Back to Middle Earth
Week 7, Trashing Bilbo
We are aboard the pantope, with Daewen (a worldbender customer of the 400th century, currently incarnate as an elf), her grandson Alag (who was born an elf on Middle Earth), and Christopher Marlowe (not the 16th-century dramatist, but an Earthman of the 30th century, recently strayed from some other Middle Earth).
Daewen, it turns out, knows something about dimensional engineering, though our pantope is rather an antique by her standards, since it dates from the 300th century. Still, she makes a valiant effort and quizzes the Serving System about available resources. The results are dismaying, and her general attitude toward the pantope is summed up in the famous phrase, "You came here in THIS? You're braver than I thought!"
Eventually, she finds the "General Advisory Mode," which recommends we reconfigure the physical console (as contrasted with the virtual console and a few other things that go over Tom's head). Tom then discovers that most of the lectern-style helm (which he has been using for months) was done with mirrors. Daewen whips up another and asks if we believe in eleven dimensions or thirteen. Tom replies he'd only HEARD of eleven. Apparently that dates us. Daewen's heard of thirteen. She looks the new console over, agrees that it would help a whole lot to find the lost geometry engine, along with the geometry lab and most of the rest of the engineering section. She may be able to help patch up the old rattletrap, but it will take time.
Meanwhile, Daewen would like us to provide some temporal cover for her, so she and her doppleganger do not get implicated in the Gandalf Gambit. Christopher agrees to wear the Naza's old chameleon circuit, which Tom reprograms so that Chris now looks like Daewen. Chris and several other party members will disembark a couple of days BEFORE the Gandalf Gambit and stay at an inn in Laketown. They will pretend they are traders from down river, but will deliberately be sloppy enough to hint at the upcoming changes of identity. In particular, Chris will change back into himself "accidentally" while the innkeeper is watching. Daewen knows that the innkeeper is another customer, and that word of the deception will reach the worldbenders through him -- hopefully just the first layer of the deception, the one we WANT him to see through.
Chris, we learn, has skills including Squad Leader, Akido, Bow, Chemistry, and telepathic Shields. This last reminds Tom of the takeovers we suffered while battling Darkmoor, and he tries fruitlessly to construct a mechanical psi shield for himself and Pfusand. We lack the materials. (It appears that the others wouldn't be in much danger of takeover if they kept their shields tight shut. But Darkmoor can force partly-open shields further open.) Daewen warns Tom not to experiment with the blue pencil, even using his psychic Knack of Tools. It is designed chiefly to work on constructs and staff, and not on customers or high-ranking worldbenders. Well, that's a little more than we knew before.
Speaking of Tools, Tom and Dr. Wu try some telepathic experiments to see if Wu can use Tom's knack through telepathic rapport. No. He might pick up a little training in the tools in question, but that would be it.
These technical matters out of the way, we stop off for a couple of days in Laketown, leaving the real Daewen, David, Victoria, and Cantrel on board the pantope as backup forces. The deception comes off perfectly, so far as we can tell, and it's back in the pantope for the next phase of crown-chasing.
This phase will be labor-intensive. We'll have to track down all the bits of treasure that come out of Lonely Mountain over the next several years. Cantrel recommends that we start with Bilbo's. It's the hardest to get to, and it will get harder the more time we let pass between his departure and our search.
Using the book and Daewen's memories of "Lord of the Rings," we find the day Bilbo is supposed to return to Bag End. Two days earlier, he probably stayed at the town of Bree. Any earlier than that, and he is likely to have been traveling with Gandalf. We DON'T want to meet Gandalf. Bilbo is bad enough. Daewen guesses that he is a very important customer. We really want to tackle him alone and asleep, so there is the least amount of interaction.
After another round of facelifts, we disembark into the woods a few miles east of Bree, near the Great Road. We take period-style supplies, a pair of infrared binoculars, some disflorgers (on STUN), the diadem detector, and Daewen's portable omniport -- the one packed in a briefcase. We will use her omniport to gate back to the next opening of the pantope. This way, as long as we keep the omniport, we only have to open the pantope once, rather than keeping the door flapping for worldbenders to notice.
We settle down by the road and wait. Late in the afternoon, Bilbo AND Gandalf come trotting down the road. We let them get well past, then Daewen and Cantrel follow and a respectful distance, leaving the other behind. However, Wu keeps up a telepathic rapport with Cantrel until they reach the edges of town.
The two scouts lose the quarry in town, but find them again at an inn called "The King's Rest." At sundown, Gandalf leaves Bilbo with much good advice, then rides off into the sunset in the approved fashion. Bilbo listens and watches respectfully ... and keeps one hand in his pocket. ("What has it got in its pocketses, my precious?" We know damned well what.) When the wizard is gone, Bilbo grins to himself and goes back in.
"He's going to use it!" says Daewen, meaning, of course, the Ring. They slip up to the inn. Peering through a hall window, Cantrel spots Bilbo entering a room. They wait.
Eventually, the door opens and closes by itself. Cantrel tries the infrared binoculars and sees SOMETHING, but its very faint. He goes to find Daewen and discovers that she is even sneakier than he, at least tonight. While Cantrel covers the front door with the binoc's, Daewen goes to search Bilbo's horses. Nothing.
They return to Bilbo's room and find him back, visible, eating dinner and writing in a diary. They decide it's time to fetch the rest of the party and flip to see who goes back -- using karate and akido. Daewen flips Cantrel first, so he goes and fetches the rest of us.
We decide it would be best to tackle Bilbo next night, when we trust he will camp outdoors, alone, near the border of the Shire. So Cantrel and Daewen keep watch at night while the rest of us night-march down the road, to the Brandywine river, there to lie in ambush again for this dratted hobbit.
Cantrel and Daewen have breakfast at the inn and keep an eye on Bilbo. He loads up two ponies and a horse and trots off. They follow unobserved, on foot. It's a marathon trek.
The rest of the party sees Bilbo pass them, cross the bridge over the Brandywine and camp out on the riverbank. He proceeds to go fishing. Cantrel and Daewen rendezvous and we wait for him to catch his supper, clean the fish, cook them, eat them, get sleepy, unroll his bed, and get in. Then we wait some more, so he will get to sleep. We dine on rabbit, and Cantrel cases the area at some distance around the camp all clear.
FINALLY, it's night and we can move. Cantrel turns on his flight, skims silently over the river, and stuns Bilbo with a disflorger. And hears a faint protesting mutter. Damn! Was the little beggar still awake? He goes on feeding stun bolts into Bilbo until the rest of the party gets over the river. Daewen quiets the horses and Wu puts a magical sleep on the hobbit. He then sleeps the horses for good measure. We then frisk the hobbit down to his skin and further.
The treasure includes an elf-made circlet, but it isn't our crown. Daewen examines Bilbo and concludes that he is HEAVILY gene-tooled. Wu joins her and, using Deryni probes, discovers a fine network under his scalp. This isn't our crown either, but it worries us. Among other things, it seems to be a partial psi-screen.
Cantrel slips the Ring out of Bilbo's pocket, lest the hobbit somehow wake and vanish on us, and presents it to the diadem detector, just in case. Many of the other party members are taken aback by his touching the central prop of this whole world. The diadem detector even flickers a bit at the Ring, but it isn't a segment. The party is made even uneasier when Cantrel stubbornly refuses to return the Ring until we are done searching.
When we ARE done, Cantrel finds it is very hard to put the Ring back. It somehow goes into his own pocket instead of Bilbo's. With a lot of help from the group, he succeeds. Then we have to talk Daewen into returning a dagger she found in Bilbo's treasure -- First Age vintage, even finer than his famous knife, Sting. We leave Bilbo with the suggestion that he's had a bad dream about goblins.
After night-marching a couple of hours, we find that Cantrel still has the Ring. He is as surprised as anyone and can only conclude he unconsciously levitated it out of Bilbo's pocket just before we left. He and Wu return to Bilbo's camp and find the hobbit up and about, searching through his belongings by firelight. Obviously he has missed the Ring. From cover, Cantrel TKs the Ring into the grass nearby. Bilbo spots it and grabs it up frantically. Cantrel and Wu return, Wu scanning Cantrel frequently for signs of Rings. He's clean.
It's been a very hard day. We sleep in the woods and wake near noon. We then discover that Alag figured Grandma must have had a good reason for wanting that dagger, so he stole it FOR her. Cantrel is furious. Daewen isn't because she's still sleeping. Pfusand carries her for several miles as we trek toward Bree and the place where we hid the omniport.
By the time we get there, Daewen is on her own feet again. Her watch squeaks and she announces that we are under surveillance. We move quickly, race to the hollow tree, and watch anxiously as Daewen pulls out the gate. She twiddles controls and a shimmer springs up around us. Camouflage, she explains.
She twiddles some more, cursing. A gate appears just as worldbenders start beaming in. On the far side are more woods, not the pantope bridge. The doorway has a certain depth to it, in black. "DIVE!" shouts Daewen and suits actions to words. We all barrel through. The gate disappears with a bang behind us.
And we are in a different set of woods. Those who noticed the black sill around the gate reflect that it was like the translation tube that took us to the cartoon world, only much shorter. Daewen confirms that it was, indeed, a translation tube. We are somewhere with a rather different set of natural laws. Tom suggests that the worldbenders were trying to interfere with Daewen's dimensional manipulations, or perhaps we fell victim to the mysterious interference (natural?) that waylaid Chris to our Middle Earth. Daewen says both of those are possible.
Well, translation tubes translate you. We examine each other and out equipment but find no obvious changes. Except that Daewen and Alag are about a foot shorter than they were, and Pfusand is somehow different.
We're very lost.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.