We're off to see the Wizard...
Week 8, Finding Merfolk
We begin to make preparations for the Pantope construction. Ashleigh, Chris, Dafnord, Jake, and Marsina land on Nereus to collect sand. The rest remain on the Jack to make preparations for a long-term settlement on New Hierow. Cantrel is caught up in various administrative nightmares at the JCTO.
On Nereus, Eames isn't glad to see us--without Cantrel! He's got a million problems that he wants to talk over with him. In particular, chronic equipment failure, mainly due to the gravity, and morale problems among the workers. He gives us a rather boring tour of the construction site, babbling on about the various problems he's been having, leading us to a boat to travel to another island for further site inspections. However, the boat has been sabotaged.
When Chris playfully suggests that gremlins are to blame, Eames has a rather startling reaction: he seems bent on convincing us that such things don't exist and that the talk amongst the workers is just foolish rumors. Chris assures Eames that it was just a joke and Eames falls over himself in apology. He bids us good day and goes off on his business.
What's next? We look for evidence of gremlins, of course! Chris casts a Hremish detect magic---recalling that the Mage did say that Nereus had an almost-fey feel to it---and sure enough, there's an interesting background feeling here. Investigation with second sight and detect psi confirms that there's been something in the boat, affecting it, although the boat hasn't been itself affected magically.
As we fix the boat, Cantrel arrives, exhausted from his harrowing escape from the bureaucrats of the JCTO. We then pull someone over to pilot us and head out over the water to the second island. During our travels over the deep water, some of us sense the same feeling as we go through a certain area. It passes, however, and we soon land on the second island.
There's been even less work done here: only some landscaping attempts and a few abandoned temporary structures are on this island. The structures seem to have been vandalized a bit, also. (More gremlins?) However, it's a fine place to collect sand! We instruct the sailor to have supplies for a few days sent to us, along with wheelbarrows and other similar equipment. As he motors off, we clean up the place and set up camp.
Two boats quickly return with our supplies and as they are being unloaded, two of the stevedores mumble something about a mermaid. Chris tries to lure some information out of them but fails. ("Oh, you don't want to be hearin' my old tales--you being so educated and all.") Cantrel tries to push rank ("Now, if you don't feel comfortable telling us something, I'll fire you!") and has more success.
The seaman admit that they've heard of mermaids before, not that they ever dived down to look, of course, nor have they seen one, but they know of one guy that say one--someone named Johansen, although he drinks too much. We tell the seaman that we're offering a reward for any information on mermaids and tell them to have posters printed up. They agree and zip off.
Jake and Dafnord go off to build sandcastles, Cantrel naps so he can keep watch at night, and Marsina uses second sight to check far into the ocean. Marsina finds nothing unusual within range other than a school of dolphin-like creatures, moving in the distance. We collectively shrug and spend the day collecting sand and party throughout the night: barbecue, body surfing, sand games, the works. We have a marvelous time.
[Join JCTO: Go to interesting places and times, meet interesting people, push sand around by day, party through the night.]
We continue to collect sand and party. The next day, we've collected the requisite sand, deciding to shape it into a large sandcastle, mimicking the Mage's castle. After taking a holo for a JCTO recruitment poster, we open a door and drop the sand into New Hierow. The Mage is amused at the delivery and hopes that we're having a good time.
We decide to stick around looking for gremlins. We have diving equipment sent over and wait. The next night, actually in the early morning hours, we are apparently spotted. Marsina notices something about a kilometer away looking over our stuff but it leaves quickly through the water as we try to contact it.
The next day we start analyzing satellite weather data, looking for likely spots for undersea cities. A few places seem likely and are close to large sargasso beds of floating plants, one of these is only a day away by boat. This seems to be the likely home of our intruder so we decide to motor out.
At the sargasso, we get out and probe around physically, magically, and mentally. Nothing seems to be here. After being scared by the a flock of birds taking flight at our disturbance and some swimming lessons for Dafnord and Cantrel, we dive down and look around underwater for our gremlins. However, our search is fruitless and we head back to our boat.
Surprise: the boat we get back to isn't ours! (Fortunately, our boat is nearby.) This boat contains an unusual collection of items: some low-tech coral carvings, a few items of high-tech or psi technology, even a few bits of robotic technology! The high-tech stuff certainly looks like items that an intelligent dolphin might carry. We decide to camp out here, report our findings back to the Jack, and set watches to wait for the owner of the boat.
Sure enough, late that night, Chris spots a gas can floating away. Chris calls out, "Stop that!" The can drops and Chris' probe reveals that now-familiar funny presence. He tries to contact it and succeeds, finding a rather alien presence with a mixture of emotions: curiosity, fear, excitement, etc. Chris tries to connect at a deeper level and barely manages contact at the conceptual level--it is extremely disconcerting.
Soon, however, Chris and the creature are communicating after a fashion, although it very difficult because the creature's conceptual model is so different. (Chris brings Marsina into the connection, and she successfully uses her anthropology knowledge to help.)
We get the feeling that the term doesn't really imply danger, but more of a nuisance factor or a problem to be dealt with. It might even be an insult.
Chris suddenly notices he's looking at something. He uses second sight and sees a merman-like creature. Perhaps sensing this, it jumps into the water and swims away fast. Wow! Chris tries to keep in contact with it and calm it down via telepathy but it refuses to answer. We speculate on the type of magic it uses to conceal itself--perhaps some type of glamour or psi--as Chris tries to re-establish the link.
It swims away, even faster, going out of range. Marsina believes that they are a nomadic people and probably don't have a real concept of ownership.
The merman puts up shields and swims away even faster. We continue to keep watches and contact the Jack, and file a report about what happened. Our goal is to let those whose job it is to handle first contacts to take care of the problem. Nothing happens through the night and the next morning, we motor back to the island.
On the way, Chang contacts us with the bad news: since we went to all the trouble to have the JCTO have control of Nereus instead of the Jack Council, the Council has decided that it's our problem. Of course, the Council would understand if we decided we couldn't handle a planet....
We get back to the island--finding that Alag has arrived, we fill him in--and briefly discuss sending for xenobiologists and xenodiplomats but change our mind when Alag suggests bringing KaiSen in, discreetly, for advice and resources. We don't think that's a good idea, either.
We consider what our plans should be. Cantrel recalls that the original survey records for Nereus were either destroyed or damaged. Alag suggests that we go back and steal it! Not seeing any better ideas, we ask around after old security codes and discover that Cantrel's friend Leonis Wickman has them. He's willing to give us them in exchange for a small favor.
Alag heads back up to the JCTO Office and retrieve the time machine we received from Grissom. Alag prepares his equipment and accepts a small robot computer from Leonis. (The favor is to allow his computer to hook into the computers we'll be searching through.)
Alag heads back about 120 years, breaks into the survey computer center, and hacks together a connection for his equipment and downloads the data. He then lets Leonis' robot at the computers: the robot takes a considerably longer time than Alag would like, but they are not discovered. Alag then heads back up the timestream.
Leonis thanks Alag, informing him that he just had his robot copy all the data that he could. Alag asks that a copy of the data is sent to Cantrel at the JCTO. Leonis agrees and Alag heads back to Nereus.
Back on Nereus, we consider the survey records. They indicate that Nereus has reasonable deposits of interesting metals and crystals but while most of the islands have good outcroppings, the really rich veins are underwater. So much for hoping that people won't try to mine the seas here someday. (Miners from the Jack haven't been here yet, probably because they would be more comfortable in space.)
We consider our motives for Nereus. Since we really only want a big office park, outside of the Jack, the best alternative may be to cut a deal with the underwater denizens to protect the environment and be environmentally neutral. In agreement, we motor out to our last contact. (Unfortunately, Ashleigh, Chris and Marsina stay behind: in the boat are Alag, Cantrel, Dafnord and Jake.)
We wait a while, and eventually see one of the mermen. Alag tries to make contact but is shaken by the different conceptual models. Cantrel, when brought into the net, is hurt also. (Jake tried a few times and also gets hurt.) Finally, headaches all around, Cantrel, via Alag, makes contact. We ask to be taken to "your leader". The merman seems happy to ask, and zips off. We follow discreetly.
A while later, a new voice is heard. It and the merman exchange a lot of information and explanations--most of which we can't understand. The new voice tries to talk to Alag and Cantrel, who are again shaken by the contact, and they eventually manage a brief conversation. The new voice tells us to come along. We do so, and eventually enter an area that has considerable voices and interference. A much lengthier conversation is heard and we are encouraged to continue.
We seem to be headed toward a very large kelp bed, and detect quite a number of dolphin like creatures and mermen. Suddenly, a white-haired merman rises up out of the water impressively. He locks his gaze on Cantrel and says "Yes?". Cantrel faints from the contact. Alag is alone, talking with the Old Old. After a few moments of shock, he begins to talk with him.
The Old Old fills Alag's mind with what seem to be chaotic images--a history of sorts. Alag gets the impression that his people left the land a long time ago. His people had to learn new ways--better ways--without the land. Today, his people don't look to the land for anything because whenever they return: there is always trouble--->SHARK<.
Alag attempts to convey a goal of non-interference, a "new way" of living with the land people staying on the land, and the water people keeping the water. The Old Old scoffs, and more history floods Alag's mind. Walkers came some time ago, causing more trouble (>SHARK<), so he has no reason to believe they won't do the same again.
Alag concedes the point but tries to tell the Old Old that we're a different sort of walker--ones who want to get away from the other walkers. The Old Old wonders whether this means we'll keep other walkers away from them! Seeing an opening, we quickly check our charter to Nereus and decide that we would have the authority to keep others away. We start to discuss how this would work when Alag suggests that we could offer boats. Suddenly, Alag is overwhelmed by hundreds of jabbering young ones asking for boats! ("Boats! Boats! Boats!") Alag collapses.
Cantrel heroically stands up and re-establishes contact with the Old Old, and quickly moves into the business details. We agree to build a number of "boats"--actually, these may not be boats per se, but craft appropriate for the mermen to haul things around with--and agrees that the land people will only use the air and land, with perhaps a little water, and that his people will have the rest of the water for themselves.
This seems to satisfy the Old Old. Cantrel indicates that it will be "many days" before the boats will be ready, which seems to close the deal. We all sail back, somehow, to the island, where Cantrel arranges for fabrication of models of the boats we're going to give to the water people.
A few days later, a merman is swimming offshore. Contact is established and we learn a little more history. Apparently, a few " >STRONG SHARK< came by some time ago, when no walkers were here. These walkers did bad things and then left. The merman conveyed a request from the Old Olds to find out whether we felt that those would be >SHARK< to us.
We tell the merman that we would consider them >SHARK<, while pondering who of our many enemies it could have been. He says that the Olds wonder what we would do about them, as they have seen the >STRONG SHARK< kill (with an explosion?) other walkers.
We try to convey our range of options: we say that we would either flee, or fight, or consult our Olds. The merman seems to nod, and we discuss some more historical details. The merman then wonders whether we would be willing to trade for our machines that think "hard and fast". We agree that we would, if the Olds ask. This seems to satisfy the merman and he swims off.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.