Week 4, In the Helene capital
We left our heroes living upstairs from a karate studio run by Lorelei, in the capital city of Ipsylvania, on Helene, in the year 2745, plus a bit sideways. One evening, Tom comes home from teaching an evening class in Mnemonics at the community college and is hailed by Chris and Sophie. They ask him to step into the pantope (parked behind the door of a spurious kitchen closet) for a conference.
They would like Tom to pilot the pantope to Boston, 1872, home time line. Nate has been through about a week of time since Sophie and Pfusand brought him back to semi-consciousness. He is now reasonably lucid and has expressed a desire to go home, to Boston. This sounds like a good idea to Tom, so he steps up to the helm and disconnects the pantope from Helene. He then reconnects to the last set of coordinates he recalls from 1872, which was in the neighborhood of Hong Kong, shortly before we all died.
Not wishing to run into Nyuyen Cat again, Tom quickly takes the pantope window up to orbital altitude, then around to the western hemisphere. Now comes the tricky bit, trying to land in Boston. Tom fiddles the window for a better angle of view and--
--accidentally opens the window on hard vacuum. He and Sophie go sailing out into the void, but Chris manages to hang onto the helm. Sophie discovers that in space, no one can hear you scream. Once most of the air leaves the bridge and the doors close automatically, Chris is no longer in danger of being blown away -- just suffocating, which takes more time. He uses this time to pull Sophie back.
Tom tries to use the same time to kick in his TK and fly back to the door. Just as he succeeds, Chris starts to reel him in. As a result, Tom lands with a solid thump on the back wall of the bridge and, back in the artificial gravity, falls to the deck stunned.
Now that he's got everyone back on board, Chris searches frantically through the control panel for the button to disconnect the door. After a quick consultation with Tom (by telepathy, since there's no air), he finds the button and disconnects.
Great. We are no longer open on vacuum; we are safely sealed in an evacuated chamber. Chris tries shouting for the Serving System to open the inner doors, hoping it can lip-read. Sophie tries to make telepathic contact with it. Tom gets to his feet, presses his head to the helm, and tries verbal orders hoping it can hear him through bone conduction. (He still has some shreds of air left in his lungs.) All of this appears to fail, so he taps frantically on the panel proper, to open the doors. They open ... and reveal solid wall. It appears the bridge has fallen off of the pantope architecture system.
Tom stares at the blank for a few seconds, wondering if this is the proverbial It, again, then is knocked over by the wind. And there is Victoria at the helm of the auxiliary bridge, where the adjoining lab ought to be. Tom, Sophie, and Chris get their breaths back, then thank Victoria profusely. It appears that the Serving System was aware of their problem but unable to reach them. It therefore called for Victoria and coached her through the moves.
They all three have vicious multiple headaches and raw throats, but decide to try again for Boston before they lose their nerve. This time, Tom kicks in his Total Recall of the last time he landed in Boston, in 2750 of an alternate time line, and adds Hysterical Agility for good measure. The window descends safely into early Victorian Dedham. Sophie recognizes it. We follow a road to the Charles and reach Brookline, which we decide is close enough.
Going into sickbay, we find Nate in a reasonable state of lucidity. The autodoc chides us for delaying and starts fixing up minor lung damage. Tom says goodbye, then returns to the bridge. Chris tactfully leaves Nate and Sophie alone and fetches an inordinate quantity of gold jewelry from Wardrobe, to finance Nate in his future career -- conscience money, you might call it. Soon, Nate steps out of the door, into the Brookline back alley where we were parked. He doesn't look back.
Tom sighs and returns the pantope to Ipsylvania, 2745. They disembark and Pfusand notices the pensive looks. "How's Nate?"
"Gone. We returned him to Boston, 1872. Well, Brookline, really, but Sophie says that's nearby."
"But Brooklyn is in NewYork."
"... ... Uh-oh."
Sometime in the next six months, they get this sorted out. Also, in the next six months, we work on several long-term projects. Most of us become reasonably fluent in Ipsylvanian and the planet-wide Hellenic Patois, the latter being another member of the far-flung English family of languages.
Tom finds that psychics are regarded with emotions ranging from indifference (in the Hellenic States) to fear and loathing (in Gorslavia) but nowhere on Helene are they regarded with enthusiasm. He puts off applying for psi-openers.
We start working on getting a spaceship. Actually, we already have the spaceship; the trick is to explain where we got it. We have two small shuttle craft in a hanger in the pantope, but they are 300th-century craft and don't look much like the cruder 28th-century ships. Da╬wen and the pantope robots begin working on one, to make it over cosmetically. The shuttle has a fair bit of on-board intelligence and some self-repair ability, and so can help with the process.
Meanwhile, we look over various places on Helene for a nation with convenient salvage laws, so we can "find" the shuttle and claim it. We settle on the Great Archipelago. Once we're ready, we open the shuttle hangers far up in Helene's atmosphere and Da╬wen (who has been practicing with the shuttle) dives it down sharply into the territorial waters of the Great Archipelago. Once under water, she fires the blasters to create a convincing explosion. On cue, the shuttle, still completely unharmed, sucks in its hull to simulate convincing damage. Tom then gates Da╬wen back to the pantope and thence to the rental yacht where the rest of the crew "just happened" to be deep-sea fishing when this mysterious UFO crashed a few hundred meters away.
We take the yacht to shore right away and Sophie and Cantrel immediately seek out a claims office. The locals naturally insist on an inspection. Among other things, they want to evaluate the "derelict" to see how much to tax us for it. They look it over, conclude that it might be an empty, crashed life boat or shuttle from an out-system pirate craft, and ask Cantrel what he thinks it's worth. He suggests ór.175,000 (credits). They suggest ór.300,000, which is still fantastically lower than its real value. They want ór.60,000 in taxes for it.
We have anticipated this, though not the exact price. The pantope also has a large "stable" full of robot beasts. One of these is a realistic pegasus. We have spent part of the six months degrading its technology to a believable level and put it on the shuttle to be "discovered." Cantrel proposes to the Archipelagans that he sell the robot pegasus to raise the taxes; they agree.
We have picked Limnus, a border state between Ipsylvanian and the Hellenic States, as the best place to sell it. It has a Greek-based culture but the same deliberate low-tech level as Ipsylvania. This, we figure, should make them suckers for anything as neat and Greek as a real live (or life-like) pegasus. Chris buys advertising space in their media and Cantrel (who has learned how to fly real flying horses in another world) flies it into a sea-side fair, for a tremendous blaze of publicity. We soon have an impromptu auction going, between several local collectors and a young man from the Hellenic States who runs an up-and-coming media business that uses a pegasus for its logo. It goes to the media mogul for ór.90,000. Cantrel gets another ór.5000 to train one of the tycoon's employees in how to fly it.
We pay off the ór.60,000 taxes, take the rest of the ór.35,000, and plow it back into "Jumping Jacks, Inc.," the company we build around our new-found ship. We all move to New Athens, in the Hellenic States, where the high-tech is, take permanent residence, and rent a warehouse where we can work on "repairing" the ship. Lorelei opens a new karate studio and Tom starts picking up psionic physics as he helps Da╬wen with the ship, now named the "Jumping Jack." Eventually, we announce that it is working and exchange our rented warehouse for a rented hanger at the New Athens spaceport.
By now, three months have passed since we faked the salvage. Victoria has showed up and laid herself a paper trail, claiming to be from the British-based nation of Albion. Jumping Jacks, Inc. sets up as an in-system trade company and bonded courier service, making runs between Helene and its major moon, Athena, with occasional runs to other planets in the system. We hire our own bonded couriers and Lorelei and Victoria train them in karate. Da╬wen uses the profits to buy the latest in ray-guns, together with permits.
By the way, the ship gives us a perfect excuse to get psi-openers. The urban psilence system is so heavy-duty here, it interferes with mechanical psionics as well as living psychic powers. Like any contemporary spacecraft, the "Jumping Jack" uses psionics to run, and so needs its own psi-opener. So do its engineers if they are to work on it.
After three more months of running the trade and courier service, Da╬wen and Tom "discover" that the strange, out-system engine on their ship has a star drive. One fine night, Da╬wen blows the roof off our hanger, enhancing the fireworks with Glamour, Alag and Chris assisting. When the fire department and the port authority come to investigate, Da╬wen and Tom come staggering out of the hanger, smudged with soot and trailing smoke and Disney-dust, but smiling because of their "discovery."
The port authority is truly astonished. A starship? The size of a pickup truck?! Oh well... We get our exit visas stamped and Tom applies for an astrogator's license. This is a little complicated, however. You see, none of us really has to fly this ship; it's smart enough to take orders, and the rest is done with a simple steering yoke. That would never convince the local authorities. So we fake up a control panel. Tom is a lousy actor, so we choose our best actor, Cantrel, and Da╬wen casts a Glamour on him to make him look like Tom. Cantrel takes the astrogator's test for Tom, the ship does the actual astrogation for Cantrel, and in this highly dishonest way Tom obtains his license.
It is now 2746 and we've been on and around Helene for rather more than a year. Leaving our business in the hands of a good accountant and our bonded couriers to take the commercial spaceflights, we are going to head out to that space station, to look the place over, theoretically to feel out the business prospects. (The space station is, after all, a trading post.)
But how to take the pantope with us? We can't just hang a door in it, because it'll be jumping in and out of hyperdrive. Also, we'd want to keep the door in the hold, which is an odd sort of hold, being bigger on the inside than the outside (a fact carefully concealed from the inspectors on Helene). Between these two complications, the connection probably wouldn't hold up.
So we take the pantope out of self-containment for the first time. It is no longer located in its own garden. Instead, it is in the hold of its own shuttle, on a miniature scale, about a meter wide. It goes in and out of hyperdrive with us, which simplifies the mechanics of the door.
In effect, the pantope is now wearing its shuttle as a disguise. Armed with this and a realistic set of antecedents on Helene, we're heading out.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.