Week 3, Telling Cantrel
When we left our heroes last time, they were divided both geographically and politically. Alag and Tom are in KaiSenese custody in homeline Pericles; Lorelei, Chris and Gene are in the shuttle, en route from CoDominion Pericles to CoDominion Athenia, where the rest of the party bustles about in blissful ignorance of the upcoming problem.
The problem is that KaiSen insists upon investigating the party, one way or another. Tom, Alag, Chris, and Gene are willing (with various degrees of enthusiasm) to cooperate; Lorelei wants nothing to do with KaiSen; the others haven't heard about this yet.
Lorelei agrees to let the KaiSenese minions into the party so long as they leave HER and her son Nicholas severely alone. She wants Chris's word that he will insist on that in the deal; Chris agrees on the condition that Lorelei promises to trust him. "What are you going to do about Cantrel?" she asks him. "Leave Cantrel to me," Chris replies calmly.
When they get back to Athenia, Chris looks up Victoria rather than Cantrel first. She's at the karate studio. (Remember the karate studio?)
Chris: "We have a business opportunity with an associated problem."
Victoria: (guardedly) "Is this something Cantrel has cooked up?"
Chris: "No." Victoria: "Oh good. Then it can't be too bad. What is it?"
Chris: "Tom's gotten in Dutch on the other side, but we can capitalize on it. For instance, we can use the gate on either side to disappear objects and people in need of disappearance. There are lots of weird talents about now, on the homeline, so we won't stand out. But to do that sort of thing, we need ID and a paper trail. Well, Tom got caught, and by getting caught he put me back in touch with people I used to work with -- Allied Epochs and KaiSen. KaiSen is a race-mind, an individual person and a species at the same time; it caught Tom. Doing business with it is like dealing with, say, the British government of the Victorian period, at its best -- it's a bit intrusive, thinks it knows best, often does, and keeps its bargains. It has a reputation hundreds of years long for being reliable in a bargain."
Victoria: "What does it want?"
Chris: Information about the Eilythry and about people like us. We're the sort of people who do interesting things, and people like KaiSen sometimes need interesting things done. It thinks we were serving some higher good while getting in trouble and it wants to -- to -- interview us. In return, it'll give us paper and reliable contacts, maybe official status in its organization and maybe more. Right now, it's asking what we want for our cooperation. Most of us are agreeable to the idea."
Victoria: "What's the catch?"
Chris: "Well, for one thing, Lorelei doesn't want anything to do with them."
Chris: "KaiSen's people. It wants us to take a couple of its employees into our group so they can study us and work on the Eilythry problem. They might stay as little as a few months or as long as a few years. Not decades."
Victoria: "Well, Cantrel likes to pick his own company, but this doesn't sound so terrible. How did you want to present it to him?"
Chris: "I was going to present it as a business opportunity -- a chance for him to be Wells Fargo on two timelines at once. We could call our business Transworld." He smiles, this being the name of the legendary cross-line authority Henderson mentioned; it would be amusing to steal the name and even more amusing to turn out to be the origin of it.
Victoria: "Hmm. No. He's sort of fed up with business proper at the moment. He's found out the shipping company takes a lot of running. He misses all the adventure and glory and stuff."
Chris: "Well, this can be a path to adventure and glory, too. I know I'm looking for adventure." He laughs, "If he thought being Captain of the Jack Patrol was fun, wait 'til he meets Allied Epochs."
Victoria: "Right. Emphasize that. And wait until about an hour after he finishes his interview this afternoon."
Chris: "Only an hour?"
Victoria: "He'll be okay. He's learning to deal better with youth."
Chris: "That's good."
Victoria: "He IS getting more patient. Slowly." A fact probably related to being the father of a two-year-old.
Back on homeline Helene, in the KaiSenese Embassy compound, the Banuesch Hghzradifch Hnyadghm approaches Tom and remarks that he has some excitable acquaintances. Tom agrees and asks how Hghzradifch knows. It tells him about Chris and Gene coming to call. Only they never used their right names. Tom tries to get a description from Hghzradifch, but all humans look pretty much alike to it, so the discussion wanders to superficial features like rough size and hair-color. Hair-color, in turn, presents a problem since Tom and Hghzradifch have different retinal structures and methods of abstraction. They have to talk in terms of frequency and spectral width. In the end, Tom is reasonably sure that Chris and (probably) Gene came to the Embassy to talk to the KaiSenese.
Hghzradifch notes that the situation seems tense; as a good liaison officer, it would like to help un-tense it. Does Tom have any advice?
Tom: "The tension among my colleagues centers on loss of freedom." They are afraid KaiSen & Co. will hamper that freedom.
Hghzradifch assures Tom that the KaiSenese have no such intention. In fact, it, Hghzradifch, has personal reasons for ensuring the party's freedom to move across timelines. Tom recommends it repeat these assurances to Alag and the others and asks what the personal reason is.
Hghzradifch points out that, according to Tom's testimony, the same naturally occurring intelligent species seem to appear in both timelines, though with different histories. This means there is probably a parallel world of Hierow on the CoDominion line, with its own race of Hierowesch.
Hghzradifch and all the Banuesch owe a great debt to the Hierowesch. Their species, the Mota Banu, was nearly exterminated in a dreadful war in a remote part of the galaxy. In fact, the Mota Banu were thought to be complete extinct. Centuries later, some humans found a derelict Mota Banu ship containing samples of germ plasm. From this rock-bottom beginning, KaiSen reinstated the species. (Tom nods. He knows this story; it's why he came to KaiSen with the Eilythry tissue sample.)
Well, an intelligent species needs an upbringing and a culture. The old Mota Banu culture was certainly gone, and anyway it was what got them in trouble the first time. So KaiSen farmed out the new Mota Banu babies to volunteer foster families among appropriate species and cultures. The Banuesch are the fosterlings of the Hierowesch. This is the great debt they owe the Hierowesch.
The Hierowesch themselves have had a rough time of it. They were not the only intelligent species on Hierow. For millennia, the two species occupied separate continents and never knew of each other. But the second species were and are aggressively expansionist (humans dubbed them "fauns; somewhat embarrassingly, they resemble Mota Banu in appearance and ecology); they spread to the continent of the Hierowesch and proceeded to crowd them out and fight them out. The Hierowesch would certainly have died out had not humans and Kishaer intervened and shipped as many Hierowesch off the planet as they could. The Hierowesch, like the Mota Banu, now live in a dispersion, none or very few left on their home planet. (The fauns are aloof and uninterested in interstellar contact. Probably just as well.)
Since the same intelligence species exist on both lines, there are probably Hierowesch facing the same problem in the CoDominion line, but the humans and Kishaer there have not yet discovered them. If it is not too late, Hghzradifch wants to go to the CoDominion line and rescue the Hierowesch there, thus repaying the debt of honor his race owes.
Tom blinks to himself for a few moments, absorbing all this. He decides that, despite looking like a cross between Bambi and a kangaroo, Hghzradifch is a kindred spirit. "That is a worthy goal. But how do you mean to travel, once you get to the other line?"
Hghzradifch says it will have to hire the services of some adventurous traders. (Bells ring in the back of Tom's head.) Since there is no common currency between the lines, could Tom suggest items of barter it could take? This is a personal project but it has KaiSen's backing and the race-mind would probably help finance it.
Tom cautiously says that he has no answer now but he will give the question serious thought and probably have an answer later. Hghzradifch should also go and tell all this to Alag. It trots off to do so, leaving Tom to compose a Christmas list of stuff the rest of the party would like in return for ferrying this Banuesch. This could even improve Tom's reputation with the others (which is at an all-time low).
Hghzradifch finds Alag and tells him, without much context, that no one wants to constrain his freedom and that it is personally important to Hghzradifch that the negotiations be as successful as possible for both parties. Alag naturally asks why and gets the story of the Mota Banu, the Hierowesch, and the fauns. Like Tom, Alag immediately recognizes that Hghzradifch and Tom have a lot in common -- excess idealism.
Hghzradifch then asks Alag for advice on barter goods. Alag suggests information, but such stuff takes time to introduce and sell. How long do Banuesch live? Without rejuvenation, not as long as humans; this could be a problem. Alag agrees to think more on the question of barter. Meanwhile, where are his things? Answer: In a closet down the hall ... um, except for the weapons. Alag: "Naturally. Well, is there a master of unarmed combat I could train with?"
Hghzradifch: "Unarmed? You mean just the feet?" Alag defines the term "unarmed combat" and Hghzradifch says it will look up someone of that sort -- someone human, since it won't do Alag much good to learn how to do tail-sweeps or tentacle-locks.
Back on the CoDominion line, Cantrel has been interviewing. In local time, we've been gone for just a week, and it's amazing, not to say distressing, how much red tape piles up in that time. Also, there are more expenses when you can't get food and clothing out of the pantope parked in the refrigerator. Sophie is helping, but Cantrel has to do the employee interviews and no way out of it. Sophie tells him that there's a Jeremy Whitney waiting. In fact, he's been calling every day for the week we were gone.
Cantrel's office is in the firm's warehouse. He is leaving it for a break when he hears forklift noises, turns, and sees a young man whirring toward him in a conveyance -- a wheelchair-like thing without apparent wheels and with a sort of hood covering his lap and hands. This is Jeremy Whitney, offering his services. He has doctorates of engineering and physics from the Athenia Technical Institute.
Cantrel: "Is that the latest sporty vehicle, or are you stuck in that thing?"
Jeremy: "I suffer from a rare neurological disease, not readily treated. I don't have the use of my legs, and my control over my arms is very poor. But it is not progressive or contagious. And I am quite as capable of physical work as anyone ... at least if I can work HERE. You see, I am a very powerful telekinetic. Most of the city, of course, is in heavy psilence, but you people work in open psi." He brings the subject back to his positive qualifications -- the two doctorates, the miniature spaceship he built (unmanned), the superb grade average, the fact that he is expert in engines, computers, and comm links. He's nineteen. Cantrel is being offered Steven Hawking with TK.
To test him, Cantrel takes apart his communications panel, a grav sled, and the burglar alarms, then gives Jeremy an hour on each of them to put them back together. He does not mention that he has taken some bits out, or that the grav sled is in any way ... odd. He lets Jeremy use open psi.
Jeremy passes with flying colors. Everything is back together, some of the missing bits are compensated for, and he noticed that the grav sled is a bizarre composite of the antique (it's 24th-century technology from the Jack) and the enigmatically advanced (Alag had the pantope's Serving System install shields).
Cantrel grunts in a bored sort of way and gives Jeremy three hours to figure out the blue pencil. This is some sort of worldbender artifact, which they use to control minds and edit memories, along with who knows what else? Cantrel has used it a few times, with gross quantities of luck -- that is, he didn't brain-burn himself or anyone else. He tells Jeremy that it might be dangerous.
Twenty minutes after Cantrel leaves him, Jeremy has the burglar alarms disassembled again, and is using their sensors to probe the blue pencil remotely. After 2.5 hours, he has the burglar alarm back together. After 2.75 hours, he brings the thing back and tells Cantrel he does NOT know what it is or how to work it, but he is sure that it manipulates minds psionically, he would never use it near anyone whose thoughts he cared about, and it is very alien. Since we are known to base our business on a strange ship we salvaged, he supposes this was found with the ship and that both represent some advanced alien technology. We should be careful who we show this to.
"Pretty good, kid. Now here's a problem in reaction time." With no more warning, Cantrel draws his stunner and shoots Jeremy. The kid slumps in his chair. BUT Cantrel shot him only because Cantrel's arm is stronger than Jeremy's TK. Jeremy DID start deflecting the gun.
Cantrel goes out for coffee, leaving the stunner on the desk. Some hours later, Jeremy wakes. "You're hired. Go see Personnel." (That's Sophie.) "Thanks. You want the stun-gun fixed?" "Nah." "Okay, fix it yourself." And Jeremy glides groggily out. Behind him on the desk, he leaves a flattened stun-gun. He crunched it on waking.
Chris, by now, has been waiting some time. Sophie phones him up. "He's through now. But he shot the candidate. You still want to see him? Of course, he DID hire him afterwards." Chris decides to see him.
Chris starts offering Cantrel "adventure and glory" on the homeline. But when he gets to the bit about coming back in contact with Allied Epochs and KaiSen, Cantrel's caution snaps into place. It had never really penetrated his awareness before that Chris is an Allied Epochs agent, though Chris has made no secret of it among the pantope crew.
Cantrel: "So does Allied Epochs know all about us now?"
Cantrel: "Good. You gonna tell 'em?"
Chris: "That's one of the things we talk about." He resumes outlining the strategic and tactical possibilities of the gateway, but Cantrel is not to be distracted.
Cantrel: "I see you as a threat. If I say no to this deal, will you tell?"
Chris: (answering the thought rather than the words) "Killing me will INCREASE your risk." He then explains about Tom and Alag's capture. Cantrel wants very much to know how much they have spilled or may spill, and considers blowing up the Embassy and everyone in it, including Tom, Alag, and all the bits of KaiSen that so far know about us, then destroying the gate to the homeline.
Cantrel: "We should kill Tom for doing this to us."
Chris: "Come on! It's all our fault."
Cantrel: "He went out on that dumb mission of his, I'll bet he WANTED to get caught."
Chris: "We all knew about it, and we let him go."
Cantrel: "I didn't know what he was up to."
Chris: "You did too. He spent a whole month writing up letter to KaiSen and interviewing us all."
Cantrel: "What if we flatten the building?"
Chris: "With what? It's not like we have a pantope any more. I know lots of ways to rescue him, but they all require a pantope."
Cantrel: "What if we go out with disflorgers and flatten the building?"
Chris: "They have anachronistic gear there. I'll bet they've got a disflorger cannon or something. If we're lucky, we get killed in the raid, 'cause it's only going to make KaiSen angry, and then it'll come after us. KaiSen protects its people."
Cantrel: "So what? We've taken on worldbenders!"
Chris: "KaiSen is worse. The worldbenders had more technology, but they were totally unorganized. KaiSen is not and WILL have the technology SOMEDAY, including time-travel, so the date doesn't matter any more than with worldbenders. I think we should do a deal with KaiSen. It keeps bargains. All it wants is to talk. It wants to send two liaisons."
Cantrel: "No. Or suppose we agree, then frag the liaisons when they get here?"
Chris: "Then KaiSen retaliates."
Cantrel: "Again, so what? I expect retaliation from worldbenders at any moment. Suppose I don't want to play?"
Chris: "Then you don't have to. It depends on the deal we cut. What do you want?"
Cantrel: "My own pantope, for a start."
Chris: "Okay. Me too. I want a home base. Two, one here, one there. I also want a space ship."
Cantrel: "And I want an absolute guarantee to leave my family completely alone. And I want IN. I want access into the time patrols and the line-crossers and all that. We deserve it! We've done the ultimate--"
Chris: "Yup, you're right. We did. Submit your trip report. That's how you get the good assignments in Allied Epochs. I think that once they find out what a good job we've done, we'll have all the adventure we want. I want to START Henderson's Transworld. Does that interest you?"
Cantrel: "I don't think I could work for you."
Chris: (laughs) "I don't think I could work for you. But I like working WITH you."
Cantrel: (grimly, getting back to the subject) "And make sure it knows I'll KILL any agents it sends that step over the lines we draw."
Cantrel: (puts his feet up) "Fine. Now that that's settled, what was Alag's part in all this?"
Chris: "He was supposed to watch Tom's back."
Cantrel: "Okay, he's relatively blameless, then. Now, what about you?
Chris: "What about me?"
Cantrel: "You're Allied Epochs." Cantrel is concerned that, as an agent, Chris will by necessity report on everything he knows about the Pantope crew and continue to spy upon them in the future.
Chris: (shrugs) "And you're Jack Patrol."
"Yes, I'm Jack Patrol", says Cantrel. It becomes clear that something else is really troubling him as he continues with growing emotion in his voice. "That's why I didn't fight my way out of this after the Captain abducted us. I did the BEST I could to help us be successful. Yes, I AM Jack Patrol!"
There is then a sudden dawning realization that Chris and he are perhaps to some extent kindred spirits, each doing the best they can given their ideals and under difficult circumstances ... such as now, for instance.
"Okay," says Cantrel with better humor, "go back and ask them what they have to offer."
Chris leaves, watching Cantrel with Second Sight behind him. He thus sees Cantrel slip out a disflorger and turn it back down to stun.
Chris then goes to a pair of people who haven't been considered much for a while: Ashleigh and Jake. He explains the situation to them, for which they are grateful. However, they are too new to all this to have an informed opinion. They leave the matter in his hands.
The next day, Chris and Gene fly back to Pericles and make their way to the warehouse district, where they slip through the gate. Immediately, a small furry creature emerges from a pile of trash, making urgent shooing motions with its forepaws. Our heroes take the hint and retreat to the CoDominion line. There, they set the gate for one-way window mode and look through. The furry creature is, of course, the one they noticed in the tree last time they were there. It is now nestled in the trash pile, holding a widget, probably a hand-comm of some kind. They get audio, which produced nothing until they wind it up to the ultrasonic. That's where the creature's voice is, as it chatters into the widget. It stares at the door, does not appear to see Chris and Gene, and buries itself in the trash.
After reporting all this to Lorelei, they step through again, invisibly, then call "Hello?" softly, and appear. The critter emerges and displays a KaiSenese badge. Chris flips on his translator and asks it what the trouble is. After the critter gets over the shock of being spoken to in its native language, it explains, "Local constable patrolled by." "Bad timing. Safe now."
It also explains that its kind is not known to be sapient here; it is passing as a wild animal, and will they please not blow its cover by talking to it too long? And how ARE they talking to it? (Psionic translator, alias "fish in the ear," but never mind.) Before they go, Chris and Gene ask about the air-car crash that ended their last visit here. The critter explains that the air-car was destroyed because "cars know things" (cars with autopilots, anyway), and "knowledge of you is to be constrained."
They bid it good-bye and make their way by indirect degrees to the Embassy. (The critter and a fellow critter tail them the first part of the way.) At the Embassy, they meet "Grissom" and Hghzradifch. Chris asks after the small creatures.
Grissom is a bit upset that Chris and Gene have contacted one. They are extremely secret agents of KaiSen, part of the strenuous effort to contain knowledge of our heroes. Grissom reckons that only a dozen or so beings have any knowledge of us whatsoever. The creatures are locally known as "bandicoons" and please let's not mention them again. Even most KaiSenese Liaison Officers don't know they're sapient.
Grissom: "Have you talked with your leader?"
Chris: "We don't have one. We work by consensus."
Grissom: "Oh? We had inferred something else. We thought that you'd consult with the founder of your organization and that he'd be very irate."
Chris: "Well, the person I consulted WAS irate, but that only makes it worse in a consensus-based group. What organization did you think this was?"
Grissom: "I'm sure your founder, if it is he, would rather it weren't mentioned."
Chris: "Try me. It's not like it's the first secret we know."
Grissom: "You're right, but I don't know if that would be wise."
Chris: (sighs) "Do you mean the Jack Patrol?"
Grissom (brightens): "Ah! So that IS the Cantrel who Alag says will kill Tom Noon. Yes."
Chris: "How did you know?"
Grissom: "Very simple. We did a search on the names `Cantrel' and `Thomas Noon' and on `genocide.' They all came together in a news incident about ten years ago. Harriet Gordon, the KaiSenese Liaison involved in reinstatement of the Mota Banu, was also the liaison who opened contact with the Jack, due to the work of Commandant Cantrel filius Cantorus, founder of the Jack Patrol. Shortly after Gordon arrived, Cantrel told her all about himself. A week later, he disappeared inexplicably, along with several other members of the Jack Patrol. We have Gordon's report, several newspaper clippings and magazine articles, and some TV news spots, all featuring Cantrel and the Jack Patrol quite openly. Mr. Noon shows up, too. It didn't seem to be a secret then."
Chris: (laughs) "I'd like copies of those newspaper articles. I want to show them to Cantrel." Cantrel may not realize it, but KaiSen already knows about him ... because Cantrel spilled his guts before disappearing on the Dance of the Hours.
Lest we leave you thinking too hardly of Cantrel, let us switch back to the CoDominion line, where Cantrel is even now relaxing on a couch at his Athenian residence, Victoria is running her fingers idly through his hair.
"Are you really going to kill Tom?" she asks.
"Yes," he says flatly, "several times."
She pokes him in the ribs.
Cantrel sits up with exasperation. "No, I'm not going to kill him. Mostly I'm just angry with myself. He may be a hell of a pantope jockey, but when it comes to skullduggery he's a total wash. I knew he was headed for trouble, but I was so anxious to get off the pantope that I couldn't be bothered to pay him any attention. I screwed up. What I SHOULD have done was either stop the nonsense before it started, or at least have gone along to keep him out of trouble.
"And when they caught him he really put his foot in it. Tom's problem is that he has a bad case ethics, compounded by an overactive sense of guilt!" Cantrel suddenly grins, "It'll get him into serious trouble one of these days."
He relaxes again. "Guess I'm getting soft in my old age. Was a time when I wouldn't have stopped to talk it all out.
"Oh, I dunno," reflects Victoria, "You were pretty hard on Jeremy this morning. And HE was just trying to interview for a job. I hear you shot him!?!"
"True. I was testing him. We're forever finding ourselves stranded or in tight straits with too little equipment or missing what we really need. So I tested his ingenuity and initiative. He impressed me with that stunt where he cobbled together sensors from our security setup to analyze the blue pencil."
She nods in understanding. "But did you really have to tease him so much about his handicap?"
"Look, I wanted to see if he'd break. I acted totally obnoxious to see if he'd lose control and get angry. In dangerous situations you can't afford to let anger get the better of you. You'll slip up. You'll make mistakes because you're too angry to think straight, and a friend could get hurt because of it. And let's face it, we're not especially safe people to associate with these days. We gotta be sure that the people around us have at least a marginal chance of survival. Any way, the kid held his temper. He stayed focused on his objective. "And then I shot him. I'd been setting him up all along. I'd set the pattern of giving him a well defined technical task with at least an hour each time to get 'em done. Then I took him back to the office and told him that the next test required quicker thought on his part. "I drew a stunner and nailed him between the eyes. Took him totally by surprise, but he'd reacted! He was TKing my gun just after it cleared my holster. Pretty good for a novice; kid's got real potential. All around. So I hired him."
"Your good deed for the day," murmurs Victoria teasingly. "Com'ere you old softy ..."
Fade to black.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.