Chapter 69: Out Patient
We left our heroes victorious after an unexpected battle inside the
pantope itself. The two immediate goals before them are to help Cantrel
win the remaining battle at Jumping Jacks and to stop/confront Ms.
Yanova herself, hoping for resolutions, not to mention explanations.
But before we do either of those, it would be very handy to get Salimar back. She was, you recall, severely toasted by a large enemy blast, while hiding in the topsoil near the ranch. She has since been picked up by fellow minions of KaiSen.
Tom dowses for her through the pantope, and soon the window shows a roomful of bizarre equipment and equally bizarre staff. It is, we suppose, some kind of sick bay. The equipment is of extraterrestrial make, and the staff are assorted aliens. That tub, there, is obviously full of Salimar, since we don't know anyone else who looks like purplish-green slime when relaxing or recuperating.
However, it would be rudely, even dangerously, abrupt to simply open the door here and now. We move the window outside -- thus discovering that Salimar is on a space ship in high orbit around Hellene -- put our side of the window in the airlock, then open it to a door, but only so we can send the message, "Greetings, sentients. We're here to visit Salimar. Permission to come aboard?"
We get an audio/visual link, revealing Chester, the Kishaer liaison we met earlier. He points out we don't have a ship (or any other visible presence). That's okay, we can still come aboard. Where would he like us? He suggests the main airlocks.
We are met at the airlock by Chester, accompanied by a couple of very large, furry caterpillars, colorfully striped, with lots of eyes. It's not clear what they use for hands, or if they are armed, but it is clear that they have very large mouths; the pixie is suspicious, until reassured by Chester that they are people and do not eat people.
This trio escorts us to Salimar. We ask Chester how she's doing. Quite well, he hears. The med-techs are fascinated, and her recovery is facilitated by her ... unique ... anatomy. "Not having any, you mean?" Well, yes, though Chester gathers that her molecular structure is quite fantastically elaborate.
We pass the many armed guards (or perhaps it was the many-armed guards) and enter the sick bay. There, Salimar is conscious and conversational, despite being liquid and having a very fine net straining through her very slowly. We give her a briefing on what's been happening since she was laid low, and she is anxious to return to the fray. But they aren't quite done with her. A large, yellow, bird-like doctor(?) with far too many joints in its limbs steps forward.
They are still extracting the last few dozen grams of Salimar from the "slurry" they compounded from fried mess of semi-vitrified topsoil and victim. They are anxious to get as much of her back as possible, especially since her memory system seems to be more ... chemical ... than that of most folk. They also need to return some samples they used to work out a healing accelerant. Also, she should wait until the solvents evaporate.
And there's the matter of the, uh, remains. They have some quasi-organic gunk, here, that used to be part of Salimar, but certainly isn't alive any more. What would she like done with it? Reassimilate it, somehow? Give it a proper funeral? Recycle it? Um...
Salimar asks if it would be of any use to them, and on learning that they'd be fascinated to study it, decides to donate (some of) her body to science.
Only Daphne, Robbie, Kate, and Tom have come to see Salimar. Everyone else is waiting back in the pantope. Dafnord, indeed, is healing in our own autodoc. And Cantrel is getting impatient. Gannar informs Robbie, by comm link, of this. Cantrel knows that time is elapsing, so long as the pantope is connected like this, and is worried about his own battle.
Tom promises him that we will resume the battle right where we left it, never mind the exact timing. To scratch Cantrel's itch, we return to the pantope and fast-forward half an hour while Salimar finishes pulling herself together. As she resumes her humanoid form and climbs out of the hospital tub, the bird-doctor cautions her to avoid strenuous activity. When she expresses a desire for a jolt from the psi-charger, it strongly advises against it -- and indeed seems taken aback by the whole idea of the device. (All its other users concur. Only Salimar likes the thing.)
Everyone gets back in the pantope, and we disconnect. Before we return to the battle in Jumping Jacks, though, we have Salimar retrocog in the pantope, to see if she can observer anything interesting in the events of our recent battle.
She looks back at the "crashgates" when they were opened here. With some effort and disorientation (we see her ripple), she pushes her viewpoint through the crashgate and beyond. Besides the troopers waiting to charge in, she sees a smaller armored figure in an elevated command chair, equipped with miscellaneous controls. Behind this figure stands another, tall and slender, also armored, but in armor of a grayish, shimmering tinge.
She drops this and looks over the five bodies of troopers, living and dead, that are in the pantope with us. (Gannar has been re-stunning the survivors whenever it looked necessary.) Markel helps strip the armor off dead body. The guy looks human enough, though there's a little trace of psi about him she wouldn't expect and can't identify.
She starts to examine a live one and backs off, warned away by her precognition, and by Tom's report of earlier encounters with psionic booby traps.
She tries dowsing on a boot and helmet, to see where they came from. All she gets is the impression of Far, Far Away, but that might be due to her standing in the pantope when she does it.
Time to look in at Jumping Jacks. To refresh you, this is the elite and secretive security service and arms dealership Cantrel runs, making judicious use of our anachronistic and arcane connections. It is in Pericles, the capital of Hellene, and for the last few days has been under a force dome isolating it from the outside. Someone has circulated a cover story about an industrial accident needing to be cleaned up, while inside battles rage between Yanova's troopers and Jumping Jacks personnel.
At Cantrel's behest, we case out the north end of Jumping Jacks, while in freeze-frame, at the moment we extracted Cantrel from the battle. It's very chaotic. There's lots of wreckage about, and our boys in black are getting the worst of it from the villains in white armor.
Cantrel's main goal is to take out the force field projectors that have divided up the interior of the big force dome. Accordingly, we gate into the minor force dome that covers the Munch. Salimar steps out to touch it, so as to dowse for its source. It is a hazy gray wall, and resists her touch several centimeters before she actually brings her hand near the grayness. It also blocks "normal" psionics, which is why we're asking Salimar to do it; her psionics is capable of extradimensional tricks.
She ducks! Her precognitive anticipation went off. She doesn't know what was going to happen, but something. She did, however, get a general sense of direction in her brief look.
Following the bearing out of the dome, with a window, we come across a triad of blocky machines on tripods, looking vaguely akin to the semi-portable force field projectors we have seen squads of troopers lugging about. (We've since captured one for ourselves.) One of the three points toward the Munch.
Markel is just about to blow them away with his captured plasma bazooka when the cat zips in on his egg and blasts them with the egg-ship's guns.
Nearby masonry cracks and, in the pantope, the cat in the egg goes flying. The egg hurtles into the tent and yanks the whole thing into collapse a few meters away. None of this helps Dafnord, who was in the tent, in the autodoc, trying to heal.
But the force field around the Munch is gone, as are, presumably, a couple of others.
There's some confusions, of course, while we fish the autodoc and the cat's egg out of the tent and put the tent back up. The cat is, naturally, solidly encased in impact foam. Dafnord, once he learns what happened, patiently waits for the cat to de-foam ... then kicks the egg. Hard. Foam. He waits for the cat to de-foam again. He kicks the egg...
Cantrel points out that the effect that sent the cat flying was no mere back-blast, but something more exotic. Tom remarks we must destroy the next set from further away. Robbie proposes we use grenades, drop them on the projectors, then snap our doors shut. Cantrel tells him were we can get the grenades -- Locker 17, a hidden weapons cache. We move the door there and Cantrel takes the opportunity to pick up a pair of nunchuks, a flight belt, and similar equipment, while we help ourselves to a crate of grenades.
We drop Cantrel off, happily barking orders into a wrist comm.
Now that we can do it out in the open, Kate does a series of dowsings for us, locating projectors, which we handily blow up by Robbie's method of bombing them with grenades, then snapping the door shut and watching in window mode.
One projector is the one that wraps a force bubble around the Nones. We have a lot of enemy troopers stashed there, mostly stunned. We drop some more stun grenades in before we blow away that projector.
Our blast greatly surprises the dozen troopers who were guarding the projectors. It also, unfortunately, surprises the aircar full of Jumping Jacks folk who were diving in to attack, but they recover and make good use of their advantage.
After two similar strikes on the enemy, we come across something different. The projectors Kate locates are far, far bigger than any we've seen before, and more numerous. They are surrounded by enemy vehicles, on ground and aloft, and personnel, several dozens of them, many with their helmets off, some unarmored. It looks, in fact, like enemy field HQ. There are two small sets of projectors and one big one.
We have only two doors to the pantope, so we decide to take out the big one and one little one. Our usual method, plus a few extra grenades, works just fine. best of all, when the big cluster goes out, the big force dome over Jumping Jacks disappears.
The moment this happens, four big air trucks come rushing in -- obviously having been poised outside waiting for this. They land in a pattern, amid the chaos we've just spawned. A fifth truck comes in, lands, and a different force field snaps in place over Jumping Jacks -- more silvery, and of a slightly different shape. Its function is different, too -- the old one trapped Jumping Jacks; this one traps the enemy.
We know this because amplified voices from the trucks begin bellowing about being duly deputized officers of the Pericles city-state, while the lids and walls blow off the first four trucks and armed troopers in black-and-silver Jacks uniforms come barreling out.
We help out by dropping stun grenades on various concentrations of the enemy troopers, starting with what looks like the command center.
Spheres come floating up from the ground trucks, with people riding in them. They're gun platforms and shoot at any enemy vehicles coming near. (Only two do.)
Some of the Jacks troops are in powered suits, just so they can carry guns that big, it seems. But they aren't shooting, much. The enemy are too disorganized to resist. And when six fighter craft coming dropping through the force field -- four of them air fighters, two of them small spacecraft, all of them moving so fast as to be nearly teleporting, apparently crewed by people (AIs?) indifferent to high Gs -- enemy resistance seems effectively broken.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.