The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 16, Setting up Trade
When last we left our heroes, they were aboard a huge icosahedron, roughly 8 kilometers in diameter, somewhere in hyperspace in the Margin of Axar, the third planet in what will be called the Impri system 3000 years from now. We're here looking for technology to combat Dybor II, the emperor of the Empire of the Terraform Reach, whose forces will invade Pharos (in 3000 years) using technology found on Axar. While we've found a number of interesting dimensional effects in the icosahedron and the spheres it is composed of, we haven't found anything that we can identify as a weapon.
The question is what to do with what we've found so far. If we do too much, we're likely to end up with the Reach of 3000 years in our future becoming our present.
One argument is that we should hightail it back to Pharos with word of the icosahedron and let the Pharosian clockwatchers come back here and figure out what this is.
The other argument is that we should poke around here a bit more and see what else we can find. Morniesul suggested that there may already be Pharosians investigating the other 13 icosahedrons, trying very hard to stay out of our sight to avoid timelock.
Since further exploration of Axar's Margin seems to be out, we decide to explore the future site of Axar City. While we won't be able to take anything that the Imperials will eventually find, we can remove as much as possible and leave as little as possible for them.
Robbie suggests witchwalking back directly from hyperspace. There's no answer, so he drops the subject. We retrace our steps out of the icosahedron and return to the glowing pink of Axar's Margin. Those who can, fly, while the others remount the assorted aircycles and airsleds and follow Salimar's trail of bubbles towards the exit, with Aelwe in the lead. As we follow him, the sky grays out and suddenly we're witchwalking. After a while, a path forms underneath us. We follow the path for quite a while, much longer than it took to enter the cavern from the surface of Axar. Aelwe is starting to look uneasy.
Dafnord asks, "Is something wrong?"
Aelwe replies distracted, "It taking longer than I thought ... I'm sure it's here somewhere ... Oh! Look!"
Aelwe bends down and picks up a rock from the path. We're generally unimpressed. However, shortly afterward we're on the surface of Axar. Dafnord contacts the Nones and asks it how far away we are. It responds that we're about 35 km from its location. Robbie asks how long we've been gone. About 6 hours. We're in sequence, for local values of sequence. We fly back to the Nones and climb aboard.
Robbie asks the Nones to scan for additional concentrations of Qui or refined metals.
The Nones reports that there are occasional mobile concentrations of Qui. We describe Vorts to it, and tell it to ignore them. Other than the Vorts, it doesn't detect anything new.
The Nones lifts slightly and we carefully "dust away" our prints, then we head to what will become Axar City.
There are some shallow stony hills nearby. The Nones lands there. Aelwe once more witchwalks us in. This time we're on a path that leads vaguely down. After a brief walk, we come out a cavern wall at the floor of the cavern. As we emerged, Markel saw something that looked "head-like" that withdrew behind a hill as we arrived. The head was horse-sized. Robbie sends his eye to investigate, but Kate's viewpoint gets there first. We find a creature roughly the size and shape of a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur. It has a sleek coat of brown fur, no forelimbs at all, and a head kind of like a parrot, with a big curved beak, and about a dozen eyes in clusters, much like a Terrestrial insect.
Salimar contacts it. It has roughly the intelligence a deer. She believes that it's herbivorous. We startled it when we came out of the wall.
Ilyar leads us off in an apparently random direction as he dowses for Old Terraformer technology. Over a gentle rise, passing near the Mutant Budgie from Outer Space, and through the woods. We see a number of macrometal stumps coming out of the wall. They're not nearly the size of the one that Morniesul took his souvenir from in the last cavern, but they're still sizable. We pass them and come to a sandy area. Robbie finds more little red beads here. Kate notices a tangle of gears hanging from a weed. They appear to be carved ivory. She also notices that the ones that are nearest the end of the tangle are smaller and greener. A piece of biotech, perhaps. Kate carefully digs up the plant to take with us.
Katrina notices a shiny little red wire running through the sand. We get out the brushes and find a crystal attached to one end of the wire. Kate kens that it's got residual Qui. She can also sense the wire through the sand. There are crystals along it like a string of Christmas Lights. It winds and winds and winds and it eventually goes down into the sands. Markel directs the dragon to dig, carefully avoiding the wire. Brunalf pitches in for the fine digging. Three hours later, we've come down to a bar. It looks a lot like the struts of the dodecahedron. We continue digging. Brunalf continues tracing the wire, which is unbroken so far. He also finds a second red wire.
As we dig, the illumination from the skylights fades. Aelwe makes balls of glamoured light to illuminate the site. At varying times, we all come up with buried chunks of metal strut. Kate's strut turns out to only be a half meter long. The wire appears to have come out of the grooves in the strut. As the remaining pieces are unearthed, we discover that we've got a busted dodecahedron.
Ilyar remarks, "I'm quite sure that the Empire never found anything like our dodecahedron. But it's quite possible that they found pieces of this busted one."
Morniesul pulls out his book and pages through it. Then he pulls a brushed aluminum suitcase luggage from his book. Ilyar has been fiddling with an instrument he's brought. He pauses what he's doing to watch Morniesul. Morniesul opens the suitcase and bends over to pick up one of the stray crystals. He fumbles it twice, and takes this as a sign from the Universe that this one is to be left for the Empire. He marks it with a flag, indicating that we're not going to take it.
Meanwhile, Brunalf is excavating his section of 3 struts, when suddenly they start sinking into the sand. Brunalf scrambles away, and then looks more closely. The struts aren't sinking into the sand. They're sinking through the sand. Ilyar says, "Oops, I think I turned something on. Please stand back.... I'm going to reduce the signal slowly." The struts stop sinking, and then thrust suddenly out of the sand and fall over. "This is very interesting, because it gives us a way to control the crystals."
Morniesul asks, "Do you think you have decent control if it?"
Ilyar replies, "Oh no. Not yet."
While the two men are talking, Salimar pulls out the Map of Here. She discovers that it's got a nice new marker. It's the same color as the "residues" we found in the hyperspace habitat.
Ilyar continues to experiment with his device, making the struts and crystals alternately sink into and rise out of the sand. Once he thinks he's got a good idea of how his signal effects the crystals, we gather up all of the pieces, except for the one that Morniesul bobbled and another than Markel can't seem to keep his hands on, and load them into the air-sled.
When the sled is loaded, Salimar whips up a sieve and we make a fairly good collection of red beads. Ilyar tries to ken them. They don't seem to be Qui active.
Katrina suggests that perhaps they're Qui insulators. Ilyar is intrigued by this idea. He takes one of the crystals from the airsled and puts it under a handful of the red beads, then tries to ken it. After a moment, he announces that the beads do insulate against Qui.
Morniesul says, "So you have four things; a Qui insulator, a method for remotely controlling the crystals, the gateway to the Margin and the 14 things beyond the gateway.
Ilyar replies "Yes.."
Morniesul continues, "We have a few people who specialize in, as it were, associated tech. I'd be happy to take some of the broken pieces."
Ilyar pauses, then asks, "Won't that cause a problem if you do it at the wrong point in history?"
Morniesul replies, "One of the reasons that my friends have such a large organization is so that they can do things at the right point in history."
Ilyar considers, then tells Morniesul that he's welcome to whichever pieces he'd like to take.
Meanwhile, Aelwe has found a rock wall nearby that he likes as a takeoff point. We follow him into the grey fog of a witchpath, which is somewhat vaguely upward. It doesn't take nearly as long as the last time and we climb out the hillside we entered.
Aelwe mutters, "Maybe I shouldn't have tried it from hyperspace. I didn't think it would matter..."
We load our booty into the ships, clean up the landing site, take off and head back to the future.
During the voyage, Ilyar fiddles with red wires, crystals and other bits. By the time we arrive in the future, Ilyar has come up with a signal he can broadcast that will disable the Old Terraformer technology in the Hexenjagers. Robbie downloads his notes to pass on to Ashleigh.
We arrive at the rendezvous point on Pharos five years before we departed Aondoar for the second time. Pharos is a very pleasant, sylvan sort of place. Most of what we see is a meadow basking under a whitish sun. There are a lot of very interested Quishonne who seem to know what's going on with us and our ship.
One of them is Arioso, who comes forward out of the crowd. "Congratulations on your safe return. I understand that you've been quite successful. As you requested, I've acquired a million marks of high grade ergoplasm."
Robbie asks, "Ergoplasm?"
Arioso looks puzzled. "You don't know of it? It's a metamer capable of adapting itself to many physical states based on the electrical signal you send through. We picked a grade that should be only slightly ahead of your technical level."
While we thank him for the ergoplasm, people who apparently are quite good at levitation whisk the drums of the stuff into the ship.
We discuss what to do next. Kate expresses a desire to find out how everything turns out. Arioso recommends that we come back 7 years in the future. Which would be 2 years after we left Aondoar or a year and a half later than we've been thus far in the Reach.
But first, there's the matter of getting a group of Quishonne back to Axar as quickly as possible. The Nones is capable of making the trip in a much shorter subjective time than the ships the Quishonne have. We offer to drop them off, in exchange for additional Qui lessons. Ilyar and 6 other very competent looking Quishonne board our vessels for the trip back.
We return to Axar 3 days after we left. The Quishonne disembark and vanish in a puff of Qui, presumably into the cavern. We hang around until we get a notification that they're set up. They've broken through into the Margin, and have entered and come back again.
We return to the Reach approximately a year and a half after the latest date we'd been there (after the 5 years we spent on Loald). We go to Aondoar to see if we can equip the Obscura with hyperdrive.
We arrive to discover that the Empire is in turmoil. Dybor II is dead. The official story is that he met with an unfortunate traffic accident. The current Imperator is the Empress Alarca, an Imperial Senator who was elevated to the throne. Her term has been very busy so far. She's outlawed slavery and been accelerating the liberalization of the Psi laws. She's also working to improve relations with the other powers in the Reach. Not all of the factions agree with these policies, and some of the planetary governments are not happy with this turn of events. The worlds outside the Empire are watching events very closely.
Robbie asks the Nones to tell the Pharosian embassy that we're coming. It responds that they're expecting us.
When we arrive, the door is very easy to find this time, unlike the last time we were here and arrived unannounced. There's a different clerk behind the counter, but he quickly buzzes the back room when we enter. Arioso comes out to greet us. He seems genuinely glad to see us.
Morniesul asks, "Things have worked out well?"
Arioso replies, "Very," with a grin.
Markel asks, "Do you want a cracker first?"
Arioso looks puzzled and asks, "What?" then shakes his head and leads us into a conference room off of the embassy lobby. "I thought you might be interested in seeing these videos." He turns on a large holo screen and runs videos of Imperial ships de-cloaking above Pharos, to meet some fighters coming up from the planet. The Pharosan fighters looks very small and few. But then a couple of huge, spherical shapes pop into view -- the multi-kilometer mystery objects from the Margin off Axar, presumably sliding in out of hyperspace.
Each ball is an icosahedron made of hundreds of smaller spheres. The spheres now part company, expanding into large globular arrays, still linked to each other by visible beams of pale energy. The big globes expand and change shape, re-forming into tubes of energy-mesh, dotted with "tiny" spheres, each tube getting on for a hundred kilometers long. And more and more of these things keep sliding out of hyperspace and expanding. Then the tubes begin to fill with swirling clouds of bright green ... stuff.
The Imperials vanish away into overdrive.
"As you see," Arioso remarks cheerfully, "we were able to turn them on. We think they're hulls for some kind of terraforming machinery. We got them to move in and out of hyperspace, and expand like that. We have no idea what that cloud of energy is for, but it certainly is impressive."
Dafnord asks, "So why didn't Pharos answer us?"
"We weren't there at the time."
Morniesul asks, "How have you done on the red beads and wires?"
"We're working on reproducing the beads for our own uses. The red wires turned out to be conductors. We're working with the crystals."
"Is it likely that the crystals will be useful to our friends?"
"Given what we've been able to deduce about you and our friends, yes."
"We're in the process of outfitting our ships in the yards here. Do you have any equipment that you put on your ships that we might be able to use? Perhaps something a better than what we can purchase openly on Aondoar?"
"Well, there's the Vooram drive. I don't know if you'd be able to use it though. It's Qui based."
"We have been studying."
"It's a Qui based hyperdrive. You make it from a few bent wires and a bunch of Qui."
Morniesul takes a moment to absorb this. "You do."
"It's simply built."
"But it takes a lot to learn how to use it."
"It's based on the teleport skill, yes."
"I can't not tell Ashleigh about this... Are they very expensive to you?"
"Not as expensive as that long range teleportation -- the Ripway."
"The last time we visited you, we adjourned to a second room. Could we go there now?"
"Certainly." Arioso leads us to another room, and activates its security screening.
Morniesul takes out his book, pages through it and pulls out his Map of Here, and a suitcase.
Arioso is clearly intrigued. "May I see that?"
Morniesul puts the book back in his pocket and passes over the suitcase and map. Arioso looks them over, then pulls out a pad and makes copious notes. Then he examines the Map of Here. Morniesul tries to explain. "You'll notice that we got here in an extramundane fashion. You'll notice this point where your door was. The map is always of where you are."
Arioso considers, then says, "This does tally with the files that I have on Aelwe. By the way, Klulimi is now out of stasis and is now our chief source for information on Aelwe."
Morniesul grins. "My friends have a company that deals in interesting and largely appropriate technology for about 6 centuries. They make all sorts of devices. I would like very much to take back one of your drives. One of them is particularly good at space and time devices."
"I can probably arrange that... "
"It almost undoubtedly guarantees a return visit, since Aelwe is the only source we've got on Teleportation. I wish I'd been able to bring my sled. It's got a Holmes device in it."
"I think I can work something out. I'll bring it along tomorrow, if you'll be on the planet that long."
"I can assure you that there would be some sort of desire for an exchange."
"I understand. Commerce between us has already been of great values."
With that, we bid farewell to Arioso and return to the ships.
Once on board the Nones, we look into outfitting the Obscura with a hyperdrive. While it would not be able to travel as fast as the Nones, a hyperdrive would give us another ship that was capable of time travel. And having a second drive could be very useful in an emergency.
We also consider what to do about the navigation software. While the software we got on our last stay on Aondoar is good, we'd like something more along the lines of the Nones; able to take independent action when necessary. We place an ad on the net looking for an AI which is willing to sever all local ties. Must be skilled in all shipboard systems. An interest in archaic machinery a plus. Term of employment are flexible.
A day later, we receive the following resume:
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved