On the 26th of Sixth Month accordingly, my Son and I took passage on a gigantic dirigible bound for the Outerland in fulfillment of our orders to investigate the extent to which the people suffered there beneath the force of an evil and unnatural Weather. The organization to which we answered hoped to make use of our journey, the notes of which you read here, in order to prepare a useful relief effort, to justify a collection of funds from various donors, and to better learn how to protect against future encroachments of the Weather. Having held previous diplomatic positions in our good nation's government, I was named by the organization an ambassador to the Outerland; it was my duty to execute an efficient tour, file a complete report of the situation, and make recommendations as I saw fit. I decided to take with me my Son, for he had recently gained entry to the organization as a pupil, and I believed he might benefit from the experience. My wife, however, disagreed with my good judgment and wept terribly at the departure of her only Son.
Once underway, my Son and I passed a few hours enjoyment of the deck while the Sun set behind us, and then we went below for the night and submitted to the usual inconvenience of air sickness. As the berths had been nearly bespoke, my Son and I asked an attendant to prepare some bedding upon the floor, which was pretty well occupied in that way. Waking in the night, we found ourselves in a position not the most salutary or comfortable, our heads being from the then askew flying posture of the airship considerably lower than our feet—yet such is the strange apathy and indisposition to exertion, consequent on sickness, that neither of us could muster resolution enough to rearrange himself.
At this time, there was a great bustle on deck as the pilots and crew struggled to secure the airship's stability: The Weather, which had been from the very first unfavorable, had further deteriorated as we traveled closer to the Outerland, causing a harsher turbulence to shake the cabin with much violence. So overwhelmed by sickness was I that I remember little of that night and the rolling of the airship. A crewman, mistaking my ill countenance for terror, advised me of what I already knew: the enormity of the dirigible as well as its rigid framework made it all but indestructible in the face of a storm of this magnitude. Nevertheless, I thanked him for his assurances and requested that he bring me an airsick bag and a dose of motion sickness medicine.
In the morning, I turned into a vacant berth, and, the foul Weather continuing, indulged in the ruling desire of keeping my every muscle as much as possible in a state of rest and relaxation, the least movement bringing back the distressing sickness. My Son, however, appeared to have finally overcome his nausea and so spent the day wandering about the cabin, returning at intervals to report to me all he had seen: Among other objects of interest, he was amused by the actions of a numerous flight of gulls busily seeking their supper beneath the shelter of the rigid airframe, which disrupted the turbulence of the storm enough to allow them to fly and fight for the trash of our ship as it was expelled into the Sky. My Son described how it often happened that, curiously, when one gull had taken a bit of trash, which he did crossways, but before he could swallow it by another movement in rising, a second gull pounced down and got it out of his beak in the meantime, so that the poor birds, while intently watching the air before them, were every half minute also turning up their heads to see that no other was lying in wait in the shadow of the airship. In their activity I saw the makings of a lesson that my Son might appreciate, and so explained how we should take the greed of the gulls as a warning against self-serving behavior. Instead, I told him, we must look out for our fellow humans, for in doing so, we too would benefit. At length, having been obliged by the storm to run far off course in the night, we returned easily enough through the updrafts of the dividing range and descended to the tarmac via one of the embouchures of the mountains, and at nine in the evening, we secured the tether, disembarked, and by ten, having passed through customs, found ourselves in a pretty good Inn.
After breakfast, we proceeded to the passenger quay in the port, our luggage in one vehicle with the weekly mail, and our selves in another. We occupied the time in surveying the first example of an Outerland community we had leisure to move around in, its being a port town, the only point of departure for all expeditions to the Outerland, one populated by all manner of people, Outerland and otherwise, a people that, upon closer inspection, suffer terribly their poor lot in life. These are a battered and downtrodden people. These are a people who cannot walk upright for fear of the Sky above their heads, who must hourly evaluate the Weather and check upon their wrists the miniature instruments attached there. These are a people who know nothing of the word Sunbathe or the figurative cleverness of the phrase under the Weather. In the hustle and bustle upon the street, the Outerlanders seem most foreign, a muddy, damp, wrinkled mass of bodies scurrying from one shelter to the next, and in this sense, they are to be pitied.
We were to make our way by flatboat to the city, but our skipper at the shipyard was a long time clearing out, and I feared that we might miss our appointment with the deputy governor and his staff. During the delay, we had a crowd of persons about the gunwales willing to trade with us for fruit, tools, and so on, or serve as porters and translators for our journey. We were finally able to find a deal to my liking and so traded for a double kit of Weather gear, some food sacks, and a rubber utility bag, which we filled with the necessaries of our originally over-packed luggage, before discarding our umbrellas and ponchos and other leftovers into the crowd. We declined the offers of guidance, as our itinerary stated that a guide would meet us in the capitol as part of the hospitality package arranged by the deputy governor and his staff.
By noon, we were under fan in the smooth river water and soon entered its wider channels, pushing further north and east. The day proved alarmingly fine, despite warnings otherwise, and our fellow passengers grew noticeably restless at this development, choosing to secure themselves in the hold of the flatboat rather than take the Sunshine upon the deck as my Son and I did. Our voyage, initially, was very pretty: the country—concealed by high reedy banks, over which peeped what appeared to be distant village bunkers, operating wind farms, octagonal structures of the Weather stations, all whirring and beeping within their protective walls—was one of sublime barrenness aside from the occasional structures we saw.
Around us rolled miles of sweeping, flat-topped hills, which, upon closer inspection through my spyglass, had about them a rubbed and raw appearance. My Son remarked upon the exposed tops of these hills, likening them to blisters upon the skin, to which I nodded my assent: they did seem infected in some way, though how or why such a thing might occur, we could not make out. I explained to my son that the blisters, the bubbling and scarring of the earth, were symptoms, it seemed, of a greater atmospheric malaise, the origins of which we had been sent to discover. I also noticed, in some areas, what appeared to be canvas tarps haphazardly outspread over other hills like enormous bandages, as though to protect the earth's wounds from further gout, and I explained to my son that in some instances, our methods of treatment failed to reach the core of the hurt, to which he solemnly nodded his agreement.
A series of klaxons interrupted our observations of the countryside, and an attendant arrived promptly to escort us below deck. Indeed, he appeared not a moment too soon, for as we turned towards the hatch, we saw how quickly the Sun had blotted out, how the smooth surface of the shipping channel had turned pebbly, then entrenched with white-topped waves. A whipping wind charged down upon us, followed by a bank of the highest thunderheads I had ever witnessed in my life. Had someone not pushed us into the secure hold of the ship, I wonder if I could have moved, so awestruck had I become. In the ship, the other passengers huddled together in the dull glow of the emergency lights. The ship rocked violently as the storm hit, though its flat hull seemed to minimize this rocking, and I gathered my Son into a corner of the hold and tried to shelter his head lest some loose cargo strike him. In that way, we Weathered the storm through the night, and I recalled my wife's fears and suddenly doubted my own enthusiasm for the journey. There in that barge, I felt my first regret at having submitted my Son, who now slept small, fragile, calf-like in my arms, to his potential destruction.
At length, the capitol opened on our view: a large commercial city beneath a bubbled dome of a barrier surrounded by an abundance of wind turbines. We had seen them in lesser numbers as we came along, but here they were of a larger build and in great profusion, as they entirely power the city, the emission of pollutants within the dome having been outlawed long ago. Indeed, the city has a chain of wind turbines quite round this side of it, which, mixing with the steeples and the masts of the ships, make a peculiar characteristic appearance against the dome.
Upon our arrival, we first toured, as visitors usually do, the statue of the Unknown Architect and the house in which he lived and died, a squatty stone structure at odds with the surrounding elegance of the city. We learned during our stay that the building had been constructed before the use of barriers against the Weather and was therefore styled in the manner of the many bunker-like shelters commonly inhabited by those unfortunate enough to reside beyond the safety of the dome. I found it remarkable to walk in the very hallways he once walked, to see the bedroom in which he nightly slept, and to stand before the expansive drafting table upon which he sketched his plans for the impressive Skyhook. Being an avid philosopher of the Sky myself, I took great delight in explaining to my Son both the mechanics of the Skyhook and how its invention essentially revolutionized our understanding of atmospheric processes and structures. However, my Son, whose young age naturally drew him towards spectacle, could only focus upon the gruesome nature of the Unknown Architect's suicide, and it was some time before I could finally encourage him away from the broken window frame, preserved there above his workbench for all to witness, from which the man had thrown himself in despair. My Son grimly stood by the window, staring at the rough street below, and in him I could see the calculations processing, and I steeled myself to somehow answer whatever question he meant to put to me, though I feared my own sudden doubts. Instead, his mind unknotted itself for some reason or another, and, turning, he grasped my hand, and together we sought the exit of the museum.
Satisfied with our tour, my Son and I left a small donation for the museum's curators and proceeded to the city's old quarter, at which place the most remarkable object we saw was an ancient Weather tower leaning over its base in a manner almost terrific to strangers. A small but odd proportion of the oldest houses and public buildings in the capitol lean considerably eastward, and I was surprised to hear that all but a few had not yet been condemned and were still in use. The wind in these parts so greatly blows down from the uninhabitable areas northwest that after some time the buildings in its path developed their listing appearance. In response to these limitations of the environment, the citizens shifted their building strategies: they constructed much smaller stone structures and reinforced the leaning buildings, driving piles close together through the soil so as to reach the deep bedrock, a kind of scaffold for the windswept buildings. The piles did not always suffice, however, and the driving of new ones occasioned the contiguous loaded ones to go deeper, sometimes erupting underground streams and lakes so that whole blocks of the city were flooded. Only after the dome was built to deflect the wind and Weather could officials manage the floodwaters into a series of canals within the city proper.
As we searched for the governor's mansion, for we had an afternoon conference we meant to attend, we found ourselves disoriented by the odd layout of the city. The capitol is quite a labyrinth of canals and bridges, of gridded side streets laid over a spoked wheel of main avenues, and as such is somewhat difficult to navigate without having prior knowledge of its terrain. As a result of the flooding in the city's earlier days, many of the side streets suddenly come to an end, running against the side of an ancient building or dropping into a ruinous canal, and unfortunately we had no maps or guide books to warn us of the city's numerous and hidden idiosyncrasies of passage. However, one public character, a notable Weatherman he informed us, was very officious in the tender of his services and helped us recover the route. He advised us to travel by passing through the Great Wood, as it is emphatically known—there being scarce another in these parts—a collection of pretty good timber, with roads and trails through it. The Great Wood is such a treat to the citizens of the capitol, for they must deal nearly constantly with a Weather so unpredictable as to stunt almost all plant life beyond the dome, that they will needs engage their out-of-town visitors to spend half a day there at the least, though most of us guests would wonder for what we were detained. Within the Great Wood, too, were many private properties, country seats, and good houses, the grounds and gardens of which, with the exception of one or two decidedly in the classical style, presented too much shade and enclosure for my taste. As we approached the governor's mansion, signs of real opulence abounded in the elegant buildings with plate glass windows and in the company visible in the front salons.
At length, we managed to make our way correctly and arrived in front of a good stone building, within the gate of which we were greeted by a tiny man in a dramatic coat of fur, but of what animal I could not recognize. He bowed deeply then led us into the mansion, the interior of which was neatly appointed with all manner of drapery, polished stone, hammered copper, and vast velvet cushions. We stood in the waiting room, where we were served tea. The governor did not keep us long, and when he arrived, he immediately grasped our hands by way of introduction. He informed us of his excitement at our visiting, and officially welcomed us to his city and to his greater province, which he made a point to call by its proper name—a name I have since forgotten for its difficulty of pronunciation—rather than the moniker by which all had come to know it.
After we had seated ourselves, I explained to the governor our purpose, handing as well to him our letter of introduction and a packet of information regarding our organization and its desire to render aid to his people. The governor placed on the table these documents without glancing at them, an action I took notice of but did not remark upon, and stood to gesture that we were to go with his guide into the city. He had hopes we would tour the city and witness his people in a state of celebration before we ventured into the Outerland. I protested that we were already far behind our planned timeline, but he replied that he could not allow us to leave the city until tomorrow. All commerce had been delayed so as to make way for the city-wide celebration of the changing Season. My Son and I resigned ourselves to stay an extra day. The governor bowed to us and departed, leaving us in the capable hands—or rather under the watchful eye—of his guide, who informed us that we would be visiting several of the city's most prized institutions.
We traveled by private car to the Weather station, a stately edifice built upon a plan similar to that of our own Weather station back home, but supported by the subscriptions of the members. The rooms for public lectures are very spacious and complete. There is also an excellent set of philosophical apparatus available upon request: all manner of thermometers, such as dual gradient mercury thermometers, digital thermometers, maximum-minimum thermometers; rain gauges that measure both long-term and short-term precipitation; aneroid barometers and the less reliable water barometers; a number of very sleek and modern-looking anemometers to measure the wind speed and direction; a rare sling psychrometer as well as wet- and dry-bulb hygrometers. Any of these instruments can easily be loaded by a technician into the payload of a Weather balloon to be released through a hatch in the dome above the Weather station. And yet, the equipment permissions logbook had very few recent signatures upon its pages. A reading and smoking room on the ground floor, however, seemed by much the most frequented. The members are said to be in the habit of spending their evenings here. We proceeded to the upper floor, where there is an observatory, but I am inclined to think not much has been effected here in the meteorological way, I mean, on behalf of the capitol's citizens, though the atmosphere of the city is certainly very favorable, almost to the point of transparency, to allow one to witness the activity beyond the dome. For on looking upon the inner Sky from the lofty roof of this building, which gives a view of the city as in a panorama, I saw neither cloud nor evidence of wind within, so effective were the city's atmospheric mechanisms.
Then we drove to the edge of the dome, where a celebrated school and a Weather implement factory had existed since the founding of the capitol. The buildings hereabouts are sturdy but well-appointed, and the school has a respectable appearance as a manufacturing establishment. We were first introduced to the principal of the school, who spoke quite well; there was none of the muddled noise of Weather about his language, and so we had no difficulty understanding his explanations of the school's purpose. We told him that we were quite interested in the manufactory for Weather implements, to which he happily responded by pointing us to a finishing room in which were various specimens on show: a wind net, a rain tractor, a series of enormous Sky brushes and wands used by field-hands to nudge away particularly oppressive clouds. The facilities here may be of the extent of several city blocks with a living quarters in proportion, which looked more complete than anything we had seen thus far today. For education, there were fifty-six scholars at board, all the Sons of the higher classes, but at this time, I believe most of them were absent on account of the celebration. Also we learned there were twenty-five boys of the lower class, training partly in school, partly in the manufactory department under a master craftsman. There are said to be twenty-two teachers here in all the different branches of science, which at first view seems too large a number for fifty-six scholars, exclusive of the twenty-five above mentioned. The principal said there was to be no connection between the schools, the higher one and the craft one, no awards on merit, no system of punishment. The object is to form the laboring class to skill in their occupation, good morals, and a Weathered sensibility, and especially to contentment in their station, for contentment beyond the dome is hard to come by, and the higher to success in their own station.
At the end of the evening, a Weather balloon was sent up, which we did not perceive until it had ascended to a great height, then appeared a second, from which let fall a parachuting man. The illuminations now commenced, some of them brilliant enough to reflect upon the high interior surface of the dome. An immense crowd filled all the open space about the Great Wood, where we understood that there was to be more music far into the evening. We then withdrew to our quarters and found that our own apartment was to be lighted in front, in common with most of the street, and so our bedchamber was bright as day. The remainder of the evening, which we passed fitfully within tucked into our bedspreads, we perceived to be subject to plenty of racket with music, fireworks, foot traffic and shouting until a late hour at night. I very much doubt, however, that we could have slept in even the darkest, quietest environment, for the activity of the following morning loomed, filling us with a mixture of anxiety and excitement at what we might find in the Outerlands. My Son tossed and turned among his blankets, and his rustling reminded me of the weight I should bear home to my wife if any harm were to befall him. To allay my worries, I spoke aloud to him, summarizing for his edification the lessons of our journey thus far.
Such was a day spent in celebration of the coming season of rest and respite as observed by the inhabitants of this domed city. And yet, the outer Weather raged onward, was malevolent that entire day, and I, a visitor, a mere observer, one unattached to this ordinary life of the inner Sky, could not help but anxiously recall the reports I had read back home, reports that claimed these onslaughts had further increased regardless of the city goers' manufacturing of Weather implements and their establishing an annual celebration. Perhaps, I wonder, these methods had become not a solution, but a sort of illusion, a placebo meant to treat simply the symptoms of their troubles, to deny the terrible nature of the rising crisis they faced. I am inspired, then, to take from my journey a sort of lesson, and I can only hope that these notes might inspire others to prepare against the worst, for I fear a day when the Weather has encroached completely on our land. It is with a heavy heart, then, that this traveler must close his writings by the following lament: Whatever befalls the inhabitants of this gay and thoughtless metropolis, it seems to be almost the last thing to be expected in the course of possibilities that they should ever truly appreciate the awesome power of the Weather.
Our guide roused us at half past five, and within the hour we had departed the capitol, passing a large number of Outerlanders in their rain gear with satchels and so forth in their hands going towards the dome, and others who had more the appearance of refugees: They tendered many civilities as we passed them. It seemed to be a flat, marshy country, the scenery as in the latter part of yesterday's float up the river towards the dome. We had, our guide told us, a low, warm tract of land to pass through in order to reach the first significant safe place: a small trading post built into a castle-like enclave in the hills north of us, from which we would launch our final journey into the mountains. On our way to this place, the land was mostly marsh, wetlands—we often found we could not sufficiently determine at what point the river water ended and the land, if there were any, began—and swarms of dragonfly covered the plashes of water, which appeared everywhere, and the whole country seemed to have been constantly drenched in rain, despite the burning heat of the simultaneous Sun. But, too, we saw a series of humped, dried, blistered rises that elevated enough to allow the water to run off and into the bogs, hills we might have called them in any other circumstance. Spires of metal, what I took to be destroyed antennae, as well as twisted up, putrefying remains of what appeared to be cypress trees occasionally glistened in the white heat of the Sun. There were indications of the habitations and daily workings of people: We saw parties of women gathering mud from the bogs into piles, which other women hauled in satchels to the hills and massaged into the skin of the earth. The people here, I believe, are illiterate—they seemed alive to the arrival of travellers, and greeted us as we floated through, inclining themselves to amuse us with the motions of their exercise.
Our travel was soon interrupted by a shift in the sensation of the already intensely obscured Sky. Mixed with the precipitation, there fell an oppressive liquid, unlike any rain I had known. It appeared opaque, somewhat jellylike in substance, and clung to our persons, the sides of the flatboat, the surface of the marsh and river water, eventually accumulating so much that it began to impede our progress. Our guide engaged in trying to clear away the substance from the boat's prow with a number of lengthy poles with bristles attached to the end, but to no avail, and we soon ground to a stop, and suffered the constant bombardment of this sticky, oily substance.
We could do very little but pace the deck of the ship beneath the shelter of its funnel and tarps, careful not to slip upon the substance. Our guide moved about, clearing away the accumulation whenever possible, and in this way, we passed the day, the only bout of excitement occurring when a large passenger vehicle, perhaps an industrial omnibus, appeared in the distance, slowly drifting down one of those gentle, blistered hills upon a tide of the gelatinous substance, its passengers staring implacably out of the windows at us as though they had been sealed into their seats. The tide of gel eventually dumped the bus into the channel upon which we settled, and there it rested next to us, slowly sinking, its passengers calmly extricating themselves and stepping over the surface of the water, their feet hardly breaking the surface, to what appeared to be a bank. A group of Outerlanders greeted them with blankets and thermos mugs of hot chocolate, and we watched enviously as the troupe disappeared into a shelter.
Soon the rescue party returned and ferried us to the safety of the bunker, at which point I could most completely interact with these interesting people. Our guide sulked in the service room, but my Son and I joined this group for dinner, at their kind invitation, of course. We had meant to retire to our rooms, but found that coffee had been got for us. It was brought in the bright copper kettle, the milk boiling hot in a pipkin. We had clean earthen cups and saucers, the cupboard door was let down on its hinges at bottom and formed the table. The bread was white and good, and we ate much of it.
Having somehow freed the boat during the night, our guide again made steam upriver, and dawn found us navigating a channel through what seemed to be wreckage from the storm: bits of unrecognizable structures, some of which appeared to be barges, or houses, or vehicles; rocks and boulders, some of which seemed to float in the weird substance of the river; an enormous mirrored sheet of Sky, above which gaped a blackened, gape-mouthed hole. I had read before our trip of these supposed happenings, Sky-destruction of the most unnatural sort, but had scoffed at the possibility. Now, though, I feared the worst, for upon closer inspection, we could see several cracks spidering away from the hole. Our guide radioed word of the fallen slab of Sky to his superiors, and we were again ushered into the boat so as to be safer in the event of another minor collapse.
It was after rising for two or three miles out of the bogs and gaining the flat top of a range of calcareous hills that we got the first sight of the mountains. On arriving at the western brim along which the river is carried for half a mile, we noticed that they had appeared suddenly before and around us, not in insulated peaks, rising over the other mountains in the distant horizon, but the whole range at once in a vast amphitheater, seen from the base, and stretching from the east to west, until they faded in the absolute distance. The glaciers first caught our attention, apparently intermingled with the ranges of bright clouds but which perhaps hung between, far on this side of the prospect. The icy masses showed the same tint as the clouds, or rather, brighter, and were distinguished by a peculiar hardness of outline as such I had never seen upon a cloud, as well as by their evident connection with the mountains on which they were situated. The latter rose majestically in a darker tint, and would alone have formed a spectacle of prodigious grandeur. Between were hills and hills in almost countless ranges appearing to lie parallel with the great central chain, and rising in gradation towards it. Before us, to the southeast and south was a featureless body of water, uninterrupted by marshland—I took it to be a great lake—which we commanded with the eye to a great distance, but not the whole surface. To the north, we saw craggy hills, one or two conical elevations crowned with remote Weather stations and a distant break into a wide-hung valley. Close at our feet lay a picturesque foreground consisting of a very large valley of which kind of scenery we had enjoyed some fine prospects before. The view however was altogether the most magnificent I ever saw, despite the terrible details of its nature. We stopped the boat, I gazed until my eyes became dim, then pressed the eyelids together and rubbed them, and gazed again. At length we proceeded slowly onward.
In descending we soon entered the head of a valley among these rocky hillsides, at first little wider than a hollow way with oddly shaped boulders on each side, but which gradually opened and became very beautiful. The steep sides of neat rock were embellished with fine scattered lichens, moss, and other lowly vegetation, and with a stately appearance new to us. The view opened presently on some toxic land, in which I saw for the first time two animals, but before I could identify them, they fled. We had after Sunset a second view of the glaciers, now tinged copper color, and thought we could also discern the summit of the highest mountain, which had been before hid from us by intervening clouds.
The last stage this day was very tedious and the way rough. We did not reach the gate of the final Weather station until near eleven at night. The gate was shut and our driver called up the guard when having been reconnoitered by the light of a large lantern, hoisted on a staff before our faces, and our passports demanded by the officer for examination. I addressed the soldier to ask a question about our papers, and he replied in our native tongue and proved to be one of the Western Corps stationed in this place. I was glad to see a fellow countryman, though altogether unknown personally to me. After the soldier and I exchanged news of back West, we were permitted to proceed in search of our lodging and got our baggage into a pretty convenient room. We felt weary enough to rest. We were here offered featherbeds to cover us, but having once experienced the oppression, we objected, and with difficulty obtained a rug and a blanket. Of the latter article we here however took leave, as likewise of snuffer, extinguisher, basin, and other manifestations of comfort familiar to the hands of the poorest Westerner—to see them no more until we returned. Very often our beds were thrown upon a parcel of straw, which appeared from beneath them, in a little narrow deal box bedstead, one of which I fairly broke in two by inadvertently setting my feet strongly against the bottom end. It came down upon the floor, where I slept until morning. In getting into these boxes, we had first to shake off from our feet the sand they had gathered from the floor—the bedroom serving all the day purposes of the stationed meteorologist who had previously taken this room. It was, however, well aired, and if we chose it, warmed by a charcoal stove, which we constantly found standing.
I was awoken during the middle of the night by a drunk stumbling through our lodgings, and, after experiencing some incivility on his part, carried myself to the dining hall, from which I had heard the echo of voices despite its being such a late hour of the night. I found at the table a contingent of meteorologists, each in some way advanced in his research upon the nature of the Weather of the Outerlands. At the head of the table sat a silent gentleman, whom I understood from his companion, a good looking young man, to be one of the chief meteorologists of the province. As I had mentioned that I was in point of a meteorological persuasion, we fell into some conversation on the subject, in which I found him very stiff for the society of meteorologists, but mild and affable for mine, intimating to me quietly his hope that we should soon return the Weather to its true form, that of man's creation. I asked in turn, what reason for this return, stating my belief that I did hope for some balance between the desire of man and that of the Weather. This he could not bear to hear—but he kept his temper, gravely stating that could I witness what he suspected happened at the Weather's source within the mountains, then I too would shift my opinion, to which the others nodded their assent, all while the young man, his attendant, smiled and seemed uninterested in our talk.
The following morning we traveled through some uninspiring terrain until we passed through some natural rocks that seemingly partitioned the land, an opening in the chain of hills through which flows our river, though it comes down a series of steppes, thus requiring us to leave the boat and travel on foot into the mountains. Here, our guide, whom we had taken away from the merry-making of the city days ago, was very sulky and refused to go further. As we each of us stood upon the rocky bank, we were visited by a young boy, who had lost his sight and speech mysteriously, and the boy beckoned for us to follow him. Our guide suddenly leapt back upon the flatboat, fortunately without molesting us, and pushed off for home. We were, from that point onward, most of the way in the clouds, the blind and mute boy quietly leading us onward, occasionally gesturing in his muddled way a direction, a command, a request, a prayer. In rising, we left the river country, and we were most of the way in the storm clouds, in a rather sudden landscape unfit for anything but the barest existence, far different from the marshy fields we had traveled through. We ascended away from the waters, up to a craggy shelf that passed over a high tract of land, from which we could see to a great distance, and as the Sun got out, the water at our back made a fine appearance, resembling a sea prospect.
The Sun comprehended the whole face of the mountains, which comprised the southernmost side of the chain and other high summits rising very clear above a radical zone of darkened clouds. We walked slowly, admiring the spectacle before us, our guide wordlessly picking his way through the rocks with the help of his walking stick. Both my Son and myself remarked at this time that the spots of snow on the nearer mountains appeared as if detached from the dark soil on which they rested and suspended in the air at a considerable distance on this side of their real situations. An optical deception I think worthy of being further inquired into.
After we had taken some measurements and sat for a while at our calculations by ourselves, our guide conducted us past a series of great falls that marked the sudden rise from hill country to mountains. The day was exceedingly warm with bright Sunshine, giving the scene a very different aspect from that which it had borne on the preceding evening, amidst dark clouds and showers that decided me to seek shelter for the night in an abandoned Weather station. The river was now flowing very rapidly, filling its bed and working everywhere on the surface in curls and eddies, which gave it an appearance very different from that of our more placid streams. The water is remarkably blue and clear and the course of the river is on the whole from north to south in this part, but at the great fall it takes on an easterly direction, so that the morning is the best time for obtaining a view of the falls in the little Sunshine these parts bear. The banks are steep and rocky on one side and covered by all manner of lichens and other basic vegetation. A rapid of a quarter of a mile precedes the great falls, which begin with a pitch over a lower ledge of rocks, lying obliquely across the stream. The remainder is a tumbling cascade of prodigious magnitude and turbulence. There is in it the midst of a rock, with trees growing luxuriantly on it, rising full thirteen feet on a narrow base. Another stands midway between this and the left bank. A third divides the stream again, leaving a space like a mill race, and which actually serves that purpose. The middle rock turns a large volume of water aside, which strikes a contiguous portion of rock standing as it were on two legs and passes with great violence through the opening. On the other side of the middle rock is a round projection so situated as to be alternately quite hidden and again visible, covered with silver streams rushing over its face, and showing a flux in the supply descending from above. At the foot of the fall on the right arises a succession of jets of spray, which now and then mount up to the height of the middle rock and go off down the river in streaming spouts of rain. There is besides a constant enveloping cloud of spray and we had at this time a portion of a rainbow in the shower which this produces. This was, according to a bronze plaque set into the cliff face, the only rainbow to exist in the Outerlands, due to the malevolent nature of the weather, which, it explained, did not permit a rainbow to appear otherwise about the countryside.
The gradual working up of the whole mass of water, from the time when it begins to dance and curl and throw up spray over the rock, till it is reduced altogether into an irregular stream of the appearance of boiling snow, presents a spectacle of unrivalled beauty and magnificence. Our first view was from an elevated place on the left bank, but it was needful, in order to combine such a variety of phenomena as are here described to view the whole thing in different directions. After getting well dashed over with water, at a stand close by the bank, we descended to the foot of the falls and ferried over in a rough bark boat to the opposite shore, from whence we ascended to a Weather station on the rock above, which actually commanded a view of several acres of water in the greatest conceivable state of agitation.
From the great falls, we ascended rather abruptly clear of the clouds and saw the summit of the highest mountain, so near to our perception though it was in reality distant. It seemed as if we might have walked two or three hours to the summit. As we approached nearer, the mountains put on perceptibly larger features, showing the ridges and valleys more distinctly, with many fine changes in the relative positions, and at length they became very conspicuous. We climbed through a country now devoid of the lower Weathers, they having fallen below us, and as we gained in elevation, the surface of the sky came into view, glazed and solid. There appeared before us a succession in one craggy summit after another, with valleys of an extent and depth that would have sufficed to render the largest building in the world an insignificant object in their bottoms. In these we still saw neat bastions and a little cultivated post of ground, the lively green of which appeared in contrast with the dark surveys of the mounts, clothed as it was with a forest of pines. While contemplating these clouds, my Son discovered a balloonist with his instruments, employed in testing them. He presently selected a large cumulus, cleared away the surrounding clouds, and applied a few lively strokes, when the cloud grew at once with a crash that seemed to indicate that the very interior, instead of a few of the lower parts, had thundered into action. The cloud developed an anvil atop it, its parts suddenly billowing up and outward, and then it gathered itself and thundered towards the east.
I had the pleasure, as a meteorologist, at the time we attained the region of the clouds, which had been for the most part overhanging us the entire trip, of beholding near at hand the most singular spectacle of their electrical evolutions and adjustments, in filling the upper part of a valley, and shutting out from our view the opposite face of the mountains. This was accomplished in the space of a few minutes, while on the other side an opening was made that gave us again the fine mountain view of the countryside at our back.
We now entered a defile leading through a slight saddleback ridge and then ascended on steep rocks sloping harshly away on either side. The road at the summit was just wide enough for our small party to walk single file, and we found an amazing succession of bold crags of limestone perhaps two thousand feet high with very lofty views. Clearing the defile, in which in the space of a mile we had seen three Weather stations, we suddenly made the summit and had a view of the sky that was exceedingly fine, but not the country, which we had obscured by a few clouds. At the summit there was a tiny cabin, smoke rising from its chimney. Our child guide introduced us to the proprietor, another blind and speechless man who in turn led us to the attic of his cabin. There he gestured that we should climb higher. A ladder appeared then through the roof, and I made to grasp the first rung, but the man shook his head and pointed to my Son, though how he knew to do so, I do not understand. I stepped back and watched as my Son tentatively climbed the first rung, then the second, looked back at me, then the third, and onward, passing up through the roof and into the Sky beyond. I watched him rise higher along the vertical structure of the ladder, until he became little more than a speck upon my vision, then nothing at all.
I waited then, slumped there against the base of the ladder, for my Son to return from the Sky. The old man stood dumbly in a corner of the attic, a smoking pipe clicking in his teeth as he puffed away. The boy served us in the passing time. We took milk and water with bread, descended about Sunset to the sleeping quarters of the house, and my Son still had not returned. I slept fitfully, composing in my dreams a letter to my wife, his mother, describing the nature of her Son's death. I had set about blotting the paper when a hand shook me awake, pushed me roughly out into the Sun, and there I stood and watched as the figure of my Son descended the ladder. He had about him a slight halo of Sky and Sun, fragments of high-altitude clouds, and when his feet finally touched the solid ground of the mountaintop, I rushed to him, embraced him happily, and spoke, asking him what he had seen. He squinted his shining eyes, nodded at me joyously, and moved about his arms in excitement. Yes, yes, I said, and yes?
He gaped as if to laugh for me. He opened his eyes for me.
From his face there streamed a teaching Sun.