Hodges opened his eyes when he heard the clock chime 8:00. He lay in his bed and prepared himself to face the new day. As mayor of the thriving village of Reansburg, he was a very important man under constant stress with hundreds of crucial decisions to make every day. He savored the thought for several minutes before he pushed it aside and faced reality. Swinging his short legs over the edge of the bed and sliding his fir covered feet into the waiting slippers, he knew that not many of the villagers held his office in such high esteem.
Pulling his house coat over his pear shaped body, he smoothed down his sleep ruffled fir with the stubby claws on the tips of his fingers. He reflected that in spite of the assurances of his constituents, he'd been chosen for the position of mayor because of his species. The mayors of all the surrounding villages were beauracrans as well, chosen primarily because of their solemn faces and stately bearing - and for the fact that they took forever to accomplish anything. The villagers seemed to think the less their government did, the better off they were.
Opening the drapes on the window, Hodges noticed for the first time that it was still dark outside. Curious, he thought, as he dropped a few pieces of wax into the glass globe of a lamp. The glow worm in the globe woke from its slumber at the scent of the wax, hunched itself over to the nearest piece and started eating. As it ate the wax, the worm started to glow brighter and brighter, until it lit the room.
Hodges picked up the lamp and walked into the living room. Putting the lamp down on the table, he went first to the clock standing straight and tall against the wall. He peered into the cabinet and saw that the pendulum still swung sedately back and forth. He pressed his ear to the cabinet and could hear the usual ticks and tocks, whirs and rattles. He took out the shiny brass key and opening the glass door over the face, inserted the key and wound the clock 8 turns - the right amount, he hadn't forgotten to wind it yesterday. Convinced that the fault was not in the clock, he opened the back door and stepped outside.
Looking up, he saw the usual night time sky with its sprinkling of stars and two moons - one yellow and one dark red. The two moons together were about half as bright as the daytime sun and Hodges could see most of the village. Any doubt that the clock was wrong disappeared when he saw the village streets full of the normal morning traffic of carts and pedestrians.
Hodges stood and watched as a large wagon loaded with balanco logs for the sawmill negotiated a turn. He marveled at the control the little friewn drivers had over the great shaggy kracens pulling the wagon. The spidery little drivers crawled through the huge mats of hair covering the kracens, pulling on first one ear and then the other to guide the beasts.
When the wagon successfully made its turn and headed on through the village, Hodges picked up the basket of seed cakes from the bakery and the bottle of versmooth beast milk from the dairy waiting by the side of the door and returned to his kitchen. He knew that the most important characteristic of a good mayor was that he didn't get excited and act rashly. He decided he would eat his normal breakfast of sasaveran tea and seed cakes, and would then consider the problem of the sun's failure to rise.
Hodges put water in the tea pot and stepped over to the stove. He chose several slivers of wood, pushing them down through the grill covering the cook top. Down in the fire chamber, the fire-newts slumbered, showing only a dim gray - red glow. The fire-newts awoke when the wood slivers fell into the chamber. There was a churning commotion and the area below the front burner glowed into red heat. When he was sure he'd fed the fire-newts enough, Hodges put the tea pot over the burner and returned to his bedroom to dress while he waited for the water to boil.
After breakfast, Hodges looked out of both the front and back doors, and still couldn't find any sign of the sun. The two moons still hung in the star lit sky in the same positions as when he last looked. This is most disturbing he thought. If this keeps up there could be serious consequences.
Hodges could already feel the night time chill deepening instead of being chased away by the warming sun. He thought of all the clocks that would have to be adjusted - that is if the sun ever did come up. The thought that the sun might not rise at all shocked him. Until now he'd only considered the consequences of the sun being late. Shivers that came from more than the cold trembled through his round body.
Hodges returned to his living room, slamming the front door behind him to shut the trouble outside. He considered that the trembling in his hands and the thoughts racing through his brain were most unmayor-like. He must get hold of himself and calm down. What would the villagers think if they saw him in this state. It took most of his mental resolve, but he managed to push the whole matter of the missing sun from his mind. He decided to follow his usual routine as if nothing were wrong at all. He convinced himself that by lunch time the problem will have solved itself and his only worry will be to make a speech on the matter next politics day.
Hodges sat down at his writing desk. Picking up the quill and dipping it in the ink pot, he began carefully working on his pigeon feeding in the park decree. He used a lot of scrollwork and flourishes in his letters, remembering how most of his decrees were rejected because of penmanship. He often protested the rules that required he hand letter three copies of each decree and send them to the central bureaucracy for approval before they were even put up for a vote by the villagers. "These rules are the greatest obstacle to correcting all the problems in the village," he would rail. "Because of the rules, it takes me most of a year to finish one decree - and then it's usually rejected or voted down. At this rate, I'll never make any changes in the village." His listeners would nod sagely and smile. He was never quite sure whether they were agreeing with him or approving of the system.
Hodges had finished three ornate letters and was sitting back admiring his workmanship when he heard a knock on the front door. He knew the knock could only mean trouble - and more disruption of his schedule. With a sigh, he put his quill down and answered the door. Standing on the front steps was Jentro, the stableboy and an orangen - a race of hulking semi-moronic laborers who did most of the heavy menial work.
"Duh, I got message for you," said Jentro, scratching the tiny bald head that perched on his massive shoulders. "Let see, told me go to Mayor house - I done that. Then tell Mayor...what was I tell Mayor? Think Jentro. Something important..."
As he waited for Jentro to gather his slow wits about him, Hodges tried not to think that the caliber of the messenger was any indication of the importance the villagers placed in him.
In his struggles to free the elusive information from his reluctant brain, Jentro hit himself on the side of the head several times. The last blow was strong enough that he saw stars glittering before his eyes. A glimmer of memory was sparked by the stars and he looked up - and saw more stars. That was it! Stars out in daytime! "I remember! Sun not come up today!"
"I already know that. I saw that for myself as soon as I got up this morning. Is that all that you came to tell me?" asked Hodges impatiently, eager to get back to his decree.
"No, tell more...something about sun not come up...I remember! Strangers come from north. Tell bad stories. Villagers have big meeting. You come bang hammer on big bench in front. That it! That what they tell me tell you!" Jentro beamed at his triumph of muscle over mind.
Hodges quickly thanked Jentro for the message and shut the door. This is serious, he thought as he hurried into the bedroom to don his official robes. He knew he'd better get down to the meeting as soon as he could. Without him there to maintain proper order, there's no telling what might happen. As he slid the ornate robes over his head and fastened the clasps, he felt his shoulders straighten and his head lift a bit to fit his opinion of the proper noble bearing required by the badges of office. He carefully patted his fir back into position with his fingers, donned his ceremonial wig - which added another two inches to his already substantial height - and grabbed his gavel off the shelf. Properly attired for the task at hand, he set off for the Grogg and Murlfy ale house where he knew the meeting would be held.
He set the fastest pace he could manage and still appear stately. Must maintain appearances, even in an emergency, he reminded himself. But he knew that if he didn't get there soon, the consumption of ale would have more of an effect on the proceedings than he would.
As Hodges clumped along the balanco wood sidewalks, he could see in the moonlight that his worries had been justified. He could hear shouts and the sounds of tables and chairs being over turned even before he reached the Grogg and Murlfy. When he reached the door, he was rebuffed by a body hurtling out of the establishment.
Summoning up his determination, Hodges charged the door with all his civil authority, bulling his way into the center of the crowd. He managed to impose a semblance of order after administering a few judicial raps of his gavel on the more belligerent heads. Taking a place behind the bar, he banged his gavel three times and proclaimed in a loud voice, "This special village meeting will now come to order, The honorable Hodges J. Windfen, Mayor of Reansburg Village, presiding."
There was a minute of shuffling and scraping as benches were drawn up and people found places to sit down. When the commotion subsided, Hodges looked out over the collection of concerned faces, picking out the few unfamiliar ones. "You there," he pointed at a roughly clothed sandethen. "I've never seen you here before, so you must be one of the strangers from the north. Approach the bar and tell us what you know about the problem with the sun."
Hodges was pleased with the way he'd quickly seized control of the situation and how he was well on the way to shaping the crises into the forms with which he could deal. First get the testimony, then maybe appoint a commission to study the facts in the case. After that, maybe another commission to propose solutions, and then more hearings to decide on a plan of action. And at each stage, he would be at the center stage, glowing in his importance. Yes, maybe this problem with the sun would work out all right after all.
The sandethen, a small knarly creature clothed in rough sewn hides of the gentle little chremson beasts he grazed on the northern plains, stood up and said, "Name's Droven. Graze my herd - or used to graze my herd - in foothills of Barrier Mountains. I hear strange noises just over mountains for months now and I go look last week. What I saw scarred me so bad I start moving my herd right away. I spread word as I come south and was few miles from here when sun not come up this morning. I tell you last week when I look over crest of Barrier Mountains, I saw glasers building ice bridges to top of mountains. I sure they plan to cross mountains and invade south. When the sun not come up this morning, I know it connected with ice bridges so I come to spread word. Now I told you what I know, I got get back my herd. Don't know about rest of you but I'm moving south fast as I can." With that, Droven and the other sandethens in the audience shouldered their way to the door and left in a hurry.
Hodges found it most disconcerting to have his witnesses rush out the door after testifying. The proper rules of order required that witnesses submit to cross examination to test the validity of their testimony - although from the mad rush for the door by the rest of the villagers the validity of the story didn't seem to be in doubt. Hodges banged his gavel so many times he lost count and shouted "Order! I demand order in this meeting."
At last the banging and shouting seemed to have an effect on the commotion by the door and the villagers reluctantly returned to their seats. "Now, can anyone here shed some light on just who these glasers are and what they might have to do with the sun not rising this morning? Jancon, you travel to the north to get the chremson hides you sell in your store. What do you know about all this?"
Jancon, a trantan like most of the villagers, stood up. His round head with its fringe of hair around the back and neatly trimmed beard topped a short stocky body clothed in a shop keepers apron. "Never seen a glaser - nobody has close up. But from what the sandethens say about them, they live inside the ice. According to the sandethens, the glasers hold all of the land north of the Barrier Mountains. Nothing can live for long north of the mountains because the glasers don't tolerate anyone trespassing on their territory.
According to talk around the campfire, the glasers have always envied the wide open lands to the South and would cover whole world with ice if the sun didn't beat back their efforts to cross the mountains. That's why Droven and his fellows were so afraid - they think the glasers have finally conquered the sun and will now cross the mountains. According to legend, there's no way to fight against the glasers because they live inside the ice. The ice advances in huge sheets, crushing all that stands before them. Once the ice sheets start moving, even the mountains are ground down. If I didn't have all I own tied up in my store I'd be heading south with the rest. Maybe that's what we should do - all get together and move the whole village south."
Hodges saw all his visions of commissions and committees evaporating before his eyes. This was definitely a grave problem - and one that wouldn't wait for the wheels of government to grind slowly into line. "Does anyone else have anything to say?" he inquired hopefully.
From the back of the room came a voice saying, "Wait a minute. I have something to say." Hodges saw with mixed emotions that the voice belonged to Eddle Stine, one of the few sciencan's in the village. Eddle - tall and thin with thick spectacles, long slender fingers, and wearing his ever present white shop coat - threaded his way through the benches to the bar. Hodges knew that Eddle was responsible for some of the nicest things in the village - the clock in his own living room, for instance. But Eddle was also responsible for some major disasters, like when he was trying to make a wagon that could roll without kracens. The wagon rolled all right - right through both the soap maker's and the brewery. The mix of soap and beer in the dirt main street made the village impassible for weeks, not to mention to reek of stale beer. It was not without some trepidation that Hodges watched Eddle approach the bar.
Eddle pushed his spectacles back on his nose, straightened the collar of his shop coat, cleared his throat, and stated, "According to my calculations, it won't do any good to go south. Without the sun, this whole side of the world will very shortly drop into freezing temperatures."
"Then let's go over to the other side - that's were the sun is!" said a voice in the crowd. This was followed by many shouts of approval from the assembled villagers.
"No, I'm afraid that won't work either," replied Eddle. "If we're going to freeze without the sun, then they're going to bake with all the extra heat. I'm wouldn't be surprised if the other side isn't having a worst time of it already. No, running away won't help. If the sun doesn't start moving soon there won't be anywhere to go on the whole planet - unless you happen to be a glaser or a fire-newt."
"But then what are we to do?" asked Hodges. "Surely there's something we can do to stop these terrible changes. Perhaps you'd be so kind as to explain just what is happening - I'm still a little weak on the details."
"All right, first consider what we know about our world." Eddle fished in his many pockets until he found a coin. "The world is shaped a lot like this coin - a flat disk. Actually, the world is composed of three layers - two layers of soil and rock sandwiching a layer of extremely dense material that we don't know much about. We've mined down to the middle layer, but our hardest drills won't scratch its surface. We do know that the middle layer provides the gravity on both sides of the world.
Reansburg, along with most of the inhabited areas are in the center of each face of the coin. The burnt lands lie to the east and west where the sun comes closest to the surface in its daily transit around the planet. To the north and south lie the frozen lands where the sun is most distant. In the exact center of the northern curve of the world, on the very rim of the disk, is the celestial machine. I, of course, haven't seen the machine myself, but I've read the accounts of those who have.
The accounts tell of a great machine with gears large enough to fit this whole village in just one, shafts thicker than the main street is wide, and a huge engine that shakes the ground and makes the gears turn. Attached to the machine by a tall shaft extending straight up is the northern hub of the sky. This central shaft is the north pole that I'm sure all of you have heard of in the myths and legends.
Until I read the accounts, I thought the legends were just tales to entertain the youngsters, but now I know better. The accounts say the central shaft extends right through the center of the world and comes out at the south pole to connect with the southern hub of the sky. As you all probably know, the sun, moons and stars are all attached to the sky, which is a shell that rotates over the world and holds in the atmosphere. The best I can figure, the glasers must have found a way to stop the great celestial machine and halt the rotation of the sky. Our only hope is to get the sky turning again."
"But you'll have to cross the land of the glasers to get to this celestial machine, won't you?" asked Hodges. "Surely if the glasers have stopped the celestial machine they won't let you cross their land to start it up again. And even if you reached the machine, could you get it going again?"
"You're right about the glasers. This would have to be an expedition determined to win through no matter what - and the way I see it, it's the only chance we have so the risk doesn't matter. As for starting the machine again once we reach it, we won't know until we're there. But what else is there to do?"
After a long and boisterous discussion, Hodges banged his gavel and said tiredly, "Eddle, you seem to have a majority in favor a mounting an expedition to the north pole. Do you have any idea how large this expeditions will be, or what you'll want to take with you?"
The Mayor's statement took Eddle by surprise. It was one thing to provide his expert opinion on the matter. It was another thing altogether to join the expedition - let alone lead it. But since he'd suggested the expedition, he felt the weight of public expectation that he take part. After all, if he begged off for whatever reason it would cast doubt in the minds of all the others. And he truly believed in the necessity restarting the celestial machine.
"The only thought I have at this time is that the glasers use cold and ice as weapons so our most effective response will involve heat. Since we'll be traveling over ice most of the way, I'll design runners for the wagons and cleated shoes for the kracens. The blacksmiths can make the equipment."
Glad that no one had suggested he lead the expedition, Hodges responded, "That will give us something to start on at least. I suggest we all return to our places of business and think further on the problem. Inventory your supplies and make lists of whatever might be useful. I will circulate through the village collecting the lists and any further ideas on how to deal with the glasers. As soon as I've collected enough information we'll have another meeting. Until then, I declare this special village meeting closed."
Hodges banged his gavel before any objections could be raised. He was quite happy the way things were progressing - he'd avoided actually leading the expedition and yet he'd set himself up in an important position in the center of the action. He wanted to close the meeting before anyone changed the set up.
As he left the Grogg and Murlfy, the terror in Eddle's mind over venturing into the frozen north was already being pushed aside by the crushing weight of his responsibility for designing the equipment. The runners for the wagons would be simple but figuring out weapons to fight the glasers seemed an overwhelming task. He headed down the sidewalk towards his workshop on the outer edge of the village lost in deep thought.
A bump and stumble brought him out of his reverie, and Eddle saw he'd bumped into the lamplighter out feeding the glow worms extra wax to light up the day. "Excuse me, wasn't looking where I was going, all my fault," apologized Eddle as he helped the lamplighter pick up his pole.
"That's all right," replied the lamplighter. "You go right on thinking. It's gonna' take a powerful lot of thinking to beat the glasers - but we'll do it. Whole village will pull together to work it out. You never seen a more determined bunch as I seen on this sidewalk today. Not having any choice can be a powerful motivation, I do say."
Eddle walked on thinking about what the lamplighter said. He found the lad's confidence a great comfort as he realized he wasn't alone in wrestling with the problem. With the whole village truly behind the effort, maybe they could save their world after all. When he walked past the blacksmiths he felt the heat of the large brick tank where one of the smiths was feeding chunks of coal to his fire-newts.
Seeing Eddle in the door, the smith - a huge heavily muscled creature with scraggly hair sticking out from under his thick leather clothing - called out, "Ho there Eddle! I keep the newts hot so we start on wagon runners and kracen shoes soon as we get design. Clear rest of work out of way. We do it, Eddle. The whole village together, we get sun back if we gotta' drag it up ourselves.
The huge creaton's enthusiasm cheered Eddle considerably and he stopped to talk about the runners and shoes. The concepts were already clear in his mind, so with a piece a chalk he began to draw his ideas on the soot covered wall. The other smiths gathered around, offering suggestions and pointing out problems. After much arguing and several trips out into the street to study a convenient team of kracens and the wagon they were pulling, a design acceptable to all was finalized. The smiths and their orangen helpers set to work, heating the metal in the tank of fire-newts and then beating it into shape with powerful blows of their hammers amid showers of sparks.
Eddle continued on his way leaving the deafening noise and blistering heat behind. His step was considerably lighter on the balanco boards now. The doubts about reaching the north pole were eased considerably. Once they got there, however, it was still a different story. A weapon still had to be found that would defeat the glasers protected inside the ice.
Eddle came to the fire station. Having designed the fire pump, he felt a great deal of pride as he gazed in the fire house. The village was proud of its fire pump as well, with its polished draw bar for a team of kracens to pull it clanging down the street, and its smooth double hand bars where 6 villagers on each side could provide the power to spray water 50 yards - far enough to reach the highest roof in the village. Conveniently across the street stood the brewery - site of most of the village's fires.
It seemed that the brewery's fire-newts had a taste for the alcohol in the ale - and especially for the more potent glug. Eddle suspected the pale brown glug was mostly straight alcohol. All a worker had to do was spill a little glug anywhere a fire-newt could find it and there would be a fire. And if the fire-newts got into a whole vat of glug, it took the entire village to put it out. There's nothing more dangerous than a drunken fire-newt, thought Eddle. Maybe there's something there we can use. His mind slipped back into deep thought as he continued home.
The clock on the wall said it was 11:00 the next morning when Eddle heard the knock on his door. Pulling open the thick wood door, he found Hodges the Mayor standing on his front step, covered with a light dusting of snow. "Come in, come in, it's warm by the hearth," he said, gazing out in wonder at the white flakes drifting slowly down from the sky before the cold forced him to shut the door.
"Snow!" exclaimed Hodges, as he warmed his hands over the hearth. "Here in Reansburg! In the middle of summer! If the villagers weren't convinced of the gravity of the situation before, this snow has made true believers of them all. I expected it to take days for the villagers to make up the inventories, but they were all ready this morning. And look at all the ideas they came up with!" Hodges waved a sheaf of paper to emphasize his point. "Have you come up with any more ideas on how to deal with these cursed glasers? They've already killed all the flowers in my garden with this cold - and just when the dreffinaia were about to bloom."
"I've been giving it some thought. At this point, we don't know much about what we'll encounter up north. All we know for sure is that it will be cold and icy. I'd suggest that anyone in the village who can sew should bend a needle to outfitting each member of the expedition with a chremson fir coat and boots. And we should take a large number of fire-newts with us, along with as much food for the newts as possible. That much I'm sure of. Of course, we'll need many glow worms to light the way as well. This moon light is enough to find my way around the village, but I'll want to see better when we head north. I've heard of deep chasms in the ice that are nearly invisible until your feet are right on the edge. Past that, I might have come up with something we can use against the glasers. I got to thinking last night about the fires at the brewery and our fire pump."
"The fire pump!" exclaimed Hodges, thinking of how the shiny brass pump was the envy of all the villages around. "But you said we should think about ways to use heat and fire. Do you want to put the fires out now?"
"Not to put fires out. I've been trying to work out a different set of valves that would allow us to spray glug with the pump. You know what happens when fire-newts come across a little glug. What would happen if a lot of newts found many gallons of glug?"
Hodges thought for minute before his face brightened. "I see what you mean. Maybe you have something there. The brewery has several barrels of glug on hand - they were going to ship it south on the next wagon train. I'll tell them to save what they have and brew up as much as they can before the expedition leaves. And I'll spread the word about the warm clothing. Looks like that'll be the bottleneck that limits the size of the expedition."
"What are the chances of help from the other side? They must be just as threatened as we are."
"It is my hope that they're mounting an expedition of their own even as we speak. But as for organized cooperation, I'm afraid that's out of the question. Ever since that unfortunate remark by their ambassador at the first Both Sides Conference - about which side of the world was heads and which tails - we have technically been at war. Just because the actual fighting has tapered off in the War of the Rim doesn't mean the war's ended. You would probably do well to avoid contact with anyone from the other side you happen to come across.
Well, now that that's all settled, I'd better get on with my rounds. It's amazing how much administration an effort of this size requires - and no time to appoint committees or anything. Don't bother to show me to the door, you just get on with your designing. I'll check back later to see how you're doing."
As he watched the Mayor leave, Eddle had a vision of the Mayor leaving a trail of sighs of relief around the village as he departed from one craftsman after another on his rounds. If there was a silver lining in the crisis, it was that the Mayor was in such a tizzy that he didn't have time to take up much of anyone else's time. A normal visit by the Mayor meant the rest of the day was wasted for the victim. Eddle returned to his drawings, determined to make the most of this opportunity and solve the problems with the pump.
Four days of hectic activity after that first morning the sun failed to rise, Eddle stood on the door step of his workshop and surveyed the assembled expedition with suddenly awakened terror. He'd been so involved with preparations for the trip that he'd pushed all thoughts about actually going out of his mind. Now, with all the preparation done and the expedition waiting to set off, the fears rushed back. The Mayor was droning on about how brave they all were but the words didn't register in Eddle's brain. He knew the Mayor too well to believe anything he said in a speech. He was, however, grateful for the bulk of the Mayor behind which it was easy to hide his shaking knees.
Passing his gaze up and down the street, it seemed to Eddle that most of the village had joined the expedition. Those few who stood shivering on the sidewalk had obviously given up their warm clothing to someone else. Even the Mayor gave up his heavy robes of office, a fact that would probably cut short his usually long winded oratory. The shops were all missing their awnings - gone to make tents and covers for the wagons. Even some of the shops were missing, leaving new holes in the row of small buildings that lined the main street. In their fervor to find firewood, the villagers tore down some of the older building and loaded them into the wagons.
The expedition itself was an amazing collection of mismatched people and equipment. In the lead were trantons carrying large glass globes full of glow worms on poles to light the way. Next in line was a group of huge creatons with their orangen helpers, coming straight from the mines with picks and shovels to clear a path through the ice for the wagons. Following the miners were more glow worm globes and then the wagons.
Lining the street were dozens of wagons filled with coal, wood, barrels of tar, barrels of glug, tools and equipment, food and camping gear, the village's shiny brass fire pump - in short, everything anyone thought might be useful. Each wagon carried a set of runners for when they reached the ice, and each team of kracens wore spiked shoes strapped over their paws. Spaced around the wagons were more glow worm globes, and following was a rear guard made up of the blacksmiths and their helpers.
The members of the expedition were all bundled up in clothes hastily made from whatever was at hand. Even the little friewn drivers, burrowing down in the heavy fir of the kracens to keep warm, were transformed into little balls of fuzz with stubby arms. Eddle himself wore a coat, a pair of pants, and boots made out of the chremson fleece quilt that used to adorn his bed in winter.
A gust of wind blew down the street, penetrating even Eddle's bulky clothing and bringing to mind the zephers - those wispy creatures only slightly more substantial than the air they lived in. It was the zephers who made the winds blow as they herded their flocks of clouds. They also occasionally loosed the sparkies - creatures of pure energy that flashed between the clouds and sometimes to the ground with their thunder rolling through the air. From the density of the clouds, it was obvious to Eddle that the zephers had been chased from the other side of the world by the blistering hot sun. With so many clouds on this side, the snow was falling continuously now and the moonlight was gone. As he kicked at the depth of snow already layering his steps, he wondered if the zephers were on the side of the villagers or the glasers.
Before the big change, the zephers ruled the whole atmosphere and now they were confined to just half. So to Eddle's mind, they should be on the villager's side. But from the chill wind and the constant snow, he wondered if the zephers were against them, or maybe just didn't know - or care - what was happening. It was hard to tell what a creature composed of vapors was thinking - or even if it could think. Even in normal times there certainly didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for the day to day weather - although the yearly seasons tended to follow one another in regular order.
The end of the Mayor's speech brought Eddle's thoughts back to the present. He cast one more longing glance back at the warmth and comfort of his workshop, and then walked down the steps to the head of the expedition. The assemblage started to move, heading out of the village.
The first day's travel was easy going, following established wagon roads. Spirits were high in the camp the first night, with much singing and dancing. Even sleeping on the hard ground failed to dampen the morale of the villagers. It wasn't until the third day, with the sight of the great ice sheets grinding across the plains, that a sobering realization of the momentous task at hand settled over the expedition. Eddle sent scouts ahead to find a way up the face of the ice sheets.
The scouts came back with bad news. The face of the ice sheet was too steep for the wagons. The miners were eager to cut a road through the face but Eddle knew it would take too long - and he didn't want to use up energy they would undoubtedly need later in the trek. After much discussion, it was decided to pull the wagons up the shallowest slope with ropes.
To start the process, the ablest climbers set off up the face with light ropes trailing behind. When they reached the top, they pulled up rope ladders attached to their light lines. Members of the expedition with more brawn than agility climbed the rope ladders and then pulled up the heavy winches. It took an entire day to winch the kracens and wagons up the slope.
Eddle worried about the lost time. The creep of the ice sheet was too slow to see, but just in the time they were camped at the base it advanced 10 feet. In his mind, he could picture the glasers adding layer after layer of ice on top of the celestial machine, freezing it under an impenetrable barrier. He ordered that anyone not engaged in the winching operation work on fitting the runners to the wagons. After moving back a safe distance from the edge, the expedition set up camp and prepared to spend its first night on the ice.
The next morning - according to Eddle's portable clock - the expedition faced its first full day on the ice. Eddle surveyed the glassy smooth expanse with dread as he strapped on his ice shoes. The blacksmiths had made metal grills with stubby nails welded to the underside for each of them to tie to their boots. With his first tentative step, his feet slipped out from under him and he landed in a heap. Gathering himself up, his embarrassment was tempered by the observation that most of the expedition seemed to be having the same difficulty.
Eddle decided the problem was that the points of the nails weren't biting into the ice. With his next step, he planted his foot firmly down, driving the points of the nails deep into the ice. He stood firmly in place. Too firmly. He wrenched his foot free and tried another slightly less forceful step. With a little experimentation, he found a happy compromise that allowed him to walk easily over the glass smooth surface. After sharing his discovery with the ones who had not yet discovered it for themselves, he signaled for the expedition to move out over the ice.
The expedition traveled for days over the glassy smooth surface unhindered by the glasers. Eddle wondered if the smooth surface was supposed to stop them or lead them into a trap. If the glasers expected them to slip and stumble on the ice they'd missed their bet, he thought with satisfaction. With runners on the wagons and the special shoes, it was easier going on the ice than it'd been back on the wagon road. He sent scouts ahead to search for hidden crevasses but the way was clear. When he stopped and looked down in the crystal clarity of the ice, he thought he could see lines of blue-white figures marching south. There seemed to be no end to the glasers. The thought crossed his mind that the glasers were so confident of victory that they weren't bothering to stop the expedition.
On the evening of the second day they came to region of broken and tumbled ice blocks. As the going got harder, Eddle kept a constant stream of scouts coming and going, searching out the easiest path. The road gang followed the scouts, removing large chunks of ice and filling small crevasses. Their progress was slowed considerably but not stopped. The miners seemed to relish the heavy work, claiming it kept them warm in the chill wind. The ice blocks shattered under their picks and sledgehammers like fine glassware, and the miners attacked each new chunk with an irresistible vengeance.
Eddle's scouts brought back bad news during the afternoon of the fifth day. A deep crevasse stretched across the path of the expedition. Unlike the previous chasms they'd already encountered, this one was too deep to fill and the scouts couldn't find either end to go around. He called a halt to the wagons and gathering the best minds together, went to inspect the crevasse.
They could barely see the other side of the crevasse at least 30 feet away in the yellow light of the glow worm globes. An ominous booming and grinding sound came from the black depths of the huge crack. A chunk of ice tied to a rope failed to reach bottom before the rope played out.
It was decided at once that the only alternative was to build a bridge. A standard arch bridge was decided on, with supports sunk into the sides of the crevasse. Eddle watched with admiration as the miners assembled several long beams into one 30 feet long. With the aid of ropes, a jack pole, and a lot of grunting, they levered the beam across the gap. A slender tranton with a rope tied around his waist with which to pull across a heavier rope, carefully treaded his way along the beam.
Eddle's attention was so intently riveted on the tranton's slow progress that he almost felt like he was on the beam himself. It seemed like the grinding noises from the depths got louder as the tranton inched across. And then it happened. The ice shuddered and the crevasse spread several feet. He watched horrified as the far end of the beam scraped closer and closer to the edge - and then slipped off, disappearing into the dark depths. A quick thinking tranton grabbed the rope tied to the waist of the walker as it whipped out, but the weight started dragging him toward the edge as well.
In a moment and inches from the yawning blackness, the hapless tranton was smothered as two huge creatons jumping on him to stop his slide. With the rope safely in strong hands, the two creatons got up easily but the tranton had to be helped to his feet. After a moment he got his breath back and seemed none the worse for wear, but he kept farther back from the edge after that.
The hanging tranton was drawn up bruised and battered but nothing seemed to be broken. Eddle ordered the man placed in a wagon and collected the best minds of the expedition once again to rethink their plan.
"The glasers control the ice. If they can open it up, they can also close it enough to crush an arch bridge. Judging from the sounds coming from down there, I wouldn't trust anything to chance. I suggest we build a bridge that's completely above the lip of the chasm and extends far beyond the edge in case the gap grows. I've never designed anything but arch bridges, so I'm not sure what to do. Any ideas?"
One of the miners got up and patted Eddle on the back, saying, "Just bring up wagons with lumber and we take care of bridge."
Eddle didn't know what to make of this, but the miner's confidence seemed to be shared by his peers, so he stalked off on his long legs to move up the wagons. When he returned the miners had a drawing scratched out in the ice. He studied the drawing, and while several details puzzled him, it all looked workable. He even admired the concept - a square tube with its structural members forming the walls. He mentioned his admiration to a passing miner carrying a timber and the miner replied, "Is easy. Any miner can do. Is same as tunnel bracing for sand and loose rock, only reverse. Have pushing places switched with pulling places, but is tunnel bracing anyway. I tell you, no miner live long without learning how make strong shaft under ground. One mistake, rocks fall, and he no more."
Eddle passed among the miners building the bridge, measuring and writing on his tablet. He worried and fretted about whether the bridge would work. He offered his opinion and questioned what the miners were doing until the leadman got up and said, "Eddle, you making us nervous. Why not you go check over wagons or something. No worry, we know what we do. Bridge work fine - you see. But you see later, not now. Now you just make trouble. Go away."
The rebuke brought Eddle up short. His first reaction was to argue that he was in charge, and he would make the decisions - but one look at the rest of the miners convinced him that he ruled only at the sufferance of his subjects. Faced with solid intransigence, he rethought his position. Reluctantly, he had to admit that he really wasn't doing anything useful. The miners had practical experience to back them up.
"Ok, I guess you're right," he agreed with difficulty. "You don't need a worried hen clucking about what she doesn't know about. Give me a call when you need me."
"Right! You be boss again when wagons on other side."
Eddle occupied himself spreading the weight of the freight evenly between all the wagons. But even as he was busy with the wagons, he couldn't help glancing over at the miners every chance he got. Just when he could hardly stand it any longer, the moment came and the miners called him. As he walked over, he saw that the bridge was just like the drawings - a square tube. The tube rested on rollers made from logs. The far end was suspended by heavy rope running through a pulley at the top of a tall A-frame extending out over the crevasse. "We ready!" announced the miners.
"We hitch kracens to bridge to push across to other side. At same time hitch kracens to rope over frame to hold end of bridge up in air until far enough drop on other side. Then we put roller under ends so bridge can move with ice, with kracen at each end to keep in center. Glasers make ice jump and shake, but bridge stay!"
Eddle watched from the sidelines with his heart in his mouth as the miners launched their bridge. Except for a difficult moment when the bridge wavered just shy of its goal, the operation went off just as the miners predicted. Even as the end of the bridge was slamming down on other side, three miners carrying a roller were running across. A fourth and fifth followed with a jack and blocks. Minutes later the bridge was centered and ready. At the signal of the leadman, Eddle started the line of wagons moving, crossing the bridge one at a time. The creaks and groans from the bridge were lost in the terrible rumbles coming up from the crevasse, but the wagons continued to cross. The ice trembled as the glasers tried to widen the gap, but they couldn't pull it apart enough to swallow the bridge.
At last, the final wagon crossed and Eddle followed it. On the other side, he met the leadman. "What we do with bridge now?"
After a moment's consideration, Eddle said, "If the glasers know we have the bridge with us, they probably won't bother making another crevasse. How long would it take your men pull it apart?"
The leadman's face brightened as he said, "Such nice bridge - first we ever build. We hope you want take with. Be in wagons couple hours."
The leadman left to start the miners taking the bridge apart before Eddle could get his stunned brain to work. "But I thought you said you knew what you were doing, " he called after the miner.
"We did, no? Wagons on other side now, right?"
Eddle's knees suddenly felt weak and he sat down on the ice. They were on the other side now, he kept telling himself, and you can't argue with success. But he was glad the miners hadn't told him this was their first bridge before he crossed - and he fervently hoped they wouldn't have to use the bridge again.
Eddle watched the miners transfer the A-frame to the side they were on now and remove as much structure from the bridge as possible. Then with two teams of kracens on the rope over the frame, they lifted the far end. Easing out a rope attached to the near end, the miners allowed the bridge to roll itself most of the way across. Once the main weigh was on the near side a team of kracens easily pulled it the rest of the way. True to their promise the miners had the bridge in the wagons in a couple of hours.
Since day and night were reduced to an arbitrary matter determined by Eddle's portable clock, and since most of the expedition members had been idle during the bridge episode, Eddle decided to move on. The terrain was smoother ahead, suggesting the glasers expected the crevasse to be enough and hadn't bothered to construct further defenses. He ordered the miners to rest in the wagons while he went ahead with a crew of trantons to clear the road.
As he helped clear small rubble from the path, it seemed to Eddle that the wind had slackened and the air seemed a bit warmer. Scanning the sky he caught sight of a few stars in the north peeking through the clouds. He realized the wind was blowing over the north pole from the burning land on the other side of the world. They were getting close.
As they traveled on, Eddle watched with dismay as thick black clouds began to form ahead. Sparkies danced among the clouds and their thunder rolled across the ice. In the bright flashes he saw a wall of ice rising to meet the sky barring their way. About the time he saw the wall in the flashes of light, the scouts were returning with the bad news. The glasers were raising an ice barrier between them and the north pole as a last defense.
Eddle stopped the wagons a safe distance away and advanced to study the wall up close along with several others of the party. The wall was made of smooth clear ice that seemed tremendously thick. Eddle was sure he saw the blue-white glasers mocking him in the depths of the ice. He looked to right and left, and the wall seemed to stretch on forever. Looking up, the wall seemed to tower high enough to challenge the zephers. Only the leadman of the miners, rested by his sleep in the wagon and inspired by the success of the bridge, showed much hope. "We drill tunnel right through wall. You see. Good thing we come along. You need us all time. I go get crew, start right away."
Eddle had a feeling that tunneling through the ice wouldn't get very far. As the miners set to work with their picks and shovels, he sat back on the ice with a couple of trantons and watched the storm that was progressing overhead. "If ever there were angry clouds, those are the ones," he said to anyone who happened to be listening. "Look at the way they boil and churn, and the way the sparkies flash among them. At times, you can hardly think for all the thunder. It would seem that if the clouds are angry, then the zephers must be angry as well - after all, they've lost half a world to the burning heat of the sun. Maybe the zephers have decided to favor us. The winds have been warm and gentle lately. Or maybe this wall that towers up into the sky to mock us all has finally caught their interest. Whatever the cause, the blackest clouds seem to gather over the wall."
Eddle's musings were interrupted by the leadman saying, "It no use. We dig fast. But ice grow out to meet us. We dig long time now. Only couple feet in. We see glasers in ice making faces. Must give up tunnel."
A particularly strong flash blinded Eddle for a moment, and during the thunder that shook his bones he had an idea. "I've got it!" he exclaimed, running for the wagons. "We'll need that roll of gold wire, some cloth, and a long iron stake."
The villagers were completely mystified by Eddle's instructions but followed them anyway. In an hour Eddle had a large kite stretched out downwind from the wall. Eddle stood with the miners at the base of the wall holding the iron stake and the end of the wire. The wire was wrapped around a stout cord for strength and both were tied to the kite. Eddle knew the hand formed gold wire was a treasure worth more than all he owned, but if his plan worked it would be worth it.
When all was ready, Eddle signaled the miners to drive the ten foot long iron stake into the ice wall. When only one foot was left showing, he stopped the miners and signaled the villagers by the kite. Waiting a moment for a strong gust, they ran with the kite with Eddle pulling in the cord as they approached. Half way to the wall, the wind caught the kite and pulled it up. With the help of the muscular miners, Eddle slowly played out the cord, coaxing the kite higher and higher. When he reached the end of the cord and wire, he tied them both to the iron stake, wrapping the wire around the stake several extra times to be sure. Then they ran for the wagons.
Eddle turned to look back at the wall when he reached the wagons. Had he misunderstood? Had he done something wrong? His eyes followed the line from the iron stake up to the dimly visible kite darting and swooping in the storm tossed sky. The sparkies flashed all around the kite, illuminating it with their brilliance. Long minutes of waiting passed. He started thinking about which direction to try to go around the wall. And then it happened.
A blinding flash lit up the scene brighter than daylight. The force of the crashing thunder struck Eddle full in the chest, throwing him to the ground. The thunder was followed by a wave of searing heat. As the sound rolled off into the distance, a stunned silence followed. The sound and light lingered in Eddle's eyes and ears long after the originals died away. Slowly, as the ringing in his ears eased and the spots in his eyes began to shrink, he picked himself up off the ground. He was so stunned by the violence that he stumbled around for several minutes before he remembered what was happening.
The wall. When he turned to the wall, he was dumbfounded. The kite and gold wire were gone, but so was a large section of the wall. Like it'd been shattered by the blow of a tremendous hammer, the wall lay broken and scattered and before him stretched an open path to the pole. As they saw the wall, the rest of the villagers raised a shout and rushed forward to clear a track for the wagons. Sledges and pickaxes quickly finished what the sparkies started. The wagons were moving again.
Once he was through the ice wall, Eddle could see the north pole stretching off in the distance. The rim itself still obscured the base of the pole where the celestial engine was located, but at least he could see something besides endless ice. He was exhausted after passing through the ice wall but the sight of the pole gave him a second wind and he resolved to continue. Seeing Eddle heading for the pole, the rest of the villagers dragged themselves back up on their feet and followed.
Eddle's only thought as he headed for the bright shaft that marked his destination was that it marked an end to the trek. He'd been cold and miserable for weeks camping out on the ice, eating crude travel rations. For a sciencan accustomed to his comfortable workshop, the journey had been torture and he just wanted to end it. His mind wasn't considering what would happen when he reached the pole - just getting there seemed such a monumental achievement that he hadn't thought further.
The rim of the world passed as a minor difficulty after the miners cut a transition ramp over the edge. The view from the edge, however, stopped the whole expedition for awhile. It was some time before they got used to the sight of the land chopped off abruptly front and rear while curving away on both sides. Eddle found the sight of the north pole especially breath taking. The massive shaft, brilliantly sun lit on one side, towered majestically into the heavens. At the top, the shaft was crowned by a sparkling explosion of light trailing into a spiderweb of tracery through the top of the sky - the northern hub.
Now that he was on the rim, Eddle could see the icy mound at the base of the north pole. As he staggered toward the mound, he could see figures climbing on the ice. At first he thought of glasers, but then he realized that the figures were on the surface. Other-siders. He picked up his pace, not sure if it was out of fear or hope.
Eddle's fears evaporated when the expedition reached the celestial machine, but so did his hopes. The figures were other-siders all right, but they lay in frustrated exhaustion outside the mound of ice. "We've been trying to dig our way in for days," said the leader of the other-siders, "and we're no farther than when we started. Our side of the world is burning up with the heat, so we didn't realize it was the glasers who were behind it. Have you come better prepared?"
Eddle was tempted to say something about which side was heads and which tails now, but he thought better of it. "We've stripped our village of everything that might be useful. Bring your wisest men and we will make a plan."
"It's beautiful," said Radcluf, the leader of the other-siders as he admired the fire pump. "You use this to fight the glasers often?"
"Never before," admitted Eddle. "We use it to pump water to cool the fire-newts into dormancy when they've escaped and are consuming a building or something. This will be the first time we've ever tried to burn our way into a building."
Eddle checked the connections from the pump to the barrels of glug and the nozzle adjustment. When everything was as ready as he could make it, he nodded to the villagers at the doorway of the building that housed the celestial machine. A tranton poured glug on a board that the miners had driven into the ice in the doorway while another dropped fire-newts in the liquid. The heat made them step back, but before they departed they splashed more glug on the board and upset the box of newts where they would find the volatile liquid.
Eddle nodded to the villagers lined up on either side of the pump. The hand rails rose and fell faster and faster, and he felt the hose grow rigid in his hands. He opened the nozzle and a solid stream of glug shot out. He swung the stream of glug onto the board and nodded to the trantons by the large tank. A swing of a sledgehammer loosened the bottom stopper and a cascade of glowing newts flowed over the ice. Pained by the chill of the ice and drawn by the fragrance of the glug, the newts wiggled straight to the board. The squirming mass of newts, working themselves into a white heat in the potent glug, slid down the sloping board through the doorway, melting the ice as they went.
Eddle frantically set about changing the valves on the fire pump as the glug ran out. With the newts putting out such prodigious amounts of heat, a great deal of melt water was collecting in the shallow basin dug in front of the door. With the old valves in place and the intake hose dropped into the basin, he signaled the pumpers. The hand rails rose and fell again, and the water in the basin disappeared, becoming an icy spray sparkling through the air. He directed the spray over a small ridge and out of the way.
The mass of newts reached ten feet inside the building before the barrels of glug gave out. As the stream of brown liquid ended, villagers with bricks and tar soaked sticks rushed in, laying down a quick hearth above the melt water and reviving the fire-newts with the tar soaked sticks. Once they were inside with the building to trap the heat, their progress accelerated. The heat and red glow of the fire-newts seemed to paralyze the glasers and the ice melted faster than the glasers could replace it. As soon as there was room, villagers started chopping the ice into manageable pieces and carrying it away. Another crew worked to chop the ice away from the great shaft. More ice choppers went go to work after they cleared a second doorway, and soon the bulk of the celestial machine appeared out of its crystal case.
Long hours of toil followed and the wagons emptied of food for the fire-newts. The machine was free of ice and the shaft was mostly cleared, but still the machine didn't start. Eddle paced up and down in front of the huge machine. Just in case, he walked over to one of the giant gears and gave it a kick. Nothing happened. He paced some more.
A tranton came running up, shouting, "Eddle, come quick. They've found something!"
Eddle followed the man to a small room off in a corner. The villagers were still chipping the ice out of the corner, but the door was already clear. He stepped inside and found the room contained a chair facing a panel. Set in the panel were three buttons labeled ON, OFF, and RESET. He sat in the chair and contemplated the buttons. Looking out of a newly cleared window at the huge bulk of the celestial machine from the tiny room with the three buttons, his mind rebelled at the thought that there was any connection.
Still, they hadn't come across anything else. He knew what ON meant, so he pressed the button. Nothing. The machine already was off, so that left RESET. He'd never heard of the term before, but he didn't see any alternative, so he tied the button. There were a series of sharp clicks in the machine room but then nothing. He stared at the buttons and out at the machine. He looked over at the dwindling pile of food for the fire-newts and knew time was running out. When the last of the wood and coal was gone, the glasers would return and the world would be lost. In frustrated anger over being so helpless after traveling so far and coming so close to winning, he slammed his fist down on the ON button and stamped out the door.
Eddle was half way across the floor of the machine room before he noticed the change. There was a whirring noise, winding up to a higher and higher pitch. Then the whirring was replaced by a deep rumbling that shook the building. The rumbling slowed, punctuated by irregular shuddering thumps. When the rumbling died away completely, the whirring returned, followed by the rumble again. Only this time, the shuddering thumps came closer together, faster and faster, merging into a steady heavy vibration in the floor and a loud hammering in his ears.
As soon as the vibration steadied, a loud screeching started as two huge disks were pressed together - one turning, one not. The disks smoked and screamed but slowly the stopped one started to move, the huge celestial machine groaning in protest. The slower disk spun faster and faster until its speed matched the driven disk. The scream died away and the smoke cleared, and Eddle saw that the massive gears were turning. They'd done it - in a few hours the sun would once again be rising over the edge of the world.
In the midst of the celebration, Radcluf walked over with a mug of glug from the bottom of the barrels and put his arm around Eddle's shoulders. "We got along all right facing the glasers together," Radcluf observed drunkenly. "Maybe we ought to reopen the Both Sides Conference and end this silly war."
"I have an idea about that," agreed Eddle, equally drunk. "I've been watching that round beauracran you have in your party. Now our beauracrans are shaped about the same so don't take offense, but have you ever noticed how with the heavy clothes at a distance you can't tell which way he's facing? I agree we should reconvene the conference but this time we should use a round table and pretend that the world is shaped like a glow worm globe with no faces at all. I know that the world is flat, but just for the sake of politics we'll pretend that it's round."