Chapter 33: Picking Through the Wreckage
It's a new day. So far we have not gotten around to tracking down the
homeland of the mysterious slain trader, but we have reconstituted
Robbie and got the pantope back in working order. Sort of. It's still
quite a mess, with the emerald deck smashed, the magic tent shredded,
and the whole place littered with chunks of twisted metal from armored
airlocks, gun emplacements, and other domestic items.
Looking the situation over, Tom decides the best thing to do is give the metal wreckage to the dwarves. Accordingly, he opens a gate near the mountain-side entrance to the dwarvish quarter. If the guard is startled, he hides it. Just as well; they're going to have to get used to this sort of thing.
As it turns out, the guard himself is interested in the metal, as well as other substances like glass and plastic, and is willing to remove the stuff and give Tom a sizable line of credit in return. Tom leaves a door parked, in window mode, in a back room near the guard's station, and opens the other back in the castle.
Meanwhile, Daphne flits down to the docks, to Mr. Kaya's sweetshop. "You'll never guess where we went!" she gushes to him on entry. She then explains how Robbie accidentally flitted off to the Moon (or a moon), and, when we followed, we were told by the inhabitants that it was the Eleventh Paradise. Mr. Kaya is impressed but not as flabbergasted as he might have been. Maybe he used up all is flabbergas on arriving in Lanthil. In any case, he remarks that he has heard of a system of ten paradises, so the eleventh must be something special, surpassing it.
"And they had a bazaar there," Daphne goes on, "and I brought some stuff for you!" She reaches into her magically capacious acorn-purse and pulls out-- Wait, it's in here somewhere...
Mr. Kaya goes to fetch a booster seat and some tea and cakes for his favorite customer. When he comes back, Daphne has the stuff ready to display. First the spices: phoenix breath, soma leaves, lotus powder, ambrosia flour, dried golden apple... Then the seeds and cuttings: sandalwood, jasmine, cedar, Michael's Tears, peri-bells, asphodel, primrose, and desert rose.
Then she tells him of the crystal ball that showed home. Then she shows him her hand-held armillary sphere. They inspect it in pleased incomprehension, then go plant the seeds and cuttings. Daphne gives them a starting boost, and then it must be time for elevenses or something.
Back at the pantope, several of us are helping Tom pick up. Besides the heavy wreckage, which the dwarves will see to, there's the matchsticks that used to be chairs and tables in the dining area, and the lamented magic tent. We make sure the ever-full fruit basket and bottomless chocolate box are out (and working!), then haul the tent out and hand it over to some elven seamstresses recommended to us by Cook. These ladies are unsure if they can repair a magical tent, but we have every confidence in them.
At dinner that evening, Daphne shows the little armillary to Gannar, remarking that Mr. Kaya thought it might represent something. Gannar knows what an armillary sphere is, but not how to use one. Looking Daphne's over is not illuminating: it has too many little planets (?) for the Solar System, unless you count really minor bodies, in which case it has too few. It doesn't match any other star system Gannar knows of, certainly not in this-- that is, in that neighborhood. (Gannar is at no distance at all from the Solar System at present.)
Tom tries it out with his Knack of Tools. The glitter forms meaningful-looking patterns on the dining-room wall, but he can't read them. Squinting at the ball itself, it bears inscriptions that look like Old Lapidian, but he can't read them.
The next day, the head seamstress comes to ask Tom what, exactly, happened to the tent. Tom isn't quite sure. Why?
Because the tent doesn't look exactly torn. It's more sliced. And this is odd because the thing is preternaturally hard to cut. There are several long cuts and one really big curved one.
When we wondered what happened, our thoughts turn to retrocognition, and that means Salimar. Tom looks her up and asks her to examine the pantope's recent history.
That history, as Tom recalls it is: He was scouting the Back of Beyond in the pantope. The door he wasn't using was suddenly showing a battle in rocky, mountainous terrain, and then there was an explosion. After that, he was floundering in the surreal sea of the Beyond. Then there was the desert island, starvation, and eventual rescue.
Salimar, Markel, and some others join Tom in the pantope. Salimar does her stuff, and we see, in octarine haloes, a beach-ball-sized sphere appear in mid-air. It explodes into a flurry of blades, which slice into the deck and elsewhere. Some of these blades seem to flutter or sparkle as they fly. Some of them hit the pantope doors, and more explosions ensue.
Where did the bits of blades go? They aren't lying about in the wreckage; Markel checks. And did they really come out of the ball? Several look larger than the ball.
Salimar runs her vision again while Dafnord and Markel observe it closely. The ball did not simply appear; it slid in through someone else's gate, an invisible gate. The flying blades are very thin and spangled with starry sky. In fact, they do not appear to be solid objects, but, perhaps, to be portals into space. The actual explosions are after the blades/portals burst out of the sphere. They cause blowback to the pantope portals, which is unusual, because these, not being physical objects, don't usually react to such forces.
And how did Tom manage to live through this? Further retrocognition shows he reflexively hunkered down behind the nearest pantope door.
Markelt finds a faint, shallow crater in the deck, which wasn't there before. But the sphere's explosion didn't happen there. Rather, Dafnord notes that the crater marks where a stack of crates once stood -- crates full of grenades left over from our war to liberate the nephilim. They went up in the first of the two explosions.
Poking around with his qui-based second sight, Markel detects that something funky happened where the sphere slid in. Robbie comes to look and concurs. The air there feels ... grainy.
Salimar looks at the Map of Here, which has a strong tendency to curl up when in the pantope. It shows a lavender pin, an unassigned color, where the sphere entered.
Markel retrocogs at the site of the explosion and sees slices of blade go right through the deck. On inspection, he finds hair-thin, laser-straight cracks in the deck. Some even chop out a triangular chunk, though the gravity gradient keeps it in place.
The sphere appeared at a point on a line between the two pantope doors. Is that significant?
And how did the view of the battle just pop into the pantope door that Tom wasn't using? Where and when is that battle, anyway? We have remarked before that it looked like a view onto a battle we attended years ago, at a castle belonging to our ally the Black Mage.
We should view all this again. When we're good and ready.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.