Week 4, Into Westpod
We left our heroes in the Jack, in the year 2415, looking for Allied Epochs agent Waverly. We had just tracked down Jason Derrico's old apartment and found Waverly had been there. Or so we suppose. Alag runs a retrocog on the hallway just to make sure, and finds him. He then flits invisibly to the windows of Derrico's old apartment and retrocogs on THEM, getting a look at Derrico as of 2413.
Waverly and Derrico are probably both in Westpod by now, so we head up the Spiral Road to the Hub, there to navigate through the zero gravity, somehow, and get to Westpod. Around the quarter-gee point, we encounter some Ragaij and Tom asks where he can pick up the ferry. In Tom's day, circa 2480, the Ragaij ran the ferry service through the Hub, but these Ragaij have no idea what he's talking about. They recommend we pick up the bus back in town.
We tramp back to do that, but a call to the taxi service reveals that they have no runs to Westpod because of the political unrest there. We sigh, buy some groceries for an ever-longer-looking trip, and tramp back UP the spiral road to the Ragaij again. Tom offers to pay them for ferry service, wondering if he is hereby inventing the institution. The Ragaij take council among themselves and decide they're willing, provided they don't have to take us INTO Westpod, just up to the air curtain. Fine. Lorelei dickers with them over price, a fare is reached, and the Ragaij flap off to fetch some nets. (Cantrel and Jake are just TICKLED to be BOTH in nauseatingly low gravity AND trapped in nets. "In my day," Tom telepaths, "they'll have sedan chairs.")
We are flown up to the air curtain, which is an enormous disc of transparent diasolid -- fluid and thus self-sealing on two axes, only semi-solid on the other. The Ragaij ooze us through, to the further trauma of Jake, and flap off. Fortunately, none of the Ragaij appear to notice the odd contortions appearing in the air curtain as Alag slips through invisibly.
We journey through a vast tunnel carved in asteroidal stone, studded with pale lights, airlock doors, and cat-walk/ladders. We turn a right angle and proceed. At the Westpod air curtain, we disembark and Lorelei adds a generous tip to the fare. Then we are alone.
Dropping his clairvoyance cloaking so he can use Second Sight, Alag probes through the curtain. "Below" us is Woodlark, seat of the unpleasant Prince Sing. And between us and it is an aircar, large, heavily armed and armored. Half a minute later, another such aircar swings into view. And another. There are three equidistantly spaced aircars hovering halfway to the axis, just beyond the air curtain. Two have six people inside, the third, eight, one wearing a turban. Alag detects no psychic activity, even when he peeks into the turban; all he finds there is a large head.
We decide to enter the pod invisibly, taking extra care with the air curtain to hide ripples and bubbles. Jake gets turned invisible by Tom, then accidentally caught in a tug-of-war as the invisible Gene and invisible Lorelei try to help the invisible Jake through the transparent air curtain. ("Let's just all close our eyes, okay?") By the time it's over, Jake feels that mere zero-gee isn't so bad.
Once through the air curtain, we must now match speeds with the pod. There's a ledge of sidewalk at the edge of the curtain, whizzing by at 20 mph, or so. Flying with belt and TK, we match speeds, but instead of landing we fly out along the axis, then drift down into the woods on the far side from Woodlark. On the way down, Tom points out a small Teldai village, the current version of the future Mabuli Leki; it lies opposite another village, doomed to be extinct by Tom's day.
We work our way down through the forest, camping for the night near the edge, where the open farmland begins. A few hundred yards away lies a smoking ruin. Alag cases it, invisibly and aloft, but finds no signs of activity. Looks like it might have been a big farm house.
The next day, we start out from the forest, sneaking through the undergrowth. We plan to find an out-of-the-way place, then come from there and announce ourselves as wandering salvagers who found ourselves trapped here when the unrest began, and have been laying low for a few months.
Alag and Cantrel are in the lead. Those behind notice a large, live something crouched in the shadows of the ruins. Gene telepaths a warning to Cantrel, who sneaks up for a closer look. He half-draws his stunner, then returns it with showy care as a Naza, big even for its species, rises from the shadows with a gun aimed at Cantrel. This gun looks like it was originally meant to be mounted on small spaceships, not carried under an arm, but the Naza has no trouble with it. And the way it moves the gun shows that it has spotted most of us, even though it only has three eye-stalks left. "Who goes there?" it demands.
Cantrel stands silently with his hands up. Gene rises from the grass and says, "Hi. We're friendly."
Tom rises and delivers a variation on the salvager story. The Naza listens, then explains that it cannot allow its presence here to be known. On the other hand, it doesn't want to blow away probably innocent people. We second the motion and ask how we can convince it we won't give it away. It doesn't know.
After a little more tense conversation, we learn that it used to live in these ruins, that its human neighbors (when it had any) used to call it "Walker," and its immediate problem is getting it AND its family out of the pod. Secretly.
We offer our help (this is Tom's idea), and suggest going inside what's left of the house, so that we won't get spotted by our common enemy. Inside, we find a smaller Naza with a gash in its shoulder and a little (200 lb) Naza. It is apparent that Walker is Papa Naza and we have here Mama and Baby. Lorelei offers to heal them. The mother consents after Lorelei promises to use no anesthetics. (Indeed, she does it mostly by Deryni magic, using only enough medical paraphernalia to disguise this.)
While the healing goes one, we learn that another of Walker's names is Bdob. The Prince, Rashid Sing, recently went on a rampage, destroying all Naza houses in Westpod because they were too well-fortified for his taste. Bdob tells us that most Nazas in the Jack lived here in Westpod and foresees (accurately) that Nazas will henceforth have to become a wandering race here, since there won't be resources for more Naza-scale houses. He also tells us that he snuck his tonnage up to our camp last night and took our measure, despite the watches we posted. "You're very good," says Tom. "I'm very motivated," replies the Ninja Naza.
Tom claims that we got in using some "hi-tech camouflage," and suggests that this, plus moving by night, plus flying belts, could get the Walker family up to the air curtain. Then we hire the Ragaij again to tow them away. Bdob remarks that the different species in the Jack have been rather aloof from one another, but that he thinks this will change too. Again, he's right; there is something of an alliance between Ragaij and Naza in Tom's era.
Meanwhile, Lorelei has bandaged Mama Naza with duct tape, to hide the fact that the wound is completely healed, and started to work on Baby. Baby is in shock, as its parents already guessed, and needs warmth, fluids, calories, and minerals, especially iron. (We decide against elevating its feet.)
In fact, Baby needs a good drink of blood. Bdob still has his gun (which he ripped of the armored aircar that came to wreck his house), but permits Chris to leave the house and go hunting for something with iron-based blood. He warns Chris that the barriers on the zoo recently went down and there are a lot of dangerous beasts out there. (Do tell.) The invisible Alag accompanies Chris and the rest of us settle down to wait.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.