Week 1, Boston 2750
We left our heroes with the pantope window parked invisibly in Boston Common, on 9 June 2750 AD, in a parallel history. Tom asks Daewen about parallel worlds and learns that there are only a dozen or so parallels to Earth's continuum. They were always separate; they did not start as one then split. So far as Daewen knows, no one knows why they stayed nearly identical for so long, or why they started to diverge in nature when they did. She knows of no regular commerce between these continua, and she does not know why there is none.
She also warns Tom that too much futuristic knowledge might make it impossible for him to ever go back home -- he'd be timelocked out. Tom acknowledges the possibility and says he had been planning to lead a very discreet life if he ever got home, possibly taking up the study of the patharchic skill of Amnesia.
We start making preparations. Tom is tired of looking like someone else, so he goes back to his native appearance, there being no worldbenders to disguise from. Cantrel does likewise. The elves get their ears bobbed and their faces widened and humanized to a degree. Alag starts trying to understand a world based on technology and finds it hard slogging, working his way through the books produced by the Serving System. (The ol' SS has never been good at instruction. It was built with the presumption that its users knew what they were doing.)
We run off costumes for ourselves copied from ones we see on the folk wandering by on the Common. (Sophie has to explain to the rest of us why it's called a "common.") Of the few ETs we see passing by, Tom recognizes about a third. Daewen recognized more. The only ET species in Boston that the people from the Jack have met is a Pemnal. We are a bit surprised to see it wandering by itself; in our world, it was a semi-intelligent creature, mostly feral and obnoxious if found without a keeper.
Once costumed, we put on psionic translators (popularly called the "fish in our ears" by the players), slap the window against a small building, and turn it into a door. The time is about dusk. We all disembark except Victoria.
It's psilent outside, just as it was at the space station. There are ground cars and air cars whizzing about beyond the Common. The signs are a bit hard to read, but one clearly reads "Bar and Grill." Figuring this would be a nice sample of social and economic life, Chris and Tom saunter over. The local costumes are colorful and form-fitting, just as you always knew the future would be, but from the degree of uniformity, and such hints and the degree of eye contact we get from passers-by, we get the feeling that this milieu is about as stuffy as, say, the 1950s, midway in stuffiness between the 1870s (where Sophie would by at home) and the 1970 (where she would NOT).
Once in the bar, we gaze about as if looking for someone we expected to meet here. The people seem reasonably relaxed and easy, not quivering in apprehension of, say, a raid from the Secret Police. We also see someone pay at the bar. He uses a credit card, with various numbers and symbols on it, plus a hologram of the bearer. Hmm. We hope these people haven't got a completely cashless society, or it will be difficult to insinuate ourselves.
Outside, Lorelei has approached a "phone booth," only to find it is more like a terminal booth, with a keyboard and screen. There is a slot of credit cards, but even without paying you can get some directory assistance, some help screens, and some emergency numbers. The help screens mention cards a lot. sigh
Cantrel has gone wandering the dusky Common, hoping to get mugged, since this will present a grand opportunity to get to know the locals better and pose almost no danger to Cantrel himself (especially considering the armor he has on underneath his shirt). But he has no luck. Either the Common is safer here, or no mugger wants to attack someone the size of Cantrel.
Returning from the bar, Tom peers with interest at Lorelei's terminal booth, then wanders about looking for a castaway newspaper. He finds one and he, together with Lorelei, Sophie, and Pfusand, retire to the pantope to share out the newspaper with Victoria and try to puzzle out its contents. (One of the first things we determine is that these people also call the present date 9 June 2750.)
Lorelei asks the Serving System if it could tap into the public terminal. It rather thinks it could, but it would have to use a rather conspicuous robot. We've seen no robots walking the streets here.
Cantrel, Chris, and Daewen decide to continue hunting for muggers. Daewen uses the traffic patterns to guess at the direction of a seedy neighborhood and they find one not too far from the Common. While Chris and Cantrel lurk in the shadows, Daewen wanders out as bait. Two or three ill-dressed men approach her, talk briefly, and go away. She comes back and reports, "Well, you can get propositioned in this neighborhood, if not mugged." They change strategy and decide to look for a real mugging victim to rescue. This works. They spot a purse-snatching. The three light out after the thief. Daewen is fastest and knocks him out in seconds. She tosses the purse to Cantrel, who stealthily rifles it before turning to give it back to the victim. The victim is a young lady presently being comforted by Chris. He keeps her from bolting in panic when Cantrel comes lumbering up, dangles the purse in front of her, and demands, "Hey lady, is this yours?" (Cantrel is doing is big-dumb-brute act.) When Chris asks her if everything is there, she says her credit cards are missing. Of course; Cantrel has them for examination.
He returns to the unconscious thief, pretends to badger, then search him for cards, and thus has time to look over the victim's cards. One of these is flashing ERROR. Daewen, meanwhile, finds a mere three cards on the purse-snatcher.
While the young woman sorts out her belongings, Chris turns on the elven charm (strictly non-magical but effective nonetheless) and learns she is one Juanita Schmidt, an "educational clerk" (?) on vacation from Duluth, Minnesota. How classic, as Pfusand would say. She got lost trying to find her way to her hotel, since none of the main streets in Boston have signs on them. (Some things never change.) Chris and Juanita head off toward the Common and the public terminal, where Juanita can get a new map.
Cantrel and Daewen have lingered behind, frisking the crook. They find nothing impressive; he has a small fighting knife, but that's all. About half a block from where they leave him, they hear sirens descending from overhead. Cantrel instantly discards the three cars he took from the thief. An aircar with flashing lights comes floating down, containing two identically dressed young men, presumably cops. "What's the problem here?" they ask.
Daewen explains while Cantrel plays dumb. They punch some buttons and the trunk of the aircar opens. A device made of two spheres, like a hovering robot snowman, floats out and away in the direction of the thief. "Could you come with us, please?" the cops ask. They do, without much joy. They notice it is much easier to see out of the cop car than into it. Cantrel tries to study the driving controls, but the driver's body blocks the view.
The cop car catches up with Chris and Juanita, who have just extracted a hardcopy street map from the terminal. The cops ask to see some ID. Juanita complies; her rescuers can't, but the cops don't remark on this ... yet. Juanita verifies Daewen's story.
When she's done, Daewen locks eyes with the lead cop and asks meekly, "Will that be all, officer?" She's using Distraction on him, a patharchic skill that thus works despite the psilence. "Uh, yeah, I guess that's all." And away they go. ("These aren't the 'droids you're looking for," says Obi Wan. "These aren't the 'droids we're looking for," repeats the stormtrooper.)
Chris escorts Juanita to her hotel. Cantrel and Daewen linger to try the thief's cards on the public terminal, but get nothing from it but "VERIFICATION ERROR." Either none of these is a phone card or the little rat is delinquent in his phone bill. They give up and track Chris and Juanita.
At the hotel, Juanita checks in as is told her bags have already arrived. She invites Chris to the hotel's overpriced, overlighted bar for a thank-you drink. (Chris, you may note, didn't life a finger to retrieve her purse, but she seems to have misplaced that fact.) In the bar, Juanita gives her order to the table lamp -- some kind of oriental wine. Chris orders the same but admits he never heard of it before. "Isn't it popular here? It's very common in Duluth." "I'm not from around here; I'm from down south." Brasilia, to be exact, but that city may not exist in this world, or may not have the English-speaking enclave Chris came from. A floating tray delivers the drinks and the lamp announces the price in a synthetic voice -- the units are "credits."
Meanwhile, Daewen and Cantrel arrive. Daewen takes a seat at the bar and waits for someone to buy her a drink. (Her odds are excellent.) Cantrel looks around indecisively and feels something brush his pants cuff. Looking down, he sees a beach-ball-sized wad of pink fluff. It waddles up to the bar, leaps to a stool on skinny legs, then climbs onto the bar itself. A few people glance at it. The bartender drifts over and appears to take its order.
Cantrel ambles up to it and says "hi." It turns a pair of large, black eyes on him and replies with a musical squeak that the psionic translator renders as "Eh?" "I'm terribly thirsty. Would you buy me a drink?" "Huh?" The bartender then arrives with the fuzzball's drink -- a milkshake (or "frappe," I suppose, this being Boston).
"My friend here said he'd buy me a drink," says Cantrel to the bartender. "What would you suggest?"
"A better story," says the bartender. The fuzzball begins slurping on its straw.
Cantrel looks innocently at it and says, "I thought it offered me a drink." Bartender: "Maybe it did, but I don't know how it'd pay for it." He goes on to explain that it is a beggar, a "demi" (whatever that is). Its presence is good for business. Around now, with its milkshake half done, it stops, tugs on Cantrel's sleeve, holds up a finger to the bartender, and scuttles out. "I think it's coming back," says the bartender dubiously.
Daewen has, by now, acquired someone to buy her a drink. Cantrel decides to leave. On this way out of the hotel lobby, he passes the fuzz-ball on the way in. It's rolling, doing a sort of long-range cartwheel, with an eye stuck out at each hub of its wheel. Cantrel waves goodbye to it, but it turns around and rolls out the door after him. Out on the street, it presents him with a coin, reading, in part, "CoDominion, 2748, Two Credits."
So they DO use cash here! What a relief. Cantrel thanks the critter and starts off. It catches his cuff, points back to the hotel, and makes slurping noises. (Remember, you asked it to buy you a drink.) Cantrel points toward the Common and makes more slurping noises. (A passing couple move on a bit faster.) It decided to go with Cantrel.
A few minutes later, Sophie, Pfusand, Tom, and Victoria and sitting around the bridge, reading the newspaper, when Cantrel walks in with a pink fuzzball on his shoulder. "This is Chris," he tells us. "He changed shape a few minutes ago." This, as we all know, is not entirely impossible, but it doesn't seem to fit this world. We don't believe him. The Serving System identifies the thing as a "Ten?ool," pronounced roughly "TEN-sool," except the S is whistled. Its species exists back in our native continuum, too ; they are at least somewhat intelligent, but in a very alien mode. We set the autochef to turning out a variety of milkshakes for the Ten?ool's benefit. We also set the shop robot to duplicating the 2-credit coin.
After the Ten?ool has settled on a double-butterscotch, Sophie touches it gently with telepathy and asks its name. It whistles something like an excerpt from a Mozart cadenza. Sophie repeats this and says, "My name is Sophie." "?ophie" it whistles, and hops up and down.
Chris returns and announces he has made a date to meet Juanita tomorrow and go sight-seeing. That could be productive, especially if we have been able to run off a little pocket change for him.
But the Serving System breaks in to ask if we just want the exterior appearance of the coin duplicated, or the interior, too. A little cross-questioning reveals that this coin has a serial number and a crystalline microcircuit, both to prevent counterfeiting. Rats. Could the Serving System work around that? It would need at least one other sample. Cantrel and Sophie try to ask the Ten?ool for a second coin, for Sophie, but it only tries to take back Cantrel's and present it to Sophie. Tom clicks on his Second Sight and uses it to X-ray the Ten?ool; under the pink fur is a leathery little body, a pair of eyestalks, and four scrawny limbs ending in hands. No more coins. Rats.
We give the Ten?ool another shake, plus one for the road, and send it rolling out into the night. We try to give its coin back, since we have the structure completely recorded, but it just gives it to Sophie.
It looks like we will have to finance Chris's sight-seeing out of a pawnshop. Meanwhile, Tom plans to find a public library and read up on history and technology, if he can do so without a card.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.