Part 16 - Please Don't Interrupt the Tour

Edna didn’t feel her face move, but it must have done something horrible, for Highmond immediately frightened. He said, “Oh! No! Not dead, dead - not all of the chap. I only mean the body it - well - dove us here with. The damage was irreparable, I’m afraid.” The ends of his mustache sank, but bounced back quickly, “It’s not all bad, of course! I’ve used the parts to build us a few helpful things.” He gestured round as he said this.


With great protests from her pain, Edna sat up and turned to look all around. She noticed then that they were in a small hut - absolutely packed with contraptions like the one above the fire. None of them built of anything but metal scraps, twigs, and the sheer veracity of Highmond’s spirit. Maybe some leaves, too. Highmond went on, “Let’s see, we’ve got four walls and a roof, obviously. Shelter’s the most important thing. This,” he moved his hands in circles pointed at the ground beneath them, “is the lounge slash kitchen slash game room. That,” he aimed the circles at Edna - or behind her, she realized - “is the workshop.”


She turned to look. The workshop was astonishingly well-prepared. “Is that a steam-powered circular saw?” Edna asked, unbelieving.


“Yes - well, no, it’s electric, actually, er - please don’t interrupt the tour.” Edna smiled. For all his faults, it was enjoyable to fluster the old man up. He continued, “I think we shall sleep in those corners, there,” his circling hands hovered now toward Edna’s left before swinging round to her right. Following them, she saw an open doorway, trees standing beyond. “And finally, that is the foyer. Please wipe your shoes on the mat and leave them there whenever you come inside.”


Edna looked down. The ground here was the same dirt as outside. She said as much to Highmond. “Yes,” he replied, “well it’s the principle of the thing, isn’t it?” Edna forced the corners of her lips down in a faux-thoughtful frown, nodded her head, and grunted. The grunt was more from the pain than any agreement, but Highmond didn’t need to know that.


She asked, with genuine astonishment, “Was I out longer than I thought, or did you build all of this in a day?”


“Ah! Yes, no, yes you’re quite right. It’s been about a day - a little more. I built a few other small things in addition to what you see here. A handful of compasses, a couple of canteens, a new cane.” His face lit as he said this. He quickly turned and stomped on a lever in the contraption by the fire. Immediately the flames dimmed and a cane flew straight into the air. Highmond caught it with an excess of gusto, even for him. “It’s a bit rubbish, really,” he said, holding it so she could see, “Doesn’t even have a single laser. Still, I think it shall be useful.”


The thing about Highmond that had been bouncing around Edna’s mind clicked into something solid. She was sure of it now, and they would need to talk about it. Not yet, though. Not much later, mind you. Not right before any big, final battles or moments of otherwise uncertain death. No, she’d seen that too much, and found it in poor taste.


She would discuss what she believed with the old man soon, then, but right now she only laughed a little. “Did you say a handful of compasses?” she asked, “Why would we need a handful?”


Highmond blushed, pulling back his cane and inserting it into the machine. The flames grew once more, their warmth returning to Edna’s face. “I--well, you never… no, I suppose we won’t,” he laughed at himself, “I was just having fun magnetizing needles, I suppose. The old silk tie trick. I’ve known it as long as I can remember, but I had never actually needed to use it before today.”


‘The old silk tie trick,’ Edna knew because she had needed to use it, was that if you take a small rod of metal and rub it down a bolt of silk (or a few other fabrics) in one direction over and over, the rod will magnetize. Edna did not know why. Was it something to do with removing electrons? That seemed unlikely, but she didn’t have a better explanation. Anyway, after you’ve done whatever you’re doing to the poor rod, just find a way to float it on some water - usually a leaf - and you have a compass.


She smiled at him. It was involuntary, genuine. Realizing this, Edna was struck with a sudden image of his - she felt - inevitable death. Grief came knocking at her soul. It had arrived too early, but her pain thought she should let it in, embrace it as the old friend it had come to be. Pain would think that. She and grief are sisters, and, though each is unique, they are so close as to be commonly mistaken. But Edna knew them well, and could tell them apart from their dress and their demeanor.


Still she considered letting this too-early guest in. Would it not be rude to turn grief away? And after she’s made the trip? No. Edna would need her wits now, and grief did so love to play with those.


Finding the way closed, grief tried looking for a spare key. There must be something here about Pythagoras, grief muttered, turning up bits of yesterday in Edna’s head. The unwanted guest would succeed, Edna knew, if she allowed this to continue, so she tried to ease her concerns for the turtoid.


“Highmond,” she said, after a short pause, “you seem to think the other Pythagorases are alive. Do you have any idea what’s happened to them?”


Highmond was still smiling about compass needles, but it vanished now. “Well, nothing for certain, I’m afraid, but I have a hypothesis.” He looked at Edna, who nodded for him to continue. “Yes, well, I climbed a tree - the tallest I could find. An oak, I believe, based on the... No, sorry, unimportant, you’re right. Then, having determined that we were travelling north yesterday--”


“All the compasses,” Edna provided.


“Yes,” he laughed a little, “all the compasses, indeed! Anyway, from my tree, I looked for smoke. There was none I could see to our North. In fact, the only smoke I could see at all rose from our East - though that looked more like it came from a town.” Edna’s face went quisitive at this, so he explained, “Several small, spread out sources rather than one large source.”


With this, it all clicked into place in Edna’s mind, but she restrained herself from finishing his thoughts. He had done all the work here, he deserved the grand reveal.


Highmond took a deep breath and began, “All this I say, I say, well, to say, you know, that I believe Pie must have put out the fire before landing! Now, probably a few of its other bodies perished - what with the fire and the crash that must have ensued, but our Pie is a tough old turtoid, I say! Therefore, I suggest to you, somewhere to our north, a small platoon of turtoids awaits! Likely, the dutiful chap is hard at work repairing the dirigible even now, which is good because we’ll have a long journey westward once we get to it.”


Highmond stopped, letting out what little remained of his breath. Edna took this as the cue that he had finished, so she gave a little clap, saying, “Very well done, Highmond, I am relieved and impressed.” He beamed at the compliment from her. “But I must ask,” she continued, “how do you know we have a ‘long journey westward’?”


“Ah, yes,” he said, his smile growing. He raised a foot onto a low part of the contraption by the fire, pushed his sleeves up, and leaned in. He paused momentarily, glancing about, trying to decide if any other options were available to him as he milked this line for all he could. He briefly considered abandoning his current tact, going instead with a sort of spinning cane flip thing, but decided against it. He opted to lean in even more, until he was almost all the way bent over.


Finally he said, “Because I know where we are.”


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