Chapter 15: Metamorphosis
We drip water on the deck, and ascertain that nothing further is mis-happening. We consider what to do about the dead siren in the water. Finally, Kate and Robbie dive back down and bring up the limp corpse of the sinuous monster. We stare at it. Robbie plucks Daphne's tiny arrow from the creature's eye, cleans it off, and returns it to the pixie. He offers the autodoc a sample, and asks it if it wants an entire corpse for raw materials. The autodoc accepts, but warns that it cannot assimilate everything, and that there will be remains. That doesn't bother Robbie, and he drags down the body.
Most of us sleep, but Robbie remains up, starting on the map that we hope is redundant; Tom was mapping Lanthil. In the morning, refreshed, we dowse once more for Tom. We are marginally successful; we think he is more likely to be before us than behind us. We sail on.
Daphne occupies herself with carving an appropriate figurehead for our... vessel. Robbie provides her with an ectoplastic model of a budgie.
The sea becomes lighter in color. It does not become greener, as we would expect, or even bluer. Eventually it is obvious that the water is becoming paler because it is getting shallower. The beach is getting wider. The thick forest growth that stretched back to distant cliffs has slowly been compressed into a thin line, as the cliffs approach more and more closely. They are now close enough that we can tell that they are imposingly vertical.
We sail forward over ankle-deep water. The lightfall is now the merest glint off to our left, and perhaps there is no water at all. Robbie jumps out - onto perfectly dry sand that is a shiny, silvery white. He makes a bottle, and collects a large sample. It might be suitable for glass-making. He looks off to our right, and finds that the blue sea is now off at the edge of his vision. There are no more trees between the beach and the cliffs.
He and Daphne decide to explore. We light some of our new lanterns as a beacon for them, and they fly off to our left. The cliffs give a strong impression of being rectilinear, but there is nothing obviously crystalline about them. Even when Robbie sends out an eye to examine them closely, they are still just rock. The two of them fly over, then up to the "top". Beyond that is a step of more cliff, and beyond that, the same. Eventually they tire, and return to the ship's new position, well beyond where they left us. It takes them even longer than they expected.
The sample bottle of sand is examined, but provides no surprises. It feels gritty when compressed, its grains are regular, and it has neither scent nor taste. Daphne gives Russell a pinch, but he finds it unimpressive. The autodoc analyses it as "sand."
The autodoc reports that it has finished with the source of material. Robbie wraps the siren's body in ectoplasm, and flies it back out to sea, drops it, and returns.
We have taken to examining the cliffs, since there is nothing else to see. They seem to be angling closer and getting lower, resulting in a spit, with a look vaguely like that of a city. The cliffs now seem to be definitely made of blocks, with the lightest ones on the bottom, and the darkest ones on the top. There are now mists obscuring our view. Sometimes they're thicker, and sometimes thinner, but they bother us, because they seem to have too many edges. We can't explain it any better than that. The pixie now thinks there's a life force directly ahead. Tom? No. Robbie sends out an eye, but it disappears in a tangle of static. The dragon hides quietly in the back of the ship. We've stopped moving.
By now the sand is very shiny, almost glowing. The mist thickens and then thins. Out on the putative spit of land there is motion, a humanoid figure, but we have no way to judge its scale. Robbie ties one end of a rope to the ship's railing, and the other around his torso. With an eye checking the path in front of him, he flies in the direction of the figure.
He finds it sitting down on a block at the end of all the other blocks. It is a very large humanoid done in monochrome, a light grey. The figure is naked. He sees Robbie, and stands up, looking puzzled. "You are confused," he booms at Robbie. "Very confused."
Robbie doesn't feel confused. He feels like a djinnish eidolon who used to be a Space Patrol robot. "We are looking for a friend of ours, Tom Noon..."
"You need to be clearer. You could become more like him." The figure gestures, and Robbie gathers that he means Gannar.
"I was once a robot," he concedes. "Where are we?"
The figure reaches out a giant hand to Robbie, and grasps him. To the others on the ship, it seems that there are now two Robbies: one still standing where it was, and a translucent one in the giant's hand. We all feel a sharp pain with the figure's gesture, but Kate and Dafnord can tell that it isn't our pain; it's from Robbie on the telepathy net.
Dafnord broadcasts the command "Stop!"
Again, the figure says, "Curious." He looks at Dafnord, who can see that his eyes are a piercing blue against a white sclera.
Dafnord explains his protest. "You are hurting our friend."
"There is always a price for simplicity."
The Acro tries to explain our penchant for complexity. As he does, the giant figure places 'his' Robbie back 'in' the solid Robbie, but the translucent Robbie droops out of the original. Daphne squeaks in pain.
"That one is noisy," remarks the giant figure.
Dafnord now tries to explain the telepathy net. The giant does not seem to be paying attention. Instead, it picks up the physical Robbie, and examines it closely.
"Quite corrupted. He has been touched by the djinn."
Dafnord is vaguely surprised that the figure can detect and identify the djinnish influence, but he continues explaining. "Of course. But it was more of an accident."
"Have you seen our other friend, Tom Noon?"
The giant rambles on a bit about finding our ship "confusing," but eventually admits to having noticed the pantope. He points in a direction we can't follow, and says that the pantope went that way. As a second best pointer, he directs us to aim along two particular blocks.
He turns his attention back to Robbie. He twiddles a finger inside Robbie, and we all feel queasy. He remarks that others "like him" are nearby, and that there are others, "more confused," farther on. Then the figure draws Robbie closer, blows on him, and puts him back down on the prow of the ship. "I have clarified him. I have purified his notion."
Dafnord tells a revived Robbie what the giant said, and adds that he thinks it means that Robbie is now more of an eidolon than before. Robbie takes stock of himself, and agrees. He asks the giant to proceed with the purification, and thoughtfully drops off the net. The figure warns "It might work. It will be difficult." Then he picks up the transparent Robbie, and the solid Robbie collapses. The giant puts the translucent Robbie back down.
"How do you feel?" asks Dafnord.
Robbie delays answering while he takes stock of himself. He can detect no physical attributes within himself, but he can perceive many things: the edge of the prow, Dafnord, the body on the deck that is "his." This is acceptable. He asks the figure to point towards the pantope and Tom again. Yes, although the giant's finger is transparent, he can follow the direction.
He tries to pick up the rope that was around his middle, and fails. He can, with effort, levitate it. He asks the giant, "Could I return to my body?"
"Maybe. It depends on how you live."
Robbie asks of the universe at large, "Where are we?"
"In a place that needs him very badly," is the only response.
He inquires of the universe, "Can I return here in the future?"
The universe seems to think it likely.
"What to my senses tell me of this being 'in front of' me?"
He learns that it is either very uniform, or very much itself, and that it could have been where it was for a long time.
Robbie decides that he will accept this new form. Dafnord and Daphne take his old form belowdecks. Robbie points in the direction the pantope went. Gannar aims off in not quite the right direction. The former robot decides that he will have to do something about that.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.