Week 1, Finding the Gateway
We left our heroes in possession of the ninth segment of the diadem, safely in the pantope. They have just received a new set of coordinates from the partial diadem. The Serving System opines that the new coordinates are in or near our home continuum, several centuries earlier than any date we have so far visited.
After a day to rest up, we open a window on the new coordinates and get a view of a rain forest. Chris sticks out his arm to check his watch and finds the date is 1525 AD. There's no sign of human habitation, but there is a cliff nearby. A quick view from orbital altitude shows that we landed in central Africa, about midway between lakes Victoria and Chad, on the northern edge of the rain forests of the Congo basin.
We flit back down to the ground and Chris takes a diadem reading. Nothing. No glow at all. Maybe we're off by a timestream; we try disconnecting and reconnecting. No difference. We now note a faint game trail through the litter on the forest floor. Chris proposes that we can't find the diadem because we will have already got it by this time, implying we should back up in time. We decide to look around in the "present" some more.
Cantrel asks for a scan for signs of high tech, since missing readings usually indicate a for of exotic shielding. The Serving System reports some anomalous readings, both psychic and gravitic in nature, on the face of a cliff in the distance. The obvious thing to do is examine the cliff close up, so Cantrel, Chris, Sophie, Lorelei, Daewen, and Tom set off to do so. They don vaguely Arabic clothing, to make a token effort at blending in, but have high tech weapons hidden about their persons.
The game path leads us windingly toward the cliff. When we reach the foot, we find a clear footpath leading up it. We start climbing. Along the way, Tom notes a faint footprint as of a large carnivore.
Rounding a corner, we come to a dark, deep cave. Cantrel's infrared binoculars reveal a faint glimmer of heat deep within. Tom then scouts out the cave with his Second Sight, which is not only safer but can see in the dark. The cave enlarges to 30 or 40 feet wide, with a ceiling 15 to 20 feet high, though very rough. Then it branches out into five narrow passages. Tom sends his viewpoint up and down them and tries moving it through the rock on X-ray vision, but gets lost. Eventually, in the rightmost passage, he spots a shimmer as of air over hot ground, mingled with mist. He brings his viewpoint closer and his Second Sight wavers. Further ahead, it goes dark. He stops and reports that he has found the anomaly.
We decide to explore the caves personally. Cantrel leads the way. He is tough and heavily armored, which is fortunate when the saber-toothed tiger jumps on him. He has a few exciting seconds fighting in the dark, in which the tiger bites off half of his nunchuk as its dying act. When things quiet down, we examine the beast in the light of a flashlight and Chris recognizes the species. It's extinct in this era, he points out, and we all back out quickly. No time-warps thank you!
We report to the pantope and decide to go on exploring. Daewen asks Victoria to bring the door up to the caves, which she does, making things more convenient for all of us. We pile in and bring the door near to the shimmering anomaly. We then settle down to exploring said anomaly.
Remember the presentation case of robot songbirds? So do we. We fetch it out and send a bird into the cave. It gets lost in the dark, so we recall it and Chris glamours up a brightly luminous mirage of a headlight for it. The mechanical bird's eye can see the anomaly too, as a patch of mist. We call it back and Cantrel puts some Deryni magic on it.
We then move the door right up near the mist. Chris cautiously points out that he slipped from one version of Middle Earth to another by walking through a patch of mist in a cave. We then send out the robot bird. A short way into the mist, we lose telemetry contact with it, but now Cantrel's magic kicks in and hauls it back out through the mist. Nice to know that, even if communications gets broken, objects can return.
Lorelei tries scrying the bird but gets nothing. She then tries a Deryni probe on the mist itself. She can feel through it indefinitely; no apparent wall behind it.
Should we try moving the pantope door through the mist? Daewen takes some instrument readings and announces that it is definitely a door across time, and that we CAN'T take our own door through such a thing. Sophie then suggests we send through a camera. Tom cobbles up a small camera-recorder on which Chris casts a patterned telekinesis similar to Cantrel's.
We send the camera 40 feet into the mist and back. The video tape shows nothing but mist. We send it again with Chris's watch tied to it. The date comes back blank.
We try again, sending it 80 feet. It comes back and we view the tape. The mist starts to clear and we see blue sky and an aerial view of a green valley with a lake.
Try sending it out 160 feet. We can now see that the valley is ringed with sharp, sheer cliffs and pointy mountains. The watch still has no opinion about the date. Sophie suggests the valley is self-contained in the manner of the pantope.
Daewen now hops the door to a point 40 feet past the mist. Sure enough, we find ourselves still in the cave, in a dead end. There is a shelf on which is propped a six-foot stick, decorated with brightly colored, crudely woven yarn and feathers, and tipped with a dried monkey head. A witch doctor's staff, we suppose. Lorelei feels nothing strictly magical about it, but Tom feels faint residues of psi, which we usually suppose to be much the same.
Lorelei steps out and begins investigating. She finds a hole excavated in the wall. At the back is the impression of a faceted gem, very like a diadem segment in size and shape. Drat. A probe indicates that someone pulled something out of that hole, just to confirm things.
Turning back, she notes a circle inscribed in the dirt under the mist. Looking closely, she sees two concentric circles under the mist. Comparing them with the foot of the witch doctor's staff (which has traces of dirt on it), she concludes the witch doctor inscribed the circles.
A scrying of the hole reveals the last emotions felt near it -- "I found it!" Whatever "it" was, it struck the finder with fear and awe, though mostly awe. But then there was a shift from awe to, "That's terrible!" Then the gloating realization, "Ah, but I could..." What was terrible and what it could be used for, she can't tell. But the staff, when scried, reveals a full and active life in the hands of someone cruel, who cased much fear and pain.
As Tom reconstructs things, the witch doctor came up here and dug up the segment, was awestruck by its potential, then realized what he could do with it, scratched his circles in the dirt, and created the anomaly. Daewen takes some more readings on the anomaly and announces that it is unstable and fluctuating.
We stop exterior time and consider what to do about it. Chris and Tom suggest everting the pantope, since we can't move a door through a door, and flying it through the anomaly in miniature. Daewen says that this would be very rough on the pantope, what with its geometry engine out of kilter. The Serving System agrees.
We go back to probing the mist with the camera. We arrange for it to take pictures of Chris's watch while it is on the other side, in case the watch gets zeroed when it comes back through the mist. No, the watch never really knows where it is, neither to give a calendar date or to give coordinates.
Tom asks if we could open a door onto a shuttle and then fly the shuttle through the anomaly, miniaturized. Daewen remarks that the door would simply vanish when you did that. Tom says we'll need to fly in any case, since all the camera views show the anomaly empties out in mid-air.
We send through Cantrel's watch and the diadem detector on the camera. Cantrel's is a more advanced model, with more imagination. It gives the date as "Year 300," with some unknown month and a day number. The coordinates still aren't there. Instead, it says "Pocket." And the diadem detector glows faintly. Also sparkles and briefly points straight a couple of times. Very odd.
Tom mentions another oddity. If the anomaly empties out into mid-air, how did the saber-toothed tiger get through it? Daewen reminds him if the anomaly's instability. It probably moves around in the valley.
But, for that matter, how did a saber-toothed tiger get into the valley? We'd been supposing that the witch doctor created the whole valley, not just the door to it, but what does a 16th-century witch doctor know about Pleistocene saber-toothed tigers? It would seem to follow that the Pocket opens on other times, whether the witch doctor discovered or created it.
... Unless the witch doctor was connected with the worldbenders, in which case they might have introduced a tiger of their own manufacture. We examine the tiger carefully, but it appears to be a perfectly natural beast. If it got through the Pocket or to Africa courtesy of the worldbenders, it or its ancestors started out in the Pleistocene.
We start moving our window back through time to see how long the door has been open. It was there last month and last week, but not yesterday. So it opens and shuts. We take the opportunity to photograph a clear view of the circles yesterday.
We then go back to a month ago and send the camera and watch through. A month ago, the year was 299. Also, a month ago the anomaly came out on the ground. The comparison of the dates on the month suggest that time may run faster in the Pocket.
By now, we have all accepted that we'll have to go through the anomaly after the segment. Cantrel voices what we're all worried about: will we get trapped there? Daewen remarks that, if we don't get the next segment, we are, as usual, sunk anyway, whether we're inside the Pocket or outside. If we DO get it, we'll have in our possession the thing that opened the door here in the first place.
Tom thinks it would still be nice if we could keep track of the anomaly in time and space. It would be nice to know its schedule. Cantrel volunteers to go scouting in the Pocket's past. Daewen and Chris devise a plan to put a triggered Glamour on a "bookmark" for the anomaly, so we can find it when we want it, signaling with another Glamour. Tom remarks that he can put a clairvoyant tracer on the thing.
And there, in mid-scheming, we will leave them.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.