Chapter 31: Wheels within Wheels
We left our heroes still in the pantope, with the Doctor of Form and the
Djinnish Ambassador to the Lanthil Council (whose name we cannot
pronounce). [The last session was spent in the pantope, getting Robbie,
um, firmed up. A log will become available when the notes surface
Robbie has now completed his new manifestation. We turn our attention to Markel, whom we left in Djinnistan, guarding the Pudgie Budgie. We should go get him, and either take the ship away in the pantope or take the pantope away in the ship.
Should we take the pantope to Djinnistan? They didn't like it when we got it stuck there last time. Tom recounts the misadventure to the Doctor of Form, who is intrigued. He says that it ought to be all right to use the pantope's omniports to acquire the Pudgie Budgie, so long as we don't touch anything with them.
Kate and Salimar ask the Ambassador if Djinnistan would like any permanent relationship with Lanthil. The Doctor remarks that Djinnistan is not big on having neighbors. For instance, though it is near the Celestial Courts, it is not, like Faerie, on the path to them. Still, the Ambassador is impressed by the pantope's ability to invade cough-cough um, visit Djinnistan whenever we wish, so she thinks some sort of formal arrangement should be set up.
While Kate and Salimar puzzle over this, Tom looks Robbie over, all his psychic perceptions twanging. He still has a definite djinnish flavor. Lots of sheer, raw magic, plus a basic Robbiness that has not changed since Tom first contacted his mind, and a couple of new notes, one of which might actually be a recovered flavor of "old Robbie." Salimar takes a look, too, and reaches much the same conclusions.
Time to collect Markel and the Budgie. Tom opens an omniport near Markel and tells him our plans. Markel, in turn, warns the djinni guard, who moves away. The omniport then engulfs the floating Budgie, and there we all are.
Now, about diplomatic arrangements. The Ambassador asks if we, in particular, are the right people to set them up with. Kate considers: she was sent to make the treaty with Tighmark, and later on this got extended to Oz, but, really, no one was expecting to do anything about Djinnistan, nor did they tell her to go about signing up chance-met parties. So she doesn't feel she can make treaty, but she certainly feels she could just invite the Ambassador over to talk with sundry Lanthil folk, such as members of the Silver Council. (Robbie opines that, since we've been to Djinnistan twice, now, it's only good reciprocity to invite the Ambassador back.)
Salimar is not so sure we can be so casual about this invitation, which is a covert way of opening diplomatic relations, after all. Daphne, on the other hand, gets impatient with Salimar's meticulous dance through the formalities. Tom listens for a while, feels that we are in danger of an infinite regress of getting permission to get permission to get permission, and announces that he, after all, is a member of the Silver Council, and invites the Ambassador over for tea in, say, a week's time.
Daphne beams. Salimar contents herself with handing the Ambassador a Victorian-style calling card. This reminds Tom to hand her a similar-looking card, but one that will alert Tom telepathically if it is torn in half.
The two djinn now decide to teleport home. In thanks to the Doctor of Form, we give him a couple of souvenirs -- a chunk of emerald from the deck, rounded into a ball, and an octarine-colored snow-globe left over from Salimar's stock.
What now? Dafnord says we haven't completed our mission, which was, originally, to locate the land of that slain trader and see if we should open relations with them. On the other hand, a lot of water has gone under the bridge (or down the Lightfall) and perhaps we should return home and report. This is now much easier with the pantope back (albeit severely banged up).
While we consider, Daphne flits about, taking a good look at the pantope. One omniport is missing (inoperative, in drydock back in Lanthil) and the deck is severely cracked. In one place, the crack is so wide, she can dangle her legs through and look up (remembering pantope geometry) to see her feet sticking through the distant ceiling. She notes a funny "dry-water" sensation as she does so. Tom investigates and decides it's a feeling of buoyancy due to pushing through the pantope's gravity plane, but can't be sure if this is a new development or just the way things always were, though we never noticed.
We decide to go home. Tom opens the omniport in his tower, outside the door to the lab. He takes a quick look in, just to check on things. Oops. There's a cot in the corner and someone is in it. Tom asks Kate to go check on them, in case they're him -- a situation rich with possibilities he'd rather not explore.
Kate obliges, but soon sees the sleeper has red hair, not Tom's sandy blond. She gets closer and the figure wakes, leaping up and into a defensive crouch with great speed.
What's she doing here? (After all, she isn't going to be born for several years.) She's doing research, she tells us. She thinks someone is being much cleverer than they're letting on, and she is personally interested. She has theories.
Tom asks politely if it's time for us to hear these theories. She considers and agrees. "They've made a tactical error," she says, "and some folk are taking advantage of it in interesting ways." Who has made a tactical error? The folk who are trying to put a 30-year embargo on us through Allied Epochs. Such an embargo works both ways, after all, and gives us enhanced privacy to work in. And that's just if you stay in sequence. If you violate sequence, you could have much more than thirty years.
Since she's doing research, Tom volunteers to give Runyana a telepathic download of our recent adventures. She accepts gratefully, then considers what she can tell us, taking the temporal situation into account.
Ever notice, she asks, how much sequence violation Alwe gets away with? (This is her younger brother, whom we once reluctantly rescued from slaver in the sixth millenium.) We certainly have. Compare him to Runyana herself, who takes such precautions and secrecy when she travels into her personal past. (Tom: "Two may keep a secret, if one is dead." Daphne: "Or not yet born.") It's because Alwe was born in secret, somewhere very isolated. So no one really knows where he came from. That protects him, somewhat, from timelock. (Though not nearly as much as he seems to think...)
As to his secret birthplace, he has occasionally mentioned a place called "Nighthaven." Runyana thinks this is a secret base that Daewen is going to set up. And she's going to set it up now, because "everyone knows" how strict Daewen is about staying in sequence, so "of course" she'd only go through this upcoming 25 years once.
Robbie recalls that Daewen asked him to keep a lookout for good hiding places. Kate recalls a dream she had long ago, seeing Daewen looking out of a balcony over a midnight bay covered with ships, while many kinds of air- and space-craft hovered above it.
Runyana: "Here's the other thing: Mother's not patient. She'll start acting soon. She'll need backup." (Just as she is building secret backup for the Silver Council.) "She's going to fight her own war, just as she did with the Lilim. And she's going to leave the Council out. And the Sisters and me." (Meaning Mirien and Mithriel.) "And that's her mistake. So we need a base, too, to build backup for Mother."
And she's pretty sure they're going to do it. She's been keeping track; she knows both Mirien and Mithriel have been through the Battle of Chaos twice, now, and a lot of people just suddenly appeared there, then disappeared again. Ever wonder about that? (Yes, but it was Chaos, after all, and there seemed little chance of getting an answer.)
Since she and her sisters have been left out of building reinforcements, Runyana reasons, no one will be watching them while they build their own reinforcement.
(Tom hopes all these secret plans to help each other do not add up to an enormous backfire.)
We seem to be already roped into helping on this scheme -- because, as Runyana observes brightly, we're being just as naughty as she about violating sequence. Honor among time-travelers...
Where would be a good place for The Sisters' secret base? The refugee nephils' world? Too public. Runyana suspects their base will wind up involving the missing Marginalia. Tom hadn't known there were any, but apparently there are. Tom remarks that the original budgies, and his deliberately runaway exponential spell back in Chaos were supposed to ensure the Marginalia got home. (See http://home.comcast.net/~burrowses/Tuesday/Chaos/Marches-15.5.html and http://home.comcast.net/~burrowses/Tuesday/Chaos/Marches-17.html.)
Runyana hadn't heard about the runaway spell. She's very happy to. It should help. (That's certainly what it's supposed to do. But Chaos mutates things, after all.)
Runyana begins counting up possible allies. The missing Marginalia. The spell. We suggest the creatures of Dream, and the celestials of the Eleventh Paradise. That surprises Runyana. Even in her time, 25 years in the future, it is not generally known that the Lightfall originates in Heaven. Which is odd, since we were just about to tell folks here -- Suliamon and Moranna, most likely.
Runyana says it looks like this is going to be a state secret. But the djinn know... Oh, so maybe the djinn can be counted as allies, too! But not the dream beings or the celestials, she thinks. They've already done they're part -- they've given us Lanthil. Still, that information itself is very important and could be strategically valuable.
But how can our news about Dream and Heaven be kept secret so long? Well, it looks like we will be keeping is secret. That was, it can be an ace in the hole for the Three Sisters (and us, their loyal (?) sidekicks).
We agree to tell Daewen about our adventures first and to not tell the others if Daewen asks us not to. (That will be a good clue, by the way, that Runyana is right about Daewen's secret plans.) Runyana also asks us not to tell Daewen that the djinn know about Lanthil descending from Heaven via Dream. And, for some reason, this suddenly tells Runyana where she and her Sisters will have their base. But that's her secret.
It's so nice, talking to Runyana. As long as you have aspirin handy, and some way to take notes.
We decide we'd better go talk to Daewen right now. We invite Runyana to take a trip in the Pudgie Budgie, which we'll sail up to Daewen's cottage. She need only stay aboard to keep out of sight of her future mother. She agrees and laughs when she learns the name of the airship. It seems that, when she was a small child, she was given a pet budgie, very plump, and all the grownups laughed at her having a pudgy budgie. She hadn't seen the point of the joke until now.
We launch the airship out of the pantope and set off to see Daewen. A budgie flutters out of the gloaming and lands on our prow...
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