Chapter 113: Mage Hunt, Part VIII
"Ready for my close-up, Mr. deMille"
We left our heroes embarked on a new strategy -- to lure the straying N'Butu aboard the Tellemataru by staging the appearance of an N'Butu fair village on the other side of the portal.
Of course, we need some N'Butu guidance to do this. Kate and Katrina, escorted by the Gargoyle, go to the N'Butu are and seek out the chief's wives. They present a fruitcake to the person they judge to be the first wife and explain their idea and their needs. This lady and two others go into a huddle and agree that the idea is a sound one. They'll be happy to give advice. More than happy.
They really like giving advice, as we discover in the process of faking up the village. Every little detail has to be just so. It takes a lot of time, patience, and (since it's all made of glamour and ectoplasm) psychic energy. Then we have to costume the N'Butu who will act as shills, and this is another round of detail-mongering. Furthermore, the more important N'Butu refuse to wear mere glamour; they have to have real costumes. Okay, okay.
When all is done, we retreat to the pantope, open a door on the ranch, and get a good night's sleep in what, for the Tellemataru, is a short coffee break.
Now to try and catch some N'Butu. We set up our away team: Dafnord, Robbie, Gannar, the Gargoyle, Markel, Mithriel, and Mirien. All wear glamour to look N'Butu, except the Gargoyle, Robbie, and Gannar, who are flying and wear invisibility instead.
We ask the ship's computer to add some stunners to the usual security array in the receiving hold. Robbie wants the computer to shoot the stunners, if occasion arises, since it has far the fastest reflexes. The computer demurs, as this is against standing orders. Robbie asks Morniesul about this, and Morniesul points out that the computer is sentient but not sapient. In fact, except for himself and a couple of senior crew-critters, the whole ship's crew are legal minors. Giving guns to children, even stunners... Robbie gives up on the idea. We have Desmond control the stunners; he has control of time and speed, so he's a good choice, we figure.
We locate a couple dozen N'Butu and open the gate to our N'Butu theme park ahead of them, in the forest. The away team flits out and starts patrolling. Sure enough, the Gargoyle locates a Kitsu, sneaking up on them, equipped with shapeshifting amulet and grenade-like firestick. He tosses the firestick at the N'Butu.
Or he would, if Mithriel hadn't shot his hand with an arrow, nailing the firestick in place.
For a wonder, the N'Butu don't run. Instead, they watch their flaming enemy with interest until Dafnord (in N'Butu drag) calls their attention to the "town" just ahead. We collect them while the Gargoyle stamps out the flames.
Next, we spot sixteen N'Butu with a small flock of goats. Robbie tries to lead them gently toward N'Butu-World by taking telepathic control of the lead goat. Only...
Now, we regularly include the Gargoyle and Brunalf the neo-cat in our telepathy net, not to mention Salimar. And Tom has telepathed with animals many times. But all these are more or less people, and Robbie was able to chime with them on a conceptual level. And Tom is a fellow-mammal, and a very experienced telepath. Robot to goat just leaves both feeling very confused.
We manage to acquire the sixteen N'Butu (and their livestock) without Robbie's assistance. Somebody reboot Robbie...
We locate our next group, open the gate at a propitious point, and our away team heads out. Robbie and Gannar, as is their wont fly out. Robbie tries to send something to Gannar telemetrically. They don't so much fall off the telepathy net as hang... Since they're all invisible, it's no wonder that the Gargoyle collides with Gannar.
Markel and Dafnord step through and are assailed by bad vibes and feelings of deja vu. Mirien and Mithriel step through, look at each other, and swing into action. Mithriel pulls the two men gently back through the gate. Mirien launches into the air, finds the two invisible AIs, and pulls them back, too.
Somebody reboot Robbie again. And Gannar, while you're at it. They wake on the ground/deck of the mock-up village. Mirien opines that the telemetry and telepathy were both running into timelock. After all, we are expecting to go back and forth across this day about fifteen times, to pick up all the N'Butu. Telemetric calls to and from Robbie and Gannar would get overloaded multiple replies. Telepathy contacts would get something similar.
Hm. A short time later, we rouse Braeta from her bed of pain in the infirmary and have her hack our calling cards, to make a walkie-talkie net specifically designed to stay in synch with itself despite time travel. To this, we add some magical communications gear, like a pair of rings for Robbie and Gannar, and a triplet of ear-rings for the three sisters. Thus equipped, we try again.
Fine some more N'Butu. Lather, rinse, repeat. This looks like it's working.
It becomes a routine, for subjective days. Relocate, herd N'Butu, tangle with the occasional Kitsu and go ache in the autodoc. Repeat.
Our fourth scuffle with a Kitsu terrorist involves him slipping into the village and hence aboard the ship, using a speed amulet from the mage we've dubbed "Mr. Zippy." We chased him out, but accidentally did so with the telepathy net up. This got everyone another round of confusion and deja vu. Especially when the Gargoyle collided with Gannar again. This happened at the beginning of a temporal stitch-back, at the same absolute time as our first accident. Naturally. Fetch the aspirin.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.