Week 11, Talking to Crystals
When we left our heroes last time, they had just retrieved Lorelei from deep space, where she had been tossed by the blue crystals, without benefit of space suit.
After we have all recovered from this misadventure, we resume planning. Since the patch of crystals seems to touchy about physical invasion, Tom recommends a clairvoyant search. (He's got some talent in Second Sight.) After we locate the segment, he can place a clairvoyant tracer on it, so as to locate it after the crystals throw it away, which they will do in response to Chris's investigations three months hence.
We reconnect the pantope to a point in space a few yards outside the patch of crystals, a few hours after Lorelei's disappearance. Tom equips himself with a spacesuit, a communicator, and a gun, then steps out and seats himself on the grass. He then sends his Second Sight into the blue crystal patch, guided by his Knack of Finding.
He winds up viewing a chamber in a large crystal near the center of the patch. He can't pin down the location of the segment much more closely, but he studies the surroundings and finds one crystal of a slightly different color. He places a tracer on this, hoping it is the segment, and drops his Second Sight.
We now bring the pantope ahead three months. The patch of crystals is much larger. Tom views the center of the patch again and finds that the chamber has changed -- grown and elongated. There appears to be a crystal there corresponding to the one he traced. In fact, all the crystals appear to still be there. Where's the hole left by the absent segment?
Lorelei suggests that the segment may have returned. To check this out, Tom goes back into the pantope and fetches the diadem detector. They close down the door for a few seconds so he can get a clear reading. When they open the door, Tom is gone. Hastily, Alag contacts him telepathically, just as Da╬wen calls him on the communicator. Sure enough, he's in deep space, just like Lorelei, only dressed for the occasion.
After some tedious mucking about with the door, Da╬wen locates him on infrared scanning. Alag goes out and fetches him in with the shuttle. Once on board, Tom reports that, just before he found himself elsewhere, he was getting a nice clear indication on the detector. The segment is back.
He then goes and rigs up a directional antenna, to speed any future retrievals, firmly ignoring Cantrel's suggestion that we come blasting into the center of the patch, see which parts blast back, and try to collect them. (We know diadem segments can defend themselves, but so can other things. Just because a crystal shoots back doesn't mean it's our segment.)
We decide to try making telepathic contact with the crystals, as Sophie did earlier. Alag volunteers for this, since he is one of the few telepaths in the group who have not had an unfriendly encounter with the crystals.
But how should we go about this? Perhaps it would be a good idea to make contact from inside the pantope, while running pantope time very fast compared to outside time. This way, we might have a chance to get our message across before the crystals could throw away the messenger. How well does telepathy work across a difference of time-rate?
We open the door on the Ipsylvanian forest, back on Helene. Lorelei steps out for a few seconds and "listens" while Pfusand spends several minutes trying to contact her from inside the pantope. Pfusand feels little besides Lorelei's general presence, but Lorelei picks up a sharp little "blip" of thought. It was too quick to perceive much. One couldn't use this method to convey long messages. We finally decide that it might look like an attack, as well, so we give it up.
Lorelei makes the interesting observation that all the people who were thrown away or otherwise abused had the diadem detector at the time.
Back on the crystals' planet, we send out Alag with a spacesuit, a psionic communicator, a radio, the shuttle, and a week's instruction from Da╬wen so that he can now use his elven Glamour to "glow" faster than light. Tolkien would never know him.
The crystals are sentient, but very alien. As a result, Alag cannot make contact any deeper than the empathic level. It's rather as if he and the crystals could now read one another's facial expressions, except there is no chance of faking reactions and, of course, the crystals have no faces, just facets.
By the time they are through, both sides know the other is very confused and we think the crystals know we want to talk. But to communicate conceptually, we need a better telepathy. Tom volunteers, suits up, and enters the shuttle with Alag. He then makes telepathic contact with both Alag and the crystals, whereon Alag "introduces" Tom to the crystals. We can now communicate much better, but this does little to reduce the confusion, since the crystals are still very alien.
For instance, the crystals think of themselves as "we" but claim they have a single identity ... now. Roughly speaking, the "we" consists of the Elder Machinery from Cheapside plus the mass of crystals we saw emerge from the mountainside, leaving that geode-like cavern deep under the mountain. The two have amalgamated.
Tom asks if they've seen anything like the diadem segment, which he calls to mind as vividly as he can, so they'll know what he's thinking about. The crystals don't identify things much by external appearance, but Tom's psychic impressions of the segments and the diadem remind them of a thing they call "the Agency" or "the Instrumentality."
Tom asks if he can come looking for the segment among them. They consent. Tom goes back to the pantope and returns to the shuttle in spacesuit and gravity belt, with the diadem detector. And watches as the universe folds away, leaving Tom and the shuttle in black void. No door back to the pantope, either. Tom calls out to the crystals telepathically and asks what happened. He is in Isolation, they inform him, because he was interfering with the Instrumentality. "Is THIS the source of the interference?" he asks, brandishing the detector. "It is THIS," they tell him, and make the detector flicker. "Well, if you can restore the connection back to the pantope, I can go and put this away." So they do that and Tom comes back out with nothing but his Knack of Finding. He is happy to note that the universe is there. The Serving System, by the way, reports that Tom and the shuttle just vanished, from the viewpoint of the pantope crew.
Cantrel suggests that we take this opportunity to experiment and look at our one remaining locator-watch while Tom is in this Isolation. Tom and the crystals comply. The watch reads "self-containment." From the crystals' remarks, the condition may not be the same self-containment enjoyed by the pantope; it may be more like the severe case of nowhere we all had before we fell into the Pacific, 1872.
Tom flies into the crystals and eventually hovers in person where he had only come in Second Sight before. The odd-colored crystal still has its tracer on it. The other crystals identify it as the Instrumentality. Tom fears that this is the segment; the crystals don't want to give it up and would make a bad enemy/enemies.
Well, how about bargaining? From things they have said before, Tom knows the crystals were created by the Elders, organic beings like us (though very different in anatomical detail). They (the crystals) can create their own goals and purposes, but admit that there hasn't been much to do since the Elders went away. If we could put the crystals back in contact with their creators, would they give us the Instrumentality in exchange? They'll think it over.
Meanwhile, it would be nice to be certain that the Instrumentality really IS the segment. So perhaps Lorelei could come out and give it a Deryni-style probe.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.