Chapter 81: Loose Ends
We left our heroes taking a three-week breather in their house in
Victorian London. We stay entirely confined to the house, because
Desmond has accelerated the place relative to the outside world; from
our point of view, London is almost frozen. Of course, we laid in
groceries and sent the servants out for the "afternoon."
At the end of that time, everyone is pretty much recovered, including Ms. Yanova, down in the basement with her team of 26th-century psychiatrists. You may recall we took her here because we thought it would be nice and quiet...
Once she's ready, according to her doctors, Desmond brings the house back into normal time and the traffic starts moving down the street again. Mr. Chassan, who has been tagging along with us, getting quite an eye-full and the recuperative benefits of a 26th-century autodoc, now takes his leave. Maybe he's learned something of use to his quest.
That's one down.
Next, Crystal and the other psych-techs from Rainbow finally emerge from the basement, bringing a pale and subdued, but sane, Ms. Yanova with them. It's time for Ms. Y. to start helping them sort out the mess she caused back home. We pile them all into the pantope, close the door on Victorian London of the Classical Line, and re-open on thin air, high above the Kush Mountains on Hellene. It's only moments since our departure, and the craft that delivered the Rainbow people are still visible.
Crystal hails them, and they turn back and land in the pantope. Pearl, Rainbow's acting second-in-command, greets us soon. Being quick on the uptake, she is only momentarily surprised at how "quickly" we worked. They re-load the air-vans that were unloaded only minutes before.
Before they leave, Tom asks to speak briefly with Ms. Yanova, promising not to be upsetting. The crowd of psych-techs parts, and he approaches. He explains that he intends to try to rescue the other people in the armored air-car, out of which they snatched Ms. Yanova. (This means a bit of doubling back in time, of course.) Can she supply them with any information or help in controlling the air-car?
She taps on a little palmtop computer and hands it to Tom. This should give us the ability to shut the air-car's own systems down completely, then restart them. (She's sure it'll shut down. The re-start is a little dicey.) Tom thanks her, and they leave.
That's two down.
We consider using the pantope's doors to chuck the air-car into interplanetary space, to give us more time to work, but it's too big to pass through our airlock, and doing such a transition to vacuum in the open pantope would, um, really suck.
We open the pantope window on the air-car, in freeze-frame, right after we grabbed Ms. Yanova. It's just going into a dive.
Braeta takes the little palmtop, extracts the data, and rigs one of her computers up so the cat can steer the aircar remotely, from his egg. (He is, after all, a test pilot.) Tom spends a second or so of the air-car's time, casting a psychic pattern on it. This will create ectoplastic air-bags all over the air-car, triggered at the pilot's discretion.
We then start normal time. The air-car shuts down and re-starts just fine. We have telemetric control. Then we give the throttle to the cat. Brunalf does his best, but (1) the air-car is in poor mechanical shape after we lobbed shock grenades all over its electronics, and (2) it's hard to steer when you can't feel the acceleration. Things aren't getting better.
Gannar offers to patch in. He, too, is a trained pilot, and equipped to do it by direct neural link. But it's hard for him, too. He pulls the air-car out of a terminal dive, but -- WHACK -- the tail still clips the ground. Now it's even harder to steer. He looks around for a field. That one might be relatively soft, if there aren't a lot of rocks under the dirt. He brings it in. He hits the air-bags.
It's down. We scramble into it and find that three of the seven people aboard are still alive. We pull them out and put them through the autodoc, judiciously using freeze-frame. Tom takes down the ectoplastic air-bags. When the Rainbow people in the distance come tearing over to the wrecked air-car, they'll find their leader mysteriously gone, rather odd crash marks in the soil, and the three survivors mysteriously tended. They may get an explanation from their higher-ups some day. Not our problem.
That's three down.
Our next loose end is the welfare of Hassan and Paolo, two nephilim whom we last saw at the ranch, before the fighting broke out. Braeta and the other nephilim aren't sure where they went to, but Braeta mentions some gunfire in the distance that might have been due to them. It was south-east of her hiding place.
After getting a rough estimate for their last likely time and place, Tom opens the pantope at the point where we picked Braeta up, then moves the window into the house and back to an hour before Braeta heard the gunfire.
We then freeze-frame and spend half an hour of our own time looking for a piece of cloth with a smear of Paolo's blood on it. We got it specifically to use as a dowsing token, but it's been over a month (our time) since we picked it up. We eventually find it in the bottom of a trunk in the tent.
The dowse leads Tom to the south-east, just as Braeta had guessed. Soon, we find a rocky outcrop. Under it, there's a sketchy camp, with Paolo lying on the ground and Hassan nearby. We rewind until they aren't there yet, then leave a note telling them the time when we'll pick them up. Then we fast-forward and call softly through a small door. They gladly pile into the pantope and out of our little war.
That's four down.
However, while we were poking around, we heard fire off to the west of the house. This is unaccounted for in our little military history. Who are the Rainbow troopers shooting at, or who is shooting at them?
Backing up and carefully staying in window mode, we locate some troopers being exploded at and fired on. They return fire at a tree. Investigating with the window, we find an Infernal Device, a box with a gun mounted into it. Braeta says it's nothing she made. There are two more like it, assaulting the troopers as they march through the woods. Moving back and forth over recent time, we spot a figure poking around them. When the actual gunfire starts, it runs off. It's about three feet high and two hundred pounds, by the look of him.
He's a dwarf. From Faerie.
We open a door athwart his line of retreat and yell "Friend!" (In dwarvish.) He ducks, rolls, and then darts into the door.
"Drumthortle reporting, sir!" he says to Tom, saluting. A little questioning reveals he is on "special detached duty" from ... Cantrel! The rest of his unit was pulled out, oh, about twenty-five local years ago (longer in Earth years), and he's been quietly watching the ranch every since. He asks if the children are safe.
Tom assures him they are. In fact, they've all grown up and moved away.
Oh! He's a bit downcast; he owes a bet to another dwarf. (Apparently, they had noticed the children not showing up much lately.) But he's in no hurry to get home. He's "only" been here thirty-two local years.
The booby-traps are, of course, his. Nice examples of dwarvish craftsmanship, with an interesting blend of modern military tech. We help him disarm and recover them, once we explain that things are in the mopping-up phase now. (We don't try to explain the time-travel part. Drumthortle doesn't strike us as very ... imaginative.)
Drumthortle tells us about the "non-combatants," which tally up to our nephilim guests, a stray boggart, and Robbie's old body. (Remember Robbie's old body?) It was last seen wandering away from the loud noises, into the forest. We track it down as it's walking into a stream, looking about in innocent wonder at, well, anything. We get it aboard the pantope with no trouble. It doesn't think, when asked, that it has any name, and a quick telepathic inspection doesn't reveal much ego, either.
We still don't know what to do with it, but at least we know where it is.
That's five down.
After a quick side-trip to check on the ranch's horses (four in number, all running semi-wild in upland pastures well away from the fighting), we gate over to Jumping Jacks and call up Cantrel about his misplaced dwarf.
Cantrel winces over the phone when he learns that he missed Drumthortle in the withdrawal. He asks Tom to come see him privately. It seems that Cantrel used some fay contacts (We didn't know he had fay contacts.) that he'd made through Daewen, though without telling her, to mount a guard on the ranch while his son, Nick, and Daewen's daughters were kids. However, his fay contacts weren't very good ones, and he didn't exactly get the cream of dwarfdom for his secret guards. Drumthortle in particular he characterizes as a "senile old geezer."
Yeah, but persistent, and yours, Cantrel. We describe Drumthortle's exploits in the recent conflict. This has probably been his finest hour. What do we do with him?
After some more consultation, Cantrel pulls on a dress uniform jacket (in his capacity as Commandant of the Jack Patrol and leader of CORC (Cantrel's Own Ranger Corps)), strides out of his office, into the pantope, and presents an awe-struck Drumthortle with the Threesie (with rubber-ball clusters) for distinguished service.
We then offer Drumthortle some leave time. He's not specially interested in a trip back to Dwarrowgard. So instead, we offer him a non-covert "post" repairing the ranch house. We gate back to the ranch, tell the surviving automation to give him guest privileges, show him the kitchen, a bedroom, and how to work the TV, and tell him to be on the lookout for that boggart (the only other fay loose end that we know of). He's pleased as punch. We run away.
That's six down.
Not that we're exactly out of loose ends.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.