The Voyages of the PS Nones
Chapter 21, The Tough go Shopping (again)
When last we left our heroes, they had been trying to find the sneak-thief who had stolen Umbra, the Sword of Twilight Chaos, from Dafnord as he wandered through the endless markets of Martshayla Port's Conventional enclave. Despite our best efforts, we seemed to have reached a dead end. We'd stopped into the KaiSenese consulate to file a report (the police here are Naza -- anything's possible) and discovered that the Blenari were revolting (but we already knew that ;-)). To work off our frustration at the loss of Umbra, we offered to help put down the riot between two rival clans. In the course of a brief but therapeutic workout, we discovered that someone had been setting up the Blenari. And our rumors that the Koranda had bought a large quantity of fractal metals hadn't even had time to sink in yet.
As the Naza are mopping up the last of the combatants, we see what look like giant silver furred caterpillar coming into the field of battle. Each is three meters long, and wearing multi-sleeved jackets with the KaiSenese conventional logo and assorted other symbols. We recognize one of those symbols -- a red cross. The medics start sorting through the subdued Blenari. When they find one which needs treatment, they coil around their patients as they examine and operate. Many Blenari wisely lose consciousness.
One of the Naza turns to the group and says, "Thank you. You were of great assistance. I do not know that there is much that need detain you..."
Dafnord replies, "We wanted to help you because we're of need of your services."
"What services do you need?"
"I lost a sword and need to find it."
Two of the Naza's eye stalks turn to look at each other. "In that case, would you like to repair to the consulate to fill out a report?"
"Foozhap has a copy."
"Then I will take my data from the report. You may reach me at the consulate. My name is Kwaf og Fthoar mbu Mehngh"
"How shall I refer to you?"
"You may call me Officer Kwaf." Robbie hands the Naza a replica of Umbra.
Salimar asks, "Is there any other aid that you might need to conduct your investigation? If you'd like, I can retrocog and show you the theft. We know that the sword was taken by a Threenaleen with yellow tentacles."
"That would be very good. Could you please come to the consulate? I don't have the necessary equipment to make visual recordings here."
Robbie sends a file to Kwaf's mailbox, containing pictures of the Threenaleen from the Drine security camera, as well as pictures from the retrocogs provided by Gannar.
Salimar goes to the consulate with Officer Kwaf. The rest of us go back to Elias' Place.
The Naza and Salimar walk in silence through the gangtubes to Officer Kwaf's office in the KaiSenese consulate. Once there, Officer Kwaf settles itself behind its desk. It scans its mail and pulls up the images sent by Robbie. While two eyes look at the screen, the other eyes look at Salimar.
"I have here the scabbard the sword was in, as well as the tool that was substituted for it. I can use these objects as the focus for my retrocog."
"You may display it here. I will record here."
The KaiSenese word for "Recording" appears on one of the screens.
Salimar focuses on the alien tool first. An octarine glow appears and we see the tool in the scabbard. She "scrolls backward" and we see a booth in the concourse. To one side is a Hemmenengi; one of the 8-foot humanoids with fur around its eye sockets. It's setting up its booth and has a bunch of tools spread around. The one that Dafnord found is one of them. As Salimar and the Naza watch, an area of psilence intrudes on one side of the image. While the trader's back is turned, yellow tentacles come into view, wrap around the tool, and draw the it into the psilence.
Meanwhile, Dafnord, Kate, Brunalf and Katrina go through the gangtube to the TSTO enclave. For the first time in their experience on this station, almost everyone in sight is human. Most everyone is in some kind of uniform. Dafnord reaches into his belt pouch, pulls out his Jack Cross-Time Office patch, and attaches it (securely) to his sleeve. Capes are in, color coordinated with the pants. The four continue through the concourse of the TSTO enclave to the next gangtube which leads to the Philippian enclave and their destination, the office of Dame Jennifer Abrahams, Private Detective who was recommended by Elias.
Arriving at Dame Abrahams' office, Dafnord presses the doorbell. The door opens. Inside is a standard office, complete with a standard parrot stand. There's a large parrot on the stand, watching TV. Dafnord recognizes it as a neo-parrot. Dafnord approaches the desk and grunts.
The parrot swivels it's head 180 degrees and looks at Dafnord, "Are you expected?"
The parrot cocks an eye at Brunalf, riding in his egg. "Awk! Flying cat! No fair!"
Brunalf gives the parrot a dirty feline look. With a sniff, the parrot looks back at it's TV screen. "What's your business?"
"I'm looking to hire a detective."
"I figured that."
"I had a sword stolen."
The parrot swivels its head again and looks at Dafnord. Apparently he passes some test, since it says, "Awk. That should get her."
It reaches out with one zygodactylous claw to a button on the parrot stand. "Clients, boss. Had a sword stolen."
"A what? Send them in."
A door opens. There's another desk. Behind the desk is a woman in a white turtle neck, her cloak on the coat rack, to the left of the door. She was doing her "virtual" paperwork. There are assorted screens with columns of numbers and correspondence. On the wall to the right, there are numerous certificates, including a diploma from the Ptolemy police academy, a report of the enrollment of a new class of officers in the Ptolemy police force, a retirement plaque, and a license to practice as private investigator.
She blanks the screen as they enter the room. "So one of you had a sword stolen." She scans the group, and then focuses on Dafnord. "And I'll bet it was you."
Dafnord relates the tale of the theft. When he's done, Dame Abrahams frowns, then muses, "Threenaleen. How peculiar."
Dafnord continues, "There are seven known to the KaiSenese consulate. None have yellow tentacles."
"You've consulted the consulate, then"
"Do you have any reason to suspect that the consulate would be object to sharing data with me?"
"No. And if they do, I'll forward any information you need."
"My rate, since we're dealing through the Convention, is 32 lucre points per day, plus expenses."
"That's no problem."
"You say it was done under psilence?"
"Awkward." Dame Abrahams considers the information she's been given. "Before you go, you must understand that someone in my line of work is curious. What moved you to bring a sword here?"
Katrina speaks up for the first time, "He thinks he's a gentleman." This gets a smile.
Dafnord ignores her and replies, "It's too dangerous to leave lying around."
"You must be very upset to have had it lifted."
"I'm very annoyed. Be aware that it is very sharp. Sharper than macrometal."
"It's not macrometal?"
"Is it an artifact from the Zone?"
"No. It's quite unique."
"Where did you get it?"
"In the Chaos Rim."
Dame Abrahams cocks her head, much like her secretary. "Why do I have the feeling that asking more questions won't help? Well, I'll be very interested to see the visuals."
"Do you require a retainer?"
"No, I prefer to bill as work is done. However, I will ask that you sign this contract."
Dame Abrahams punches some buttons and a form slides out of her desk. She passes it to Dafnord who thumb-prints it, breaths on it, puts it under his arm, then hands it back. Dame Abrahams isn't quite sure what that performance was all about. (The chemical ID we saw in the Terraform Reach won't come in for some centuries yet.) She holds the form gingerly in two fingers and calls out, "Ricky! File this." The parrot flies in and gives her a beady-eyed look, as if it had a choice, and flies out with the contact. Dame Abrahams tells Dafnord she'll be in touch as soon as she finds anything, and they leave.
While Dafnord & Co. are talking with Dame Abrahams, Gannar, Robbie, and Morniesul have returned to Elias' Place. As they enter, the group of small, golden-skinned Blenari is gathered at their usual table. There's a single "normal" Blenari seated with them. Crossing to the bar, Morniesul orders a glass of Spring Wine. When Elias delivers it, he asks if it's rare for "normal" Blenari to encounter the smaller ones.
Elias replies, "I don't think he'll see them more than once. His sort usually see them once, if he's what I think he is." As he says this, one of the golden Blenari is rolling up a ball of what looks like white yarn.
Gannar orders a beer and stares off into space. The "normal" Blenari has a drink in front of him. It's something clear. One of the little Blenari is talking to him very seriously in a low voice. We can just barely hear them. The big Blenari is just staring at him. If this was a human, he would look shaken.
We just make out the little Blenari saying, "...you shouldn't worry about that. It was your duty after all. Clan loyalty is a really big thing. It's no problem going out in a fight like that." The small Blenari rolling up the yarn gives the resultant ball to the big one, who ignores it. It takes the big one's hand and closes it around the ball.
At some signal we can't see, the small Blenari stand up. The big one remains sitting there, staring at a puddle of spilled drink on the table. The small Blenari hoist the big one to its feet and half drag, half support it toward a door at the far end of the bar. They go through, and the door shuts behind them. There are now no Blenari in the bar.
Morniesul asks Elias, "Do folk often come here the way that Blenari seems to have?"
"If I understood what was going on, it's unusual to see it happening out in the open, instead of someplace special."
"I like to think that this is someplace special."
"Do they come here that way often?"
"Fascinating. Quite worth the price of a good drink."
"I'm glad you think so."
Robbie orders a beer and strikes up a conversation with the Rioli next to him. He says that he's looking for fractal metals and suggests that he's heard that the Blenari have a large stash. The only rise he can get out of the Rioli is to the plate of fried Calimari he offers. It's not a favorable reaction.
Salimar joins Gannar, Robbie and Morniesul at the bar. Robbie turns to Elias and asks him about the tub that fascinated Salimar. Salimar describes the creature that came out of it.
"Can anyone use it?"
"I don't know. I saw a guy try standing in their tub once. All he got was slimy boots."
Morniesul senses Dafnord, Kate, Brunalf, and Katrina approach through the net. He pulls out a coin from long ago and far away and puts it on the bar, then goes out to meet the group. "I couldn't help but notice that we're rather far away from times when swords like Umbra are normally found. Items like it seem to confound the locals. It might get a less surprised reaction in Elias' Place."
They stop. "Who would we ask?"
"I'm not certain, but things as unusual as that sword seem to happen in there."
"Ask the bartender?"
"I need to get some pictures. I can get them on the Nones."
"Salimar is within. She can do the pictures."
Dafnord pings Salimar. <Yes, Dafnord?>
<Can you glamour an image of Umbra?>
<What size would you like?>
<1/4 size would be adequate.>
Morniesul returns to the bar, followed by Dafnord. Brunalf, Kate, and Katrina elect to wander the station on the off chance that they'll find the Threenaleen with the yellow tentacles.
Dafnord joins Salimar at the bar. She gives him a 1/4 size sword, complete with a little scabbard to put it in. Turning back to the bar, Salimar finds Elias in front of her. "So did you want to have another shot at the slime baths, or would you want to order something?" Salimar hesitates, so Elias adds, "You have the baths all to yourself."
As Salimar heads towards the baths, Dafnord catches Elias' eye. "Thank you for your recommendation of the Private Investigators. I'd also like to ask if you have any suggestions on how to find an object like this, only 4 times larger."
Morniesul chimes in with, "It's gone missing."
Elias responds, "Well, I guess dowsing for it is something that you've tried and failed at."
Dafnord nods, then says, "We know that it was taken by a yellow-tentacled Threenaleen under psilence."
Reaching the main bath, Salimar pokes in a toe. The temperature is perfect. With a telepathic <Ah...> she puddles in.
Back at the bar, Robbie contributes his two bits, "It was created in the Chaos Rim."
Morniesul adds, "Which folk around here don't quite understand."
Elias grins. "They wouldn't."
Dafnord continues, "My companions suggested that there wouldn't be many in this port who would understand the value of this object. And I should warn you that it's extremely sharp. Sharper than macrometal."
Elias considers, "Well, so it was from Chaos Rim..."
Dafnord replies, "Yes"
Elias asks, "Does it have any notable properties, other than its extreme sharpness and its origin?"
Dafnord says, "I have not had it fully analyzed," a touch defensively.
"I'll bet you haven't."
"Do you know Tom Noon?"
"He created it," Dafnord tells him.
"I honed it. On the Zephyr."
"How poetic." Elias sighs, then says, "I'll see what I can find for you."
"Yeah." Elias looks worried. He goes through a door behind the bar. He returns almost immediately and asks, "Is Tom with you guys?"
Dafnord replies, "No."
Elias grimaces and goes back through the door.
As the door swings shut behind Elias, Gannar comes out of his abstraction. "I've been working on your trade problem. You came here to buy goods that you can take and sell 100 years back?"
We admit that this was our intention.
"There are a number of interesting items in the TSTO and Philippian enclaves. To start with, there's a brisk market in used survey equipment. Not all of the prospectors can afford the latest equipment. Much of the equipment on the used market is 100 years old, which would be state of the art in the time you came from. There are also cloaking devices and psi-chargers, and a set of ergoplastic robots you might be interested in. The robots are sold as a set of four. They are said to be extremely experienced in interstellar trade and security. They're not sapient. But the information I've been able to find suggests that they're on the cusp. I would like to examine them."
There doesn't appear to be much that we can do just now towards finding Umbra. We agree to go on another shopping expedition. However, first we have to deliver fractal metal samples to Pqdorn. Also, Dafnord wants to send the information we've got available on the theft to Dame Abrahams. He gives the contact information to Robbie, who sends her a duplicate of the file sent to officer Kwaf.
We agree to rendezvous at the Nones after the delivery of the samples. Morniesul and Robbie leave the bar to go back to the Nones. About two periods after they leave, Salimar returns to the bar, obviously refreshed from her slime bath. After complimenting Elias on the excellence of his facilities, she asks, "Do you know of any people who are known to travel in psilence?"
Elias replies, "Many Blenari routinely go psilenced. Some humans do. Mostly people from Earth, among humans. The Kebtul are fond of psilence."
Salimar frowns. "Having this critter take my associate's sword in psilence is annoying."
"I've sent out to some contacts. I don't know if it will do any good."
"I'd be happy to work with them."
"If they show up, I'll keep this in mind."
"We'll make it worth their while." When this doesn't get a response, she asks, "Is there anything you could use from us that might help your contacts?"
"Only if you've information you haven't already given me."
"You know everything that we do."
"You've got the scabbard?"
"I'd like to examine it."
She hands it to him. He stares at it for a while. He hands it back and says, "Thank you very much."
"Did you learn anything?"
"Bits and pieces. God, you people lead tangled lives!"
Salimar gives him a holographic card. He tucks it into the mirror behind the bar, along with the others, and then goes to serve his other patrons.
Robbie and Morniesul arrive at the Nones to find that Markel has assembled a set of samples, including a few of the fractal crystals. Robbie rez's up a cart to carry the ingots and crystals. Remembering the Blenari who was sensitive to fractal metals, he gets a psilencer, puts it on top of the ingots and triggers it. The cart vanishes and the ingots land on the deck with a musical chiming. Drat, that won't work. Morniesul suggests that they haul out one of the grav-sleds and load the samples and psilencer into the trunk. It works perfectly. They motor through the markets to Pqdorn's tent.
As the grav-sled settles to the deck, a Thrass comes out who identifies himself as Sliff. Morniesul greets it, then says, "We had agreed with Sentient Pqdorn to bring over some merchandise." Sliff politely holds over the flap with the tentacle at the end of his nose. We drive the grav-sled into the tent.
Sliff leads us to a tech-looking section. At least we think so. There's VERY LARGE lab equipment. Sliff reaches out with its nose and picks up a box with a white lining. "Please put the samples in this." We do. As we're loading the ingot of green fractal metal, it asks "What is this?"
Robbie responds, "Chlorium." This gets no response, so he tries again. "Meta-aluminum?"
"Thank you. That is unprecedented." Sliff writes something down with its lower lip.
When Sliff finishes, Morniesul says, "We also had spoken about some other things. We have a number of crystals whose nature is not dissimilar to the metals'." He holds out a handful of the crystals. "I've only brought a few of the various types we have."
Sliff puts out its nose to take the crystals. "You say, 'of similar nature.' Are they composed of fractal elements?"
Morniesul nods, "They are fractal crystals."
"Thank you." Sliff puts them down on a table and reaches for a delicate instrument about the size of a small tree trunk. It waves the instrument over the crystals and reads the result. Its eyes widen. It waves the instrument over the crystals again and checks the reading a second time. It hasn't changed. "Thank you very much. I believe that Pqdorn mentioned these as of academic interest."
"We've more that we can supply samples of. There are over a dozen of them."
"Very good. I'm sure it will please you to know that our negotiations with our government are proceeding favorably."
"I'm hopeful that you can afford to buy our entire cargo."
"I appreciate your generosity. If the deal should fall through due to some grave mischance, we will of course return the samples." Sliff continues reluctantly, "...And the crystals."
"Thank you. We won't request that you return the knowledge."
Sliff scratches it's head with it's lower lip. Clearly that thought had never occurred to it. "I thank you."
Morniesul, Markel and Robbie climb aboard the grav-sled, and return to the Nones, where the rest of the group has gathered. Brunalf, Kate and Katrina report that they saw a number of Threenaleen, but none of them had yellow tentacles.
Gannar takes us to a shop near the docks in the TSTO enclave. The sign above the door announces that we're at Gamche Outfitters. Entering, we find an office there, and a well dressed young human woman behind a desk. She looks up as we enter and asks, "May I help you?" in Earthron.
Salimar responds, "Greetings, Sentient. We understand that you have survey equipment for sale. We're looking for large quantities."
The woman gives us a list of assorted equipment, including scanners for assorted metals and carbon polymers, gravitic and tachyonic spectroscopes, as well as gravitic telescopes. The equipment is generally in the 1K lucre point range; we can easily afford as much of it as they can supply. The equipment is specialized for prospectors, in excellent condition, and generally in our age range. We thank her for her time and tell her that we will consider her goods.
A few doors down we come to an door marked only with a number. No placard, no company name. We knock. After a pause, a human male answers the door. "Yes?"
Once more, Morniesul takes the fore. "We saw an advertisement that you posted."
"I have several ads posted. Which one are you referring to?"
Morniesul considers how to put this, then says, "Things of a ... concealing nature."
That was apparently the right thing, since the man grins and says, "Please come in." We enter. "I am Hiro Singh. You must understand that the cloaks I have, though in very good condition, are somewhat old."
"What would be it's age?"
"About 90 years."
"We're going to a pretty backwater place, so that would be quite appropriate. What sorts of cloaks do you have?"
"We have a fairly complete range. Wide-spectrum visual, infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray/gamma-ray, radio/EM-field, gravitic distorters in two sizes, open HV scramblers, and wide-scope icon blur projectors."
"Do you have this in any substantial quantity?"
"We're looking for an optimum combination of value, quantity and compactness. We're selling one or two interesting cargoes and looking for things of value to take back."
"What is your interesting cargo, if I may ask?"
"High grade ergoplasm, as well as raw metals, and interesting crystals. We believe that we have a buyer for the metals and crystals...."
"If you send over a sample of the ergoplasm, I may be interested in it. Metals and crystals, you say?"
Robbie is sending out distressed feelings. He's very unhappy with the thought of selling fractal metals to another unknown agency. The Blenari were bad enough. Morniesul ignores him and continues, "We're already in the middle of a deal on the metal and crystals. Although if you're interested in the crystals...."
"What kind of crystals?"
"Yes. These are more or less unique samples, so they will command a high price."
Mr. Singh is very interested in the crystals. Perhaps in exchange for some of his cloaks. They range in the 10s of K lucre points per unit. The stock he offers us totals about 1M lucre points. We promise him that we will consider both his interest in the fractal crystals, and the cloaks he has for sale, and take our leave.
From there, Gannar leads us to the Phillipean enclave office of Veemer's Trade & Supply. They have all sorts of supplies for prospectors, ranging from middle quality to very good.
Morniesul approaches one of the salesmen and says, "We heard that you were advertising robots."
The salesman looks up from the monitor he's been staring at and says, "Oh yeah. We've got a set of them."
"How many in the set?"
The salesman types at his monitor for a moment, and then responds, "Four. The contract that travels with them doesn't let them get broken up. Their names are Red, Blue Yellow, Gray."
"What is particular about these robots?"
He reads some of the information on the screen. "They've knocked about the Ecumen for quite a while. It says here that they're quite good with alien races."
"How old are these robots?"
"About 100 years."
"How much for the set?
"The four will cost your 40 K lucre points."
"They're sentient, not sapient?"
"Yes. Very intelligent, but not quite, well I don't know, but they don't have citizenship papers." As the salesman finishes, an object floats through a door behind the salesman. The top half is spherical and bright blue. There's a silver belt around the equator of the sphere with a glowing red lens. Below the silver belt is dark gray ergoplasm that hangs in pseudopods. Three other units follow it into the room, identical except for the color of the top half.
The lead robot, Gray, extends a pseudopod to Gannar to "shake hands." A voice issues from the left of the lens and says, "Good afternoon, sir. I hope I can be of service."
Morniesul says "I'd like my assistants to evaluate the device, if you don't mind."
The salesman grins. "No problem at all. Please use that room over there."
Robbie and Gannar lead the robots to the specified room to examine them. They find that the robots are in excellent condition and have a very wide range of background data, with an emphasis on interstellar trade. Often, their owners were not human. Gannar asks them a set of odd questions to evaluate their development. Once the assay is complete, he dismisses the robots and the rest of the group joins him in the room. He announces that they are probably borderline to full sapience, but they're low on initiative.
Robbie asks Gannar, "Do you particularly wants to help them to sapience and manumit them?"
Morniesul asks the key question: "Will it be hard to arrange that they don't cross their own paths?"
Gannar replies, "Not from what I have heard. The Ecumene is a big place."
But the group decides that this is probably more trouble than it's worth, and decides not to buy the robots.
From there, Gannar leads us to the main concourse of the Phillipean enclave, to a shop labeled The Concourse Mindsmith. There's lots of books on how to expand the powers of your mind, along with psilencers, psi-openers and psi-conditioners. And a whole bunch of devices that we don't recognize.
A saleswoman comes up as we enter the shop and asks, "May I help you?"
Morniesul replies, "Yes, we were told that you have psi chargers for sale."
"Oh yes." The saleswoman goes to the back half of the store and returns with a stubby cylinder with a rounded top and a built-in handle. It's clearly heavy. Think RM06 pack. She places it on a table for us to examine. There's 6 slots of some type, as well as a recessed red button.
"What are it's features?"
"Well, if you are out of energy, this will supply it. This state of the art device can charge up a 6-pack of batteries, and it comes with 4 battery packs. It's for somebody who uses psi faster than they can generate it. It's 64 lucre points."
Robbie asks, "How would one use it?"
"You should be the only person in the operating radius of 1/2 meter, and just turn it on." The saleswoman looks closely at Robbie. "You're a robot aren't you? I don't know what will happen." She points to the button on top and then retreats.
Robbie pushes the button. Several of his peripheral processors crash, and he gets reports of minor overloads. In a word, it hurts. However, he is now fully charged for psi. But this is still not an experience he'd like to repeat.
Kate decides to try it. Robbie backs far away. After pushing the button, she feels a decided headache. There's an interesting display of flashing black and blue triangles that flows across her field of vision.
Salimar tries. She looks noticeably more rubbery after she's done. However, she announces that she likes it.
Morniesul tries and gets swirly whirlpools across his vision. Then the pain is gone.
Salimar really wants one. We take two, so we can give one to Tom: "We went to Martshayla Port and all you get is a lousy psi charger."
We return to the Nones to get a sample of ergoplasm and a small fractal crystal and deliver them to Hiro Singh. We return just as a pair of small gray Aernas come running up to the door, deposit a tub and leave.
Last Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2004 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved