When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
Week 4, Poking Around and Outliing Fort
We left our heroes preparing for a psi-free penetration of the saurian civilization of the late Cretaceous. (Correction to the last log: our heroes spent only two weeks on the pantope, not four.) Tom has produced six Glass Daggers and Daewen has manufactured a "far-seer," a monologue device something like a telescope and something like mechanical clairvoyance. At Chris's suggestion, we decide to test these devices back at the (unstaffed, we hope) fortress on the Kentucky shores of the Kansas Sea.
Alag, Daewen, and Jonathan step out at our old campsite, about 25 miles down the beach, while Tom and Lorelei toss four Glass Daggers out a door fifty miles up and then take out the shuttle. The three humans steer the Daggers while Daewen controls the far-seer. The Daggers come to a controlled descent a couple of meters above the ground and Daewen manages to get the focus of the far-seer somewhere in the same area.
Fort Dinosaur looks different up close. The stone doesn't appear CARVED from native rock, but rather CAST from it, like concrete. There's a lot of wood in the construction. The Glass Daggers, it turns out, show up on the far-seer screen (if you have elvish infrared vision); Tom makes a note to widen the invisibility spectrum in the next revision.
Daewen finds a room with lots of interesting junk in it. Unfortunately, the door is locked, so the Daggers can't get in. Daewen X-rays the lock, an eight-inch box with rivets, and finds it contains some crude moving parts and some not-so-crude crystalline parts -- gently glowing. She invites Alag's professional opinion. He can't make complete sense of it, but thinks the lock could be opened from the inside.
Meanwhile, Tom has determined that the window could probably be opened with a shim. He sends a pair of Daggers, one with a grab, one with a laser, down to the beech, and cuts up a mussel shell to produce the shim. A few tricky minutes later, the window is open and the Daggers can wander in and out.
The furniture is, of course, odd. People with heavy tails don't do chairs, for one thing -- rather, stools, Roman-style couches, and mats. And lots of room on the floor to swing them tails. Also, the saurians appear to prefer levers and latches to twistable knobs and dials. This suggests their wrists may be less mobile than ours.
The real eye-catcher is the bank of glassy screens. These make it fairly clear this is a communications room. The screens are interspersed with the multi-faceted crystals and other incomprehensible junk, like what appears to be an indoor weather-vane and a goblet or large egg-cup bolted into a table.
About then, a saurian air-boat comes in sight of one of the outpost Daggers. We all start to scramble, but the "air-boat" turns out to be just a very large pterosaur -- Quetzalcoatlus or its kin. So maybe we haven't tripped the burglar alarms yet.
Looking back in the communications (?) room, Tom notes that there's a fair bit of metal in use, yellow and white. The yellow metals look like ordinary copper and brass. The white metal is too bright to be steel, nor does it look quite like silver or aluminum, having a touch of iridescence. Tom suggests that perhaps the saurians' psi is upset by iron, rather the way some elvish magic is antipathetic to iron. Daewen finds the idea plausible (in between High Elven curses of great profanity, obscurity and elegance, occasioned by losing control of the focus on the far-seer).
The humans send their Daggers wandering through the fortress. Tom finds a chamber he thinks is someone's personal room, though he'd be hard pressed to say what gives that impression. Where we'd use a set of drawers, there is a set of shelves laden with folded cloth. There's also a leather strap bearing three faceted crystals and inlays of the iridescent white metal. We discuss the possibility of stealing it. We decide not to.
Meanwhile, Lorelei notices we haven't seen anything like writing or pictures, except for a little bas-relief carving.
The next interesting room we find is full of shelves, each shelf bearing a large number of crystal balls -- faceted or smooth, clear or colored, in a wide range of sizes, from large marble to softball. Also in the room are saurian "chairs" and metal tripods. These continue the three prongs upward, and we note that any ball could slide down between the prongs and be conveniently held.
We decide to steal a representative-looking ball. Tom selects one about the size of a cue-ball, foggy pink in color (rose quartz?), and manages to pop it out of the hole in its shelf and into the hatch of one Glass Dagger. Jonathan then takes control of the Dagger and steers it up to the shuttle, for Lorelei and Tom to collect.
We run across the kitchen and verify that the saurians are at least carnivorous (we find dried meat) and perhaps omnivorous. They also store spices and many kinds of "salts" (?). There are some steel and iron bits among the kitchen implements, but mostly its brass and pewter. None of that bright stuff. No recipe books. The only paper we find holds twists of herbs.
Daewen reminds us that there is another building on the premises, a small outbuilding of some kind. She is able to focus into it and finds a white- smithy, containing many ingots of that shiny metal, along with drawers full of crystal balls and large marbles. Unfortunately, there are no entrances the Daggers can use.
Discussing the issue again, we decide to steal that leather strap and look it over. It'll have to be genuine theft, since we daren't put it back; we might be leaving psi-prints all over it without knowing it and without knowing how to erase them. We also decide to open a pantope door into the smithy, just long enough for Pfusand to reach in and grab a shiny ingot.
Once we have all our personnel and booty back on the pantope, Daewen analyzes the ingot. It's iridium....
There is a long pause during which we all realize the saurians have an iridium-based psionic technology. So perhaps the Earth WON'T be struck by an asteroid full of iridium after all; perhaps the iridium layer is the saurian equivalent of the layer of aluminum and Chlorox (tm) bottles laid down by the 20th century. But doesn't the layer look rather as if all the iridium tools DISINTEGRATED? Hmm.
Turning to the worked artifacts, Jonathan immediately notes that they are quite active psychically. In fact, the tone of the enchantment is similar to the general background glitter he felt when we arrive here. Saurian version of 60 Hz hum.
Lorelei picks up the pink ball and probes at it. Her eyes cross slightly as she receives a massive telepathic dump of ... the life story of a psychotic rutabaga, or something equally off the wall and alien. The effect is kaleidoscopic, fascinating. The ball seems half sentient. Is this thing a book? If so, what's it about? Better still, how do you turn it off?
Lorelei pulls out, to find her shipmates standing around looking worried. She'd been engrossed in the crystal for fifteen minutes. We were going to give her another fifteen, then see what the autodoc could do.
Cautiously, she tries scrying the thing. She gets semi-distant impressions of its history, but finds it hard to form a clear idea of the magnitude or quality of the emotions that have happened around it. She casts her ID Magic skill that she learned back in Hreme, and finds the flavor is new and very different. She thinks she can distinguish the general "school" of magic used from the individual "signature" of the caster, but that's about it, nor can she name the school.
Gingerly, Tom picks the thing up and tries Tools on it. He wakes up in the autodoc, having stayed motionless past the half-hour limit. (Tom asks the autodoc what it had to do to revive him. The answer is confusing, but seems to be the neural equivalent to a re-boot. In the field, we might be able to substitute a cosh on the head.)
Tom has dim memories of being telepathically overwhelmed, but even Total Recall doesn't bring back anything more useful.
Chris observed that when Tom used Tools on the thing, he went on to use telepathy and "address" it in some manner, on a subverbal level.
Jonathan looks the ball over and tries to feel a Presence in it. Not entirely. It's telepathically active, but not, it appears, aware. We hope.
Sophie noted that the telepathy she saw go by was broadband, on several levels at once, and that the "empathic" band hardly deserved the name, so alien were the unnamable emotions going by.
Lorelei "Try anything at least twice" MacHerron then picks up the leather collar with the crystals and iridium inlay, and probes THAT. Tom winces. However, nothing mind-boggling happens, except that she probes much more deeply into it that she expected. It sort of sucked the probing in. She feels around and comes to the conclusion that this is some sort of ESP-assister, like an ampsi or something. There are spells and patterns and such, shivering around in there.
She puts it on her head and scrys it. There is a strong, unnamable emotion associated with it. Exhilarating, with some negative components, like the trace, she suggests, you would find on a gun used by a small boy to hunt larks. It IS a pity to shoot a lark, but they are certainly challenging targets.
Tom suggests he try Tools on it. Lorelei suggests that, in view of the negative timbre to the emotional history, he try it somewhere safe and isolated.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.