Week 2, JPCO's first Assignment
When we left our heroes last time, they were once again in two groups. Cantrel, Chris, and Gene were on the Jack, having just negotiated the founding of the Jack Patrol Crosstime Office, a division or phase or facet of Transworld, as they have dubbed the whole party. They have sent word to the others, back on Helene, to come out for JPCO's first assignment.
Lorelei, Jake, Alag, and Tom pack up to go. Sophie stays to mind the shop, Jeremy to work on the ship, Ashleigh to work on the time machine, and Victoria to mind the children and the karate studio (two closely allied jobs, as any parent will attest). The four travelers cross over to the home line and meet with Grissom at the KaiSenese Embassy. Does he have anything to offer us in the way of time travel? It appears we are going to need it.
Grissom is still working on getting us our own transport. Until then, he offers us the loan of his own ship, a small scout craft. He also supplies us with traveling money -- that is, old First Union Worldmarks such as were used for currency on the Jack during the Isolation.
So as not to attract attention, we take a full week to travel from Helene to the Jack. There, the group is re-united. Almost immediately, Tom seeks out his parents, who haven't seen him in ten years.
We meet with Cmdt. Chan. He bestows the title of Commander on Cantrel, ranking below Commandant and above Captain. He then starts supplying the new Crosstime Office:
Of course, like most temporal agents, we will be operating under cover, so rather than use this futuristic weaponry we go out and rummage the pawn shops and antique stores of the Jack to get ourselves some OLD sonic stunners that will fit in with our assignment date.
We are going back to 2415, to find out what happened to Allied Epochs agent Waverly. He was sent back to find out how the supposedly isolated Jack came to acquire androids, which were invented far away on Earth after contact was lost. He failed to come back at the designated time.
We are shown a picture of Waverly and given training in how to use his time machine. This was a personal time-belt, disguised to fit directly on the person and look like a paunch or pot belly. The training procedure is a little odd -- they strap a little box to your head and bit-blast the data into your brain. Jake doesn't take the treatment very well. Gene declines to take it at all.
We think it would be useful if Lorelei and Chris, the group's psychic healers, got a close look at some androids. Back when we were battling Jason Derrico's computer characterization, we wound up with some half-android children on our hands, and the neo-gorillas agreed to take them in. Therefore, we approach Edward, mayor of the neo-gorillas and head of Cantrel's Own Ranger Corps (CORC), and ask if any of the half-androids (teenaged boys and young men by now) are still available. They are, and a young man named Jonathan allows us to examine him.
Jonathan looks very human, inside and out, except that his eyes are solid black, iris and sclera as well as pupil. (These are android eyes, the standard marker for quickly telling androids from humans. Jonathan could have taken a cosmetic mutation to have this changed, but for him they are the sign of his membership in the gorilla community and CORC.) Also, there are the empty sockets in his upper jaw where the poisonous fangs used to be (The gorillas took the kids to a dentist and had their fangs drawn when they adopted them; not all androids have fangs, but their fathers' model did), and some nodules deep in his brain -- the organic radio transceivers that really distinguish androids from humans.
Next, we approach Dennis and Christine Patterson, a pair of Simfolk prominent in the AI community and on the Jack Council. We tell them of our time mission and ask for background. We also ask if they know of any full-blooded androids who would be willing to let us examine them. They put us in touch with Juggernaut.
Juggernaut is rather cool toward us at first, partly because he needs to be assured that we aren't going to use our knowledge against his own kind -- so we assure him we don't mean to or even think we COULD (timelock and all) -- and partly because androids don't do emotions well. Their limbic systems are tinkered with and their motivations are programmed through their radio links rather than being spontaneous. However, Juggernaut is an old android and has learned a certain amount of volition. He is no longer a slave and lives as a free citizen, though not a prospering one. He allows us to examine him and we take him out to dinner in return.
Garbed, armed, and informed as best we can manage, we leave 2494 for 2415. Grissom's time-trotter takes us back 79 years through an odd variation on hyperstate, in only a few minutes. We arrive on Saturday, 11 April 2415, a week after Waverly was supposed to show up. We find the Jack much as we left it, though with no ships around. We notice that the Ecclesian hasn't arrived yet.
The ship cloaks itself to radar and Alag cloaks it in invisibility, then puts a psychic Cloak over the invisibility. Thus muffled up, we approach the cluster of docks and locks at the outer end of Northpod. We park the ship next to an airlock, put on our period spacesuits, and disembark. This is very hard on Jake, who has never experienced zero gravity before. Things are only marginally better after Alag picks the airlock's lock and we are inside once more. The void is gone, but the sensation of falling is not. While Jake tries to hang onto composure and lunch, Lorelei and Tom poke around psychically for anyone nearby. No one, but our entrance through the lock may still have shown up on instruments somewhere.
We make our way through a series of empty corridors and gradually some faint gravity returns. Lorelei plies her Deryni healing skills on Jake's nausea. Eventually, we come out on the Spiral Road.
The Jack consists of six cylindrical pods arranged in three orthogonal pairs around a hub, so that it looks something like a child's jack, At each end of each pod is a hemispherical cap landscaped to resemble mountains. Through this mountainous terrain runs the Spiral Road, from the forests at the bottom to the zero-gravity zone at the top/center. The view is spectacular. Tom waxes sentimental and Jake struggles with vertigo.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.