Week 4, Visiting New Detroit
We left our heroes gathering information from books purloined from the library of New Detroit, the American-founded city in this pocket universe.
We learn that the stockaded town up in the mountain valley is Ft. Innes and the zeppelin was headed for the City of Soa. The valley's lake is Lake Lothar. The spur of mountains to the northwest is North Maharia. There are also Central and South Maharia. To the west is the Sultanate of Hashi in the Lidi Plains. South (I think) toward the sea is the city of Caeris, with which New Detroit trades.
After absorbing our fill of these details, we decide to show ourselves to the New Detroiters, hoping to enlist them as allies or at least as sources of information. Alag and Daewen, however, would rather not show themselves. This is just as well -- they can be our aces in the hole. We decide to present ourselves to the locals as Canadians from the year 2024, who went hiking in the wilderness in Alberta, ran across a cave, took a look inside, and came out here, wherever "here" is.
We move to a point well outside the city, in the surrounding forest, leave the anti-gravity vehicles, the ray guns, and the heavy armor with the elves, and hike up to the walls. "We" are Chris, Sophie, Lorelei, Tom, and Pfusand (who turns out to have been with us all along, thanks to a little script editing).
We are hailed with "Who goes there!?" in English. We call back, "You speak English? Where ARE we?!" The guards are quick to understand our bewilderment and sympathetic. They direct us to the gates, where they meet us and tell us most of what we already knew about this being a pocket universe.
The guards are brothers, and their superior officer is their father, Captain Cartier. He shows up with more guards, also sons. Lorelei, who is from Salt Lake City after a nuclear war, innocently asks if they have adopted polygamy. Not mostly, though one of the original pilots has two wives. All in all, they are cautious of us, but polite and friendly, and do not seem to have worked their hereditary militarism into anything hysterical.
We tell them our cover story and seem to be believed. We express great wonder and befuddlement, and not a little distress at being lost from home. We get invited into the city (under armed escort) and are taken to a wood frame house where we are interviewed by a Major Carpenter, who is also the mayor.
We get interviewed again. We give our right names (except Pfusand, who gives "Sandy Dunwine") and Chris and Tom incautiously give their right professions -- chemist and engineer. The officers' eyes light up with a desperate and greedy light. Tom, having grown up in the midst of crumbling technology and fading science, knows exactly what they want him for and hastily revises his profession to electronics engineer. Still, he feels sorry for these folk.
During the interview, we learn that the stars do not rise and set here, although the sun does and there is a horizon of the sort you'd expect of a spherical, or at least curved, world. There is no moon, though the Valley People say there used to be one that vanished in the Wizard War, long ago. How disconcerting.
One of the officers makes a reference to "high caste breeding stock," and we raise our eyebrows. They hastily explain that, since one of New Detroit's chief exports is information, they have to be careful how thoroughly they educate whom, and naturally give their own kids the best education and freest access to information. The implications are of economic class, not racial.
Speaking of information, we show off a little futuristic technical know-how to indicate that we can pay our way in the information economy of New Detroit. Tom may be able to tell them how to improve the quality of their fuels -- derived from vegetable oils, since there is no natural gas or petroleum around. Chris may be able to teach them to make high-temperature superconductors. ("What's a superconductor?") And so on.
They will need the fuels for war zeppelins. It seems that the Sultanate is acting up. New Detroit depends heavily on its superiority in air power, and the Sultanate is the only possible rival in that field. Until recently, it was weakened by internal strife over succession to the throne. Now, one of the factions has put down all the others, so they may begin using their own version of air power.
And what kind of air-power is that? The Americans are reluctant to tell us, for fear we might be Sultanate spies, or eventually throw in our lot with the Sultanate. Then they realize that we have two very liberated ladies in our party (and they haven't even seen Daewen yet) and therefore wouldn't at all like the way the Sultanate treats folk. So they tell us. The Sultanate is based on a flying city.
We didn't have the telepathy net up, but we could just tell that we were all thinking, "Oh no, not again!" All except Sophie, maybe, who wasn't with us when we spent months struggling through the empires of Hreme and Chyoxus, and days trying to escape from a floating city kept aloft by the magic of djinni and ruled by a sultan or someone very like that. Well, they say time travelers are subject to dÚjÃ vu... "How classic," Pfusand murmurs.
The floating city drifts about over its plain, never lower than 1000 feet, never very far from its army's permanent camp. They have some kind of vehicles for shuttling to and from the city. The Americans don't know what keeps it up; maybe real magic. Whatever it is, it produces massive radio noise. We, of course, suspect that it is kept up by the diadem segment, and now realize that this floating city must float in the region marked by a blank circle in the map in the library book.
Lorelei tells the Major that we are a semi-professional group of adventurers, a new thing since his time, like not-necessarily-military mercenaries. We're rather intrigued by this floating city. We also like general exploration.
The Major says they do a lot of exploring, too; more than anyone else, though the quasi-classical Eastern Empire and the Caribbean pirates do some too. The New Detroiters were looking for a way back home, at first, but now they feel settled here, and doubt that they'd want to go home. (This relieves Tom's mind; he was feeling that we really ought to offer them all a lift on the pantope, once we were done here.)
To stay their hunger for technical data, Tom and Chris spend a week in New Detroit, dictating all the useful engineering hints they can think of, plus all the science they can remember, up to the basics of 21st-century physics.
Chris conjures up a sample of bauxite, using Alchemy under the name of "21st Century chemistry," so the New Detroiters can look for the stuff and start producing aluminum. Tom uses his knack of Finding to get a bearing on a good iron deposit. (New Detroit is starved for iron and steel.) Chris then claims some knowledge of geology, asks for a high-altitude ride in a zeppelin and announces that the mountains off in the proper direction look iron-rich to him. These mountains are south and west, and we'd like to be in on an expedition there, so as to get closer to the flying city.
Sophie, meanwhile, has discovered two new species of intelligence in this world. It turns out that the mountainous territories of Maharia are inhabited by large, intelligent pterosaurs; the names are from Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Pellucidar" novels, where similar creatures were described, and come from the New Detroiters, not the pterosaurs themselves, who take scant interest in humans. In fact, the northern Mahars trade only rarely with New Detroit, the central ones are indifferent, and the southern ones extremely shy.
Local myth says that the Mahars, also known as "Demon Folk," were summoned up by the Great Wizard, alias the First Medicine Man, whom we suspect of being the nasty "witch doctor" who left his staff in the cave where we've parked the pantope door. This wizard also conjured up the "Dragon People," a race of bipedal dinosaurs with large hands and heads.
(The New Detroiters have also used Burroughsian names for Ft. Innes and for the local breed of riding bison, which they call "thoats," though they look nothing like the thoats described by Burroughs, which were Martian beasts with ten legs.)
Sophie discovers that the zeppelin captain we saw back in the valley is Captain Evans, the most die-hard flier of the original survivors of Flight 19. She urges him to take us on an exploratory journey to the "Iron Mountains" we've discovered. She would also like as few other people along as possible; she says this is so she can forward her romance with Chris, and this is not entirely a lie, but she also wants to minimize complications for us if we have to get spooky. Evans insists on taking two crewmen at least, his son and son-in-law Tumbati.
Tumbati looks like a mulatto, but is in fact a pure-blooded native of the City of Soa. While chatting with him, Chris discovers that Soa used to have a gold mine, which ran out shortly after the whole locale was moved to the valley by the wizard. However, it still has platinum. Chris impresses on Tumbati and everyone else the general utility of platinum.
We soon take off in Evans' zeppelin. After two days' flight, we leave the forest behind for grasslands and thinner timber. On the third day, a flock of Mahar come in view and pace us for a while. There are huge, but stay away. On the fourth day, we reach the borders of the iron-rich mountains.
Tom does another Finding, which Chris presents to Evans as geological deductions. It leads to a cleft valley in the mountains. We discover there are dwellings in it, probably of the Celtic Caeris-folk. Through a spyglass, we observe their herds of giant deer. Old Irish elk?
Evans offers to put us down for some prospecting. We then reveal our psionic communicators, though not their principle of operation, to Evans, so he can keep in touch with us. Sophie, Chris, and Tom then disembark while Pfusand and Lorelei stay on the zeppelin. (The locals have not yet noticed it.) Remember Alag and Daewen? They are still out of sight but keeping pace with the zeppelin on the grav sled.
About the time the trio reaches the promising-looking slopes of the north side of the valley, Evans brings the zeppelin around a ridge and provides distraction. The locals wind their horns and mill about excitedly. The trio quietly goes invisible, trusting that Evans was not watching at the moment.
Rounding a bend of a ledge, we encounter two large Celts, perhaps guarding something or perhaps just coming down in response to the horns. Despite our magical stealth and invisibility, they become aware of us and begin edging toward us with spear and axe. It doesn't help when Sophie accidentally brushes a pebble with her foot. Chris covers this by telekinetically creating another small pebble-slide far away up the slope. Sophie takes the opportunity to skitter past the guards, but makes more noise in the attempt. One guard pursues each noise.
Chris decides to well and truly flummox the spearman. He fakes a slight resistance at the end of the spear, as if it had prodded something invisible, and pipes, "Ouch!" Then the conjures the image of a "leprechaun," copied from a FaÎn of Hreme. This phantom runs off in a misleading direction and, rounding a corner, vanishes. The spearman tosses a dagger at it before it can vanish; it was a good toss and connected, but of course made no difference.
The spearman then starts sniffing, seeming to smell out Tom, who levitates out of the way. We finally sneak off, leaving the two to argue about what happened. Just then, a voice says in FaÎn, "Well done!" Tom twitches but Chris smiles sweetly and replies, "Thank you, Daewen."
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.