Oct 27, 2020 4:50 PM
Bruce meets Zoombinis
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The kids are great but his comparative advantage is probably in scouting and he wants to see more of this planet. "Those both sound fun but I want to help scout."

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"Right, come with me then." They turn to the other adults. "Who's going where?"

"I think you two can handle the scouting," says one of the three; the other two nod. "It'll take all three of us just to keep up with twelve kids," the first one jokes.

"Sure," says Speeba. "Have fun. Bruce, this way." And they roll off up the slope of the beach, getting surprisingly good traction in the sand.

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Bruce follows happily, getting a bit of sand in his sneakers but nothing he can't whack out of them later.

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The beach slopes up and up and up and the sand gives way to grass and then to scrubby underbrush and then they're on a level with the tops of the cliffs they landed at the foot of and there's a broad expanse of sparsely forested ground ahead. Speeba rolls up to the base of a tree and examines it dubiously.

"Not quite the same as at home," they conclude. "I know there's some pine trees where you can eat the bark but I'm not confident this is one of them. We can experiment if it comes to that, though." They back up and roll around the tree to continue moving inland.

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"Huh. If there are kinds of tree bark humans can eat I don't know about them, but I probably wouldn't either way. Want me to try climbing one of these and see what I can see from the top, or just keep going?"

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"—oh, that's a good idea, yes, do that."

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Up the tree he goes! He can't quite get all the way to the top because the top few branches won't support his weight, but the canopy is sparse enough that he can get a decent view from a couple meters down. What is there to see around here?

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Up ahead there seems to be a prominent bridge across a deep ravine. It looks a little sketchy but should definitely support the weight of a Zoombini no problem.

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Bruce disembarks exits the tree and reports this. "I don't know if I can get across, but if we grab some ropes from the ship we should be able to rig something as a backup."

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"Good thinking," says Speeba. "Let's go report back."

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"Sounds good." Hike hike hike. This time he is careful not to get sand in his shoes.

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Back down by the boat, the kids are settled around a small campfire while one adult entertains them with stories and the other two organize heaps of cargo into tidy stacks. Speeba makes their report to one of those two, while the other takes Bruce aside and asks him to heft some things and walk around with them to get a sense of his comfortable carrying capacity.

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By Zoombini standards, he can carry some pretty heavy loads, and if they can rig up some sort of harness or backpack or pullable sledge he can carry even more. He has never been The Strong One in a group before and it is bizzare and kind of nice (much like everything else in the last eighteen hours or so).

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Zoombinis are clever enough inventors that if he describes the concept of a backpack and is willing to put up with being climbed on a bit by industrious little orbs with measuring tapes, he'll have a sturdy pack to carry things in within a couple of hours, and they'll manage to make it comfortable to wear around indefinitely after a couple more, with a longish break for dinner in between. By this point, though, the sun is waning and it is declared to be bedtime for small Zoombinis, with the plan being that tomorrow they'll pack everything up and head up the slope to check out those bridges.

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Collectively reinventing the backpack is so much fun! Hopefully it pays off in time saved later. He eats as little dinner as he thinks he can get by on, since they haven't figured out food yet, and falls asleep excited for the next day.

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The next day dawns bright and cheerful, and the Zoombinis serve a light breakfast and then gather their cargo and roll and skate and trek and flutter their way up the slope with Bruce and Speeba in the lead. The six biggest kids are very excited to harness themselves behind two of the grownups and help pull the supply wagon.

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This is the cutest and most exciting hike he has ever been on. Between his memory and Speeba's, they find the ravine again without much trouble.

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On closer inspection, it seems there are two somewhat rickety rope bridges spanning the gap, beside each of which the cliffs form a big ol' face in a way that looks not quite deliberate enough to be a carving but a little too on point to be mere pareidolia. The Zoombinis should have no trouble crossing, and if they take a minute to reconfigure the cargo into single-orb loads and get Bruce's help hauling some of the bigger pieces across, they should even be able to get all the supplies to the other side. (The bridges are unfortunately narrow enough that they'll definitely have to cross single file.)

Of course, that still requires one brave Zoombini to be the first one to attempt a crossing.

Speeba volunteers immediately, and although a couple of the other adults suggest that the expedition leader shouldn't be the one taking every single risk they come across, neither one succeeds in volunteering hard enough to displace them. Off they roll.

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Speeba makes it across, and the bridge sways a bit but doesn't seem terribly strained by their weight.

But when another Zoombini follows them across, the closer of the stone faces starts to flow like water, contorting into a massive sneeze, and the bridge thrashes like a cracked whip and flings the Zoombini onto the ground on the near side.

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"What the flaming fuck in a bucket!?!?"

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"My thoughts exactly!" calls Speeba across the ravine. "Nawu, are you okay?"

Nawu wiggles a bit and then flips back up onto their spring, bouncing a few times in place to dust themselves off. "Fine!" they call back.

Speeba approaches the cliff edge and peers dubiously down at the face that sneft the sneeze. "Any chance you're going to explain yourself?" they inquire.

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The rock face is completely motionless. Nothing to see here! Just totally normal rocks! (It's not fooling anybody.)

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It really isn't. Speeba sighs.

"Try the other bridge?" they suggest to Nawu.

Nawu boings hesitantly across.

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This goes fine, but as Nawu approaches the bridge they notice some damage to the shared support beam. It might not be able to take too many more shocks like that last one.

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"Yikes," says Speeba, when Nawu conveys this. "All right—Cafly, Awoowoo, you two cross last, that way we've got grownups on both sides if the bridge goes out—Bruce, maybe you'd better cross now before any more nonsense happens, you're by far the heaviest of all of us—do you want to repack your cargo so you don't have to carry it across?"

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