How we got there
[These logs are copyright, © 1984,1995, etc. by Earl Wajenberg]
The Jack Patrol spent an uneventful two weeks helping the Ecclesian to repair its ship. The Ecclesian then spent four weeks helping them finish up repairs to the Jack. There followed another week of fine tuning and test-hopping the Ecclesian's ship. Then, at last, the Ecclesian zipped off into hyperdrive, to check in at home base and to tell the rest of the universe that the Jack was still out here and open for business again, if anyone wants large quantities of macrometal.
About five seconds after the Ecclesian zipped out, another ship zipped in. It looked much more human. The party, which was gathered in the docking bay for the farewell, hailed this new ship and got an instant answer. The ship was occupied by Harriet Gordon, liaison officer with the KaiSenese Association of Worlds, presently assigned to the KaiSenese Hegemony on United Earth. She said she was here to open diplomatic relations between the Jack and the KSA and United Earth. She said that the Ecclesian had dropped by and reported the Jack's existence about eight months ago. This was puzzling until Tom Noon reminded the other characters that any faster-than-light craft can time-travel. You can get excellent response times that way.
Harriet docked her ship and came aboard, along with her technical assistant, a large black leonine centauroid named Harnkherm. He didn't speak much Earthron. Even Harriet's Earthron was strangely accented, but it seemed to be her native tongue.
The two parties exchanged credentials (one in holographed ID cards, the other in parchments and wax seals), and started telling each other about the way things are in their respective home grounds. The Jack Patrol took Harriet to their HQ in the Hub and introduced her to all their diplomatic types. Harriet, meanwhile, explained why the Jack was lost and forgotten for a century.
In brief, United Earth collapsed under the social chaos brought about by psionic technology. The Psi Lords arose, claimed sections of Earth, then looked for more worlds to conquer. They started a conquest of the Terran colonies and the Psi War was on. It was at this point that the Jack was isolated. Eventually, the colonies won the war with the help of non-human allies from the KaiSenese Association. The KaiSenese Hegemony was established on Earth, United Earth was re-instated, and the Psi Lords were wiped out.
Unfortunately, the only records of the Jack were in the possession of the Jack's builder, Centauri Metals, with offices in Chiron and Nessus, Centauri. These two cities (Chiron and Nessus) were destroyed early in the Psi War, so all record of the Jack was lost.
These explanations out of the way, Harriet went about her diplomatic business, only pausing to warn the party that the Jack would have to prepare for a lot of future-shock. Not only is hi-tech coming back, it's even higher tech than it was the last time, and includes psychic phenomena.
Harriet had been on the Jack a week, and the party was lounging around in Cantrel's quarters in the Hub, when there was a knock at the door. When Cantrel said "come in," a silvery hand poked through, waving a white handkerchief. It was the robot from the Dance of Hours again.
The robot had come asking for help. The captain, it said, was badly injured and wanted to speak with us. Cantrel sent Tom Noon, the Naza, and Dr. Wu. We kept a communications link open to Cantrel, which entailed keeping the door to the Dance of Hours open.
The party was ushered out of Cantrel's door and into a white, box-like room where the hallway ought to have been. This was the bridge of the Dance of Hours ("Dancer" for short). We were then taken to the sick-bay where the captain languished in something like deep shock. While Dr. Wu tried to help (unsuccessfully), he explained.
Captain Lee Verger is, as we had already guessed, a time-traveler. Most of the other times we met him, he was researching our period, in which he is interested. He has stumbled on a problem of major proportions and been recently attacked. He is dying and, to survive, must put himself in stasis shortly. So, casting about for others to take over this job, he naturally thought of the only people he knew with experience in saving the world -- the Jack Patrol.
There was another reason for picking us. His historical research shows that the founding members of the Jack Patrol (i.e. the party) softly and suddenly vanish away for at least several years, starting some time soon. So, as an incentive to join his mission, he gives us a choice of ways to vanish. We WILL vanish, shortly before the ambassadors arrive from Earth. We can do it by coming aboard the Dancer. If we don't, we may be assassinated in our beds, or meet some other mysterious fate. His way, if we survive, we could eventually return to the Jack, in a period he hasn't researched.
The captain didn't want to leave the door to the Dancer open too long. It causes an anomaly in space-time readily detected by the people who attacked him. Cantrel wanted more time to prepare, so we agreed to rendezvous with the Dancer at HT's place, in West Pod, in a week.
We gathered up our supplies and Cantrel left instructions with HT that, in his absence, the Patrol might appoint an ACTING Commandant, but he put in certain riders so that, if he drops in on the Jack in some future time, he can re-assume his role of Commandant.
Then the Dancer showed up and we trooped aboard. Almost immediately, the door shut behind us, the Dancer shuddered, and the robot (who was at the helm) announced, "We're under attack. Go to the sick-bay."
We went, there to find the captain still languishing. (It's only been a few minutes interval for him.) There, we got the general outlines of our next set of adventures.
The captain is from the year 30,000 or thereabouts. Most of his contemporaries do not indulge in time travel, because of the clumsiness involved in avoiding causal paradox. But he's eccentric, an explorer and a scientist. In his travels, he has come upon an alarming situation.
There are people from some hundreds of thousands of years in the future, whom he called the "worldbenders." They make artificial worlds, as amusement parks, as interesting places to live, as games, as artwork, as places to run experiments. They seem to have pretty much the same level of science that the captain has, but they apply their technology on a much grander scale. They overhaul whole planets, make titanic space stations, and even produce tiny pocket universes of about continent-size.
Some of the staff for these places are recruited from the past -- their past. They are so far in the future, they run very little risk of paradox if they act in their past. Typically, they find people who are about to die and offer them the chance of living on in one of their park-worlds. ("Well, you can stay here in this simulation of Oz, or you can step back on the 747 that is due to crash in 0.008 seconds." "I guess I'll stay." "Here's your Munchkin costume.")
All this is fairly tolerable, but the captain has learned that the worldbenders are after the diadem. The diadem is a crown-like piece of apparatus of astonishing power. The captain doesn't know who made it or where it's from. His era couldn't make it, and he doesn't believe the worldbenders could, either.
The diadem is a vastly powerful tool. The worldbenders want to use it to make themselves inevitable. That is, they will be shielded behind a wall of adjusted probability, leaving them even freer to tamper with the past, abstract people, and generally screw things up from around 30,000 BC to around 30,000 AD.
The diadem is hard to get rid off. You need all or most of the pieces, since some pieces can substitute for others. You can't just smash the pieces -- they have ways of defending themselves. The captain believes he can throw the diadem away by making it swallow itself. This is one reason why he should be put in stasis, so he can be on ice while we hunt up the bits of diadem. (We don't know how or why the diadem got scattered around, but it did.)
The erstwhile Jack Patrol is still a little fuzzy about certain metaphysical points: Will the worldbenders actually alter history? What will that feel like to the people being altered? If not, what exactly are the horrible things they will be able to do? Is everyone who never got into the history books endangered, like the lost colony at Roanoke and the refugee colonist from the Psi War?
Unfortunately, the captain was failing fast. He told us that the robot would help us. He also told us to stay out of the way of Allied Epochs. This is a treaty organization stretching across Earth's history from around 2100 to around 4000 AD. It, like the captain, fights the worldbenders, and so looks with grave suspicion on people from later in history. So they won't like us batting about in the Dancer.
Other last-minute pieces of information: The Dance of Hours is a "pantope," an anywhere ship. It is usually contained within itself and thus has no coordinates in ordinary space and time. Since we have all of time at our disposal, it is more necessary to do things right than to do them quickly. The captain already has two of the 13 pieces of the diadem. The next piece to pick up is in a worldbender simulation of North America devastated by the nuclear holocaust that the 20th century feared (but which never happened).
At last, we flipped the indicated switch and the captain turned into a silvery statue of himself -- stasis. We went back to the bridge, where the robot told us that, alas, it had been damaged in that last attack and was going to shut down shortly. It was now trying to program the other computers on the Dancer to understand us as well as might be. (The computers are, naturally, geared to people with background suitable to 30,000 AD. The robot is the only very bright one on board, and it is going to crash in a few moments.)
So there we are, in complete control of a time-machine and with only the vaguest idea of how to use it. Head 'em off at the past.
Two more pieces of last-minute information. Along with all his enemies, the captain has one dubious ally, another pantope captain named Alior Nus of Adamard. Also, the party can expect to start developing psychic powers. Like most civilized places in an era of psionic (or better) technology, the Pantope has psilencers to protect people from casual telepathic snooping. In the resulting psilence, free of background noise for the first time, people begin to become sensitive to psionic signals (psignals?) and to develop curious little tricks and intuitions. No telling what those will be.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.