T W E N T Y - T H R E E





2 3 9 2

7 Vent and Rip

After Pieter's stomach problem was satisfactorily dealt with, the professor decided it was time his assistant try his own hand at the controls of the balloon as a necessary step toward solving the Earth's rotational problem. He had deepening suspicions about the galaxies as well, those closest to Earth’s Milky Way, but he had to settle the question of Earth first. To introduce his somewhat reluctant fledgling to the realities of ballooning, he took him to the deep interior of the country, to the wilds of the high Brabants once the snows had melted away sufficiently to get in.

By this time Denver, despite the enormous, world-class dome, was only a tired and very dusty village of less than five hundred people. Hired nags took them and their gear to a launching site on a peak ominously called Merryweather's Downfall. They arrived at the "launch field", a wide but rock-studded plat of mountain meadow, in the early morning.

Pieter soon found there was nothing particular merry about the local climate. As if distracted by more important things on his mind, the professor, despite some warning blasts, did not seem to notice the wind. They continued preparations while Pieter kept looking about, a crease of concern deepening in his forehead. Working hard with big draught horses, at last the balloon was laid out. They began the long process of heating the air for inflation as Pieter hauled on the crown line attached to the top of the 80-foot envelope. Staked to the ground, the balloon, after several hours, plumped out and showed its bright colors against a gusty, light blue sky that was getting lighter blue all the time. It was now late afternoon of that day in late spring. Pieter was not exactly happy when the professor, normally quite cautious about such things, decided to go for it.

Feeling something like lead sink in his heart, he quit biting his nails and hurried to get the balloon aloft as ordered. Towering higher than many a building in New Amsterdam, the balloon soon dispelled his misgivings. Even a plain Dutch boy was captivated by the sheer beauty of something so colorful straining to fly free of all lines and anchors.

The professor, taking a string and securing his straw hat which had blown off the moment before, hopped in the wicker gondola. Pieter was last to get in, dragging his feet as if he couldn’t leave terra firma without a decent struggle. Without waiting, the balloon lifted off, following the breeze.

As the earth grew smaller to their eyes, the professor turned his attention to his instruments. He began furiously checking results and findings in his notebook. Meanwhile, Pieter, to gain altitude, pulled the lanyard attached to the burner valve. Flames erupted from the gas line into the balloon's mouth, and they rose ever higher.

Dr. Pikkard, between "burns," explained to Pieter the use of the fuel gauges, the variometer registering rise or fall, and their rate. Since they were new and thus highly susceptible to the English disease, a box of spare parts was essential gear on board, and the parts were a very odd assortment. A temperature gauge had lost its dial, so Dr. Pikkard had fixed a tinpot whistle which could alert Pieter when it was time to turn the burner on or off.

Dr. Pikkard slapped Pieter on the back. “Well, my boy, that’s all there’s to it. See how simple it is? That’s why I favor the balloon over the aeroplane, for it takes much less manual control or constant surveillance of the instruments, freeing me to do my observations.”

Flying along in the high Rockies with nothing but an eagle or two as companions, Pieter and the professor were minding their ballooning when, after an hour, the breeze increased to a definite red flag.

Pieter glanced with meaning at the professor, who caught the glance and did not look straight back down to his computations. They both knew that if they did not want to be blown straight to China, it was time to call it a day and spend the night in the basket on the ground. Holding his hat to his head, the professor ordered Pieter to take her down. Letting the temperature drop, the balloon went with it, and soon the professor spotted a spot between peaks. It wasn't much of a landing field, Pieter saw at once. Huge rocks jutted out on which they could come to grief in an instant. It would take an expert to slip through them to the little level ground just beyond.

"Yes! I see them plainly, my boy!" shouted the professor. He gave Pieter a reassuring slap on his shoulders. "Seeing the problem is half the solution! And I've been in far worse pickles."

Pieter closed his eyes, muttering something between a curse or a prayer. "Watch your young head!" laughed the professor, it seemed a bit nervously, as they swung crazily toward the two monoliths. "Their names are most quaint. That charmer with big white teeth is, according to my ballooning map, called Jack the Ripper," he said pointing to the right. "And the other is called Mae Van West, possibly an allusion to the ship-swallowing maelstrom of ancient Dutch mythology. But to rip us to pieces, they'll first have to catch their prey!"

"And Anne could hardly hold her horses, wanting to come along with us!" Pieter swore beneath his breath as they careened straight at the first balloon-gobbling rock. “She could have my place, if I had anything to say!”

Winds swirling with a roar and high-pitched screeches changed their direction. The balloon swept rapidly away from the looming Jack, but next threatened to pound them to pieces on the equally horrid Mae. The balloon-o-nauts were holding as hard as they could to leather grips inside the gondola when they hit the Mae, or, rather, she walloped them. Tumbling along the rock face of the monolithic rock, the fabric also caught on an outcropping--and Pieter's heart froze. A badly torn balloon would dump them, just beyond the meadow's edge, into a two thousand foot deep chasm.

Somehow they slipped off Mae without major damage. They were still alive! All they sustained was a bad fright as they drifted beyond the two killers to a landing.

"Well, I guess we'll spend the night here," remarked the professor breezily as they prepared for immediate landing in the meadow. For the master balloonist, brushes with destruction were all in a day's work. He went to replace his hat, then, testing the wind, decided against it and let his hair blow free. They were very low by now. The ground came up rough and mean toward the gondola. In fact, never had innocent, sweet wildflowers looked so menacing, so lethal Pieter, at a glance, saw they were not quite out of harm's way after all, and Mae must have thrown a backhanded curse.

The moment the gondola touched earth, plowing into rocks and alpine flowers, the jolting threw them both so violently Dr. Pikkard, his hat, pencil and notebook sailing with him, was flipped and thrown past Pieter out on the ground. Sliding and plowing along, the pitching gondola tried to throw Pieter too, but a stubborn Dutch streak wasn't about to let anything do that to him. He might break his neck or, worse, what remained of his legs, he thought. He hung on for dear life, uprooted wildflowers and dirt striking his face and getting in his mouth and eyes. The balloon and basket continued toward the edge of the meadow and the abyss. Dr. Pikkard, his teardrop glasses hanging from one ear, got up dazedly, shouted and started to run after it. A moment or two later the surprised and sputtering Pieter sailed free over the cliff. He was alone in the sky, gazing back down at the receding face of his employer.

"You're really in no danger, my boy! Just do what I taught you!" Dr. Pikkard called with all his lung power, just before Pieter passed from earshot. "Be sure and pull the vent line, not the--"

Half-blinded with a mass of dirt and flowers on his head, Pieter was in no condition at first to follow any instructions. Giving his head a furious shake, he got rid of the worst and was able to see again. The scene took his breath away. He looked out at peak after peak, thousands of them, from his eagle's aerie. At first his view was so stunning he almost forgot the real "pickle" the professor had put him in.

Without a sound, the balloon raced through the sky toward the tallest of the balloon-crunchers. The sight was so beautiful, Pieter was given the impression he could come to no harm, but as he gained on the peaks the impression died away to another, which was just the opposite--he was sure to come to harm!His hand steady on the blast valve, he waited and then shot a 12-foot flame into the balloon. She barely and agonizingly cleared the ugliest of the brutes that poked at him like a mad barber brandishing drawn razors at a non-paying customer.

Beyond lay vast meadows again, slopes of a colossus of unknown name. There he hoped to find his way safely to ground, if he could pitch into the right valley or mountain meadow. But no such luck! He was going too fast and sailed right by. The dying light threw a reddish glory against the next peaks where he hoped a landing-field could be found. The first peak came up fast, and Pieter had to think fast as he readied the balloon for "descent."

This time he pulled what he believed was the vent line when he saw what he thought fairly level ground flying toward him. Not knowing it was really the rip cord, he sent the balloon plummeting. It fell so fast that Pieter did not have time to realize his mistake. The gondola dropped like a stone, fabric whirling sickeningly like sodden laundry tangled up in clotheslines. It was the worst jam Pieter had been in since his tangle with the mill's drive shaft. Down he fell, then stopped with a jolt that made him bite his tongue. Caught on a rock that jutted out over the "landing-field"--actually a series of New Amsterdam-sized crevasses which could have swallowed him more times than he could count--the balloon held.

But for how long? The hapless balloon-o-naut swung in the breeze among the curious eagles and hawks, praying the balloon skin would hold until Dr. Pikkard could reach him with a rope.

Pieter still had no idea what had gone wrong. He went through the landing procedures in his mind. Since he had hours to think about his actions, he slowly realized he was at fault. He had pulled rip, not vent. Then he did a strange thing. The moment he faced the inescapable conclusion, he put the mistake out of mind as though he had never made it--which was odd considering how he could not forget when it was someone else's.

The next day, after the successful rescue, Pieter felt his muscles had turned to rubber and he tottered about like an old man. His tongue was also so sore it would be several days before the swelling would go down and he could eat normally. Dr. Pikkard's ballooning feat made the headlines of several Rocky Mountain newspapers still extant in the declining region of mostly ghost cities and towns. With his picture and reputation for daring exploits, it made good copy, and editions sold out.

The balloon was soon repaired. The damage was, despite the hair-raising and tongue-biting experience Pieter received, surprisingly minimal. On their way again, they had no more trouble. At over 11,000 feet, floating above the mountains of North Brabant westward toward Reno, Pieter, swathed in blankets, had the best view of anyone on Earth. Dr. Pikkard, his straw boater tied to his head, used various instruments and then took copious notes with a pencil frosted white with his breath.

Every chance he had, he was attempting to determine if the planet's rotation had begun to speed up again--or, on the other hand, had it slowed? It was a very sensitive subject for him, since he guessed but had not been able to prove that the stabilization was only temporary and that it could go either way at any time.

"What is that bright light over there? Is it a star or comet?" Pieter asked, forgetting he should not interrupt the professor at his calculations. “And that dark streak, what is that?”

The professor looked up somewhat irritably from his frosty calculations and glanced briefly at the two spots where Pieter was pointing. "I don't know. And I don't have time right now to look it up in my star charts. Maybe later when I finish with this, if you don't mind!

Pieter continued to look at the light, which had grown somewhat in size while he was observing it. As it didn't seem to change size any more, he lost interest after a while and went to looking at other parts of the heavens for his old favorite among the constellations--the Prow of Argo.

8 The Perfect Getaway

The question of the Earth's rotation bearing hard on his brain, the professor never did find time for getting out his star charts for Pieter and the strange light went uninvestigated. For on the way to Reno the professor turned abruptly to his assistant, who still seemed not to be getting one very important point. "So you don't think our society and world have declined dysgenically, do you? How about it if I prove once and for all that you are dead wrong? Of course, we need five pieces of evidence to do that, but I think I can handily show you two."

To keep his word the professor put them down in the Rockies, at a point where the glaciers had not yet reached. First they toured the site of the Will Rogers temple. What remained after the bitterly-contested Anglo-Dutch wars left much to the imagination.

"My boy, take note of the fact that everything before we Dutch civilized the American continent is termed ‘Pre-Hollandian,’ for scholarly convenience. That, also note, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a high degree of culture in some of the inhabited spots. Here in this place, this particular culture must have been widespread, for there were three of these Rogers shrines in Ancient Pre-Hollandian North America," the professor said, his annoyance showing at the desolation of the scene. "The other two are down to the foundations. This is the last one to check out. It should have some of the machines--computers--the ancient culture used to do even ordinary bookkeeping and accounting."

But there was precious little to check--and no sign of any "computer." In the previous century a few die-hard British units, mostly secret service agents of a London firm, had used it as a fortified citadel after the Dutch, led by the stadholder and lady general Bosboom-Touissant, had already taken both coasts, as well as a slice of the Southwest and portions of the Midwest. Since requisitioned museum tanks could not negotiate the steep mountain slopes at the base of the tower, they stalled and then were taken out, one after the other, by enemy fire from the tower. Meanwhile, Dutch sappers undermined the bedrock beneath the memorial. Down it came, trapping and wiping out the Redcoats.

The operation was so conclusive that Dr. Pikkard, examining the site, could find no evidence of their ever being any technology beyond the Cave Man's. All the items inside of Pre-Hollandian America's greatest philosopher and thinker had been destroyed. Here in the relatively remote Rockies of the Brabants, Dr. Pikkard had reasonably expected something to disprove Pieter's prejudice. After a difficult walking-tour of the tank-littered grounds and the ruins of the tower, Dr. Pikkard headed for the balloon without a word.

There was little said on the trip to the next proof--the city of Norad, one of the region's many Pre-Hollandian ghost cities (agrarian cities of the plains, such as Eudora, state of "Kansas," furnishing little such hope of producing anything worth his visit!), only this was built entirely underground.

Eudora, Kansas

Rather than on the plains, it was in the fortresses of the high mountains wherethe professor still hoped to find a computer which would back up his theory.

Explaining the strange, archaic mechanism to Pieter in terms he might understand, the professor led the way to the mountainside site to see if they might find an entrance to the dead 20th century city. But Norad had experienced an earthquake, and the entrance had half a mountain squatting on it. Something of a geologist, the professor was immediately interested. He scrambled about the house-sized rocks that had come down, rolled there apparently by giants just to keep them out of Norad.

When Pieter was sitting and eating lunch from the lunchbasket in the balloon, the professor came back, gasping in the high altitude, his straw boater tilted back precariously. "Eureka! I found what I was looking for. It's the fault-line. I can't believe it! They built the whole underground city along a clearly visible faultline running directly into the mountain."

Then his expression darkened a shade as he realized what he was saying. He shook his head. "You're still quite, demonstrably wrong, my boy, though the locations where I expected to turn up prime evidence have sadly failed me! I see I am mistaken about Norad too. Their building on a fault-line is definite proof that the preceding Pre-Hollandian American culture could commit stupendous blunders on occasion, even with their possession of the rather ingenious contraption called a computer!"

The professor sighed and shook his head again. He looked very disappointed. He removed his hat and wiped his forehead. "Mustn’t cry over spilt milk! We might as well get the balloon up and head for Reno!"

They flew to Reno, New Limburg, and landed without a hitch. Reno with all its glitter and grease-burger carnival atmosphere was of no scientific interest to the professor, of course, but it had a rail link. It was time to turn round and head back to New Amsterdam. Pieter had passed his course in ballooning--that is, he had lived through it and was now very much alive to its truly life-threatening potential.

The "blasted balloon" stowed in a hired baggage car of an outbound train, they found some time on their hands. The train wasn't scheduled to leave for four hours. The professor shrugged at the news and muttered something under his breath.

Surprised, Pieter followed Dr. Pikkard into a casino close by the depot. He entered a dim but garishly lit world beyond his imagination. Dutch and English interests, though principally Clarke Enterprises of London, had cannibalized old ruins and rebuilt a tumbleweed-littered ghost town Reno into something approaching old Pre-Hollandian splendor

To a plain-living Dutch youth, the Royal Wilhelmina had fulfilled his highest expectation of wealth, luxury, beauty. Now it appeared a small and shabby thing. Modeled on what an ancient poet had described as a "stately pleasure dome" of Kubla Khan, everywhere under sparkling, crystalline heights, the so-called "Xanadoo Pleasure Palace" was an immense circus that stretched level on level, some square, others in the round, filled with people, gambling tables, and exotic sights.

The building was immense, a Cyclops swallowing thousands. Reno was like no other place in Holland America. Not even Atlantic City could approach it. And New Amsterdam, on the busiest day, was a New Alkmaar in comparison. Yet Dr. Pikkard acted like he had seen it all before and knew where he was going, while Pieter, with his eyes bulging and his face flushed, kept bumping into people as he gaped at every new Jack Dutch thing.

Pools of fish, only the "fish" were sequined showgirls made up to look like mermaids. "A Kiss for Good Luck--$20--ONE PER CUSTOMER, MANAGEMENT RESERVES RIGHT TO DENY ANY PATRON" a sign said. They waved to Dr. Pikkard and Pieter as they passed, beckoning them with jeweled arms and glittering-nailed fingers. Acrobatic displays, right over the gaming tables. Stages set here and there, with full chorus lines, and voluptuous torch singers looking like Betti Bangles in white clinging gowns bent over grand pianos. For Pieter it was absolutely horrible, every bit of it.

The professor led the amazed and mortified Pieter through the maze and finally settled on a particular roulette table. It was the only one that was not surrounded on all sides by exotic shows of all types. "Ah! this is better, for I need to concentrate if I am to remember every detail of my perfect system," the professor confided with his usual humility to Pieter in a whisper.

The professor kept his "Coney" but removed his coat, rolled back his sleeves, and having already bought chips colored blue got to work. An hour later, before a tremendous crowd of spectators drawn from all parts of Xanadoo and even from adjoining casinos, "Professor Blue Chips" broke the bank.

Even the mermaids and sirens had forsaken their profitable coin-collecting pools

Later, their rifle-toting Pinkerton bodyguards paid off and dismissed, it was a pleasant train ride back to New Amsterdam, civilization, and Anne--all on solid ground. Only once they could have been in real danger when they were attacked by what looked like a White Indian gang using a museum army vehicle with an anti-tank laser gun from the 21st Century. They might have been blown off the tracks and incinerated, but the gang never did get the gun to fire and the train got to a tunnel and escaped.

The would-be train robbers must have jogged the professor's memory of his recent haul he had taken at the Xanadoo. He thanked Pieter for his help in disposing equal, Dutch shares of the money since, as he said, it was a delicate and dangerous undertaking in so wretchedly poor and desperate a community. On leaving the casino, after hiring a few Pinkertons for temporary duty, Dr. Pikkard had distributed largess to paperboys, shoeshinemen, flower sellers, street walkers, and plain down-and-out gambling addicts in the casino's vicinity--just anyone with visible need of cash, in fact.

Then they had gone to the sole charity in town. The Poor Clares of St. Thomas, ministering to the sick and poor in the shanties behind the casinos and the glare of neon, received the last half of the money-- $500,000 in Dutch gold pieces. Mary Constantinopolis, the brave mother superior, took the money with many blessings, saying she had prayed for that exact amount to come in so that she might establish branch Clares among the now “Imperial” Aztekan Indians, answering a call to minister to the downtrodden, persecuted mestizos and Spanish-blooded classes. All this time Pieter’s face looked a picture of shock and disgtust. Dr. Pikkard winked at Pieter after they had settled into the train. “I know what you’ve been thinking about me!”

He looked down the coach to see if the coast was clear enough for what he needed to say to the scandalized youth.

"I wasn't ever going to use my system again," he explained. "Gambling is a vice that no longer has a grip on me, thank God. But it was not always so. You see, as a young man like you I was determined to make my fortune. With an inkblot memory I could absorb everything every devised by the mind of man to gain my objective. An English liner sank with my parents aboard. The estate was settled on me, with an attorney in his dotage to look after it and me. I was fourteen and, wanting to learn something of the middle provinces, I left New Am and applied at the University of Antwerp. They turned me down, saying I was too young to matriculate. Absolute poppycock! I then challenged the curriculum, saying I would take all the tests for my degree if they wouldn't take me as a student immediately. I was so impatient in those days to 'get ahead.' Though it was against their own bylaws, the regents refused me again. New Amsterdam had already done the same to me. Where was I to turn. I didn't want to trek to Europe to look for a school there, so I decided I would spend the time instead giving Reno a run for its money."

The professor shook his head and smiled. "Fortunately, on the train to Reno an old man had a chance to talk me out of it. He was a priest, belonging to the "Brotherhood of St. Thomasos," as the saint is called in the southern hemisphere, and he said he was returning from a visit to his ailing sister in New Amsterdam. I argued and argued, but he got the best of me by saying that everyone has one true destiny, and just getting rich and famous was not worth obtaining if it meant losing true fulfillment and happiness. ‘You can win the whole world, son, and lose your fare on the old Glory Train!’ he said to me. How could I say he did not know what he was talking about.

Lose my seat on the ‘Heaven-Bound Train’? That didn’t sound like something I really wanted to do. At fourteen, I realized I had a lot to learn about life. If I had only known how much!

Hearing this, Pieter lost interest in the Old West scenery and gazed at his employer with new eyes. It seemed, momentarily at least, that Dr. Pikkard was, in some way, a brother or twin, with as good a heart as any plain Dutch boy could boast. Only he, unlike his employer, had a gristmill in his background, which to his mind was something far worse than being turned down by a university. And the professor had revealed that he was a gambler, his hands soiled with filthy lucre!

Dr. Pikkard sighed, folding his money-contaminated hands on his belly. He put his feet up on the footrest in front of him in the more than generous leg-room provided.

"Only when something no longer stands to benefit you, you can probably do it without getting stained. That is just a little wisdom for you. But so far I haven't told you the reason for our breaking the bank. We were being followed, dear boy. I had to create a genuinely BIG diversion for them so we could safely get away. And was it not big enough?"

Pieter's eyes were bigger than they had been at the fabulous Xanadoo as he stared at Dr. Pikkard. What did he mean they were followed? Who was following them? He glanced too hastily around. But all appeared train passengers like themselves--though many looked discouraged as if they had been busted by the casinos of Reno.

Pieter would have liked to ask questions about it, but the winner of a million-dollar pot shut his eyes to take a nap. The professor muttered a few more words just before he dropped off. "We're here safe and sound, aren't we? So it must have worked. And it provided the perfect justification for the Pinkertons. I never could have hired guards just for our safe passage without letting 'them' know I was on to 'them'."

A conductor brought papers to the passengers. Dr. Pikkard spied his own picture and story on the cover. It covered his amazing escape from a cliff in the Rockies, completely changing the events in which Pieter had primarily figured.

Dr. Pikkard shook his head when reading the report. He turned to Pieter, who normally never cared that someone else got the 'glory.' This time, however, he was very upset, but kept it to himself. "How those reporters like to change facts to suit their story angle! But nice pickle that was I got you into! If this will comfort you, my boy, the value of such training flights cannot be reckoned. At least now you know the difference between vent and rip!"

"Yes, Meinheer." Pieter said nothing more as he looked out on mesquite and yucca and then more mesquite and yucca. The professor, after opening his box of memories, returned to doing his dull primes. The train route began to drop in elevation as they entered the Great Plains and Pieter's expression turned glum. Despite some horrifying experiences, he was already feeling sorry they were heading back. Instead of thinking how nice it was to enjoy the good lunches Anne ordered up from the Wilhelmina's kitchens, he thought how wonderful it was to get away for a while from primes and cats and gamesets! As for Anne, he naturally felt sorry for her too, only for a different reason.

9 ”A River Flowed Out of Eden...”

Whether or not the rotation of the Earth and social decline had anything to do with it, the balloon, while being unloaded at New Amsterdam, was somehow ruined. A fire started in the highly flammable fabric which was impossible to stop. It was soon a mound of very expensive ash. With time on their hands while a new balloon was being outfitted for flight, the professor took Pieter down in a diving bell, just to introduce him to the experience--so the professor said with more than his usual abruptness.

The LADY ANNE, a tribute to the professor's jaguar-slaying niece, was a very seaworthy, titanium-hulled bathysphere, or bathyscaph, built to plumb the depths. Discovered and pulled from thick woods at Van Naghead, it was cleaned and scrubbed and the unneeded exterior features removed. Some lettering, “NAG--” and “Minn” were also removed and the new name painted on by the bathysphere’s namesake herself.

As Anne herself hated submersion, she hadn't insisted very much about going along before Pieter became an assistant. Now she had a complete change of attitude.

On their way, Dr. Pikkard described the remarkable bathyscaph which the ancients of the land had built and discarded for unknown reasons many years before. He said it was only speculation, but perhaps it was found too small for the ancient Americans, whose bones showed that they had stood at least a head taller than the average Holland American.

Overhauled, it was his submersible deepsea vessel for research on the sea bottom. The cabin was small, spherical, and pressurized, suspended beneath a cigar-shaped flotation hull that the professor had designed. Henri de Tagus would fill the tanks in the hull with gasoline, leaving some space for air to keep the bathyscaph buoyant before diving. All they needed to take her down was to vent the air and let seawater takes its place. The seawater entered from the bottom, mixing with the gasoline and compressing it, thus giving more and more weight to the descending craft. Their descent rate was controlled by releasing iron ballast. To reverse the process and ascend, the professor explained how all they needed to do was release the remaining iron ballast. As the vessel ascended, the gasoline would expand, forcing out the seawater and thus lightening the bathyscaph further. Beneath the surface, they could use battery-powered motors to move about, and the craft was equipped with powerful floodlights.

Oceanus Atlanticus, the object of Pieter's "matriculation in the Technical College of Oceanography," had an average depth of nearly 5,000 feet and was black as coal. So the professor told him. Even though Pieter saw at once, looking at the bathyscaph, that it was a work of genius, the deep-sea neophyte had to wonder if she (and they) would survive the plunge. He was quite concerned until the professor gave him various Euclidean calculations governing the construction, and only then was he assured.

After Henri Tagus's surface support ship carried the bathysphere out to the diving site, once in the water, they were virtually on their own. The boat captain, a titled but impoverished Portuguese immigrant, had to work hard for a living. Somehow he had scraped up enough for a boat. Reliable and always ready to serve the professor's bathyscaphing "whims," as he saw them, he proved old-fashioned and slightly superstitious in ways and wouldn't let Anne or any female (human or animal) set foot on his deck, saying the ship would be forever jinxed.

"I might as well shoot every holy albatross on sight!" he declared to all when she had attempted to board back at New Amsterdam. "We'll be doomed, I tell you!"

"I'm going down, aren't I, Oom?" Anne insisted. "I won't make a peep while you work, I promise, the whole time!"

"Women belong in the home, to cook and scrub and mind children!" demanded an equally determined skipper.

"NO!" responded the outraged Anne. "Don't listen to this sardine-gulping fool!"

Only her uncle's presence saved the captain, stout man that he was, from the wrath of the professor's jaguar-slaying niece. And he had a way of explaining, too, that mollified Anne and kept her out of Henri Tagus's salty locks.

After a quiet talk with her, Anne stomped away. "All right, I'll go! I'll go!" she cried with terribly unladylike and childish ill grace over her back. "But, Oom, you owe me something big for this favor! You can't get off just by naming the damn thing after me!"

The beginning was routine and pleasantly anti-climactic to Pieter. He had feared more drama and life-threatening situations to develop in the initial plunge after Anne's fireworks. But very little happened. Pieter gazed out through the floodlit viewport hour after hour as they made their descent to the sea floor. Others may have rhapsodized about the sensation of falling through “stars” and zones of deepening color from light blue to black, but Pieter could see nothing particularly charming.

In fact, he saw precious little in the Atlantic to recommend it. Reminding him of stretches of New Alkmaar, all he viewed were vistas of gray mud called the Globigerina Ooze. The sloping muck was replaced at 3,000 feet by a more interesting red clay of meteoric and volcanic origin. At least the professor thought it of interest. Reaching bottom in mid-ocean, 3,432 feet down, they made their first great discovery.

And it was truly great, for it was something absolutely new and unknown.

They saw the Abyss venting hot rivers from out of a central seam or volcanic rift, which was spreading outwards, pushing out glowing material, as they looked at it. It had put out so much material it had filled what looked to be a canyon of vast dimensions set with two seamounts in the center. At this point Pieter began to scan things through the view port with revived interest. Dr. Pikkard rapidly scribbled on his big clipboard notepad, flipping page after page. “According to an old map this site is supposed to be 8,300 feet down,” the professor commented. “Their calculations were off 4, 868 feet, which shows the ancients were not very good at mathematics.”

Pieter got his eyes full of the strangeness of the deep--creatures of all kinds flourishing in the sea-warming, highly mineralized water. The amount of life was astounding. He had expected to see nothing more than mud, mud, mud. Where there would normally have been no life at all, a spider crab ten or more feet across. Massed millions of tube-dwelling worms eight or nine feet long. Flowerlike sea anemones. Eels. Hatchetfish. Monster rat-tailed fish. A wrass the size of a truck. Mounds from which tentacles could be seen protruding, disappearing quickly on their approach. Luminous rings as large as the bathysphere which turned out to be the open mouths of unknown shark species.

Not only were huge colonies of foot-long deepwater clams thriving in the heated, rich mineral waters, but the whole planet, Dr. Pikkard observed, was being warmed by at least four underwater Amazons springing from Earth's hot exposed core. One river was at that moment sending the Lady Anne hurtling across the ocean floor at 25 knots. Dr. Pikkard had an inspiration. He decided to name the river on the spot, appropriately while in transit and not back in his office-suite in New Amsterdam.

Fortunately, Dr. Pikkard never went anywhere without three items: his straw boater, his wingless and very spoiled sparrow, and a library of scholarly and theological books. Since even with his glasses he had trouble with fine print, so he tossed an English translation of the Bible to Pieter--one of the few still in existence. "Use my decoder, a little invention of mine from college days. Works for languages of most any kind and even English, the most illogical of them all."

Pieter held the ingenious instrument over the text, and though he had never used it before it worked without his having to know a thing about it. Recorded and translated, the words came up plainly in a strip of glass that conveniently magnified them for easier reading. He was told to read just those verses the professor indicated with checks of his pencil.

Sorry he had to tear his eyes off the port window, Pieter began to read, haltingly at first but more fluently as he got on to the convenient syllabication, another feature of the instrument.

"'A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good, bdellium and onyx stone are there--"

"Stop there!" barked the professor and Pieter pressed the "Stop" button.

Dr. Pikkard wrote the name "Pishon" down, noting its location with a number of calculations.

In this manner, as Pieter continued to read, stop, and go at the professor's cue, the four rivers of the Abyss were named Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. Afterwards, the professor relaxed a notch and sat back, balancing his dainty gilt and satin French chair on two bending legs. He told Pieter to help himself to a handful of French chocolates from a fancily decorated tin and throw some special sesame seedcake to his sparrow. They were celebrating, he said, the discovering and christening of the abysmal rivers!

Pieter took a chocolate without much enthusiasm. He was not particularly fond of sweets, though he had had precious little of the luxury growing up. As for Icarus, Pieter made sure he got only his usual allotment of three and a half sunflower seeds for his between meals treat. And it was some time since the sparrow had known velvet for a cage liner. Pieter thought honest Dutch burlap good enough.

"Science has taken note of late of the unusual abundance of sea-life along this longitude, but," Dr. Pikkard rattled off in dry, clipped accents, "as yet no theory has been devised to explain it. That is why we are here, to attempt to provide the observation for an explanation! At least that is one, the official reason for our being here. Then there is your training. And then there is--"

He glanced at Pieter, but said no more, particularly about his possible other reasons. Being well versed in ancient mythology and philosophy, the professor discussed the question in more detail with Pieter when they paused from the work of observation to snatch their lunch of tea and pastry. The drinkables could have been a problem to heat. Yet the professor's trove of inventions again came in handy.

The tea urn was heated cleverly by chemical action in a cat-shaped pot of the professor's design. It was the third one of its kind so far--new, they soon fell apart.

Being so close to the great man--for he was beginning to realize he was truly great--Pieter had ample opportunity to study his employer in detail. Though not acute in observation, the plain Dutch youth could not help noticing how Dr. Pikkard had a way of pinching the upturned ends of his mustache when he grew excited.

"All great men who run around in balloons and diving bells must do queer things like that," Pieter thought in all simplicity, who was actually more impressed by his employer than he was by the Atlantic.

The professor was pinching his mustaches almost furiously now, for Pieter, when he wanted, could be a good listener even when his mouth was full of excellent pastry. Perhaps it was the straw boater the professor wore. On the dim and metallic glow of the chocolate-scented bathysphere, Pikkard's animated, mustachioed face looked just like a carnival barker's, extolling marvels yet to unfold before the yokelry, yet since Pieter had never been to a circus he could not make any such comparison.

"This is what greatness looks like. Never has there been such a scientist!" Pieter concluded, though he still had no real means of comparison. "Only why doesn't a genius like him look and act more like a proper Dutchman?" he wondered. He had to agree with the niece's somewhat shocking assessment.

That was what bothered him, more and more. Half or more of the things the “genius professor” did scandalized the plain Dutch boy in Pieter. The golden image had two big clay feet. Unlike Anne, Pieter did not like clay feet on a man. In his mind they did not fit his image of a proper Dutchman at all.

"It may be nonsense or it may not be," continued Dr. Pikkard to Pieter, finally taking a less scientific tack in order to keep the youth's interest and, hopefully, lead him to firm scientific ground later on, "I wonder, as many have wondered before me, if there actually were an Atlantic island continent named Atlantis--the so-called White Land because of white limestone girdling its coasts like England's Dover. It was supposed to be the cat's pajamas of all civilization, and now it lies, according to old accounts, somewhere beneath the ocean of its name. Ancient philosophers, Plato chief among them, wrote that Atlantis blew up in volcanic explosions--upheavals from the planet's unstable core which are, obviously, still active in warming the planet. And, mind you, these subterranean fires might one day break out again in all their old fury. A match, if you please?"

Too plain in his thinking, Pieter was not at all interested in an old pagan place called "Atlantis," or the idea civilization might have gone downhill since earlier times. Nor did he see any humor in the professor's solemn request for the match in those circumstances. The humor also escaped the professor. Pieter solemnly lit the antique meerschaum pipe.

Since fire was involved, this could not be done with hazardous chemicals. Because of the closeness of their quarters, having learned from some previous disasters along that line and incinerated assistants, the professor allotted himself only two or three puffs before applying a candle snuffer. The rest of the time the professor contentedly savored the unlit pipe while he considered his latest discovery. He seemed to be answering his own unspoken question, as if he had asked how much his mid-Atlantic vents would affect the scientific community.

"Very little!" he concluded with grim realism. He spent some time knocking out his pipe in a priceless Ming dynasty ceramic vase a Dutch dealer from Surinam, who had claimed it came from a London museum, had let it go for a fraction of its value.

10 ”Discoverer of Lost Atlantis”

Very little, indeed! Dr. Pikkard's views and discoveries were virtually ignored in an age when so much knowledge was being lost or had already been lost to neglect in the planet's scramble to make widely and constantly diverging ends meet. Sadly, Earth's decline meant there was little use for pure science and research of Dr. Pikkard's kind. Everybody wanted spare parts for this and that machine, not dry, long-winded scientific observations and scholarly explanations of natural phenomena. Even scientists were affected by the mania of "practical thinking." Since the 22nd Century, over forty thousand scientific periodicals had dwindled to a handful, all published by the universities, and they stubbornly ignored Dr. Pikkard's papers.

After his virtually smokeless smoking break, it was time to return to the surface. When they finally opened the Lady Anne's hatch and Pieter felt the cold, sea air break on his face, he gasped with relief. Once again the plain Dutch boy had beaten the odds. As an assistant, he had survived yet another close encounter with the tremendous force of nature called Dr. Pikkard, compared to which diving to the ocean depths and coming back alive was nothing.

On their return to town, the professor's accounts of the "Atlantis Hot Water Vent System" were soon published at his own expense, but elicited little interest and quite a lot of raised eyebrows in his own academic circle. The University did not appreciate his researches at all, regarding them as egotistic whistle-blowing, and a public nuisance. Although an earlier crack-down had failed abysmally, some still thought it was high time police applied the law again against the professor's deep sea endeavors.

If his spurious “mule-salvage” license could be revoked, he could then be stopped cold. All they needed was to indicate to the judge that he had time and again shown his contempt for New Amsterdam's blue laws prohibiting work and extensive travel on the Sabbath.

Outside academia, however, there was an entirely different reaction. On the ever-growing underside of Dutch society, tabloid newspaper editors in Sin City's bustling Grub Street, catching wind of the professor's abysmal vents, took up the ever popular story of Atlantis, a subject the professor was hoping could be avoided by publishing a scholarly treatise no one in the streets would think to read. Bowery Life, Flatlander Gaieties, the Knickerbocker Slemp Bowl were just a few of the very popular and racy rags that headlined the professor's discoveries , displacing the latest Hollywood star scandals.

But even if, for instance, the Knickerbocker Slemp Bowl editor had not set eyes on the treatise, he had heard the title somehow. In his paper's following issues, the readership hotly debated the question in letters. A hothead or two even proposed to the public that the bathysphere be equipped with dynamite, to see if artifacts of the ancient Pre-Hollandian civilization of Atlantis---those of monetary value, of course--might not be blown to the surface where a flotilla of boatmen from New Amsterdam could gather them up in nets.

"It's wonderful what yellow journalism can come up with!" snorted the professor, hearing of the dynamite fellow. "Maybe we can set off the vent system and blow ourselves all up with the aforementioned valuable artifacts!"

Scorned and shunned all the more by his scientific colleagues and the New Amsterdam university once the sensational news of Atlantis hit the tabloid newsstands, Dr. Pikkard actually was very sorry he had mentioned the vents for the good of science. Penny tabloids claimed he had not only discovered Atlantis but had mapped the capital, Poseidonia and taken pictures of mile after mile of "pleasure palaces." The writers also claimed that the professor had verified the theory that the Dutch Antilles had been an integral part of Atlantis, the portion called "Antilia," which like the rest of the island continent sank and left only mountain summits exposed as islands.

Not only that, he had loaded his bathyscaph up with "treasure," the word keep appearing again and again, for the supposed priceless artifacts of temples and palaces, spirited off for his own enrichment!

Crowds of vagabonds and ne'er-do-wells began to collect outside the Wilhelmina despite a cordon of Pinkertons, all clutching issues of Knickerbocker Slemp Bowl, demanding Dr. Pikkard and a look at his treasures. He was now so famous the city would have given him a Dutch version of a ticker tape parade if the now thoroughly alarmed City Fathers had not squelched the idea.

Dr. Pikkard wrote letters of strong protest to the editors involved. No, he had not reported sighting tall columns of porphyry shaped like beautiful young women--"Evidence that the royal palace of Atlantis and the famed caryatid columns of the Royal Harem had been found is a complete fabrication of someone's badly inflamed imagination! And as for naming my diving instrument after an empress of Atlantis, 'Anne' happens to be my niece and, as far as I know, doesn't have a drop of royal Atlantean blood in her!"

Yes, he had seen volcanic formations that resembled classical Greek columns and architraves. Yes, inside them, he had observed forms of giant figures in the rock of the sea floor as though statues had been carved and then lifted out. But all such things were freaks of nature, that was all. As for the temple treasure he was supposed to have looted, he had never done any such thing! He demanded that those who had made such charges show themselves before a legal court of inquiry or kindly shut up.

His corrections came too late. The public knew him forever after as the "Discoverer of the Lost Continent"--the discoverer who had made himself as rich as Croesus with the pelf of Atlantis!

Hapless, squalling infants across the land were named August and Augustina, as if the connection would be enriching. Replicas of Dr. Pikkard's bathysphere, cast in bronze and gilded copper, with bare-breasted "virgin priestesses of Atlantis" holding pens or pencils inscribed "Fabled Atlantis and Goddesses of Love Discovered By Modern Science Hero," sold everywhere at five and dime stores.

Opulent Atlantis-styled casinos rose up in Reno despite the dearth of funds everywhere else for new buildings. Even a giant dirigible of ancient but durable German make, taken from a museum, was re-christened Atlantis supposedly in Dr. Pikkard's honor.

Truly, after all the victim suffered in the hullabaloo, if the professor had been able to do it all over, he would have kept his own mouth shut. The North Brabant Rockies rescue incident and newspaper coverage had been more than enough publicity for Dr. Pikkard.It was thus gratifying to think he had not divulged his greatest find, beside which the vents paled to insignificance. For he had discovered in further calculations that the ancients were not so ignorant as it first appeared. Perhaps, in past eons, the Atlantic seafloor had been as deep as 8,300 feet! From his observations and projections based on them, he had detected a great increase in elevation of the sea floor, along with rapid movement of both new and old material toward both east and west compass points. It was substantial and widespread enough to warrant a hypothesis, to the effect that there would someday occur a major outbreak of the magma beneath the Earth's crust and the probable creation or re-creation of an island continent, which might as well, due to its location, be called “Atlantis.” Truly, the word "cataclysm" might describe happenings in the next three or four centuries at the latest, though the event might come any time. At the rate of upward movement, a new continent might erupt above the surface of the Atlantic in a mere century or two!

This he had hinted of in his remarks to Pieter, who forgot all about what he had said. As closely as he could, he had brought the Lady Anne to the rising seafloor without exciting Pieter's attention any further, who was dozing at the moment. Too soon he had to be content with his calculations because the terrific current of hot water quickly blew them up and away from the evidence.

This latest and probably greatest discovery, of course, was best kept confidential in his research papers, he decided. It could only fan antagonisms that were already at flash point among the encrusted, barnacle-like academic communities of New Amsterdam and New Antwerp. The furor had all started when he submitted his doctoral dissertation on world Dysgenics, incorporating his findings that significant declines and degeneration had taken place in society, industry, and in the "shelf-life" of all newly manufactured products.

When the university board was not able to disprove him, they granted him a provisional "Doctor of Post Graduate Studies" degree and a teaching position without acknowledging his epochal dissertation. His protests were ignored, and there the matter had stood until his continued researches provoked more and more opposition from the university. Citing his controversial researches as a disruption of universally recognized and established views formally held by the university, they declared their regret that they would longer require his services on the staff. When he immediately applied to the University of Antwerp, which had a significant number of non-Dutch faculty, he expected a different response, but instead he was reminded of the sister university's decision and not very politely shown the door.

As for the vents, they were rejected as he had fully expected. The vents had been the least of the things he had observed. What if he had mentioned any of them?

Well, it did not matter to him what they thought, because they, not he, had purposely deprived themselves of the key to understanding what was happening to the Earth. And now he had a further proof in hand that whatever had brought on the "English disease" had radicalized the dynamics of the Earth's rotation and the magna core itself. One glance at what was happening beneath the Atlantic was explanation enough for all the earthquakes suffered by humanity during the past two or three centuries. No wonder there was no progress! The upheavals alone were enough to shake everything to pieces.

"Truly," he concluded in writing his account of it, "despite some evidence of “reconstruction” and “continental upwelling at one particular site, I believe I am seeing a pattern of almost complete 'deconstruction' of the planet, and yet everyone thinks I am a fool! Well, we'll see who has the last word on this! They can't stop titanic forces of geology once set in motion!"

Let them hide their fool heads in the sand! he thought. Evidence was showing up everywhere he looked! Even Earth's glaciers, disturbed by the same thing that was upsetting everything else, should be able to furnish him abundant proof once the data from all the continents was tabulated. But why did he need more proof than he already had that something catastrophic and incredibly devious was at work? He could not help himself. Ever since he was a boy and had picked up one bottle too many of milk and it had fallen apart in his hands, there was no escape for him. He had to find out the reason, though twenty million other human beings accepted it as an act of divinely-ordained Nature and meekly submitted to the mess, inconvenience, and waste of good Dutch milch.

11 Cave of Cannibals

An incident occurred which was to have lasting repercussions in the relationship of the two balloonists. While good flying weather held, a new balloon was being outfitted and after a trip across on Heni Tagus's sturdy boat they were soon swinging toward the heartland of old Europe with the professor's stated intention of tracking unprecedented glacier advance in the Alps. The new balloon was about to clear the Alps toward a destination Dr. Pikkard had marked down in his notes when an unexpected storm snagged them on Mount Pollux.

They got out of the mishap safely but the balloon and gondola tore to pieces. Pieter and Dr. Pikkard were temporarily stranded on a glacier and had to take shelter in an ice cave. Waiting for the storm to pass, they had time to talk. Actually, Pieter was silently biting his nails, a habit that drove his employer up the wall to observe, so he got a conversation going to divert his assistant. The older man discussed the signs of cannibalism in the cave. Evidently, they had not been the only people caught by alpine storms in the area.

Pieter was very affected when he found a head of a man with an ice pick still embedded in it. Pieces of the victim lay about, some still deeply grooved in a strange way, and, most strangely, his clothes and belongings--a priest's black robe, a cross and chain, missal, shoes, stockings, underclothing, and spectacles with "English disease-free" ivory rims--had been neatly arranged in a corner.

"With no fire, they had to resort to just their teeth," the professor remarked, a grim look in his eyes. Fortunately, the storm keeping the balloonists trapped soon wore out. They stepped outside the ice cave, and were soon hurrying down from the mountain to safety. The clouds even cleared enough to reveal the mountain's twin peak, Kastor.

As they paused to rest a moment, Pieter, still disturbed, had to question the older man about the nightmare in the cave. "What could make people do something like that? How could they act like wild animals? I just don't believe it was people who did that. There was an accident. That is all. "

The professor did not answer for a moment. He seemed to be thinking about the problem. He smiled. "It's not so simple as that, I'm afraid. We are all 'civilized,' my boy, or like to think we are. However, everyone of us is capable of perpetrating what you saw back there in the glacial cave. Besides, I should think a priest would make fine eating!"

Pieter was shocked to the core. "Never! I could not do something like that, Meinheer!"

The professor smiled again, more thinly. "Never? Oh, how can you tell now, when you are not faced with the dire necessity of preserving your own life? We all may do things, under great, unendurable pressure, to save our skins at the expense of another person's. What if we had been trapped there for days and weeks. Might I not have been reduced to eating you, or you me?"

Pieter shook his head, good, upright, stubborn Dutchman that he was. The question was just too outrageous for him to think about any further.

The professor, realizing Pieter’s perimeters had been crossed, looked away, then stood up. It was time to go. The light was waning and the wind off the near glacier blew dark and chill even though it was now green and summery in the valleys further down.

"Just one word more, my boy. We were very lucky we didn't have to stay there and find out what each of us might have been forced to do to stay alive. Others were not so lucky, as you saw yourself with your own eyes. But there is one safeguard for us, now that I think of it, that may help us in really tight circumstances where we may be tempted to do the wrong thing. Think of life like a game. No, you don't like games much, do you? You don't even like the word. Yet allow me to put it this way: it's not what you win or lose, or even how much. It's simply how you choose to win or lose. In conclusion, that's what makes the difference, when you find yourself trapped in an ice cave with no ORDINARY food. After all, real ogres seldom entrap believers unless deceived."

Now feeling very put upon, Jan Pieterzoon van de Wordt privately took exception. The professor was right about only one thing: he certainly did not want to think of life like a game. And he wasn't prepared to accept the ogre in himself or anyone else. Nevertheless, he thought about Dr. Pikkard's words as they walked down from Pollux, but he still could not connect the horror in the ice cave with how he would choose to play the game of life. After all, winning and losing were definite things. How he chose to win didn't matter, as long as he won. Since that was so, with his good Dutch heart he knew beyond doubt he couldn't ever go wrong.

That much was for certain, he thought confidently. Even a great man such as the professor could be dead wrong, he concluded. After all, he had never worked in a mill and experienced how rough life could be. He had always slept between real linen sheets without TOOTLE’S stamped all over.

As for the professor's research objective, the trip was not wasted. Instead of going further on to a bigger specimen, he was able to measure the glacier on Pollux and calculate a growth rate that was exponential, and, therefore, catastrophic. But his researches were not everything to the professor. He was still quite human behind the working scientist. Did the professor suspect what was going on in Pieter's mind? Right after this incident, it would seem that Dr. Pikkard had broken his intent to say no more on the delicate subject. But like so many "just one more words" there was to be a sequel.

Whatever incident sparked it was soon forgotten. But Pieter would not forget what was said, as well as done.

The professor, on the boat back to New Amsterdam, turned with two sticks in hand. He offered them to Pieter. “Bend them, my boy, and see which is the stronger.”

Mystified, Pieter did as he was instructed. One snapped immediately. The other was willow, and try as he might he could not get it to break.

“Now which is stronger?” prompted the professor.

Pieter frowned and said it was the second stick, the willow.

“And why?”

“It bends more than the other, Meinheer.”

“Can you apply that lesson to life?”

“You mean bending is the same as being strong?”


Pieter looked altogether lost.

“Why should I bend, Meinheer? What do you mean?”

Dr. Pikkard, would-be mentor, rapped his forehead. “I’m knocking on inpenetrable wood, I guess. Now listen carefully, my boy. We've got to get something clear, and I had hoped I could get my meaning across without words. Well, I see I can’t. I can tell what you think by just observing your expressions and reactions, and you’re moving ever closer toward, let we phrase it, a “polite contempt” for me. Well, I don't care what you privately think of me as long as it doesn't affect the generally fine quality of your assistance. Only I must add to what I said back at Mount Pollux. Do you recall? I can repeat every word, but I don't believe that's necessary. We were having a disagreement about the goodness of man. I don't hold to it. You do. That is your perfect right.

But I must advise you, as the older and senior partner in this work relationship, that evidence supports me and all you have is prejudice and the passing good-heartedness of your callow youth. That won't be enough to carry you through life.

Your ship will founder and go down, and the sharks will get you if you aren't careful. Anyway, you should have gotten the drift of things by now, but you haven't. That's why I need to say this again in a clear fashion, so there will be no confusion on your part. This world, this society, this humanity of which you and I are representatives, is going straight to the bottom, to utter destruction. It is in catastrophic decline.

I mean to find out exactly why before I die. Since you signed on to help me, you really signed on to help me find this very thing for which I am doing all this research and endangering both our lives and all our limbs. I look upon all the work of the past twenty years to be only preparation for the present investigations. There are even more ramifications, decidedly sinister, that I could tell you, but I don't want to frighten you unnecessarily.

This humble and somewhat picaresque quest of mine is not a rich fool's eccentricity.

We may never agree about man's innate goodness or badness, but do you understand what we are about with the balloon, the diving bell, and anything else the search for the truth requires?"

Never had the professor been so clear about his professional life work. He had intended to be completely candid. But absolute clearness is not always desirable or even fair in an already strained situation where one side cannot give a millimeter without shattering beyond repair.

"My boy, the so-called 'English disease' is not a pathogenic agent at all but is something entirely new to human experience. Whatever it is, the unknown nemesis has brought on the following disastrous conditions and pre-conditions:

1. it has re-started prematurely a return to an Ice Age by which we see such things as the frozen Van Niagara Falls in our own locality.

2. speeded up the planet's rotation and shortened the week by about thirty one hours;

3. it will soon raise another continent to the surface in the mid-Atlantic as a result of sub-oceanic continental collision; and

4. it is bringing about disturbances by stimulating magnetic forces at three sites on the Earth's surface that will precipitate a polar shift and a magnetic cataclysm on a scale to tear the planet apart;

5. it has already effectively reversed the pattern of human history and linear development of culture and technology; and

6. I will continue to look closely at the sun, for some initial observations of mine have indicated conditions are developing there that could create an unimaginably great expansion called a nova. There are other significant effects, affecting the star-systems beyond our own, perhaps even those that are psychological, moral, or spiritual, which authorities who are qualified to do so should add them to the list.

I don't need to explain these things now. Just keep them in mind as we conduct our researches. Now, after saying all this, do you see why I think it is so important that we discover the cause of the English disease? What it has done to man-made and mechanical things is significant in comparison.

If only I could get a better handle on it! All I see are the results, the footprints, and the beast itself continues to elude me! You know the fine old Dutch saying, 'Nature abhors a vacuum.'

Well, my boy, it seems to me an immense hole of some kind has been created on Earth and something inconceivably alien and destructive has come in to fill it.

It is our task to find and identify that hitherto 'inconceivable alien something'.

And, strangest of all, I get the distinct impression that Earth is being reconstructed into something radically different as the same time as it is being torn apart--a sort of thesis and anti-thesis in deadly collision, you might say."

No, Pieter could not say. All the time the professor was speaking, Pieter held his gaze and tried to show no emotion, but inside he was boiling. There was much about the professor's research he did not comprehend, but he could not have disagreed more with the professor's views about Dutch people and society going backwards and backwards.

And if his employer chose to waste his money and resources on such a foolish and needless investigation as he had just set forth, then that was his right. But what was someone from New Alkmaar, anxious to keep away from it forever, to say in response?

He felt just like a slave in some hateful foreign land, perhaps “Merrie England,” bowing cap off and chin to the ground before some arrogant titled master. His own employer had gone too far. Dare he rebel and stand up for his blood-bought, plain Dutch liberty? No, not just yet, he decided, recalling an earlier incident back at the old mill in which he had asserted himself.

Then he had lost nearly two legs when he stood up for himself.

What would he stand to lose if he confronted Dr. Pikkard? He wasn’t yet prepared to risk his paying job--not when he had no other alternative to the gristmill.

He slowly nodded instead, to show that he was listening attentively. That was the very best he could do in the circumstances, having no words he could find to express his own yet unorganized position without endangering job and future prospects. What did "nova," and such mean to him? Absolutely nothing. It was the job that mattered, the job that buttered his daily bread, the job...

On his side, the professor shook his own head, got up, and went to look out at the waves.

A few minutes later, as the Channel was rough and windy that day, he came carrying Pieter a big mug of plain hot cocoa from the galley. He also awarded Pieter a complementary copy of his own publishing, an edition of Isaac Newton's dot-system calculus. Marshmallows? They had perished along with a multitude of other equally frivolous, Jack Dutch things in A.D. 2170.

Pieter, in a low voice, thanked Dr. Pikkard for the cocoa after giving the two demonstration sticks of wood a kick over the side. They sat sipping from mugs and watched the ugly way the wind sheared off the tops of the waves. Unknown to them, it was a much shorter crossing--the channel had shrunk so much England and France were being rejoined as they had been in the preceding Ice Age.

“Sorry if I said things lately that offended you,” said the professor. “I tend to get carried away at times, don’t I?”

Pieter glanced quickly at him, but did not respond.

“I suppose I’m trying to pass too much of my own philosophy of life on to you, and you’re not ready. You need to find things out for yourself. But I can’t forget the time I was at loose ends in my life, roaming the country to find my purpose in life, I guess. Finally, I ended up in the countryside near Minnpaul--a miserable area to be miserable in. I was just passing a church without a hope in the world when I heard a man’s voice through the door, which someone going out had left ajar. I caught only a few words, but I went in to hear the rest. It was the preacher speaking, and I will never forget his words:

‘A man who knows his own weaknesses can’t be made a anybody or anything’s pawn--not even a pawn, which is worse, of his own strengths.’”

Dr. Pikkard chuckled. “I don’t recall what else he said. But that statement stuck. I felt absolutely liberated and on-track. I left before the service ended, so we never met. Later, returned home, I got his name and address, but I’ve never contacted him after all these years. I would like to tell him those few words of his I heard have no doubt saved me doing many, many foolish things in life. Would you say they are wise words? They teach the wisdom of bending--mental and philosophical ’ductility’ in a word--don’t you think?” “Yes, Meinheer,” said the plain Dutch youth, thinking again of his job.

12 Visitors to Earth

The shingle of dark vacancy in the night sky continued to lengthen, but clouds were thick and frequent and not even learned men at the universities thought it of any consequence or worthy of investigation--or at least one that warranted the loss of a night’s sleep. The only one who might have looked into it still missed seeing it. Despite a series of unaccountable accidents at the balloon shed, and more and more missing items, yet another balloon and gondola took shape in that research-packed year of 2392, a year that would go down as Dr. Pikkard's annus mirabilis , truly his year of miracles.

The master balloonist had the finest machine shop in New Amsterdam and the tools to get up anything he ordered. Back from the Alps, the uproar over Atlantis (and the Cave of Cannibals with the professor's unpleasant follow-up lecture) eventually dying down, the professor and his assistant went to take her up. The new hot air balloon lifted off on schedule, Anne seeing them go up.

To Pieter she seemed very upset about something, and it bothered him more than it might have because he still hadn't gotten over his employer's word of admonition in mid-ocean. In his behalf, it should be said the pressure of events had increased, to the point where he really had no time for feminine conumdrums.

Dr. Pikkard intended to steer for New Zeeland, but the weather pattern had changed on them. He saw they would never get there by balloon. Well, the brave man decided to let the wind carry them north and hoped a change in weather would sweep them out to sea. Heni Tagus following, they might reasonably hope to be sighted, though they would be but a pinpoint in the vast stretches of sea and sky. Yet even that was preferable to sailing over land. Aside from a few, widely scattered native Inuit camps on Labrador’s coast, further north they were entirely on their own.

In ballooning, nights seemed the hardest times to bear. With no way to keep warm, Pieter and the professor had to move constantly about as best they could in the cramped wicker basket to keep from freezing solid. Rather than tend the burner all night to keep them aloft, Pieter would have liked to use the time to study his calculus book but his hands kept freezing if he didn't keep them moving. He had increasingly entertained of late a secret dream of becoming a grand mathematics professor someday, or, failing that, a master engineer in shipping. With no imagination, he had somehow envisioned building the world’s greatest and biggest ship. He could already see it designed in every detail--over 800 feet it was! But never once did he forget reality. That was why he kept his golden secret. The professor had his devotion to science and the endless mental pursuit of Mersenne primes to warm his blood. Despite Anne's taking an interest in him, Pieter only had New Alkmaar and the thought of having to work again at the mill once his contract expired. He was determined not to be a fool, to fall into Jack Dutch "womanizing" and lose his job, as Dr. Pikkard's former assistant had done. It was possible then the professor would renew his contract and save him from a "fate worse than death"--"Ye Olde Mill."

Next Site

It is difficult to say what chilled him the most--the sub-polar temperatures of high altitude ballooning or the prospect of ending his days milling and bagging flour at Van Tootle-Clarke's. While the professor ran through a vigorous recitation of logarithms from Napier and Byrgius's tables and beat his arms and legs to keep up circulation, Pieter did body-building exercises. All night long he thumped his chest and arms to keep circulation up. It was exhausting, but there was no other way they could survive those hours at high altitudes. In the mornings, they sometimes were astonished to see themselves turned into pillars of frost, clothes, eyebrows, and eyelashes completely whitened.

Pausing at his exercises to rest, Pieter glanced at the professor in his work station. His eyes dropped and lit on certain initials, D. V. J., chiseled into the wood of the folding worktable. Besides being a fast talker and a womanizer, the professor's former assistant had shown himself handy with a knife. Already, Pieter had found the initials cut in a hundred places, in the professor's offices on door lintels, in the balloon shed, even on a leg of the Wilhelmina's Grand Piano.

The bored graffiti artist was now gone forever from Dr. Pikkard's life, but his immortality, like Kilroy's, was assured. What caught Pieter's attention most was the utmost fastidiousness the fellow had used in calligraphy, even adding scrolled flourishes above and below the letters that resembled skulls and crossbones of pirates. Obviously, he was bored to tears serving Dr. Pikkard and had to kill a lot of time. Finding himself half-frozen by the time he had finished looking at D. V. J.'s bid for fame, Pieter went back to his body thumping gyrations with a vengeance.

Toward the end of one Arctic night, slowly drifting north northeast, it was so cold even Professor Pikkard's Spartan constitution protested. He confessed with chattering teeth he was strongly tempted to release air from the balloon and descend to more habitable elevations. But it was only a moment's temptation. Dr. Pikkard proved stronger. In another thirty minutes, it might have turned out differently.

With stammering lips, he was stubbornly declaiming the characteristic and mantissa for number 700 on a base of ten when a massive light (originally the one Pieter had pointed out to the professor to no avail), looking like a meteor, fell starlike out of the ionosphere. "By the blessed van't Hoff!" he exclaimed, rotation finally swept from first priority in his mind.

His powers of calculation always acute, the professor quickly noted down the event and calculated the point where the glowing object must have first entered Earth's gravitational field. He wished to determine the velocity, of course, since velocities greater than 72 kilometers per second made for interstellar objects coming into the solar system.

Pieter too gazed awestruck as the great moving light. Instead of exploding and burning out, it cleanly separated into seven distinct parts. Each was only a little less brilliant than the parent meteor.

Pieter's mouth opening wider yet, he observed what appeared to be white-tailed objects that glittered like pieces of ice or diamonds. These streaked toward widely scattered points across the globe.

By this time, the separation of the object into various parts duly noted, the professor was no longer directly observing the phenomenon. He was too busy scribbling on his notepad calculations for drawing an azimuthal equidistant projection centered conveniently on Holland America's capital.

That done, he threw Pieter a paper to study and continued to calculate up a storm. Pieter, an apprentice of sorts in astronomy, navigation, geometry and calculus, as yet had some difficulty with the professor's scientific method. But, despite his limited grasp of William of Occam's Razor, he saw the professor had drawn an arciform of the horizon measured on a fixed point.

What interested him more was watching the lights until they had disappeared, striking the dark-orbed lithosphere below with imperceptible impacts. One after the other, to him it was a remarkable show, and surely of immense scientific value of some kind. He wanted badly to ask a question.

But dare he? To interrupt the professor when he was hard at work. He had done it once before and this time the professor might be more than just annoyed. He stopped himself. He knew enough of his employer's habits by now to know when silence was not only golden but job-preserving.

For some minutes, in the light of a hissing gas lamp, the professor labored at his tiny work station desk initialed D. V. J. He filled page after page with cryptic signs after a vigorous use of telescope, maps, T square, slide rule, and even an antique adding machine invented many centuries before by Blaise Pascal. He was just as intent on his work as when he was doing Mersenne primes for sheer pleasure.

Finally, he sighed. He dropped a snub of a pencil attached by chain to his sleeve, and shook his head, one hand holding it.

Pieter stared at Dr. Pikkard, his patience at the breaking point. No longer able to bear the suspense, he decided to risk his job and only real chances of escaping Van Tootle's. "What is it, Meinheer? What have you found out about the shooting stars?

The exhausted scientist looked up startled. He seemed to be gradually recalling he was in a balloon drifting somewhere over Newfoundland. Hs wan eyes failed for a moment to recognize his assistant and he stared at Pieter. Then he seemed to recover himself. The kindly light was gone, however. The great brain that at age fourteen could break Reno's biggest casino, the Xanadoo, regathered its fully matured, adult energies. A deadly serious look, even a glinting of alarm, came over him as he held out to Pieter a world map and a projection etched with darkly penciled lines.

"Intelligence, vast and unknown, has fallen our way," August Pikkard muttered, again shaking his head slowly. "Is this the alien thing that has been filling the vacuum? Whatever it is, we have been visited from far beyond our own sun by something greater than human intellect, for good or ill! And I have no idea what this could mean in terms of our own investigations, though there has got to be an effect."

To the amazed Pieter, disturbed by the change that overtaken his employer, the projection still meant nothing. Somehow he could not make the connection between the mathematics he had absorbed. He could see no particular meaning in it at all. All he could think of was an unfinished orb web, with the main mooring lines already in place. He had not long to wait for an explanation.

Recovering more of his old self, the dark cloud lifting, the professor got out his pipe. Without pausing to fill it, the man of faith in the scientist revived and he began jabbing at the heavens excitedly.

"Providence! My boy, just as it favored you in getting your job, Providence has favored us both, together, tonight! Whatever it means, for some strange reason and destiny, we are in the right place at the right time. I'd wager ours is the only astronomical balloon up in the Northern Hemisphere--or the Western, for that matter. Who else has seen what we have gazed upon just moments ago? It was given to us on a golden platter! It's pure Provi--" By this time, the professor had got so worked up Pieter could hardly recognize him. Dr. Pikkard gesticulated wildly in the direction of the falling stars and their impacts.

"Yes, we're in the right place at the right time--you with your unclouded eye for the brute sensory aspect, me with my scientific training for discovering its laws of motion and cause. You see, they're neither meteors nor 'shooting stars' as you call them. And a 'star' has struck a different continental land mass in each hemisphere and one ocean, the Atlantic--no mere coincidence. That could not happen in a million years--no, not three hundred million or a thousand million years, the math is so against it. I'd say they are projectiles, not meteors or asteroids. And they originate from a place where they could not rightly have come from, a sector of the universe where there is only stellar gas and debris and a bit of highly condensed star material left from a supernova!"

"Supernova?" Pieter had to ask, having as yet no real handle on "nova."

The professor looked down over the side at the dark globe below, shook his head and his eyes closed. He did not seem to have heard Pieter, he was so overwhelmed by the event. When he turned back to Pieter, his eyes were still shut, as if he could not bear the vision within.

"My boy, we've got to get to the bottom of us," he said, so softly Pieter had to bend close. "From this point on it is our duty as scientists to find out all we can about our visitors--or whatever these objects may be--and the specific purpose of their coming here. Mind you, say nothing to anyone about what we have seen, excepting, of course, my dear niece--the only person, other than Icarus, this cold-hearted scientist has a measurable fondness for! She's my little heiress and will inherit the best of my endeavors when the time comes, and so she has a right to know that things may get a bit more sticky from here on."

He then went on to explain the phenomena in detail, drawing from old books of the ancient English astronomer-monk, Bernard Lovell, a devotee of the ancient British goddess, Radio. He had written of pulsars, quasars, gravitational lens, flare stars, novas, supernovas and other wonders of creation.

"It appears to come from the vicinity of the exploded star, the one in the Crab nebula that produced what the Pre-Hollandian, Reverend Father Lovell, called a 'supernova,' Dr. Pikkard said. "But that event took place in A.D. 1054 and was first observed by Chinese astronomers. I found mention of one other such explosion too, occurring about three centuries ago, but any information about it has been lost."

Until Pieter could reach yet higher levels of mathematics and astronomy, it was sticky, indeed, trying to get Pieter to understand such things, and even stickier getting from Newfoundland to New Amsterdam--but that was the usual thing with astronomical ballooning.

13 The Mary Celeste Avenger

Not even Dr. Pikkard realized, until it was too late, that they were drifting beyond all reach and ken of Henri Tagus--their safety net. A sighting taken for their location, Dr. Pikkard turned a grim face toward Pieter, who was waiting to hear that they would be soon be picked up somewhere below, just as soon as they pulled the vent and lowered the balloon to the point of pickup.

“Sorry, my boy, we’re heading north, in a direction that I fear will put us over the Greenland Ice Cap in a few hours.”

It wasn’t welcome news. Pieter could see the wind had picked up considerably. They were moving rapidly into an unknown polar region, and to a white peril that even his employer could not possibly handle.

Possibly because their chances of survival had now dropped close to zero, the professor left Pieter alone to his own thoughts.

And Pieter was thinking too--and wondering. What if they were blown and snagged on ice mountains? Who would come to their rescue? This wasn’t Europe, which though mostly wilderness had some civilized countries with people. But where they were headed there would be only polar bears, raging blizzards, and horrible, freezing temperatures. It was bad enough in the balloon, but he knew it could soon get much worse.

The balloon gained even more speed. A day and a night passed. In the painfully chill morning they “woke” to find nothing but glaring, inhospitable, hostile whiteness spread beneath them. Open water now lay far, far away to the south. They both had to wonder if they would ever see it again as living men.

Speaking little now, as if to keep their fears private, the two watched their approach to a gigantic formation of ice. Perhaps because of the chill factor, the balloon was sagging and showing signs of descent, though they had no desire to allow that to happen. Their situation was desperate, since to use fuel now to keep afloat would jeopardize any ascent and possible escape over the Greenland Ice Cap and its mountain ranges to the open water to the east.

Though Pieter waited for Dr. Pikkard to make his decision, the professor held back, as if waiting to see what might happen. He seemed even at times to be in silent prayer, for his frost-rimed eyes closed while Pieter’s remained painfully open, viewing the desolation below with growing horror.

“We’re both going to die in this place,” thought Pieter. The facts seemed all in on that score too. After all, Henri Tagus and his boat were circling uselessly far out of reach, prevented by solid ice on the sea from following them up the Labrador Current. Then they hadn’t the supplies of fuel and food to keep themselves afloat and alive much longer. Once they descended, they were finished, since even the Inuit who had formerly inhabited the region had all left, fleeing south to get away from the perpetual winter that had clamped down on their hunting territories.

Even an unschooled Dutch boy could see their prospects were utterly hopeless. The balloon sagged more and more, great folds coming down and draping themselves around the men, as if it were thinking to furnish them funeral shrouds.

The professor, still deep in thought and prayer, his eyes closed, startled Pieter by suddenly coming back to life. He jerked his frostbitten thumb, that looked more like an icicle than a human digit, downwards, and Pieter’s heart sank with the motion.

Feeling doomed, Pieter complied with the order. He vented what little buoyancy they had left and they soon saw the glacier beneath welling up, its formations becoming more distinct and threatening with each passing second. The whistling polar wind now blew upwards, slowing their descent, which was just as well, since they might have crashed, having so little uplift in the bag. Gently, like a feather, they came down on the snow-covered ice.

The gondola slid for forty or fifty yards, spraying Pieter and the professor with snow, but the snow was so thick they met with no sharp ice outcrops that could have torn them to pieces.

Jumping out as soon as it was safe, Pieter and the professor struggled to subdue the floundering bag and keep it from snagging. The wind was in their favor, dying just enough so that they weren’t blown any further. Just beyond was the edge of the glacier, and at a sickening distance below lay a vast, frozen stretch of sea channel. In the incredibly clear air they could see from their vantage point as far as they wanted, and so they had no difficulty making out Ellesmere Island and its bluish white mounts in the west.

For the moment, they were safe and alive. The two stood looking about at the scene that no one living had ever seen except them. But--the thought occurred simultaneously in both--how long would they be able to see it? Chances were that the temperatures would drop with nightfall, and within an hour or two at the most they would be solid ice, made eternal companions with the glacier beneath their feet.

“I’ve studied old maps I’ve found various places in the Old City. We’ve landed on Humboldt, the lip face of the glacier,” the professor told Pieter with cold-numbed lips. His eyes, despite his frozen face, were full of scientific delight.

Pieter, receiving the information, wasn’t so enthused. He was thinking something else, the same thing that prisoners always think first thing after the door clangs shut. “When am I going to get out of this horrible place?”

To keep the balloon from being blown off the glacier, they pegged it down to the ice with steel spikes, and then did some walking about to keep up body warmth and their blood circulating.

Pieter wasn’t at all interested in viewing the glacier or studying it for scientific purposes, as his employer was. He followed Dr. Pikkard in his seemingly aimless rambles, only because that was better than standing about waiting for his feet to freeze to the ice. He began to get alarmed, however, as the professor moved closer to the “lip,” where the icebergs were formed in times past.

“There’s no imminent danger now,” Dr. Pikkard assured him, though Pieter had trouble making out his frozen words. “We can go as close as we like without any chance of the ice breaking off.”

Reluctantly, Pieter followed the indefatigable Pikkard as he did just what he had threatened, explore the whole frontage of the monstrous icepack.

“What on earth for?” Pieter was wondering. He hated every minute as he trudged through the thick snow, sometimes falling into small holes, fearing at the moment of his fall it was some deathly deep crevasse instead.

The unstoppable scientist turned to Pieter at a point where his assistant was all for turning back, despite having to leave his employer. “Just a little further, my boy! A few more hundred feet and we should be able to see where the icebergs were calved. I’m hoping to see signs where the calving stopped and measure the fractures, which I believe we will find healed. It could give me some idea how quickly the process occurred, though I have no means of determining the date as yet.”

Understanding nothing of the professor’s intent, Pieter threw away all Dutch caution and obeyed. He knew he had only the old mill to return to if he gave up his job at this point--that is, if he could still get out alive. So, why not follow the professor to their doom? It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, was it not?

Finally, the professor halted. In terrifying silence, on the most ghastly edge of utter desolation that human sense could comprehend, they stood trying to take in the panorama beneath them. Two or more thousand feet beneath them lay the frozen sea.

Beneath their feet was the lip that calved the enormous ice bergs that once ranged far to the south, imperiling Dutch and English shipping. Wind, warmed just enough in the blinding, reflected light, surged upwards, sweeping the cliffs clean of snow, so that the naked flanks of the glacier shone with a million sparkles and glints.

His coat, scarf, and hat blown nearly off, Pieter gazed down into the abyss. He felt terrible vertigo and overwhelmed with the vastness of everything. His plain Dutchness seemed to be extinguished forever, and what was left was only a giddy speck of human flesh that would soon be frozen to ice with everything around it. “Maybe,” he thought, “we’ll be freezed standing upright, like pillars or statues.” But his dismal statuary were not to be.

The professor gave a cry, that carried against the flow of the upwelling wind to Pieter, who turned his frigid face to see what he saw. Dr. Pikkard was pointing excitedly.

Pieter could see nothing at first--just gigantic, half-calved shapes that had seemingly re-frozen themselves to the mother glacier in mid birth. But as he strained to see through his thickening eyelashes he caught a glimpse of color--black, some specks of red, a fluttering strip of yellow.

“Shipwreck!” cried the professor.

The discovery changed everything. Dr. Pikkard was for returning to the balloon at once. They maybe had an hour, or two at the most, while the “good weather” might hold, just enough hopefully for them to reach the ship below. To get there they needed the balloon, of course. It would take precious fuel, to ascend and then descend, but Dr. Pikkard was captain, and Pieter had no choice, in such a place, of going his way alone.

The balloon inflated just beyond the critical point, they moved across the glacier to the lip edge, then they sailed free. Immediately, Pieter vented. Down they went. Again, they were fortunate. They landed in a clear enough area where they could subdue the flopping balloon before it could be torn to shreds, marooning them there forever.

Within minutes of pegging it down securely, they were climbing aboard the shattered hulk of the steam yacht, for it wasn’t quite the ship Dr. Pikkard had originally thought. Evenso, it had to have been seagoing, to get to such a site. Dr. Pikkard pointed out a boiler, so it had been a steamship. The cabin lay several feet away the bow, and wind had fortunately swept the snow free of it so they could get in without a lot of digging without shovels.

Out of the wind, the silence was almost deafening, in that Pieter heard his own heart pounding as he dropped down into the half-overturned cabin. The professor’s own whisper sounded horribly loud in the circumstances. His eyes were no longer delighted with scientific findings all about him but properly sober in the midst of death. For there was death aboard. A man was there--his form frozen where it lay thrown over on a smashed table.

Gently, the professor crouched and searched for clews of what had happened, and who was the man, and possibly what boat it was. He did not have to search far. By the man’s outstretched fingers lay a squarish object. Scooping off snow, the professor realized he was looking at the logbook. A pen was clenched, frozen, in the man’s fingers, as if he had been entering notations at the last moment before the disaster, whatever it was, overtook him and his boat.

Using a pocket knife, huffing and puffing with the effort, Dr. Pikkard hastily chopped out the book from its envelope of ice. With shaking hands he got it free and broke it open where he hoped to find the last entries. His face grew dark instantly the moment he began to read. Pieter, gazing at him, was astounded at what he was seeing. A shipwreck, a frozen captain, the logbook--it was beyond anything he could have imagined happening to himself, as if he had somehow joined company with great explorers in the past. “I must somehow become great too,” he thought. “I’ve come a long way from the dull drudgery of New Alkmaar. If they could be seeing me now!”

It was a crazy enough thought for a plain Dutch youth to think, in a place where no human beings could expect to live through the fast falling evening. But in that site of unusual discovery, it seemed reasonable to Pieter, that all the sad souls he had left behind would now have cause to admire him setting off down the towpath instead of sticking to the old town and going slowly under with them.

“Listen to this, Pieter, “ Dr. Pikkard mumbled in awed tones. Then he read the last scribbled and abbreviated entries for April 14, 1912, the date of the Mary Celeste Avenger’s destruction by collision with an iceberg.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Clear night. Calm sea. No wind. Another Strange Phenomenon. Best ever. Must not lose it. Killer iceberg sighted. Giant Steam Ship, Luxury Trade, Call letters MGY, was attacked, 11:40 p.m . Had followed berg, it changing course until it was head-on with the liner. Don’t know how it could change course like that against Labr. Current. Must have just missed. Saw no sign that MGY’s hull was damaged. Ship stalled, probably checking for damage. No need to waste any more time on her. Followed the iceberg as it veered away. It had been heading south, then turned east to meet the liner, then headed north. It is at 20 knots, my max. My boilerman has us at that speed so we don’t lose her. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Still following. Iceberg sailing north northwest now. My boilers overheating. They could blow anytime. Never had such a head of steam as this. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Iceberg has veered toward my bow. Iceberg has changed direction, heading straight at us. Quest may be over. One way or another, I’ll find out what’s--It’s still coming. Trying to keep out of its way, but it’s faster. Too fast for us. Can’t write to keep up. We’re converging--God help us. Wake up, everybody! MGY. No! I’m the one it’s after. The other was just a de-- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The rest of the frantic page was empty, the bottom torn away.

Flipping to the beginning, the professor read for a few moments. Then he closed the book and slipped it into his coat. “It seems he was looking for the causes of many unexplained disappearances at sea,” he told Pieter. Before coming north he had been to waters off Japan and Bermuda.”

That was his only remark before they left the Dead of the doomed boat and climbed out into the now darkening icescape.

Pieter had the strangest sensation, however, as he went to put his foot down and found himself looking at--a human face? Hair and skin were not light enough to be Dutch or European. He had no time to look at it--whatever it was, was frozen forever into the ice.

Once free of the cabin, they struggled to get the balloon aloft. Whether they would fly further into the icy halls of polar doom or not, they had no chance where they were. So they spent the last fuel gaining as much altitude as possible, hoping the winds would not send them crashing against the ice cliffs above. Yet the same kind break in the weather that had allowed their day of discovery on Humboldt Glacier to continue so long also held as they ascended, and the upwelling currents, now fast weakening with night fall, were just enough to help them up over the jagged lip edge without violently dashing them against it.

It was all a matter of extreme delicacy of many factors working together, but they finally sailed up and over glacier and out to open sky. They began sailing toward the great island’s spinal column of eternally-iced mountains, which was not an encouraging direction. But they had not gone very far when the winds coming down off the cooling mountains pushed them in the opposite direction. The same descent of night and plummeting temperatures was now providing the critical factor of propulsion.

Dr. Pikkard almost shouted in Pieter’s face, he was so excited. “We’ll be in Labrador in a few hours, my boy, at this rate!”

Labrador, bleak as it was, still had a few diehard Inuit villages clinging to the coast. If they reached them, help could be found to get to the Dutch outposts further down. To Pieter, after being nearly marooned in the depths of a polar hell, Labrador was as good as paradise at that moment to his thinking.

Later, resting with an Inuit family, who hospitably plied them with fresh uncooked whale blubber and seal meat, the two men had a chance to talk about the doomed yacht left behind at the base of Humboldt Glacier. The professor, unusually subdued, would say little, however. He had the logbook, and from time to time used a seal oil lamp to look into it. All he could say to Pieter was that the captain was on a sort of quest, to find cause or causes for mysterious disappearances of ships and crews. He had come to the North Atlantic after hearing reports of missing ships, but he had not been prepared to find a “killer iceberg,” which proved his and his boilerman’s downfall.

If the professor was uncharacteristically subdued, his assistant proved unusually stirred up. “What could make an iceberg change course like that?” Pieter had to ask. “A strong gust of wind, right? And what did he mean to say when he say we should wake up and ‘MGY is just a de--’? Just a what?”

The professor eyed his assistant for several long moments as the large Inuit family looked on, all chattering in their own tongue about their strange whiteman guests. In the half-abandoned village, this was evidently one family that had the best hunters and was able to hold its own. Perhaps they would not have to flee south like the others. The children looked plump enough as they played at cat’s cradle--an elaborate arrangement and re-arrangement of strings.

Waving aside another generous haunch of seal from the elder Inuit in the group, the professor patted his belly, and the family laughed and patted theirs as well, and Dr. Pikkard could then turn back to the question Pieter had raised. “There are many strange things going on in this world and in the Universe,” he said. “That is just one of them. I expect to find the ultimate cause is the same that is still eluding us at the present moment, the Same that is causing all the other disturbances.”

Dr. Pikkard’s philosophical turn of reasoning was lost on his pupil at this point. Seeing the youth’s eyes glaze over, the professor sighed and turned back to his hosts. His eyes took in the string games the childen were playing and before long his spirits seemed to lift. Communicating with sign language, he got the sense of the game out of them--that they were attempting to change the course of the Sun, believing in this way they would trap its rays and shorten the winter.

“Such sophisticated notions for mere children!” the professor marveled. “I’ve always suspected the wisdom and lore of these people is greater than the universities’ , and this is proof!” He ended up trading his gold watch and some even more valuable tobacco for the cat’s cradles.

14 “We three kings of Orient are puffing on a loaded cigar; it exploded...”

After their return of the balloon to the "Pikkard Aerodrome" balloon shed, as though all the prior mishaps had been a sort of state rehearsal, the whole works blew up in the night. The destruction was total. Anne, someday, would have been made independently rich inheriting it. They could hear the explosion at the hotel and everyone tumbled out of bed. The blast destroyed not only the balloon but valuable equipment such as the gyroplane that probably could not be replaced, even from the Smithsonian and the best antique shops. Such sources were showing more and more bare shelving after massive buying sprees of English "antique dealers." They could not believe at first that so much could be swept away and turned into a smoldering pile of rubble. The Aerodrome had been world-class, which any rival scientist was free to utilize, but, of course, would not take Dr. Pikkard's standing, open invitation.

Dr. Pikkard's Gyroplane and Aerodrome

Their ballooning days as well as many other ventures seemed over for some time. Machine shops were rapidly decreasing in the North, especially the kind that could do sophisticated, precision work. Increasingly, blacksmiths now handled what trade came their way, and they were really not much good for anything but horse shoes, protective window bars and iron fencing, and garden tools. It took forever for Dr. Pikkard to get a machine part done properly to design--if, in a rare instance, he ever had to turn to some other shop than his own.

But making new to replace the old was not the answer. To do that the machinery itself needed to be as old as possible. So Dr. Pikkard's machine tools were indispensable, and they could not be found any longer at any price. Son of a boilermaker who valued machinery, Pieter felt angered by so much destruction of old but faithfully working machinery and tools--all very expensive and necessary to Dr. Pikkard's operations. What would happen to their work, and his job now?

He was amazed at how calmly the professor took it.

They walked through the blackened, virtually roofless shell of the hanger in the morning. Together they looked up at the few surviving rafters crowded with roosting sea gulls come to enjoy the embers' lingering warmth. The two had only spent a few minutes looking about when Dr. Pikkard glanced toward the heavens. Sea fog mingling with mist from the harbor, canals, and river covered the sky as usual at the end of summer. Thus, he could not have been looking at anything particular or admiring the view, and once again he missed seeing the odd streak of shadow Pieter had tried to point out to him.

His pipe jutting from his mouth at a jaunty angle, he glanced at Pieter over teardrop glasses, smiled grimly, then walked briskly away toward his car. Pieter didn't have to look. It was once the world's ultimate luxury car, only four of which were ever made, a Type 41 Bugatti Royale that turned Pieter's ears red with shame every time he had to ride in it. It would have made him even more miserable if he had known it once belonged to a Hollywood screen legend, Garbo the tight-lipped, enigmatic Sphinx, who had retired as an urban recluse in what was then New York City.

More important than Pieter's feelings about it, the car had never once needed to be overhauled! Even the Phantom Four Rolls, which Dr. Pikkard had fitted up as a traveling laboratory, had broken down once or twice on a cross-province jaunt up to the intermixed tundra and sand flats of Buffalo. He had gone there to measure the record snowfalls on the edge of the Athabaskan Shield glacier field and also take samples of the material drifting about along the edge, which he called a “polar desert.”

Pieter stayed behind a while, anxious to look for still usable tools before thieves found them. He had time to think about the professor's behavior. He took it as a sign the professor was determined to go ahead with his desire to "study glaciers" next--something his employer had mentioned he might add to the list of major Pikkardian projects in the near future to gain some light on the various "fool questions" he had discussed with his assistant--"Were the glaciers advancing all over the earth, just as they had been moving south from the Canadian wilderness? " "How much had they already moved southward?" And, most significantly, "What precise meteorological or extra-terrestrial mechanism was propelling them?"

Knowing enough of the professor's ways by now, he saw that the scientist was determined to clinch his glacier research with some final evidence--especially since their discovery of the Mary Celeste Avenger.

Though not particularly fond of ice and snow, to Pieter it meant paying work, but again he suspected he was in for more extremely chilling times than he had known so far in ballooning.

Indeed, in support of Pieter's hunch, in the professor's pocket were tickets for the Lakehurst- Minneapolis flight aboard the dirigible, Atlantis--unfortunate name!

How Pieter came to know was easy. The professor, when busy with his primes, was so oblivious of the world that the fares fell out of his pocket. He did not even notice when Pieter, grown familiar with his employer’s odd ways, put them back.

But at the moment they had parted at the shed, Pieter had not been thinking of glaciers. Unlike his employer, Pieter felt torn in two directions as his eyes followed the professor to the car. Should he tell the professor about Old Goatley? After all, the tramp had acted suspiciously by running off like a guilty man the day he had caught him near the shed. But what if his suspicions were unjust? After all, he had no proof of the old man's misdeeds, other than begging on the streets to keep body and soul in one piece. Could he be blamed for only a suspicion? That wouldn't be Dutch fair and square!

With an old childhood spoof of a Christmas pageant hymn coming nonsensically to mind, he scraped away charred wood and tangled metal with a rake and found something intact. A metal work table had shielded it, taking the crushing weight of falling rafters. Part of a machine used to inflate the professor's small weather balloons, a plastic clown head with the red hair and big red mouth had survived. Pieter should have been delighted to find anything, even a part of the old inflator, but he was not.Old Goatley was still on his mind and heart.

He obeyed his conscience and did nothing, but his suspicions continued to nag him at odd moments in the next few days. Perhaps they might not have provoked him so much except for Dr. Pikkard's unsolicited man-to-man talk on the boat back, most of which he had suppressed as though it had never been said. Ever since, in fact, he had done his best to forget it. But success in that did not really help. It just boiled away beneath the surface. Pieter was finding it harder and harder to keep the undeclared but gentlemen’s truce. The professor’s remarks were beginning to get to him, despite what he still believed about the goodness of everybody Dutch--and despite the fact somebody had passed even the venerable Magi a loaded cigar.

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