The Magic Beans – Page 76



Climbing up out of the entrance shaft, Perilous Jack finds himself in a cavernous room crisscrossed with a dizzying array of pipes, most large enough for a man to walk through.

Each pipe is labeled with a painted number, which at a glance seem to be in no particular order. However, Jack has no opportunity to unravel the pattern of the pipe numbering, for a massive shape is already bearing down on him, charging across a wooden platform suspended just above the entrance pipe. Jack dodges to the side and leaps across to another pipe, clinging precariously to the curved surface, and stares aghast at the huge figure that attacked him.

It is a construct, a humanoid machine of some kind, standing on two tree-trunk legs of iron. The torso is reminiscent of a spider’s body, with a small head thrust out from the center of the chest and eight multi-jointed arms blossoming from the sides of the torso. Each arm terminates in a cruelly hooked steel claw, enhancing the spider-like appearance of the torso. The whole thing looks to be immensely powerful, heavily armored, and violently disposed. Jack has heard rumors of such constructs, which the stories call Iron Claws.

Even as Jack considers the Iron Claw fuming at him from across the gap, a huge spider – organic, thankfully – drops onto his back from a recess between two pipes. Jack flings the creature off before it can do any harm and crouches low, peering into every shadow. There is movement everywhere; the stealthy whisper of living spiders and the metallic clank of Iron Claws.

He leaps, climbs, rolls from one pipe to another, but everywhere he turns more of the huge iron machines confront him. He does not bother to engage them in swordplay; he knows perfectly well that his weapons are no match for these monsters. At last he retreats into a ventilation pipe, too narrow for the Iron Claws to follow. A huge fan is at his back, drawing air in from the outside. The whirling blades will make it impossible for anything to attack him from behind. He sits and considers for a few moments, occasionally fending off the grasping legs of a living spider attempting to enter the pipe.

He remembers the frustrated Rust Birds outside the entrance to this lair, and laughs. He casts around, seeking the wires he knows will control the ventilation fan, and traces them back to their source. As he hoped, there is a switch near the entrance to the ventilation shaft. Holding tight to the edge of the shaft so he is not sucked out, he flips the switch to its middle position.

Slowly the fan ceases to turn. When its motion has all but ceased, Jack flips the switch to its third position. Now the fan starts up again in the opposite direction, this time sucking air out of the room – and with the air, the smell of iron.

Within a few minutes, Jack hears the screech of the Rust Birds and the clatter of their claws against the metal shaft. He waits a moment or two longer, and then turns the fan off again. As the blades slowly stop turning, he sees more and more clearly how many Rust Birds have answered his call. There are at least a dozen of the huge birds packed into the shaft, and they seem to have no qualms whatsoever about wriggling through tight spaces. The two birds in the lead sink their diamond-hard beaks into the steel of the ventilation fan, and with the ease of a boy plucking wings off a fly, they tear it apart.

Perilous Jack smiles and leaps from the shaft, slashing at spiders as he falls. He dodges the swipe of an Iron Claw, leaps away, and hides himself in a shadowy recess, waiting for the chaos to begin.

Turn to 27.