CHAPTER IX (Conclusion)
Flying Down Torero!
After surviving their glamorous escape, however, there followed once again the uncertainty of what to do next. It was understood that Vel Partunu & Vicarius would soon untangle themselves from the dotty pachyderms & renew their pursuit. Apollodonis thought that since they were doomed, they had better throw themselves on the mercy of the law or else they might as well get busy and forthwith sit down on the sands to count their blessings.
...where can you get wings in the desert? From the sand?
"I have a better idea," announced Icarus, all of a sudden, "I'd forgotten there is another entrance to the pyramid along the eastern wall, facing into the sun. We have only to wait until the first rays of the dawn to illuminate the exact stone to be pressed in order to activate the hidden passageway."
"But in the dawn," replied Ooma, "the soldiers will be able to see us — or am I being simplistic?"
"No, they will be on this side of the pyramid and if we move quickly, by the time they reach where we are, we will have gone inside and will appear merely to have vanished by our usual magic. It will never, so to speak, dawn on them that we have re-entered the crypt."
"What good, though, will it do for us to put our heads back into the lion's mouth?" Dr Belchior wanted to know.
But Icarus explained that all they needed was a few hours and they would have assembled the flying machine, which could then be wheeled back out through the eastern portal — and thence they would literally wing their escape! Everyone thought this quite a tacky plan, but what other was there? So they hastened around to the appointed area just as the first light streaked the sky.
"And this is the entrance!" shouted Icarus, as Ra's million golden fingers pointed to a tiny bump that might have been taken for an ordinary Egyptian cockroach on the otherwise smooth wall of the pyramid. Just as he pressed the secret button & the doorway swung open, the Vicarian guards appeared, scudding round the corner.
And of course, by the time they reached that spot our smart quintet had disappeared into the pyramid once again and the sun had moved on, erasing its original revelation. As predicted, the guards believed they had witnessed only another mirage or miracle.
"Now then, Dr Poxus," Icarus continued, "here are the missing parts of the engine. Let's move them into the slaves' crypt before the guards undeceive themselves of our hornswoggling." And this they swiftly did. Dr Poxus immediately set to work & it was not long before he had assembled all the pieces into their proper order. There was one piece, shaped vaguely like a star or a mule, that would not fit & was the wrong color, but he was certain that it must belong to another puzzle. Now the problem was that though they did finally have an engine, they lacked an even more essential part of any flying machine, that is, the thing into which one puts the engine — not to mention passengers.
"We have no fuselage," sighed Icarus.
"Ah, but of course we do!" announced Ooma, now warming up to possibilities again, "what about old Nutshutsup's sarcophagus? It's huge enough to transport an army." And with that they ran to the casket, ejected the mummy forthwith — who offered little resistance — and found they had an excellent boat. There was plenty of room for all of them, as well as the engine, and they could even close the lid against wet weather.
"WE HAVE NO WINGS!" Icarus cried out in exasperation and then collapsed in a huddle on the floor. As Ooma became more optimistic, he was becoming semi-skilled in the art of Defeatism. Interesting balance of opposites.
"True," conceded Dr Poxus, "And we'll need a great many more of them than I had anticipated, since this accursed mummy-coffin seems to have been made of something about ten times heavier than lead."
"It'll never get off the ground," Belchior shook his head. "The law of aerodynamics clearly shows that flying machines are a physical impossibility."
"If the gods had wanted us to fly," agreed Apollodonis, "They'd have made us all Christians."
WINGS! WINGS! WINGS! Everything comes down to them, my friends. Without wings even eagles must walk. Without wings no future wars may be won, nor can one find cigarettes in wartime. Without wings Improbability smugly triumphs! It's all up to them. And where can you get wings in the desert? From the sand?
"Aziza!" cried Ooma.
"Gesundheit, my dear," sighed Dr Poxus.
But then everyone realized what she meant. In their fevered haste they had forgotten the magical drug that could do anything in reason — or out of reason.
"How many wings do you think you'll need, Icarus?" Ooma asked.
"Oh, I suppose, to be safe, we'd need about a dozen or so pairs, don't you agree, Dr Poxus?"
"Yes, at least that many. The more the better."
"Then," Ooma decided, "We'd better eat the entire supply." And she generously doled out the mystic plants to the party. While they were waiting for them to "take," Ooma & Icarus helped Polly to overcome his virginity & also helped Dr Poxus to overcome his impotence. By the time they had completed their orgy, they were already beginning to notice various materials that could serve in the making of wings — materials that had seemed extraordinarily ordinary before. Why, with all the sand alone, that had drifted in from outside over the centuries that was now available to them on the floor of the pyramid, there was enough for a thousand wings!
"Now all that remains for us is to convert this sand into feathers," explaind Dr Poxus to the giddy group. This was seen at once to be perfectly simple. How could they have failed to realize this before?
"Except," Icarus pointed out, "Even apart from the conversion factor, I don't think feathers will do. We need more modern materials, like iron. Let me see, what can lift lead?"
"Rubbish!" Dr Poxus was not put off. "A ton of feathers is lighter than a pound of lead any day. As for the conversion itself, you all know the principle by which nylon is converted into coal — or is it the other way around? Well, sand is simply another state of coal, like diamonds."
At this Polly wanted to know why they couldn't make wings of diamonds in that case.
In the end they agreed that feathers would be best, but as a concession to esthetic needs they could tip them with very small diamonds, not enough to add any appreciable weight. And they set to work making feathers forthwith. Dr Belchior produced a quantity of large, black buzzard feathers, while Ooma concentrated on swansdown. Polly contributed a number of rather useless peacock plumes. But it was Dr Poxus & Icarus who fashioned the really practical ones that would work — good, old-fashioned pterodactyl and achaeopteryx feathers! Old things are best. The wheels were no problem. The tomb contained several large golden discs which had been buried with the king as solar totems or netherworld coins.
"One thing I don't understand," said Polly, when they had nearly finished their work, "Camels and horses require fodder of some kind and sails on ships are dependent upon the winds. What will make our craft's propeller go around?" But there was no time for a crash course in mechanics or the tensile properties of twisted bands of rubber, and his question of necessity had to go unanswered.
At last the flying machine was complete. How magnificent it looked! Indeed, one could not help but admit that anything so beautiful could not help but fly! It gleamed and sparkled and impressed the eye at a thousand points, each more splendid than the one before. With understandable pride they wheeled it through the eastern exit.
Outside, the priest & the tyrant, along with their guards, had parked themselves upon a nearby dune. They had not been deaf to the hammering and sawing going on inside and knew their quarry were hiding somewhere within the pyramid. Eventually they must come up for air. But when they beheld the contraption that the criminals had brought out into the sunlight their jaws dropped in wonder. Even without knowing what it was, exactly, Prestor Vicarius wanted it.
"Get it!" he shouted to the soldiers, "I mean, arreft them firft!" And with much trepidation the guards slowly advanced.
But our friends wasted no time scrambling aboard the machine & Icarus quickly stepped on the starter.
NOTHING HAPPENED! What could be wrong?
"Ishmael!" ordered Dr Belchior, "Get out & prime the propellor. Maybe that will cause it to start."
"Wh-wh-wh-what sh-should I u-use for wa-wa-wa-wa...?" stammered the unfortunate lad, thinking that it must work on the principle of the garden pump.
"Just try spinning it a few times with your hand, you ninny!" cried Ooma, "And hurry, the guards are upon us!"
This tactic proved to be exactly the right thing to do, believe it or not! After pulling on the propellor a few times, Polly saw that it was at least spinning around by itself and he jumped aside. Now the aeroplane, languidly at first, then more rapidly, began taxiing across the sands, soon outdistancing the Prestorian guards.
And then, wonder of wonders, they were aloft! They flew higher than anyone had dreamed possible — higher even than the rooftops.
Vel Partenu shouted imprecations far below them as Tyrant Vicarius, the size of a mouse, waved his minuscule fist in rage & gave them the finger.
Although it did make a lot of racket & one of the wheels had managed to drop off during their ascent, Dr Poxus was thrilled at how langouriously the machine sailed on & he leaned out far to see if he could catch a glimpse of the Nile in the distance. It seemed to lie just over the distant hills and he leaned out a bit further. The next he knew, he had fallen out of the sarcophagus. Aziza, however, had sharpened his reflexes & he managed just in time to grab a handful of Ooma's abundantly long tresses to check his departure from this world.
"Ouch!" shrieked the princess, "I don't care to be billed as the bald belle of Babylon, Old Bullet!" But eventually they got the old codger back into the machine & from then on he kept well inside, avoiding all sightseeing, and contented himself with the memories of his several consummations during the orgy.
"We mustn't fly too near to the sun," explained Icarus to his passengers, as he brought their altitude down to hedge-level. Suddenly Dr Belchior felt his heart skip a beat as he remembered that he had forgotten to cast a proper horoscope for the flight. What a careless oversight! Supposing Uranus was in Taurus! (And don't forget that parachutes had not yet been invented). Polly was immediately instructed to deliver up a prayer to the Air God for their safe arrival.
"Pavannah, Lord of Air, lend us the grace of swallows, not ostriches!" But in the midst of his orisons he was awarded a gratuitous gobbet of spit on his nose as the wind blew back one of Icarus' frequent expectorations for the testing of wind velocity.
* * * * * * *
The citizens of Babylon had gathered in the marketplace to celebrate the carnival of Marduk, and the festivities had scarcely gotten underway when they heard a peculiar buzzing sound coming from the sky. Curious heads turned heavenward.
As the aeroplane itself hiccoughed into view panic descended. The camels shat blue. Later it was said that 2-headed calves were born that day and a rooster had laid an egg and there was an eclipse of the Sun AND the Moon both at once. Meanwhile, Icarus & Ooma were dispensing lavendar confetti onto the crowd and dropping propaganda leaflets urging sexual promiscuity, the liberation of all women, food stamps for all and the impeachment of all incumbent Vicarians. With a near-fatal crash, Icarus brought them down into the very center of the slave-market. When the dust had cleared, they emerged shaky but whole from the wreckage.
"Men, Women & Babes of Babylon!" cried Dr Belchior, seizing the opportunity as soon as he could stand upright, "We are, as you see, gods descended from heaven to command you to rise up against the tyrant. If you fail to do our bidding, Babylon will be destroyed in a rain of fire, of blood and of falling stars, and evangelists will take over.
This pitch proved both traditional and persuasive. The Babylonians were only too eager to comply, anyhow. They led the aeronauts to the most sumptuous apartments in the city and merchants vied with one another to get them to endorse tangy sweetmeats and muslin-m robes and also to try to sell them raffle tickets at half price.
That night they dined at the Hanging Gardens where the Marduk celebrations were in swing. They were the guests of honor & had been supplied with elegant costumes for the occasion. Polly appeared in full drag with his beard & hair curled in the greasy ringlets of the Baylonians. Ooma was resplendent in a train that was a block long. Dr Belchior performed his famous impersonation of the "Bull of Pasiphae in Winged Flight" and Dr Poxus won the slave raffle with his lucky ticket number
In the midst of the gala came an unexpected roar from the streets outside. Vel Partunu & Prester Vicarius had just arrived in town, hoping to catch the miscreants with the help of their subjects. But lo! The people who were weary enough of despotic machinations — and the untranslated Rosetta/Milhaus Tapestone! — soon apprised the imperial guard what had happened. Everyone now recognized that the old regime in Aparthenia and Babylon was finally last week's sardine & the fun was over for priest and tyrant alike. Vicarius' oracle was ordered removed from the the Tower of Mammon, to be replaced by the more sensible "Voice of Experience." Ooma was crowned queen, as was her rightful inheritance. She took Icarus as her consort & offered to take on Polly as her protege & Dr Poxus as her personal gynecologist. But now Polly had begun to see his talent for religious zeal as having a more profitable application than heretofore & he wanted to set up a theocracy of his own. Dr Poxus was rich enough now so that he could afford to buy many young slave-girls & retire. They therefore respectfully declined the queen's lavishness.
So it was that with fervid hosannahs and more lavender confetti not long after, that Belchior, Poxus & Apollodonis departed from a free Aparthena in laurel-wreathed triumph to the cheers of the new ex-aristocrat rabble. As the magi bade adieu to Icarus & Queen Ooma, their purses fat for the first time in their lives, they lurched festively & drunkenly aboard the Phoenician vessel awaiting them in the harbor & sailed off into the sunset seeking a "clammier climate."
Thus peace reigned for months and months and the magi went on to experience even more realistic adventures & to lead even more meaningful lives in complete financial security. And in this way the modern age began.