Day 21. 64 pages, 30,109 words. Stuck writing other things and more new things keep cropping up and now it’s the weekend, help!
Lotus was quite deeply asleep, and even Çrom had settled into a partial doze, when The Happy Bumfuck hit its charge threshold and ascended into the dangling fungal canopy to park. The hopper ran on a thread-feed of power from the Plant, which was clean and didn’t require any sort of oversight or messing around as long as Corporate regulations were observed.
In practice this meant, for private near-spacecraft, that it could only fly for certain values of time and distance before stopping and getting its breath back. And this was handled by the installation of a Plant capacitor cell – basically a large battery that powered the hopper’s flight controls, grav compensators, life support and computer, without the risk of using the power for unsanctioned things and without the machine requiring an actual power core. Or even an engine, really, aside from the block of capacitor flow adaptors that turned the whatever-it-was that came from the Plant into the whatever-it-was that went vub-vub-vub-vub-vub and made the hopper fly. Çrom called it an engine because that was the easiest way to think about it, but technically it wasn’t one. Technically, it was a handshake agreement between two different universes that said you transfer energy to me, I’ll convert it into velocity and heat, and every now and then I’ll stop to let you transfer more, and I won’t ask any questions and you won’t tell the local laws of physics about our little arrangement.
It worked, and so Çrom didn’t let himself worry too much about it. Usually the hopper didn’t even get close to threshold, because a hop up the Eden Road took a few minutes per step and the recharge time was even less. And, as he’d told Lotus, they’d been in enhanced freefall up to this point, aside from their flyover to the jungle – and The Happy Bumfuck had charged up again during their stopover there.
An alternative mode of operation, and another reason the hopper was called a hopper, was to ascend on a steep diagonal and then perform a controlled glide while recharging, essentially bouncing through the air. This was a much more complicated mode to create a flight plan for in places with more crowded skies, and even in places like Cursèd where it would technically be simpler, Çrom just didn’t care for it. It was dorky, and The Happy Bumfuck’s grav compensators weren’t quite up-to-snuff enough to prevent the onset of mild but persistent nausea after about three bounces.
Plus, the mental image of the Destarion running into them, and then bouncing through the air backwards in front of them while she figured out what they were and whether they were good to eat, was far more terrifying than it was amusing. And that should not be the case in a fair and just urverse.
The parking spot that the computer found in the cartographic archives was a desolate little place etched into the top of the overhanging hood of one of the great mushrooms, and Çrom would have been surprised if it had received any other traffic in the past year, or possibly decade. It was gloomy, because the majority of the behemoth’s phosphorescence came from its underside, so the main source of light down the trunk and across the hood’s topside was the smaller varieties of fungus clinging to the stone of the Underhell-or-Overcursèd. Nevertheless, it was inhabited – or at least constructed in a way that implied habitation. Aside from the broad grey apron of semi-petrified monster mushroom that served as a landing pad, a wide block had been carved out of the trunk and then reconstituted into bricks to form a drab but oddly-charming shopfront.
Jumpin’ Grag’s, the sign above the door read in repurposed phosphos. All in all it was a study in contrasts: the rustic design; the jaunty name; the fact that the whole establishment was built into the side of a giant mushroom hanging from the sky of the most Godforsaken world in Piniandom; the fact that the door was tall and wide enough to admit a formation water-skiing team of Çrom Skelliglyphs two or three tiers high and four across…
Still, The Happy Bumfuck was parked here for the next half-hour of their plotted transit time, so Çrom shrugged to himself and clambered out of his sling. Lotus didn’t stir, so he left her to sleep. After standing in front of the hopper door for a minute to struggle into a thermal sheath that was even more past its prime than the Golden Spazzlers had been he hurried out, closed the door behind him, and crossed the landing pad to the massive door of Jumpin’ Grag’s. Any heat the hopper’s jets had imparted to the surface beneath his feet on arrival had already leached away.
He studied the door – which was made of the same crushed-and-treated-and-pressed-and-frozen stuff as the walls but textured in a slightly different way – for as long as it took his sheath to start giving way in several very unfortunate anatomical places. Then he reached out and pushed.
The door opened with a hilarious tinkle-clonk from a large, heavy bell hanging strategically on the frame. Çrom stepped into deeper gloom and a temperature that was not, as far as he could tell, any higher than the lethal chill outside.
“Ah,” he said to the vast, hulking figure outlined against the faintly-glowing contents of a shelf at the back of the cave. “You must be Jumpin’ Grag.”
The Ogre shifted its huge rocky-horned feet and straightened with a visible and audible rattle of dislodging ice crystals.
“How little people always know?” it marvelled in a low rumble.