Week 63: Homecoming, with Plasma
We left our heroes coming out of a tunnel mouth onto a benighted
hillside, in Lanthil. This is remarkable, because the other end of the
tunnel is in the closet of the Grey Room, back in Vinyagarond.
Furthermore, this hillside is 37 years further into the future. It is,
so far as they know, the only way of finding the Emerald Metaphor and
thus getting back to their proper date. (Bumping down stairs on the
back of your head was, so far as Pooh knew, the only way of coming down
They work their way down and to the right, through increasingly thick vegetation, then forest, trying to bear toward the town lights they saw in the distance. Eventually, they come to a stream. It must flow from the Lightfall and the lake on top of the mountain, because the water is luminous. Daphne asks if it's okay to drink and, on being told it is, tries some. She also makes herself a lantern with a small bottle (conjured by Tom) partially filled with Lanthil water. Just shake and it glows. Keeps pixies amused for hours.
Following the stream, we come to a little clearing with a pleasant little thatched cottage in it. The lights are on inside, and we see the shadow of someone moving behind the curtains. We feel we ought to ask directions, since we're in some haste, but don't want to risk any more time-tangling than we have to. Dafnord, therefore, approaches the door by himself. The owl over the door asks "Who?" and he announces himself.
We are only faintly surprised when Runyana answers. We had, after all, figured out that the tunnel was her passage to Vinyagarond in our time. We just hadn't figured she would be living just here.
Runyana is pleasantly surprised to see Dafnord, and a bit puzzled when she notices the rest of us hanging back. Then Dafnord explains when we're from. "Oh no! I left the door open?" Looks like. "Come on in before anyone sees you!" We do. Dafnord, who has always supposed she was engaged in some transtemporal scavenger hunt, asks, "Did you win?" "Win? Well, I got several good coups!" Hypothesis confirmer.
She is mortified about the door. We explain that (1) we carefully kept the entrance secret, and (2) it's a good thing she did leave it open, since it's the only way we have to move back in time so as to get to the right date on Hellene. Unless she'd like to witchwalk us?...
Uh, no, she sees the hand of fate in this, which makes her feel better. She offers to escort us down to the castle, where, according to Tom's dowsing, some vintage of the Emerald Metaphor is waiting for us. (It probably isn't the Metaphor contemporary with us, but we still ought to be able to use it to get a lift back to Hellene of 2516.)
She leads us to a small bay off the stream, where she has a nice little gondola tethered. Well, nice biggish gondola, as it needs to be to accommodate all of us. Soon, she's poling it out into the stream, which joins some others and gets wider. And deeper. And steeper. And faster.
And soon we're doing white-water gondoliering. We hope Runyana's done this before. She seems to have. Robbie, who can fly, decides it might be wiser to step out of the boat, in case he needs to catch anybody who can't fly. He does so and is whipped away on the wind. Apparently, there are force fields of some sort acting as windshields on the gondola, which is not so much rafting now as falling, with style.
Then Runyana advises us, "Hold on."
Then we hit the waterfall.
There's a big whoosh made much more spectacular by the luminous water, which glows more brightly when agitated. And then it's all calm. It's a sort of natural (or preternatural) floom ride.
"I must have one of these," Dafnord announces.
"But of course you--" Runyana begins, then shuts up. Tom quietly tallies up his internal organs.
We're in a bit of a lake, with several other craft, and occasional signs of folk out enjoying the evening. The gondola makes its way to the dock -- apparently knowing the way by itself -- and we disembark.
We disguise our features with glamour, to avoid chronological embarrassments, but it isn't necessary. Runyana leads us down through bracken to a well-hidden path to a Secret Entrance (tm) that, for a wonder, actually seems to be fairly secret -- quite an accomplishment when half the local population is elvish and related, in one degree or another, to the likes of Daewen. ("Don't go there, Linriel." "Why, mommy?" "That's the secret path. Aunt Daewen wants us to stay off it.")
Runyana leads us up narrow stairs and down narrow corridors that are, we suspect, inside or between walls. She exits via a sliding door. After a few minutes' waiting, she returns and urges out quickly. We leave, noting the perfect camouflage that masks the door from the outside. Then we're piling into a room that is, or will be, Tom's lab.
The later Tom is nowhere to be seen. The earlier Tom asks if his elder left any instructions. "No," says Runyana. "You seemed kind of distracted," and no wonder. The elder Tom has thrown sheets over all the various tables and lumps of equipment, so there's really nothing to see in the lab.
Except this here circular gateway floating in the air, rimmed with Tom's characteristic green sparkle. The Emerald Metaphor. We say goodbye to Runyana and pile through.
On the other side, we find the Metaphor is likewise heavily draped to preserve our innocence. We're in a sort of curtained chamber, in which there is really nothing to see, except this other circular gateway floating in the air. This, we suppose, must lead home. Apparently at night, since it's dark. We pile through.
We find ourselves standing in a Hellenic forest (which looks very strange to Daphne), in the middle of the night. We set off through the woods. After a minute, the gateway winks out behind us. We note, in the distance, dull staccato roaring noises. These worry us and tickle Dafnord's memory.
Robbie tries to ping the Hellene comm net. No answer, but he finds he can tap the Hellene global positioning system, and determines we are, in fact, back on the ranch, about ten kilometers from the house and about three weeks since the last time we were here.
Finally, Dafnord places the booms -- the noise made by the largest of hand-portable plasma-weapons, blaster bazookas.
Robbie tries to call the house computers. No answer. He tries to call, in quick succession, Jumping Jacks, Tom's Pericles apartment, our spacecraft, and 911. All not answering, or jammed. He launches an eye and sees an aircar speeding our way. Kind of a pity Robbie tried pinging the comm net...
Thoroughly worried, we split up into three groups and fan out before resuming our trek toward the house -- very cautiously now, and glamoured invisible. Salimar stays behind, to meet the aircar.
As it approaches, she gets a very bad premonition about it. Trusting the feeling, she soaks into the ground and heads rapidly for the water table, which, it turns out--
--is a good idea. The aircar zipped over to her position, which is where Robbie had consulted the positioning system, and delivered itself of a very major energy discharge, which left a glassy crater, about a hundred meters wide, where Salimar had been standing.
Even with her burrowing and soaking, Salimar is either noticeably larger or noticeably smaller than she was before. She's larger if you count the stuff that's now fused with her, but smaller if you only count the bits that are still technically alive.
And the rest of us don't know this, because, when the aircar came around, Salimar fell off the telepathy net. The aircar carries a wide-range psilencer. But we soon learn that Salimar is alive, if aching, because the aircar moves away and she can come back on the net. Unfortunately, it moves away so as to hunt for the rest of us.
It doesn't notice Dafnord, Kate, Daphne, and Katrina, in one group, thanks to Daphne's deft concealment of her companions. But Gannar, traveling with Tom and the gargoyle, gets a definite impression of being scanned, and the thing heads their way. He shuts down all his cybernetics, and the three change course. The aircar passes them, headed to its old location. A bit later, it blasts another crater into our forest.
Robbie, Brunalf, Markel, and his dragon are in the remaining group. Markel and the dragon loft and head for the ranch. They're invisible, and they have nothing technical about them to attract the enemy's sensors. Robbie, however, doesn't have the option of shutting down his cybernetics, being all cybernetic, and he appears to attract the aircar even when he restricts himself to passive sensors. Then there's the cat, flying along in its ultratech witchwalking egg. Witchwalking...
As the aircar closes in, Brunalf finds a good soft spot to take off down a witch path. He tells Robbie to hang onto the egg, and he and the robot vanish into limbo shortly before their part of the forest gets incinerated.
Brunalf hasn't done much navigating of the witchpaths hereabouts, but he tries to find a good exit point, and in a way he does. He and Robbie emerge to find themselves in low orbit. Robbie feels uncomfortable pressure in his fuel cells, or whatever he now has in there, but vacuum is still no disaster for him, and the cat's safe in his little bubble. And they are out of the jamming. Robbie hooks into the comm net and launches a Mayday. Down below, the others note that the deadly aircar has started straight up. So Robbie and the cat do another quick fade, more or less back the way they came.
They emerge on the edge of the woods, headed toward a hillside, much nearer the ranch house. They are staring down a very large muzzle, on a very large gun, held by a very large man, in very large-- in hi-tech armor. A smaller figure, armored and with a rifle, stands in front of him and is, in fact, much more conspicuous.
Robbie yells "Turn left!" and forcibly steers the egg out of the line of fire. Into some rocks. It's been a while since the safety foam-sprayer went off, but it's nice to know it still works.
The gun doesn't track them; they're still invisible. Instead, the gunman is aiming at a pair of figures, armed and armored, coming down the hill, charging the rifleman, unaware of the bazooka-bearer.
again. The big gun fires, and the two figures coming down the hill scatter, as a group and individually. (A moment later, off in the forest, Dafnord hears the sound and recognizes the blaster bazooka. Most people mount them on tripods, but this guy holds it on his shoulder.)
The bazooka now aims at the cat and the robot, but the smaller figure leaps, knocking the barrel aside, and cries, "No, milord! Friends!" The voice is Greywolf's, and we are therefore not surprised when the bazooka-shooter turns out to be Obedan. He's new to hi-tech, but he really likes what he's seen so far. He laughs and blows off the top of the hill just for the hell of it, and Greywolf has to remind him they only have nine charges left.
Leave four nephilim in your house for three weeks, and come back to a war. No wonder the Eretsarin aren't keen to have them on the mundane plane. They do not play well with others. They run with scissors.
Robbie confers with Greywolf quickly. They have no idea who the attackers are; they showed up an action-packed few hours ago. Braeta showed her fellow nephilim to the armory, but he's since lost track of her. The enemy have the house. Desmond is nearby, but is in a bad way.
The two nephilim take Robbie and Brunalf to a small cave nearby. It contains Desmond (unconscious), and several crates that they grabbed at random before escaping from the house. They rummage through these until Robbie comes across a familiar-looking bedroll with a box attached. It looks like a field autodoc.
Unfortunately, this one is set up for some language Robbie is totally unfamiliar with. He doesn't even recognize the alphabet. He slips Desmond into it, manages to find the on switch, and watches while it appears to do ... something. He tries cyberclair, but the psilence still blocks him. He prods the controls and gets varying screens of unintelligible data, plus occasional views of Desmond's internals, with lots of red arrows.
The cat, meanwhile, has noticed that there's a really nice, stable, door-shaped soft spot on the cave wall. He mentions this to Robbie. Since battle noises are still raging outside, Robbie is all in favor of collecting nephilim and going through. They do.
They find themselves in another cavern, but furnished, with lighting. They emerge in an alcove, equipped with a portcullis and explosive charges, so as to be able to close this witchpath after them.
The furnishings are stark and very military. There are bunks for twelve nearby, and various banks of inactive equipment. Robbie looks over the banks and finds another autodoc. He turns it on, but it uses the same exotic language. But they are now out of psilence, so he can commune with it with cyberclair. Soon, it has taken charge of Desmond.
Robbie persuades the autodoc to turn on the comm panel. He learns that they are deep under a mountain on a supposedly uninhabited island in the artic region of Hellene. He tries Jumping Jacks again, but gets no answer. Ditto the ranch house. Then he tries the KaiSenese Embassy.
The screen displays the KaiSenese logo, followed by some alien of a species new to Robbie. "Greetings, Sentient," it says.
Robbie gives his name and identifies himself as an associate of Salimar's. The alien answers, "Excuse me, but you do not identify as Mr. Roberts." Robbie explains that only his appearance has changed. The alien doubtfully desginates him "Roberts 2" and puts Robbie straight through to some of KaiSen.
The race-mind is the most powerful individual (sort of) in known space, but in physical appearance it is a collection of teddy-bear-like creatures, in various sizes and colors, with parrot beaks and moth-like antennae. "Greetings, Sentient," they chorus. Robbie introduces himself again. "Excuse me," they say, "but we are few and slow. You do not identify as Roberts."
Robbie proffers the false IDs given him by Jumping Jacks, which KaiSen ought to recognize as belonging to Robbie. It puts him on hold while it decrypts the data.
KaiSen comes back with several more faces, says "Greetings, Sentient" again, and agrees that he is some version of the "Robbie Roberts" known through its liaison officer, Salimar. Robbie explains that he's been through a lot, having recently come back from an extra-dimensional adventure where--
At "extra-dimensional," he gets put on hold again, then quickly finds himself talking to a different, larger, and very well-informed chunk of KaiSen. ("Greetings, Sentient.") He explains to it our immediate problem. KaiSen confirms that, it, too, is unable to contact Jumping Jacks, which is "anomalous."
KaiSen explains to Robbie that, since we've been gone, Ipsylvania and Gorslavia have revived an old border dispute of theirs. (Our ranch is in the Ipsylvanian wilderness.) This conflict is duly registered with the planetary government, so KaiSen is diplomatically unable to intervene in it directly but, ah, Robbie mentioned Liaison Officer Salimar. Where is Salimar?
Aching under a fresh new crater.
Ah, well, if one of its liaisons, an official non-belligerent, has been attacked...
Meanwhile, back in the forest, the rest of us have been running around in the brush, evading that damned aircar, which came back down after Robbie and the cat vanished from low orbit. Tom and Gannar got slightly singed when they were late in ducking behind the gargoyle.
We are therefore very much impressed and relieved when a huge black egg drops out of the sky, festooned all over with the KaiSenese logo. It descends square over Salimar's crater. A ramp extrudes, and several little green humanoids come out. They are about a meter high, very thick and broad, with froglike faces. They are Kishaer, in fact, and several of them are waving sensor devices around. Several others are assembling an obscure device that is probably, in essence a filter.
One of them looks down at the hot, crunchy, vitrified ground. Then it looks around at the ruination and just shakes its head. Salimar manages to poke out an eyestalk. "Greetings, Sentient," the Kishaer says.
"... hi ..."
"Are involved in this registered conflict?" it asks formally.
"... no ..."
That's the right answer. They break out the shovels and start digging.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.