Chapter 36: Maiden Voyage
We left our heroes aboard a pantope, the newly-created "Emerald
Metaphor." They have just piled in from the beach of the Sunless Sea on
or near the backside of Lanthil.
We also left Brunalf with a newly-created witchdrive egg-ship that was maybe two hours old when he crashed it in an ill-advised test flight inside the pantope. He would now like to see if it works at all, but he'd prefer to take any further test flights outside the pantope. Everyone else heartily agrees. Accordingly, the more athletic members of the party gather round the addled egg and lift it up. Tom maneuvers the omniport under it, so that when they lower it again, it is resting on the beach outside. Tom then lifts the omniport and restores it to the upright position.
Brunalf climbs into his egg and tries to start it. Nothing happens. He tries the onboard help system. It won't boot. He gets out and looks under the hood. (Gannar, curious about machinery created from a mixture of chaos and wishes, looks over his shoulder.) The machinery in there looks familiar to Brunalf, except for all the fracture lines...
Brunalf gets back in and digs the owner's manual out of the glove compartment. Having no thumbs, he has Gannar open it for him. There are pictures in there, and they might match the machinery. There's print, but in an unknown language. We all take a look at it, and Robbie tries running some code-cracking programs, but it remains unknown.
Brunalf then asks Tom to take the pantope back into Chaos' Rim, so he can wish his egg repaired. Tom reluctantly agrees; taking a pantope made from chaos back into chaos might be the equivalent of dropping an ice cube into water; it might melt. But he tries it. He steers the door by dowsing and soon they are back in a wildly twisting tunnel through mist. But the steering is stiff and the mists are thicker. When the tunnel ends, there is just solid gray, no little cavity in the mist.
Still game, Tom ties a rope around his waist and hands the other end to Robbie. He then levitates out through the door. A foot out, he is lost to sight and falls off the telepathy net. Markel and Robbie hastily tug him back in. Tom declares that "conditions are unfavorable" and calls off the expedition. After all, the cat still has his original egg.
Gannar reminds the party of the activity they spotted on the wooded island just before Tom showed up with the new pantope. Shouldn't they check this out? Mirien demurs, on the grounds that, in her experience, if you go looking for trouble long enough, especially in a place like this, you find it, and there you are, in trouble, or at least bearing bad news. But more conventional minds feel it is really better to know what is lurking at the back of your new realm, so we agree to take a look.
Tom sets the omniport to window mode and goes back to the beach, thence to the island. There are creatures flitting about, over the trees. Light is scant, so it's hard to tell what they are, but Tom slows the exterior time scale and comes in close. The creatures appear to be very big hawks, possibly black or darkly colored. They are wheeling about the tree tops, occasionally diving in. To what?
We move the window into the trees and find a small clearing or bower, mostly roofed over with dark, prickly branches. In the middle, sitting on a rock, is a satyr-like figure, dark and hard to distinguish. The legs have hocks, like a digitigrade or ungulate animal. The face is largely obscured by a big, shaggy beard. There are no horns. He is playing a lute, and he is slate gray, though with some naturalistic variation of shade.
Now, pantope windows are nearly undetectable, in Tom's experience -- even more so than a clairvoyant viewpoint. And this pantope is supposed to be like the ones Tom has known. Nonetheless, the figure looks up, into the window, at us. We see the irises of his eyes are solid black, and the sclera are pale gray. A little nervously, Tom bows politely. No reaction. Tom waves goodbye and closes the window.
There. At least we didn't leave on a hostile note, and Mirien agrees this is quite enough news to take back home.
Now where? Well, the immediate purpose of the pantope is to make a rescue raid, saving the nephilim from the dragonfolk. But where do we put them after we've got them? Robbie suggests infiltrating them into Terran Space. Braeta thinks that this would be noticeable. Terran Space is very big and has lots of people, but so many folk appearing from one point would still be traceable. Also, these people went to a lot of trouble to get out of Terran Space. They also went to a lot of trouble to avoid going to any of the arcane realms of the nephilim, such as Jotunheim, where, Braeta thinks, they would not be welcome in any case.
But is it up to us to decide where they finally go? They are, after all, big boys and girls. We decide to settle for just a temporary staging area. But, once again, where?
Kate recalls that, once before, she was in on the creation of a pantope -- the Fast Times. It was built in an early age on a planet they eventually used to settle the refugee Hierowesch, over in the CoDominion timeline. That planet presumably has an analog in this timeline, which should be nice and habitable and empty.
Finding it, however, will take some doing. Tom can't dowse for it, since he's never been there and has no good token of the place. Neither has anyone else in the party; even Kate and Dafnord have only been on the target planet's analog on the CoDominion line. The obvious course is to try the ship computer back on the Munch, Edvard. The Munch is parked in the hangers of Jumping Jacks, in Pericles, on Hellene.
This will give Tom the chance to test out the coordinate-based navigation of the pantope. The nearest set he has are for a moment in spacetime when he was experimenting with his watch, outside the ranch, shortly before they left through the magic mirror for Faerie.
Tom brings up the coordinates, opens the omniport window, and we see a glimpse of disembodied hand, with a watch on its wrist, then all of Tom, along with other members of the party, walking into the ranch house. Bingo. We then fast-forward the window by a day, and change it to door.
There's a puff of air, local air pressure being slightly greater than in the Metaphor. The sunlight makes one blink a bit. The gravity is a touch higher. But it worked. We're back, a day after leaving for Faerie, according to the local calendar.
We make adjustments. We move the door into the ranch house and park it, first in the hall, later in a sitting room. The cat goes to the garage and re-claims his egg ship. He leaves behind (after some help from the bigger folk) his newer, more broken egg ship, with a hopeful note to anyone interested in dimensional engineering who might like to try fixing it. (What's interesting about this development is, when it came time to actually move the egg, the gargoyle morphed a bit, into something bipedal with hands, and tried to help. It's doing this morphing bit more and more.) We are careful to inform Jacobson, the groundskeeper, of these new acquisitions. Thanks to the comings and goings of the Fast Times, though, he is familiar with new doors parked about the house, leading to impossible places.
We discover that we are all very tired, and spend the rest of the day hanging about, eating, and eventually going to bed.
By the next day, Tom has the second omniport of the Metaphor working. He flies it, in window mode, up into near-Hellene space, picks out Pericles, and brings it in, parking it in an alley near Jumping Jacks. Dafnord, Kate, and Robbie then walk out and through the gates, announcing their desire to board the Munch. Tom takes the opportunity to check out his Pericles apartment; Salimar drops by at the KaiSenese Embassy to check in.
Jumping Jacks has been keeping the Munch in one of the Black Hangers for the last couple of days. (They put all our ships in the Black Hangers. Even the ordinary-looking ones. Especially the ordinary-looking ones.) Dafnord checks the ship over; nothing's changed. (After all, it's only been two days, for the ship.) Robbie and Kate work with Edvard to locate the staging world, but Kate and Dafnord can't give enough skymarks. Edvard can only narrow the system down to one of several dozen G-class stars out "thataway" in a region that has been astronomically mapped but not yet explored in this timeline.
It now occurs to Tom that, with all the high-tech types who worked on the construction of the Fast Times, someone must surely have noted the galactic coordinates of this planet. He goes rummaging in the ranch and soon turns up a thick pile of notes by Chris, Alag, Ashleigh, and other folk. Soon, he finds the hyperspace coordinates of the place (which don't help, since it's the wrong age and timeline) and the galactic coordinates. Bingo.
Edvard can immediately tell them that the system in question is three weeks away, at maximum isochronal flight. Robbie suggests sending the Munch off uncrewed, with a door on it, and fast-forward the door to a point three weeks hence. Tom isn't sure he can do that, and is even less sure he wants to deliberately set up a three-week timeslip between home and the staging planet, even if the place is unknown and isolated, but he agrees to try. This, in turn, makes Dafnord nervous; he's had his own fingers burned on timelocks and such aboard the "Fast Times." He cautiously agrees, if Tom puts the door in a secure, reinforced part of engineering; he is later seen marking the nearby deck and bulkheads with black and yellow "Caution" tape.
We set up the launch with Jumping Jacks, then Robbie walks from the ranch sitting room, through the pantope, onto the Munch (trailed by an axious Dafnord, who steps through the omniport very gingerly), and takes it up. He then tells Edvard to head off on hyperdrive, gives a countdown time, and walks off the Munch, still trailed by Dafnord. Tom tries to fast-forward, and the door snaps shut.
Oh, well. Tom didn't like the idea anyway. Tom (with Dafnord breathing down his neck, quietly but with impressive air volume) dowses for the Munch and finds it again, despite it now being in hyperstate; all places are equidistant from a pantope. (Dafnord relaxes.) There are worse things than a little waiting, and we are now in the interesting and convenient position of taking a three-week interstellar cruise in our sitting room.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.