Friday, April 09, 2004

THE GREAT EXPEDITION II, PART THE 20TH AND FINAL: REGROUPING IN HAWTHORNE, THEN TO STANFORD AND INTO FEDERAL, AND AT LONG, LONG LAST, HOME IN SHIPLEY

Once a handful of our party has regrouped in Hawthorne (and Miss Lorentz has offered yet another witticism on the territory), we make our way for a central peak in Stanford, passing along the way a morbid graveyard scene. By the time we have reached that summit, we find that the remainder of our party has made its way, through death and exile-by-push and other travails encountered in Jessie, to meet us there.

"What happened?" asks Emily Curie, who greets us still hefting her firearm of the future. "Something killed me, and I think I shot the guy in the Viking helmet."

We proceed on from there, and when we reach Federal, stand on a lush plateau that abounds with all manner of strange constructions, and it's there that we realize that the journey is, at last, almost at an end. Through the woods below are the shores of Shipley, and on the cliffs above them, my home.

Cubey Terra turns to me. "Any words, Hamlet? Once more unto the breech?"

I take in the sight of my party members, who have come so far with me, some from the very beginning, and feel a shudder of gratitude.

"I am in awe," I begin, "of the world, yes, and it's unimagined vastness. But more so of you, good fellows! Those who came along the way! I turn to the stalwart cartographer with the white socks that are pulled up far above his knees: "You Lupis, above all! Our compass! Our guide! I may be the one who receives the knighthood from the Queen, and speak at the Royal Society, but you, you sir, are the true leader!"

"I.E.," Mr. Hedges interjects from the sidelines, "'You did the work, I get the fame. sorry about that, old chap'."

And there is supposed to be something wrong with that, sir?

"So, once last push," I finish. "Our business now... IS NORTH!"

"North," agrees Terra, "and the end of the world!"

"SHIPLEY!" I call, as I reach my still-unfinished home above the ocean. "THIS IS IT! MY HOME! AND THE END OF OUR JOURNEY! Celebrate! Crow unto the sky!"

Zero Medici checks his timepiece.

"Oh my God. NINE HOURS."

Quite right. We began from the shores of Baker at 12:14PM (PST), 4th of March, 2004 anno. And it is now, here at the end in the heart of Shipley, "9:15:17 PM (PST), 4th of March, 2004 anno.

"Whew," Mr. Terra exhales, "Now I can sleep."

"I need a pedicure and a massage," LexyCat Medici asserts.

Miss Pendari Lorentz turns to Brad Lupis, grinning prettily. "Brad, you were the best! I was lost without you!"
But it is Miss Lorentz's turn to hear her own praise, for she has been with Lupis and I from the start, always offering a gamboling sign, and a dramatic and elegant ensemble, for every region we enter. "Pendari," I say, "the spritely wit with the plaquards of great humour! And the regalia of allure!" And among my number, I count four in all, who have been with me from the very first: Cartographer Lupis, balloonist Terra, Miss Lorentz, and Mr. Zero Medici. (And forgive me, if I have missed any in this tally of heroes.)

Zero Medici is still shaking his head in disbelief: "Nine hours... nine... hours."

He finally looks in my direction. "Do we... like... get a T-shirt or something? Or maybe a foot massage?"

Oz Spade suggests motto for the wearable souvenire: "I walked across the world and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

And so we talk and laugh and celebrate, recounting our many adventures in this long journey, climaxing of course with the siege at Jessie. Daguerrotypes are exchanged and commented upon, and promises to build memorial image sites are made. In the world outside, night has fallen entirely on the American city of San Francisco, and as I look up, I realize that I am the only person that remains in the mad laboratory of Linden. And have been thus, for quite a long time. I prepare at last to truly return home, and begin making farewells.

"But I have one last thing to say on the subject, first," I tell the crowd, before I go.

My traveling party looks up, attentive and expectant.

"NEXT TIME....

"WE'RE FLYING.

"BALLOON, PLANE, HINDENBURG, FLYING SAUCER, PEGASUS, SPACE SHUTTLE, I DON'T GIVE A @^&%, AS LONG AS THE #$^@ IS AIRBORNE! I'LL TRAVEL ON A BUTTERFLY'S HEAD OR ON A (*&#@^% BLOWING LEAF IF I HAVE TO AS LONG AS MY @&# DON'T TOUCH GROUND ONCE!"

* * *

As I prepare to depart, I find the appropriate daguerrotype, and send it to the inventory of Fueltanker Cotton, lead miscreant of Jessie.

"A present for you!"

It is photographic evidence of my person, despite all of Jessie's defenses, and all their proclamations otherwise, there at the center of Jessie, alive and well.

Some silence, and then Cotton finally replies. "You’re flying. You’re supposed to be walking."

"Perhaps!" I acknowledge. "I could be leaping!" (Or indeed, I could be prevaricating.)

"Hmm," says Cotton, unconvinced. "Well, I look forward to another battle with you and your people. It's been awhile since we had something like that in Jessie."

"I hope so as well," I say, in the spirit of amicable rivalry. "We shall bring the challenge again."

"Good," answers Cotton. "We will be waiting."


And here, the journey ends.


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