George laughed. "Of course! That's how we know what horrible monsters we are, and why they have to lock us up at night."
Kit thought about some of the monster mutant movies and winced. "Right, and no one ever explained that they were fictional, and nothing like you guys at all?"
Susan shivered. "No. Every time one of us had a zit, we wondered if they were going to get bigger and, well . . ."
Henry laughed. "Grow a spike, or some purple fugal thing? I always wondered why you girls always freaked out about them."
Ian and George swapped glances and nods.
Ian shrugged. "Horns would have been cool."
"Or pop out extra eyes ." George grinned at the "Eews!" from the girls.
Kit shook his head and eyed the white whirlpool. "What's on the other side?I can't see through it."
"A really pretty sandy beach!" Betty bounced down to the door. "I want to see how hot it is!"
Kit pulled the door lever, and followed her out. And across.
It was a beautiful beach
It was also all soft sand on the other side. "That might be all right for horses, but I really don't want to bog down the bus. Let's check out Volcano, then come back and, maybe carry some stones across."
Another four kilometers, and a gate that Betty told him was all dark ground and then a tangle of fallen, burned trees.
"I wonder how long ago that happened?" Kit bit his lip, then turned off the bus. "I'm going to scout on foot, first."
They all followed him, of course.
The dark ground was dusted with charcoal, but there were green sprouts, here and there. The tangle was further away than he'd thought at first, huge trees unrooted or broken off, partially burned. He turned, and gawped at the two volcanoes on the horizon. All black rock with a frosting of snow on the tall symmetrical peaks.
"Stratovolcanoes. Wow, they leveled everything." Kit turned and walked closer to the fallen forest. Again, a few sprouts. Even some young trees. "The last eruption must have been four or five years ago . . . maybe. I don't really know how fast a forest can recover from something like this."
Tansy pointed. "Can we drive up on a hill and look all around, like we did on Algae?"
Everyone perked up.
"The ground's hard. Let's go."
The second hill over was the tallest, so he detoured around the first hill and up the next. No that they could get up on the knob on the very crest . . . Kit slowed as he peered at the little mesa . . . "Is that metal?"
Under the soot, it was metal. Steel, barely even rusty. He drove around it. The volcanic ash had piled up around the base, higher on the east, scoured down to ground level on the south side. One of the eastern sections had hinges partway up.
"Could we lower that? Like a ramp?" George was plastered to the window.
"Umm . . . it's probably going to be rusted shut and there's no power for the motor to raise it . . . but maybe we could get in from the roof of the bus?" Kit circled the whatever it was. Water tank? No, there wouldn't be a ramp.
"I'm going to pace out that spot right there. If we can get close enough to the wall . . . without rolling the bus . . ."
The debris heap was higher than his head, and spread out enough that he thought he could drive the bus up it. It might have been ash at some time, but rain and it's own weight had crushed it down until it nearly resembled concrete. I guess I don't actually have to turn the bus sideways to the wall. The front's flat, I can drive up and touch the wall, get on top of the bus and look over.
He trotted back down off the debris. "All right! Listen up! I'm going to move the bus and you all need to get over there," point, "so I don't accidentally run over anyone."
He climbed back into the bus, checked that he wasn't going to run over any kids, and turned for the rubble heap. Made sure he was aiming at a point clear of the putative ramp, and gunned it up the slope. Hit the brakes and jolted as he hit the wall. Parking brake, in gear, shut down the engine . . .
Ian, George on his heels, galloped up and used the doorway as the first step up, lower mirror bracket, upper bracket, and scramble . . .
"Hey! There's buildings inside! Wow! and it's all filled up almost to the top, and I think I can reach . . ."
By the time Kit got up there. Ian was bridging the gap between the bus and the wall, shoving chunks of ash off the top of the wall, then with a good grip, jumping to belly over the wall. and a yip as he went head-first into whatever was over there. He popped up, grinning and dusting himself off. George followed, and what the heck, Kit got a grip, and jumped. Landed bally across the wall and swung a leg over and down to the ground and hopped to get the other leg over.
A quick count. Nineteen buildings. One on the far side collasped, and the nearest double the width of the other long narrow buildings.
They all had doors on their narrow ends, and the big building was facing south, with no accumulation of ash. They all trooped over to it. Ian tried the lever, nothing happened.
Stepped back and kicked it. "Ow, ow, ow!" He hopped on one foot and glared at the door. "That works in the movies!"
Kit grinned, and studied the door. two locks. One in the lever, one separate. he circled his finger around the lever lock. It works on Earth locks . . . a gritty rasp. The lever sank reluctantly and the door gave. Swung open to a dining room.
Kit leaned on the door, and stiff hinges creaked. Sunlight shown brightly through the doorway, dimly through dusty pitted windows.
There was a kitchen, things that might have been fabs. Ovens and stoves. . . a hallway to a bathroom--water not working--and a store room. In the very dim light he spotted a ladder. An extension ladder.
"Right Let's see if this'll get everyone in." He had to stretch to get it off the hooks, then carried it out, and over to the wall.
He extended it all the way and lowered it carefully. Tansy had enough sence to get everyone out of the way and grab the bottom.
"Move it out a meter or so, so it's at an angle!" Kit called down.
Henry and the twins swarmed up it, happily. The mataharis hadn't a clue.
Fortunately it was right by the bus. Kit climbed down, got on the bus and coached them. "Lean in closer. That's good. Move one hand up, now the other. One foot . . ."
Thank God there are only seven of them!
"Tansy? Before you start, grab the sticks and hand them to me."
"Okay! Do you want me to close the bus door?"
"Oh, good idea. Keep the ash and dust out if the wind comes up."
He carried the sticks and followed her up.
Half of the little buildings weren't even locked.
They were all the same--office, bedroom, bathroom. A few personal items abandoned. Four computers!
Kit backed away and tried to see the roofs. "If I were building something like this, I'd put solar panels on every single roof. What do you think? Shall we pull up that ladder and see if we can clear any of the roofs?"