Week 51: Through the Kaf with Skycycle and Dragon
We left our heroes at the ranch, about to re-enter the pantope
preparatory to going to the Kaf Mountains in search of Robbie. Let us
now back up a little. As we prepare for our excursion into the Kaf,
Dafnord makes the following suggestions:
Dafnord: Bring snowshoes, hot coffee, and psilencers. The psilencers might be useful as grenades. See thought 4.
Tom: Yes, definitely psilencers. Maybe a general psi-conditioner if we can find it. And the parkas should have built-in heating.
Dafnord (to himself): Something sized for me should fit Braeta. (Maybe offering a thick shapeless garment will work better than preening.)
Dafnord (aloud): We should shut the door to the ranch--we can always open it again--from the Metaphor. No reason to get the house wet.
Tom: Or frozen. Or enchanted. Or haunted. (Any more than it already is.) We should also deliberately change the window into the Kaf into a door, after closing the door to the ranch. I'd hate to walk through that "door" and find it was still acting like a window from the other side.
Dafnord: I'm thinking that these mountains may be filled with djiini but also with more mundane critters (Yeti?). This is a relatively unknown area for us--right? I could be convinced to leave the large plasma rifles behind. Hopefully the goop gun will work--how cold is it? (I'll check if the goop gun is good below 0 C.) If that doesn't work--I'll have a small sidearm and Umbra. [Gosh...how will Umbra react in the Kaf? This might be a nice place to season the sword.]
Tom: Isn't perspective interesting? Yeti are mundane.
Dafnord: Shouldn't we bring a "box" or something to bring along Robbie's head? Or should we bring the whole inert Sim body? Or maybe just glamour something--say a Quintium chip--to use as a focus when we drag Robbie back through the omniport?
Tom: We should bring the Sim body or at least the brain/mainframe, which is in Robbie's chest, not his head, by the way. We could bring just the head for I/O, if the whole body is too much. But we have a dragon (who can be full-sized for once) and a gargoyle (if they're willing) to haul the Sim body around.
Dafnord: I always wonder when we're going to trip into an area which has just the right magic to cause Katrina's supposed other heritage to come out. Just a thought. Keep and eye on her. The gargoyle, too. [He might have some real fun here with all of the psi running around.]
Bring a camera, or maps, or someone else with photographic memory. See if we can find a library--a typical luxury--in one of the castles. It might have fantastical maps of the area that could give us clues to where we could find the Kaf from a more mundane location. (And one more safe to port into.
Tom: Bring the Map of Here, too.
Dafnord: Bow low to the djiini. Some of them still have pissed off relatives stuck in bottles on desert islands.
Tom: All good ideas. While we're at it, let's bring some skycycles (if they'll work in the Kaf; but we know they work in Faerie).
Dafnord (indignantly): Skycycles! Skycycles!?!? Wimps. When we jumped down to Aphrodite, we didn't have skycycles to get us up above the swamps! We couldn't even weave pontoons from the swamp grass to carry the two hundred kilos of supplies--
(Tom, sotto voce: Forgot the inflatable rafts, did you? Or did you just miss the right landing point?) (Tom decides not to ask what Cantrel's Own Ranger Corps was doing, making a drop on Aphrodite.)
Dafnord (going on regardless): --because the water was so deep we had to stand on each other's shoulders so that one could breathe while the other pulled the lampreys off of our butts! But did we ask for skycycles? No. Better maps? Yes! But not skycycles.
Tom: But these are mountains. You can't fall off a swamp.
Dafnord (still on momentum): We were proud to be in CORC, let me tell you...
Tom: I'm sure your estates and survivors were very proud of you, too.
Eventually, we get everyone aboard the pantope, carefully close the door to the ranch, and only then open the door on the Kaf. We have the same view as before, later in the morning. A sharp wind whistles into the pantope, curls around the closed geometry, and eventually blows out the other side of the omniport, creating novel eddy patterns in the snow that rapidly accumulates. As does the magical sparkle in the air. Plus some interesting St. Elmo's fire on the console.
We want to test the skycycles before flying out on them en masse. Markel hops on one and zips out the door with it. It works! At least, he flies. But the gales sweep him up, into the sky. Gannar pokes his head through the portal to track Markel's progress.
Tom, meanwhile, notes that the incoming snow looks like its over grass. Curious, he scrapes it away with one boot and sees that the deck of the pantope -- originally pure milk quartz -- now has veins of green marbling running through it. Visibly growing...
Robbie just lies there.
Gannar, meanwhile, reports that Markel has lost control of the skycycle. The winds are too violent. And (he gathers from telepathic contact with Markel) the skycycle itself is not performing properly. Markel, professional rider of dragons, is not panicked, but he is definitely ... concerned.
Tom enlarges the portal (more snow) and removes the long-standing glamour on the dragon, allowing it to assume its full size for the first time in weeks. It charges out into the Kaf, off to rescue its partner, trailing an ectoplastic rope tied to its harness. It, too, has trouble with the powerful winds.
But Markel's troubles abruptly get worse. A stray eddy tips the skycycle over, and he drops off. The dragon immediately bolts for him, and Gannar also launches. (The skycycle, meanwhile, power-dives straight into the mountainside. Boom! It produces more sparks and flare than one would expect.)
Gannar notices a certain roughness in his personal lift motor. The dragon, meanwhile, desperately struggles for altitude, the faster to stoop on Markel. This means it pulls out more and more rope. Folk back in the pantope notice the rope is running out. Dafnord and the gargoyle both grab for it and are both yanked out, Dafnord first. Tom tries to conjure some more onto the end of the rope, but is a fraction too slow; he gets more rope, but it's a separate length, though it lunges out of the portal after its intended other half.
Gannar, meanwhile, has done his own power dive and managed to intercept Markel. Now they are both hurtling toward mountainside, so the android hangs on and lifts for all he's worth. They'll still hit, but not as hard...
While that's happening, the dragon is abruptly caught up short by a fullback-sized human and an 800-pound gargoyle on its tether. It loses control and falls out of the air, landing on Gannar and Markel. Dafnord lands a few meters away. Only the gargoyle is able to make a controlled descent. Fortunately, the all land on a cushion of deep snow. As it is, Dafnord is knocked out and the dragon wishes it were.
Under the dragon, Gannar checks out Markel, who in turn checks out the dragon. Tom, meanwhile, tries to move the portal down to the victims. Control is difficult and the ride is bumpy. Also, when he tilts the door downslope to get a better look, gravity comes spilling in at odd angles, but he was expecting that bit. A pity he didn't warn any of the others.
Gannar, watching the portal's progress from outside, notes that it's starting minor avalanches in the snow. Tom winds up making it bounce, or lope, down the mountainside, as if it had weight. He stops it near Dafnord, but with difficulty, as if it had momentum. Tom and Kate then climb out and help the crash victims into the pantope.
The consensus is we won't be using skycycles. Dafnord is unlikely to let Tom forget about it.
Robbie just lies there.
Meanwhile, the wind has died down and the snow in the pantope has melted. The deck, thanks to the closed geometry, comes within a meter of circling back on itself, so there is a quasi-circular gap a meter wide and 300 meters long running through it. The melt-water has accumulated there, held by the gravity, which is in toward the deck on both sides. The Emerald Metaphor now as a moat.
And speaking of emerald, the floor near the portal has a large and growing patch of green veins, looking something like marbling but more like the inclusions of moss agate. It looks very organic, and it's still growing. Tom views these developments with suspicion and displeasure.
He checks the coordinates on the console. "Unavailable." He tries thrusting his watch out into the Kaf and taking a reading from it. "Self-Containment." He has seen that given in place of coordinates for some pocket universes. Either the Kaf contains itself somewhere or that is the watch's best guess at what's going on.
Turning to more immediate problems, he turns the portal into a window again and shrinks it down to the size of a silver dollar, minimizing, he hopes, the contact with the Kaf. He then re-opens on the ranch, and we go tend the various bruised humanoids with autodocs, while Markel tends to the dragon's bruises.
Since it looks like we're going to be mountaineering, we ask the house computer for the warmest possible garb. Surprisingly, it opens a channel to Jumping Jacks, where one of the security guards gives us "clearance" -- to our own basement. One of the floating egg-shaped house robots escorts us through a hidden door, to a room full of gear suitable for storming a fortress in Antarctica -- thermal suits, guns, and flying belts and "jump harnesses" (gravitic devices that are the high-orbit equivalent of a parachute, the sort of thing Dafnord used for his much warmer jump into the swamps of Aphrodite).
We come in a variety of sizes, but, except for the cat, the gargoyle, and the dragon, we all eventually suit and head back to the pantope.
We find Robbie just lying there. We also find that a shiny green bump of pure emerald has grown under the tiny window, the green veining has spread, and (looking up/around) we see the patch has worked its way through to the other side of the deck. Tom recalls that the Kaf mountains are supposed to be rich in emerald; in fact, we saw some emerald outcrops when we first opened on the mountainside. He wonders if his naming the pantope "Emerald Metaphor" has had any effect. The emerald is getting less and less metaphorical.
Tom returns the omniport to door state and full size, then dowses for Robbie. The whole pantope shudders, but nothing happens. Well, an avalanche goes by, but we don't move. Tom tries raising the portal straight up. More shaking and no change of position. Cautiously, with his formerly white thermal suit glamoured safety-orange, and on a rope, Tom steps outside to look the door over, half expecting that it has acquired a framework of mountain rock. But no, it looks just as it ought. However, the rock under it exhibits the same marbling as the deck, in a coarser degree.
Tom stomps back in and announces that the Kaf appears to be trying to annex his pantope. He proposes to disconnect, largely to see if he can. Would Braeta like to take a psychic whiff of the place first, it being the proposed homeland of her people and all?
Sure. She goes out, looks around, and then just stands stock still for quite some time. Tom calls to her gently and, when that produces no results, goes out and gently guides her back in by one elbow. He then disconnects the pantope, and is pleased to find that he can.
Braeta comes out of it and announces that the Kaf blew her away by the grip it had on her connection to the land and to raw power, the two principle facets of her nephilite abilities. It might be very difficult for some nephilim to adapt to that place; others might take to it better; all would find it distracting. She found it an intimidating experience.
Tom asks her if, given her affinity for raw power, she might eventually learn to harness the power of the Kaf. She finds the suggestion audacious but intriguing.
Robbie just lies there.
We re-open and find ourselves right back on that mountain trail where the portal first "crashed" into the Kaf. Salimar steps out and tries to contact Robbie with her trans-dimensional style of telepathy. She shudders a bit and says it's like shouting in an echo chamber. She couldn't get full contact, but she has a sense of his direction. It would mean following the path downward. We ask about the Djinnistani ambassador; Salimar dowses and gets the strong impression they are together.
Braeta touches the emerald lump on the deck, then goes out and touches the rock. They feel very much alike to her, and she seconds Tom's opinion that we are getting stuck. She comes back in and Tom tries to fast-forward the window. It doesn't work very well, which is a pity; Tom would like to be able to minimize contact time between the pantope and the Kaf. Mainly, he doesn't want his pantope to get permanently glued here, but also, Djinnistan, like all the other arcane realms, wants to stay aloof from the mundane realms, and a pantope stuck to the side of one of their mountains would represent a (permanent?) "leak."
Tom could drop people off and then reconnect, but how would he know where and when to do so? Experimentally, we drop Salimar off at the ranch, go into self-containment, and "listen" for a telepathic pick-up call from her. Tom picks up a faint sense of her presence, but that's enough. He reconnects.
We are, at the moment, disconnected again from the Kaf. Tom asks Braeta if the green "infection" is still growing. No, she thinks not, but she also feels she has formed a rapport with that lump of emerald. When Tom makes to carve it out with Kate's macrometal knife, she asks him very seriously if he really wants to do that. Tom decides he doesn't, not yet, and hands the knife back.
The rest of the party feels understandably nervous about being dropped off by Tom with only a faint telepathic connection to guide him back to the pick-up. But we have an alternative. We re-connect to Vinyagarond, in Faerie, to go look for Mirien, who is an adept witchwalker. We open in the Grey Room, and Mirien herself walks in immediately, drawn by the "noise" of the omniport opening and shutting several times in the last few minutes. (A few minutes is all the time that has elapsed in Faerie.)
We explain the situation to her and ask her if she'd be willing to come along, to lead people out of the Kaf in case Salimar's telepathy doesn't work or the pantope gets permanently stuck. "Well, okay, but don't tell mother. I'm not supposed to go to places like that by myself." Tom assures her that she won't be alone at all, but with the rest of us. Anyway, if everything goes well, she'll be gone no time at all (literally), and if not, she can rescue all of us and thus score brownie points. "Brownie points? Is that good?" she asks, thinking about the brownies of her acquaintance. Yes, it's meant to be good.
She boards, we drop Faerie, pick up the Kaf, and Braeta announces that the emerald lump is growing again. People prepare to disembark, and Tom says he'll try to open the door at quarter-day intervals, or when he hears a call from Salimar.
Robbie just lies there.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.