Chapter 4: That Wanted Feeling
We head back to Hellene, taking with us Lt. Blake (she of the vanishing gizmo)
and Lt. Soo-Lin, along with the Gunny, the latter's fighter craft. When we get
back in the Hellene system, we call up Cantrel at Jumping Jacks, only to get a
voicemail message blandly telling us that he's unavailable but "drop by any
time." We try calling the manager of the Black Hangars (who knows us well, to
his cost), but get a similar "drop by any time" message. Same phrase, in
Hm. We call the ranch. The house computer picks up, followed quickly by Batalto, our saurian Romeo. Puzzled, Dafnord asks him if there's an emergency.
"I don't know. They didn't say."
This is not reassuring. "Who didn't?"
"The people who keep coming by." The ranch is very out-of-the-way. Deliberately.
Dafnord asks the computer, "Any message?"
"Yes, sir, and visitors. Would you like the messages displayed by sender or by date?" That last question is a code phrase meaning the computer believes it is not talking through a secure channel. Dafnord therefore declines to read the messages. He does ask about the visitors; the computer tells him the same fellow showed up several times. He said it was urgent.
Licconeten (Juliet) shows up in the screen now, and describes other visitors -- about as tall as Dafnord but not as wide. Sounds like elves... We thank her, and Dafnord clicks off their window. He scrambles the channel and resumes talking to the computer. When asked about messages, the computer still gives the code phrase. Okay, we'll just wait until we arrive at the ranch. He asks it if anyone else is at home. No, sir, everything has been very quiet except for the visitors.
We sign off and come in for a landing, in the back yard of the ranch house. House robots come out to fetch in our luggage (though several shy away from Dafnord, who has been known to have robots carry bombs into areas and then detonate them. He had a good reason. Really.). As we go in, we notice several other bits of automation -- gun platforms and security monitors, hanging about alertly. Little red pixels gleam out of displays here and there, discreetly announcing "Red Alert." Psionic and magical security measures are also active. The house is nervous.
A tray floats over to Dafnord with a message on it. It bears his name, in Elvish characters. Dafnord doesn't read Elven, but inside the message is in Earthron:
"Both Allied Epochs and Alvirin's cabinet all in a tizzy. The family is keeping communications to a minimum. Nick."
Dafnord glances Meaningfully to Kate, who brings up the net, so we can communicate in comparative security. He shares the message with us all. He then goes down to the sub-basement, to read the messages off a secured terminal. (On the way, he passes through the kitchen, which is full of small domestic robots, huddling together. They shy away from him. Even the brave little toaster...)
There is a message from Cantrel:
Image on Pause. Sigh. "Well, we screwed the pooch this time. Charges have been brought against us at Allied Epochs. JCTO [the Jack Cross-Time Office, pronounced "jack-toe," the Jack's own time-patrol, our official time-travel organization and member of Allied Epochs] is suspended. Chris and Nick have both gone forward [into the future] to deal with them. Avoid contacting them, or you'll be interdicted. We're all keeping low. I understand there are problems in Faerie as well."
There is a message from Nick:
Image on. Stares. Shakes his head. "I have problems both at Alvirin's court and Allied Epochs. Source seems to be Allied Epochs, so Dad and I are headed there. No idea who's going to handle it at Alvirin's end. Apparently, our friends in the manta ships have lodged formal complaints against us at AE court. Avoid anyone official."
There is a notices from the house computer about a package from "Bo and Kari," two young ladies of Dafnord's acquaintance.
There is a message that, from the look of it, is a registered letter from one "D. Kincaidh." Dafnord decides not to open it just now, in case it's a summons or something.
There is a message from the Ipsylvanian KaiSenese Consulate (not, interestingly, the embassy in Pericles). It's registered, too. He doesn't open it.
There's the renewal notice for his Amazon Kendo Queens Fan club Newsletter. This receives the prompt attention it deserves.
There are notices from visitors who insisted that the house computer records their visits:
One is a video clip of someone introducing himself as one Donal Kincaidh, recorded about one and a quarter days ago. It's his third visit. He says it's urgent. There's someone standing behind him that we can't see clearly.
One is a video clip of two high elves (about as tall as Dafnord but not as wide). We know them: Lumetar and Eldamonion -- "Time Lord" and "the Elf-Hill Man," Alvirin's flunkies in charge of keeping the arcane and the mundane safely separate and thus avoiding the displeasure of the Powers; they don't like us, nor we them. (See Destine log 87, "We Need To Get Better Locks.") The computer records a short encounter of deep mutual incomprehension between them and the Two Young Dinosaurs In Love.
After plowing through this and sharing it over the telepathy net, Dafnord goes upstairs to the study, where the package from Bo and Kari is waiting for him on the mantelpiece. This presently paranoid house let it in, so presumably it doesn't tick ominously or anything...
The box is small, palm-sized. It comes with a letter in florid pink ink. It contains an old-fashioned flat photo of two pretty, zaftig young ladies in bikinis and says, "Having a wonderful time here on North Beach. Thought you might like some souvenir shells. Love, Bo & Kari."
But he met Bo & Kari on South Beach; there is no North Beach...
He opens the package, which contains two pretty shells. When he picks one up, he hears a mental voice, Daewen's, say, "Sorry, dear. Had to be sure you'd open the box. It's actually me. If the environment's safe, think, 'It's safe.'"
Reflecting on how very seldom Daewen actually uses telepathy, he thinks, "It's safe." A nearby wall looks a little blurry and Daewen steps out of it. She smiles, takes a double ring off her hand and pulls the two component rings apart. "Now that we have some good wards, we can talk," she says.
She amplifies: We seem to have diplomatic problems. We can't put it together, in part because our best mobile agents aren't here. Tom and the Metaphor have disappeared, for one. No one's heard from Ashleigh lately. And an antique dealer in southern France sold a 5000-year-old bust of Chekhov to a dealer in Tighmark, who sent it back to us. This explains why, three times in the last 3000 years, Daewen's had indications that Alag is taking the Long Walk Home. (The bust is, or was, the helm computer to the magical pantope "Fast Times." Alag often uses/used that pantope. The Long Walk is that kind of time-traveling we are all familiar with, into the future, at the rate of 24 hours a day.)
Allied Epochs has interdicted us for the next 25 years -- no time-travel into or out of that period -- pending the hearing. At ... "some time" ... Allied Epochs agents and apparently unwilling KaiSenese liaisons started showing up at portals to places like Avalon, Atlantis, and Tighmark, demanding to speak with us. (!!!) This gave Alvirin fits, and we don't wonder. He has sent Lumetar around (with Eldamonion), saying that all gates to Faerie are closed to us. Atlantis and Avalon have followed suit. Their gate on the Riviera has been shut down. Tighmark has gone silent, too, reluctantly, after passing us the bust of Chekhov and whatever other hints they could. We haven't heard from Oz and don't know how to contact them.
Lumetar and Eldamonion showed up at the manufacturing site of Eldacur Technologies (which is in a Faerie protectorate) and shut it down. This at least stopped the Allied Epochs agent from serving his writ and subpoena.
Now, being very monarchical, Alvirin is angry at Daewen in particular more than Lanthil in general. So she's very visibly stepped down and turned her place on the Silver Council over to Jonathan, widely known to be one of her least-favorite council members, which is a "good" thing under the diplomatic circumstances. She plans to go off in an apparent huff and set up housekeeping with Melusine on an extended vacation, to have a baby. (We've met the baby -- Runyanna -- about 30 years from now, and don't blink.)
Patala, the realm of the dragons, is still open to us. For all the good that does. We can reach only low-level ministers, who have been talking in very huffy ways about The Plan -- the one execute by The Powers -- and broadly hinting that they want to not know about anything arcane going on in the mundane realm. ("Don't make me come down there!")
Daewen really wants to know what has happened to the pantopes.
She has some hope that J. T. and Puck will be able to do some diplomatic good in Faerie, since they were in the Diplomacy Groves when all this happened. (None of the party actually knows who J. T. is, but suspect he's the fellow they saw with Puck last time they were near Elvencrown.) Aelvenstar has gone looking for Alag, witchwalking around in a likely 750-year-wide patch of history on Earth. That leaves someone to go after Tom. Guess who looks elected.
Dafnord asks what we should do about the Munch, currently parked out back. Oh, yes, Daewen recalls that Kincaidh wanted full technical readouts on it. It's from fifty years in the future. Probably not good. For that matter, it turns out that the basis of the manta ships' complaint is that the Jack B. and Johnny B. used anachronistic technology against them. (They did stow the secret fighters and their crews in hidden miniaturization zones.)
We decide to go to Lanthil, to help look for Tom and remove ourselves from unwanted attention. We'll leave the ship's keys with the Blenari and sent to Jumping Jacks, telling them about this and about their two lieutenants and their fighter.
Tell the robots to stop unpacking.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.