Chapter 41: Closing Ceremonies
When we left our heroes last time, they were investigating the Mystery of the Missing Martians. They had established that the Martian colonists of Percy were (1) leaving voluntarily, and (2) seriously out of place, displaying anachronistic or anamundistic powers and technologies. They had also lost the cat and, most recently, lost the connection to Mars, thus stranding Markel there in Percy, in the Martian night, with suspicious police officers on the prowl around him.
Of course, since we now are completely unconnected to that entire continuum, we don't have to worry about anything more happening while we're gone. Time is not passing. We pause to think.
Robbie suggests that we solve the cat problem by being the reason Brunalf mysteriously vanished. We go back a few minutes and snatch him from the place we saw him vanish. Kate, Dafnord, and Tom all flinch. The technical term for this kind of move is "causal substitution," and it can be done, but you usually have a known prior cause you wish to preclude, and this particular one involves very tight timing, and... They are very uncomfortable with the idea.
We decide to retrieve Markel first. He's simple. We just need to re-open a window on Mars, move it up to Markel, then turn it into a door. The only complication is all those psychic cops out there in the night, who might notice if we try to contact Markel telepathically. Not to worry -- Markel is carrying a calling-card. Robbie can simply phone him. (The calling card beeps a little when you call on it, but not too much, we hope.)
Tom re-opens the window at the exact point in spacetime where we left off. This was with a Martian cop dropping down out of the air in front of us. As he finishes dropping, there is a brilliant flash of light. Several of us are dazzled, but not Tom, who was luckily looking at the helm when it happened. (The gargoyle, finding its current eyes dazzled, decides to grow a third. No one notices immediately.) He moves the window off in the general direction of Markel.
Looking back, we see the cop completing a duck-and-roll, and come up, blinking, trying to cover where the door was. So he probably had nothing to do with the flash, and now doesn't know where we are. Good. We see some cop cars land near him.
We switch from window to door, and Robbie pings Markel's card. Now picture recent events from Markel's perspective. There was a brilliant flash in the distance, and the telepathy net went down. A few moments later, his card beeps. He thinks a little before answering it, but finally does so. Robbie explains briefly, and we agree to meet him at the shop where we saw the couple breaking in earlier.
While the cops resume searching for us mysterious intruders, Tom asks the Avatar if it has any quick explanations for the flash. It opines that it may have been caused by interference between the window and its own earlier self. Sounds good. Certainly, there is no new flash when we shift back to window, move to the door of the shop, and shift back to door. Robbie calls Markel once more and tells him to come in.
New problem: Markel is glamoured invisible at the moment, and with the cops out, he won't want to remove it. Well, if we can't see him, he can see us. Tom makes the edges of the door glow gently. After a short wait, we see a series of interesting dark blobs moving in the door -- cross-sections of Markel as he comes in. We then remove the glamour. A cop also spots the glowing doorframe, but we take it down long before he gets here. We note the coordinates and disconnect.
Now for the cat. We decide to just dowse for him through the omniport. Tom tries, fails dramatically, staggers a bit, and asks Kate to try. She fails. Perhaps we need a token of the cat? Robbie steps through the other omniport, to the Munch, and collects some cat hair from Brunalf's cabin.
Mirien, meanwhile, tells us of rumors -- only rumors -- of "witchstorms" that could have sucked Brunalf onto a witchpath in the manner we observed.
Equipped with a pinch of cat hair, Kate tries again and succeeds -- sort of. We open a window on Brunalf ... some weeks ago, grooming himself in his cabin on the Munch.
(By now, Dafnord is trying to decide if he really saw a third eye on the gargoyle, which has since resorbed it.)
Tom is recovered by now and tries tuning in to the contemporary Brunalf. The window turns gray, apparently filled with spinning, blowing mist, accented with white sparkles. Salimar now takes a hand, trying to reach Brunalf by her interdimensional telepathy. She gets a hint and Tom hands the helm over to her. Soon, she has a clairvoyant sight of the cat surrounded by whitish mist, apparently facing into a wind. We are able to bring the window to that image, open it as a door, and get Brunalf back in.
We also get a chunk of the whitish mist, which tends to roll around the deck in a semi-cohesive ball. It has something of the psychic flavor of Chaos' Rim, though we are unable to wish anything out of it. Eventually, we squish it down and store it in a box.
Tom asks Brunalf for an account, and the cat offers to be memory-audited. Doing so, Tom learns that, when he vanished, he found himself suddenly sliding down, or so it seemed. Then he realized it was the stiff wind, with the witch-sight markers twirling and sparkling in great agitation about him. Very shortly after that, we tuned in on him.
So, was this a witchstorm? Maybe.
We decide to go back and watch the rest of the vanishment. It is, after all, what we came to do. Dafnord, however, is suspicious of the large number of cop cars that turned out for a simple traffic accident. This, plus all the other weirdness we've observed, means we should be cautious.
We re-open our window at the shop, trying for just a moment later. We get a bit of a flash, but nothing like so bad. We move the window up near the zenith of the town dome and, from there, watch one of the cops come up to the shop door and feel about it with his hands. We strongly suspect he is looking for psychic traces of us.
With some good clairvoyance from Salimar, plus our well-placed window, we watch and record what happens next:
The cop turns from the shop door when he hears some thrumming noise. He smiles as he sees the arrival of eighteen aircycles, in three groups of six, each half-dozen clad in their own uniforms, red, green, or black, similar in cut to the cops' own bright blue. They begin patrolling the edge of the park, soon joined by cops.
The cop and the shop-door is joined by another. They hold hands and probe about the door with metal batons, doing something psychic that feels rather like fay glamour.
About then, there's a much louder, deeper thrumming, and several sir trucks show up. People in futuristic civilian garb (even a little too futuristic for this date) get out and start hauling crates about, and setting up tables. Soon, a large platform takes shape in the middle of the park. More color-coded half-dozens have shown up on air-cycles, including some in rich purple. General citizens begin drifting in. The tables are now laden with paperwork, books, and pens. A very final exam?
The cops now have other things to do besides puzzle out Markel's tracks. They turn the job of examining the shop door over to a trio of older people, a woman and two men, one man much older. Only... They don't really look old once you examine them closely, though they do have white hair, and the "eldest" limps a little. They wield wizardly staves and wear very long vests. They poke about arcanely, shake their heads, and do something that produces a golden cross of light over the door, with a circle over it. This fades. We appear to have been exorcized. It didn't hurt a bit.
The wizardly trio return to the crowd in the park, which is growing steadily. There are even street vendors in it, selling snacks. The end of the world as block-party. We notice what may be other, lesser wizard-types in the crowd, distinguished by lighter-colored, longer-cut clothes, almost a sixth kind of uniform, in addition to red, green, black, blue, and purple. They are setting up tripods around the edge of the park, braziers, left unlit for now.
A major chunk of the town is now in the park, and people are filling out forms and such at the tables. There are lots of crates and such being moved about. Probably, we are watching them pack to leave and making records of their belongings for unpacking when they get to ... wherever it is.
All of this takes place without panic or rush. Soon, there is only two hours to go until our estimated time of disappearance. Virtually the whole town is in the park, gathered in a rough circles, rimmed with the braziers, divided into three sections by a T-shaped pair of aisles, left clear by the crowd, with the platform in the center.
A processing of wizardly types comes up the stem of the T, bearing bowls and pitchers. They are not, however, particularly the focus of attention. They empty the pitchers into the bowls, and white fire flames up. Bowls are passed out and filled in cascades, and ultimately used to put white fire into the ring of braziers. We now notices a faint dome of light over the whole park.
The various uniformed types gather at the edges of the crowd, bearing weapons of a wide variety of types and eras -- guns, swords, spears, staffs, etc.
The street vendors finish their hawking and tidy themselves off. The vans move away, laden with cargos. The paperwork is over. People quiet down. There have been members of the various uniformed groups up on the platform, often in teams of a senior-looking one and a couple of aides. They all leave or settle down. The senior wizard of the trio we saw now steps forward and addresses the crowd:
"The time is now."
That's it. He then holds up his staff, and a light appears in the center of it. The dome of light over the park gets much brighter. People shuffle around, obviously getting into position. The big cargo trucks come trundling down the crossbar of the T, from both ends at once. As they converge before the stage, they fade out. More vans follow, then cars, then people on foot, with occasional uniformed folk on air-cycles. They march up all three legs of the T, and vanish as they approach the middle.
We examine this process arcanely, mostly courtesy of Salimar. It is like a witchwalk, but not exactly. Perhaps stylistic differences. Visible only to clairvoyance, there is a spinning fire at the center, over the grass no one ever reaches as they march and fade.
After a long time, there are only a few people left. Even the platform has been disassembled and packed off into the Great Beyond. The remaining folk are all of the "wizardly" class and some of the other uniformed types. They pick up the flaming braziers and take them away into the Unknown. The last braziers are brought up the three paths by three trios of wizards. As they go, the grass looks refreshed behind them -- they are erasing the footprints and such. They stop short, just at the point where they begin to fade. The senior trio of wizards -- the ones we saw at the shop -- raise their staves over them, and the light-dome collapses in. Then they all pick up their braziers and, um, exit. The senior trio is last. They look at each other, nod, and step in, vanishing.
Well. Exeunt omnes, as they say in the stage directions.
We bring our window back down, open it as a door, and get out. Salimar tries a retrocognition. Instead of the usual vision of the past, she gets an interesting display of radial geometrical patterns. She herself starts to fade. So she quits.
Tom and Mirien poke around, getting the psychic smell of the place. The center of the park, where the vanishment focuses, is very "soft" to a witchwalker's perceptions. And the whole process was certainly akin, though not quite the same. It was also very powerful, and leaves a powerful signature, though we suppose that will fade with time.
Brunalf cautiously tries his witchsight again, from inside the pantope. Even at that, he starts to get transparent and finds himself being dragged out of the pantope, toward the center of the park. Markel lunges for the neo-cat, but Brunalf just passes through Markel's hand and feels like being sick. He tries to stop himself with TK, but fails. Eventually, Dafnord nails him with the goop gun, gluing him to the deck of the pantope. It is unfortunate that Mirien was, at the same moment, reaching for him, fading into witchwalk-condition as she did so. The goop goes through both of them, and also sticks. Yuck.
Dafnord sheepishly proffers a can of solvent. After we do what we can with that, Mirien still has to pull some goop out of herself. She screams and faints. Eventually, Dafnord carries both her and the cat off to the autodoc, to get cleaned up inside and out.
(Going to the autodoc, aboard the Munch, brings Dafnord into the lab. There, he finds the big, green cube of ectoplasm, clearly labeled "Big Green Cube." He tucks the patients into the autodoc, then puzzles over this. He finally figures out that this is the extra dowsing beacon he asked Tom to provide a few days back. He also figures out Tom felt mildly ticked at being asked. He goes to apologize.)
While we're waiting for people to be de-gooped and all, we unfold the Map of Here. As expected, it shows a lot of interesting markers. There's a big event at the center of the park, but also lots of little events scattered all over the city, with time indexes over a long period. And there are jazzy new green pins marking the comings and goings of our pantope, the Emerald Metaphor.
An hour spent searching the city reveals nothing we didn't already know from the museums and archeology books of the future. By now, it's early dawn.
We speculate: Tom wonders if these folk are proto-Deryni. Dafnord wonders if they could heal Yanov and that's why he's interested in them. Robbie wonders why they came here and why they left? Dafnord suggests they're migratory, or just like their privacy and Mars was getting too crowded. Braeta points out that they had anachronistic technology, as did the nephilim of the second, unnamed, planet we discovered out in the general direction of Destine. Tom suggests they were fays, dodging human contact for fear of the Eretsarin, the angels of Earth, who, according to Braeta, don't want the arcane races crowding humanity.
There are fay-like features to these folk. Their psi feels glamour-like. They have no signs on their shops, which, Tom now remembers, is typical of elven cities, where everyone knows where everyplace is, because they've all been living there since the last glaciation. And now that Robbie reviews his video records, there were no really old-looking people, and very few children, among these folk.
We recall the Percy Oak. We soon find it in the growing morning light, though it is, of course, much smaller than when we saw it centuries from now. It is not a fay breed of tree, so far as any of us can tell, but something about its vigor suggests a fay "style" of tree.
Well. Nothing more to do here, and the "rescuers" are due in a while, to come and be puzzled. We pile back into the pantope and are soon home, on Hellene, in the 26th century of the United Earth line. It's about a day after we left. We compile a very complete report on the Missing Martians and send it to Cantrel, for him to use as he sees fit in dealing with Admiral Yanov, his daughter, or the other folk of the Rainbow Contracts.
Robbie asks the house if Ms. Yanov has been here in our absence. It pauses -- which is odd -- and says no. The Avatar checks the files out and says we had visitors who left a security seal over their records, labeled "sequence." Oh... Dafnord asks Tom, "Your fault?" Tom replies, "Not yet."
The Avatar says it proposes to go home now. Before it goes, Tom scratches an intellectual itch and asks it what it's made of. For instance, Tom's mostly protein and water, Robbie's metal, plastic, and ceramic, and the gargoyle's enchanted stone. The Avatar says, at that rough level of description, it's an enchanted machine. That's more or less what Tom thought. It bids us adieu and zooms off.
For a couple of weeks, now, the Munch has been zooming toward the distant planet we plan to use as a staging area, should we ever have large numbers of rescued nephilim to dispose of. We are nearly there. The Missing Martians were interesting, but not obviously relevant to the Missing Nephilim, as we had hoped. It's time to begin thinking of taking the Emerald Metaphor to Destine.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.