warm, and slightly soft, and the room was lit -- I was so tired of crawling through dark tunnels! Even better, I didn't land on Auntie, who had moved aside before I popped out of the tunnel. But best of all, I knew where we were!

We were in what Dad calls Mammoth Cave. It's the biggest room I've ever seen, except for an indoor football stadium. The flat floor ran far off to the opposite wall, where there were a row of black rectangles that might have been windows. The whole cavernous space was empty, except for a bright orange something far over near a black spot in the wall which might have been an enormous door. I realized that the orange something in the distance was Aftershock.

To be continued...


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Page created on 2 June 2014 from text written a couple years earlier