Chapter 29: Dragon Riddles
We left Dafnord down in the basement, in a store-room, having just interrogated a dragon spy, who quietly died on him, for no obvious reason. Dafnord reflects on how nasty it is to be in telepathic rapport with someone who dies -- in fact, now that he thinks about it, it's usually a lot nastier than this was...
He has four spies left, two of them unconscious, all of them tied up and swathed in the psilence he has going in the room. Several of his friends are helping gnomish medics un-stick the wings of the pixies out in the hallway. Some of them are good telepaths, Kate in particular. Dafnord asks her to leave the pixies to the Red Mushroom professionals and do a memory audit on an unconscious spy. Tom tried that earlier and got some useful information -- and, more importantly, didn't kill the subject.
She sets up with the telepatches -- handy psionic devices for using telepathy through psilence; Dafnord was using them for interrogation, not memory audit. She then rummages around in the spy's head with the goal of starting with events a week back and working systematically forward.
This turns out to be hard. Hey, what were you doing a week ago? Memory a little foggy? Much more important, the fellow is very alien, and his memories are just plain hard to read -- meaningless fragments, to Kate. She does locate some images of life on the Dragon embassy's boat. It was sailing on some kind of very odd sea. For one thing, the horizon was too high, and it was an odd color. But even this much is hard to tell, because all visual memories are sort of fish-eyed -- the fellow has a non-humanoid visual field.
Then there are memories of sailing a much more normal sea, presumably the Lurn, the ocean of Faerie, which looks Earthly. The light here seems very bright to him. Then there are memories of slipping off the boat, into the river, up to the shore, running stealthily through the woods, until -- a short, sharp shock, after he looked up over his shoulder and saw two women on a flying horse, aiming things at him.
All well and good, but what about social contacts? Very few. There are memories of faces, even talking faces, but no memories of conversations, or discussions, or getting instructions, or anything of that kind. Kate tries looking for associations with the information Tom got last time. She now gets clear memories of entering the river mouth, coming off the Lurn, and another memory of the shift from wherever it was to the Lurn, but that's it.
Okay, maybe we should send a non-human to audit a non-human. We rouse Salimar from her rest in her bucket (with the screw-on lid with the handle on the inside). She shapes herself up, then comes down and tries her hand at auditing. She tries her "usual diplomatic scan" -- hi there, what's your name, where's your home, who's your boss, what's your mission? Nothing. She tries looking for motives. He, ah, doesn't appear to think about motives much at all. She looks for traces of being possessed, or coercive psi, or somesuch. Nope.
Salimar asks Robbie to look him over cybernetically for chip implants. While he does that (and finds none), Robbie wonders how old this spy is. Salimar tries looking back to the beginning of his memory and quickly concludes that he is VERY old. But is he intelligent? Ah, there's the rub. He certainly doesn't seem to have much in his memory using language -- not even as much as you'd expect of a dog -- but some people don't think linguistically. He doesn't have much in the way of abstract thought that we can find, but maybe we're looking for the wrong abstractions. True, he is no more alien to Salimar than the humans and elves are, but he isn't an alien form she happens to have studied.
In general, looking over his recent memory, she finds nothing that stands out especially (other than the recent short, sharp shock), and a lot of fragmentary material you could class as "dream imagery."
We have a species gap. "Who do we know that's reptilian?" Tom muses on the net. At which point Markel remarks that he happens to be part dragon. !!! Why didn't you say? "You never asked." In any case, we have Salimar send her memory findings to Markel, for later mulling over and general storage. (She tried having Robbie store them, but robots do not readily store draconian dream imagery.)
Salimar wonders if the group of them are supposed to function as a gestalt. We don't want to open psi and let them use their shapeshifting and other powers, so she hooks the four of them up with telepatches. There's no sign of group thinking, though "ow" is a popular concept at the moment... The two conscious ones become very confused. So much for the gestalt theory.
Continued rummaging gets no more than the clear image of the dragon-woman who will "take care of" things for the spies, back on the boat. We conclude that these guys are very dumb, very well-screened, very alien, or some combination of these. A cautious opening of psi around an unconscious one lets us determine he carries no tracers or similar psi residues, though of course he shows signs of lots of recent psi/magic activity.
It's getting time to thing about the dinner party. Kate volunteers to stay there on guard, while the rest of us go get dressed. It's formal, so we raid the attic for really good clothes. Dafnord, Kate, and Tom have trunks up there, and this lot at Vinyagaerond are habitual clothes-horses, so there's bound to be good pickings.
Tom and Dafnord soon break out their formal grey-and-maroon Jack Patrol uniforms. While we rummage among the costumers, a voice cheerily calls out, "Hey, my dad's got a barn. Let's put on a show!" No, it is neither Mickey Rooney nor Judy Garland, but Runyana (who has obviously seen Rooney & Garland movies at some time).
Tom is rather surprised to see Runyana here. After all, she isn't due to be born for several years. She doesn't explain her presence, though, except to say that this event is a "traditional" one for the younger members of the New Blood to visit. Tom, always reluctant to know too much about the future, doesn't press the issue. Instead, he lets Runyana help excavate clothing for everyone. Soon, we have Robbie in a nifty black-and-silver space patrol number, and Braeta in a Celtic dress of Daewen's, which must have magic in the weave, since Braeta would make three or four of Daewen, even though they're the same height.
We even find nice collars for the gargoyle and the cat.
Runyana does not follow us down the stairs, naturally enough. There, we meet Daewen and her husband Aelvenstar (being introduced formally as "Eldarellen" in Quenya). We give them a quick debriefing and again show her a glamour of the dragon woman who appears to run the spies. Then she and Aelvenstar enter. We wait for them to make all their greetings. Meanwhile, Robbie sends his remote eye down to the holding cell, so Kate can come and get dressed. A couple of gnomes also step in to stand guard.
We enter the dining room and find it mostly full of elves, though there are also dwarves, gnomes, and pixies about. Then the Patala ambassador enters, with six other dragon-folk, including the dragon-lady. They look sleek, dark-haired, and generically human, dressed in a vaguely oriental mode. One of them looks particularly greasy and must be the envoy Daewen described as looking like a used car salesman. Unfortunately, he tends to stay in front of the ambassador. In fact, the dragons move around the room in a kind of formation, the Envoy first, the Ambassador behind him, and the other five in a kind of V formation, with the woman at the Ambassador's side. They appear to be "mingling." Or trying to.
Robbie takes a look at them in infra-red. They're rather cool. And they don't blink a lot, either. Figures.
Looking at the other occupants of the room, we see few members of the Family, and few members of the local High Elves. Instead, there are lots of foreign visitors and lots of guards, some more obvious than others.
Making his own attempt to mingle, Dafnord wanders up to a fairly human-looking lady in blue, black-haired, with a silver coronet. A young elven maid pops up in time to introduce Dafnord to "Lady Lillian of Avalon." The gargoyle comes padding after Dafnord and affords a topic of conversations. ("It followed us home. At least, we didn't think we should leave it behind.") Dafnord introduces himself as one of the New Blood, though he feels the title is sort of honorary. Lillian smiles and says she's heard good things about the New Blood. (Goes well with garlic butter?) She gathers that this new Lanthil place is a kind of refuge for the Marginalia and the Ennorathi elves, and Avalonians appreciate refuges; Avalon is something of a refuge, too.
Salimar and Tom now wander over, and Dafnord makes introductions. Lillian tells us she has not dealt with Patala herself, but her sisters have. Patala and Avalon both like their privacy, and were able to cooperate in helping each other keep it. She tells us that the dragon woman is referred to as the "Lady of the Chalice," and that it is a Patalan peculiarity that they only use titles for themselves in polite public discourse, never names. Well, they wouldn't be the only arcane race to be funny about names. We appreciate her tip.
Salimar wants to get introduced to the Ambassador, so Lillian leads us over, thus rescuing Daewen, who had been pinned down by the oily Envoy. While Daewen runs away to talk with something hobbitish, the Ambassador turns to greet us, forcing his satellites to wheel around. After some polite chit-chat, Robbie asks about the meaning of the title "Lady of the Chalice." The Ambassador is at a loss to convey the nuances to us; she's a senior member of his entourage. (On our telepathy net, we wonder if she's senior to the Ambassador himself.)
In his turn, the Ambassador asks about Salimar's title of "liaison officer" and who or what KaiSen is. Salimar just smiles and replies, "KaiSen is," reflecting a more absolute or existential view of KaiSen than the rest of us had. "Tell me of Patala," she asks. Soon she is handed off to the Envoy, who mostly tells her about how old Patala is -- at least four times as old as Faerie, which refuses to date itself, but was founded about 24 million years ago, Earth timescale. And even that distant time (the end of the Mesozoic) is just when Patala was "removed from Earth," not when it was founded. Why do we want to know about Patala? Salimar answers that, in general, KaiSen seeks to know, understand, and respect other cultures and their privacy. The Envoy finds that a very wise attitude. The two of them ooze away before the oil level gets any deeper.
Watching the Patala formation wander off, Tom remarks they sure want to remind us how young we are. Lillian refines this -- they want to remind us how old they are. They don't pay much attention to us "junior" races, unless they have to.
One wonders what the seating arrangements will be at dinner.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.