Mid 20th Century Hong Kong
Week 1, To the Mysterious Island
We waited around for a week, with the pantope connected to the baron's outhouse, while Tecker went and negotiated for the return of Cantrel's hi-tech equipment. We got SOME of it back. We then disconnected from that world and spent another week being nowhere, healing and training.
During the first week, David went on a little explore of the pantope generally. He struck it rich. He found a door leading to an unaccustomed room. This room was a four-meter cube, with glowing white walls. The ceiling and floor were dark and glassy-looking. In the midst of the room floated ten pearly egg-shapes, arranged in a triangle, like bowling pins. David decided against entering the room, but rather got in touch with Tom, who came running -- just in time to see the door flicker and return to its usual room.
Tom and David contacted the Serving System and described the room. "That was the Geometry Engine Housing," the Serving System said. "At one time or another," said Tom, "you have spoken of looking for lost pieces of the pantope. Is the Geometry Engine one of them?" "Why, yes." "Would damage to the Geometry Engine cause the topology problems we have?" "It certainly could." "And if we ever run across the Geometry Engine again, how can we keep hold of it?" "Call one of the robots." So we store that away for future reference. David continued hunting for the second week, in company with a robot, but with no success.
About the statue of the Eilythry: not knowing what else to do with it, we took it into Lab I, where we keep the rest of the diadem, and put it in the glass case with the other bits. As soon as it touched them, it turned into a large diamond-like crystal, suitable for mounting in the diadem. So we did that.
So two weeks have passed, pantope time, and we are ready to go after the next segment on the list. It is located on Earth in the mid-20th-century. The Serving System can't give a better answer than that. So we open the door and see a dark and stormy night, a cobble-stone pavement, and a dingy back alley.
Tom crept out and completely failed to be stealthy. Fortunately, no one was about. The diadem tracer gave a nice clear signal -- the segment was within a few miles and there was none of the weird interference we had last time. Moving on to the connecting street, Tom found it largely abandoned, without street lights or automobiles. There was a street sign, in non-Roman script. Tom relayed this to the folk waiting in the pantope, and Dr. Wu instantly identified it as kanji -- Chinese ideograms, reading something uninformative like, "No parking anytime," or "Yard sale." Obviously, we have hit Dr. Wu's scenario. Tom retreated to the pantope and we all waited for daybreak.
In the daylight, the city came to intense life -- thickly packed with pedestrians and cyclists, plus a few cars. Mostly Orientals, of course, but with a fair mix of the rest of humanity. We observed the contemporaries, had Wardrobe run off imitation clothes, and sent Aphron, Cantrel, and Wu out to reconnoiter -- Wu carrying the diadem tracer.
More signs quickly told them that this was Hong Kong. A newspaper told them it was November, 1936. Triangulation with the tracer told them the segment was on an island barely visible on the horizon from Hong Kong Bay. Cantrel pawned a gold ring he had and, with part of the proceeds, bought a tourist guide book. It told us nothing about the island. Nothing daunted, Cantrel took his money into a sleazy-looking bar and started to drink and ask questions. (He is, by the way, dressed as a sailor.)
The island, it turns out, is owned by a Mr. Nguyen Cat, a wealthy Vietnamese who bought it from an order of monks who used it as a monastery. Nguyen Cat is rumored to have connections with the Red Dragon Tong, the white slave trade, and most of the other unsavory business going on in the Far East. His island is strictly off limits, except once every three years, when he holds the "Festival of the Yellow Claw," a martial arts tournament. It is an open secret that this festival is his way of recruiting talent. The festival starts in three days. (Naturally.)
About this time, Cantrel got a beep on his hand-comm. He staggered out of the bar, dropped the sailor act, and called back. "The pantope just picked up indications of world-bender activity," Tom told him. "Keep radio silence and come back in."
So the scouting party withdrew. Just to make life more interesting, the pantope sensors located the world-benders out near Nguyen Cat's island. Tom opined that we would be in a race with the world-benders for the diadem segment, and everyone agreed.
The party decided that the thing to do was go attend the Festival of the Yellow Claw. If we encountered the world-benders, we would pretend to be world-benders ourselves. But what disguises should we use?
Wu doesn't need a disguise. Cantrel and Aphron decided disguise was hopeless and went as European bodyguards of Wu. Lorelei, David, and Tom had Wardrobe make them up to look Eurasian. (Lorelei, who is a stunning redhead, deliberately uglied up to discourage white (or chartreuse) slavers.) We are all Wu's retinue.
Then there's the Naza. We'd really like to bring the Naza along -- she's very useful. But what to program into the chameleon circuit? Volkswagen? Rickshaw, with coolie? Dragon, a la Chinese New Year? Congo line? Tom unkindly suggested Godzilla, Mothra, Rhodan, or one of the other Tokyo-stompers. This suggested the real solution to Aphron -- she is going as the biggest GORILLA this side of Skull Island, and she will be in the Festival.
Weaponry presents another problem. Tom is the only one with a contemporary weapon -- a revolver he made in shop-class back on the Jack, oh so many years and light-years away. The next day, Cantrel took the rest of the money from the pawn shop and went in search of a shop that sells guns. This only happens illegally in a Crown Colony, but it certainly happens. Cantrel found his shop by another visit to a bar, and went shopping.
As he approached the back entrance, a young oriental man came barreling down a fire escape stair, hotly pursued by five others. The young man stopped at the bottom and gave one of the finest karate demonstrations Cantrel had ever seen, using the other five as foot-fodder. Toward the end of the fight, two foes were left standing and attacked simultaneously. Cantrel bopped one of them with his nunchuck. This gave the defender time to finish off his victim, then turn and cut down Cantrel's target.
Cantrel apologized nicely for interfering in the fight, and the young man thanked him with equal suavity for his assistance. This is the orient, after all. About then, Aphron, Wu, and Tom came skidding around the corner, summoned by Cantrel's hand-comm. We had introductions all round, and learned that this young man (who looks Eurasian rather than pure oriental) is Chang Lee Cho. Wu gave a peculiar flinch, for the school of karate he himself learned was Cho Tsu Tao -- "The Way of Master Cho," said to be founded by a Cheng Chow.
We chatted a bit, and Cho acknowledged he is in town for the Festival, but has nothing but ill to say of Nguyen Cat. He is not seeking employment. Wu begged the honor of a brief sparring session with Cho, so they did that, amid the unconscious bodies in the alleyway. Wu was mightily impressed and said that Cho ought to teach classes. "Yes, my master has suggested that." (His MASTER!? Gh!) We parted company with great courtesy.
Cantrel went on to buy a pair of pistols, and was now out of cash. That's no problem -- we just pawned some of the gold pieces we picked up in the Eilythry world.
The next morning, we went down to the docks to take the ferry to the Island of Mr. Cat. (He uses the Western order of names.) At the dock, we met Cho and someone who could be Lorelei's big sister -- a tall, athletic-looking and gorgeous redhead named Victoria Lawless. There was also a macho Japanese fellow, but he decided to wait for the next boat when Tom and the Naza came in sight -- Tom playing the gorilla's keeper, and Pfusand equipped with a set of solder shackles to give bystanders a false sense of security. Just as the boat was casting off, another party came dashing into view and made a mighty leap, barely catching the rails -- another attendee, of course, an Indonesian with a great big knife.
Nguyen Cat met us at the dock, issued us guest robes, and had the servants show us to rooms. (After some discussion, they decided to go along with Tom's suggestion and put the "gorilla" in the same room with it's "keeper.") We were then told to go to the courtyard for exercises before lunch. Pfusand stayed in her room, and Aphron and Tom hung around looking stupid while the other three did arcane oriental calisthenics.
On returning to our rooms before lunch, we discovered that they come with hot and cold running maids. (Everyone else's maid was hot. The one for Tom's room took one look at the gorilla, turned cold, and ran. She left the bathing equipment.) (Oh, yes, they provided a houseboy for Lorelei.)
At lunch, introductions were performed. Wu introduced his retinue, explaining that Aphron, Lorelei, and Tom were not here to participate, but the gorilla was. When Victoria Lawless introduced herself, Nguyen Cat asked if she was the daughter of Bertram Lawless. She said "yes" very grimly. (Mild stir in the crowd.) Mr. Cat made some snide remarks about female fighters in the course of the lunch. Cho had arranged to sit by Wu, and explained sotto voce that Bertram Lawless was probably killed by Nguyen Cat, so Victoria is likely here for vengeance. He also showed Wu a photo of a pretty oriental girl and asked Wu to keep a lookout for her; it was his sister, Mei Ling, kidnapped by the evil Nguyen Cat. (Sub-plots, anyone?)
Cho also told us that the fights in the upcoming Festival NEED not end in death, though they certainly have. Modified rapture.
There are more exercises through the afternoon (this time with the "gorilla") and then everyone retires, to rest up for the start of the contest tomorrow. Wu finds that the maid has changed the sheets, and someone has changed the maid. Thanks to an excellent dice-roll, it is Mei Ling herself. Wu hastens to tell her of her brother's presence and pumps her for information. She is only moderately pumpable, since she has no reason to trust Wu.
Meanwhile, Cantrel went out for an evening's sneak. He spotted Victoria, sneaking less subtly, and followed her, using her as a stalking horse. He saw a guard approach her from behind, but a rustle in the bushes warned her in time. While Victoria and the guard fought it out, Cantrel noticed that the rustle hadn't come from the guard; it came from a tile dropped from the roof into the bushes, by Cho, who is also out sneaking.
Victoria dispatched her assailant, but two more guards showed up and she fled. One spotted her and pursued. Victoria stopped, pulled out a double-headed spear, and slew him. Exit Victoria for the nonce.
Cantrel now turned his attention to Cho. Following him unobserved, he saw Cho discover a trapdoor in the garden and followed him down to a dark corridor. We wait for some people to pass, then follow them. We come to a stairway leading down. Cho descended and Cantrel waited. Cho leapt back up the stairs and nearly pasted Cantrel before recognizing him. Together, they fled into an unlocked room and heard Nguyen Cat pass, talking to someone about a "delivery."
Turning their attention to the room, the two slinkers found a safe and a wardrobe. Cantrel picked the lock of the safe and found many papers and a good deal of money. He took out his hand-comm and photographed the papers, puzzling Cho mightily. Cho turned his attention to the wardrobe and found something funny, which he showed to Cantrel. Cantrel was considerably shaken -- it was an empty shoulder holster, meant to contain something like an over-squeezed lemon -- something like the "disflorger" Cantrel picked up in Lorelei's world and used to devastating effect in the Eilythry world. To Cho, of course, it meant nothing.
As the prepared to leave, Cho regretfully showed Cantrel that he had had to force the lock to gain entry. No covering their tracks, then. Cantrel opened the safe a second time and took the money, as a cover. He gave most of it to Cho. But Cho now seemed unable to move at all stealthily. He took his leave and left Cantrel to return to the downward stair.
At the bottom, Cantrel found two store rooms, and a third room in which two men prepared packets of opium. How commonplace! He left.
Meanwhile, Wu had learned from Mei Ling that Nguyen Cat had about 100 guards and 100 staff in the house. He sent Lorelei out to contact Cho, who was, of course, not in his room. However, Lorelei did see the guards standing about the hallway. Trying again later, Wu slipped out under cover of his Distraction skill. He left a note asking for a token to give his sister as proof of trustworthy.
He then went to Cantrel's room and found it empty, too. He waited. Eventually, he saw a tall figure slip in through the window. It was Victoria, who did not notice him. She hid behind a curtain. He waited some more and Cantrel showed up. He didn't notice anybody. As he was taking off his boots, Victoria revealed herself and said, "I presume I have you to thank for the timely warning." "Presume what you like." "What?" "There were more than two in the night, just now." "Oh, well, anyway..." She seized Cantrel and kissed him. Then she was out the window.
"Does she kiss well?" inquired a familiar voice, and Cantrel was now allowed to notice Wu. They pooled their data. When they get around to telling Tom, he will recommend that Cantrel take the diadem tracer for his next midnight slink.
Wu then went to Cho's room, where he found Cho trying to puzzle out Wu's 25th century Zenner kanji. He was delighted to hear of his sister but thought it risky to approach her just yet. He gave Wu a medallion to show her for trust. And there we leave them for the moment.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.