Flick had managed to get his gasping under control. "Let me think. Where could they have gone? Ah, I have it! That watchman warned me there were traps. They've fallen into floor traps. I think the lights must have gone out or something because we didn't see anyone drop,
You "think?" Are you seriously suggesting that you were plunged into darkness without noticing?
but that is the only thing that it can be. The crew must be up there someplace in floor traps. We've got to go back up there."
So Madison and Flick return to the scary floor with a four-foot-tall stack of directions for the place's security systems. They're able to get rid of that glass panel and hit the "General Disarm," but their search yields no sign of their lost "gangs," or for that matter any police, soldiers or assassins.
Madison mourned. It was not only a haunted town-house, it was a hungry townhouse. It had eaten up all their crew. No wonder nobody had wanted to buy it!
Madison knows this building with trap doors and hidden security systems is eating the people inside of it much like he knows this building with hologram projectors is haunted. Hubbard, why are you doing this to us? What is there to gain from this stubborn stupidity?
Well, let's have another scary "haunting." Or a "scary" haunting. Or more accurately a "scary" "haunting."
They seemed to be in a big room but it was terribly dark. Flick played his light through the place. It seemed to be a tavern. There were tables and chairs around on the floor and a natural wood bar, all polished.
Flick walked over to the counter and looked under it. "A panel!" He stabbed an eager finger in.
Abruptly the room was full of light.
It was also full of babbling sound.
AND AT EVERY TABLE SAT ARMY OFFICERS DRINKING TUP!
Yeah, I don't think a horrified all-caps exclamation works if it has one of your made-up alien vocabulary words in it. It's just distracting, kills the drama. Like mourning how your former friend killed all those "younglings" at the Jedi temple.
They were deep in conversations and laughing, very friendly to each other. One group at the far end was singing an army song. They all wore uniforms of long ago that were covered with mold!
A captain at a nearby table turned and seemed to look at them. "Come in, drink up!" he said.
Flick fled as though pursued by demons!
Then Flick found out those were Madison's running footfalls behind him.
Friendly officers offering refreshments while wearing moldy uniforms! Terrifying!
Flick is quite put off by all this - "The ghosts of all his brother officers, long since dead, carousing in that tavern. It makes your blood run like winter ice." - and laments that back home on high-gravity Calabar, corpses were polite enough to stay buried. "(Bleeped) Voltar! You mind what I say, Chief. You murder any people on this planet, bury 'em with WEIGHTS!"
Well, that encounter's done, let's trigger the next one. Madison and Flick wander into another room, which would be a bedroom if it had a proper bed rather than a sacrificial altar Flick recognizes as coming from Mistin (is that near Flistin or a typo?). Madison presses a button.
A ROAR OF SOUND!
The whole window lighted up!
Through it one could see the red and glaring flames of a Hell!
Might be Christian Hell, might be Manco Hell, hard to say.
Devils were stoking a fire!
There was a long, drawn-out scream when two more devils threw a maiden into the scarlet blaze!
Flick had stopped, stunned, staring at the scene.
Madison turned around to look at the room.
THREE RED DEVILS SAT IN THE CHAIRS!
A dismembered man appeared, bleeding gouts of blood on the sacrificial altar! Another devil above him brought down a knife! The victim let out a scream.
The devil in the easy chair turned to Flick and said, "Stay around. You're next!"
Having devils sit in comfortable chairs is another way to kill drama.
Madison and Flick run into each other on the way out and escape crawling on their hands and knees. "I don't like this place," says Flick. And the worst thing? They still haven't made the connection between the buttons on the walls they're pressing and the "ghosts" that appear immediately afterward.
Now they're in a "rather posh salon," and because these imbeciles have no sense of pattern recognition, Flick continues to press buttons on the walls. But this time nothing scary happens, the switches only activate lights and such. Until...
Emboldened, Flick touched another button.
Suddenly, the room was beautifully decorated!
There was a rug on the floor.
Vases with flowers appeared on small wall tables.
PAINTINGS APPEARED ON THE WALLS!
Hastily, Flick turned the switch off. Vases, flowers, rug and paintings vanished!
"OH, MY GODS!" cried Flick. "The objects of art we meant to rob are JUST ELECTRONIC ILLUSIONS!"
Releasing Brain Lock. Subject Madison's intelligence increased from Insultingly Stupid to Balefully Moronic. Accessing memory, activating logic centers.
Madison suddenly understood. He had seen Lombar Hisst in his red uniform step in front of a thing the Master of Palace City had had placed before the building, and an apparently solid Lombar Hisst, two hundred feet tall, had appeared over the building blessing it.
And you walked through holographic doors to get this far you drooling man-animal.
General Loop was crazy as a coot on scenery with his officers and devils and all. But he was smart as a whip on theft and security.
THERE WAS NOTHING TO STEAL!
The guy built a holographic labyrinth to protect absolutely nothing. Truly, he was a genius.
Tears were running down Flick's face. With leaden steps he dragged himself away. With a sad, sad voice he muttered, "There goes my dream," and fumbled off to the seventy-sixth floor, leaving it all to Madison to find the vanished crew.
It was a moment of agony and gloom.
Oh no. Flick's dream of stealing something he legally owns has been crushed. This cherished character we met less than half a book ago is now sad. How will we ever find happiness again.
Back to Chapter Three