Adrift over the Great Black Swamp, the wingless flying car Caeruleum probed earth water and the night-dark sky with the sightless fingers of sensor beams.
“The principle is simple enough,” explained Rapunzel McNally, the mad philologist’s beautiful daughter, her clear-cut features lit an eerie green from readouts on the air-car’s control panel. “The cicadas and crickets of the swamp, responding to ancient magnetic rhythms in the earth, spell out messages from the timeless times from before time. My father explained it to me.”
“I suppose it hasn’t occurred to you,” I said, “that your father is the one who’s simple?”
Her father, the mad philologist Gabriel McNally, was in the back seat of the aircar, wearing his most stylish straightjacket. After his denial of tenure by the University of Mackinac he had spent a month drinking absinthe, and had disappeared for another month into the swamp. He returned babbling about a convention of dragons and messages from the Old Ones.
“Crazy, yes,” the steely young woman replied. “Simple, no. I’m pretty sure he saw something out there.”
“I saw it!” McNally shrieked, what hair he had standing up for emphasis, like the remains of a burned out forest. “Such an unbelievable behemothic monstrosity that I could not doubt the power of its original to kill with its mere sight. Even now I cannot begin to suggest it with any words at my command. I might call it gigantic–tentacled–proboscidian–octopus-eyed–semi-amorphous–plastic–partly squamous and partly rugose–Ugh! But nothing I could say could even adumbrate the loathsome, unholy, non-human, extra-galactic horror and hatefulness and unutterable evil of that forbidden spawn of black chaos and illimitable night.”
I was unimpressed. If he’d read as much Vergil as he obviously had H.P. Lovecraft, then maybe they would have given him tenure at Mackinac.
But I could not deny that something, something, was taking form on the sensor screen–symbols that almost carried meaning, delineated by the slow ghostly sweeps of the sensor beams.
Suddenly, the darkness of the night was shattered by a sunbright burning ellipsoid that soared over the eastern horizon. It was some sort of dirigible: I could see the name HAROLD LAMB and some other less legible markings on its side. The dirigible changed directions and speeds at an unbelievable rate, finally conducting a barrel-roll directly over the Caeruleum. Through the windows I saw a motley crew of adventurers tumbling about the cabin and through one of the broken portholes I heard someone screwam, “No! Jones, stop! Don’t press the red button! The motivators will go into overdrive and we’ll be smashed to pulp!”
In answer came an unearthly shriek, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Exactly! SMASHED TO PULP! Ahahahahaahaha!”
Then there was a sky-rending groan as the motivators of the unearthly airship went into overdrive. Caeruleum was struck from the sky by the invisible hammer of a sonic boom and all through the swamp crickets burst like green insectoid popcorn.
Then the deadly airship and its mad crew were gone over the far horizon. Rapunzel McNally deftly guided Caeruleum to the secret aircar port atop the Fortress of Engitude.
“I hate those guys,” she said laconically. “We get anything?”
There were two numbers burning on the sensor screen.
“What does it mean?” she asked.
“I’m pretty sure those are the Black Gate booth numbers at Dragon*Con,” I said.
“I guess we’re going to Dragon*Con, then.”
“I guess so.”
“It’s what the Old Ones would have wanted,” said crazy old McNally, partly rugose and completely squamose.