Week 5, Tom's Release
We left our heroes still in the midst of negotiations with the KaiSenese. Chris and Gene have shuttled back to the KaiSenese Embassy in Pericles, Helene, late 25th century, home timeline. There, they find "Grissom," the KaiSenese Allied Epochs double agent, as usual.
Chris explains that what the group wants is the ability to wander freely through the cosmos -- space, time, and hyperspace -- as we used to. The more the KaiSenese will do to help us toward that goal, the more likely we are to admit a couple of their observers into our midst.
Grissom understands and explains in turn that contemporary KaiSen has only psionic technology and simple relativistic time-travel at its disposal -- comparatively tedious. On the Allied Epochs side, AE only extends over thirty centuries and does not reach into eras with cross-continuum equipment. Also, they are sticky about importing anachronistic technology. KaiSen is a member of Allied Epochs ... several times over. In trying to do something anachronistic here and now, it may be up against its own later self.
All this said, they can still probably scrounge up some time-travel equipment for us.
And what's beyond the Allied Epochs' future frontier. CHOTS, "Confederation Humaine, Office of Temporal Security. CHOTS and Allied Epochs have a sort of treaty or armed truce out there in the sixth millennium.
During the conversation, Grissom consults his desk console on available barter. In addition to ID and money and other "paper," he can certainly drum up a ship, a replacement for Gene's lost one -- souped up, if he likes. We get this by calling in a favor; the hive-mind known as the Ecclesian would be willing to pay for the souped up ship as return for services done it by Cantrel and Tom (and the others), back on the Jack.
Grissom also remarks that Gene's credit and piloting license are both still good. And how would we like to be "KaiSenese Associates"? The Associate title is a formal and public recognition that the Associate is a friend of KaiSen's and to mess with this person is to incur KaiSen's wrath. "Rather like being elf-friends," Grissom remarks with a passing glance at Chris's latest physique.
Finally, and very tentatively, if Cantrel wants adventure, Grissom could offer him some kind of risky contacts with the CHOTS people.
Chris decides this is enough to take back to Cantrel. He and Gene are driven out of the Embassy by the Banuesch liaison, Hghzradifch. As you may recall, it wants to go visit the CoDominion line and save the Hierowesch there. It will need some people with a ship to get it there and has been looking for trade goods. It has come up with a very superior generator -- a perpetual motion machine superior even to the tachyon-cycle generators that run most starships, very small, suitable for a ship, much less detectable, with much faster pickup, etc. It doesn't know yet that its likeliest buyer is us, but Gene and Chris know, and listen carefully.
"Would 3.5 blocks from your secret exit be close enough?" it asks. Chris sighs, "Yes." Some secret. As they walk over, Gene waves to the bandicoon in the tree, who throws an acorn at him in response, scritching irritably, "Don't wave." Then he and Chris step through and fly back to the party's residences in Athenia.
Back in Athenia, Cantrel starts the day to find Jeremy hard at work in the shop. He proceeds to his office. Somewhat later, Chris comes in and meets Jeremy for the first time. "What are you doing?" he asks after the introductions. "Making something for Cantrel," says Jeremy, waving one of the man-amp arms he uses in lieu of his own. "Oh? A blaster that fires backwards?" "No, but I'd be willing to chip in on one."
Chris proceeds to Cantrel's office and lists Grissom's offers. Cantrel is not satisfied. Chris also tosses Cantrel some newspaper clippings supplied by Grissom, showing how little anonymity Cantrel has left. Cantrel is unruffled and remarks that those stories are, to a large degree, his own composition. Saving the Jack and forming the Jack patrol were his masterworks, and he deeply resents the Captain for hauling him away from his career at such a peak moment. He did conscript labor for the Captain, in effect, and he will NOT do it again for KaiSen. "I will not be a minion. I will not swear fealty to anyone who forces me, and KaiSen is forcing." Cantrel finds CHOTS interesting, and suggests that he might like working for Allied Epochs, on roving commissions or detached service or something else free and easy. Then, if the Allied Epochs people want to assign him some KaiSenese Liaison Officers as partners, that's okay.
Chris and Gene wend their way back across the continua, pausing in the alley to say high to the trash (or the bandicoon hidden therein). Back at the Embassy, Chris explains to Grissom that Cantrel is feeling slighted and pushed by the way KaiSen keeps his partners hostage, and that a relatively string-free job with Allied Epochs might be a good inducement.
Grissom thinks he understands, and will take steps. Allied Epochs, though, is a treaty organization in which each agent works, not directly for Allied Epochs, but as the agent FOR their patron IN Allied Epochs. So, who would Cantrel like for a patron? KaiSen, like Chris and Grissom both have? No. The Jack? The Ecclesian? Perhaps. And how about some face-to-face negotiation?
Chris thinks this an excellent idea. He suggests. Grissom come back with him and Gene, and bring Tom and Alag, thus ending the hostage issue. Grissom will see if that can be arranged. Meanwhile, it's the end of a long day of shuttle diplomacy. Grissom invites Gene and Chris to stay the night and meet Tom and Alag. They do this, and Hghzradifch delivers the room service. The reunion is more guarded than joyful, especially on Tom's part, since Alag has caroled "Cantrel's gonna kill you" several times. Fearing bugs, the travelers chat in psilence, in Hremish and Chyoxan, languages from another continuum.
In the morning, Grissom shows up. Chris's plan is approved, and we are all going to the CoDominion line, to talk to Cantrel. Cantrel, meanwhile, has learned what Jeremy was making for him. It was a special welcome-mat. It's escape-proof. That is, it has a powerful mechanical TK field build into it, very flexibly programmable. Jeremy demonstrates in by inviting Cantrel into the shop and trapping him with it. Cantrel congratulates him, order him to build one into a chair as fast as possible, and promises to blow him away if he ever tries that again. Jeremy smiles; they're even now. Cantrel also gives Jeremy a stunner and tells him to learn to use it.
Soon after that, the diplomats arrive, along with the ex-hostages. "You blew it," Cantrel tells Alag. "Next time, you have to go first." He doesn't talk to Tom, and Tom doesn't talk to much of anyone.
Grissom and Cantrel talk over what's available in the way of equipment and favors and come back to the issue of hiring a boss. Who would Cantrel like to be the Allied Epochs agent for? With sentiment running strongly against KaiSen among some members of the group, KaiSen is pretty much out of the discussion. The Ecclesian and the Jack are the other two leading contenders, with Cantrel strongly favoring the Jack. Chris is unhappy with this, feeling this would open the whole party, not just Cantrel, to ensnarement in the internal politics of the Jack. He advocates the Ecclesian, claiming that although it is an extremely foreign individual (being a time-displaced hive-mind), it is a single individual, and thus possibly easier to deal with than a group of humans, who will have no single agenda. He argues that the group's being the Jack's Allied Epochs representatives may ultimately hurt the Jack and the group, especially if some people hear of the deal and become jealous of it. Aphron springs to Chris's mind as an example.
However, others are wary of being the agents of a particularly alien and the Jack Council has not even heard that Cantrel is back yet. It begins to look as if the next order of business is a return to the Jack.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.