Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain (10 page)

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
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“Two birds with one stone, Mr. Sweet?”

“Indeed, Mr. Candy, two birds with one stone. The Kings of Switzerland have been a thorn in our side since we arrived in this miserable world. It will be very satisfying to destroy the line once and for all.”

The plane sailed over the black surface of the ocean, its red running lights winking malevolently in the night sky.

Chapter 7

As soon as they were inside the elevator car, the doors slid shut with a thud. The King stood between Mimi and Parveen, and the Guards took up stations at the corners of the car. Mimi and Parveen discovered that, miraculously, they could see through the walls, affording them a view of the surrounding cavern.

“You're going to enjoy this,” the King said. “It's quite an amazing tour for those who haven't seen it before. George?”

“Majesty?” The voice came from no single direction but seemed to be everywhere at once.

“Would you be so kind as to narrate the tour? I'm a little bit tired, I'm afraid.”

“Majesty, your heart rate is elevated and your temperature is a degree above normal. You should use your motorized wheelchair.”

The King waved a hand irritably at nothing. “I feel so helpless in that thing, like an invalid.”

“Nonetheless,” the voice said.

“The tour, please, George.”

“Who the heck is that?” Mimi demanded. She found the disembodied voice disturbing.

“Hello, Mimi. It's George again. As I said, I am George. I am an artificial intelligence. I am the nervous system of the Hollow Mountain. I monitor threats to our colony, environmental systems, and all tasks too onerous for the children to do on a daily basis.”

“George, as in raccoon George?” Parveen asked.

“Exactly, Parveen. I am the raccoons. They are my eyes and ears and hands when need be. They are me and I am them. We are connected.”

“Impressive,” Parveen said in awe.

“King Liam built me. He is very intelligent.”

The King shrugged. “I have a knack for puzzles. When he starts nagging me, I sometimes regret it.”

“That is very hurtful, Majesty.”

“Forgive me, George, but you haven't any feelings to hurt.”

“But I still understand the concept of insult and I am able to compute your disdain.”

“I apologize. The tour, please, George, the tour.”

“Why?” Mimi said suddenly.

“Why what?” the King asked.

“Why raccoons?”

“They aren't native to Switzerland,” Parveen pointed out.

“Ah, good question. I just like them. They're cute with their little stripy tails and their black masks.”

“And they have excellent manual dexterity,” Parveen interjected. “Their paws are almost as nimble as human hands.”

“True,” the King agreed. “But they're cute, too.”

They had risen high up the elevator shaft and they could see the cavern spread out below. The water glittered all around them. Small boats skimmed across the surface, leaving white wakes on the black water.

“The cave system has undergone extensive expansion during the tenure of the Kings and Queens of Switzerland. The mineral deposits in the rock are mined for processing and used here in the Hollow Mountain. The cargo platform you see below is the central hub where our most
important commodity is distributed to our clients in the world outside. We float it across and then run it out of the tunnel in small rail cars.”

“Commodity?” Parveen asked. “What is it?”

The King raised a hand in protest. “All in good time. Tell them about the geothermal system, George.”

“Do you see the pipes running up the walls?” George began. Mimi and Parveen looked out and indeed saw sets of metallic pipes traversing the walls of the cavern. “Those pipes carry natural spring water from deep inside the rock. Some are diverted from natural hot springs and provide us with natural heating and steam power for most of our electrical energy. The cold water is used for drinking and manufacturing purposes. The water is siphoned off after use and returned below to a filtration system. We like to recycle.”

As they rose, the light became stronger. The mist gathered, thickening into proper clouds as they rose in elevation.

“Heinrich's Cavern is so large that it has its own weather system. When the condensation becomes too great, there are actual rainstorms in here.”

Mimi tried to imagine a rainstorm occurring indoors and found it just beyond her. This place was truly unbelievable. Presently, they rose above the cloud layer and the light increased in intensity.

They approached the ceiling of the cavern and saw that glowing panels attached to the rock gave off a golden glow remarkably like sunlight.

The elevator suddenly stopped, making everyone hop involuntarily. They had a view of the entire cavern from the very topmost point.

“The Hollow Mountain was first discovered by Heinrich the Great, first King of Switzerland. He came
upon a series of natural caves in the centre of the mountain and decided it would be a perfect place to start a refuge for displaced children. The year was 1578. He began with the cavern you see below. For that reason, we named it Heinrich's Cavern.”

“Makes sense,” Mimi muttered.

“In the intervening years the cavern was widened and refined until it reached the proportions you see today.” George's voice was quite bland even though he was relating such amazing information. “Our light source is truly remarkable.” The walls of the elevator darkened, blocking out some of the glare so that the occupants could stare directly at long rectangular banks of panels embedded in the rock ceiling of the cavern. “The banks of lights you see are called Daniel's Panels. Designed and installed by King Daniel in 1972, they are capable of providing light and heat for each chamber in the facility. The Daniel's Panels cycle through a light and dark period, simulating a surface day each twenty-four hours. The panels replicate natural sunlight exactly, allowing the residents of the Hollow Mountain to enjoy all the benefits of sunlight without exposing them to the risk of discovery.”

“Simulated daylight,” Parveen said softly. “Much better than the fluorescent lights at the cheese factory.”

“Too right,” Mimi snorted. “Gave me wicked headaches.”

“Hold tight, please.”

The car began to rise again. They passed above the Daniel's Panels and entered the rock of the ceiling. For a few seconds, they were plunged into darkness.

“We are about to enter Frieda's Cavern. The greenhouse level.”

No sooner had George made this announcement than they emerged into bright sunlight. Everywhere there was
greenery and the glitter of sunlight on water. As they rose they saw they were in a cavern slightly smaller than the first, but whereas Heinrich's Cavern was rocky and barren, Frieda's Cavern was a profusion of lush plant life. Directly below them was a garden of the most brilliant flowers they had ever seen. There were fountains everywhere, sparkling as they threw up jets of water. The elevator shaft itself rose through the middle of a huge fountain that sprayed water many metres into the air. The water was lit from within and changed colours, cycling through the entire spectrum.

They stopped suddenly a hundred metres above the ground. “The Royal Park and Hakon's Fountain. The fountain was designed and built during the reign of King Hakon, fourteenth King of Switzerland. It runs completely on hydraulic pressure generated by runoff from the glaciers and the natural springs deep inside the mountain.”

“I suppose it serves as a natural filter for the drinking water in the … uh, settlement,” Parveen said.

“Exactly,” George said in his pleasant voice. “He's very clever, this one. Very clever.”

There were children everywhere in Frieda's Cavern. Some were wandering about, enjoying the flowers. Some were splashing in the fountains. Some were seated in groups around raccoons who seemed to be holding classes of some sort. The scene was one of peace and contentment, made only slightly weird by the presence of so many raccoons.

The elevator rose slowly, exposing a panoramic view of the cavern floor. “Frieda's Cavern was excavated in the eighteenth century by …”

“Let me guess,” Mimi said sarcastically. “Queen Frieda?”

“The Third. Also called Frieda the Excavator. She loved to excavate, that one,” George continued.

Above them, another bank of Daniel's Panels drew nearer. “The farms are located on the fringe of Frieda's Cavern. We grow most of our own food here inside the Hollow Mountain. Soybeans, corn, and wheat are our main crops, along with fruit orchards,” George said. The children shielded their eyes and peered towards the outer edge of the cavern. In between the rows of crops, driving small tractors, digging, weeding, and watering, were hundreds of raccoons.

“Look at all them raccoons!” Mimi exclaimed. “It's amazing.”

“Each one controlled by my central processing unit. Watch!” All the raccoons down below suddenly stopped whatever they were doing and raised first their right paws then their left paws in unison with eerie exactitude. “You see? They aren't really individuals. We're like a hive of bees, all controlled by the queen bee that is the central computer called George. In other words, me.”

“So you can divide your attention up and do many different tasks at the same time?” Parveen asked.

All the raccoons suddenly pointed up at the elevator and clapped their hands. It was very disconcerting. “Absolutely,” said George. “My processing power is truly incredible, if I do say so myself. I control the climate, security, food production … everything.” As one, the raccoons counted on their fingers as George listed things off. George suddenly became aware that he was controlling all the raccoons. “Sorry about that.” The raccoons went back to their farming tasks as if nothing had happened. The elevator entered the ceiling of the cavern.

After a few seconds of darkness, they rose into the next level.

“The workshops are all located on this third level,” George announced. The cavern was smaller than the one
below. They were looking out onto a circular courtyard paved with slabs of grey stone. The walls of the cavern were only fifty metres away and pierced with doorways. In the courtyard, groups of Guards practised marching in formation. Children dressed in pale green or white coats hurried in and out of doorways looking very busy. “The medical and technical laboratories are located on the third level along with the workshops that manufacture clothing and all other goods the Hollow Mountain residents require. Here, children learn trades that will help them in their lives after they leave.”

“Children leave? Why would they?” Mimi asked. “This place is purdy fine.”

King Liam suddenly spoke. “It's the rule. When a child turns sixteen, he or she must go out into the world. They are trained in a trade and given enough money to start them off on their own. We create a detailed history for them that we insert into the records of the world outside to hide where they have been throughout their childhood years.”

“But how do ya know they ain't gonna tell anybody where ya are?” Mimi asked.

“No one has yet.” The King smiled and shared a look with Aidan and Cara. “We have methods that have been foolproof up to now.”

“Foolproof? But what—”

“All in good time, Mimi. George? Continue the tour if you will, George.”

George jumped back in. “The Royal Swiss Guards have their barracks on this third tier. The barracks have state-of-the-art training facilities.”

Mimi's interest was immediately piqued. She peered down at the Guards performing their manoeuvres. “They shore do look smart in their uniforms.”

“Maybe you could join the Guards, Mimi,” Aidan suggested. Cara looked mortified at the thought. Mimi scowled, trying not to look interested, but Parveen could tell that she was.

They passed through the ceiling into the next chamber.

“Welcome to the Nurtury!” The cavern was smaller again than the ones below, though still larger than the entire Windcity Orphanage and Cheese Factory. They ascended halfway up through the cavern and stopped. Terraced balconies rose all the way up the sides, turning it into a sort of ribbed bowl. Everywhere, children were sitting in groups of different ages, writing, reading, or watching a raccoon who seemed to be teaching.

“Under King Tse Shiao, the Nurtury was designed as a teaching centre for the children in the Hollow Mountain. They go to school each day.” The car rose gently, passing tier after tier of classrooms. As the levels got higher the children got older. Raccoons and sometimes the older children were teaching all sorts of different classes. “The children leave here with the finest education we can provide … which is extremely good, given that I designed the curriculum.”

“George,” the King scolded gently. “Humility is attractive, especially in super-intelligent artificial minds.”

“Of course, your Majesty.”

“Thank you for the tour, George,” the King said suddenly. “Take us to the Royal Chambers now, please.”

“But there are still King Franklin's Hanging Gardens … and the Bubble Works. Oh, and the Raccoon Works, where I repair my raccoon units. It's very interesting.”

“All in good time. I'm sure Mimi and Parveen are weary after their trip and would like some refreshment.” Looking at the King's drawn face and the dark circles
under his eyes, Mimi understood that he could use a little rest himself. His hands quivered where they held the crutches, and Cara's hand gripped his elbow tightly.

“Of course,” said George. “Royal Chambers, next stop!” The elevator zoomed aloft. Parveen and Mimi both thought the same thing as they looked out at the disappearing terraces with their classrooms filled with happy children.
This place is heaven. I wish we could stay here and never have to worry about the ODA again
.

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
10.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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