The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 15, Exploring the Margin
We've returned to "our" time from 3000 years in the future. But we haven't returned home. We're in what will be called the Impre system, which will be the capital of the Empire of the Terraform Reach. We approaching the third planet from the dim red sun, which will be known as Axar. We're also not alone. We've brought along Mr. Ilyar, a Quishonne from Pharos, to help us search for technology to use against Emperor Dybor II's covert invasion of Pharos. Ilyar is a technical archeologist and is trained in the art of dowsing. He's come with a good deal of information on Axar, as well as books on the digs at Axar City, the main site excavated by the Empire.
Axar is a little larger than Mars, but airless. As we orbit, we can see extensive glittery areas, especially near the equator. The glitter is from large "skylights" that illuminate and warm underground caverns left by the Old Terraformers. They still have functioning ecosystems in the future we just came from, so there should be air for us to breath.
We're all in the Nones, a.k.a. the Dubious. The Obscura has ridden to our present inside the Nones' hyperstate envelope. It is currently orbiting besides the Nones.
Morniesul calls out, "Dubious, can you detect any particularly interesting spots, likely to harbor interesting technology?"
"Yes. There are large deposits of pure metals at the Axar City site."
Robbie suggests, "Try using the Qui detectors."
After a brief pause, the Nones responds, "There are residual Qui readings at Axar City and at another site that I have no name for. Now that I am concentrating on that site, I'm detecting high concentrations of refined metals there too."
"Please designate the other site 'Site A'."
Morniesul calls out, "Obscura?"
The yacht responds over the Nones' speakers, "Yes sir?"
"You are to stay in communications with us over all available channels."
"You are to take a safe but concealed course around this planet so as to appear to be one of the moons and keep and eye out for any other ships or indications of tech. or intelligent visitors."
"I understand sir." The Obscura goes and hides behind a moonlet.
We know that the Imperials will explore Axar City. However, we don't know about any explorations of "Site A." And what we don't know can't cause timelock. We direct the Nones to land at "Site A," but to be careful not to land too close. It wouldn't do to crash through the roof of the cavern.
As the Nones lands, we get ready to search the caverns. Morniesul puts on his Buck Rodgers space suit. Over that he wears armor. And over that he's wearing a diffusion belt. Markel coaxes the dragon into the carrier.
We land on a lunar sort of plain above a glassy area about the size of a city block or a football field.
We go out on the surface. Each of us is flying in one way or another, ranging from airsleds and skycycles to levitation. We look about, but there's no obvious way in. Ilyar suggests that Aelwe may be able to witchwalk us in. Aelwe mumbles a bit as he hunts around for a path. In a few moments, he finds a likely spot and conjures up a crimson rope. Ilyar watches with keen interest. Unlike Mithriel's rope which was glamoured out of air, this one appears to be made of light. Then again, there's no air here to work with.
Once he's done, we all take hold of the rope, and Aelwe leads us through the ripple in reality. Unlike the witchpaths we've been on before, this one appears to be a tunnel through gray nothingness, with no "path" below. After a brief flight, we emerge from a sloping crystalline wall. We're floating above what appears to be a forest.
There's a breathable atmosphere. A lower pressure than we're used to, but breathable. There are large insects in the air. Markel uncrates the dragon and Salimar expands it to its normal size. It flies off to explore.
As we move away from our arrival point, we can see that we've emerged from a huge glassy cone. Ilyar identifies it as one of the skylights. Directly below, we see its tip glowing with a bright red light. Ilyar explains that the skylight focuses the sunlight.
Morniesul spies a small clearing, where we land. The dragon returns with one of the flying insects in it's talon, which its crunching with relish. Somehow it doesn't enjoy the Nones' Dragon Chow nearly as much.
Now that we've arrived, we need to find Old Terraformer technology. Before we can debate a likely place to start, Ilyar looks around and points confidently to an apparently random direction and says, "That way!" Trusting his expertise and dowsing, we head that way, through what appears to be a climax forest. There are tassel-like flowers hanging from occasional trees. We occasionally see what appears to be a cross between a wasp and a crow, which the dragon is having a wonderful time chowing down on.
After a bit, we come out of the forest. We can see into the distance and can see a regular hexagonal array of lights. We're passing from the cavern we entered to a second cavern. It's shallow and not as full of vegetation.
Ilyar is very confident we should go this way. He's kenning Old Terraformer technology. "I think it might be that." He points to the cliff wall, where there's something sticking straight out. As we approach, we see that the artifact has dirt and plants on top. It ends raggedly, as if it has been snapped off. It's got a dull grey sheen. Ilyar scans it. "Yes, this is crystal and macrometal matrix. I think they broke it off when they left."
Morniesul turns to Robbie and asks, "Robbie, will you take your device and see if there are any shards, fragments, or pieces of this on the ground down below?"
Robbie adjusts his tricorder and scans for the crystal/macrometal matrix the pole above us is made of. He doesn't find any scattered on the ground, which seems very odd. Ilyar says, "The Old Terraformers were distressingly tidy. They seem to have gone away with all due decorum."
Since there are no handy pieces to take, Morniesul saws off a head-sized chunk with his macrometal dagger. The material of the pole gives him more resistance than he's ever seen using a macrometal knife, but eventually he gets the piece off and puts it in his pack.
While Morniesul is working on the pole, Robbie tunes his tricorder to search for unalloyed macrometal. There's a whole lot in the wall. It's evenly spread throughout the wall, to a depth of 3 meters.
Morniesul goes up to the wall and sees threads of shiny wire. Mostly vertical, but in all directions, almost like a loose weave. Ilyar comes up and says, "Oh yes, there it is. The macrometal reinforcements. They do that a lot in these caverns." Morniesul points to little red grains on the ground and says, "And what about those?"
"Hm. Definitely artificial. Look like a polymeric matrix. I'll have to examine these more closely. I've never seen anything like them before."
"Can you ken them?
"It may not be them, but there's certainly something worth kenning around here."
Morniesul pulls out his book and starts thumbing through the pages until he finds what he's looking for. He pulls out a pair of comic book x-ray glasses, complete with pink and orange spirals on the lenses. He puts them on and looks at the wall a moment, then pulls them off with a pained expression and covers his eyes.
Suddenly, Aelwe announces that there are things flying around in the air that are not apparent. He points up. Robbie doesn't see anything. Aelwe says he just has an impression of presences. Salimar and Brunalf detect clusters of psi activity up there. Once they've pointed it out, Robbie can also detect them with his telepathy. The presences descend rapidly. Before we can get worried, Ilyar announces, "Oh I can ken them now. They're Vorts. We think that they're examples of Old Terraformer tech. They're of dog level intelligence."
Salimar picks them up as eight swirly black clouds, above us. Robbie sends "Nice doggie" thoughts to them. He gets back an impression of curiosity.
Aelwe picks up a pebble and starts teleporting it from hand to hand, to see how they react to Qui. The Vorts seem excited by this. Suddenly, one of the Vorts flies away rapidly, and Aelwe realizes that the pebble he just teleported has failed to reappear. Robbie thinks "Bring it here" and holds out his hand. The pebble appears in it. The Vorts seem to like this game. Robbie tries to image the Hexenjager crystal and think "fetch." Unfortunately, his telepathy is not up to conveying an image. He suggests that Salimar try it, and she replies that the Vorts may not sense the crystals the same way. Ilyar offers to give us his impression of dowsing for Old Terraformer technology. Salimar projects that to the Vorts, who bob and weave overhead, sort of like a flying pack of Golden Retrievers. We hear a "tink" and find a shard of quartz crystal that just dropped out of the sky. The Vorts give the impression of being very pleased with themselves.
Aelwe tries using the x-ray glasses to look for an entrance into the wall. He takes a long, leisurely look, and doesn't find anything. "You know, with a little help, you can see the Vorts with these."
We have no comment. We follow Ilyar along the wall and come to a long rocky bed with a few weeds. We see an artifact just around a bend in the wall. It's a dull, metallic dodecahedral frame, with interesting detail along the edges. Ilyar says, "Well, this is what I was sensing, all right." The bottom struts are under rubble, and the rest of it appears slightly collapsed. Each strut is about 2 meters long. Along it are dainty little crystals, exactly like the Hexenjager crystals. "This is a magnificent specimen. I think it was for moving equipment. Either teleporting, or moving things in and out of hyperspace."
Morniesul remarks dryly, "I wouldn't at all be surprised given what I saw back there." He still has a headache from the X-ray glasses.
"Was it brightly colored?"
"Perhaps you saw the Margin."
Robbie asks "Margin?"
"There's a nice wide Margin here. The Margin is a place where hyperspace is habitable. It's believed that the Old Terraformers had this technology."
Morniesul comments, "I suppose that makes it a safe place to play with unknown devices."
"This might have been a way to project into the Margin?"
"Yes. For large loads."
"Have you ever found things in hyperspace?"
"Yes. We Quishonne have. To the best of our knowledge, the Empire scientists don't know that the Margin exists."
Weaving around the crystals in pseudo-floral patterns are little red wires that are almost inlaid. We carefully excavate the thing. Morniesul looks carefully for little red wires that are broken. He finds pits or dents, about the size of the end of his finger, full of "gunk". After he brushes it out, he's certain it's a little further along the strut than when he started. Hmm. Using the brush he was cleaning with, he tries pushing the dent. It moves. "Mr. Ilyar. Would you look at this? I was cleaning out this crevice and watch what happens" Ilyar is fascinated. There appear to be 3-4 dents per strut. The dents don't appear to be able to go from strut to strut. And each one is bound to a face.
There are bits of what look like peeling paint in what look like Persian patterns in the corners. This looks like rust. It has come off in flakes. There appears to be circuitry on the paint. It's hopelessly rotted away. Morniesul carefully takes samples to show to Ashleigh later.
After a lot of work, we've got a slightly squashed dodecahedron, which we hope will provide an entrance to the Margin. Before we try to activate the device, we armor ourselves and turn on our diffusion belts.
Ilyar, Brunalf, and Morniesul enter the dodecahedron. Markel puts his finger in a dimple. Nothing obvious happens. Ilyar finds a dimple on the other side of the same strut and pokes it. Nothing appears to happen. For good measure, we all try poking a dimple. Still, nothing appears to happen. While we're all standing there poking the dimples, Ilyar asks, "When do we nudge with our minds?"
Morniesul responds, "How about now?"
We're not sure what Ilyar does, but it involved Qui. The framework groans and the sight through several of the different panes wobble. Ilyar murmurs a satisfied "Ahá" and one of the wobbly panes becomes a glow of pink. "That's an opening into the Margin."
The pane is 2 meters on an edge. Robbie sends his eye through, with instructions to retrace its path if it loses contact with Robbie. It sees a vast expanse of pink. Far off in the distance there are white disks. Behind is a wobbly panel which the eye can see us through. As far as we can tell, the entry is stable.
Morniesul turns to Ilyar and asks, "You say that it is habitable over there?"
"Does it tend to be inhabited?"
"No, other than occasional Vorts."
Morniesul sends through two songbirds and directs one of them to chirp. The second doesn't hear it. Ilyar is fascinated. "Oh, there's no air in there. But you can breath the light. The fact that you can breath the light is why we thought it was Old Terraformer."
Morniesul considers this, then responds, "Or Fay."
"If you say so."
"Oh, some of my family are."
"Oh." Ilyar files this tidbit away for future consideration.
Morniesul continues, "Is there gravity in there?"
"No. Not if it's typical Margin, but gravitic devices still work."
After a bit of discussion, we decide to go through and explore the Margin. Perhaps there are working devices there, away from the corrosive forces of erosion that damaged the frame.
Dafnord goes through feet first, with his gun in his hand. Salimar floats through sedately. The rest of us follow. Morniesul and Katrina are very discomforted by the lack of gravity, until Robbie points out the gravitic "seat belts" on the air-sled that provide enough gravity to keep them in their seats.
We're in a seemingly infinite pinkish glowing space. Robbie can see ultraviolet and infrared backgrounds, similar to the pink light. Off in the distance we can see 14 disks, that appear to be of different sizes. We head towards them. After we've been traveling for quite some time, the disks aren't appreciably closer. The window is a dwindling spec behind us. Salimar blows bubbles so as to leave "breadcrumbs" to lead us back to the exit.
After about 1/2 hour of flight, we approach the nearest one. It appears to be about 8 kilometers in diameter. The overall shape is an icosahedron, composed of spheres that are each roughly 80 meters in diameter. While it's hard to discern color in this strange light, the spheres appear to be flat white.
As we get closer, we realize that there are wrinkles and folds on the surface of each sphere. We close in and investigate one of the folds, which curves in and opens on a white interior. There appears to be a down in here. Not a lot of gravity, but a 1/10 of a G. We appear to be in a soft white, simple, large scale maze.
Markel suggests pulling out the Map of Here. Salimar finds a marking indicating the doorway we came through. Immediately around us, the map shows a cross section of the icosahedron. There's no immediate dimensional activity, except our doorway. There's a small grey marking which the legend shows as "residues." We go there. We can't follow the Map of Here exactly, since it's only a two-dimension cross section of an (at least) three dimensional solid. As we wend our way through the maze, the passageways are all very blank. We see occasional oval rings of metal in the wall. When we arrive at the place the map named "residues," there is a cluster of oval and circular rings on the walls, floor and ceiling.
Robbie asks Ilyar if these might be portals to other places. As Ilyar approaches one of the rings, he appears to speed up, then slow down, then speed up then slow down for about 7 cycles. Then he stands there for what seems like a very long time. Then he returns, and the effect is repeated. He says that it would be easy to break through to other parts of the Margin from here, but he doesn't want to try it just now. We report the effect. Perhaps the temporal effect is responsible for preserving this machinery. Robbie opines that it's a sign of the device's breakdown.
Morniesul muses that there are 14 spheres, 8K in diameter. A population of 25K or so. This would be an interesting lifeboat.
Ilyar replies, "I can't discuss evacuation plans."
We explore the sphere. We find other concentrations of metallic ovals and rings which we assume are transportation nexi. The Map of Here shows a bunch of different areas of "residue", shown in different colors. The tan ones appear to be passageways with lots of little metal rings. Aelwe goes through one and appears to squish down. When he comes back, he reports that the doorway appears to widen. Ilyar thinks that we're stumbling around in bits of machinery that controls space, time and dimension He thinks that we're in something that's been mothballed; only the hull is left.
Pale blue "residue" are smallish holes (1/2 foot) in the wall. They appear to have a compressive effect. Aelwe looks through one and appears compressed. Robbie sends his eye through. There's a large chamber on the far side. When the eye comes back, he notices that everything is reversed, right is left and left is right. Robbie sends the eye through again, carefully following the same path. The eye is OK after that. Ilyar is even more convinced that this is a mothballed installation. That the Old Terraformers left this behind after taking the good stuff out.
Salimar feels around psychically and reports that at least one Vort has become interested in her trail of bubbles.
Aelwe dowses around and says that he feels sure that the metal rings are sockets that something goes in. If we knew how to construct it, you might turn this place on again.
After searching for a while, and not finding anything particularly spectacular or portable, we discuss how to continue. Ilyar is overwhelmed by the entire place. He can't sense beyond the access to other places in the Margin.
He believes that simply bringing the dodecahedron to Pharos would be sufficient. Of course, removing it might ruin whatever functionality is left in it. Morniesul suggests that it would be better to simply bring word of the discovery back, and return with a team of clockwatchers. He continues that they might already in fact be here, carefully hiding from us in the other spheres to prevent timelock.
This idea certainly has a damping effect on any plans to explore the remaining spheres. We leave our heroes as they discuss how to get word to Pharos.
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved