A Tall Ship Tale #28: Asphynxiation

By Paul de Anguera. By now you know I am a fan of his.

It was plain that Professor Marvel, the aerialist who claimed to have been the honorary ruler of a midget ghetto, was short of ballast (to put it kindly). The First Mate was all for cutting his entangled green balloon loose from the mizzen-mast so the H.M.S. Legume could catch up to the U.S.S. Groundpea. But Captain Quid took pity on the old gentleman. By the time the crew had deflated the balloon and packed it away, the Yankee frigate had disappeared over the eastern horizon.

This was just as well, for Quid had been reluctant to use the ship’s peculiar flying capability while the Americans could observe it.

“Why not?” the First Mate asked.

“Military intelligence,” Quid replied. The First Mate scratched his head; sometimes what his Captain said just didn’t make any sense! The steersman pulled the special lever next to the ship’s wheel. With a rhythmic clanking sound, a pair of shutters on the ship’s underside drew steadily back from a portrait of James G. Watt. The blue Mediterranean water surged away from the ship with fear and disgust, leaving it in the center of a hemispherical cavity in the sea. Soon the entire planet had fled the vicinity of the Legume, leaving it behind in the air. The steersman set a direct course across the Egyptian desert for the upper Nile valley. Billowing sails creaked and strained in the heated wind, and the brasswork on the main deck glittered in the desert sun. Now and then the keel grazed one of the higher dunes and sent up a sparkle of fine white silicon crystals. Had alien gods built the pyramids? Soon they would know.

“There’s your proof!” the Boatswain exclaimed to the First Mate as the ship passed over the City of the Dead. Crouched before them was a weathered statue of an alien being. It had a body like a lion, a face like a man, and a nose like an elephant. Unfortunately, at 60 feet high the Sphinx was too big to put inside the ship. They considered taking just the head, but even that would not fit. So they finally settled on the nose. A work crew lowered a sling around it from the ship floating above, then chiseled it loose. Effayaid di’Amir, the ship’s carpenter, was just putting the finishing touches on a cradle to support it as the crew lowered the nose into the hold.

Professor Marvel took a special interest in things ancient and esoteric, so he went down to examine the Sphinx’s nose. So did Jim Dayman, who was a 2^^13 year-old daemon even though nobody believed it.

“I should say, judging from the shapes of the chisel marks, that the tools used to carve the Sphinx belong to the Fourth Dynasty period,” the Professor announced. “What a fine piece of Memphite workmanship!”

“I beg to differ,” Jim said stiffly. “I remember watching them carve it during the Third Dynasty.”

“It couldn’t possibly be that old,” the Professor objected. “The stone of this nose is so soft that it would have crumbled by now; you would have been able to dig it right into your garden.”

But Jim stuck to his version. “King Khafre’s reign, as I recall. Khafre assessed a special tax on cable TV to pay for it, which made him very unpopular at the time,” he noted.

“I tell you, it must be Fourth Dynasty!” the Professor responded angrily. “A nose by any other reign would sell as peat!”

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