Chapter 72: Regent's Park
We left our heroes aboard the pantope, with Crystal, Pearl, and other
higher-ups of the recently-shaken Rainbow hierarchy. Crystal has just
done a preliminary study of Ms. Yanova's mind, and says she needs a lot
of therapy. We've offered a nice, out-of-the-way place -- to wit, a
house we have, in the Victorian period of the Classical Line.
The Rainbow people agree to look it over, then all of them withdraw except Pearl. We'll meet them back here (in mid-air over the Kush mountains of Hellene) in six to eight hours.
Let's see... Where did we leave off in that time and line? We left in March of 1896, with an appointment to see Mycroft Holmes on midsummer day of 1897. We decide to aim for midsummer of 1896. Tom asks Kate and Dafnord to stand with him, and uses them as dowsing tokens to home in. (Kate is native to that line, and she and Dafnord were the party members most recently in the house.)
We end up with a window view of Dafnord's exercise room in the basement. There's no dust on the barbells, Dafnord notes, so we haven't been gone long, or the staff have been diligent. We whisk the window up and out into the street, find a newspaper stand, and determine that it is still March 1896. To avoid timelocks, we fast-forward to April 1st, then back the window into the house, place it on the wall by the stairwell, and turn it into a window.
Tom and Dafnord step out. Dafnord hears movement upstairs. Servants. Tom hastily glamours some Victorian clothing onto the pair of them, then Dafnord goes up to investigate. It's our "Tweenie" (between-stairs maid). "Mr. Dafnord!" she exclaims. "I didn't hear you come in! Have you solved the fire mystery yet?" (221B Baker Street was destroyed in a fire recently.) "Mr. Holmes will be so pleased to see you!" (She refers to Mycroft Holmes. The fire is almost undoubtedly a diversion by his brother, Sherrinford Holmes (this line's version of Sherlock), made while he departed in a time machine built to the plans of his sister Ashleigh, who is the Time Traveler of H. G. Wells's novel, "The Time Machine," and is now a member in good standing of the Jumping Jacks / Lanthil / New Blood group.)
Dafnord lets Tweenie burble a little more, then tells her to expect some guests -- new and unfamiliar guests, foreigners like us, half a dozen or so in number. Tweenie dutifully sets about readying rooms and rousting up Chivvers, the butler. Chivvers greets Dafnord more sedately, but apologizes for not having the full staff at hand. When we left (a couple of weeks ago by his clock), with no time given for return, he waited a few days, then gave them time off. Several of them are visiting in the country. It'll take a while to rustle them up.
Dafnord assures Chivvers that this is quite all right, and tells him about the new guests, including an invalid, a young lady. We then introduce Pearl (suitably glamoured for costume) and have Chivvers show her around the house, including the basement, so she can get an idea of local security.
Then the cat wants to come out and poke around (after the mandatory thirty seconds hesitating at the door). Tom locks gazes with him and pronounces, "Two words: Don't talk." Being quick on the uptake, Brunalf nods back. But while this is going on, the pixie sneaks out of the pantope behind Tom's back. Soon, she locates a candy dish in the parlor.
Chivvers approaches Tom and hands him the household account books. Tom thanks him, looks at them with complete lack of interest, and secretly passes them back into the pantope for Robbie to peruse. Then he hears the harpsichord plunking in the parlor.
Dafnord goes to investigate and finds the pixie hovering over the keyboard, fiddling. He says hello to her quietly, but simultaneously hails Tom by telepathy. Tom comes skidding into the parlor seconds ahead of a maid, barely in time to cast glamour, so that the maid beholds a little girl fiddling at the harpsichord.
Tom introduces Daphne and gives her a friendly clap on the shoulder (thus killing the slight hover she was doing). The maid smiles in that strained, condescending way servants smile at the children, but offers to take Daphne off to the kitchen for sweets. Perfect.
Then we have a caller. It's Wiggins, head of our own private variation of the Baker Street Irregulars, and very good at what he does. He'd have to be, to notice we're back in town. He asks if we need anything? We explain about the incoming invalid. Ah, well, um, is this something we'd not like the Inspector to notice? Like the way we'd rather he didn't notice the way we showed up without really arriving? Well, yes. Then we should probably know that the Inspector will be dropping by within the hour, though Wiggins doesn't know what he's after. We thank him for the information and tip generously.
Tom goes to check up on Daphne and finds her in the kitchen, rather forcefully petting the nice kitty, who is unable to retaliate under the circumstances. ("And this is for the time we drenched me with tuna-flavored impact foam.")
So that's all right.
Robbie now suggests that we should stage an arrival, to save appearances for people less perceptive than Wiggins. (He also notes that, from the books, Chivvers is doing a lot of buying and selling of antiques and diamonds, and doing very well at it. This is, in fact, what the last lot of us set him to doing when we were here last.)
Pearl returns from her tour and tells Dafnord that she rather likes the look of the basement, for a secure "sick room."
We then move the pantope door to a nearby alley, and have Katrina, Kate, Robbie, and Markel all get out, suitably glamoured and equipped with luggage, hail a cab, and set off to "arrive" at our house, whence the pantope door is already returned.
At this point, Chivvers announces a "Master Michael" barely ahead of a young boy who bursts in. He's an Irregulars wannabe of our acquaintance, and tells Dafnord that the Irregulars probably know we're here (this news a little late), and would have reported our arrival to Mycroft Holmes by now. He'll probably come by soon.
The cab arrives, unloading Kate, Katrina, Robbie, and Markel. It also unloads the dragon (shrunk and glamoured as a mastiff) and the gargoyle (shrunk and glamoured as the biggest, ugliest bulldog imaginable). Chivvers recognizes and greets Kate, who introduces everyone else. Chivvers asks if there will be any problems with the dogs and the cat. No. (Or else.)
But of course the lot of us are traipsing around, most scandalously clad, made acceptable only by a veneer of glamour. So Daphne, Kate, and Katrina go out shopping for some real clothes, accompanied by Markel and his "mastiff." They are therefore incredibly safe, though London may not be.
Now that things are purring along fairly smoothly, Robbie asks Tom to step into the pantope and examine him for some of the damage he took in our latest battle. Once stripped of his glamour, Robbie displays a scorched dent in his side. Tom suggests he try to use his new self-upholstering facility on it. Robbie does, and the dent vanishes under the upholstery, but still feels just as bad.
Tom tries to open Robbie's access panels, but can't find them. Robbie opens them for Tom, apparently creating them as he does so. Hm.
Inside, things look fairly normal at first glance. Only...on second glance, it looks rather like a mock-up, as if plastic were molded and colored to look like robot works. No real junctures; all of a piece.
Further inside, Robbie tries to summon up a damage report. He gets one, but there is no time estimate for the repairs needed. The diagnostic system doesn't seem to be updating itself properly, either, but is also not reporting itself as having errors.
Tom pokes around psychically and feels that there is a large and very complex operation here, suspended. He tries fixing Robbie's breakage with ectoplasm, and finds himself using some techniques he'd normally reserve for doctoring a human. And the ectoplasm seems to blend in very well. Will it "heal"?
Robbie tries to think up his own ectoplastic repairs, but as he starts to, he notices that he isn't really sure what this bit here does. And he can't find the online documentation that would tell him.
Tom notes that there is nothing inside Robbie, or inside his mind either, that the robot is not directly conscious of. He explains this to Robbie and tells the robot that he must now learn to distinguish between remembering and accessing. Robbie is disconcerted, even more so when he finds he can't even use his mechanical total recall.
But Tom has learned that power patharchically, and helps Robbie plumb his own mind telepathically. There's nothing in Robbie's innards that Robbie doesn't understand himself.
Tom closes Robbie up, pats his hand gently, and tells him, "Never doubt yourself." Robbie is puzzled and nonplussed. Tom explains that, ever since the (purely spiritual) trip to Djinnistan, Robbie's body matches only what Robbie himself knows of it, what was in Robbie's mind, not in his files. Robbie is aghast.
Thinking over recent experience, Robbie remembers that Tom and Gannar couldn't detect any psychic or telemetric connection between Robbie and his roving eyes. He now asks Salimar to observe while he pops out an eye. Can she tell how he's receiving from it?
Salimar replies that the question is poorly framed. As far as she can tell, Robbie isn't "receiving" from the eye at all; Robbie is merely present in two places, one of them being where the eye is. It's a bit like her own bilocation skill, but less psychic.
Robbie then experiments by having Tom open a second pantope door into Edvard. Robbie sends the eye in and has Tom make the door into a window. Tom does, and Robbie falls over in a faint/crash. Also, the eye vanishes.
When Robbie recovers/reboots, Tom tells him that he still doesn't feel anything psychic going on, and opines that Robbie shouldn't think of his body, complete with eyes, as psychic or technological. It's metaphysical, raw existence.
Robbie thinks this over, and tries popping eyes out of his mouth and ears. He can. He tries to pop ears instead of eyes. No go.
Tom watches these parlor tricks for a while, then tells Robbie that he may now be related to normal robots in the same way as djinn are related to humans. Or he may now have a lot in common with the Gargoyle, with a likewise intensely magical body.
Dafnord, meanwhile, has been coping with the foretold arrival of Inspector Carruthers of Scotland Yard. He's very polite, but he has Questions. He wants to know what we know of, and what we were doing at the time of, the fire at 221B Baker Street (which he insists on referring to as "the conflageration"). Dafnord tells those parts of the truth that fit in with a mundane worldview.
The Inspector informs Dafnord that Holmes hasn't been seen since, and that Dr. Watson vanished two days later. And we all know they had Enemies. (Dafnord simulates shock and horror. Of course, he already knows Holmes goes on to found a worldhopping organization of his own.)
Dafnord expresses concern and says he was planning on seeing Mr. Mycroft Holmes later today. He says that, during or recent absence, we were on the Continent, on business, traveling to various points in Germany, then spending a little vacation time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We bought this bulldog here... We have no idea of the whereabouts of Holmes or Watson. (Which is true.)
The Inspector takes all this down and asks to speak to Miss McHerron or Mr. Marlow or Miss Carter. Dafnord explains that Lorelei and Chris didn't return with us, but Kate is expected shortly, being out shopping. He then has the "bulldog" show the Inspector out (!) and tells Chivvers to keep the Inspector away from our upcoming guests.
Soon, the ladies return with many boxes and many department-store footmen to carry them. A card shows up from Mycroft Holmes asking to see us at our convenience.
Dafnord takes the Gargoyle/"bulldog" with him to the Diogenes Club, where he's expected. He's shown to a guest room, and into the presence of Mycroft Holmes.
Mycroft, we learn, hasn't heard from Sherrinford. He knows about the rendezvous date, but that's more than a year away. Dafnord explains that Sherrinford is off traveling (time traveling), and that he's sure things will work out (because he's seen that they do). But he has no data on Sherrinford's whereabouts, and finds that Mycroft doesn't either. Nor does Mycroft know about Dr. Watson, which is a little worrying.
Mycroft has been casting concerned glances at the "bulldog," which is exactly what Dafnord brought it for, of course. Dafnord introduces it as "Corrian." Mycroft says it's a "fine dog" and "an unusual animal" (probably because its footprints on the rub don't match its feet). Dafnord agrees and bows out.
Back at the house, Tom meets with Pearl, who's ready. He proposes to do daily check-ins with the folk at the house, via the pantope. We then open the pantope at the rendezvous point for Crystal's team. They come swooping in on three flitters, fully equipped but completely uncostumed. There are lots of auxiliary folk, but the ones going through will be Crystal, six helpers, and Ms. Yanova. Tom glamours them up and takes them in to be introduced to the staff.
We do another fake arrival with a cab, for all the people and things except Ms. Yanova and the more delicate equipment. They set things up in the basement. Crystal establishes some kind of telepathic forbidden zone at the top of the basement stairs to discourage intrusive servants.
She also notes the wide variety of accents among the staff and comments on the "international" staff. Tom tells her they're all just from different parts of Britain. "And I thought Hellene was diverse!" she remarks. "Hellene preserves the remnants of diversity," Tom replies.
Then we go in to supper. After that, Tom and the others bow out, except for Katrina and Robbie, who will stay with Crystal's team at the house. Tom sets a clock on a shelf in front of the pantope location and promises to check in at 3 PM tomorrow.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.