Chapter 66: Time on Our Side: Stupid Pantope Tricks
We spent last session re-grouping our party and regaining the pantope. We then rested for a couple of days, in self-containment. Our next step is to come to assistance on two fronts -- at Jumping Jacks under a force dome in Pericles, and at the ranch in Ipsylvania. For this we need weapons.
Fortunately, we know there are several crates of them back at the arctic bolt-hole where we found Robbie and his companions. Tom opens a window at those coordinates. We pause briefly, watching our own past selves fly away, then Tom steers the window down the tunnel. We wonder what will happen when we hit the little ripple of witchwalker-style "softness" that the cat noticed on the way out.
The answer is that "speed lines" appear to start flowing off the window -- trailers of mist, like unto the mistiness that surrounds one on a witchwalk. And the emerald deck under the window starts darkening. It all suspiciously resembles the way the Metaphor started to soak up the character of the Kaf Mountains when we went there, only this time it's the character of witchwalk limbo. Tom snaps the window shut as soon as Dafnord points these changes out to him.
We resume with the window back at the top of the tunnel. Tom turns it into a door and a party goes down by plain hiking: Dafnord, Markel, the gargoyle, Kate, Robbie, and Obedan. Kate goes down to help Robbie read the displays on the cryptic consoles. While they puzzle over that, find and open three crates of miscellaneous weaponry:
Two pairs of .45s, a 21st-century assault rifle, and ammo.
A laser rifle, two blaster rifles, two sets of bows and quivers, laser and blaster pistols, and charges.
A sawed-off shotgun, a big honkin' blaster, a flying belt, a grenade gun and a box of grenades, one each of laser, blaster and bullet rifle, and three longbows, with color-coded arrows.
Robbie and Kate give up on the comm system and the group returns to the pantope with their loot. Robbie notices the interior still looks faintly misty. Tom admits the place has acquired a witchwalky taste. Dafnord asks, "Is the pantope melting, Tom?"
"I hope not."
"We wanted a solid No," Kate says.
Tom resolves that, once things quiet down, he will park the pantope in the store rooms of a local StuffMart or some such totally mundane place, for a month, and let it soak up that ambiance. Maybe that will settle it down.
Markel asks Tom about the arrows. Tom looks them over and realizes they are the work of Daewen, Alag, and Chris -- arrows such as they used to turn out in their spare time, back on the previous pantope, the Dance of Hours, during the Diadem quest. They are various models of exploding arrows, using various mixtures of thermite and telekinesis. The longbows are "legendary bows of Eastern Middle Earth," from a legend we concocted for our own use back then.
Now that we're armed, we must decide on targets. Robbie wants to go after that damned aircar at the ranch, but Dafnord wants to go help Cantrel. We can do both, and rescuing Cantrel and Jumping Jacks might get us some help to use at the ranch.
Accordingly, Tom opens a door into the Munch, parked underground in a Black Hanger at Jumping Jacks, under the force dome. Edvard, the ship's computer, has accurately guessed that Jumping Jacks was under attack and tells Dafnord that the ship is isolated under it own little force dome. He gives Dafnord the last video clip off the sensors, before the dome went up. Things looked perfectly normal.
Just for completeness, Tom opens the other door into the hanger containing his own ship, the Nones. Or he tries to. The door opens someplace that looks like generic underground Jumping Jacks corridors, but then Gannar yells a warning, throws Tom to the deck, and dives after him. A generous bolt of plasma fires through the door, singes off Markel's shirt front, blasts the emerald lectern into jewelry-sized nuggets, and goes on to demolish one of the armored airlocks.
Which is lucky, really, because it might otherwise have circulated through the pantope's closed geometry, taking out all manner of things and people.
Bits of shrapnel go flying through the other portal, into the Munch. People come leaping out of the Munch and the tent, even the severely wounded Desmond, who had to claw his way out of the autodoc. Tom snaps the other portal shut. After things calm down and Tom fetches a replacement helm computer, he tries again, cautiously opening a window into the Nones. Robbie steps out and talks to the Nones computer. Its tale is the same as Edvard's, down to the last view from the nose camera. The two ships got isolated at the same moment.
Steering the Nones window out of the isolation field, we find a battle in progress, the sides conveniently marked by the color of their ablative armor -- good guys, Jumping Jacks, in black, unknown invading bad guys in white. Our team appears to have a numerical advantage, but the bad guys have a big gun on an armored truck and appear to be getting ready to use it.
Armor. What a good idea. We should get some. Tom stops time through that window and opens the other omniport into the Grey Room, in Vinyagarond, in Faerie. Specifically, we open in the closet, where we surprise Runyana in the act of smoothing down the glamour she uses to disguise the magical tunnel from Vinyagarond now to Lanthil later. Looking through the doorway into the pantope, she notes the rubble and the scorch marks, and seems satisfied that history is unfolding as expected. Markel gives her his scorched shirt, and Tom gives her a chunk of still-warm emerald, as material evidence for her historical scavenger hunt.
Meanwhile, Kate has scoped the room with Second Sight and spotted someone just in the act of leaving. It's the guy who looks like Tom, only dark-haired. A mystery for later. We grab our armor -- given us some time back by the Black Mage -- bid Runyana farewell, and run back into history.
Turning off the pause switch, we insert a door under a foe in white, drop him into the surviving armored airlock, and stun him. Tom then tries to audit his memory. He screams, as does Kate, who was in telepathic rapport with him. Robbie, also on the telepathy net, simply crashes. Pain, pain, pain. Pure pain. More than twice enough to kill a man, had it been real, physical damage.
A psionic booby trap? While the telepaths recover, Markel pulls the guy out of his armor, so Tom -- lucky fellow -- can try again, in case the trap was set on the armor, not the occupant. Tom tries to do a psychic analysis of the guy, but it's like looking into the sun.
While Tom staggers off in search of analgesics, the rest of us examine the armor and the guy's uniform. There are no clues to identity, and barely clues as to rank. We give up and, when Tom comes back, we dump him inside the Nones's force field. (We know he won't do serious damage to the Nones, because we've used this ship fifty years later.)
We then turn to battle, pantope-style. We open doors under the feet of our enemies, dropping them through the armored airlock, out another door, into the Nones's force field. Gannar and Robbie stun them as they go through, and we make sure its a ten-meter fall for them.
After we catch ten of them this way, a grav sled with our boys in black comes sliding through the air. It fires a missile at the armored truck, which flips over and gets finished off by a shaped charge set by a black-clad warrior.
Tom seeks out Cantrel. The window opens on him in some dark bunker, surrounded by view screens, barking out commands to one team after another, at a dozen fronts. When he has a relative lull, Tom shrinks the portal to silver-dollar size and opens it behind Cantrel
Who predictably turns and fires. Tom conjures a small white flag and waves it out. "It's us, Cantrel!" Cantrel laughs. We offer our help and get sent to another battlefield -- a hanger containing a small courier ship, four of our guys, and about two dozen foe, who are advancing on them behind portable force field generators.
We start dropping the through the floor, as before. We try to be sneaking, but they have to notice eventually. Still, even though they start trying to jump out of the way, we not only bag them but acquire a big tripod gun for Markel, plus one of the force field generators. Leaving our puzzled allies to mop up, we go back to Cantrel.
He sends us to pick up a weapons cache somewhere in Jumping Jacks. We do so, pausing only to drop stun grenades into the Nones's force field, to keep our catch quiet.
Next, Cantrel wants us to go gathering intelligence on activities at the north end of the complex. Sure, but first, how would he like, say, eight hours' sleep safely outside time, in the pantope? Sold. He steps in, gets introduced to the nephilim, and crashes into a sound sleep in the tent.
Markel makes friends with Obedan by giving him new charges for his plasma bazooka.
We decide to turn our attention to the ranch. We tune in on the point in time we were last there, so we don't let events advance at Jumping Jacks in Cantrel's absence.
We see six aircars buzzing about the place, and three patrols of a dozen each. With adroit use of freeze-frame, we drop grenades on the light ones and fire point-blank on the heavy ones with multiple plasma bazookas. We then back up a little in time and watch the results from a window. We drop all four light cars, but neither heavy car is felled.
Dafnord therefore gates back to the Munch and has Edvard warm up the port gun. We then move one omniport directly in front of the gun and the other in front of a surviving (for the moment) aircar. Then we sandwich the windows together in the pantope. BOOM Repeat with the second car. It does make a lot of noise, which rouses Cantrel momentarily, but it gets rid of the aircars.
(Cantrel pauses to remark our autodoc is complaining about being damaged. We find that, when Desmond burst out of the autodoc, he took a catheter with him. We restore it to the disgruntled machine, Desmond not wanting to climb back in yet.
We learn that Edvard thinks this is the best battle simulation it's ever been in.
We go back to dropping foot soldiers into the Nones's force field, which must be getting rather full by now. We are about two thirds through when something shows up in the sky.
It's a spaceship. A big one, much bigger than the Munch or the Nones, descending very near the ranch, more or less on top of the patrol we were polishing off. They must have called for help.
We freeze time and look the thing over. It's teardrop shaped, with a bridge near the point. The folk wear the same anonymous gray uniforms. We bookmark the bridge for later reference. It's time to rescue Braeta.
We find her near the ranch, in the woods, hiding in little more than a hole, but just as surrounded by screens as Cantrel. Apparently, she's directing the defense of the ranch from there. We announce ourselves to her as gently as possible and are ready when she starts to throw lightning.
After that's over, she gladly stumbles out of time and onto the pantope. She asks for a bath. We offer her one on Edvard, though this means letting time pass at Jumping Jacks. We ask after the other two refugees, Pablo and Hassan. She hasn't seen them in over a week.
We bookmark Braeta in the Munch and the ranch. We put Desmond back in the autodoc. Soon, we'll go case out the north end of Jumping Jacks for Cantrel. Maybe we'll find a clue as to who is attacking us and why. But we aren't counting on it.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.