The Perplex City endgame story

Part three: Friday day and night

In which I keep getting it wrong...

So, there we were just 10 meters away from the Cube but without having solved the clues that should have led us there. Unbelieveably, despite seeing a pair of four-footed fenceposts, we had not realised that one of them was the quadruped. We even hung our coats on the post in the photo while we worked. Our only rationale for being there was the Library of Babel photos, so we stopped following the clues on "End of the Line" - and because of this the Cube stayed buried for two more days.

At first we scratched away at clearings nearby, me on one side of the path and Beloved Other Half on the other side. We found, and excavated, a lot of abandoned animal burrow entrances. You very quickly learn the shape - a long, shallow descent from one side into the soft ground of the middle, with a very steep side opposite. The ground on the two sides of the path is very different - it must run along the boundary between two types of clay. To the side where the Cube was buried the ground has a thick layer of black rotted-down material, with thin roots meshing it together, and beneath that a layer of hard, wet, greeny-grey clay. Any hole that had once been dug into that, and refilled, would be as obvious as the nose on your face. On the other side, the wrong side, the ground is easier to work - several inches of brown earth, with dry yellow-brown clay underlying it. The tree roots are deeper and more woody, and the forest floor is drier and covered in leaves and twigs. Although this is the wrong side of the path, it is an almost perfect match for the photo of the Cube being buried in the Library of Babel.

It wasn't long before I grew bored with digging, and I went further down the path to see whether there might be a quadruped along there. There wasn't, and I was struck by a sudden thought that had me running back excitedly. What if the three Library of Babel photographs should be taken literally? The trees might be the ones at the junction where the path started (they looked a bit dense, but at a stretch they could have been) while the fencepost could be some sort of backstop to indicate you didn't need to walk any further down the path. The Cube, by that logic, would be half way between them. Total genius!

Total rubbish.

Nevertheless, we changed the focus of our exploration, moving back down the path and away from the correct location. It didn't do us much good. And then I finally, belatedly, realised that the fenceposts were quadrupeds. But, like several people after me, I got excited about the wrong fencepost. I picked the one by the main path to have my insight about, and thereby moved us even further from the correct spot. I also moved us a lot closer to possible discovery by the foresters who were by then working at the purple / blue junction, and by anyone who might pass by on the main path - but no-one did.

Logically, I should have known from End of the Line that this was the wrong post. The card clearly puts the "nothing was right" clue *before* the reference to the quadruped, and therefore it must be necessary to take at least one left turn before you see it. Fenceposts before a left turn, or even fenceposts *at* a left turn like this one, don't fit the clue and should be ignored. Despite this, we dug out our tape measure and marked off 10 meters along two lines - one, along the path as if we had turned our backs on the junction post and marched onwards towards CT's post, and the second directly behind the junction post where its rear leg was pointing. We sampled a large area on one side of the path and a smaller area on the other, and behind the post we got tremendously excited when we found an area of very soft ground exactly 10 meters back. It was in the equivalent place to where the Cube was buried in relation to the correct post, so it fitted the clues, and it was with great disappointment that we eventually concluded it was an animal burrow.

At this point we were running out of time and decided to split our efforts. We knew we weren't coming back on the following day and we weren't at all sure we'd be returning after our househunting appointments later that day, so we needed to think laterally. Beloved Other Half went back to the car, fired up the laptop with its mobile internet card, and checked and double-checked we had the correct definition of ammots. I tried to phone Mind Candy in an attempt to bluff them into telling us the location. After all, it had worked with Masquerade, and I really didn't want to have to bring in the heavy artillery on Forestry Commission land - we still had a thumping great spade in the boot of the car from when we feared we might get snowed in at Christmas, and by then I was prepared to do some serious damage to the forest floor with it - or, at least, to threaten to. As it turned out, the number supplied by directory enquiries rang and rang unanswered until it eventually cut off. Five times. With hindsight, I'm glad it wasn't answered. MC would have said 'sorry, no' - they confirmed that later - but speaking to them under those circumstances would have spoiled the whole thing, whatever the result.

A little more digging behind the wrong post, and we ran out of time, filled in our holes and left. We couldn't see how we'd gone wrong, except perhaps by covering too little ground too slowly, or by not digging deep enough.

Househunting was bizarre. Beloved Other Half had a change of clothes, but I was covered in mud. The householders were very understanding - they remembered Masquerade - and the estate agent was baffled but intrigued. We gave her a spare copy of End of the Line (but not the name of the wood), refuelled at a chip shop, bought a fork and a flashlight from a garden centre, and headed north again.

It was early evening when we arrived, but already dark so we felt confident in openly carrying a full-sized fork and spade with us as we returned to the spot. Had we been challenged by Forestry Commission officials we were going to throw the tools into the darkness and claim to be studying moths. Marching through the black, silent forest felt horribly like the start of some cheap slasher movie, but I kept telling myself there was nothing there. Probably, that was true - I don't think Ixalon had arrived at that point ;)

We didn't waste any time, but methodically set about sampling ground with the fork to see if it was soft, and digging anywhere that seemed likely as a result. We took the view that the clay on the correct side of the path was so hard that any hole previously dug in it would be detectable by that method. The other side of the path was less obvious, but we tried anyway. For about three hours we covered all the likely-looking areas 10 meters away from the wrong post - when we drew a blank behind it in the likliest spot of all I was reduced to howling "why aren't you *here*?" At about 9pm we admitted defeat and left, happy that we had given it our best shot but totally convinced that someone on Saturday would see our diggings (impossible to totally clear up and hide when working in the dark) and find the Cube.

We think - we're not totally sure about this - we think we saw a torch in the distance on the way back to the car. It might have been Team Alice. It might have been our imaginations. We'll probably never know.

Parking the car at home, just before midnight, it hit me what a bloody fool I'd been. Why the hell had we been digging by the fencepost on the main path when CT had sent us a photo of a quadruped as a clue? It was obvious - the Cube was 10 meters behind CT's post, exactly where it should be if you took a left off the path there, turned your back on the post, and strode forward the required distance. The directions on End of the Line were, in the end, extremely precise - inch perfect if you followed them correctly.

So that was where the Cube was. But we were 114 miles away, and we weren't going anywhere on Saturday.

Someone else's turn.

Part 2 - Part 4

All original content 2007+ Andy Darley. Contact me about re-use.
All original content 2007+ Andy Darley, +44 (0)7905 628 554, www.andthenhesaid.com. Please contact me first if interested in re-use.