Chapter 42: A Door into Battle
We left our heroes back home after an interesting but not immediately relevant excursion into history, to observe the departure of the Missing Martians. Now, they are back at their ranch on Hellene, with their new pantope handy and, through it, access to the Munch, which is a week out from New Hierow, the empty planet they'll want to use as a staging area for any rescued nephilim they pick up.
Which brings us back to the subject of Destine and its slave-raided nephilim. The pantope has a spare connection left, and we could use it in several useful ways on Destine, including:
But before we do that, Tom wants to do a little more shopping. He wants to buy the most reinforced airlock he can find, for the pantope. Mirien supposes this is from his bad experiences with pantopes and space in the past. She then regales the company with old family tales of Tom being jerked out of pantopes at large fractions of the speed of light, while trying to do single-handed terraforming with hideously powerful artifacts. (See Turtle World, Chapter 15.) "One of the many times he was making a world for an endangered race -- one he hadn't exterminated, this time."
Tom looks a bit pained and explains that (1) she exaggerates, and (2) we'll be opening omniport doors into space battles, starships, and fire-fights on the ground. It would be only prudent to make sure we have some armor between us and such environments.
We call Jumping Jacks and ask for a small vacuum-tight cabin with airlocks, armored. They point us to a supplier. We swap the pantope door to Pericles and go shopping. The supplier normally sells these things for heavy-duty industrial and military operations and research in hostile environments. They rub their hands in glee when they find we want two of their heaviest suckers, for a sum that would let us buy rather a lot of small spaceships. The designs include battleship-quality impact- and radiation-screens. On the inside. The only mitigating factors are that we only want rather small ones and we don't want to bother with a warranty (typically payable to one's estate; this firm has a standing deal with Lloyd's of Albion).
They'll be ready in a fortnight. We rent a small hanger at the Pericles Spaceport, for them to deliver these cabins to. When the port authorities hear we're with Jumping Jacks, they give us one of the hangers behind the blast wall...
While we were waiting for deliveries -- which include not only armored cabins but also Gannar's stealth squirrel-robots and Kate's new drapes -- Tom works on a bit of hyperspatial navigation theory that might let him steer through time better. He knows that two of the thirteen dimensions of hyperspace seem particularly connected to time. He hopes that, in relatively flat spacetime, the connection between time and those two dimensions is linear. Alas, it appears to remain linear only over intervals up to a few months. Beyond that point, you get unpredictable kinks, apparently arising from three of the other hyperspatial dimensions -- unpredictable to Tom, anyway.
While Tom works on that, Gannar, Dafnord, Robbie, Katrina, and Brunalf all take karate lessons at Lawless Studios, where they get a Jumping Jacks discount, since the owner is Victoria Lawless, Cantrel's wife.
A week before the armored cabins arrive, the Munch arrives on New Hierow. Just like its analog on the CoDominion line, it is nicely habitable and uninhabited. We take hyperspace coordinates, drop off the Big Green Cube for a dowsing target, and take a rock for a dowsing token.
When the cabins arrive, we then move them into the pantope by bringing the pantope omniport into the hanger. We then taxi the Munch off of New Hierow, through the pantope, into the hanger, whence it will ultimately go back to its berth in the black hangers of Jumping Jacks.. Anyone watching all this legerdemain is left to suppose that we have really great stealth technology.
We are now ready to go back to Destine. We pile into the pantope and Tom opens the omniport, in window mode, on the first coordinates we took of the place, shortly after landing there the first time. We get a view over an earlier Tom's wrist, at the battle-blasted tarmac of the Destine City Spaceport. Tom then starts re-winding the 19 weeks (about 120 Destine days) to the battle.
We stop at early morning on the day of the invasion, still at the spaceport, which is already scarred by battle. Brunalf spots a dragon fighter cruising the skies nearby. It wanders over the spaceport, making a cursory check, it seems, and most importantly not noticing us. We move the window into their cabin.
There's a brief FLASH as the window passes through the engine room and something unconscionable hot. When people stop blinking, they see a cabin containing three kinds of dragonfolk:
Six of them are what we call "dragontroopers" -- leathery humanoids. They're just hanging onto straps, waiting. One is probably the squad leader.
Two of them are very dinosaur-like. In fact, they could be close relatives of the intelligent dinosaurs that lived on Earth at the end of the Cretaceous ... until accidentally wiped out by Tom and his friends, in the course of the diadem quest. These look a bit more humanoid, though. They're tending some consoles.
Three others look decidedly alien. They look "dragonish" rather than "saurian," and sport baroque feelers, tassels, barbels, or whatever, about their heads. Their skins are patterned in blue hues and smoother than the others'. Details of proportion and external anatomy don't look Earthly. They appear to be doing the flying.
The equipment looks as disparate as the crew. It is clearly manufactured to be the way it is deliberately, but there are several different "styles" of controls, giving it a patched-together look. Katrina notices some symbols that look, to her, Chinese. And in her world, dragons rule China. We record them.
A screen lights up and reveals a fourth type -- a sort of cobra-man, a hooded snake head on a scaly humanoid torso. It holds a brief conversation with the dinos and then hangs up. The dinos are spurred to more activity. Its appearance reminds Tom of some pictures of Patala folk he once saw in the University of Dwarrowgard.
The ship flies toward the city and joins up into formation with several others. We see the city burning. We are unable to read any definite emotions on any of the dragonfolk.
We discuss capturing one. Should we kill him after doing a memory audit? We decide merely to dump him in the Destine wilderness. We also decide trying to snatch one from this ship would be too noticeable, so we leave it. We bring several of our floating gun platforms into the airlock, along with the window, and go down to street level.
After some cruising, we encounter six humans -- well, humanoids -- lurking in an alley, with guns. At least two of these guys are remarkably large and muscular, and probably therefore nephilim. They appear to be waiting to ambush a patrol of dragontroopers. Should we rescue them? We freeze-frame and discuss it.
As a result of our discussions, Dafnord and Braeta armor up and enter the airlock. Tom puts the window onto the alley wall, a bit further down from the six defenders, and turns it into a door. Braeta then leans out and softly calls, "Psst! This way!"
...just as the dragontroopers round the corner. Fire is exchanged. Bricks start falling from the walls. No one pays us much attention. We close the door and freeze-frame. Braeta opines that we probably muffed their ambush. In that case, we feel obliged to rescue them. Or at least make up for our blunder.
We move the window -- still in frozen time -- to a point over the defenders' heads, pointing down at the dragontroopers. We then start time and open the door. Robbie and Gannar, remotely controlling the gun platforms, let fly with a volley of heavy stun. The dragontroopers go down and get finished off by the fire from the nephilim. The mortar shell was particularly effective. We go back to freeze-frame just as one of the humans (really human, we think) goes dashing off, out of the alley. Their scout, we think.
We check around in frozen time. The nearest dragontroopers are three blocks away. We move back to our original position. This time Dafnord is the one who leans out, and calls, "Hey guys! This way!" "What the hell?" "No time! There's more three blocks away." Just then, their scout comes dashing back, telling them the same thing. They mutter, then come up to look.
They are very puzzled to find a strange new door into an armored airlock. "We have a way out," Dafnord tells them. They stare some more. "Your options are running out, gentlemen." They step in. We freeze-frame. "Welcome to the Emerald Metaphor."
We bring them out of the airlock and explain a little -- magic, dimension-hopping dragons, a time-traveling electrician with his own dimensionette. The usual. We invite them into the library, on the ranch house. They find this puzzling, too. We notice one of them is limping and offer the use of our autodoc -- after we explain what one is. The scout takes the casualty off, under Robbie's guidance, and we continue explaining to them.
Their leader, one Hector, an eight-foot nephil, gets very uneasy when we mention Faerie, right through the mirror there. After he hints around, Tom gathers that he is nervous about the Ban of the Earth Angels, the Eretsarin, which he thinks may be catching up with his folk. Hector warns us that we could be in trouble with the hierarchy of heaven for helping his folk. He offers just to take his men back. Brunalf intuits his meaning -- the dragonfolk are Lilith's minions, working on enforcing the Ban, part of Lilith's efforts to get into Heaven's good graces.
(We also gather, in the course of conversation, that Hector is over four hundred years old. His big brother (!), Jason, also remembers an ancient vanishing of lots of nephilim from Earth that might connect to the second nephil colony we encountered, the one that had signs of having been there since Roman times. We file these data away.)
Tom makes it plain that he's already heard about the Ban. We'll take our risks with the angels, feeling that they won't like Lilith's methods and that we seem to have a certain amount of providence on our own side. Dafnord invites them to go back and try to live, so as to serve as dowsing beacons for us when we try to rescue them and all the others. Or, Tom offers, they can stay and help us here, however seems appropriate. Or they could just go back and fight until they die, in a losing battle, which is what their plan before had been. Whee.
Hector says he'll want to confer with the others. Very natural. In the meantime, we offer them a good meal and some first aid.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.