Nineteen: On Convoy

The Great Eighty Road stretched on and on, gray and unwavering, day after day. Laura sometimes found herself despairing at its oppressive straightness, longing for the days when her way had meandered and detoured in all manner of surprising directions. Every day, from when the convoy embarked at dawn to when they made camp for the night, Laura’s whole world was bound by that narrow corridor of creetrock.

It began to feel hypnotic. Relentlessly, the Great Eighty Road pulled them along, through a landscape so unchanging that Laura would have thought they were going in circles but for the fact that they never, ever seemed to turn.

The country through which the Eighty Road gouged its rigid path offered little to mark their progress. Each day since their departure from Hawkeye Crossing had brought much the same passing scenery. The Yowa’s hills rolled by, steady, small, and featureless. Though spring was now well upon them, the land was far from lush. There were trees, but nothing like the vast woods where Laura had grown up. Instead, they stood in patchwork islands amid seas of pale grass.

Meanwhile, the only ruins to be seen seemed to be the Great Eighty Road itself. Rarely was there any other sign of the people who had laid down the endless trail of creetrock. The road stood as an isolated monument, all the more grandiose in its loneliness.

One day, Laura overheard Pa ask Captain Syed why there were no settlements in this part of the Yowa. The convoy had just finished fording a small creek and was passing through a rare woodland. The hills to the east had looked comparatively green. To Pa, the land seemed to have all the ingredients from which to make a living.

“There’s some,” Captain Syed answered. “Head up beyond them hills yonder and you’ll run into folks here and there, farmers and shepherds and the like. Paying taxes to the Ortegas or supposed to. Most who try and make a go in the Yowa midlands, though, after a season or two they move along or… Well, or they just don’t stay long-term, I’ll leave it at that. I heard a man tell me once the soil’s no good in these parts. Used up. I wouldn’t know anything about that. Never been one much for settling down and raising crops. But soil or no, this ain’t the easiest country to set down roots. You’ve got Cooley’s Army and all them other gangs of rascals running about, not to mention raiding parties from the north whenever one of the caudillos up that way starts feeling their oats. The supervisory garrisons don’t offer no protection you can count on. Clan Ortega don’t have it in ‘em to pacify the Yowa this far west, and they don’t try.”

Pa nodded, as if satisfied with the explanation, but Captain Syed kept talking.

“Only reason the Clan Council mans outposts so far west is to keep the Eighty Road open to Lildaka. And they ain’t doing such a fine job of that lately neither, not if you ask me. Too busy squabbling ‘mongst themselves over this so-called succession crisis to mount proper patrols. I’ll tell you one thing, they’re going to find themselves in a right fix if they let the Great Eighty get cut off. Where do they think their graycoats’ wages come from? Davenport might be where the decisions get made, but it’s the trade coming through the City of Mounds what keeps the wheels of their little empire greased. Stop that silver flowing and you’ll see the whole blasted supervisory system collapse by next winter, mark my words.”

Laura might not have understood every word of Captain Syed’s discourse on Ortega trade networks, but she knew that the City of Mounds was another name for Lildaka. It wasn’t the first time Laura had heard Captain Syed talk about the frontier town that lay at the end of the Eighty Road. Lildaka was home for Captain Syed, as it was for Bucky Malla and for the Khan cousins, Janice and Oprah. Laura supposed that made them partial. Still, she listened with interest whenever the town was mentioned.

According to Captain Syed, nearly everyone there lived underground. Even the town’s meeting hall and its supervisory were dug straight into the earth. Captain Syed described hundreds of underground houses pimpling the landscape. And, on a clear day, you could see the ruins of the Ghost City of Oma looming in the distance.

Lildaka was remote, kims and kims from any other settlement. According to Captain Syed, it was located at the very center of Old Merica, the exact middle point between the western and eastern oceans.

“The town was founded by Deshi displacees,” Laura had heard her explain more than once. “Round about the time of the Great Bust. I can trace my family right back to them. Barsha Syed—that was my pa’s gran—she was Lildaka’s first mayor. Story goes they came from a land that was sinking beneath the sea. After watching those floodwaters swallow up their old homes, it’s said our great grandmothers and grandfathers wandered about til they found a place just as far away from any ocean as it was possible to get!”

Captain Syed admitted she didn’t know how much truth there was to that old story. But however it was that those Deshi pioneers came to choose that remote spot to settle down, it had proved to be a good one. Over the years, Lildaka had grown to become an important crossroads where several important convoy routes came together. The Great Eighty Road connected it to Davenport and the Illinoy. The Suri River brought down timber from Wolf Point and further up in the Northlands, while grain and soy flowed in the other direction from the Southern Yowa. Precious metal from Deseret and textiles from the Occupied Territories came by way of the Suri’s smaller tributaries or else by the straighter but more perilous convoy routes overland across the Wastes.

To hear Captain Syed tell it, goods from all over the world found their way to Lildaka. Laura listened with fascination to her description of the Lildaka Market, which stood just outside the town proper. She told of colorful stalls, packed shoulder to shoulder. There, you’d find all manner of traders, Desereti and Lakota and even Tang, all haggling and shouting.

It all sounded quite exotic and fantastical to Laura. She could hardly believe that she would soon get to see such a place for herself.

And so, as Captain Syed continued to lecture in Pa’s general direction, Laura hurried her steps to stay apace. Captain Syed barreled forward from topic to topic in her distinctively assertive patter, pausing only long enough to stuff another wad of chewing leaf into her cheek.

“Marius Ortega—Wolfdog we call him out west—he’s been the local supervisor for ten years now or close enough,” she was now saying, “I barely remember myself, but there was hard feelings for quite some time after the annexation. Wolfdog Ortega, though, he’s always had a light touch. Long as the silver keeps flowing back to Davenport, the Wolfdog’s mostly been happy to leave things to the old Deshi families who run the Merchants Guild.

“These days, though… Well, I ain’t never seen relations with the supervisor so tense as they been lately.”

Captain Syed looked back along the convoy’s procession. Her gaze seemed to linger on Caleb the Ortega guardsman, who was walking a few paces back, chatting with Bill Keo. For some reason, Laura expected the woman to lower her voice, but Captain Syed just spit beside the road and continued talking at the same volume.

“Losing the Illinoy’s been mighty bad for trade. You ain’t heard it from me, but I’d be surprised if there ain’t folks in the Merchants Guild asking themselves just what exactly they need Clan Ortega for anyway. And that was before Old Man Ortega took sick. If this succession crisis don’t get sorted out, who can tell which way the old Deshi families are likely to bolt?

“What do you suppose is behind these land claims they’re so keen to dole out? You think Davenport cares two beans about cultivating the god-forsaken Wastes? No sir. Wolfdog Ortega, he feels his grip on the City of Mounds slipping away. He means to surround Lildaka with homesteaders, all carrying Ortega papers, all loyal clients of the supervisory. Something to balance out the power of those stubborn Deshi tradesmen.”

Pa said nothing to all this, but Laura could tell that Captain Syed’s words had troubled him.

~~~

Later that evening, when the convoy stopped to make camp, Laura saw Pa pull out the parchment map from the handcar. Map in hand, he approached the clearing beside the bisox wagon where Hector Chavez was chopping onions for supper.

It wasn’t the first time the two men had sat down together. Pa often tried to engage the bisox driver in conversation whenever the opportunity presented itself. Captain Syed might be a fine source of information about Lildaka and the Great Eighty Road, but she seemed to know little about the lands west of the Suri River.

It was Mr. Chavez who had actually seen the Wastes firsthand, and Pa was keen to learn all he could from the old man’s recollections. What was the weather like in the Wastes? How hot was it in summer, how cold in winter? What kind of game could they expect? Was the better unclaimed land to be found to the west or to the south? Unrolling his map, Pa would point to locations along the parchment’s leftmost edge.

Unfortunately, Mr. Chavez’s approach to conversation could not have been more different from Captain Syed’s. Where the convoy’s captain volunteered a dizzying abundance of observations and opinions without prompting, the bisox driver was inclined to answer even direct questions with little more than a smile and a shrug.

Sometimes, though, Pa’s pipeleaf could loosen up the man’s words enough for Pa could shake a few of them out. That evening, Laura watched Pa produce his wooden pipe from a coat pocket and offer Mr. Chavez a smoke. They began talking. Under pretense of gathering firewood, Laura gradually made her way close enough to listen.

Mr. Chavez was telling Pa about a dust storm that his convoy had once weathered while crossing the Wastes. He described a wall of dark clouds had appeared suddenly on the horizon, rolling towards them. When it finally crashed down upon them, the world around had vanished. Mr. Chavez hadn’t been able to see his hands held out in front of his face. The dust storms sometimes lasted days, he said, showering brown grit that would choke a man’s lungs and threaten to bury him neck deep.

Mr. Chavez shook his head at the memory and took another deep pull from Pa’s pipe. He was silent a moment, gazing thoughtfully at his half-chopped onion as the smoke trailed from his nostrils. Seeing Laura lingering nearby, Pa gave her a look but said nothing. Already, this was an unusually detailed account by Mr. Chavez’s standards, and Pa seemed afraid to disrupt the old man’s momentum.

He hadn’t seen the Wastes in a good many years, Mr. Chavez finally continued, letting more smoke leak from his mouth alongside his words. He reckoned the land was a good deal changed if the stories were to be believed.

There were no settlements in the Wastes in his day, he said. No farms. No homesteads. The only people were the small gangs of nomads that the Deshi traders called the Yaya and the Deseretis called Zoramites. No one seemed to know who they were or where they had come from. The Yaya had no permanent homes. Instead, they roamed from place to place across the vast Wastes, following the wastebird flocks. A savage folk, Mr. Chavez told Pa. They were known to attack convoys, and it was said that they ate human flesh.

When Mr. Chavez said this last part, Pa spit his pipe out, right in the middle of inhaling. Coughing violently, he looked over to where Laura was milling about, barely concealing her eavesdropping.

“But this was all some time ago,” Pa said between coughs. “Before the rains returned.”

Mr. Chavez smiled and shrugged.

~~~

After Pa shooed her away from his conversation with Mr. Chavez, Laura wandered about the camp. In every corner, the convoy was unburdening from the long day’s journey. They took stock, tended to their equipment, and prepared for the arrival of darkness.

On some nights, the convoy stopped right alongside the Great Eighty Road. Other times, they would turn down a side trail and might walk for near an hour to reach their endpoint. Either way, Captain Syed always seemed to know just what she was aiming for. Inevitably, just as dusk was threatening to creep upon them, the convoy would find itself standing on the perfect campsite. Some flat place sheltered from the wind. A place with high enough ground to give them vantage over the surrounding area. And there always seemed to be a stream or a source of groundwater nearby.  As often as not, these places bore the signs of past convoys. Carvings on the trees or rings of stones enclosing old firepits.

That night, the convoy had camped uphill from the Great Eughty Road, in a clearing in the shadow of a little sandstone bluff.

Sitting atop the bluff overlooking the camp, Laura spied Bucky Malla. The big man squatted, resting his thighs against his calves, with his rifle balanced across his knees. When he saw Laura looking up at him, he smiled and waved.

Laura knew that he was on lookout, watching for any sign of bandits. The convoy had to be careful as they ventured further and further away from any settlement, out where the guardsmen of Clan Ortega seldom patrolled. Laura had heard Captain Syed warn the others about Cooley’s Army, which was not an army at all but just the name for some bandit gangs that roamed in those parts. They were mostly small gangs and didn’t have much to do with one another, except they all claimed to follow some man named Cooley who everyone seemed to all agree had died a long time ago if he ever existed at all.

Captain Syed didn’t seem very worried about Cooley’s Army. They were poorly armed and even more poorly fed, Laura had heard her say, and more like to attack one another than a properly defended convoy. That was no excuse not to be careful, though, and so Bucky Malla kept a watchful eye on the surrounding hills as the other travelers bustled about below him.

Laura was accustomed to the routines of life on convoy by now. Making camp each night was a much livelier business than when it had been just Laura and her family on the road, for there was always much to do. Whenever Captain Syed called a halt to the day’s journey, it seemed to release a sudden burst of activity, like a long-simmering pot suddenly boiling over, as everyone hurried to make use of whatever precious daylight remained.

They all had their own cargo to tend to, but the fellow travelers also helped one another. Everyone pitched in, seeing to the things that needed to be done for the convoy’s common safety and comfort, making sure that the whole group would be ready to move again the next morning.

At one edge of the camp, Janice and Oprah Khan were fretting about their hives, counting up their bees to see how many had gotten lost along the way. Laura stopped and watched them for a moment. It must be very confusing for the little bees, she thought, to have their home moving all the time.

Nearby, Caleb the guardsman was helping Mr. Aguilar patch some of the boards on his handcar that were rotting away. Pa, who had apparently gotten all the information he could out of Mr. Chavez, came over to join them, offering his opinion on how best to fix the joints of the car’s cargo box.

After watching them for a time, Laura turned and began to make her way back to her family’s corner of the camp. Along the way, she stopped to pay a visit to the bisox. She was becoming good friends with the two beasts. The one with the white patch was named Pretty, she’d learned, and the chestnut brown was Penny. It could still be frightening to stand close to the big, horned animals, but their deep black eyes were never threatening. They were gentle creatures, though Pretty could be stubborn when she wanted to be, snorting and stamping her hooves when Mr. Chavez tried to turn the wagon. The bisox even tolerated Jack, who now trotted over to greet Laura, before turning to Penny to snuffle at her shaggy legs.

Laura chatted for a moment with the animals. Then she called Jack to her, and together they made their way back to Ma. They found her scrambling over the handcar, retying bundles and shoving barrels that had jostled loose back into place.

When Ma looked down at Laura, she frowned at the meager bundle of branches tucked under her arm. Laura had forgotten that she was supposed to be looking for kindling. Ma sent her right back out to join Mary and Devonte Aguilar, who were gathering firewood in the thicket downhill from the campsite.

As she made her way down the trail, Laura heard Devonte explaining something to Mary in a very self-important voice. Suddenly, Mary let out a loud girlish laugh. It sounded unnatural to Laura, and she doubted that anything Devonte Aguilar had said could possibly be that funny.

Laura’s sister had started acting funny around the older boy, always changing her voice as if to make herself sound more grown up. A few days previous, Mary had asked Laura if she thought Devonte was handsome. Laura had made a face and said she guessed he probably was, but he was also stuck up and a know-it-all.

When Laura reached them, Devonte turned to her. Placing a hand to his chest, he bowed low. That made Mary fake laugh again. Laura just rolled her eyes and set about scooping up kindling.

When they had all they could carry, Laura, Mary, and Devonte returned to camp. They set down their firewood next to Mr. Chavez, who was preparing the cookfire. Mr. Chavez made a show of surprise when Laura dropped her armful of branches, raising his bushy eyebrows and remarking on her strength. Laura knew he was only teasing her, but it made her feel good anyhow.

Before long, the aromas of supper were wafting across the camp. Mr. Chavez was always in charge of the cooking. Soon after leaving Hawkeye Crossing, though, Ma had started assisting him, and each night she seemed to assert herself more around the convoy’s makeshift kitchen. Meals were richer for their collaboration. By agreement and tradition, most of what supplies people had brought with them on convoy were pooled together, and Ma and Mr. Chavez made the most of the varied ingredients. For Laura, each supper was a revelation, flavors new and familiar overlapping one upon the other.

After the sun had gone down, Captain Syed and the other Deshis unrolled their mats and went off to say their evening prayer. By the time they returned, the rest of the convoy was gathered around a roaring fire, and Mr. Chavez was ladling out bowls of a rich, sweet stew with barley from the stores in the back of the bisox wagon, apple leathers that Ma had pulled out of one of their barrels, and even a touch of honey from the Khans’ hives.

Now was the time when the convoy would truly come alive. On some nights, there was singing. The others had been delighted when they learned that Pa played the two-string, and, if there was fuel enough to keep the fires glowing after supper, they would often convince him to bring it out, shouting requests as he adjusted the two tuning pegs that stuck out from the instrument’s skinny neck.

Other nights, they told stories. Some told stories about their lives. Others just told story stories.

Bill Keo told second type. The wispy-bearded bachelor was cagey about his life and his travels. But he was an enthusiastic teller of showtales.

“I don’t reckon a couple sensible young ladies like you is interested at all in stories about the Batman,” he said that night, as Laura and Mary passed by on their way to sit down beside the fire, bowls of apple barley stew in their hands.

He had seen Laura’s carrysack and knew very well she was interested.

“I know all the Batman stories,” she told him. “Pa’s told them to me.”

“Oh I see. Well then,” said Bill Keo, shrugging in disappointment as he tucked his legs beneath him and blew theatrically across his bowl. “Don’t mean to bore you. Suppose you know all about how the Batman saved the whales with help of his space friends.”

Behind her, Laura heard Captain Syed snort.

“Saved the whats?” she said. “Bill, what nonsense are you telling those girls?”

As Bill Keo cackled to himself and slurped his stew, others gathered closer to listen. The Khans pulled their stools around to Bill Keo’s side of the firepit. Bucky Malla and Caleb, who had been standing nearby eating their stew, both turned. Even Devonte Aguilar, whose parents seemed to disapprove of showtales, sat down beside Mary and Laura.

“Saved the whales, Priya,” Bill Keo was saying. “Why, everybody knows it was the Batman that brought whales back to the sea after they’d all died out. How else do you think he calmed the Storm God’s furies? Though, if you ask me, he couldn’t have done it without the help of his space friends: Mighty Prime, the Lectric Man, and a clever moon goblin by the name of Spok. Those two don’t get near their share of the credit, that’s always been my view.”

Space friends? Storm gods? Moon goblins? This didn’t sound like any of the Batman’s adventures that Laura knew about.

“There’s no such thing as whales,” Laura heard Devonte whisper to Mary in his know-it-all voice.

Bill Keo must have heard it too.

“Well there weren’t until the Batman brought some back in his moonship,” he said, waggling his spoon in Devonte’s direction. “I can’t believe not one of you has heard the story of the Batman and the whales. Don’t you folks out west have any culture? Well, sit back a spell, and let Ol’ Bill tell you how it goes.”

 

HOW THE BATMAN AND HIS SPACE FRIENDS SAVED THE WHALES

 

“It was a time of great storms,” he began.

“Deep in his bunker, Wane, the Batman of Gothim, was safe. But he knowed that up above people were suffering. Well, Wane the Batman, he brooded on that. He’d defeated countless enemies. Bandits and fiends and corrupt caudillos. But even a batman can’t fight wind and rain, can he?

“He’s just about fixing to despair. Those tall old towers of Gothim are sure to blow right over any moment, he figures. And then one day there’s a knock at his bunker.

“Who could that be with these storms a-raging as they are? he thinks. Well, danged if it ain’t the Batman’s old friend, Spok. Now, Spok, if you ain’t heard of him, he’s from a people that live in a city up on the moon. Goblin I said? Well, fine, goblin if you like. He don’t look like a regular fella, that’s for sure. Like all moonmen, he’s pale and short of stature, with pointy tips to his ears, sharp as daggers, and naught but three fingers on each hand.

“Well, the Batman knows it must be something important if old Spok’s come all the way down from the moon. And sure enough it is. Turns out Spok knows just what’s been causing these terrible storms. Seems that something’s got Thor in a right foul mood, he says.

“’Of course!’ thinks the Batman. Why hadn’t he thought to go see Thor sooner? He’s the god of storms and such after all! If anyone’s responsible for this calamitous weather, it’d have to be Thor.

“There’s no time to lose, says Spok. He tells the Batman they ought to hop aboard his flying moonship right away, sail up to Thor’s castle in the sky, and make him knock it off with the storms before he floods the whole blasted world.

“Right you are as always, my friend, says the Batman. Only this Thor, he’s a tough character. Stronger than twenty men. And he’s got a magic hammer what shoots lightning. We need help, says the Batman, and I’ve a notion just where we can find it.

“Now who do you suppose the Batman went to see next? Why, who else but his old friend, Prime the Lectric Man!

“You girls have heard of Prime, sure. No? Why, he’s one of the greatest heroes of Old Merica! No sense of culture out west, and that’s a fact.

“Mighty Prime! The Lectric Man! As tall as a house and made of solid iron. He looks like just a lectric wagon but with great brawny arms and legs and a pistol what shoots beams of white-hot flame, straight as arrows. Now does that sound like the kind of warrior Spok and the Batman want at their back when they fly up to Thor’s castle? You bet your bottoms it is.

“Prime’s from space too, legend goes. Some star or other. But in those days he lived here on Earth, in a cave on top of a mountain. And that’s where Spok and the Batman find him. Meditating. Just a-waiting to be called to adventure.

“Prime! says the Batman when they get to the cave. We’ve got to get that rascal Thor to quit making these storms! Will you help us? I will, says Prime. And he grabs his flame pistol and off they go.

“So the three friends, they fly Spok’s moonship up into space, straight towards the storm god’s castle. It’s a sight, that castle. Made of gleaming silver and hardmold as white as pearl. And it floats through the sky, circling the whole Earth round and round. On clear nights like this, if you know what to look for, sometimes you can still see it pass overhead, a-blink-blinking as it passes.

“When they get there, sure enough, there’s Thor, standing right there on top one of the space castle’s silver towers, whipping up those awful storms with his magic hammer. He’s got a furious look on his face and just the craziest of crazy eyes. Right away, the heroes set down their moonship, and Prime rushes at Thor, thinking to tear that hammer away from him.

“But Thor’s too strong! He swats the mighty lectric man away like he was a child and not a giant iron wagon with arms and legs and a flame pistol and all. Oh no, thinks Spok and the Batman, and they get ready for Thor to come for them too. Only, when the storm god turns towards them, he doesn’t look angry. More sad-like. He doesn’t attack them. He just kind of hangs his head and walks away.

“The three heroes, they watch him, wary. Thor climbs to the tip of a spire what juts up from the castle tower, just a-hanging out among the stars. There he sits. He sets his hammer down and pulls a flute from his cloak, and he begins to play.

“Now, the song that comes out, it ain’t like a normal flute. Beautiful and sad, it was. It seemed to come from everywhere at once. Well, something about that sound tickles at the back of the Batman’s mind. So he pulls his lectric handscreen from his belt. That screen knows everything or nearabouts. The Batman asks the screen, ‘Screen, what is that song that Thor is playing?’

“’Why, that’s the whale song,’ the screen answers. ‘When whales swam the oceans, the sea was filled with their song. It soothed the world and kept all nature in harmony.’

“Suddenly, the Batman thinks he knows what’s got Thor in such a blasted rage. Screen, he asks, didn’t these storms start just after the whales disappeared, right about the same time the oceans went silent? Sure enough they did, says the screen.

“The Batman calls out to Thor. ‘God of thunder! If my friends and I can return the whales to the seas, will that quell your fury? Will you then forsake these terrible storms and let mankind once more live in peace?’

“’You have my word,’ says Thor.

“So the heroes climb back aboard their moonship. That was some quick thinking, says Prime, but where are we going to find some whales from? I thought they all died a long time ago.

“I’ve got an idea, says Spok. We’ll fly the moonship backwards! All the way around the Earth, so fast that we’ll fly back through time. Then we’ll scoop up a couple of those whales, fly forwards to right now, and plunk them back into the ocean.

“What are you grumbling about back there, Priya? You heard me. Backwards through time. You ever flown in a moonship? Then how do you know that’s not how they work?

“Anyway, that’s just what they do. They fly backwards around the Earth. Faster and faster, until finally Spok reckons they’ve gone back far enough. Then they sail back home, back to Gothim. Only when they get there, it’s all changed. The towers are all aglow with lectric light. The streets are full of lectric cars and wagons, just driving around all by themselves. Why, it seems the Batman and his space friends have gone and flown themselves all the way back to Lectric Times.

“Prime decides he ought to try to blend in, so he tucks his arms and legs into his body so he looks like just a regular lectric wagon. Spok and the Batman climb inside, and together they drive around Old Lectric Gothim looking for someone who can tell them where to get ahold of some whales.

“Well, it ain’t long before the Batman sees something what makes him tell Prime to hit the reins quick. There’s a set of gates up ahead. The Batman, he recognizes this place. They’re standing in front of the entrance to Zoo, a great big old palace what the Mericans built, full of gardens and a famous menagerie with two of every kind of animal thre is.

“Now, the Zoo of Gothim was abandoned during the Hard Years, and the Batman, he knows it only from the ruins. But back in Lectric Times, rich Merican folks would all pour into Zoo to spend their leisure days, strolling the gardens and gawking at beasts brought in from the farthest corners of the Empire. The Batman and his friends watch the crowds swarming all about. There’s all sorts of activity. And what’s this Zoo got out front but a great big painting of a whale!

“So in they go, through the gates of Zoo. They pass tigers and monkeys and unicorns and all sorts of strange animals what you’d never even have heard of. Finally they find the place where they keep all the fish and other water critters. They’ve got this pool, see, big as a lake. The Batman and his friends step up to the edge of the pool to take a closer look. And wouldn’t you know it but there’s a pair of whales swimming around down there!

“Now there’s only two problems. For one, Zoo is crawling with guards. How are they going to sneak those whales out without anyone’s notice? For two, whales are big. Real big. No way they’re going to fit inside Spok’s little moonship.

“So the heroes get to planning. They leave and wait for dark. Then, late that night, Prime races back to Zoo, still pretending to be just an ordinary lectric wagon. The gates are closed and locked now, but Prime just drives himself straight into them and busts them right down. The Zoo guards on nightwatch all start shouting and chasing Prime around, but they can’t catch him. The Lectric Man’s too fast.

“Meanwhile, out hops the Batman, and he goes about opening cages. Pretty soon there’s bears and monkeys and all the rest running loose all over, and you’ve never heard such a ruckus. The guardsmen, they’re having a time of it, trying to round up those animals, so Prime and the Batman manage to sneak off to the whale pool. There, the Batman opens a door in the back of Prime’s wagon, and he pulls out the giant net that the three friends have spent all day weaving.

“The Batman dives into the pool, trailing the net behind him. Beneath the water, he can hear the whales’ song, rising and falling. He swims up to them. ‘Mankind needs your help,’ he says to them. The song changes pitch, and the Batman knows the whales have understood. He swims in circles around them, wrapping them in the net. Then he grabs a corner and swims back to the surface.

“The Batman pops his head out of the water. There in the sky, it’s Spok in his flying ship. Spok sails down to the Batman. The Batman attaches the net to a hook on the bottom of the moonship. Then he and Prime get aboard, and the ship sails away. Now, if you can picture a sparrow who’s caught himself a trout, then you can begin to imagine what Spok’s little moonship looked like, climbing into the air with that net dangling beneath it, holding as it did two giant whales!

“Back up into space they fly. Then around the Earth. Forward this time. Faster and faster. Until they arrive back into their own time, whales and all.

“The Batman and his friends drop the whales into the sea. They watch the two mighty beasts swim away, singing their whale song all the while. And then, from somewhere up above, another song rises in answer. The Batman looked up to see the blinking light of Thor’s castle passing overhead, like a shooting star in slow motion. The notes from the sea and the notes from the sky came together in harmony.

“From that day forward, the storms grew quieter. And whales once again roamed the oceans, protecting mankind from the heavens’ wrath. All thanks to the Batman and his amazing space friends.”

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