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Brenda looked up from the thick stack
of her latest case file and asked Darrel,
"How do you feel about rock climbing?"
"It's okay, I guess," he said.
"I haven't done a lot of it."
"Hmm ... we should probably find a gym
with a climbing wall for practice," Brenda said
as she turned the file around to show him.
"There are hints about some kind of rock monster
terrorizing climbers out in the Badlands."
"That doesn't sound good," Darrel said,
leafing through the file. "We should
do something about it before the tourism
gets hammered down to where it can't recover."
So Brenda located a gym that offered
a set of climbing walls at different levels
and staff familiar with adaptive rock climbing.
She showed Darrel her equipment,
which included a complex harness
in addition to the tough set of chaps
that she used for various other sports.
She also had a rock climbing hammer
that was a handy tool and potential weapon.
"The easy part about climbing in the Badlands
is that the rock is rough enough to provide
plenty of grips," Brenda explained. "The hard part
is that it's so soft it can crumble under your weight.
You have to check the route constantly
to make sure that it's secure."
The instructor showed Darrel how to find
his way along the beginner wall, and when
he managed that, the intermediate wall,
dangling from the end of the rope as he climbed.
Meanwhile Brenda scrambled up the advanced wall,
mainly using her powerful arms to pull herself higher
and resting her weight on her legs only a moment at a time.
There were parts of that wall she couldn't climb,
because one of the routes required starfishing all four limbs
in a way that she hadn't figured out how to work around yet,
but for most of it her upper-body strength compensated
for being unable to use her legs as more than an occasional prop.
"Where are you planning to climb?" the instructor asked.
"Your message said that you had a trip in mind."
"We're going to the Badlands," said Brenda.
"Oh, you should be fine, as long as you
take care with the soft rock," said the instructor.
Brenda and Darrel grinned at each other
and refrained from mentioning the rock monster.
When they reached the Badlands, it took them
a while to track down the creature based on
reports of sightings, because people didn't like
to say things like "I saw a rock monster."
It got you written off as a nutcase.
There were a few sketches, though,
the kind of things people drew whenever
somebody talked about bigfoot or lake monsters
and the local artists tried to capture its likeness.
"That looks like quite a juggernaut," Darrel said,
looking at something that resembled
a giant armadillo made of stone.
Brenda managed to tease out a narrative
and compile a map of locations. "If it has a lair,
that's probably somewhere in this area," she said,
circling a finger over a cluster of colored dots.
The next day, they dressed in climbing gear
and armor in case the juggernaut got pesky.
Choosing weapons required a delicate balance
between weight and stopping power.
Brenda's off-road wheelchair was
a mountain trike model designed
after mountain bicycles, and it used
a powerful lever drive that let her
trundle briskly over rugged terrain.
Darrel skidded and scrambled alongside,
trying to keep his footing on the
loose gravelly slopes of the Badlands
as they headed for the climbing area.
Actually climbing the chunky rock
was, as predicted, fairly easy
in terms of finding grips but
nerve-wracking when parts of it
broke away and crumbled underfoot.
The ropes kept them from falling,
but it was still alarming to wind up
swinging through the air at the end of one.
They managed to find the juggernaut,
but killing it was another matter altogether.
The creature was slow but very strong.
Ordinary bullets didn't even make it blink.
Darrel was dismayed to discover that
even armor-piercing rounds did not
penetrate the thick stony plates of its hide.
Brenda managed to clamber on top of it,
her own armor protecting her from its rough texture.
She used her rock hammer to pry up the edges
of the plates and wedge chocks underneath,
but the juggernaut soon dislodged them.
Finally they gave up and climbed
out of the beast's reach before
either of them could get seriously hurt.
Darrel had scrapes over his uncovered skin,
and Brenda had bruises even under her armor.
Behind them, the juggernaut turned
and merged into the stone cliff.
Frustrated, they returned to their cabin
to discuss other possible solutions.
"We could try dynamite," Darrel said,
but he didn't sound very enthusiastic.
"I'm thinking the brute has the advantage
in any brute-force scenario,"
Brenda pointed out.
Darrel gave a glum nod.
"We can't just let it keep harassing
the hikers and climbers, though," he said.
"Sooner or later someone's going to get killed.
How do you even destroy something this tough?"
"Maybe you don't," Brenda said thoughtfully.
She leafed through a book of local legends.
"According to mythology, rock monsters
can travel through the stone itself,
or hide inside rock formations."
"So maybe we could trap it," Darrel mused.
"I've heard that petroglyphs are said to be
protective symbols -- maybe they could
contain this thing so it can't cause trouble."
Brenda groaned. "Do you have any idea
how long it takes to make petroglyphs?"
she said. "They're pecked into the rock itself.
It must take hours or days to make any progress.
The juggernaut is slow, but not that slow."
"We'd need a faster binding, then," Darrel said.
"Hmm ... what about paint bombs?" Brenda said.
"Pictographs are painted on rocks instead of carved,
often with protective symbols, but according
to some sources the power was in the paint itself.
Red ochre is used for magical and sacred purposes."
"It's worth a try," Darrel said. "Bullets did nothing."
Further research revealed that it was possible
to make artistic paint by grinding the mineral
to powder and then mixing it with a carrier.
However, the more potent mystical paint was
traditionally made by rubbing a solid lump of red ochre
through a wide pool of linseed oil or animal fat
to make a thick, opaque liquid that clung
tenaciously to whatever it was spread upon.
"This looks like it should work," Brenda said
as she laid out the materials and started rubbing.
"It may last forever, but it's taking forever
to make enough of it," Darrel grumbled
an hour later as he kneaded his sore shoulders.
It took them days to build up as much
of the red ochre paint as they expected
to need for sealing the juggernaut in stone,
which Brenda then loaded into paintball grenades.
They tracked down the rock monster again,
scrabbling over frayed slopes to find
where it was rambling between the ridges.
Then they had to corner it in a canyon,
which chiefly involved Darrel yelling,
running, waving his arms, and
shooting at it to annoy it into moving.
Meanwhile Brenda lay in wait
with a bandolier full of red ochre.
When the juggernaut finally leaned
into the rock wall and began to merge,
she pelted it with the paint grenades,
covering it with a dense layer of red ochre.
The juggernaut was trapped,
pressed against the rock like a fossil,
only its outline showing through the rusty slick.
"How long did you say this stuff lasts, again?"
Darrel asked as he tried to catch his breath.
"The oldest examples date back around
39,000 years," Brenda said.
Darrel chuckled. "Well, if it's good enough
for nuclear waste disposal, I suppose
it's good enough for monster disposal,"
he said. "Let's go home."
* * *
Rock climbing is a popular hobby, including among people with disabilities who enjoy adaptive climbing walls as well as wild surfaces. Gear includes rock climbing hammers and assorted nuts.
Rock monsters appear in many variations.
The Badlands span several states with interesting potential for climbing, including South Dakota.
Brenda uses this kind of mountain wheelchair.
Rock art uses a variety of different materials. Petroglyphs are chipped into the rock. Pictograms are painted on it. The oldest stone art dates back to 290-700,000 BCE and the oldest cave paintings to around 39,000 BCE.
Red ochre has been used in rock art and other ceremonial practices for thousands of years. There are various ways of making ochre paint by hand, and you can watch a video. Rubbing a solid lump in the carrier fluid gives a creamier paint with much stronger mystical properties, compared to grinding the pigment and stirring it in. I've done both.
Paintball grenades exist in our world.
Nuclear waste disposal, especially for high-level waste, requires storage designed to last thousands of years. People have a very bad habit of packing nuclear waste into barrels that will last one or two centuries, as if that's going to solve the problem.