Chapter 40: Last Night in Roanoke
We left our heroes returning home, after a short trip to CoDominion
Hellene and Mars, looking for more background data on the Missing
Martians. The expedition took a few hours for them, while a day and a
half elapsed back at the ranch, thanks to the erratics of Tom's novice
pantope piloting. It was early morning when we set out; it is late
evening when we return.
We have undertaken to research the Missing Martians because this is likely to throw light on (1) the mysterious doings of Ms. Yanov and the Rainbow Contract people, and (2) the plight of the nephilim, who are likewise subject to lost colonies and mysterious disappearances.
Braeta tells us nothing special has happened in our absence, except that our visitor, the Avatar, seemed to be fascinated with something in the library. That was probably the pantope window, which we parked there while we fast-forwarded past our last point of contact with the ranch.
While we were gone, Tom realized that the pantope windows were, unfortunately, detectable from the outside, so he seeks out the Avatar to find out what shows. He finds it in the computer closet.
The Avatar tells Tom that it could notice three clues to the window's presence:
First, it was visible as a very faint circular shadow, presumably caused by the window removing a sample of the light for presentation to the people in the pantope. It's a very faint shadow; normal human vision could not see it, but delicate instrumentation or sensors such as the Avatar's can.
Second, there is a higher incidence of virtual particles around the window, presumably a side-effect of the photon bleed-off.
Finally, there is a slight alteration of natural constants around the window, like a very much reduced version of the alteration the Avatar detects when the omniport is a door, not a window. Such a thing is not explicable in current (psionic) physics, but it is detectable if you know what to look for and have the equipment.
So the windows are undetectable to ordinary human senses, but not to sufficiently exotic and refined technology or ESP.
Tom offers to show the Avatar what the pantope and its omniports look like from the inside; it had only a brief chance to see them on its way over. It agrees, looks at the omniport in window mode, and remarks that it admits fifty percent of the light actually in the library. This indicates that it amplifies the light it captures by a good bit. Tom hadn't noticed the change in light level, but then human brightness perception is logarithmic, not linear.
Robbie urges that we use the pantope to check out the Missing Martians themselves, and their act of vanishment. Tom agrees, but wants to do a little more background research first. There are some museums about the Missing Martians in modern-day Percy, the town they vanished from, and he'd like to check them out.
Accordingly, the interested parties pile into the Emerald Metaphor, Tom disconnects from the ranch on United-Earth-line Hellene, and connects to the Percy tube-train station on CoDominion-line Mars. We park in a little side-corridor, but are still in range of some security cameras. Can't be helped. It is even more annoying that Percy, like most Terran cities of the CoDominion, is blanketed in psilence. Using a psi-opener would probably be conspicuous, maybe even illegal without a local license. So we'll have to forego the telepathy net. The Gargoyle freezes up in psilence and so won't go out at all.
That's all right; it can stay here and operate the ectoplastic door that Tom whips up, along with some glamour, so no one will notice the pantope door hanging about. (We could turn it into a window, but this entails getting the Gargoyle to work the laptop computer.)
The Avatar sighs -- we can see the whole sphere expand and contact -- then adopts a much more conventionally metallic and mechanical appearance, so as to blend in on this timeline. (Tom itches to ask it about its constitution. Not now.)
We slip out into the corridor in ones and twos, so as not to look too weird on the security cameras. Tom goes to an ATM and, after a considerable wait, gets a funds transfer from his accounts on CoDominion Hellene (at 40 Ophiuchi A, several light-years away). We then buy some local jackets at a shop in the station, to help cover up our foreign clothing. (But an interstellar society is not easily shocked by funny clothes.) We also buy a lead for Brunalf, and warn the neo-cat to stay quiet, since talking cats aren't part of this timeline.
Then it's off to the Lost Colony Museum. There, we learn that the Missing Martians were even taller than the modern ones, apparently gene-tooled for it, instead of letting nature and gravity take their course. Also, their early Percy was very pastoral -- lots of trees and room for relatively few people, not many more than a thousand. Tom wonders if these folk could have been fay; their life-style suggests it, but it's just a suggestion.
Now on to the Lost Colony Site, a much more scholarly rival to the Museum, where the posters outside are more realistically drawn and the books in the gift shop are more ponderous. This is under a largish dome, with a careful reconstruction of part of Ancient Percy, the rest of it left untouched for future archeologists. The most interesting thing here is the Great Tree, now over 600 years old, a gigantic transgenic oak, the last of its artificial species, the Percy Oak.
In the gift shop, we are interested to find a history that mentions the "Calvary Effect." This is a time-travel phenomenon, a dilute form of timelock, also known as the Limelight Effect and the Publicity Factor. It means that it is difficult for time-travelers to reach famous historical events, for the simple reason that if lots of time-tourists showed up, they would disrupt the event. ("Dr. Livingston, I presume. And who are all your friends?") The author, Whitaker Walters, Ph.D., theorizes that Calvary Effect is what keeps the Missing Martians a mystery, even in an era when time-travel is possible.
Well. We've been warned. That sometimes even changes our behavior.
But not this time. We stop for a fast-food lunch, then locate a book store, and look up Whitaker Walters in Books In Print. Ph.D. he may be, but his titles suggest a slightly disreputable taste for the speculative. Lots of them have the word "mystery" or "mysterious" in them. Not that we are in any position to criticize.
He appears to be somewhat reclusive, lives on Earth, and publishes through Arkham House Press. Uh-huh...
Back at the train station, it's rush hour, which means it's hard to get privacy wherewith to slip through the wall and into the pantope unnoticed. Eventually, we are all aboard. Now to rewind to the time of the disappearance. Unfortunately, Tom can't simply set the date; his navigation is too crude. We must sit here and count back about 150,000 Martian days, watching the sun rise in the west and set in the east. Fortunately, we have three cybernetic types among us; Robbie, Gannar, and the Avatar are all good at high-speed counting. It's in their metaphorical blood.
But, as Dr. Walters warned us, we are bucking Limelight Effect. Tom keeps losing his lock on the planet's surface. We drift about in the air and once nearly "collide" with Phobos. This results in Robbie and Gannar differing by 30 days on their counts; Robbie and the Avatar differ by 12 days. Eventually, we "land" in Percy at what ought to be a few days before the vanishment. Robbie takes Tom's universal watch and proposes to go outside and determine the local date exactly.
Problem: The ancient Percy citizens kept their dome at a very low air pressure; the pantope is at Hellene sea-level air pressure; opening the door will cause a very stiff breeze. Robbie solves this by rezzing up a globe of clear ectoplasm around himself and the omniport. Tom opens the omniport and the globe squeezes down some in size, but there's no breeze.
Robbie determines we are 95 days from the vanishment. We stalk up on it with a fast-forward much slower than our recent rewind. But Limelight Effect gets worse, the closer we get. We get window-drift again, and once lose connection entirely. Fortunately, the omniport keeps the help laptop appraised of current coordinates, so we can reattach.
Ultimately, we land in a city park, around midnight before The Day. There's a sandstorm going on, darkly visible through the dome above.
Robbie, the Avatar, Markel, and the cat all go out to reconnoiter. The latter two are wearing diffusion belts against the low air pressure, and everyone is wearing glamours for invisibility.
Robbie launches his flying eye (which is not invisible, but very small), and soon picks up a couple on a park bench. They turn out to be talking about exactly what you'd expect. Robbie moves the eye on, after a bit.
The cat tries some witch-watching, to see if there's anything funny about witchpaths here. Good idea, but he instantly falls off the net. And he was invisible. And now Robbie can't find him in infrared either... We worry that he got sucked into a local "on" ramp.
Markel tries tracking the cat by its footprints in the park grass. They just end at the spot where it vanished. Tom steps out and tries to dowse for the cat. Nothing. Robbie asks that Tom, our only pantope pilot, step back aboard; he complies.
Robbie, meanwhile, goes on looking about. And listening. The local radio channels aren't very informative, though, being encoded, or constantly packet-switching, or some such. His eye, however, picks up some conversation from a pedestrian couple: "Really, we have to hurry. Only six more hours and so much to pack."
So the Missing Martians vanished deliberately. Robbie has his eye follow them. Markel does, too.
This couple, it turns out, are not just hurrying home to pack. They proceed to break into a local shop, using a hand comm to trigger the lock. Inside, it's a tool store of some sort, selling stuff for shaping wood and metal. They couple begin looting it very selectively and deftly. In the dark. Good eyes...
Robbie, meanwhile, finally finds a continuous voice. A very continuous voice. One of those people who appear to talk without inhaling, and so never give the packet switcher time to break in and change to an open channel. Quoth the lady: "I just couldn't convince her. Sylvia's going out with Flora and not with us."
The couple finish their deeds in the dark and leave the store, invisibly tailed by Markel and Robbie's eye.
An air-car goes by, very low and very fast. Which is very odd.
"It's just like Syliva to go all flighty on you and change plans at the last minute on something big...."
The air-car zooms by again.
At this point, Markel notices that there are no signs on all these park-side stores. We then recall that the reconstructions in the museums did show shop signs, but none of the actual photos from the period did. And no one noticed. Very odd.
Zoom again, with the air-car. What's this guy up to? He has attracted the noticed of a cop on an air-cycle.
"She apparently has no sense of priority, no sense of history, and no sense of the Big Picture whatsoever!" Possibly we should recruit Sylvia. She sounds like our sort.
Meanwhile, Robbie has picked up another couple, this time two young men. "Constable's out. He's going to spot you!" "Who cares tonight?" They're squatting in the shrubbery, watching the air-car go by at 150 m.p.h., three meters above the ground, the air-cycle flashing blue in hot pursuit.
Robbie asks Tom if he'd like one of these folk for a memory audit. No thanks.
Instead, we watch as they break into another of the sign-free shops. They go from cabinet to cabinet, check and occasionally replacing contents. When there are any contents. Most of the cabinets are empty. And most are opaque, with solid wood doors like kitchen cabinets. Real stores usually have windows in the cabinet doors, to display stuff. Again, very odd.
These two fellows have the tall, slender, barrel-chested build and ruddy skins typical of the Missing Martians. They are better dressed than criminals usually are. Their eyes maybe a little over-large; another transgenic adaptation?
Tom takes a quick clairviewing through the cabinets. Most are empty. He notices several have pegs, and realizes that these are often for things like greatswords and axes. Odder and odder.
"Ah ha! I told you!" One of the gentleman burglars has found a box containing a pair of daggers in leather sheaths and a pair of guns. They are not space-age zap guns. Instead, they are more typical of the 18th century, or of the Jack when its technology was declining. Dafnord notes there are not hammers on them. They have nice jade handles, though. "This is worth the whole trip!" one of the burglars exults.
Outside: Zoom. Siren. Crash! The cop has hit a tree. The air-car vanishes as fast as may be, as do the lads with the old-fashioned pistols. Tom tags one with a tracer.
Then we turn our attention to the crashed cop. He's alive, and the other burglarious couple, the man-and-woman team of tool collectors, are running up to him. The man pauses to hit a button on his pocket phone, and soon there are more sirens in the distance -- he called an ambulance.
The woman starts checking the cop over. He starts to rise and thinks better of it, since his leg is clearly broken. Then the woman puts her hand on him and does something psychic. Tom can feel it. It's something like the diagnostic psi he's seen Lorelei do. Psi, centuries before it became reliable and widely known.
A couple of air-vans arrive and issue cops. One looks at the woman and speaks three syllables to her. She replies. Odd again.
They start emergency first aid. We learn the couple is named "Forester," and things seem normal again until one of the cops lays hands on his injured fellow and a glow issues from beneath them. More psi.
An ambulance shows up. The medics haul out a stretcher which pulls the cop aboard with mechanical TK. Tres anachronistic technology. One of the cops remarks to his radio that "Doc" will "have to unpack."
Tom states what is now obvious: "This is a whole village of time-travellers or other outworlders, and they're getting ready to leave."
The ambulance zooms away in a daredevil manner suggesting anachronistic inertial damping, and the Foresters pick up their ill-gotten goods and leave. Then three cop cars show up in the air, form a triangle, and start circling and scanning for clues. About the crash, but they'll also pick up us, the Avatar informs us.
(The Avatar also remarks that the psi used by these folk is "subtle and richly textured." This may mean they're fay. It almost certainly means they're very good at it. As in maybe better than us.)
Robbie and the Avatar retreat through the door. But Markel is too far away. He'll have to run around the park to reach the pantope door and stay out from under the circling cop cars. And the cat is still missing, of course.
Someone leaps gracefully out of one of the circles cars. A long leap. Maybe it's the low Martian gravity; maybe he had a TK assist. He looks around, finds something interesting, and is soon clearly tracking Markel. He talks into a comm unit.
Markel was still tailing the Foresters, but now he starts working on getting back to the pantope. Tom puts a tracer on the Foresters as Markel leaves ... and the cop stares straight at the pantope door. A cop car descends and another cop gets out. They both look our way and sigh. They start to approach. The second cop pulls out a little pendant ending in a gem. He also pulls out a pistol, which glues conveniently to his pants, no holster required. They poke about, still headed our way.
One homes in on the spot where the cat vanished. Tom, who has been relying on low lighting to hide the door until now, casts a glamour over it. When he does that, the other cop does a duck and roll and vanishes. Tom's not the only glamourist in town. The other cop freezes in place.
Tom now tries to cast a clairvoyant cloak over the door. Just as he tries to move the door, to meet Markel -- thump -- the cop who vanished drops boots-first out of the air, in front of the door.
Snap. Tom loses the connection to Mars.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.