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That Lonesome Whistle
12/22/2015 12:25am

From The Gladstone Car Diaries, December, 2015

Ultimately, it was a little anticlimactic.

Rolling out of the tunnel and into the train yard back home, I knew right where I was immediately. The warehouses. The long swaths of industrial buildings and parking lots and fences and razor wire. The streetlights and power poles and telephone lines. The chemicals and pollution in the air are mostly invisible, but they add to the overall used-up quality. It's like a place that has had all the beauty and wonder and adventure sucked out of it, and it's sucking harder all the time.

Not to get all negative on you. Maybe I've just got those post vacation blues.

@Tomas met me in the train yards. He seemed to know all about my time on the train. He was really glad to see me, but I think he was more excited to see the Gladstone Car back again. After greeting me, he made some kind of awkward excuse and let himself into the train car, then shut the door behind him. Didn't even walk me back to school.

After a day at the registrar's, the good news is I get full credit for the whole year! I was worried they'd try and jank me out of it, but they were fully satisfied about the academic requirements, and that my journal would do just fine.

Except for now they want it all in a prezi. Barf. Anybody want to draw the web comic?

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That Lonesome Whistle
10/30/2015 5:57pm

Undertrumblearth Travelogue: Day 289

The train cars continue to get more and more unpredictable. The transition from passenger cars to restaurant cars to bar cars to observation cars to increasingly larger garden cars, cathedral cars, mountain valley cars.... Recently I was unable to locate any limit to the size of the car (it seemed to extend into long rolling prairie in all directions) but thankfully discovered a door built into the ground and continued to move up the train.

But it didn't really seem dangerous till I had to cross the war zone car. Cannons, tanks, horse mounted cavalry, foot soldiers from fifty civilizations shooting, diving for cover, making alliances, hiding in fox holes and in the smoke.

I ran into a group of civilians - surveyors, or explorers - who helped shelter me and usher me through the battle. They got me to the door on the other side, but didn't follow me through. In all the confusion, I ended up with somebody else's bag. It's full of little antiques, each packed in its own velvet bag. I'm afraid whoever has my bag didn't fare much better.

But now I'm back to some more traditional cars, where I sit for as long as I dare, maybe take a nap, find a bite to eat, then keep heading up the train, onward, upward, toward the engine.

The Chthonic Follies
10/5/2015 9:11pm

Underunderearth Travelogue: Day 264

I like the feeling of continuous motion that trains provide. It reminds me of being back on the Sh'Krit tram, or back with the bandits on our long ride. I've settled into the easy clickety-clack and the rocking motions of the cars, and the casual intimacy of brushing into people as we pass in the aisles between the seats. I just have to keep ahead of the conductors as they ask the passengers for their tickets, since I don't have one.

I'm not clear when exactly I made it out of the giant office hive an into the infinite train, but eventually it was clear I was no longer pushing paper and instead just relaxing into a long train journey with strangers. Lots of strangers. And no stops. But I can always find a seat, and sometimes an unoccupied berth where I can actually stretch out for the night.

While I have no money to afford my own meal in the restaurant cars, I can usually clean up on the free hors d'oeuvres if I find a swank party, and even occasionally get a full meal when a curious (and apparently rich) passenger takes an interest in me and wants to hear my story. Which I'm totally happy to give, but it's their stories that I think are even more interesting.

Like tonight, the widow Pearl Lanegan treated me to an amazing lobster thermidore and told me about her life as the wife of an interdimensional slave trader. Apparently interdimensional slave trading is big business, but luckily (supposedly) the slaves in question have no idea they are being traded. It seems that Pearl's husband and his colleagues work(ed) an abstraction level or two up the psychic food chain, so the objects of their trade never know they're been enslaved, or have had their ownership trade hands. It's been big business for years, controlling whole population segments and directing their life energies. Pearl had her husband assassinated so she could take over their holdings and retire. And buy me dinner.

So now I'm sleepy, but luckily found a very nice sleeper cabin with its own shower, and will likely have a good night of sleep before needing to head out and keep a step ahead of the conductors. I've been on the move so long, I really doubt there's an engine on this train, but I don't really have a choice but to keep moving forward.

The Chthonic Follies
9/5/2015 1:26pm

Underearth Travelogue: Day 234

In the month that I've been in the core I've had more paper cuts than I've ever had in my life. Filing, stapling, paper-clipping, sorting, delivering.... Needless to say it's not what I expected.

I'd assumed we'd be flying by the big crystal or whatever it is that passes for the sun in Underearth, so when the Sh'Krit tram dropped me off at a big steel door set into the bottom of a cliff I was a little surprised.

I was even more surprised to find out what was inside - miles and miles of cubicle office space. As far as my eyes could see. Travel through it means literally working your way through the office - workers in business casual hand you a stack of folders or a file and ask you to take it somewhere or sort it or whatever. It ends up propelling me by its own force, till I find some kind of break room and sleep on a couch, then get up and have some coffee and donuts and start it all over again.

So, somehow, this is like a new world INSIDE of Underearth. Underunderearth? I don't understand how it fits inside the Underearth I knew, because it's huge. But if it's within Underearth, where does that mean? In the central crystal core itself? And where am I headed?

I miss the Sh'Krit. And I miss the simple village people of Underearth. I even miss the conniving, backstabbing bureaucrats of the capital. These office workers - or whatever they are - are nice enough, but super hard working and nobody has time to talk. Plus, it's a little too much like surface life for my liking.

The lights are coming back on - that means the donuts will be here soon. I better get the coffee made.

The Chthonic Follies
6/12/2015 12:38am

Underearth Travelogue: Day 167

Living on the Sh'Krit tramway has been some of the best time I've had here. We're always moving, as the tram takes a meandering course through tunnels and out in the open and back again. And it's almost completely silent, except for the wind rushing by.

It's powered by spiders. Big Sh'Krit work as the engines, using their legs to pull us along the super-strong silk cables they've spun. Sometimes we're an aerial tram, hanging from the silk lines. Sometimes we're wheels on the track - both the wheels and the track formed by some kind of secretions the spiders produce. The cars are spacious and wooden, which the Sh'Krit use to transport goods and material around.

We're always out of sight from the human population. The humans have no idea the Sh'Krit have this massive secret transport system interlacing the caverns all around them. But the Sh'Krit use it for the humans' benefit - dropping off seemingly natural deposits of resources and wildlife where they're needed. It's like some big amusement park and the giant spiders run it all from behind the scenes. Like the maintenance workers at Disneyland you never see.

I keep thinking I should miss being around humans, but my time back in the central hive gave me a chance to get to know the Sh'Krit. Days and days spent staring into those giant, hairy faces with multiple eyes, figuring out their whole trip through telepathic connection.... It made me feel pretty safe with them. The safest I've felt since I've been here, really. I guess I trust them completely. I could have chosen not to, but they seem so caring.

Their plan is to hook me back up with @Ricky McRibbons and the gang. But turns out somehow we're on the exact opposite side of Underearth from them. So they're taking me back, which looks like it's going to take us very near the center of everything - that giant glowing crystal that's their sun. We've been making our way in that general direction since we left, wandering through the Underearth wilderness of giant cliffs, grassy valleys, rainbows in waterfalls, giant sunflowers, insects like airplanes... I am in no hurry for this ride to be over.

The Chthonic Follies
5/24/2015 12:25am

Underearth Travelogue: Day 149

I await the decision of the Spider Council. I don't feel my life is in danger, because the Sh'Krit don't seem to like killing. This is reassuring, coming from a race of gigantic spiders.

While they appear to be nothing but a species of pack animals - as far as the human denizens of Underearth are concerned - it turns out that the human cultures of this vast underground world are controlled and organized by this highly intelligent race of massive arachnids - the Sh'Krit. Their role as the transportation network for humans is merely a cover that allows them to hide in plain site as they gather intelligence and subtly influence the entire culture down here - all the way up to the highest levels of government (and the palace-life I barely survived myself).

Is it ants that farm aphids? I feel like I've seen an illustration of how ants farm groups of aphids like they were livestock, herding them around in their anthill chambers. It's like that with the Sh'Krit - but it's humans they're tending.

Thank goodness they're not raising us for food. But why are they raising us, then?

They have found me a foriegn element, though, and feel it's in the best interest of their pet human culture that they have me removed. Ever since leaving that little village so long ago, I've been caught in their web, and they've been leading me here. They must know about @Ricky McRibbons and where the theater troupe is - I am assuming they'll take me to them, and then send us all out the tunnels and tell us never to come back. Or have they already dealt with Ricky and the rest of the team? But then again, they don't want to blow their cover, since the human population isn't really aware of the true nature of the Sh'Krit.

They've been communicating with me telepathically, and letting me stay in a part of their warrens that has been adapted to humans. Their minds are like diamonds - slippery-hard and multifaceted - I get pretty dizzy and confused trying to think with them. Which is why I'm still in the dark as to what's next.

The Chthonic Follies
4/13/2015 10:07pm

Underearth Travelogue: Day 110

Life in the palace continues to consist of long stretches of gorgeous boredom, punctuated by assassination attempts and treasonous gossip. I spend my days on balconies a mile high, in spider-silk gowns that flutter in the perfectly temperate breezes. Lione - my handler - has trained me in identifying 13 different deadly frog poisons, which are the weapon of choice of this weirdly passively-aggressive power elite.

There are factions - who helpfully all have distinctive dress codes - that fill all the posts in what must be the central government. A small mountain range of stone has been carved into their capital city, and it sits inside a cavern that dwarfs the grandest valleys above ground. It is a city full of bureaucrats and appointees. There is isn't a king or a royal family, and there isn't a prime minister or any elected body. But there are positions.

One of the factions - the Rosy Falcons, I have named them, because that's what they look like, sent their field agents to find me and bring me here. And I've been incredibly well-treated! It really is a palace, and it's where the top of the top live.

And, apparently, murder each other with poison. And possibly me, hence the lessons from Lione.

But this afternoon I got to fly the Aprytxxkssis. They are a life form that does not exist on the surface, likely because it could only live in the perfectly calm and predictable breezes of the Underearth. They look like big shiny sacks - miniature weather balloons? - that drift in the air - like jellyfish? But angular, from the inside. Like a fish's scale, but gossamer. Luminescent. Kind of aphid shaped.

You drive them with your mind. They're susceptible to breezes, but they key in on thought-presences. They are drawn to you and kind of hover around you, just above your head. And when you move your thoughts, the little herd of Aprytxxkssis do too. Once you get the hang of it, you can drive them all around. Which, on this balcony, means not only as far up as you can see, but out and down as well. They catch the light of the central crystal, in between drifts of misty cloud, far above tiny rivers and farms.

The Chthonic Follies
3/30/2015 11:19pm

Underearth Travelogue: Day 95

On my 7th night with the bandits, they've let me sit by the fire without restraints. I could run off into the darkness, a stranger even more lost in a land I know nothing about, but frankly my chances seem better with the bandits for now. I haven't been beaten, or even treated badly, except for the being kidnapped thing.

I spent much of the last week in a wooden cage tied to the back of the largest spider I've ever seen - a true granddaddy of the Sh'Krit. The cage was a blessing really, because we spent a great deal of time traversing the ceilings of the great caverns, the Sh'Krit walking upside down, somehow sticking to the rocky roof by their tips of their hairy legs. In the cage I could sit right-side up, instead of strapped into a saddle with the blood rushing to my head. It was a bit unnerving to look down though, at the misty clouds and farmland and hills and rivers far, far below.

The bandits don't talk to me, and it's hard to tell who's actually in charge, but they're a very disciplined team. It's a group of 12, men and women both, all decked out in black spider silk jumpsuits, with belts and bandoliers and ropes and clips. With their head and face scarves in place they look like ninjas, but they don't seem to recognize that word more than any other I try.

We do seem to be heading somewhere quite directly. No side trips or stops. Lots of riding and camping.

The Chthonic Follies
3/17/2015 9:55pm

Underearth Travelogue: Day 82

It's been over a month that I've been on my own - just a girl and her enormous hairy riding spider. We travel from town to town, looking for the village where @Ricky McRibbons and the theater kids are holed up, but no luck so far. Nothing but blank stares and smiling nods. I end up spending a night or two in each town, making some trades with my dwindling supply of Luna Bars and other items from topside, and learning more about this underground land.

The Sh'Krit gets fed an cared for at the stables of whatever inn we find. He makes friends where ever he goes, which is surprising for a truck-sized tarantula. People love to scratch him behind the mandibles and bring out their best giant aphid thingies for him to sink his fangs into and suck. There are more of his kind in the stables, but people seem to think he's special. Of course, I do too.

Those giant aphids are his natural food, and they haven't been hard to find in the wild, on the occasions we set up camp in the hinterlands between towns. I take the saddle off Old Tomnoddy and let him roam. He never strays too far, and I watch him hunting those giant aphids, then pouncing on them and sucking them dry.

I haven't had any further trouble from the local authorities. In fact I hardly ever see anybody who seems like they're a cop or sheriff. I don't suppose there's much for them to do, as I haven't really seen anything like crime here either. The people live simply, growing food, raising normal enough looking chickens or goats. Handmade clothes, no machines to speak of outside of wooden farm equipment. I see no great class differences between people, and the weather never changes - it's perfect all the time.

Is this all there is to this giant subterranean civilization? No kings, no cops, no homeless people? Just happy farmers and masons and woodwrights, doing their thing for thousands of years, watching their rainbow mists and petting their giant spider mounts?

Not really so bad, if you think about it.

The Chthonic Follies
2/6/2015 11:14pm

Underearth Travelogue: Day 43

Upon deciding that I couldn't simply wait for @Ricky McRibbons to appear and save me, I immediately checked out of my rooms, visited the stables where the llamas where being boarded, and arranged to trade the lot of them for a Sh'Krit - one of the huge, hairy, tarantula-like creatures most commonly used for transportation here in the Underearth.

The saddle of the Sh'Krit has an obscene number of straps and buckles, but the traveler is well advised to buckle each and every one! The beauty of the Sh'Krit is its ability to climb the vertical rock faces that make up a huge amount of the surface area down here. They can even climb on the ceiling rock, should you find the need. The rider straps themselves in tight - and all their saddle bags too - and must be prepared for 360 degrees of orientation. If they need to, the Sh'Krit can skitter quite fast across almost any dry surface. Also - very smooth ride!

I'd been taking Sh'Krit lessons from the handsome stable boy at the stables for a few weeks, and was comfortable with this particular animal, which I have named Tomnoddy.

Everything was going just fine and I had made my goodbyes and was on my way down one of the beautiful country back roads out of town. The glow of the distant Central Crystal was warm through the massive, rocky, honeycombed landscape... the usual rainbows shimmering through the occasional drifting fog bank or whitewater mist... a bumblebee as big as your head buzzing by... and a giant black spider blocking my path.

It was the local law enforcement. They didn't seem very interested in me during my time in town, but now, on my way out, they were eager to "put things in order." My language ability has come a long way (also thanks to the stable boy), and it seemed my lack of papers, language, inoculations, and who knows what else were suddenly hugely important issues.

It's amazing how far a box of Luna Bars can go. I still can't read their script, but I ended up with some kind of official looking paper out of it. For all I know it says "The bearer of this paper is a sucker, and will provide you all the Luna Bars you like if you just shake her up a little bit." But who knows?

I guess I'm off to find out!

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