Chapter 37: The Tough Go Shopping
We left our heroes with a pantope connecting their sitting room to their starship, the latter en route to a remote planet. Once this is set up, Dafnord wants to check out the arrangements and makes a tour of the ship. He asks Edvard how things are going and the computer mentions that he's taken part of the life support off line. A little questioning reveals that Edvard can no longer make the ship's air meet his specs. This is because Edvard does not really understand about the pantope doors and so does not realize that the ship is essentially open to the planet. In effect, the life support system was trying to air-condition the whole of Hellene.
After sorting that out, Dafnord asks Tom to make sure he can find the ship faster and easier next time, should it get disconnected again from the pantope. Tom thought he did okay the first time, but obliges. That is, he snorts, strides into the ship's lab, and conjures a five-foot cube of green ectoplasm, clearly labeled "Big Green Cube," to serve as a dowsing target. This will embarass Dafnord and bemuse the others when they find it.
Tom then asks Mirien to look over the ship with regard to reaching it by witchwalking. She wanders around for a bit, then comes out looking studiously blank. When Dafnord is out of earshot, she confides to Tom that she gets dizzy at the mere thought of stepping off that ship onto a witchpath, never mind stepping on to it. Tom supposes this is natural, considering that the Munch is serenely hurtling through hyperstate at several thousand times the speed of light.
It'll take the ship three weeks to get to its destination. Meanwhile, some of the party members decide to go shopping. First, Gannar would like to buy an A-Psi-P -- and "Artificial Psionic Personality," i.e. a psychic computer. This would make a good compensator for his own lack of psychic talent. The house computer can offer three channels through which such things could be obtained. However, it turns out that these gadgets are heavily regulated or flat-out illegal on most of Hellene, which is generally very cautious about psionics. Gannar gives up the idea, for now at least, and goes on to express a desire for some remote handlers and a spawnframe (that is, a minor robot into which he can spawn skilled processes).
Soon other folk are thinking of things they'd like to get, so we organize a shopping expedition to Pericles. To test-fly the pantope a little more, Tom takes them there by moving the door from the sitting room to his apartment in Pericles, a few blocks from the KaiSenese Embassy.
He touched down here once before, but didn't linger. This time, he looks around and notes that there's less furniture than he recalls. He allows other members of the New Blood to use the place in his absence, and someone seems to have re-decorated. For instance, there's a slick new media desk here. Turning it on, Tom finds the following message near the top of his e-mail:
(The current year is 2516.) This might have something to do with the note taped to the desk itself:
Also lying on the desk is an empty envelope. On the back is written, in Nick's hand, "Do not mail until 192/2515." Attached to the envelope is a sticky, bearing the message:
Well, Tom's glad to have missed that little piece of confusion. He and Kate set out with the Gargoyle, to buy it some shoes. Gannar and Robbie head off to the Cyber-Mart, and Markel, Brunalf, and Dafnord go look up some weapon shops.
Markel wants an expanding quarterstaff, like the ones you see used by rangers on "Babylon 5." After some shopping around, he finds one that expands from nine inches to five feet. The salesman also recommends a training program, "Cho Tze Do 5.5."
Brunalf decides he wants a weapon, too. Being a cat, he has to settle for a knife-sized "sword." He also has to prove to the salesman that he's a legal adult. (Most neo-cats are legal minors. After all, their brains are the size of your average lemon.) The salesman also sells him a couple of training programs: a swordsmanship pack, for humans, and "Nekodo -- The Way of the Cat," a martial arts pack for neo-cats. However, the weapons section assumes the user has Stickypaw, the telekinetic skill of holding objects with your thumbless paw.
Dafnord, who has come along just to be near the pantope door and thus near the Munch, has been browsing the software shelf and comes to the register with "Secrets of the Kendo Masters V7.6" and "Amazon Kendo Queens" in a plain brown wrapper. (It's a training program. Honest.)
Across town, Kate and Tom lead the Gargoyle into a shop that does custom shoes and includes extraterrestrials in its clientel. The Gargoyle is still in bipedal mode, but the attendant is non-plussed by the heavy claw marks it makes on the nice hardwood floor. He warms up, though, when he finds out how much we intend to buy -- four pairs of sandals and four pairs of mountain-climbing gloves. All this is so the Gargoyle will feel comfortable aboard the pantope. It found skittering with stony claws on the slick stone deck to be very upsetting.
The salesman is impressed, not to say startled, by the density of the Gargoyle, and by the way it morphs its hands into feet, to make it easier for the salesman to fit them. (Impressive but unnecessary.) Clearly, he's trying to figure out what has walked into his shop. Good luck.
Meanwhile, at the robotics emporium, Gannar and Robbie are trying to get a spawnframe in an animal-shaped chassis. Gannar is frustrated by the primitive contemporary technology. (He is an android of the sixth millenium.) All the proposed chassis are much too large for the covert operations Gannar had in mind.
Standing in the background, Robbie quietly turns on the comm circuit in his head and calls Jumping Jacks to see what they can offer in this line. They can beat this store on both price and size. When Robbie forwards this data to Gannar, he abruptly loses interest in the salesman's pitch. The man tries to recover the situation, and we discover he was trying to sell Gannar a frame capable of running dozens of processes. Gannar only needs one or two at a time. The price and size then come way down, but they still can't beat Jumping Jacks, who can also offer military-spec ruggedness in design.
Robbie and Gannar exit the store, now communing silently with a Jumping Jacks quartermaster over their comm circuits. Jumping Jacks can offer Gannar two largish squirrels that can pass for rats with their tails re-upholstered, can use their forepaws as hands, and can transmit audio-visual over a few kilometers. They can also be tracked from orbit. And they have augmented Intellect Minor brains that can run two spawned processes each. Available in two to three weeks. Perfect.
Gannar also wants remote handlers -- flying hands with cameras. These are no problem, and he can even get one with a "grade one chameleon circuit." This is very interesting. Neither Gannar nor Robbie has ever heard of such a gadget.
Tom, meanwhile, gets a call on his calling card, just as he and Kate are leaving the shoe store with the Gargoyle and several boxes. The call is from Cantrel, though he quickly covers his image with a graphic. He wants to know what the hell the secret squirrels are for, and the chameleon circuit? (Beats Tom.) And who's this "Gannar" guy? And why are you apparently also several blocks away, buying martial arts lessons for cats? (Ah. Tom had to let the cat use his credit line. Oh, yeah, about the cat--) And have you been in down for -- (looks) -- 2.7 hours? (Is that how long it takes to buy shoes for a gargoyle?) It's how long we've been registering an unclassified dimensional anomaly in the Embassy district, possibly in your apartment. (Ah, that would be the new pantope.) Get in here! (Okay, okay.)
Gannar and Robbie, meanwhile, notice they are being tailed. And scanned. At least, Gannar does. Robbie appears to go into a cybernetic daydream until the scanning ends and that very plain aircar disappears around the block. Then he recovers. Cautiously, they take a taxi (neither the first nor the second to present itself) the rest of the way to Jumping Jacks, or at least to within a block. Of course, it was Jumping Jacks who was tailing them, but they can't know that.
Dafnord, Markel, and the cat, meanwhile, have been summoned to Jumping Jacks by Tom. So, in three groups, the party arrives at Jumping Jacks and is hustled in to see "the Director."
They find Cantrel behind a desk like a starship helm, looking trapped and grumpy, trying to sort through many piles of reports and memoes. Cantrel, by the way, is an old associate of Tom's, a fellow veteran of the Diadem campaign, and the head of Jumping Jacks, which is intimately involved with Crosstime, Eldacur Technologies, and the New Blood, though Cantrel usually works the science-fiction side of the street, rather than the high-fantasy side.
We debrief to Cantrel. ("Confess" might be a better word.) We explain to him:
By the time we are done, Cantrel has explanations for most of the reports on his desk. He in turn tells us a lot of news:
Yanov is dying, but Cantrel can't get in touch with him or his family. Yanov's daughter is furious, and has broken through the ranch security twice. She broke in once before and once after someone at the ranch instituted a lot of inquiries about Mars. At first we think these are the inquiries made by the younger Yanov, but then we remember these won't happen for another thirty years.
We learn that 27 nations on Hellene have taken action against Jumping Jacks, this being White's way of expressing his displeasure with us. Four have declared JJ personae to be non grata, and three have nationalized our resources. But Cantrel is relatively serene about all this, now that he knows more of the story. He assures us he knows how to make White pay. It's the brightest spot on his schedule.
We learn that someone is spying on Jumping Jacks, besides the Rainbow crew (who of course are spying on us).
Cantrel sends all the newcomers to a terminal to get JJ clearance and the usual stuff like three false identities. He also tells us that the chameleon circuit is part of a small cache of anachronistic equipment he's garnered. It's like glamour, only technic, not psychic. Gannar immediately gives up claim to it, rather than waste such a resource on a robot squirrel, but Robbie willingly claims it for the use of the party.
By now, Cantrel's feathers are almost smooth again, but he points out, as we leave, that we used to be the only people we knew of who used hi-tech, magic, time, and dimension-hopping. The dragonfolk appear to break that monopoly.
We are left with a list of mysteries:
A week later, at the ranch, folk come down to breakfast to find Tom already up. He explains that, last night, he was unable to sleep and so came down to the libray. While reading, he noticed a glow coming from behind a small bookcase. Moving it, he found a stash of shiny things, such as would be collected by something with the habits of a jackdaw ... or a bogey, and the library also contains the mirror into Faerie.
The glowing thing was in a letter from Daewen. The letter appeared to have been written after we parted company with her last time. It asks Tom to come quickly to the Second Council and bring Nick and Alag. The glowing object was a silver lily, of a sort that only blooms one night. It was supposed to be a token to lead a witchwalker (or, in Tom's case, a pantope) to the right night. But the preservative glamour came undone too soon, alas. Tom was still able to shuttle Nick and Alag to Vinyagarond, and now has coordinates for the night of the First and Second Councils, so we can go to them -- in order -- when we are ready.
Meanwhile, we have one more mystery:
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.