Chapter Eight – The Fourth Sleeper
Josh continues staring off into space after Goel until finally Sarah comes up next to him. She asks him what’s going on, but Josh feels like he can’t mention the guy. So instead he points at a big steel door set in a hillside, out in the open, and says that’s probably where they’ll find the next Sociopath.
Sarah and Josh reach the door and Josh sings the song. The door separates into two pieces, like a giant pair of jaws, and they go through. Inside, it’s extremely bright, and the walls look like they’re covered with all sorts of gemstones. Josh says that it looks like some sort of quartz formation, even though he admits to himself that he has no idea, but that it sounds impressive. Yeah, you’re a real genius, Josh. There’s no mention of where, exactly, the light is coming from, so I’ll just assume that the walls are giving off their own light. Because of the nuclear war.
They reach the coffin and Sarah and Josh have a moment where they talk about hoping that the next Sociopath is going to be special. Josh tells Sarah to push the button, and hope that they’re going to find a “super person” inside. And then the lid opens, and they both gasp, and we get the first really stupid quote of the chapter:
“Oh!” Sarah breathed. “I think we really did find a super person!” (page 78)
Some authors have a real ear for dialogue. They can make adults sound like adults, educated people sound educated, and teenagers sound like teenagers. Some people can successfully write dialogue that no one, in real life, would ever, ever say. Morris is definitely in the latter category.
The Sociopath inside is basically a stud. Josh immediately thinks that he’s one of the handsomest boys that he’s ever seen, which doesn’t give off any gay vibes at all. And he looks like a jock. And that’s pretty much who this guy is: a stereotypical dumb jock. Josh instantly hates him, because jocks used to pick on him.
They introduce themselves, and the dumb jock is named Dave Cooper. Dave asks what’s going on. Sarah immediately begins explaining everything, and instantly Josh starts getting annoyed because he thinks she’s showing off for him. As they talk, they head back outside, and the door slams shut inches behind Josh. And by the time they’ve reached Volka, Crusoe, and Grumpy, Sarah has explained everything: the Quest, Jake and Happy’s kidnapping, what they’re up to, all of it. And evidently, she’s also explained that his parents, siblings, relatives, friends, neighbors, and everyone he ever knew is now dead, and he’s comfortably come to terms with it.
Crusoe looks extremely sick, and Josh worries for a bit about how they need food, and they need rest, and they don’t have a way to get either. Dave repeats this fact, and Josh gets angry at him. Dave then points out that a room in the cave is filled with food, clothes, and other supplies. Everyone starts brightening up, and we get stupid quote #2:
“Say,” Dave said, suddenly, “I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we go back and stay in the cave? It’s safe there – especially with those jaws! And we can rest and get some food inside us.” (page 81)
Yes. You just explained that there is a safe underground place with food and shelter a hundred yards away. It doesn’t take a genius to think that maybe you go to that place!
Dave gets them all heading towards the cave, and Sarah is quick to jump on the Dave bandwagon, and starts telling Josh how “super” he is because he thought of the cave. Because really, no one else could have thought of that. Josh, typically, is still pissed, and envious of the way Dave is giving people orders.
They go inside the cave and start a fire. Underground. In an enclosed space. I don’t really have anything to say about that. They get out the food, and it’s amazingly well-preserved for having been there for fifty years. There’s hot chocolate, toast (!) with melted cheese (!!), and chocolate chip cookies in sealed bags (!). And then they get into some nice sleeping bags and fall asleep.
When Josh wakes up, he discovers that Dave and Sarah have come up with a plan to find the next Sociopath. They have the map, which Josh went to sleep with in his pocket. Dave says he hopes Josh doesn’t mind. I’m not certain, but I think I would mind. Especially since that would involve him unzipping my sleeping bag, feeling around inside, and then digging it out of my pocket.
Dave’s plan is go down to the Great Road and follow that into the city. He makes a smartass remark about Josh being too sleepy to appreciate it. Josh comes back with the really obvious point that they have to stay off the roads because the Sanhedrin are looking for them. Which takes Grumpy completely by surprise, because he had forgotten that rather important fact. It’s obviously engineered to make Josh look like the only really cautious one there, and succeeds in making nearly everyone look like a complete idiot.
Which they are, of course.
They pack up and set off a big and well-traveled trail. Which is a great way to avoid being caught. But nothing happens, and by midafternoon they’re halfway to the Great Road. And suddenly, without warning, the Snakepeople attack.
Yeah. They just appear randomly, out of nowhere, about twenty of them. Rather like the teleporting Sanhedrin. There’s a little bit of description which doesn’t really make sense, except that they have scales and fangs and beady little eyes. Josh whips out his sword and starts stabbing them right and left. Volka knocks six of them unconscious with one blow, which gives Grumpy and Sarah time to get out their bows and start shooting arrows into them. Grumpy, as it turns out, is a great archer. But more Snakepeople come out of nowhere and in a few seconds they’re completely surrounded. Things look grim, and then, suddenly, all of the Snakepeople freeze, and their eyes glaze over.
And then the Pied Piper comes out from behind a tree.
No, really. At least, that’s exactly what Josh thinks he looks like. He’s playing a weird tune and tells them that it’ll keep the Snakepeople incapacitated for half an hour or so. He introduces himself as Hamar, and tells them that it might be wise to be moving on.
Awhile later they stop to rest. Grumpy asks who he is, and Hamar explains that he’s a biologist who’s studying the Snakepeople. He knows about fakirs, from Oldworld, and figured out that you could stop them with music. And then he asks who they are. Josh says that they’re just some lost travelers trying to get to the Great Road. Hamar says that he’s headed that way himself and can guide them around the snakepits. They agree and take off, walking until it’s dark, and eventually camp and eat a “hearty” meal. I’ve suddenly realized why they’re always out of food, and it’s because no one has ever heard of rationing.
After awhile Hamar goes off to take a look around and make sure they’re safe. As soon as he’s gone they start discussing him. Grumpy doesn’t trust him, but Dave does, and wants to tell him about the Quest. Crusoe interrupts at this point and says that under no circumstances is anyone allowed to talk about the Quest, although they can let him guide them to the Road. Josh agrees with Crusoe, and Dave immediately starts arguing. He calls Josh a wimp and says that they should tell him everything, and then jumps up and starts to call Hamar back to the fire.
So Josh slugs him.
So Dave gets back up and starts to beat the crap out of Josh.
Volka, being the clever giant he is, waits until Josh is bleeding from his nose and his eyes are swelled shut before bothering to step in and pull him off. Sarah, Grumpy, and Crusoe don’t say anything, so evidently they don’t care. And just in time for the third, and stupidest, quote of the chapter:
To give Dave credit, when he saw the mess he had made of the smaller boy’s face he seemed to feel ashamed. (page 88)
I know that I always felt ashamed when I used to beat up younger, smaller, defenseless kids, and my parents always were proud that I felt that way.
After a bit Hamar gets back, and doesn’t say anything about Josh’s face. He asks them what they’ve decided to do, and everyone looks at Josh, who’s having problems breathing through his nose. Good job, Dave. Josh asks Hamar to guide them to the Road, and Hamar agrees. Everyone lays down to go to sleep. Josh angsts for a couple of paragraphs, and it ends.
Chapter Nine – Captured!
It takes a special kind of talent to be able to royally screw up even your chapter titles, but Morris is that kind of author. I wonder what’s going to happen in this chapter. Wait! Maybe they’re going to get captured! Ya think?
They eat breakfast, and it’s raining, and miserable, and in the second paragraph we get the first stupid quote:
But when Dave made an effort to patch up their quarrel by handing Josh a piece of cold meat between two soggy crackers, all Josh did was grunt and draw his coat closer around him. (page 91)
Sounds like a great effort, Dave. Josh blows him off and then thinks about how he’s behaving like a child, but doesn’t really care, because things had been going so well before Dave showed up. Well yes, they were going great – you let Happy and Jake get captured, Crusoe beaten within an inch of his life, and you sat around wishing that you’d get a leader.
They’re all sitting around, and suddenly Sarah starts feeling weird. She starts to have what appears to be an out-of-body experience, and she can hear herself talking but doesn’t understand anything she’s saying and she can’t control her lips. And then suddenly everything shifts back to normal and she realizes that everyone is giving her a funny look. Crusoe tells her that she was speaking a language of Nuworld, which she’s never learned. And she was talking about the road ahead being dangerous and if you turn away from the trodden road you’ll be screwed.
So basically Sarah was given the gift of speaking in tongues, along with prophecy. For no real apparent reason. Everyone sits around pondering this, until Dave blows her off and says that they have to get going.
A bit later they hear horses and hide in the bushes. A bunch of Sanhedrin priests ride past, and they appear to be looking for something. Which really just confirms, in my mind, that they shouldn’t be walking along a well-used trail. Then Crusoe collapses, and while they tend to him they notice the Sanhedrin have stopped for a rest a short distance away.
Helpful exposition, of course.
They listen in while the priests explain to each other that they’re looking for the Sociopaths, the reward is a thousand in gold, and if anyone else finds them, the Sanhedrin priests will keep the reward money for themselves. And there’s notices posted in every village for two hundred miles in every direction. I do wonder how the news has spread so fast in the last two days, considering that technology seems nonexistent here. I’m starting to really like my teleporting priests theory.
Finally the Sanhedrin take off, and the group starts discussing what to do next. Dave says that they’ll have to go back and stay in the cave, where there’s plenty of food and water, and they can hole up until the patrols stop coming around. Josh tries to protest but he is helpless before Dave’s verbal onslaught. The company is on the verge of turning around when suddenly Volka asks about what Sarah said that morning. And the second really great quote of this chapter:
The group had looked to him for physical help, but no one had really considered that he could make any other kind of contribution. (page 95)
It’s refreshing to know that they automatically assumed he was too stupid to say anything useful. These are our saviors, people.
Josh points out that what Sarah said means they’re not supposed to turn back. Dave retorts that they didn’t even understand the words, so they can’t mean anything. Um, hello, Dave, Clue Train, last stop you? Remember Crusoe explaining it was a dialect of Nuworld that he, Grumpy, and Volka all understood and could translate? Yeah, that was just a few hours ago.
No one bitch-slaps Dave with this cold piece of pure logic, so the argument goes on until Hamar interrupts. He tells them that it’s starting to get hard to not notice who they are. And then Dave jumps in and mentions that he told Hamar who they really were the previous night.
Good job, Dave. Let’s just ignore Crusoe’s explicit instructions. I can’t really blame Dave for not trusting Josh, who doesn’t exactly inspire trust (let’s not forget he throws people off buildings), but Crusoe is another matter. Even though he’s sick, he is really the leader of their party, along with being the oldest.
Unfortunately, there’s also no real question about Hamar’s loyalties. Josh is our Reluctant Leader, and Crusoe is the Wise Old Mentor. When they both agree, they are invariably Right. Dave disagrees with them, so he must be Wrong, and he trusts Hamar, therefore Hamar is evil. Let’s see if this is right.
Hamar does his best to reassure them that he’s “sort of a rebel” and not friendly with the Sanhedrin. They talk things over some more and finally Josh asks Sarah if she trusts him. Sarah says she thinks she does. Hamar tells them that he knows a secret way forward that will take them to the Great Road. And off they go. It’s a path that’s going to take them along the Roaring Horse River. I wasn’t aware that horses could roar, but maybe that’s the radiation.
They walk all day, camp by the river, and light a fire. It’s a good thing they’re not hiding from teleporting priests, otherwise that might be dangerous. They have steaks for dinner, and just once I would like to see them eating nothing but some stale bread. Or maybe just going hungry.
The next day they keep on going, climbing up higher. The river is now roaring along at the bottom of a canyon, and they’re walking along a narrow path next to the edge. And suddenly Hamar decides to play some music to cheer them up.
Sarah asks if someone would hear them. Hamar laughs and says that the birds might. He starts playing as they walk along, until they’ve just reached the very top of the mountain path….and then a priest jumps around the corner.
Yeah, Hamar’s evil.
More priests appear from nowhere, blocking their way. They all wear really long red robes, which raises a couple of questions. First, if you’re running around a mountaintop, wouldn’t a long robe hinder you, more than help you? And second, red tends to show up very nice against grey stones, making it hard for these chaps to sneak up on unsuspecting people.
Then again, these people are taken from the Evil Overlord List.
They all have bows and it’s quickly apparent that our heroes are screwed. Dave, Volka, Grumpy, and Sarah all drop their swords. Josh doesn’t. Instead he steps out onto a rock next to the precipice.
The leader tells him that if he drops his weapon he’ll get a fair inquisition, and somehow his word choice fails to comfort me. Actually he’ll only get a fair inquisition if he’s not one of the Sociopaths. Josh thinks about it. He doesn’t know what to do. And then, just when he would be forced to make a really hard decision, there it is:
The voice of Deus ex Machina. In his head.
He asks if it’s Goel. It says yes. It asks him if he believes in it. Josh says yes. It asks him if he’d be willing to do anything it said. Again, Josh says yes. I’m not sure what, exactly, has inspired Josh’s confidence so much, but he does. And then Goel tells him to jump off the cliff into the river.
So Josh does.
I wonder if he’ll survive?