Chapter 80: Ravages of Time
When we left our heroes, they (okay, Tom) had accidentally attracted the
notice and/or ire of whatever nasty beasts haunt this Celtic otherworld
we've wandered into.
Robbie sends a remote eye in to see what it is that Tom accidentally nudged telepathically. As the eye approaches the cave, Robbie sees flickering firelight within. Then a head emerges.
The critter looks like a particularly bizarre and unpleasant dragon. It's big, thin, and snakey, with three pairs of legs and one pair of wings. It has a beaked, raptorial head and big, bulgy eyes. It spots Robbie's flying eye. With a thunderous snap of wings, it launches. (It has good, big, bulgy eyes.) We can see the thing over the trees, from the pantope.
Robbie sends the flying eye into evasive maneuvers and sends out a second eye, hoping to confuse it. It starts flying toward the midpoint between the two eyes, and appears to track each with one of its own eyes, working independently.
About now, a second dragon lofts, looking the same. And by the way, they look an awful lot like basilisks, which are particularly nasty draconians, having poisonous breath and deadly gazes.
Robbie (and most of the rest of us) retreat into the pantope. Robbie starts suffering "eyestrain" through his remote eyes. Tom gives him a psychic once-over and opines that it's too hard, working the eyes through the pantope door. Robbie sticks his head out and does much better.
Tom launches a clairvoyant viewpoint and speeds it toward the lair, partly to find out how many more of these we have to expect, partly to see if he can distract them. He can. The second dragon can see the viewpoint and starts doubling back to the lair.
In the lair, Tom sees a whole clutch of dragons. They are awfully big, close up, but they look juvenile, so the parents must be huge. They, too, can see Tom's viewpoint, and flame at it. This means one flames toward another, so soon the dragon-chicks are having a flame fight. The viewpoint gets an eye-full of dragon flame. Tom screams. The viewpoint stops.
About now, we decide that teasing dragons isn't really getting us anywhere closer to finding Desmond, so as soon as Robbie can pull his eyes back in, we all pile into the pantope and disconnect.
After we all calm down, Tom decides the only thing to do is to start dowsing with the pantope again, on the assumption that we are, in some sense, now "closer" to Desmond than when we started. He reaches out, mentally, opens the window, and gets a view of silvery mist. The helm shows all thirteen dimensions of hyperspace, in full (indicating this place is very far away from where we were), and three of the dimensions are turning over very rapidly. Tom suggests we just open briefly and yell for Desmond. But take precautions first.
So everyone armors up, gets weapons ready, and mostly gathers behind the portable force-field generator we looted -- um, borrowed from the Jumping Jacks battleground. Tom opens the door.
And collapses. So do a lot of other people. But not all of them. The Gargoyle, for instance, is fine. But he sees the others are not and, showing a lot of insight considering his limited background, reaches over to the laptop that serves as Tom's helm, and daintily taps a big red button with one talon.
The door snaps shut. The conscious people try to take stock. The Gargoyle is fine; Robbie is fine, but the "meat people" (as they say in Oz) are in various degrees of indisposition, mostly unconscious.
The Gargoyle rears up and looks in the cat's egg. The cat is curled up, unconscious. And the egg, being in a neutral hover, slides gently away from the Gargoyle's contact, off into the depths of the pantope. That's okay; it'll be back, given the curving geometry.
Markel's dragon is in the middle distance, in some kind of frantic activity. Markel himself is slumped over the force-field generator.
Gannar staggers toward the generator and hugs it. The glycogen cycler in his power supply (which lets him subsist on electricity rather than food, if he must) has just dumped all its glycogen into his bloodstream. It's still not enough, and he needs energy, now.
Robbie starts looking over his friends. All the others are down and unconscious or severely stunned. He dashes into the tent, after the autodoc.
Daphne's first and only thought of the moment is that she's famished. She often thinks that, but not so maniacally. She sees Robbie heading toward the tent and can only think that she has to beat the robot in there, before he gets to the food. Clearly, her blood sugar is low.
In the tent, Robbie ignores the gorging pixie, grabs the autodoc, exits, and shoves Tom into its bag. It finds all kinds of things wrong with Tom, and starts inserting catheters in all sorts of alarming places. (Tom never quite passed out, and thus never quite took down the telepathy net. He's now being delirious over the telepathy net, which isn't helping anything.)
Robbie looks over Dafnord and Markel. Dafnord doesn't look much better than Tom. Markel feels stunned and famished. Kate is out but doesn't look as bad. The nephilim are groaning and stirring. The force field generator lurches toward Braeta, as she, like Gannar, grabs some power out of it. She gets up on her elbows, having left a Braeta-shaped print in the emerald deck.
Tom wakes up in the autodoc and naturally asks what's wrong. Was he stunned? The autodoc tells him he's suffering from a combination of shock, exhaustion, and advanced age. (Some of the medicines it's dumping into him are rejuvenation treatments.) It looks to the autodoc as though it's been 37 years since it last saw Tom.
Here comes the cat's egg, drifting back around the closed geometry. Tom persuades the autodoc to let him out and go to work on Brunalf now. Then Dafnord. Then Gannar. It seems to have hit the most mundane people the hardest.
Daphne is now feeling rather better and staggers out of the tend with an armload of fruit to distribute to her friends. The telepathy net -- once clear of Tom's delirium -- has told her they're famished. First stop is Dafnord. She tries squeezing grape juice into his mouth to rouse him. Robbie goes about with a bottomless pitched of fruit juice. The nephilim are up now, and chug cup after cup.
The dragon, it turns out, went after some jerky in its saddle packs and is now busily finishing off all the leatherwork it can reach -- including the saddle. Now and then, it spits out a buckle. Considering it could have gone after an unconscious and tasty colleague, this must be a truly civilized dragon. It is very happy to discover the bottomless bowl of cheese from the magic tent.
Once we are all conscious, we consider what to do now. And what happened. Probably, that place with the silvery mist is running at a very high speed, for whatever reason, and opening the door let in a blast of scrambled time effects. If Desmond is out there, he's probably spent at least thirty years there, by his own clock. But he still might like to come home.
Very cautiously, Tom re-opens at the last coordinates, firmly in window mode, in freeze-frame, and begins dowsing for Desmond again. Through the mist, before the freeze-frame took effect, we glimpsed trees, leafing and shedding leaves at about one year a second. Even "freeze-frame" doesn't stop things completely. And the ride is jerky. Eventually, we do catch a glimpse of a human figure and track it down. It turns, appears, to see the window, presses a hand against it, and steps through.
It's Desmond! Tom snaps the window shut. Desmond is smiling and looks well, but he now has gray in his hair -- he, a nephil, who was millennia old when he left for Destine and has been through many centuries since on Yazatlan. It takes him some time to get his speech going again. He wasn't alone, he says (mumbling something about a spear and a head), but he didn't use speech much.
One of the first things he tells us is that the silvery place was not, as often said, a "land of the dead," but it was a deathly place. So perhaps it is death more than mere time that has done a number on us all, especially the more mortal ones.
And Desmond has learned a trick or two in all that time. He touches Tom on the forehead, and Tom suddenly feels considerably better. Tom asks if he could help the others, too. He'll try, but this is specially Tom's place, which makes a difference. He has everyone gather round Tom in a kind of group hug (Tom more or less reflexively throws an green aura around everyone.), and does it again, whatever it is. People feel better.
Now. Where were we? Oh, yes, Victorian London. Supposedly a nice, quiet place for the Rainbow folk to try and cure Ms. Yanova from psychic attack. As we open the door back in the house, Desmond offers to help ensure some more quiet. He can, he says, accelerate the house relative to the rest of the world, so we won't have any more interruptions. But this ability probably won't last long, now that he's out of that silvery forest.
So we skip the door ahead to next morning. We then tell the staff to lay in a lot of groceries, then take the afternoon off. Then we skip ahead to early afternoon. The larder is full and the staff is gone. Fine. Desmond does his stuff, and, through a silvery haze, London lapses into freeze-frame as seen through our windows.
We take out three weeks to rest and recuperate.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.