New York 1984
Week 13, Negotiating
We left our heroes still working their way through the Underworld below New York, having just escaped an ingenious trap and an encounter with Eric the Giant.
Tom doctors Cantrel some, then sends out his Second Sight to scout ahead, guided by his ability to douse for diadem segments. Left at a T intersection, right at a Y, straight past another T. But he pauses as someone comes pattering down the stem of the T. It's Henderson. (!) He startles slightly, seems to listen, and then Whizzer flickers in. He and Henderson both have widgets drawn, but on seeing each other they lower their guard.
Henderson: "Oh, it's you."
Whizzer: "Yes. I thought I felt you earlier."
Henderson: "I was following some outsiders."
Whizzer [spitting the words like a curse]: "Time-twisters!"
Henderson: "Oh, are they? I can't get close to them. We're timelocked or fated in some way."
Whizzer: "Figures. What are you doing here?"
Henderson: "Our friend was having trouble keeping his connection here. When he lost it, he couldn't get it back. He's timelocked too."
Whizzer: "Our problem's the reverse. They seem free here."
Henderson: "They would, if they're time-twisters. How bad is it?"
Whizzer: "We've evacuated. I've tried to oversee it, but I can only be half a dozen places at once, and of course you can only be in combat once."
At this point, Whizzer looks up and notices Tom's viewpoint hovering in mid-air. Tom abruptly loses his signal. The party starts discussing this intriguing conversation, of course, but Tom then notices another viewpoint, reciprocally spying on US. "What do we do?" Cantrel asks. Tom meets the viewpoint's gaze and says loudly, "We could tell them we're not time-twisters. Rather the reverse." Alag echoes this, then tries to block out the viewpoint with Glamour. (Second-order elven Glamour; common Glamour wouldn't work.) Daewen thinks that's a slick idea but that she can improve on it. "Jam your Second Sight down that viewpoint," she tells Alag, "and keep telepathy open to me." He obeys his grandmother and the link goes dark. Tom watches with interest: if you symbolize the viewpoint as a phantom eyeball in the air, Daewen just wrapped it up in black cotton padding made of Glamour. Daewen explains that she set up a Patterned Second-order Glamour to thus muffle the next couple of attempts to scry on us. It was probably Whizzer doing the clairvoyance.
We therefore head down the OTHER tunnel that goes in roughly the right direction, the one we do NOT know has enemies in it. It bends right and up and soon intersects the first tunnel at one of the T's. Oh well. We search carefully for traps and spells as we go.
At one point, the tunnel crimps smaller and turns to the right. We detect nothing, but as we proceed, Alag tumbles, one of his counter-jinx Patterns goes off, and a pipe appears across the floor at trip level. Cantrel discovers the second invisible pipe the hard way, bounces on it, stand and hits his head on the ceiling. sigh
Then the wall ahead fades away to a "loud" psychic accompaniment, leaving us staring down the mouth of a large hollow cylinder garnished about with hi-tech. Right. Daewen grabs Sophie and flits back around the corner FAST. Pfusand grabs Tom and Lorelei, drops the latter, and runs. This leaves the lady in stasis and the two jinxed men facing the mouth of the cannon.
Cantrel starts to retreat as fast as may be through the obstacle course and, as he goes, fires a disflorger on full into the cannon's mouth -- just as a dull red glow starts to well up in it.
Alag to Cantrel: ... (thank you) ...
The rest of us creep back from around the corner. Lorelei, we find, is still safe within her stasis. The two prisoners on their levitating grill are not around. Or they are, but only as a scattering of charred fragments.
Tom starts doctoring our two jinxed heroes again. Meanwhile Alag X-rays the rubble with Second Sight and determines that we can move it and pass through. The hell-gun beyond is not good for any more shots. The disflorger saw to that.
As we clear the rubble, Sophie stands watch on the jinxes, countering them with Dicing, thus preventing various stones from falling on jinxed toes.
Onward. We come to a Y intersection and check it out like crazy. Cantrel remembers his quadcorder, which might have notified us of the hell gun, but finds nothing with it. Alag, however, feels something, and Tom feels the afterglow of some spell or other. We examine this and Tom decides it feels like two bits of cloaking. Tom tosses a pebble into the intersection. Nothing. Alag tries too, with no result. He then conjures up a little blue walker-thing resembling Gumby, out of live ectoplasm, and sends it in (thus distressing Sophie, who disapproves of creating live things, but she decides to put off being upset).
Live things seem to do the trick. A Trigger goes off and Gumby has a tracer on him. Alag jumps his viewpoint down this one for Daewen to blindfold, but it's oddly blocked. That's okay, the viewpoint comes to us. Daewen points at it, says, "Sic 'em," and it gets wrapped in Glamour like the first one.
Alag, meanwhile, is massively disoriented by what he encountered along that tracer. Tom suggests that this tracer led off into hyperspace and Daewen thinks it likely. Alag shakes his head and flicks his psilencer to clear things out. Then he blows away the tracer on Gumby and picks it up. We continue, leaving the muffled viewpoint behind.
Ahead, we hear feet pattering. Alag goes invisible and scouts. Around a bend, the corridor widens to a room. Two big metal doors are just in the act of closing and locking. Before them stand Vincent with a staff and Lara glowing blue. They are flanked by six men, three on a side, with blasters. There are wooden doors on either side of the room. All the doors are psi-proofed.
Sophie dictates a message for Daewen to suspend in the air before them in shining letters, the upshot of which is, "Let's talk." No response.
We decide to send an embassy. Daewen whips up an image of herself and Alag puts a viewpoint in it. We all watch via the telepathy net, and the image repeats what Alag tells it to.
As the sending rounds the corner, the men are coming off blasters at ready. We repeat the content of our message along and Vincent shrugs. The sending sits down, cross-legged.
Sending: "We're not going to blow your cover. We're not going to tell anyone you're here. We've been trying not to hurt or kill, but you've made it very difficult." [Vincent grunts and shrugs.] "Will you negotiate?"
Vincent: "We'll listen."
Sending: "We're on a quest for an object. All we want is the object. We'll leave. We won't disturb anyone. We won't come back. If it's of value, we'll negotiate for it."
(At this point, Tom's Knack of Finding tingles and he realizes he himself has been found. Looking about psychically, he finds the viewpoint. He points it out to the others, smiles politely at it, and waves.)
Vincent: "Why should we trust you with it?"
Sending: "We have others of it. We're trying to get rid of it."
Vincent: "How do we know you won't use it?"
Sending: "You can read us telepathically."
Vincent: "Then you are agents."
Sending: "Not exactly. We were talked into going on this quest."
Vincent: "You might be dupes."
Sending: "We might. We were sent on this mission by someone called the 'Captain.'"
Vincent: "That is convenient."
Sending: "We've met Elias and he has told us to continue the mission."
Vincent: "He is not known to me."
Sending: "Is there any way to convince you? You can read our minds for our sincerity."
Vincent: "I don't see one."
Sending: "Are YOU agents?"
Sending: "Do you know of the other pieces?"
Vincent: "Not directly." [He does NOW, of course....]
Sending: "How do you KNOW you're not agents."
Vincent: "Because we keep isolated."
Sending: "Then why do you have dealings with Henderson?"
Vincent: "We take no directions from him."
Sending: "Is there anyone you'd give this to?"
Vincent: "It is not our habit to have commerce with outsiders. We do, however, trust ourselves."
Sending: "Please note our numerous acts of withholding violence. We've tried to communicate all along the line. We are not trying to blow away you or your timeline. We've offered telepathic verification."
Vincent: "Your behavior could have been a ploy. Even if it is not, would it not be better to keep these things separate?
Sending: "If we can find them, someone worse than us can, too."
Vincent: "Who would YOU trust, and why?"
And there, in the middle of a not terribly coherent debate, we leave them.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.