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The Work Begins
The ice was melting faster and faster and there were signs of destruction everywhere. Everything made of ice seemed to be cracked, chipped, or melting into strange and unusual shapes.
But, there was still some hard ice left - now that the Throps could get to it. They began to carve the great propeller from a block of the strongest and oldest ice, taken, with the help of the Squallhoots, from an ice quarry deep in the centre of Athropolis. Hammers and chisels followed Ludi's plans and tore into the ice. Chips and splinters flew everywhere.
The "junk", gathered from the sea over the centuries, now had a useful and important purpose. It was passed up from the caverns by the Squallhoots and carried away by the Throps. Slowly and surely, the bits and pieces of old things became new things. The treadmill to drive the great ice propeller began to take shape, and sail canvas from old sailing ships was sewn into new sails to fly from the battlements. Even the flags of ancient explorers flapped in the wind once again - continuing their voyages of discovery after many years of slumber.
Toot scampered about the ice. He was happy that everyone was working together, but he was also very worried. "Oh, will there be enough time? Quickly, everyone! Work as fast as you can!" He called and shouted to everyone he met. "Don't stop - not even for a moment!"
Ludi leaned out of his laboratory window. Such activity! Bodies scurrying back and forth, to and fro, up and down! He could see Crystal talking to the General. She was very excited about something, and he could see that the General was listening carefully. But then the General scowled, folded his arms and shook his head from side to side. Crystal, looking very disappointed, walked away. I wonder what that was all about, Ludi thought.
Chisel in hand, he returned to work, chipping more plans and calculations into every available clear space of ice. Almost every flat surface was covered with drawings, diagrams and formulas. He was running out of room, but how could he erase anything when it was too warm to paint on another coat of ice?
Ludi's big plan was magnificent!
The tunnel would open into the ocean underneath the waterline, and after much careful measuring and calculating, the digging had begun. Although the enthusiasm of the Throps was very high, they would soon have to stop digging. The light reflecting through the ancient ice was beginning to dim as the tunnel plunged deeper and deeper and it was becoming very hard to see for anyone who went blind in the dark.
Deep in the ice, the Squallhoots were also busy. Their tunneling skills were put to good use and crews of Squallhoots worked both down to the water, and upward to meet the Throps. Their journey through the ice was a longer one as most of the iceberg was hidden underwater.
In their underground workshops, the Squallhoots had almost completed the shaft to drive the great propeller. When completed, the long hard ice sections would be linked together in a connecting process known only to the Squallhoots. The propeller would be attached to the end, and then both the propeller and the shaft would be fed through the tunnel into the sea.
The ice in the centre of Athropolis was still very hard and strong, so there was no danger if the Squallhoots sang. If you listened carefully, you could hear the songs drift up through the passageways.
Ka me, ka thee. Hand in hand.
Ka me, ka thee. We understand.
With a little help we'll save this land,
So come along and lend a hand.
Everyone was busy and Sara was one of the busiest. The Throps quickly recognized her good sense and, arms loaded with materials from the caverns, they called out to her for direction.
"Sara! Where do we take this?"
"More wood! GREAT! Take it to the General!" she answered, her shyness now gone. "And canvas! That's just what we need for the sails! It goes in the castle - to the sewing department!"
"Okay, Sara. We knew YOU'D know - you're so smart!" The Throps smiled and toddled quickly on their way. "Bye!"
Sara thought for a moment. Smart? "Maybe I AM smart. Maybe I just didn't think so," she said to herself.
Kevin ran "a million miles" passing messages back and forth while the Throps and Squallhoots, otherwise separated from one another, worked on with great speed. Even Snort and Toot were getting along just fine, exchanging pieces of mind. Much progress was made as the work never stopped - the Throps could work all day and the Squallhoots could work all night.
And they all did their jobs very well. The Squallhoots could already see faint light reflecting through the ice at the top end of their tunnel, and if they stopped for a moment - but only for a moment - they could hear the Throps on the other side, working towards them. All was going according to plan. The tunnel would soon be complete.
Ka me, ka thee.
I help you, and you help me.
We can do it all together if we try.
The castle was all but deserted. The hallways were quiet - except for the distant sounds of busy Throps that drifted up from the ice outside the walls. Almost everyone was outside working.
Just down the hallway from Ludi's laboratory, a hooded head peeked around the corner. The head was followed by a body in a bulky coat, and the body tip-toed down the passageway - past the laboratory - past the repair shop - to the armory. A peek through the doorway, and ZIP - it quickly disappeared inside.
There it was! The flare gun! A gloved hand snatched it from the table!
The body slunk back to the doorway, peeked up and down the hallway, and scampered away - the ill-gotten booty hidden beneath the bulky coat.
But even though it was such a beautiful day, it could not be forgotten that the sun would also melt Athropolis and all that was made of precious ice. Nobody sat around to enjoy the weather or bask in the sunshine when there was such important work to be done. Everyone, right down to the smallest Throplet, had a job to do.
From up on the ridge, the children watched as the entire community of Throps bustled about down below.
Jason spoke softly to himself. "We've made a great discovery and we're helping to save Athropolis, too! Wow! Wait until people hear about this! This will make me famous for sure!"
In the distance, the children could see Ludi and Crystal climbing the ridge. Ludi carried his tablets of ice, ready to check any shape or measurement against his plans and drawings.
Jason called to them. "Ludi! The shaft and the treadmill are almost finished. Is everybody ready?"
"We'll be ready," replied Ludi. "When the propeller is connected to the treadmill, we will take turns marching."
"The Throps will march all day..." Crystal added.
"And the Squallhoots will march all night!" Sara completed the sentence - she had just returned from the caverns, and the Squallhoots would be ready, too.
"It's gonna be Throp and Squallhoot powered!" Kevin shouted happily. "I'll help too!"
"We can't let the propeller stop!" Jason said what Ludi already knew. "If it does, the current will carry us right back to where we started."
"See! It was MY thinking hat, and MY propeller that gave everybody the idea for the BIG propeller!" Kevin said proudly. "I'll bet you don't think it's a silly hat now!" He could hear the comfortable whirring sound as the propeller spun atop his head in the morning wind.
Ludi knew that it was very fortunate that this didn't happen during the long summer of the never-setting sun - the Squallhoots couldn't have helped them then. He had calculated that there would be just enough time - even though the Squallhoots would be marching less time each night. "You were right, Jason," he said. "We DO need to work together."
"Look! Who's that - WHAT'S that - coming up the hill?" asked Crystal, shading her eyes from the sun.
"It's Drizzle - in his new suit!" Sara was very excited. "We made it with things from the lifeboat. It will protect him from the sun!"
A muffled sound was heard from inside the awkward looking shape as it waddled closer. "Hello, everyone! Hello, Propellerhead!"
"Hi, Fuzzy Face," Kevin answered.
"LOOK!" Drizzle turned and pointed down below. It was hard to see his eyes behind the sunglasses, but they must have been as big as saucers. "It's not spooky and scary in the sunlight after all! Now I can see how the Throps really live - for the very first time!" He would have much to tell when he returned to the caverns. "Squallhoots have never been in the bright light before. I'm the first one - the first one ever!"
"And the first one to wear clothes," Kevin chuckled. "But you're not getting my hat!" He pulled his hat down tightly over his head - Drizzle was already wearing his sunglasses.
Ludi smiled happily. "We're almost ready to go back home - to the land of the colored sky! We couldn't do it without the Squallhoots - it's so good that they finally trust us!"
"Isn't this exciting?" Sara said. "Our plan is going to work!"
"Yes!" said Crystal. "The General will HAVE to give your radio beacon back now!"
Suddenly, the smile on Jason's face changed to a look of horror. "LOOK!" he cried out.
Down below, black smoke billowed up from near an entrance to the Squallhoots' caverns.
"Wh - wh - wh - WHAT'S THAT?" stammered Ludi.
"It's a FIRE!" Jason shouted. "C'MON!"
The old wood and canvas, just delivered from the storage caverns, was tinder dry. A flare, shot at its centre, had been all that was necessary to turn it into a raging inferno.
Fourth Leader shouted hysterically. "They're - nothing but - prisoners! They're invaders! Spies! That's all they are - and they're telling US to work with the Squallhoots! But nobody listens to ME! NOW THEY'LL LISTEN!"
The flare gun was still smoking in his hand. He fumbled with it madly. The spent flare cartridge fell to the ice as he clumsily tried to load another flare into the barrel of the gun.
A crowd was gathering as Ludi, Crystal and the children skidded to a halt in front of the fire. The General and Toot were already there - horrified by what they saw.
Toot knew what this could mean. Just when the Squallhoots had finally begun to trust them, THIS had to happen! "Oh, what will the Squallhoots think of us now? This is the end! We're SUNK! Nothing can save us NOW!"
"SOUND THE ALARM!" Ludi shouted.
"Water! Bring water!"
Kevin yelled as loud as he could. "MELTDOWN!"
"Are you CRAZY? Have you gone MAD?" the General bellowed at Fourth Leader.
"I'm a scout leader!" Fourth Leader babbled. "But you only listen to my prisoners! THERE! There they are!" He pointed the flare gun accusingly at the children.
"STOP that! Stop that right NOW!" The General tried to grab the gun from Fourth Leader's hand, but he was turned back by the licking flames.
Fourth Leader ignored everyone as he tried to shoot another flare. "They're MY prisoners! I captured..." His words were suddenly cut short as the fire flicked out and his clothing burst into flames. "YEEIIII! YEOWWW!"
The water being thrown on the fire suddenly had a new target. KER-SPLASH! The freezing cold water blasted across the flaming clothing - putting out the fire almost instantly. Fourth Leader froze - standing perfectly still and completely silent.
Then the sobbing began. "I - I - I - I've always been a good Throp!" The sobs turned into a wail. "I've always been a - a - a good leader! I do all the bad jobs! Look - my little blue ears are all frostbitten! But nobody listens to me!"
Ludi carefully put an arm around Fourth Leader's shoulder and led him away from the smoke and flames. Fourth Leader still sobbed. "If the prisoners are helping to save Athropolis... then I'M helping to save Athropolis. I found them! Don't you see? I brought them here, but I - I - I'm - still - a - Fourth - Leader!"
Ludi gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder. "Yes, yes," he said. "We're ALL helping to save Athropolis - but we can only do it if we all work together. We can do it all together - if we try."
Drizzle and Kevin watched as Fourth Leader was gently led away. Drizzle looked at Kevin, and even through the sunglasses, Kevin could see his puzzled and questioning look. Kevin shrugged his shoulders, and with a knowing attitude beyond his years, had only one word to say. "Stress."
The fire raged on, but the water, being furiously thrown and splashed on it from the puddles, had at last stopped it from spreading. It would not be long before it was put out altogether - already it seemed to be mostly smoke and ashes.
"I saw everything - all because of my new suit! If I hadn't been here, we would have thought you were..." Drizzle's muffled voice halted for a moment, "trying to burn us out of our caverns. And that could have meant..."
Drizzle and Kevin suddenly looked horrified! They knew very well what it could have meant - it could have meant another WAR!
Drizzle was already running down the hill. "I - I - I'd better get back to the caverns and tell Snort what happened - before he hears rumors in the passageways!"
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