We find our heroes -- some of them, anyway -- limping home from a playful practice session with stun grenades, all part of the preparations to go back to Destine and find out where the dragon-folk took the Destinos. The immediate plan is to use time-travel, our nifty transilience driver, and a lot of fighting to capture one of the invaders and interrogate him regarding the destination of the captives.
There are, of course, lots of difficulties here, so Kate asks if we couldn't use bugs, dropped before the battle, to observe and thus avoid having to capture anybody.
Dafnord has an even more dramatic proposal -- drop him off a year before the invasion. He'll live out in the back-country, then move in and capture someone, then we can pick up him and his prisoner as soon as the invasion is over. Everyone else just sort of stares at him.
One problem with all these schemes is being detected by the Destinos when we enter their system. If we don't avoid detection, we are wide open for timelock, which, as we saw earlier can mean astronomically unlikely collisions with alien ships or other unpleasant phenomena. Unfortunately, a hyperdrive gives off a massive blast of gravitational radiation whenever it jumps into or out of hyperstate. So we wonder if there's such a thing as a stealth hyperdrive. The natural place to ask is at Jumping Jacks. So we call.
We wend our way through the Jumping Jacks org chart and are ultimately given a code key for a file we are told is in the household computers. Opening the file, we get a recorded message from Cantrel. He sounds grumpy, but if we're asking about stealth hyperdrives, given that we are Jack Patrol and/or Family, we should know that it's a work in progress, it's very secret, it's worth LOTS of money to Jumping Jacks, and, unfortunately, so far it only works on the timeline of the other Hellene, the CoDominion line. (Physical constants are very slightly different there.) Message ends.
Well, in that case, there's nothing for it but finding out how far away you need to jump out to be outside detector range of spaceport sensors. So we call back the covert projects manager at Jumping Jacks and ask. He says that normal spaceport sensors detect incoming ships out to a few dozen astronomical units -- about the orbit of Jupiter. ...And then he gives us another file code key.
This gives us a text message from Cantrel, who says that, if we're asking about stealth hyperdrives and detection ranges, the really safe distance to avoid detection is several hundred to a thousand AU -- getting out into the cometary Oort cloud. At least until they get the stealth hyperdrive working, when you can presumably pop in closer...
Okay, now let's go shopping for bugs. Rummaging through the Jumping Jacks catalogs, we find that the "alpha" bugs are only available for "Rainbow contracts," whatever those are, or for out-of-continuum cases. This may very well lead out of continuum, but that's not where we're deploying the bugs, and in any case the "beta" bugs are still pretty nifty, so we look those over. We settle on some robot birds, and are told we already have some in the house.
We hunt through the closets and pick out some plausible specimens. Markel notes lots of arrows in the closet. These turn out to be the sort of things that Alag, Daewen, and other guerilla elves in the family work up on long winter nights -- there are three sets of a dozen arrows each, one set explosive, one set delivering a TK punch closely resembling an explosion, and one set of thermite arrows that can burn through steel. Markel gleefully takes them.
Dafnord, still working on his year-long infiltration idea, goes back to the library and inquires of the house computers to see if he can get a year's worth of field rations. Yes, he can. The house tends to stock that kind of thing.
At this point, however, a bust on the library shelf (of Richard Rogers, the composer) suddenly comes to life and suggests to Dafnord that he might prefer packing elven waybread (much tastier than iron rations, and much more compact). Dafnord agrees to do that instead. Also, as Tom points out, there's living off the land. Also, as Tom verifies, this is Plan B; Dafnord's going to do this only if the birds don't work out.
(Tom then turns to the bust of Richard Rogers and asks, "Are you part of the household computer system?" "No, sir." "Part of the household enchantments?" "Yes, sir." "A guest?" "No, sir. That's three, sir. You have seventeen left." Tom hadn't realized they were playing Twenty Questions, but that seems to be the bust's opinion.)
Braeta opines that the plan is wortghy of someone who intends to rescue a whole planet full of elves and demi-gods, but wonders how Dafnord will keep from being abducted along with everyone else on Destine. Tom recommends he carry the nastiest, most powerful psilencers (plural) he can find, and offers to teach Dafnord how to make a psilencer, in a pinch, from common household items or things you find under rocks. For instance, take two coins of dissimilar metals, a lemon, some toenail clippings, and...
Markel offers to join Dafnord in Plan B, which would certainly make it pleasanter and safer.
Pursuing his Plan B further, Dafnord proposes to get a space-scooters, for riding from the jumpout point to Destine, and jumpsuits, specialized one-use spacesuits for "parachuting" onto a planet from orbit. Plus all the stuff for living in the backlands for a year. Naturally, he goes browsing in the Jumping Jacks catalogs again.
He learns that Jumping Jacks has a nifty model of ablative jumpsuit, part of a kit involving a small vehicle like the scooter he wanted, only much better, all given in return for a "Rainbow contract." They are, in fact, one-man Planetary Infiltration Kits (tm). And there are already six of these in the house's second sub-basement.
Funny, we didn't know the house had a second sub-basement. Cantrel and his immediate family are here more than we are, of course, and clearly he's been busy.
We go to the elevator, find the hidden button, and soon locate the infiltration pods in this newly-discovered second sub-basement. Tom looks through the user documentation and notes their range just happens to coincide with the safe distance for avoiding detection of your hyperdrive...
Rummaging around in this new playground, we find lockers and closets with much useful stuff in them, including:
Salimar asks around of the automation and finds only the computers in the sub-basement know anything about the sub-basement inventory. They tell her that the torpedo things are indeed meant for towing people underwater, but can also work in air or space, and provide a force-field.
Salimar then tries a Knock spell a locked door in the sub-basement. Thump. It's psionically shielded.
So we load up on robot birds, magic arrows, infiltration pods, etc. Braeta programs the birds and the remote-control unit that must also be dropped with them. Tom builds a deployment vehicle for the birds, using very low-power gravitics, and Braeta does the navigation programming for it; it's the size of a large van. These preparations take two weeks.
From time to time, we reflect on the fact that Jumping Jacks never asked us any questions.
We take off in the Munch, headed for the Destine system at a suitable time before the invasion, to deploy the robot birds. We will arrive in the Oort Cloud of the Destine system, off ecliptic, and release the birds so that they will deploy on the planet a week before the invasion. (The fall into the inner system will take months, but we don't care.)
Some of the birds are programmed to hang out, watch, records, and transmit to the console in the area of Destine City where the huge gate will open. Some will select random individuals and track them up to the point when they enter the gate, for 48 hours before hand. We end the game poised to make the drop.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.