Monte calls Shafter, the family mechanic and manager of the estate's hangar-garage, to get the old "air-wagon" out and ready for a little above-the-road trip. Then he orders Hound to pack for an excursion, even though Monte's mother has set up a swimming date with Corsca and her brother. Monte has to promise not to make Hound listen to his next ode to get the servant to comply. This does not preclude him from sharing it with us, so don't get your hopes up.
Momma Pennwell is not easily dissuaded, however, and so when Monte returns home he finds that I Guess Her Name Is Corsca and Corsca's Still Nameless Brother have joined the expedition as well. Off they go into the Great Desert, Shafter at the wheel and Hound along for the ride, as they search for the ruins of the ruins of a castle.
After a few paragraphs of boring conversations about lepertige hunting and produce, the group finds a great ravine ringed with grass around the edges, next to a patch of black stone on the sand. A nearby herder - not a shepherd, he's handling generic "grazing animals" - explains that he don't know about no Spiteos, but his grandpappy called this place Castle Rocks. There's been a few earthquakes, though, so it just looks like rubble now.
While Corsca talks animal husbandry with the expository herdsman, Monte wanders around the rocks and, tragically, gets inspired by the scenery.
AN ODE TO SPITEOSOh, grandeur fallen in decay,You fill my soul with dread dismay.Your broken, ruined stones that fell,Many a dismal tale could tell.Oh, in your blackness did you springUp, like some demented thing,From some foul, fetid, screaming Hell?O Spiteos, you who speak of deadForgotten men fill me with dread!I'm glad your bones again will wedThe ground on which your evil bled.The cry of mourning is the moanOf desert wind. Not mine!
I looked at it. Pretty good, I thought. You're in fine form, Monte.
From the way Monte preens over it, not to mention the next paragraph or two, we're probably supposed to view this poem as a source of comedy. The problem is that, once again, it isn't much different from the "good" poems or songs featured elsewhere in the series. So if you're an aspiring author expecting us to laugh at one song and swoon at another, please help us know which is which.
Footsteps behind me. It was Corsa and her brother and Hound. I couldn't resist reading it to them.
When she could catch her breath, and holding her side, Corsa said, "Oh, Monte! It will be such a relief when I can cure you of this obsession with writing. I honestly don't think my stomach muscles could stand too much of this."
From that moment, I hated her with enduring passion!
Not that he didn't already find her ugly, and boring, and representative of a horrible "respectable" lifestyle.
I hardly heard Hound's comment, "You promised not to read me another one of them things. Shows I got to work harder impressing on you the value of keeping one's word!"
I sternly repressed the urge to write "An Ode to Those Who Have No Souls."
Wait, what? But one of the unforgivable crimes of psychology is convincing people that they are naught but soulless animals! And here Monte is, accusing others of the same! Clearly we need to exterminate poets, too.
So Monte wanders around while sad violin music plays, rejected by his friends, lacking the metal detectors he was hoping his servants would pack, and wondering whether his career as an investigative journalist will be only two days long. Then Shafter reassures him that they can always stick a spare fuel rod into the sand, which will "polarize the current" of any buried metal bits so that the electrical detectors he brought will pick it up. It feels almost like Star Trek, we're throwing science jargon at a problem until it goes away.
All this will require some proper excavating, and rather than risk scuffing Monte's boots, Hound has the nameless herder of nameless beasts lead them to his nameless village, a collection of rocks and caves on the other side of the castle ruins. Monte gushes about these being the descendants of the Apparatus' prisoners, but the herder explains that the tribe drifted in fifty years ago and settled near the ravine grass.
And this raises all sorts of intriguing questions! What led the tribe into the desert in search of food? How did they survive what Gris called, back in Book One, "two hundred miles of barren expanse, impossible to cross on foot?" How can such primitives exist just a few hundred miles from cities that synthesize gold and manipulate black holes? That sounds like the sort of situation you'd see on the disgusting planet Earth!
To summarize a page of hot excavating action, Monte eventually uncovers "A CANNON WHEEL!" twisted with battle damage. He's so excited that he rolls the artifact into his tent and falls asleep. He's later awakened to the sounds of villagers at work, while Corsca takes a moment to design land improvements to expand their grazing area. But then Shafter finds what disappointingly isn't a coin.
A button! It had a symbol on it that looked like a bottle---no, a fat paddle with an upside-down handle!
Aha! The Gris confession was no myth!
We. Know. You know, too, you found that Fleet report verifying Spiteos' existence last time, remember?
Monte continues to gather such knickknacks while Corsca's Brother murders songbirds so he'll be able to sleep that night, making Monte wonder if Gris had Modron ancestry. Then at midnight Shifter wakes him for some stealthy treasure-hunting. Half a page later, in the middle of composing "An Ode to the Homeless Ghost," Monte falls down a hole.
But it's not a Fatal Injury Hole, it's a Convenient Discovery Hole. There's "A DOOR!" made from some "impervious alloy" that the designers were too moronic to use on the thing's hinges, so Shifter is able to use a "disintegrator drill" to pop it open. Beyond lies the remains of a computer bank and furniture that Monte recognizes from Gris' testimony.
I suddenly knew where we were. That antique throne chair in the other office, this door, the desks tumbled about, all compared with the Gris confession!
WE WERE IN THE TOWER OFFICES Of LOMBAR HISST!
THAT WAS HIS COMPUTER CONSOLE!
What happens next is astonishing.
Monte asks Shifter to get some power into the thing so he can start perusing the Apparatus files'. But they can't - their system of pumping electricity into the ground to search for metal has fried anything on the computer (sand and rock are conductive, right?). So Monte won't be able to effortlessly dig into confidential documents. Hundred-year-old electronics don't work whenever you need them to. Given how the author normally handles these situations, it's almost surreal.
Prospects of Modon with Corsa and her brother
Why are they a package deal? Is this how Voltarian marriage works? Grab a wife, get a cohabitating brother-in-law free?
or prospects of drudgery at dull desks were two types of torture it was impossible to choose between. The green haze in the sky was not emblazoned with my name. The mile-deep chasm looked very attractive. Dully, I began to compose "An Ode to a Snuffed-Out Life."
That's four odes in two chapters, for those keeping score.
Back to Chapter Five