We left our heroes with a number of mysteries on their hands, the most immediate being What is stealing shiny objects about the ranch and hoarding them behind the bookcase?
Next comes the question of who is using the house computers to issue queries about Mars, and how is Ms. Yanov breaking in? (Ms. Yanov is, of course, our prime suspect for issuing the Mars queries.) Taking the direct approach, Robbie asks the house system itself about the Mars inquiries. It has no record of such inquiries being made. Robbie calls Cantrel to relay this information and ask for the exact times the Mars queries were made. Rather gruffly, considering the time zone he's in, Cantrel says he'll send the data.
Back to the mysterious hoarder. Tom makes a fake jewel as bait, and Robbie sets his remote eye to watch it, in a nearby sitting room. Meanwhile, we investigate the hoard behind the bookcase. It includes a floating tray that had been missing. Records show that it was floating around Vinyagarond for the last three years; apparently it got waylaid when it came back through the mirror two weeks ago. Another tray disappeared at this time, possibly swapped without announcement by someone from Vinyagarond.
The hoard is actually in a gap formed by the removal of a stretch of baseboard, creating an opening into the ducting system of the house, where all the miscellaneous cabling lives. In there, we find a bed (we suppose) made of shredded paper. A little examination shows some of the paper to be shredded letters, including something by Dr. Watson of the Classical Line, about Sherrinford Holmes. Presumably this came from Ashleigh's room. Robbie tries to look in Ashleigh's room, but it's locked. Salimar tries retrocognition on the hoard, but fails the attempt. We confiscate the bed, so someone with good Dicing can put the shreds back together someday.
On the espionage front, Robbie asks the house computers to check over their records for tampering. They announce that there were 27% fewer than normal records for the last five weeks, including three two-hour gaps for the entry-way records and several for the library. Most of these gaps are for areas on the first floor.
Meanwhile, Markel is continuing the physical examination of the house. He finds a smaller hoard behind a cabinet, including silverware from the cabinet, two leather-bound books with gilding, and a nice geographical globe of some planet or other. (Tom informs him that it's Earth.)
Brunalf the cat tries to sniff around the hoard, sneezes, and stirs up twinkling traces of pixie-dust.
Markel finds a third hoard in a curious cabinet apparently used to store pendulums, with a chunk of machinery in the top. ("That's called a 'grandfather clock,' Markel.")
Back on the espionage case, Robbie asks Gannar and Braeta to set up some surveillance programming. In particular, he asks Braeta if she can have her programs watch Gannar's, without any of the other software being the wiser. Braeta says this is very hard, since parts of the household system appear to be futuristic.
Robbie then asks Braeta, Gannar, and Tom to confer with him on the Metaphor, where he presumes the house systems can't hear him. He says he is worried, since Braeta says she can't hide her surveillance programs from the system, and she's the best hacker he knows, yet the intruder appears to have done this very thing. Braeta assures him that the intruder probably did something much simpler than introduce invisible code -- probably just isolated the main processor and did some very artful edits on the memory logs.
Somewhat reassured, Robbie has Tom move the pantope door to his apartment in Pericles. From there, he calls up Cantrel at Jumping Jacks, tells him about the memory gaps in our system, and asks when the latest additions and upgrades were made. Braeta points out that, if someone else is using time-tricks the way we do, infiltration might not have been a recent matter; it could have been done at any time. Cantrel says that would be a major problem. He transfer us to Jeremy.
Jeremy is a technical genius that Crosstime picked up on Hellene of the Co-Dominion line. He is also quadriplegic from an exotic nervous disorder, but powerfully telekinetic. When he appears on the screen, Tom notes he is now able to use one hand, which is a big improvement. (One can also note that the comm link develops all kinds of icons assuring us of how secure it now is.) Jeremy hears us out and offers to send an "avatar" in a couple of minutes.
Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, something knocks on the door of Tom's apartment. It turns out to be a hovering white sphere, about the size of a beachball, with a pair of enormous eye-lenses. It speaks in its own voice, not Jeremy's, and introduces itself as the avatar.
We ferry it to the ranch, which causes a momentary glitch in its communications, just as the threshold of the door causes a small dip as it levitates across, but it seems to be autonomous, not run by remote control. Tom takes a casual telepathic glance at it and verifies that there is a mind in there. It remarks on the change of physical constants in the pantope, tells Tom that the change spills out the door for several meters, and is clearly fascinated by its first look into a pantope.
Robbie tries to open a secure robot-to-robot link with it, but it doesn't do that, (It assures us, though, that it has a wide range of senses.) So Robbie starts talking to it, in the usual manner. When it learns we want to speak in the Metaphor so as not to be heard by the house system, it warns us that the Hermetics 2010 Surveillance System that is part of the house is easily capable of hearing what's said in the pantope when the latter is connected. It accordingly places a humming noise in the door of the pantope before continuing the conversation.
After we acquaint it with all our particulars, the avatar says it will match the house system against the specs it has for it. It floats into the library, where the media desk is, and starts working away. (It has no physical manipulators, but buttons on the desk console get pushed telekinetically.)
Going back to our vermin problem, Tom makes a couple of Gannar's gun platforms invisible, so we can stun whatever it is, when it comes to take the bait. Kate looks over the bogey-nest with clairvoyance. She learns nothing about the bogey from this, but a stray glance at the avatar shows it is thickly studded with clairvoyant viewpoints -- Argus-eyed. Fascinating.
Probing clairvoyantly along the ducting, Markel finds a place where the wires appear to have been pushed aside for the vermin. Kate's viewpoint soon joins his, as does Tom's. Tom senses a psychic signature indicating something magical has hung about here for some time. So we are pretty sure our vermin is a bogey from Faerie or something of that sort.
Meanwhile, Brunalf is trying to track our mysterious vermin. The avatar makes some noise that only cats can hear, and it distracts him. Perhaps he'll do better with a different perspective. Tom shrinks him and the Gargoyle to hamster size, and the two of them begin exploring the world behind the walls. With his witch-sight, Brunalf notes there is a "soft" spot in the bed, where one could witchwalk in and out with ease. The Gargoyle tracks the bogey up a vertical turn in the duct. He and the cat eventually come out the baseboard in Robbie's room, no wiser.
Back at the media desk in the library, the avatar stops typing and moves to the house communications closet. There are several small terminals in there. They all come alive at once, as the avatar works all the keyboards simultaneously. Following, Robbie and Tom watch with interest.
The avatar confirms that the system is compromised. It found several gaps in the control memory logs. But there are no active processes spying in it now. Unfortunately, it can offer no recommendations. It has asked JJHQ for records of the Rainbow Contracts and-- Ah, here's the answer now.
Crosstime forbids Jumping Jacks from including anachronistic Crosstime technology in the goods we sell through the Rainbow Contracts, though we do include some pretty fancy Eldacur Technologies stuff, which is slightly magical in its cybernetics.
So, if it's Rainbow people spying on us, we should still have a technical edge. We hope.
Tom asks if the avatar knows who the Rainbow Contract customers are. Sorry, no. While he's at it, Tom asks what an avatar is. It splutters a little at this. Tom asks if it's a copy of someone's mind. No. Um, "descended" from someone's mind? Yes, that's a good first approximation; from Jeremy's.
It and we wonder if these intrusions are our own work from further in the future. It is our style, in a way, and--
Suddenly, the avatar picks up some psionic activity in the garage. It and Tom both send viewpoints hurtling through the walls. (The avatar sends lots of viewpoints, of many kinds.) Tom himself, Robbie, Markel, and Gannar all head out to the garage.
The viewpoints find a horrid mess when they get there. Clearly, the garage has been vandalized, probably in retaliation for breaking into the nest. Unfortunately, the security pickups couldn't see anything. The whatzit was on the far side of an air-van. There are no openings visible.
Mirien steps out of the air in the garage, witchwalking, and sneaks around the air-van. Nothing there anymore. But she senses that something small just now witchwalked out.
The cat and the gargoyle are also trying to reach the garage, making their ways through the walls. Unfortunately, the cat winds up in the attic... The gargoyle simply retraces its route to the library, where it finds Katrina waiting. She is willing to pick up a stone hamster and carry it to the garage. With some exasperation, Robbie goes up to the attic and fetches the miniaturized cat.
Mirien tries to follow the bogey's witchpath and winds up in a nearby hollow tree, decidedly cramped. On Tom's suggestion, she shrinks to pixie size, leaving some slightly crushed shiny oddments underneath her.
We decide to trust in our trap. Mirien enhances the appeal of the bait gem with some glamour, and Tom puts clairvoyance cloaks on the already invisible stunners. We leave the gem under a chair, in overlapping fields of fire.
We clean up the garage and the library. The gargoyle and Mirien, still tiny, explores walls but find nothing new. The avatar is invited to stay. We go to bed. Around midnight, Robbie hears scritching noises in the walls. Probably the gargoyle. No...
His remote eye spots tiny footprints as something small and invisible moves across the sitting room carpet toward our bait. Infrared shows a little goblin-like figure, with long teeth and batty ears, dressed in leaves. A bogey. He waits until it's in range, then-- Zot! Zot! A double dose of stun. Then the psilencer on for good measure. It falls over, visible, and starts to writhe. Robbie sends out "Got it!" on the telepathy net.
Those of us asleep jump out of bed. Markel does so without the formality of waking up. Tom encounters him blundering on the stairs and starts to ease him down. He makes a gentle telepathic contact to make sure Markel is okay--
--and finds nobody home. Markel, according to telepathic evidence, is over there, back in his bedroom. How curious. Tom takes Markel's body, in a fireman's carry, back to the bedroom and stares at the empty bed his ESP assures him is occupied by Markel, asleep. Eventually, he puts the body down on top of the mind and goes to the sitting room.
(What we have seen here, though the characters can't know it, is a bit of spontaneous astral projection gone thoroughly wrong. The body "projected" and the mind stayed in bed.)
Down in the sitting room, Robbie has given the bogey another zap for good measure, but it keeps writhing. He consults Mirien, who suggests, very tentatively, that someone pick it up -- but not her. Certainly not in that psilence. If it's brought into open psi, it might not be able to witchwalk away if it's being held up in the air.
The gargoyle, now back to full size, goes in to pick it up--
...and slowly freezes into a plain stone statue. Psilence is bad for magic gargoyles, it appears.
So Robbie goes in, picks up the writing bogey, gets his upholstery slightly scratched by it, and turns off the psilence. It collapses into full unconsciousness. The psilence was apparently painful to it.
(And the gargoyle slowly re-animates. It then steals out of the room, determined to avoid psilence in the future.)
Now what do we do? Tom does a quick memory audit. Its mind is an untidy mess, illuminated by very little intelligence. It doesn't seem to be working for anyone else. It came through the mirror, of course. And its most recent memory is the zorch of the stunners.
How to get rid of it, since it can witchwalk? Well, bogies are rather like brownies, and you can exorcize brownies with a gift of clothes. Accordingly, Tom goes to his workshop and whips up some liquid nylon. He then uses his ectoplastics ability to form it into some bogey-sized "clothes," ill-fitting no doubt, of the texture of one of those spongey sheets you throw in a drier.
He returns and takes one more look in the bogey's mind for its True Name. This he passes on to Mirien, who uses a bit of glamour to strike a truly imposing High Elven pose. She then commands, "Humphrey Manglewurtzel Botts, wake up!" (Not all True Names can be winners.)
It wakes, looking very crabby until it sees who woke it, whereon it looks cowed.
"Who sent you?" she demands. "Bogies aren't sent!" it answers with as much asperity as it dares.
"Why are you here?"
It replies, baffled, "Why?"
"Because this is My place!" A look of dawning realization and fear fills its eyes.
Tom then throws the clothes at it and tells it to swear by its Name that it will take them as full payment for anything it even thinks we owe it and never come back. It readily agrees.
We then throw it through the library mirror. Well, nearly through. The mirror wasn't quite penetrable when it hit, but it falls through on the other side after it slides down the glass for a ways. It very much startles the dwarf standing guard on the other side. But the dwarf still has the presence of mind to putt it out into the hallway with his halberd. The mirror silvers over.
Upstairs, Markel finally wakes up to the sound of several people laughing.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.