Chapter 38: One Hot Town
We left our heroes in the Pudgie Budgie, hovering near a town built on a
patch of desert, next to a mountain and a river. The town is walled,
the gate reached through a sort of tunnel made of tenting. Just as we
showed up, around noon, all the people nipped inside. Was it something
Robbie sends an eye into the tunnel and soon loses contact with it. He tries the same thing outside, and loses contact with the second eye too. Tom Noon, watching through a spyglass, determines that the eye just falls to the ground and does not, for instance, vanish.
Robbie marches into the tunnel to retrieve the first eye. He soon falls off the net, at a point where he can see the eye on the road. He can now make blurry contact with it.
Outside, Tom has a similar experience, trotting across the sand to the second eye, falling off the net, picking up the eye (ick), then trotting back and coming back on the net. Though he came back on at a point closer to the Pudgie Budgie than the one where he fell off. So the effect isn't symmetrical.
Robbie, meanwhile, walks on down the tunnel to the gate and knocks. No answer. He knock was rather muffled, he notes. He comes back into telepathy range and reports. Tom asks if all sound was muffled or just the knocking. Robbie goes back into the zone of whatever and determines that clapping, stomping, and talking sound normal.
Tom then goes into the zone with Robbie and experiments with his Second Sight. It fades out within a foot of his face. Telepathy with Robbie in the zone is dim and faint. On the other hand, he and Robbie can levitate things and make ectoplasts just fine. So it's ESP that the zone inhibits.
They both go down and knock on the gates again, with no result.
By now, everyone (except Robbie and Salimar) is feeling uncomfortably hot. The heat is leaking into the pantope, too, through the omniport. We decide to freeze-frame on the town, leaving Robbie on watch on the Pudgie Budgie, and cool off ourselves and the pantope. (Robbie asks for some reading matter, in case we're gone longer than freeze-framing would imply; Tom, who has already opened the pantope in his lab, offers him one of his (Tom's) own notebooks on his travels through Chyoxus and Lapidia.)
We rest, have a meal, and then fast-forward on Robbie, waiting to see what happens. On the other side, Robbie finds the day passes very slowly. He finishes the book. He consults his pocket-watch from Oz, which always shows the local time. It looks unhappy, the hands move very slowly, and the numbers are all wrong. He takes a walk around the deck.
Back in the pantope, Daphne is now ready to come out of the autodoc. She hears about our experiments and the heat, and suggests that the heat is friction of some sort between the pantope and that world.
Dafnord casts a glance through the window, which is moving quickly through the town's time, and notices the Pudgie Budgie is now closer to the town wall than it was. Oops! We normalize time, open the window to a door, and call Robbie in (along with a blast of desert heat). Robbie didn't notice the Budgie creeping toward the wall. He now checks his Oz packet watch again. It now shows a normal clock face. The time in the pantope, however, is always Noon. (Oz magic loves puns.)
We fetch a thermometer and a clock from the lab and set them out on the deck, watching them through the window. The clock runs normally. The thermometer climbs up to the high 40s in centigrade and keeps going.
We step out and the clairvoyants feel for a dowse. Yes, our goal is closer, and dowsing seems to point to the city, despite the ESP barrier. Gannar also notes the drag marks on the Budgie's anchor, as Something towed it through the sand.
We try moving the Budgie around the city, to triangulate on the dowsing. We bump into the No-ESP zone, but backing out of that, we get a triangulation that seems to indicate the city.
From inside the zone, Daphne tries to feel out the life in the city. Plenty of it, not very tree-ish. But telepathy and dowsing within the zone remain mushy.
It's still getting hotter... Even when we go up high...
We drop the thermometer on the outside of the tent tunnel, pull the Pudgie Budgie into the tent tunnel (so it won't ignite!), and watch. The temperature rises and the thermometer creeps through the sand toward the city.
Robbie tries gluing the thermometer to the tent tunnel with some ectoplasm. After enough time, it gets ripped off, flying some distance toward the wall before hitting the sand. So the force isn't like gravity, constant. It pulls harder the longer the object is there. As long as it's a -- what, foreign? -- object.
Daphne thinks the town is sucking our dowsings out of alignment and so doesn't trust them.
We try thermometer experiments INside the tunnel, with Robbie to keep it company, sitting in a swing he conjures. No mysterious pulls. He repeats it hanging the thermometer on a rope attached to the OUTside of the tent, while he sits in a chair, watching. The thermometer gets pulled. The chair gets scooched through the sand a bit. But there was no feeling of force, to Robbie. When he pulls the thermometer-plumb down, it goes back to the oblique as soon as he lets go.
Robbie walks toward the city, with the thermometer on a string, straining toward the town like an over-eager dog on a leash. And, by the way, it's hit 50 C.
We go back to hanging it in the corridor. Nothing. Except it hits 55 C. The day is finally declining.
We move the pantope window back to the bridge that led over the mysterious sand-river, and note things are distinctly cooler. At the riverside, it's only about 30 C. So it's the city that's hot, not the whole area. We take the Budgie back out of the pantope and hang about on the deck, but things don't heat up. It's something about that city. Is it a defense? Against us? Are they giving us a very hot cold shoulder?
We left the Pudgie Budgie inside the pantope to escape the heat of the island which appears to be the home of the trader who was murdered by the Grey Ninjas. We've retreated to the bridge over the "river of sand" we flew over on our way to the mysterious walled city. The temperature here is a much more temperate 30 degrees Celsius, compared to 55 and climbing back at the city.
Was the heat some sort of weapon? Robbie takes another thermometer (the first one was smashed when it got pulled into the city wall, good thing we can just walk through and get another from Tom's lab!) and flies over to the city. The temperature increases as he flies, and the rate of increase accelerates as he approaches the city. It would seem to be a poor weapon which causes as much grief to the defenders as the attackers. Robbie flies back to the pantope door by the bridge.
Rather than wait around for things to cool down, we leave the thermometer outside the pantope door and all reenter the pantope. Then we change the door to a window and run time forward at an accelerated rate while we watch the thermometer until the temperature is a more pleasant 20 degrees Celsius. It's now twilight. We switch the pantope window to a door, and Robbie flies back to the city, but it still appears to be buttoned up. There's no indication of any movement on the walls.
Well, this is supposed to be our destination. Perhaps we should leave a note? Hmmm. We couldn't read the inscription on the bridge, so we're clearly not literate in whatever their language is. Maybe they'll understand if we write slowly in big letters and add O's to the end of each word?
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.