Week 16, On Board the Pantope
Our heroes just arrived, panting and trembling, back in the pantope. At Pfusand's order, it disconnected from Middle Earth and we are now as safe as we are likely to be in the foreseeable future.
We have also taken a prisoner, one of the guards who was shooting at us. Dr. Wu gave him a telepathic interrogation and uncovered the following:
Routines got disrupted, odd things started happening, and there was lots of activity a short while back, when someone came in from Gwennedd. It was, in fact, the friar that the party discovered puttering around the scene of our first big shoot-out with worldbender guards. (It seems this friar was a roving plot-inspector. Probably we should have killed him, but even that would have been noticed. They noticed, for instance, when the first-level plot supervisor vanished. The supervisor was the one who teleported into the room at the inn and got blown away.) From that point on, they were trying to locate us.
So far, we have only dealt with lower-level management. That's why we haven't had more thrown at us. And lower-level management was at some pains to hide their problems from their superiors. (Remember the teleport operator with orders to block the incoming dignitaries?)
Worldbenders don't generally travel back in time within the history of a particular work force. There are a few hundred worldbender staff on this planet, and a greatly fluctuating number of clients.
The guard has never heard of diadems or of plans to make worldbenders inevitable. He knows only that temporal theory they taught him at boot camp. ("This is your worldline. Your worldline is your friend. Don't mess with it.")
This guard doesn't think much on politics. But we find traces of a typically imperialist cant -- spreading civilization (their brand) through reality, the worldbenders' burden, deeply rooted contempt for the contemporaries/natives whom the worldbenders are, of course, really helping.... Some things never change, even after 100,000 years of political history.
We put the guard in stasis.
Pfusand, it turns out, sustained some brain damage when we cut her psi-cuffs. The autodoc starts the brain tissue regenerating, but it will take re-training for her to learn to use it again.
Tom resumed his old Eo-human gene code and dropped the Deryni powers to take back his technical abilities. As he lay down on the operating table, he asked the autodoc to give him the psychic Knack of Tools if possible. (The player knew darn well it was possible, but Tom as lusted after that power ever since he heard of it.) He got it. He plans to use Tools, together with the mnemonic skill of Total Recall to learn whatever tool-using skills he can. He very much disliked being powerless back at Worldbender Branch HQ.
Remember the cartoon chicken who boarded the pantope with us? Mr. Cogswell? He turned into an avian extraterrestrial and was put in stasis to keep him out of trouble while we got INTO trouble in Gwennedd. We un-stassed him and he desires to join the party (having no other context to fit himself into, unless he wants to become a cartoon again). We are glad enough to have him, but insist on his going through enough cosmetic surgery to pass for human when clothed. This entails removing some extra fingers, the spurs on the heels, and the rudimentary tail.
Now what are we to do? We discussed various plans, falling into two groups: ways to stay here and remedy the situation, or ways to go elsewhere and look for help. Might we, for instance, hunt the Gwennedd piece in the four-and-a half months between the time we broke out of prison and the time we popped in on Middle Earth? Might we fall back even further, before our first arrival? How about looking up the original Rhodri, or Alior Nus, or Allied Epochs, or the Lone Ranger or somebody like that? Could we go somewhere and get the pantope fixed? Or the Captain cured? Or his robot assistant, #1? What is the nature of the catastrophe we are trying to prevent?
We decide to put these questions to #1, along with some others. We loaded them into the Serving System, along with a progress report, and have the System activate #1 and load the report in at high speed, The reason for this is that #1 is damaged and degrades himself by operating. We don't want him to operate any longer than necessary.
He blasted back his answers:
If the worldbenders get the diadem and get to play with impunity in their past, all Chaos will be out for noon, he tells us. Through wide stretches of human history including ours. How do you like that for motivation?
He doesn't recognize Wu's new face, and hence does not know the original Rhodri.
He doesn't think WE can do much with half a diadem, though other, more sophisticated psychics, might.
He has no good hints on where to run for help. We could find Allied Epochs easily enough in a 3000-year stretch of history, but they wouldn't take kindly to an invasion from the future. The Captain has enemies waiting for him at home, both contemporary and worldbender, so that's not a great idea. #1's home wouldn't be much use in repairing him, or for anything else, being a planet full of sentient machines, "and very dull ones at that!" he says. We might try fishing around in time looking for Rhodri Mark One. Locating Alior Nus, the other pantope pilot, is one of those things the Captain does by leaps of intuition that baffle #1.
As to combining Knack of Tools and Total Recall to pick up ultra-tech skills, #1 would never try that ... but he thinks the Captain might. #1 could not give Tom -- or any other organic -- a usable telepathic download of skill. The Captain could, but he is very close to death, so we are reluctant to un-stass him.
Fixing the pantope would be very expensive. Like, they'd want the pantope in payment.
Okay, well, thanks, #1. Nighty-night and sweet batch processing.
We settle on the following plan: we will fall back a century or so in Gwennedd history and make spot checks until we find that the diadem segment has arrived. We will then go get it (easily said!) and bring it forward in time, cracking open the pantope door so as to give the vague readings we in fact detected earlier. We HAVE to do that, because we DID get readings.
The Serving System thought that plan sounded workable, but suggested a refinement -- smoke-screen our earlier selves by using the diadem segments we already have. That way, we won't buck the odds so badly as we would if we FIRST had to get the segment and THEN deceive our past selves. It would be so much simpler for Fate to simply have us fail to get the segment.
To lay down the smoke screen you open the pantope on Gwennedd but with a difference in time rates. If pantope time is running slow relative to Gwennedd, we will leave a vague trail for the diadem detector.
We decided to take NO ultra-tech with us this time. (Are you listening, Aphron?) Tom manufactured several dart-throwing crossbow pistols for use by people such as himself, who no longer have swordsmanship. Cantrel stole all the disflorgers and hid them from Aphron. Tom and Dr. Wu discovered this, but kept quiet about it.
Victoria insisted that everyone disguise themselves for this new adventure. So it's back to the autodoc for plastic surgery and cosmetic mutation. She and Cantrel came out looking like brother and sister -- he took her coloring, she adopted some of his facial contours -- and that is how they will travel. Tom is now brown-haired, Roman-nosed, and bearded, and Dr. Wu has become the Complete Caucasian Non-Entity, as forgettable as possible. But Victoria is now more ravishing than ever. She probably turned Deryni or Shielded Human. Other folk change in various ways.
Since Tom has no telepathic shields now, he had Aphron and Wu set up his memory system so that they can quickly block and restore his out-world memories. Dr. Wu used the diadem as a trance focus for this and found it very effective (not to say awe-inspiring). But straight magical probes on the diadem produced nothing concrete, beyond a feeling of shattering power. Even the recorded(?) message from Rhodri 1 seems to be breaking up.
We spent five weeks training each other in various skills, then Tom sets up the omniport on the bridge to open with slow ship-time. Next, we try STEERING this demented device.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.