Chapter 26 - Consultations
We left our heroes flying back to Hellene with an alien lifeboat (we think) in tow. We aren't certain what the artifact is because we can't establish communication with the sole living alien in it. So we spend the next two weeks hurtling through hyperstate, keeping an eye on the thing, which, for all we know, is keeping an eye on us.
Because we picked the alien up at the time of the Destine invasion, an isochronal flight back to Hellene gets us there about two months before Tom ever met Braeta in the first place, and, for that matter, before the others set out on their time-journey to the Terraform Reach, 3000 years in the future. However, this slip in sequence is deliberate. Our plan is to arrive early, drop the alien off with the KaiSenese, then give notice to Jumping Jacks that an alien disease organism is about to be introduced (the draconians' dispose-of-the-bodies bug). We can then supply them with an early sample (from us) and, we hope, give them a head start on working up a countermeasure on the thing.
We pop out of hyperdrive about an astronomical unit above the Hellene ecliptic and try to contact the KaiSenese Embassy. We fail. "Routing difficulties," Edvard reports. Our suspicions begin to rise.
Salimar says that she can contact the Embassy through a special access number, but she really ought to do so via private transmitter, not on the public comm net. Tom offers to build her a transmitter and, shortly into it, creates a shower of sparks on workbench. As he fans away the smoke, Salimar voices the suspicion that we're timelocked. We agree.
We try calling Jumping Jacks, an organization that is already pretty compromised, temporally. We get through. They hail us as "unknown ship," but then this is the earliest we've ever had the Munch come to Hellene. Tom identifies himself (since the Jumping Jacks security folk haven't met any of the others yet) and starts to talk about our contamin--
We lost the comm link. We get it back and cautiously talk about our alien rescuee, instead. The lines stay up. We ask Jumping Jacks to contact the KaiSenese for us and relay a request to have a "special services" liaison officer come meet Officer Salimar. Oh, and we also have a bio--
We call back to apologize and learn that, for some reason, 23% of the whole planetary comm net just tried to route through Jumping Jacks, and crashed. Ooooookay. See you later.
We leap forward through time about thirteen weeks. We should be as nearly back in sequence as we can get. We call Jumping Jacks and are soon talking to the security chief, who knows something about our temporal problems.
He tells us that, in the intervening time, Jumping Jacks has tried to contact the KaiSenese as we asked, but had very odd luck. There have been lots of busy signals and "routing difficulties." Two special officers were suddenly called away on emergencies. Three times, they accidentally got through to KaiSen itself, who was very surprised to be contacted at that number.
Okay, so some timelock still hangs about the alien. Tom tries to tell the security chief about our contamination and promptly crashes the comm link. So that's still timelocked, too. Not entirely surprising, since we've already accidentally spread the contamination around the Philippian system a hundred years hence. We were hoping they would turn out to be prepared for it by the forewarning we'd deliver now, but apparently not.
We try transmitting a data dump to Jumping Jack security, which the chief puts under an unreliable seal. The seal will presumably be unbreakable until the timelocks go away. At least it doesn't crash the comm link.
Next, we try contacting KaiSen itself, since the omens seem to point that way. We ask Jumping Jacks to send out that private transmitter for Salimar. They comply and we ring off, but we don't need it. It is surprisingly easy to contact KaiSen by regular channels.
KaiSen is an alien species with a single racial mind. What we see on the screen are a number of bear-like animals of different sizes and proportions, with fur of various bright colors, parrot-like beaks, shoebutton eyes, and large, moth-like antennae. Tom and Salimar introduce themselves and KaiSen assures us that it remembers us here. (Its memory is distributed, so different chunks of it don't always know the same people.) After we start explaining ourselves, KaiSen breaks off and says it should turn us over to another part of itself. The screen flickers and we're looking at a different collection of parti-colored bears.
This memory segment also knows us, and tells us that, like us, it's a time-traveler. This is a chunk of KaiSen wandering through time within the rest of KaiSen. We try not to think about that too hard.
We describe our alien to it and download some data files. KaiSen recognizes the alien as a species that humans don't encounter for a long, long time yet, which explains the timelock regarding it. The race-mind is not at all surprised to hear we picked it up in a war zone; this species didn't meet humans and their allies under the best of conditions. (But KaiSen doesn't say if we're to be enemies or just companions in misfortune. And we don't ask.)
This alien is itself a timetraveler and thus the seat of the timelocks on it; it was perhaps trying to investigate the origins of the troubles which are going to be visited on its race when it eventually meets humans and the other races of the Ecumene.
KaiSen agrees to take the alien off our hands and, probably, offer aid and return it to its proper time.
KaiSen next asks if we encountered any infections recently. Why, yes. We give KaiSen the location of Destine and tell it that this was also the war-zone where we picked up the alien. We give KaiSen a data dump from our autodoc and tell it that we believe the microbe was designed to clean up battlefields. Our autodoc knows nothing about it. KaiSen says that fits -- the draconian microbe first becomes known to medical science after "an outbreak of plague on Philippia" a few months after we purchased the autodoc. (The autodoc, like the Munch, is from a century in the future.)
We sigh and ask to hear no more.
KaiSen agrees that it is worth while to try to get an early counter-measure developed. This chunk of KaiSen is, naturally, rather isolated, but it will do what it can. It signs off.
About then, we are hailed by "Jumping Jacks 3," a ship from Jumping Jacks with that (now redundant) transmitter for Salimar. The pilot is in considerable anxiety because he is being tailed by six bogies who won't identify themselves.
We acknowledge JJ3 but don't have a lot to offer; we're not heavily armed ourselves.
Just as JJ3 and the bogies start to close on us, an enormous spherical ship, bearing the KaiSenese emblem, drops out of hyperstate, snatches the alien lifeboat away on a tractor beam, and leaps back into hyperstate with it, all in a few seconds. So that's that.
The bogies and JJ3 take no visible notice. JJ3 takes up position next to the Munch. The bogies englobe the two of us. Edvard informs us that their weapon systems are armed and have locked on to us. "We are being hailed," he adds.
We take the call. The main screen lights and we're looking at a grim-faced man with an unmistakably military bearing, whom we've never met before. "This is Commander White," he says, not giving the name of his organization. We need to talk." Tom invites him to come aboard the Munch. White agrees, and signs off.
A skiff is launched from the ship directly in front of the Munch. It is gracefully piloted to dock with our airlock. We assemble at the airlock to meet our visitors. When the airlock opens, we find White and two guards in massive armor. We've seen armor like that before, when we've worked with other quasi-military officers with colors for names.
Tom looks at White and says, "Welcome aboard." He does not offer his hand; he doesn't think White wants to touch him.
White frowns and says, "The admiral sends his regards."
That would be Admiral Yanov, also part of this mysterious group. "Thanks. What can we do for you?"
"Let's go somewhere we can talk."
Robbie sends a request to Edvard to have a conference room created by the furnisher as we lead White and away from the airlock. The stormtroopers fall in behind us. When we arrive at the conference room, they wait outside, guarding the door. Once we've seated ourselves, White leans forward and says to Tom, "We understand that you are involved with the introduction of a new bioweapon to Hellene."
Tom sighs, "Yes. We are it's victims. We were just discussing this with KaiSen."
"Have you had anything to do with the communications net on Hellene?"
"Yes. We were trying to make a preemptive strike on the microbe."
"You didn't introduce any software viruses, worms, etc.?"
"No, we were simply trying to talk."
White clearly doesn't believe us, but he tells us flatly that he's been given orders to trust us. Probably the admiral who sent his regards. Looking like he's just sucked on a lemon, he says "Four and a half weeks ago, a message showed up on a privileged net. The origin of the message couldn't be traced. The message detailed a new bioweapon, which we found deployed on the planet. At the same time, we've been experiencing extreme instability in the planetary communications net."
Tom sighs and rubs his forehead. "I see. The instability is not a software virus. It's a temporal effect." He explains that we encountered the bug on a distant planet and had returned to Hellene before we realized that we were infected. "You have done business with Eldacur Technology and Jumping Jacks?" When White nods. Tom continues, "Have you been told about our ... relationship ... with time?" (Estranged.)
White has but clearly doesn't see the connection. He's been looking progressively less happy as Tom has been talking. "So far, if I may be frank sir, all indications are that your organization has been sabotaging our efforts. However, I've told to treat you with the utmost respect. Sir." The way he bites off the word "Sir" is anything but respectful.
Tom explains about timelock, and it's implications in this case. Attempts to make information about the bioweapon public are literally foredoomed to failure.
"You're saying that there is no conspiracy?"
"Well that's a pretty story."
"I'm sure that you can get confirmation of the theory of timelock from other people in your organization."
White grimaces and spits out the word, "Green," as if it has a very bad taste.
Tom's met Green. He has a lot in common with James Bond's Q. "Yes. Or you could try contacting the KaiSenese."
White mutters, "Every time I try to involve another organization..."
Tom fills in, "The person who tries to do it trips over their own feet?"
White glares at Tom, "I call it sabotage!"
Tom suggests that White's people take omens before trying to discuss the microbe with the outside world, or deliberately use unreliable channels. "When I have suspect that I'm involved in a timelock situation, I make sure that I talk while eating a dry cracker. It's much easier for the universe to make me choke on the cracker than to kill me, and I certainly prefer it."
White frowns, "You have dealt with Green." Cracked pots clearly think alike, in his view.
Tom offers another example: "I have a friend who throws coins to see if there's an omen."
White looks pained. Clearly he'd like to hang us from the nearest tree (were we not in deep space) but has decided that he has no choice but to trust us. At least a little. "Well, Sir. I have to admire your quick thinking in coming up with an explanation. I've been trying to protect the Grey 13 lab for the past six weeks and failing."
Tom gently offers, "The problems should stop if you make no effort to release the discovery of countermeasures until 'the omens are right.'"
"Hrmph. Either what you say is true, or you're deeply involved in a conspiracy."
"You're welcome to have me scanned telepathically, as long as you leave me my brain."
White (or if not him, Green) undoubtedly knows insidious tricks that make that kind of candor useless. He stands and says, "You may not land or leave."
"You'll know where to find us."
"Yes. I'll even talk to Mr. Green. If that will be all? Sir?" Without waiting for a reply, White stalks out of the room, collects his guards, boards to his skiff and returns to his ship.
Of course, he's contaminated now... We'll hope his people can use whatever countermeasures they are fated to keep to themselves for now.
As we relax, Edvard informs us that all but two ships have left the formation and are heading towards Hellene. We have Edvard contact Jumping Jacks 3 and ask its pilot if he'd like to come aboard the Munch. It docks with our airlock and the pilot comes aboard. He introduces himself as Carl Claussen. "They made a very convincing case that I couldn't leave. Do you have anything that I could drink?"
We hang about for a day. We discover that there were actually ten bogies following JJ3 out; we were only allowed to see six. Three more show up, for a lucky 13, bringing White, Green, and Blue, the last being sort of like Bond's M, a strategic type. Plus, of course, a couple of armored guards.
Experimentally, we offer them coffee. Only Green accepts, but Blue doesn't seem particularly upset, just detached. Green is all eager curiosity, and White is still very stiff.
Green asks how much we know about their difficulties. We reply, and he adds the information that some people ("in labs 13 and 17") are able to work on the project, while others are not by the same curious "sabotage." Green, of course, is familiar with the theory of timelock and notes that the forbidden personnel are the more "public spirited" types who would tend to spill the beans prematurely. He mentions that Admiral Yanov is ill (a timelock accident, we wonder?) or he, Green, might have been given a freer hand in running this affair. (Did White shift his weight a little?)
The dragon-bug hasn't had a lot of impact on public health yet, we are happy to hear, though there have been some outbreaks of it as a new illness in Gorslavia -- a Hellenic nation with somewhat Amish-style self-imposed restrictions on its technical level.
Tom briefs Green about what he knows of the bug, without mentioning things like dragons and demigods. He mentions how it is stimulated by the radiations mentioned in that leaked report. Green nods and says there's a lot of natural radioactivity in the rock strata of Gorslavia.
Tom suggests, purely as an amateur, that the try using negative energy levels of the stimulating radiation, and look for psionic approaches, too. Also, they could try keeping the stuff in check covertly, so as to avoid timelock. Finally, they could try contacting the KaiSenese temporal services for help. Green and Blue then prevail on White to let Salimar and Green go off to call up KaiSen.
While we wait for the call to go through, Blue asks if he could see our ship. He remarks that he gathers that it is "supposed" to look Philippian, though it comes across as too advanced. (Well, it is; we bought it a century from now.)
We decide that openness is best and give Blue the tour. We take down the furnisher walls (he remarks on our over-advanced furnisher), show him the bridge, the lab, then the engineering deck. He flips out an instrument pack and takes readings, thus setting himself up for all sorts of timelocks -- except that making this stuff public too early is probably the last thing on his mind.
He covertly scans Edvard. Braeta notices, catches Tom's eye, and taps her forehead. He telepaths to her and gets updated. The scans were passive, she says; no hacking. He asks her to keep an eye out for hacking, but none ensues.
Blue is unfazed by the presence of an animate gargoyle and a wolf-sized dragon -- he probably gets weirder things in his breakfast cereal. He is intrigued by the egg-ship, all the more so when he learns it was built for this cat here. He's introduced to Brunalf, who confesses to being from the future and volunteers to give Blue the technical readouts on his egg. Blue, in return, offers to use his resources to fix our ruined blaster cannon.
Green and Salimar now return from their chat with KaiSen, though this time they did not reach a very talkative segment of it. It seemed not to remember much of our recent dealings.
By now, even White seems to half-believe our tale of timelock, and they agree there is no point quarantining us, since the damage is already done. Before they depart, we call up Jumping Jacks and arrange for their people to be given clearance by our security. The security chief asks if this is "another Rainbow Contract." (Ah ha! So that's what Rainbow Contracts are.) No, just an information exchange, plus the ship repair.
Soon, we land at the ranch. It is two days since we were here last, by the ranch calendar. We proceed directly to the library and through the mirror, into Faerie.
There, in the corresponding library in Vinyagarond, we find a young elf sitting in a chair, a crossbow in his lap. Tom recognizes him as Glor-something, Glorian's brother and thus one of Daewen's grandchildren. He greets "Uncle Tom" and his friends politely and asks, "Are you the invasion the pixies mentioned?"
"It's all his fault," Markel answers, pointing at the cat, who, if you recall, managed to rile a whole pixie cavalry last time he was here. Tom says that yes, the invasion is back and is very sorry, aren't you, Brunalf? Brunalf apologizes with all the grace you'd expect of a cat.
The elf explains that, what with Alvirin himself expected, the King's Own Goblins have got the wind up about rumors of security breaches, even rumors from pixies, so Glorian set a guard, him, at the "invasion" site. (Tom telepaths briefly to the others that the King's Own Goblins are Alvirin's elite guard. When they choose to be recognizable, they are thin, greenish fays with insectile eyes.)
We ask if we can see Daewen. Sure, seeing as it's Family. He escorts us, staying at the rear and punctiliously keeping the crossbow aimed at the cat. We pass elves and Marginalia in the halls, but no one obviously not of the house.
Daewen, it turns out is in the conservatory -- the big geodesic dome full of fruit trees that is Vinyagarond's trademark. As we approach, we are challenged by a pixie guard. Glor-whatzit assures the pixie he has the "prisoner" covered, but it comes buzzing along, just in case.
We are then intercepted by a little elf-girl, who tells us Daewen is sleeping. Tom is reluctant to wake her, knowing how frantically busy she is, but is told that if it's important Family stuff, it's all right.
Daewen is sitting in an armchair under a potted orange tree, a cloth over her face, soaking her feet. tom wakes her as gently as ever he can. She's pleased to see us, though a little vague on how long we've been gone -- not because of fay timeslips but because of sheer frantic activity.
We give her the executive summary: far to the galactic west and inward, dragon-people are battling nephilim and associated humans and half-elves on an interstellar scale (at least two planets) and over centuries. These folk are being captured and taken out of continuum, probably as slaves.
Tom voices his suspicion that these draconians are the Lilim or their descendants. Deprived by us of the chaos-stabilizing Marginalia to be their slaves, they are now capturing demigods, who have their own kind of world-shaping powers that the dragons might covet.
We then go into more detail, telling her about Destine and the other planet, our accidental detour from the one to the other, the signs of nephil habitation dating back to the first century AD, the two nephilim we saw sneaking in or out of the dimensional rift, and their rope that we've brought along.
Tom asks, a little nervously, if the ambassador from Patala (the main dragon realm) has shown up yet. No, but an envoy has, to make preparations. Daewen says he first showed up as a sort of lizard-man and has since tried to look more humanoid. The result looks slick in a used-car-salesman way and she really preferred the lizard.
The real dragon ambassador is due to arrive soon. In a river. They're sending one in from the Lurn Ocean. It was either that or he arrived in a vast windstorm; Daewen preferred a river.
Daewen then remarks that, just as there are now only eight Dragon Queens, since Lilith fell, there are also only eight Dragon Kings. She has learned, by inference, that one of them fell, too. He is never spoken of, and he may or may not be the "False Leviathan" mentioned in "Races of Earth," though we are fairly sure that Lilith is the "False Rahab" (and probably the original of Tiamat and Echidna). The dragons won't be eager to talk about any of this, by all indications.
Tom points out that the whole Lilim/dragonfolk problem is clearly bigger than we can solve ourselves.
Daewen asks what our travel technology is. Just a starship. She points out that this, as we knew, is no better than what the Destinos themselves had. Tom agrees; we really need a witchwalker, or an omniport, or a pantope, or a really big version of the cat's egg.
None of these things are available just now. If we could find Ashleigh, she might build a big egg-ship for us. We can hope for one of the family witchwalkers to show up at loose ends. Alag might come by with the "Fast Times," the family pantope.
Trying to show more initiative, Tom suggests he could try building his own pantope. In chaos. He's had this idea in the back of his head for some time, see... Daewen is intrigued, but recommends he take particular care to give the thing as stable a foundation as possible. Tom agrees. This will take planning.
Laying that aside, Tom leans back and, speaking of captive populations, wonders aloud where the Worldbenders got their elves -- the Ennorathi elves from which Daewen's family derive. Tom and Daewen come up with the following theories:
Abandoning this academic exercise, Tom says he'd like to head for the Chaos Marches, there to try his ideas on pantope building. Daewen offers to scrounge up some Marcher Ponies, though getting one for each party member, plus baggage, will be tough.
And what will Tom do with a pantope, if he makes one? "What we really want is a raid like the ones on Worldbender Middle Earth, only rescuing the demigods from the dragons instead of the elves from the Worldbenders," he says. Daewen says that an attitude like that clearly brands him as a member of the family. Tom blushes.
We get up to leave Daewen to rest some more. As we go, she mentions that the elfblood children we brought last time are now being fostered in Lanthil. "And, by the way, you ought to look up Father Paddy when you have a chance." And on that mysterious note we leave.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.