Lords of Being
Chapter 42: Unexpected Air Traffic
When last we left our heroes, we were taking off from Hilo airport on our way to Seattle. Jennifer hopes to start a new life there, and it’s as good a destination for us as any. With the modifications that Hellgrammite and Rosamund made to the plane, we could manage the flight to SeaTac easily, but we’re going by way of LAX to maintain the fiction that this is an unmodified BAC111. See chapter 12A, if you want the gory details. Rule #1 is don’t freak the mundanes.
As we roll down the runway, there is a pair of almost simultaneous blockages, one on the Order side, and another on the Chaos. There is a bit of a pause, as if all over the world Courtiers are saying, “Huh?!” Then one, two, the blockages are cleared.
Hellgrammite notes “They’re coming awfully close together.”
Mabel mutters, “We’ve got to stop reacting and start acting in advance.”
As our wheels clear the tarmac, the Courtiers flinch as another pair of blockages manifest, first on the Order side. Then on the Chaos side. They’re quickly unclogged, and then almost immediately replaced.
Simon’s phone rings. It’s Ragnison. “Do you have any information on why there has been this storm of blockages?
Simon calls out, “Does anybody know anything about these things?”
Mabel details the seven blockages that have recently occurred. Leave it to a Courtier of Order to count them. Simon didn’t sense any of them, so they were “normal” blockages. But it’s extraordinary that they occurred this close together.
Simon reports to Ragnison, “No, we don’t know anything. I can tell you that they’re not anomalous anomalies.”
“That’s what Lady Diamond said. We’ll be staying in touch.”
“The rule seems to be that the third time is enemy action.”
“I’d be surprised if there weren’t...” Ragnison gasps in astonishment as another pair of blockages manifest. There are now doubled blockages; two each on the Order and Chaos side. This is the first time in the 13.7 billion year history of the universe that a double blockage has occurred.
The first to recover is Mabel, who asks, “Is this happening in other parts of the universe, or is it just us? Simon? Lady Diamond?”
Simon puts Ragnison on hold and conferences with Sylvia and Sylvester. Sylvester attempts to contacts his other instances. He learns that this kind of trouble isn’t happening everywhere, but there are some instances. Mostly where the situation was… more complex. If there was some kind of additional problem in addition to the blockages, these tend to be the places with the rapid-fire blockages.
Simon reconnects to Ragnison and reports Sylvester’s findings. Ragnison replies that that Lady Diamond is reporting similar results.
Mabel grumbles, “We can’t ask for special help, because we’re not special.”
Ragnison quips, “Well, we seem to be getting special hindrance.”
All of the Courtiers gasp as another pair of blockages appears. This makes it three blockages per side, which is beyond unprecedented. The only good news is that the Knights aren’t sensing anything, so these are “normal” blockages.
After he regains her composure, Rosamund says, “Our friend left a tracer, and I think we should contact him.” She walks over to Neville, who’s sitting on one of the couches. “Your passenger left a tracer, and I’m going to try to contact him through it.”
She then turns to Catalyst and asks, “Catalyst? He’s got a tracer on him from Asiras. Can you start things like this up, so the rest of him might notice?”
“Well, if that thing can be regarded as a tool, then perhaps. It’s new. It hasn’t been used, has it?”
Rosamund shrugs. “He might have kept tabs on it.”
Catalyst looks down at Neville, and asks, “Mr. Carrols, may I stand uncomfortably close to you?”
Neville eyes him nervously. “What are you going to try to do?”
“As you heard, Asiras left some kind of tracer in you so he could come back. I’m going to try to use it in reverse.”
Neville sighs, lies down on the couch, closes his eyes and thinks of England.
While Catalyst is busy with Neville, Rosamond asks, “Mabel do you have any other ideas?”
Mabel considers. “These are ordinary blockages. They have no directionality. We can’t follow them back to their source.”
Rosamund tries another tack. “Ragnison, we haven’t had any more Hanuman sightings, have we?”
“Not that I have heard. We’re trying to keep a lookout for Cadmus, too. He seems to have been scarce.”
“And the… things… that Cadmus mentioned?”
“I’ve been thinking hard about them too. There have been no sightings that are likely to be them, either.”
Rosamund has one more suggestion. “Mabel, can you call Peri and ask her if there have been any additional sightings? I’m going to call Mr. Hengist and see if he knows anything.”
Meanwhile, Neville is deliberately not thinking about the Courtiers around him. However, he does spare a thought for his sometimes passenger. “You there, big guy?” He doesn’t get an answer.
What Neville is carefully not looking at is Catalyst, who’s standing in the couch that Neville is lying on, and has his hand in Neville’s chest.
Nobody has noticed that Jennifer is standing in the back of the plane, clutching the door to her cabin, watching all this with huge eyes and quietly freaking out.
Suddenly Catalyst pulls his hand out of Neville with a surprised look on his face. He says, “I did get through. He’s busy, but he was distinctly alarmed to hear about the situation, and he’ll be back as soon as he can get back. There was something important going on. He didn’t have any attention to spare, but he realized that this is really important.” Catalyst looks at his hand. “I’m surprised that it worked that well.”
Sylvia heard Jennifer’s gasp when Catalyst pulled his (empty) hand out of Neville’s chest, and bustles over to Jennifer. She attempts to be comforting and says, “It’s more or less all right. Any number of things have been going awry of late.”
“You’ve been out of this world, so you’ll probably understand. The universe is a balance of Order and Chaos, form and energy. There are sources that replenish them, and the paths to the sources sometimes get a little blocked. There are folks whose job it is to unblock the sources. That’s what some of us do. If there’s too much blockage of form or energy, the world may become lethargic or too energetic.
“Where do you fit in all this?”
“My job is to… we’re more or less the personification of silicon. Our job is to help everything along. To see that the right kinds of technologies get discovered. It turns out that we’re helpful to these folks, so we’re helping them for now.”
Jennifer shakes her head. “I think I’ve heard enough for now, thank you.”
Sylvia tries once again to be comforting “I’ve been around since before there was dirt. Things aren’t all that bad at the moment. And you’ve helped a lot. I know it’s probably small comfort, but remember that you’ve had a role in saving the world and a lot of people owe you a lot.”
“Thank you. Can I have a blanket?”
“Sure. Why don’t you lie down?” As Jennifer complies, Sylvia calls out, “Simon, why don’t you explain the controls in this cabin?” Sylvia then reaches into the bin over the bed, pulls out a blanket and lays it over the girl. Simon starts droning on about the various features of the cabin, and Jennifer calms down and wishes she was somewhere else. But not aloud.
Mabel calls Peri. “Hello?”
“Hello, Peri, this is Mabel. Has anything unusual happened? Anything?”
“I was going to ask you that. Last time I spoke with you, you were asking questions about Polynesian deities. Has that all worked out?”
“Yes. Have you heard of any unusual things?”
“Not last time I checked. Hold the line, please… I don’t really see anything coming through on the chat boards. I haven’t felt anything.”
“Anything at all anomalous.”
“You were asking about monkeys in odd places... There was a report of monkeys in Bermuda. Yesterday. They were hanging around this lightly wooded area.” It sounds like Loois’ neighborhood.
Mabel passes that on. “Call me if you hear anything unusual involving monkeys, deities or mirages.”
Mabel thanks Peri for the information. As she hangs up, the Courtiers feel a level of blockage go away. So now it’s only doubly blocked.
Simon looks out a window in Loois’ apartment. It’s a mess. But then it’s always a mess. Simon looks outside. Nothing’s happening now. But the garbage cans are knocked over, and some tree limbs broken off. There are some smudgy hand prints on the window.
Simon calls Ragnison and suggests that someone be sent to Loois’ house and check that things are buttoned up.
A glass teddy bear trundles into Captain Barron’s cabin and sets itself down to watch Jennifer’s cabin.
Hellgrammite pulls out his deck and sorts through it for Dr. Fu’s card. It reads, Dr. Fu of Nuuamealani. He only has a trump card, so he’s not offering services. Those are listed on suit cards. He sorts through for people working out of mythical places. He picks a card for “Nefermiu of Punt” and calls her ka to him. There’s a pretty lady standing in front of him in a linen dress, a broad gold collar. “Hello, I’m Jonathan. I’ve recently been in contact with a deity whose land who was in trouble. I was wondering if your deity has noticed any problem.”
She looks alarmed. “Things have been going on as usual, unless you mean the event that happened a couple of weeks ago.”
“Do you mean the world ending? Or something since then?”
“’JUST the world ending?!’ The same old thing?” She gives a brittle laugh.
“Well, yes. There have been complications since. I’m trying to see who and where and what they’re affecting.”
“There has been a lot of upset speculation here, but there haven’t been any new crises. Punt’s a fairly quiet place for a heavily magical land. We’ve been having a lot diplomatic activity to figure out what’s been going on. There are hints that the higher ups know but they’re not telling. Do you know?”
Hellgrammite shrugs. “I do know, but the decision to tell you is above my pay grade.”
She frowns. “We do get Al Jazeera here. I do know where that remark comes from.”
Sylvia joins the conversation. “Bucking the Powers That Be isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“So there are people flying around in a plane who know what’s going on but aren’t allowed to tell. Well, that’s interesting in itself.”
Sylvia hands the ka a business card. “If anything unexpectedly occurs, you might give us a ring.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Is that all?”
Hellgrammite replies, “Yes. Sorry to have disturbed you.”
“Not at all, but I feel I’m not getting a lot of answers.”
Sylvia sighs. “More or less, the world did end, because someone wasn’t doing their job as well as they might. And you know how it is when management steps in and does the work of the people who know what they’re doing. If you learn anything, please snap the card with intention.”
“I’ll have to see if I can take the card with me.” And she’s gone. With the card.
Rosamund calls Mr. Hengist. “Rosamund here. I’m looking for reports on whether things are strange in Chicago.”
“Well… we live in an imperfect world. Are you looking for strange new catastrophes?”
“Strange new catastrophes that don’t seem entirely mundane.”
“The answer to your question is no, but I’ll keep an eye out. Can you give me any more detail?”
Suddenly the blockage level goes back up to triple. Rosamund winces, but soldiers on. “We just dealt with an issue where a magical land was attempting to come into our world. The things that I am chartered to do… the workload has been increasing, making it hard to keep things in balance. If you hear anything, please give me a call.”
“Yes, I’ll be sure to tell you if I see anything odd.”
“Thank you.” Click.
The blockage level goes up to quadruple.
Sylvia asks, “What do we know about these blockages? They don’t have geography. What do we know about them?” This leads to a discussion of the “normal” blockages. They cover an area roughly the size of the Earth, though it doesn’t reach the moon. The paths are transplanar. The metaphysical beings can get there, but they have to “ascend” to do it. During the discussion, the blockages start being cleared at random intervals.
The discussion is interrupted by a shriek from Jennifer. Hellgrammite is the closest to her cabin and opens the door to find her staring at three children who are looking back at her. There is a man in a black uniform with purple piping standing behind them. Hellgrammite’s metaphysical sense can tell that the kids are ghosts. Hellgrammite ushers the newcomers out of the cabin. Once Jennifer’s door is closed, he asks the guy, “To what do we owe the visit?”
“They’re evacuees from a stretch of the astral, near the battle.”
“There’s a battle?”
“Yes. We’re trying to evacuate the non-combatants. Finding places for them is sometimes difficult. Since your people are one of the responsible parties, and have a certain amount of camouflage, these should go here.”
Mabel asks, “Are we responsible for causing it, or because it’s our job to sort it out?”
“As members of the Courts, you are responsible in part for causing it. As part of teams formed to cope, you’re responsible for fixing it. This is the best place for these children now.”
Hellgrammite looks closely at the uniformed man. It’s unearthly; there are no flaws in its appearance. This is an angel of death.
Neville says to the children, “Hello, who are you?” The children introduce themselves as Duren, Orieu, Laffah.” The first two boys, the smallest a girl. “What are you doing here?”
Duren responds, “He took us here because he said it would be safer here away from the noise.”
Orieu adds, “There’s screeching, and thunder, and lightning, and it was very noisy.”
Neville offers the platter. “Would you like some cookies? Catalyst made them.”
The children each pick up a cookie and try to chew them. That doesn’t work, so they suck on them.
Hellgrammite asks the Angel, “Did you bring these here because they’re special?”
“I brought them here to keep them safe. They’ve suffered enough. You will not be asked to deal with all of them.” With that, the Angel disappears.
Hellgrammite leads the children to one of the computer consoles at the front of the plane and brings up a video game and starts showing them how to play. As he’s setting up the game, he asks them where they’re from.
Laffah replies, “It was nice until the mess started.”
“Do you remember anything before being there?”
Orieu responds, “I lived in a village.”
Duren adds, “I did too.”
Laffah contributes, “We walked around a lot.”
Rosamund knocks on Jennifer’s cabin door. There’s a muffled response which Rosamund takes as an invitation to enter, so she slips into the cabin. Jennifer is still spooked. “Would you like me to stay with you?”
“I’m fine. Just fine.” Rosamond makes no move to leave. Finally Jennifer asks, “Who are they?”
“I don’t know yet. Children.”
Jennifer curls up in the blankets with her back to the door and pulls one over her head.
What are we going to do with these children? These ghost children? Nevill asks Hellgrammite, “Can we call René to deal with the children? Or Edna?”
Hellgrammite calls the contact number for René, and quickly gets a call back. He invites René to come visit and assess the situation.
“Curious. What can I do to help?”
“Neville suggested that you might be able to help deal with them, or take them to a better place. They’re apparently refugees from a metaphysical plane.”
“And you’re asking me for help? You would like me to take the kiddies for an outing? Show them around the internet?”
“I was hoping that you could help me figure out where they’re from, or when.”
René’s form appears out of the phone. Rosamond greets him. “Hello, René.”
René bows to her. “Bonjour, Mademoiselle.” He then turns to the children. “Hi kids. How’s the game going?”
Laffah complains, “I don’t know how to play it.”
René grins. “The first part of the game is figuring out to play.”
Orieu sighs. “It’s something to do.”
They fall to arguing about the game. René takes up a position behind them, occasionally giving a suggestion.
Rosamond asks, “Did you come to see what’s going on?”
René shrugs. “Neville asked me to come.”
“So you’re here as a big friend.”
“If I did take up babysitting, how would propose to pay me?” He sighs. “I will watch the children. I’m not sure what else I could do, if they’re not supposed to go away from here.”
The right hand path is blocked again. René doesn’t react. Neither do the kids, who are enthralled with Mario.
Catalyst is making more cookies.
Rosamond and Hellgrammite arrange for Jennifer to have a first class ticket from LAX to Seattle, and a nest egg in her account to get her started. Clearly she’ll be happier away from all this weirdness.
Hellgrammite is looking through the Deck for someplace which would have warriors. He doesn’t find anything obviously militant, though there are people who are distinctly fay. It was an island full of fays that was the site of our last mission… He selects one of the fay, and contacts Taurel of Aldanöre. He’s clearly fay, down to the slightly pointed ears , and wearing a dark green robe. “Yes?”
“Greetings. We’ve been dealing with the aftershocks of the dramatic events a few weeks ago, and one of them had to do with the island of Nuuamealani. I was wondering if you or anyone you knew had been affected by the repercussions. Maybe heard rumors of fighting anywhere?”
“Yes! Rumors have come by in the past few hours of fighting between high powers in far off realms. We have just heard of this.”
Sylvia interjects, “Any word of what sort of powers?”
“No, it is all rumor and conjecture. Only a few hours old.”
Hellgrammite asks, “Mostly in fay lands?”
“The realms that are the source of the rumors have fay populations, but they’re not dominated by the fay. They’re usually considered wilderness. They are lands of wandering. They are more referred to by how you get there, than given a name.”
“Your lands have not suffered?”
“Not yet. We have had a tremendous upset not long ago. We wonder if this new thing might be connected.”
“We think it might be connected as well.”
“The popular theory is that is that the catastrophe created a great weakness in the world, and there are those who are trying to weaken it further. And the best place to start would be those with small populations or that are weak themselves. One of the places where fighting is said to have broken out is quite close to the chaos marches. Disturbingly, one of the other places is very far from the chaos marches; a great dessert which has been quiet for ages. Nothing had ever happened in it before.”
Rosamond says, “Something we just resolved was a weakness between caused by an argument between goddesses. And this entire thing was created by an argument.”
“Easy to believe.”
“An argument between Lords of Order and Chaos.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“It’s just very similar. The whole problem, created by arguments.”
Hellgrammite asks, “The places attacked. How strongly are they linked to the mortal realms?”
“They are both quite remote from the mortal realms. Though I believe that there are small populations of mortals in the one near the chaos marches. Do you have any information about these battles?”
“Only that refuges are being moved out away from the fighting.”
Mabel answers, “We have been given custody of three ghost children.”
“Yes. I hope it makes more sense to you than it does to us.”
“It may be that the battle extends to more realms that I had not heard about. It is certainly information. Thank you. Is there anything else?”
Rosamond asks, “What realm are you from?”
“What makes it exist?”
“It is founded on the Great Tree of Fairy.”
“Founded? How founded?”
“By Lord Alvirin.”
“How did he found it?”
“That is an ancient tale. It is said that when the world was becoming hostile and wintery, he sought a cure. Finding that winter could not be prevented, he took it on himself to found a new realm. There was in the far ages a battle between time and destruction. The power of time used a staff as a weapon of magic and combat and left the staff thrust in the earth during the battle while the two grappled. The staff took root and turned into a great tree. The blood from the combatants in the air that fell among the leaves turned into the high elves, the blood that fell on the earth turned into the first dwarves and the blood that fell on the beasts turned them into the first werehouses. From these stocks came the original folks of Fairy. Lord Alvirin whent back to the site of the battle. He found a seedling from that tree and took it out of the world and used it as the foundation of his new realm.”
Rosamond asks, “So he went looking for something to create a new realm?”
“Yes. The realm of Faerie.”
“Which he found because he was looking for it.”
“Hoping for it. He did not know the seedling existed.”
“He used it because what he wanted was the land.”
“So Faerie occurred because Lord Alvirin wanted it to.”
“Yes, that is part of the truth. Lord Alvirin was extremely disturbed by the recent catastrophe and hasn’t been willing to say much about it.”
“The people who came to the land that Lord Alvirin created, did they argue with him?”
Taurel replies dryly, “To detail the arguments would tell you entire history of Faerie.”
“But they all agreed it should exist?”
“So the more people who came, the more people who agreed that it should exist. It started out as a single tree in the midst of nothing. And now we have worlds, in the case of our two goddesses, trying to pull themselves apart.”
“Might I ask which goddesses you’re speaking of?”
“Pele and her sister.
“But they are now in agreement, and things are more stable. And now I am hearing about battles. That doesn’t seem like what makes lands stable. In the aftermath of the recently experienced catastrophe, people talk of it in terms of the old battle between time and destruction.”
Rosamond muses, “Which can either be resolved and create some kind of existence, or not. So patching up these little things, we’re doing nothing, as long as these disagreements exist. When we saw the meeting that triggered the event, I got the impression that there was some off-stage influence. That the event that was deliberately caused, but not by any of the principles. So there is a primary disagreement which was deliberately contrived by a third party. And that’s as far as I can get. It may that this third party has triggered the activation of this disagreement between Namaka and Pele. But to track down that third party… I don’t see that we have any information to go on. The only thing we could do is to ask who might gain an advantage by causing a rift.”
Hellgrammite sums up, “So we’re looking for a trouble maker.”
Mabel responds, “No we’re looking for an Iago.”
Taurel clearly feels that this is way above his pay grade. “Well, I wish you luck in the search.”
Before he can summon his ka back, Rosamond says, “One moment. You said Alvirin was concerned?”
“Can you report this to him?”
“We’re the Ace of Cats.”
“So you, Master Hellgrammite, belong to number 7 in the Deck.”
“We’re trying to set things right. And if he can help because he can create entire realms and stabilize them, we’d appreciate it.”
“I will report that to him.”
Hellgrammite says, “Thank you, you’ve been very helpful.”
Poof. He’s gone.
Before we can consider what we’ve learned, Captain Barron yells, “Get these people out of the cockpit!”
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2010