Previously in Doc Passion and the Floating City, Doc and his assistant Brunt set out to disable the power source of Elysia. The floating city is powered by the imaginative power of children! The pair must disable four processing stations before shutting down the main CPU and then freeing the children from the power core. Thus far, they have succeeded in destroying one processing station…
The next terrace down presented a desert. Layers of compressed air hung above to act as a magnifying glass, heating up the air to intolerable levels. Doc started sneezing immediately. Brunt tried offering some sub-nasal anti-histamine gauze, but Doc waved it off. “I hate those things.”
“Doc, you invented them.”
“I do not like everything I invented.”
Brunt shrugged and stuffed some of the dissolving film up his nose. He breathed deeply as his sinuses opened up. “Is that an oasis up there? Man, Elysia has everything!”
Doc squinted into the distance. “No. I suspect it is a mirage. Do you see the way it’s shimmering?”
“Well, I guess I can say it again: Elysia thought of everything! There was supposed to be all sorts of animal life in this place, though. I’m not seeing much more than rocky sand.” Brunt kicked at the loose pebbles. “Is it just me, or is the mirage getting closer?”
Doc never stopped squinting. “The effect does seem to be drawing near, yes.”
“Your specs still recording?”
“I suppose I should activate the function again.”
They kept trudging through the pebbles. The air burned their arms. The artificial sun beat down on them. Brunt kept breathing deeply. “I never smelled a desert like this before.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know how most deserts smell like something burning? Like the Glassgrain Plains? Remember that? Or it smells like dust, like what we crossed on the way to the Necropolis Empire? But here, I can smell… I don’t know. Wet. Like we’re just one rise away from the sea.”
“Perhaps the odor of the next terrace down is infiltrating this habitat,” Doc postulated. “Or perhaps your mirage has arrived.”
The shimmery air stood before them. Brunt could make out the border in the sand, like a wall of interference. The assistant breathed deeply. “Yep. That’s the smell. Right there. We found the culprit.” He glanced up and down the line. “Looks like the only way through is through. I’m not so sure I want to wander into a mirage, though. Sounds dangerous to me.”
“I concur. Yet, it appears we have no choice. We must move quickly if we’re to disable the next data-pod.” Doc glanced over. “I will lead.”
“So I can save you?”
“That is what I pay you for.”
“Let’s be honest. You never pay me.”
“The check is in the mail.” Doc stepped through the wall. “It is far more humid on this side, as if a gravity grid regulated the atmosphere. It’s almost hard to breathe. Hm.” Doc floated off his feet. “I did not feel a change in the gravity, but apparently there are irregular effects in play.”
“You want me to keep watching, Doc, or are you ready for a rescue?”
“You ask a good question. Keep observing for now. Is it thirsty in here?”
“We’re in a desert. Of course it’s thirsty in here.” Brunt swallowed.
“My skin is noticeably dry. My lips are chapped and my fingers are beginning to crack.” He coughed. “Yes. My body is reacting as if the air is sucking all the moisture out of me.”
Brunt backed up a few steps, craning his neck to look around at the wall of humidity. “Yeah, Doc, I think I figured out why. Remember how there’s supposed to be all sorts of animals on the terraces? I’m pretty sure you’re inside of one.”
“Fascinating. A creature designed to appear like a mirage, to convince animals to enter so it can take their water. An ingenious adaptation, if I do say so myself.”
“Doc, how long can you hang in there while it absorbs you?”
“At the moment? A few minutes, perhaps half an hour, if absorption continues at the current rate.”
“Doc, that’s hardly standard peril for you. Step it up a bit.”
The sand at Brunt’s feet erupted. Red claws snapped at his toes as he scrambled back. Out of a hidden pit crawled what appeared to be large alligators with huge lobster-claws grafted onto the sides of their bodies.
“Brunt, there is a reason I don’t pay you to speak.”
“Come on, it’s always like this. All right. I’ll play with the lobstagators for a little until you’re almost dead and then figure a way to get you out. Deal?”
“I await your rescue.”
Brunt jogged twenty meters back before turning to see if he was being chased. “Huh.” The lobstagators waited at the edge of the humidity monster. Brunt shrugged. Humidor looked to only be interested in absorbing liquid; it probably dumped the bodies, and the lobstagators would have a nice free meal. Far less stressful than chasing someone in the desert sun.
All right. Time to get to work. Brunt had a suspicion; it was time to see if it was true. He strolled to the edge of the terrace. A large sandy wall blocked his way, and above he could see the jungle they had passed through to get here. He dug his hands into the rocky soil, firmed up his handhold, and began climbing upward. The top of the cliff lay a scant four meters above his head; he should be able to reach it soon.
Rocky handhold after careful foothold soon led him to the top. Brunt scanned the ledge to see what he could find.
It was cleverly disguised, but he saw it. A small, telltale blinking pale light winked through the dirt.
Brunt hauled himself up and through the gravity field that separated the jungle above from the desert below and got to work. He should have thought of this before; it would certainly help speed things up.
Carefully, ever so carefully, he excavated around the blinking light until he unburied the gravity grid. Long and thin, like a sheet of metal, he slid it from its hiding place. He opened one of the tesseract doors, the portal to the universe that provided the gravity that the grid emitted in this plane of existence. If he could just switch the frequency –
Brunt slid the flat sheet out over the edge of the cliff. It floated. Brunt’s lips curled up into a grin. “I always wanted a flying carpet.” He hopped on and knelt over the interface. “Piece of cake.” He glided along the wall and excavated three more of the grids, setting them around him in an array of flying metal sheets. “On Dasher, on Donner!” Brunt laughed as he led his herd of shiny metal, skimming three meters off the desert floor back toward the monster conference.
The lobstagators waited patiently, their eyes watching Doc. Meanwhile Humidor had continued to absorb his moisture. He breathed lightly.
Brunt calibrated the controls again. His magic carpet sliced through the air, rocketing toward Doc. The sled trembled ever so slightly. The assistant stood, his arms out for balance.
They broke through Humidor’s shimmery skin. Brunt felt the blast of humidity, almost too thick to breathe. He caught Doc around the waist and settled down onto the metal, shielding himself from the wind as best he could. A second later, and the air cleared and all was well. Cradling Doc’s form, Brunt asked, “How you doing?”
“I am parched,” Doc responded, licking his lips. “What are we on?”
“I stole a few gravity grids. I got an idea. Come on.” Brunt slid him down onto the metal. “We got a shortcut now.”
As Doc lay in the breeze, he revived enough to sit up. “I see. This is an ingenious application of gravity grid technology. I notice that by the vibrations in the panel, it wasn’t designed for mobile use. Where did you find so many grids?”
“At the border of the terraces. Seemed pretty simple. None of the other pleasure-spikes have them, since they don’t have to regulate climate like this place does. Look.” Brunt pointed as they flew over the edge of the desert terrace and into the frigid air of a polar environment. “This terrace is pretty narrow by the look of things,” he chattered. “Should be through in no time.
They flew past satyrs bundled in sweaters and Bengal tigers roaring their displeasure. Then, they glided out of the frigid air and into a pleasant habitat.
“Brunt, have you noticed the trees?” Doc queried as he ducked below a thick branch that hurtled by.
“Yeah, yeah, let me calibrate this.” Brunt hit his controls, slowing down their escapade. “We’re on the last level, though. Should be able to land and take out the last data pod. Even with your various hold-ups, I think we’re ahead of schedule, don’t you?”
Doc nodded. “This is ingenious, your repurposing of the gravity grids as a means of transportation within a space station. I suspect you may be the smarter than I previously surmised!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Doc. You pay me for muscles and rescues, not thinking,” Brunt muttered.
He navigated around the trees, setting down at last in a broad clearing. Climbing cats peered at them from verdant trees but left them alone for the moment. Doc hopped off the sled as it came to a stop. “So, now we simply need to dig down the two and a half meters to the pod to disable it.”
“Doc, you’re not thinking.”
Doc spun to evaluate his assistant’s words. When he saw Brunt gesture to the extra sleds, Doc smiled. “It appears you were correct. I did not take into account the tools available to me. Shall we?”
With minimal effort, the two of them set a timer on one of the extra sleds. “Thirty seconds enough?” Brunt asked.
“I do believe so. Shall we?”
Brunt pressed the “execute” button and sat on their primary transportation gravity grid. “Yoiks and away!”
They rose in the air, high above the trees, higher than the polar region, the desert, the jungle. Level again with the observation deck and the exits from this pleasure-spike, they reangled the sled and shot toward an egress.
Below, the sled left behind trembled as the tesserect within the grid recalibrated to a black hole. The trees bent toward the sudden gravity well. The grass tore up and shot into the sled. The ground tore up. A certain data pod flung itself upward, contracting into a tiny ball before passing through a small open doorway.
Before any harm came to the structure of the pleasure-spike, the grid imploded, shutting off the doorway.
Two pods down, two to go.
Doc Passion continues his adventure here!