Out to Launch
We left our heroes ... nowhere in particular. Or even particularly Nowhere. They are surrounded by vague mists, variously sitting on a magic carpet or hovering on their own wings or the wings of Markel's dragon. Chaos' Rim feels very close, according to Tom's dowsing.
Tom discusses what steps to take next. He had intended to go alone, arranging to meet up with the others later, or, if he fails to do that, they could come looking for him with witchwalkers, etc. The party agrees to this, with one change -- Brunalf the neo-cat wants to come with Tom, to try and wish up a new egg-ship for himself in Chaos' Rim. (His old egg is back on Hellene. It still works, but why have one when you could have two?)
Mirien, as the only witchwalker present, worries about finding her way back to a "place" that is really off the edge of the concept of Location. Tom says want he really wants her to find is him, not a place. Oh, that's different, then. Can Mirien guide the party back to the beach of the Sunless Sea, so they can wait there rather than in this limbo? She feels she can, but feels happier once the whole party is holding on to a rope and thus physically connected. (The gargoyle even shapes its forepaws into hands for the purpose.)
Tom gives his ring to Robbie. This is really two rings of macro-steel, stuck together with bound TK; it's Tom's psi battery. If they need to come looking for him, it'll make a great dowsing token to guide them. Contrariwise, it improves Tom's odds of finding the party, should he come looking for them. And he won't need it in Chaos' Rim, where he can wish up more energy.
Following Tom's lead, the cat gives Markel one of his eyebrow whiskers for a token. Tom then whips up an ectoplastic harness for the cat and the two of them step off the carpet, vanishing into the grayness in distorted perspectives.
Well. Now for Mirien to witchwalk us back to the beach. She steps off the carpet with the end of the rope in hand and starts walking. Robbie, seeing that there is apparently a surface out there to walk on, steps off the carpet to follow.
He plummets. Switching on his lift motor, he rises back. Apparently, there's a walkway only if you know how to walk it. Mirien takes a few brisk steps and their clear patch in the grayness turns back into a tunnel. Soon, they are whipping through a streaming roller-coaster ride. Quite abruptly, the grayness clears and they are on the beach. The gargoyle stumbles. Katrina falls off Markel's dragon. The carpet skids over pebbles. We pick ourselves up and begin waiting.
He arrives? Maybe. It doesn't look like it did the last time, which was roughly like multiple fireworks displays going off in a hurricane as viewed through rough water. Rather, Tom hits something big and soft, at an angle. A little work reveals that was horizontal and Tom has hit a nice, soft species of ground. He stands up and finds himself still in mist.
The cat, meanwhile, is likewise on soft ground, but there's directed light from overhead here, and no mist. The ground looks smooth but feels gritty, like sand.
Tom is still trying to decide if he's reached Chaos' Rim yet. He tries wishing a simple white cube into his palm. Smack Ow! Yes, he has a white cube. It plummeted into his hand as if falling in from infinity, and hit hard. Hmph. Tom feels around and dowses Chaos' Rim more or less ahead, so maybe this is sort of the rim of the Rim. Maybe he can find a better grade of chaos ahead. The squashy ground rises before him. He starts climbing.
The cat takes his cue from Tom's painful experience with the cube; he wishes up an egg-ship, like his old one but cooler, but over there, please, three meters away. Sure enough, a shadow appears on the ground and there's a faint whistling noise from above. Wham! The egg ship drops out of the all-providing sky and buries itself deep in the soft gray ground. The cat sighs and starts digging.
Tom, meanwhile, has come to a kind of peak. He finds he's walking on a thing like a cartoon cloud -- soft and puffy, but able to bear your weight. Behind him is the slow upgrade. To either side, it slopes away more quickly. In front, it forms a sort of cliff of cloud. He sits down to rest and listens to his telepathic link, waiting for the cat to solve its problem.
Elsewhere, Brunalf has tired of digging his ship out of the transfinite sandbox (though the stuff is really more like dry gelatin) and decides to try TK. It works. Very well. The ship goes rocketing back up into infinity. Damn! Come back! the cat wishes urgently at the ship. It does.
Wham! again. Only this time the cat was standing closer to the point of impact and is buried in the splash. The cat finds it very easy to wish hard that he was up on top again. The ground obediently convulses and leaves cat and egg, side by side, on the surface. He starts to look over his new possession.
Tom, meanwhile, decides that resolution is all, here, and launches himself off the peak in a TK-powered swan-dive. It's just as well he had the TK, because he notices that the direction of gravity is shifting. In fact, it's toward the face of the erstwhile cliff. And what's that ahead?
The cat, as we said, was looking over the new egg-ship. Much bigger. Fins. The long axis of the egg points forward, not up. The kitty-kibble dispenser is better stocked and the sushi bar was definitely a good idea-- What was that?
It was Tom, who comes hurtling by, narrowly missing a collision. He comes to a tumbling stop and joins the cat, trying to listen attentively to his ecstasies about the upholstery.
This egg is bigger, but it's still far to small for a human to join the cat in the cockpit. Rather than try shrinking, Tom conjures some ropes and rides atop the car. They set out looking for better chaos.
After skimming through cloudlike landscape or landlike cloudscape for a while, they come to the shores of a "sea" of light. It appears to extend indefinitely. The liquid in it is like mercury only more so, but weightless and transparent. It also glitters brightly and anything immersed in it looks brightly lit, so it seems to be transparent and luminous at the same time. Tom feels for "better chaos" and finds it points out to sea. They go skimming off.
By now, they are both getting low on psi energy. Tom wills his fatigue away. That works. You also get a surprising flash of light. The cat does the same, with the same flashbulb effect. Tom, who was looking, sees afterimages of cat before him. One falls into the water. It splashes...
The cat understandably brakes the egg-ship, nearly causing Tom to slide off. While we're stopped, the cat tries to wish away some denting to the nose of his ship, caused when it splatted into the ground the second time. He fails, but Tom succeeds.
Since wishes are coming true fairly well out here, Tom tries to create a pantope. He takes out one of the "pantope eggs" he created earlier, focuses his imagination and attention, tosses it, and calls "Launch!"
It turns into a fish and dives. Damn. That was the best egg, too.
They skim along the sea some more. The cat finds he can conjure things out of the spray of their wake. Soon Tom notices all the fish. The tap-dancing mice. The miniature elephants. A moon rises and lands behind them with a splash. He asks the cat to stop.
Tom tries willing up a pure vein of Chaos' Rim -- that is, like the one he worked with before, all that glitter with floating islands in it--
Scrunch. An island rises out of the sea and the egg ship skids onto it. It's got grass and everything. Brunalf wishes away the new scratches on the egg, Tom climbs back on, and they take off again.
After a while, Tom launches the second egg. There's an explosion of glitter and something like a big flat sheet is briefly visible. But it's another dud.
Tom waits some more.
This produces a great light show, with lots of highly random objects faintly visible through the flashing. Deep in the energy sea, Tom spots a mass of bright turbulence, like a spherical whirlpool of light. Recalling that host of disembodied intellects he loosed last time he was in the Rim, Tom feels toward it telepathically.
--And his shields clang shut. It wants at him. It sucks for data. It's very strange. The cat, however, suggests that maybe that's pure-quill Chaos' Rim hungering for form. He also points out there are things in the whirlpool. Tom looks and notes that he recognizes everything in there. It's a mass of glimpses from his own life. And it does feel like the right direction. He tells Brunalf to steer into it.
Moments later, they are in a whirlwind of random objects. Hastily, Tom launches his third pantope egg, and--
He tells Robbie and Gannar, who are both awake too. Robbie can't see the effect, but then he has zoom lenses. Gannar sees nothing odd either. Not about the optics. But there's activity on that island, and now some in the water, too. Dafnord makes sure the flying carpet is ready.
Tom looks around hopefully and sees a bright point of glitter about a hundred meters away. Good. He looks in the opposite direction and sees a constellation of dim lights out there. Better. Tom thinks he knows where he is. He bids the deck beneath him glow gently.
The cat is confused. Tom never told him what to expect if the pantope got made. What he sees is a plain of white under a sky of black, but a huge part of the sky is blocked by an inverted cone. Its vertex touches the ground a hundred meters away, but it's hard to look at, because the glow of the ground gets brighter as you get toward the vertex. It gets dimmer as you look away.
And, when you look away, you can see a giant, miles distant, apparently as tall as an office building, standing next to an enormous egg shape... Wait a minute.
Tom waves. The distant, shadowy giant waves. The cat blinks the egg's headlights, and the moonlike headlights on the giant egg blink too. Tom tries to explain it's a closed, non-Euclidean geometry with a constant change in relative scale. The cat is more taken with waving his paws and watching the results.
Tom brings up some blue sky to complete the lighting arrangements, then goes off looking for the omniports. These are presently a pair of glowing green balls, like handfires, hovering in the air. Tom locates them and tries to open one. It fails.
Tom finds he's getting very tired, trying to open this thing. And he can no longer wish it away. That's good, in a way, but he decides to rest. The cat offers him a sample from the egg's sushi bar. Tom resolves to get out of here quickly...
While Tom tries to figure out his problem, the cat begins playing with the local geometry. He heads in toward the point of the cone. This never appears to get any closer but he soon passes Tom again, who grows out at him, from the bright apex, in a strange perspective. Round and round the cat goes in his new egg. Whee!
Faster and faster! Can this baby hit Mach 1?
Yes. Tom dives for cover and throws a glamour of silence over his head. The cat's egg gets hit from behind and in front by its own shock wave, thanks to the closed geometry, and the egg goes ricocheting back and forth between the deck and the cone. The cat, of course, gets drenched in impact foam again, but at least this is an improved version with a better flavor. The foam, however, obscures the cat's view, so, even had he been inclined to notice, he can't see that the cone becomes another deck as you approach it, and the deck behind folds into a cone. In fact, the two are opposite sides of the same sheet of rock.
Tom took shelter in a hole in the rock sheet. There are four, equally spaced in a ring around the cone. Gravity switches directions when you pass through, so you can walk on either side of the sheet. Right now, Tom is just using it as a foxhole.
When the sonic boom stops echoing -- which takes a long time in this geometry -- Tom peeps out and ruefully looks at the long scratches on the deck of his brand-new pantope. But this is as nothing to the general crumpling of the cat's new egg. That egg is, or was, their only ticket out of here, too, if Tom can't get the omniports working.
Tom decides that the local psi environment is not quite the same as the one he created the pantope egg in, and thus the omniports needed to be re-patterned. He repatterns one -- the other is still looping through the pantope, caught in the backdraft from the egg's disastrous flight.
Success, it seems. Tom is able to make telepathic contact with the omniport. He now dowses through it for his friends and his ring. The little ball of green light expands into a glittering ring of green light. Through it, Tom can see the beach of the Sunless Sea, and his friends' camp. He has a working window. He steers it around, looking the place over, and parks it in front of Robbie, who is one watch. He turns it from window to door, and the color changes from green to yellow.
Soon, everyone is awake and piling eagerly into the new pantope. Hey, it may be a piece of twisted spacetime out of Tom's head, but it beats the Sunless Sea with restless natives. Soon, they are all looking the place over. Tom tries to explain the geometry and the optical illusions. Brunalf tries not to explain the beat-up look of his new egg. Markel drops a beach rock into one of the holes and watches it bob up and down in the reversing gravity.
The gargoyle, naturally attracted to holes and precipices, trots over for a look. It sees an apparently infinite gulf. Cool! Until it notices how slippery the quartz deck is. It feels itself sliding into the hole and panics. Mirien tries to pull it out with TK, but pulls too hard. The gargoyle flaps in a fit and is soon imitating the egg, bouncing back and forth from one side of the pantope to the other.
When that's over and everyone is calmed down again, Tom clears his throat.
"Long time, no see! Metaphorically." Black Mage, Chaos log 4.
"Hi, unc! How's the metaphor?" Aelwe, Chaos log 5.
" But, enough of my problems. How have you been? Metaphor holding up? Where's everyone else?" Daewen, Meanwhile log 5.
"Ah, I see. It's the power of metaphor." Braeta, Destine log 27.
And now here we are, with a metaphorical, metaphysical pantope. That's one time loop down.
Where to next?
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.