Week 1, Searching the Magic House
Turning around, we find that the erstwhile chicken is now humanoid -- but not human. He looks like the result of evolving a bird into a human as hard as you could; he has a small tail, some feathers here and there, spurs on his feet, and a beak-like plate behind his lips, rather than teeth. He also seems very confused. The only this he is sure of is that he still wants that golden egg. Cantrel, feeling himself once more, gives it to him.
Tom asks if the newcomer would like to go home. He isn't even sure where home is, now. The Serving System tells them that it would be very difficult to return him to the right place and time, his source world being so chaotic. Hm. Welcome aboard. (We eventually find that the former Mr. Cogswell is now a member of an extraterrestrial species, this being the best match the translation tube could provide. He even has vague "memories" of his new homeworld. Very vague.)
Victoria informs us we were gone for a whole day. To us, it seemed like a standard seven-minute cartoon adventure. Shaking this off, Tom takes the briefcase into the lower garden. There's enough open lawn there to accommodate the house. That assumes the house is still in there and still the same size. After all, the briefcase, too, has changed while going through the translation tube, and now looks much more "realistic."
Everyone stands well back and Tom has a robot bird drop a rock on the button from five meters up. The briefcase pops open and a doorway comes out, like the doorway on the pantope bridge. Another doorway comes out of that one, and another out of that, and eventually the house is deposited on the lawn. Victoria sits down and holds her head, trying to re-focus her eyes.
Tom goes up to the door and find it now has a keypad lock. Wu suggests using their new loot -- world-bender sensor-packs. With these and some luck, Tom picks the electronic lock.
Inside, they find a more reasonable version of the cartoon all-robot house. There's a mess in the music room, where the panda disassembled the jukebox. A robot dustbin is picking up the large bits, apparently by telekinesis. A robot sweeper is picking up the rest. The diadem detector reads "forward."
In the living room, we find another robot sweeper, a nifty 3-D TV, and a mysterious control panel in the coffee table that no one will touch. Upward. Tom approaches the elevator cautiously; as a monkey, he got squashed by it twice, when the ceiling failed to open, and now he is mortal again. But the elevator doesn't make any moves at all when loaded with various inanimate objects, and no one wants to see if it works (correctly or incorrectly) for animate ones. So we go outside again.
Cantrel flits up to a second-floor window. (Without benefit of gravity belt. An interesting side-effect of his trip to the cartoon world.) Using Tom's electrical kit, he detects some minor currents around the window. Tom takes a look (on a ladder) and tries to cut through the window with a borrowed ultra-scalpel. The window heals seamlessly. Tom diagnoses a force field, but the Serving System tells him its diasolid. It is therefore fluid in the other two dimensions, which is why you can't cut it.
Well, you can try something else. Tom goes to the shop and tinkers up a truncated cone, sharpened with the ultra-scalpel at its narrow end. This is to punch a hole through the diasolid. He gives it to Cantrel, who is strong, but fails to get it through the window, though it is obviously penetrating.
Victoria, who is stronger, tries next. She cuts through the window, but the window springs back and pushes her off the ladder. However, a gleaming glob of excised diasolid comes with her. The window is still intact, but thinner. The Naza, who is strongest, tries next. She punches out another glob and is able to keep the cone in the window -- while standing on the ladder. Quite a gymnastic feat, for her.
Cantrel shinnies up her back, through the horns and eye-stalks, and into the room. Immediately, a door opens in the wall opposite, a turret-shaped robot rolls out, sprouts a weapon, and demands, "Identify!" Man and machine exchange gunfire, and Cantrel keels over, stunned but unhurt. (It's a stungun.)
"They got Cantrel," the Naza reports, so Wu comes climbing up her back and gets zapped for his pains. He falls into Lorelei's waiting arms. Cantrel revives and finishes frying the robot. So a second robot appears, about the same time as Victoria, who spears it to death.
Tom is the next one in and gets as far as the next bedroom before getting stunned by the third robot. Eventually, we have Cantrel, Wu, Victoria, Tom, and David up in the house, and, after a lot of gunfire, they trash all six security robots and a vacuum cleaner that got sent up in desperation. They also encountered a robot dog, who appeared friendly.
When Tom woke up, most of the fighting was over. He followed the tracer to an aquarium which appeared to be full of robot fish. Victoria carried it out and Tom, with a fishnet, extracted the last known diadem segment. (He didn't want to use his hands, in case the robot fish were viscous. They weren't.) The diadem segment had been almost invisible, being about the same refractive index as water.
While the others figured out how to pack up the house and put it away (you just push the button on the briefcase, which was lying next to the door), Tom went to the lab and stuck the segment into the diadem...
Tom got a telepathic message slapped into his brain. It seemed to be pre-recorded, and not from the Captain.
The next two pieces are on the same planet, in two different continents. This is a world-bender mock-up planet, and the two continents are mock-ups of Tolkien's Middle Earth, and the Katherine Kurtz's land of Gwenedd -- both fantasy worlds. The message strenuously urges that we take our time and make every effort to look like we belong. Do not leave the pantope connected; rather, disconnect and arrange for it to re-connect every few months. There is a ship that goes once a year between the two continents. Do not bring any anachronistic machinery. Plan to spend at least a year on this mission.
Change yourselves to fit in. At least one of the party must change into a Deryni lord. (The Deryni are a race of wizards inhabiting Gwenedd.) The sender of the message has already set up an identity and description for this Deryni so one of us must be mutated into his likeness and take on his magical powers. This can be done on the pantope autodoc, using a process like unto its resurrection mode.
Any non-humans, and in fact anyone who doesn't look like a Caucasian Eo-human must also be altered.
The message also includes information on how to set up the pantope, how to set up the autodoc, and where to find the relevant literature in the library.
When Tom recovers from all this, everyone is in the lab, staring at him. He conveys the message, verbally this time. A search of the pantope library reveals several Deryni novels, but no Tolkien other than The Hobbit.
Wu volunteers to become the Deryni. Cantrel will take some cosmetic mutations to hide his Melior nature. Cantrel's change is reversible; Wu's change has a CHANCE of being perfectly reversible. The Naza and the new alien (nee chicken) have even greater changes before them if they want to come along. This is going to be a long one.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.