Week 9, Rescuing Children
We left our heroes entering the town of Brisbane in Westpod, near the ring- lake that divides the pod, roughly, into the half that belongs to the self-styled Prince Rashid Singh and the half that does not. We are accompanied by a lowlander soldier from Doncaster, who takes us to the place he thinks has the best beer.
We keep the beer coming while Chris quietly neutralizes most of the alcohol in all glasses but the soldier's and Gene's. (Gene's capacity is phenomenal.) Meanwhile, we pump the Doncastrian for the latest news about the Prince and his minions. The Prince claims some Moslem title or other -- odd, since there is no Moslem element to the Jack's culture. The minions are "spooky fellows" who stay on their side of the lake ... mostly ... so far. Rumors about their powers and appearance are so vague and varied that nothing more useful can be found out. Everyone expects a push across the lake eventually. On the far side, there has long been fighting in the city of Iridis, and some Doncastrians have gone there to help out.
The Melior town of Progress was recently evacuated in the face of hostile forces, and the refugees fled to the town of Biloxi. Biloxi is just on the other side of the lake from here, and expecting attack at any time.
Around now, we judge that the Doncastrian is about as full of beer and empty of news as we can manage. We send him on his way, have lunch, then make our way down the Joliet Highway to the Biloxi Bridge, which is guarded. We tell the guards that we are going to help the Biloxi resistance fighters. When we ask who to report to, we are told "Captain Sutter, or Augustus." Augustus is a Melior name; he is the leader of the Progress refugees.
On the far side of the bridge, another guard, an armed Melior, asks us our business. This time, we say we are going to Progress, looking for missing relatives of Cantrel (who, despite all the regenerations and cosmetic mutations he has been through, still looks mostly Melior). When the Melior guard presses us for details, Cantrel makes up the name "Josephus Bonifacius," a very nondescript Melior name.
The guard is puzzled, not having heard of a Bonifacius family, and insists on leading us to Augustus. On the way, we learn that the guard's name is Marcus and that they expect Biloxi to be attacked in two or three days.
Augustus is puzzled, too, since he thought he knew all the people in Progress (a small town of a few hundred). Cantrel allows as how these kindred (of an ailing and incoherent mother) might have lived NEAR Progress on an outlying farm. "Well," says Augustus, "there WAS Old Bonifacius up near the window lake, but he died 15 years ago." Cantrel asks after the names "Cantorius" and "Cantorus," and is told those sound like some families of Meliors living in other pods. (Probably Cantrel's own father and grandfather.)
In any case, we are free to go looking, but advised to watch out for escaped animals from the wilderness preserve. Tom takes the opportunity to suggest an alliance with the neo-gorillas, and Cantrel suggests that we might come back and help in the resistance fighting.
We leave Biloxi with forty minutes before sunout in which to get to Progress. Actually, we don't WANT to get to Progress; we're looking for the future (and possibly present) site of Jason Derrico's underground lab, where we may find traces of Waverly. (Remember Waverly?) We duck off onto a cart track that leads toward the woods.
A short way in, Tom hears a sniff. Stunner drawn, he approaches the bush whence came the sniff, only to find a small girl, about 5, eo-human in appearance, in considerable emotional distress. After a little cajoling and reassurance, she blubbers out an incoherent story about "Tomas," "Pierre," and "Genvieve," who are in trouble in a shed where the floor broke and Pierre isn't breathing well.
Lorelei picks the child up and quietly establishes a telepathic rapport. She passes the data to Alag, invisible and airborne as usual, who goes looking for this shed. She then hands the girl to Tom, who uses her as a Finding token and gets a direction fix on this "shed." Alag soon locates a 12'x12' shack of some sort. As he sends a Second Sight viewpoint down it, Cantrel comes sneaking up on the area; there is something funny here ... Ah! The ground feels flatter than it looks. Gravity is screwy, rather the way it was over a malfunctioning booster motor he encountered long ago in the future.
Alag, meanwhile, has found a lot of tunnels beneath the shack, with some hi-tech stuff that means little to an elf. At the bottom of a shaft, he finds three kids -- a girl of sixteen, a boy of thirteen, and a boy of three. The three-year-old is getting artificial respiration from the older children in turns. They all look badly knocked about.
Jake, who has been following Cantrel, is rather spooked by the vertiginous effects. Tom, coming up in turn, gives a hasty and largely incomprehensible explanation. He, Jake, and Lorelei constitute themselves a rescue party, leaving the little girl (Danielle) with the others.
As we ride the elevator down, we find gravity increasing abnormally, and changing direction. At the bottom, Tom struggles over to a control room while Jake and Lorelei investigate the other elevator shaft. This has to be done carefully, since the weird gravity tends to pull you in. This is undoubtedly what happened to the kids. The three of them are now lying on top of the elevator at the bottom of the shaft.
Lorelei and Jake head down the shaft on ropes, publicly assisted by anti- gravity flight belts, and privately boosted with some judicious TK from Lorelei. They find Genvieve at work on baby Pierre. Lorelei assures the girl that she is a doctor and seizes the child, hoisting him up with Jake's borrowed flight belt.
Tom, meanwhile, has puzzled out the control panel, wondering if all this started when baby Pierre fiddled with some button. Once Lorelei and Pierre are out of the shaft, he turns off the booster, reducing gravity to normal. (To turn it off while they were climbing would have been risky.)
Lorelei starts working on the screaming Pierre and Tom goes down the shaft to help out Jake and the two remaining kids. He learns that Tomas and Pierre were sucked down the elevator shaft first. Genvieve sent Danielle to find help, then slid down the elevator cables, burning her hands and spraining an ankle.
The two teens are much inclined to minimize their injuries, so Tom's conversation alternates between praise of their heroics and doctor-like grumbling over what they've done to themselves. It becomes increasingly clear that Genvieve has developed a crush on him.
Tomas's leg was broken, with a splinter sticking out. Tom stuck it back in, but Lorelei does it much more good, with Deryni healing. Tomas, who fainted back when Tom was sliding his leg bones around, wakes to find himself being tended by a beautiful women. HIS turn to have a crush; he rather objects to being carried out BY the beautiful woman, but decides it has its compensations.
We learn that the children are orphans, the survivors of a family bushwhacked on their farmstead by the Prince's men. They fled, pursued, and after losing their pursuers, took shelter in the shack leading down to the booster motor. The motor went sour (we still haven't asked who touched the buttons), and the rest we know. The motor, by the way, is supposed to automatically correct deviations in the pod's rotation; Tom feels it still needs inspection.
It's nigh by now. We march back to Biloxi with the children and give them to Augustus, along with explanations. Alag, meanwhile, has spotted what may be the children's former home -- a farmhouse with smoke coming from the chimney. An aircar is parked outside, with one guard in it. Inside are three more men. One is lion-like, one has leopard-spot skin, and the other two are that funny purple-black.
Alag suggests a counter-bushwhack on these fellows, with fragmentation and psilence grenades.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.