Chapter Four: The Curiosipede

The gift shop contained little scale models of the great tower, and postcards with pictures of the tower on them, and candy shaped like it, and mugs with lids that looked like the tower, and keychains with tiny towers dangling from them, and notebooks with the tower on the cover, and wind-up toys that would move in an improbably untowerlike fashion across the floor. There were art books with pages and pages of glossy tower photographs at various angles and under various lighting conditions. There were things that had popped out of tower molds - soaps and candles and bath bombs. Grice the bird had, in its retreat to the back exit, knocked over an aisle of stuffed tower plushes. Nyssa picked one up and squished it. It was soft. When she dropped it again it bounced once, then rolled to a low chest of drawers in tower form, with a roof that opened like a lid and was propped up for display with a stick.

But this turned out to be only one small vestibule of the gift shop. Nyssa checked for previously unnoticed elevators, but found none. Instead, beyond the tower-themed knick-knacks were things that had nothing obvious to do with the venue at all: strange five-seat couches taller than they were wide and a taxidermied black swan and a poster reading "Have you ever noticed that you can say 'it's raining' but cannot reply 'yes, it's'?" and things Nyssa didn't know how to describe at all. There was a floating, green elephant, bathed in silvery light, which took her momentarily aback; but when Nyssa stared at the creature, she found it wore a little sign informing her that someone else already knew what it was doing there, and she moved on.

Her eye was particularly caught by a contraption with wheels as tall as she was. It looked a little like a bicycle, if you folded the bicycle up and then unfolded it inside out - the big wheels were on either side of a little wooden bench between them, and there was no visible steering mechanism, no pedals, and no brake. Nyssa could sort of see how it didn't fall over altogether, with the wheels side by side, but she couldn't see how the bench was supposed to stay flat if someone happened to sit on it, and it seemed like it would go not at all on a flat road and much too quickly on a steep one. "What is that?" she asked, looking at Pomodoro in case it knew.

Pomodoro leaned away from the display of tower sculptures with clock hands ticking away on their sides and said, "Oh, that's a curiosipede. Look, it likes you."

Indeed, the curiosipede had rolled a few feet in Nyssa's direction, though it hadn't even been turned her way to begin with.

"It likes me? Why?" said Nyssa, and the curiosipede advanced again.

"Because you're asking questions," said Pomodoro.

"Oh. Uh, do you think it will rain?" Nyssa asked the curiosipede, though she wasn't sure if she was really meant to direct the questions at it.

The curiosipede did not react. "It only works if you want to know the answer," Pomodoro said. "I'd certainly like to know if it will rain, myself, the rain makes all my seconds stick together and then everything just drags."

"Oh. I'm not sure there are enough things I want to know to make it go very far," sighed Nyssa.

"Really?" Pomodoro asked. "Have you tried?"

"Tried? To - want to know things?" Nyssa blinked. It was not something that had previously occurred to her, that you could try to want to know things on purpose. How would you go about it? When she did want to know something, why was that, and could she make it happen by trying or did it need to strike naturally? She'd asked what it was because it had looked so funny and impractical, and she'd asked why it had liked her because that had been surprising - well, what else around here looked odd or surprising, lots of things really, for instance how were you supposed to use a chess set where all the pieces were model towers of the same shape and size -

The curiosipede's bench bumped gently into Nyssa's middle. "Oh!" said Nyssa, startled.

Pomodoro laughed. "You could take the curiosipede to the top of the tower, if you don't want to climb all the stairs! There's no one manning the shop, so maybe whoever works here is up at the top level and you can see there if you can buy it."

"Can it go - ow -" Nyssa gingerly sat on the bench of the curiosipede to prevent it from trying to approach her any closer than it already had. It held her just fine, with no troublesome rotation of the bench tipping her to the floor. Pomodoro hopped up next to her and leaned fuzzily against her arm. "Can it go up the stairs? On wheels?" Nyssa asked.

"It'd be bumpy," said Pomodoro, as the curiosipede rolled out of the gift shop and out of the tower and onto the surrounding boardwalk. "But it can likely go right up the side, if you think you can drive it that far all in one go."

"Oh no, I don't know if I can," said Nyssa. "What if I run out of things to wonder about, halfway up, and we fall? What if the bench tips, and we tumble out - how do you even know about curiosipedes and how they work, are you sure you remember everything right - is there even a way up there to get in from the outside or will we just get to the roof and be stuck there? -"

By the time Nyssa had said all of this they had reached the highest floor of the tower. There was in fact a way to get in, for the wall was mostly window and most of the windows were open. The curiosipede rolled docilely onto the floor of the wide, airy space and came to a stop. Nyssa hadn't even registered the change in direction, for the wheels were so large that her toes hadn't touched the wall as the vehicle had climbed, and the bench hadn't tilted a bit. Nyssa took a moment to catch her breath once she'd realized.

"Even wondering about how things might go wrong is wondering," Pomodoro said. "If you do it right, it can be very useful."

"I never thought it could be useful in quite this way," said Nyssa, but then she inhaled deeply and took a look around the top floor of the tower.