“They are gaining on us Malus!”came Emerson’s warning shout, “Come on son, pedal to the medal!” It was about four in the afternoon, nearly twelve hours since Emerson Lighthouse and Martin Malus had bid Arnold adieu outside the clock/house in the Wheatstone Waterways, thus beginning their fantastic quest.
By far, the most treacherous part of their journey over the first eleven hours had been navigating the great steam-powered carriage around the canals and narrow streets of New Babbage. More than once, Malus had been required to disembark in order to push past an obstruction while Emerson shouted out words of encouragement. The next several hours had been rather unremarkable. Emerson had managed to write a few letters despite the bumps of the road. But then, quite suddenly, as they were considering breaking for a late afternoon snack, they were beset upon by three dark riders of questionable intentions.
“I’m riding this confounded carriage flat out,” Malus shouted back, “it won’t go any faster!” The sound of stress was clear in his voice as he manoeuvred the steering stick with frenetic side to side thrusts in a futile attempt to avoid ruts and bumps. He looked a bit like a bug, Emerson thought, with wisps of brown hair flying out at all angles from under the edges of his shiny new, chestnut-brown, patent leather riding helmet and designer goggles. “And besides,” Malus continued, “these steam-powered carriages are no match for a good horse, everyone knows that… and I don’t care who built it!”
“Perhaps you’d like to pass that message on to Dr. Obolensky yourself…” Emerson was about to add: should we ever make it back to New Babbage alive; but before he had the chance he felt the sting of something nick his ear just a bare fraction of a second before he heard the sound of the gunshot. “They are shooting at us Malus!” He yelled with more than just a tinge of panic. He crouched down as low as could while still managing to peek over the top of the seat as the three highwaymen, riding at a full gallop, began closing the gap between them.
“Well?” Malus responded as he swerved to avoid a fallen tree covering half the road.
“Well what?” yelled Emerson gripping the sides of his seat so as not to be thrown from the vehicle.
“Right…” Emerson made half an effort to look around. “Where did you pack my gun?”
“It is in that riding-gloves compartment in front of you!” Malus nodded without taking his eyes off the treacherous road ahead.
“That compartment is padlocked Malus!”
“You told me to lock it!” Malus didn’t even attempt to hide his exasperation, “to protect your hookah leaf!”
“So where is the key then?” Emerson didn’t like where this was heading.
“I gave it to you.”
“You did not!”
“I did so! Before we left, right when I gave you your riding gloves…”
“The riding gloves which are…”
“… in the compartment!” They both finished together.
Malus pulled the steering stick sharply to the left nearly tipping the carriage as it careened off the road and started a surprisingly much smoother ride across an open field beside them. Startled sheep suddenly scattered in all directions as the roaring steam-carriage, billowing a trail of thick black smoke mixed with clouds of steam, roared and hissed through their midst. Surely this was the dragon of legends!
Emerson desperately stared at the console, there must be something he could use with all the money he had put into upgrades. It was a pretty standard feature that Dr. Obolensky’s vehicles come rigged with explosives, but it seemed a pretty extreme measure to resort to that level of destruction at this point.
Before he and Malus had left New Babbage he had taken the carriage to Kamika Ying’s shop in order for her to add a few unique features. Unfortunately he got lost in her technical explanations of exactly what she had done so he wasn’t really sure what all the dials and buttons did. He pushed one marked with a grid-like symbol: “#”
Suddenly from the back of the car a canister flew high into the air. A second later the canister popped and a weighted net sailed through the air. One of the riders veered his horse sharply to avoid the net and in doing so crashed into two very confused sheep. The horse stumbled, tossing its rider before galloping off on its own.
Malus and Emerson cheered boisterously until the two remaining pursuers began shooting again.
“The horses!” cried Malus.
“What about the horse?” Emerson shouted back, hands hovering above the buttons uncertainly.
“You need to spook the horses and they’ll throw the riders!”
“With what?” Emerson turned, noting that the highwaymen continued to gain ground.
Malus scanned the flatness of the field with a mathematical eye, searching for a solution. Something about the geometry… “Snakes on a plane!” he shouted.
“Snakes on a plane! Throw a snake at the horses!”
“Where am I going to get a snake?”
“We had a Ying Industries Mk 4 Pivot Mounted Pressurized Snake Gun installed as one of the upgrades! Surely you remember.”
“The Snake Gun! Of course!”
Emerson braced one hand against the console to steady his other hand as is sought the right button. It had to be the one marked with the symbol: ‘~’
A panel over the rear left wheel slid back and up popped an elegant brass railgun. Emerson turned and threw his bulk across the back of the seat, grabbing the snake gun with both hands to aim it while hanging on for dear life.
“Malus, why can’t you steady us out,” shouted Emerson in frustration as the carriage began to rattle over rows and rows of potato furrows.
“Just fire it!” yelled Malus.
Suddenly a half dozen snakes flew back across the field and fell writhing at on the ground before the approaching horses. As predicted, both horses reared throwing both riders in the process.
“It worked!” Malus laughed. “We did it Mr. Lighthouse, we did it.”
“We did indeed Malus, we did indeed.” laughed Emerson, clapping Malus on the shoulder, caught up in the excitement of escape. Taking the pin from his riding scarf, he began to pick at the lock which was preventing access to the riding-gloves compartment. After all that excitement, he thought, this would be an ideal time for some of that hookah leaf. “From here on in, Malus, it is smooth riding…” he said managing to turn the pin with a most satisfying click, “…until we get to Bump.”
Just then the ground collapsed beneath them. The magnificent steam-powered carriage and the two shocked riders quite suddenly dropped from sight.
((With thanks again to Squire Malus who helped in the composition of this chapter))