Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
 Chapter 24
As the tremors of the hyperlink dissipated, Conan found himself on a great open plain. Gone were the marvelous pyramid and the lush, verdant valley. In their place, dry prairie grasses waved in the chill wind. FirstSearch flared his nostrils and turned his ears in all directions before lowering his head to sample the vegetation. Another horse whinnied and Conan saw the Lip Paint Warrior had come through the link with him. The sun, though low in the southern sky, still sparkled off her red sequins. The two horses grazed together. 

"A little different isn't it?" she said, turning her face from the wind. "Down there is the real Mankato." 

Below them was an ordinary town at the intersection of two rivers and surrounded by harvested corn fields and brown prairie. The few trees in the town wore the yellows and golds of autumn. The two companions turned their horses and started down the road. 

Colorful billboards trumpeted Mankato's Civic Center and parks. There was information on bus routes and an explanation of the city flag, all arranged with friendly drawings. 

"This is the frontier of the 3d kingdom," the Lip Paint Warrior announced. "You can tell by the increase in information value and corresponding decrease in entertainment value." 

Her grin was infectious and Conan smiled in spite of himself. 

Just then, a freckle-faced girl with brown braids and a long gingham dress appeared. "I know a place that is much more fun," she called, "Come with me!" Then she disappeared into the golden glow of a hyperlink. 

"Laura, wait!" the Lip Paint Warrior cried. She turned to Conan with a mischievous gleam in her eye. "There are many ways through the Third Kingdom," she said. "Come!" Before he could say anything, she had followed the girl through the link. 

With a muttered oath, Conan followed. He emerged from the link to find more prairie, but also walnut trees in a grove and plum trees by the creek. A house had been built into the bank of the creek and covered with sod. 

"I've always loved this place," the Lip Paint Warrior confessed with a wan smile as they watched pigtailed girls running along the creek bank. Conan said nothing, but remembered with affection the wise woman with the silver hair who had long ago taught him about the literature of children. 

But there was no time to visit. They rode northeast and soon heard the unmistakable yodel of a loon. They followed the sound to the high bluffs above a wide river, where a domed building with a gilded statue of four horses pulling a chariot identified a seat of government. There they found many sites with much valuable information, all freely accessible. There were decisions of the high courts of the province, offices of government, forms for taxes, enactments of the legislative body. Conan felt an elation he had not felt since his long journey began. At last he had truly found the third kingdom. All that remained was to find the temple of knowledge and return its AACR2, then his quest would be complete. 

This happy reverie was brutally interrupted, however, at the next site. There, pictured in the raiments of the Provincial Governor, was an enormous man with bulging muscles and a shaved head. His square jaw was set in the middle with an incongruous dimple, a moustache drooped slightly over an unsmiling mouth. 

"The gods mock us!" Conan cried in despair. 

The Lip Paint Warrior rushed to his side. "What's wrong?" 

"We have come full circle and returned to the lands of parody. That is no noble of the realm," he said, pointing to the picture. "That is the famous gladiator who fights under the name 'The Body.'" 

The Lip Paint Warrior gave a musical laugh. "Yes, that is true," she said. "He is also governor of this province." 

© 1999, by Hadley V. Baxendale 

Follow Conan Through the Web: 

Yes, there really is a city of Mankato, MN. Sorry, no pyramid. 

Laura's house on Plum Creek can be visited at "Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frontier Girl"

Follow the Loon to the North Star for more information on our state, including the governor's office and our new governor (who can beat up your governor). 

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