Week 2, Finding some History
We left our heroes with the pantope window parked in Boston Common, in the 28th century. Chris has a date to go sight-seeing with Juanita tomorrow, and Tom plans to go to the public library and bone up and this time-line's history. But Chris would like a little pocket change, and some spare money sounds like a good idea for other reasons. Therefore, we decided to visit a pawnshop.
Our first try is for Chicago a week ago. Backing up a week is easy, but the suborbital flight isn't, so we settle for parking the door on the wall of an alleyway in Philadelphia. Sophie then gets together with the Wardrobe robot and runs off several gold and silver necklaces in, of course, antique patterns. Equipped with these, Sophie, Chris, and Lorelei step out and start asking passers-by for directions to the nearest pawn shop. They find that these are still marked by the traditional three balls over the door.
Sophie pauses outside to look at the prices of items in the window. She estimates that her necklaces ought to be worth a few dozen credits. Inside, the pawnbroker offers 50, but they haggle him up to 55. He asks for their banking card and is surprised when they want cash. But he provides it, all in coins.
They now turn to shopping. The only weapons for sale are some unexceptional daggers, but Lorelei spots some old schoolbooks and picks up a sociology text. The trio returns to the pantope, where Tom is delighted at the textbook. The Serving System examines the coins with an eye to making counterfeits. It is 75% sure that it can fake a large number of 10- and 2-credit pieces, 50% sure it could fake 5-credit pieces. More samples would help.
Accordingly, we steer the pantope to Baltimore, land in Druid Hill Park, and send Lorelei, Sophie and Chris out for a repeat performance. After some wandering, they find a pawnshop down near the waterfront and sell three necklaces for 60 credits. This pawnbroker is also surprised at the request for cash, but supplies it. Browsing through the old books, they find a world history text and snatch it up. They also buy a newspaper on their way back to the pantope. It supplies current events and some more coins in change for the Serving System.
The Serving System goes up to 90% on its ability to fake 10- and 2-credit coins. We flip back to Boston next week, and, while Chris goes out on his date with Juanita, Tom settles down to reading the history text. This, together with the raid on the library, reveals the following background data:
As in the home time-line, World War Three was a long, exhausting, and largely non-nuclear affair fought between the industrialized powers and the Third World. Afterward, there was a World Authority analogous to our own United Earth, but it was unstable and 40 years later split into three big power blocs: the Asian bloc led by Russia, Japan, and China, the Western bloc, led by North America and Europe, and the Third World bloc.
These three blocs engaged in competitive colonization in the Solar System, then, after hyperdrive, on an interstellar scale. The principle interstellar colonists were the Western bloc and Russia. Japan and China did not colonize much but became more influential back on Earth.
As the colonists followed a vein of promising stars galactic east, they did NOT run into the Ecumene discovered back on our line, or the powerful race-mind KaiSen. Instead, they found open space, which they colonized, and some alien races, including a race-mind they dubbed "Hinthego," a creature not nearly as influential as KaiSen, and in a part of the galaxy unexplored in Tom's time. (But then, they don't seem to have explored KaiSen's area on this line.)
By this time, the humans had contacted several races of extraterrestrials, some familiar to Tom, some not, but all known to Daewen. It would seem that both time lines have the same intelligent species, developing in different directions and rates.
The human colonies are likewise partly familiar and partly not. There are two colony worlds in the Alpha Centauri system (though one lives mostly under airtight domes). There is a colony of Helene, full of different ethnic and national groups, just like at home. The world of Capek is settled, but given a different name. And so forth. Daewen recommends this version of Helene as a good place for us to "come from." It has backwoods sections, or will if it resembles her version of it, where you'd expect to find people without a long paper trail behind them.
Tom is surprised to discover they had an interstellar war, between humans, over colonial independence, and Earth powers trying to grab each other's colonies, and colonies trying to grab Earth, etc. After the war, the CoDominion formed. It owns Earth. It also leads a loose interstellar federation of colonies.
This federation then fought ANOTHER war against an alien race, the Tarken. These are humanoid creatures with stalked eyes. Tom never heard of them, but we saw one walking around Boston Common. The Tarken war was long ago and they're no longer enemies. Along with eight or nine other races and the human CoDominion, they form a loose interstellar council. Almost all of them, Daewen notes, are roughly humanoid -- erect bimanual bipeds.
Compare this with the 1000 known races of the Ecumene, half of them starfaring, few of them humanoid. Galactic history has taken a very different turn here. Perhaps its because the Ecumene hasn't formed (for any of a number of possible reasons) leaving humanity to become the dominant race and to explore a rather different hunk of space.
After the Tarken War, at about the same time as our Psi War in the late 24th century, the CoDominion had the Psi Tech War. People discovered psionic physics and how to unleash human psychic powers. Various warlords appeared on Earth and the colony worlds and tried to seize power. The CoDominion moved fast and hard (unlike the decadent and luckless United Earth back home). They invented psilencers -- great big, massive ones capable of blanketing a whole city. And that's what they did with them. All urban areas throughout the federation are under massive silence.
Perhaps as a result of this, federation culture puts a high value on privacy, having a strong bias against telepathy and clairvoyance. Psychic powers are not criminal, but they are much rarer here than at home, the technology of psi-openers is kept secret from the general public, and ownership of a psi-opener requires a license and a clean record, rather like a handgun in 20th-century America. (A psi-opener is a device for counteracting psilence.)
Here and there, Tom picks up other similarities to home: they have neo-human races and neo-beasts, though their rejuvenation technology lags behind ours. They have patharchy, though it is more popular in Asian cultures than in Western ones. They don't have a lot of independent, free-thinking robots, but they do have lots and lots of handy little dumb ones.
Sophie picks out some information from the Boston and Baltimore newspapers: By her standards, the "lower classes" have moved up scale a good bit and joined the middle. Many more people appear to belong to the professional classes. The obituaries show that these people lead mostly healthy lives and, if they don't have rejuvenation, they still live long and sometimes manage to reach 110 or 120. They appear to have at least as much political freedom as she was accustomed to find in the 1870s, though they might seem a bit stuffy to the 1908s players. The stuffiness level might be about the same as 1950s or early 1960s.
>From the news broadcasts and the newspaper, we learn that there is a new alien menace out on the frontiers. If and when the next interstellar war happens, it will be with them. "They" look like green, stump-tailed kangaroos with horse-like faces and skulls that bulge out behind to hold the brains that humans keep behind a forehead. Tom remarks that they look like big green Mota Banu. The Mota Banu are a herbivorous race known to humanity on Tom's line, and though they are civilized now, centuries ago they were a scourge to their neighbors, being warlike and ravening. We gather these creatures, dubbed "hellcows" in the press, have a similar problem. If the interstellar council is like Star Trek's Federation, the hellcows are like the Klingons; they build spaceships with no bathrooms, just to make themselves feel meaner.
And, as Tom discovers on the trip to the library, our frontier with the hellcows lies out there somewhere near that space station, where our segment is. Oh goodie.
The space station, by the way, orbits a rough sort of planet. It has high gravity and lots and lots of wind and weather. No humans would want to colonize it, but it's near the intersection of some trade routes, so they put up the space station as a service center and trading post. Now, since people are hanging around there, some scientific teams are investigating this uninviting planet.
Meanwhile, Chris has a day on the town with Juanita. He's the only one paying for things in cash. At one point, Juanita asks him about his religion. (It seems some folk don't hold with credit cards. Chris says he's just old- fashioned.) There is not, as we feared, a single universal banking card. Instead, there is a bewildering variety of them, with all manner of services and options.
Chris decides to probe for a little non-monetary information. "Ever hear of Allied Epochs?" he asks. "No," replies Juanita innocently, "is it a big company?" "It's a bookstore," he says, and changes the subject. Actually, it is the name for the Time Patrol back home. Their beat covers the 21st century on up to sometime before the pantope's origin date. They are very secretive, but it was through them that Chris found himself vacationing so far away from his native 31st century.
He comes back in the late afternoon, and we decide to go take a look at this uninviting planet where our segment is probably hidden. we jump to the coordinates we came in on, then scan for signs of settlement on the planet's surface. Finding them, we take the window down. Masses of clouds sweep over flat lands with a wider horizon than you have ever seen. There is a walled camp of reinforced buildings, bearing the emblem of the CoDominion (interlocking maps of the eastern and western hemispheres).
As we watch, two figures walk from one building to another. One is a man wrapped in foul-weather gear. The other is short, stocky, flat-headed, and green -- a Kishaer. It isn't dressed nearly as heavily and doesn't seem to mind the storm.
Moving the window away, we come to some earthmoving equipment in the act of excavating ruins. How intriguing! Tom decides it would be worth while stepping out and scanning with the diadem detector. He parks the door behind a hill, puts on some rain gear, steps out and...
...picks himself up several yards from the door. That wind is STRONG! Also, the higher gravity sort of sucks you out of the door. Tom recalls the city- sized psilencers these people use and decides to try the ether, to see if he's outside the range of the camp's psilencer. He vibes no psilence but massive distortion fit to put your aura on edge. He reflects sadly that this might be what passes for open psi in this continuum. The diadem detector glows brightly but still shows no directions. Tom drags himself back to the door, struggles out of the high gravity, and tells the Serving System to set up a gravity lock on the door, to ease passengers in and out of odd gravities more gently.
Daewen remarks that Tom's landing on the giant planet was remarkably smooth, so he commits it to Total Recall. She also says that the psi coefficient was different in that planet's gravity field. Tom replied that, since we noticed the distortion was lighter far away from here, he suspects psi changes with gravity in this universe.
Next stop, Helene. There, we will come tramping in from the back woods, looking for bright lights and credit cards in the big cities. Daewen takes the helm and lands us in the Great Forest, somewhere on one of Helene's many small continents. She then helps Sophie with costuming. We have our choice of three designs -- grubby peasant homespun, gaudy Bavarian gypsy/peasant style, or a sort of "basic time-traveler" style consisting of slacks and a light, loose shirt with long sleeves gathered at the cuffs. Most of us choose this. Daewen then makes up back packs for us and we go poking around outside, in the woods.
Tom is surprised to find that psi works fine. No distortion. There is only the slightest different feel to the vibes in this place. This is the first time we have been BOTH away from a city AND away from that planet, so it would appear there is massive psi distortion coming only from our target planet. It figures.
Daewen, meanwhile, explains that there should be a village nearby. The Great Forest contains several, though they move them from time to time for ecological reasons. We'll be able to earn money with any kind of skills, including low-tech ones, though we may find that our fellow woodchoppers have a media desk at home with cable, 3D TV, electronic mail, and Dolby sound.
We sniff around a little, then return to the pantope. We decide to give ourselves time to insinuate ourselves into this society. We will back up five years to 2745, in case there is a time limit on that segment out galactic east. We will then skip ahead when we feel we can, making our way from back woods to village to city to spaceport to starbase to, we hope, diadem segment.
So we dial up 2745 on the ol' Wayback Machine, scout out a village ten miles off, arrange with Victoria to meet her there, and start hiking through the Helene woods.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.