Excitement on the Pantope
Week 1, Run Around the Pantope
We left our heroes back on the pantope, after their third spy-mission to the intelligent dinosaurs of late Cretaceous Earth. After some discussion, we decide to built a Glass Dagger to house the diadem detector, so we can use it to home in on the segment.
Soon, the crew settles down to its waiting-in-nowhere mode. Tom tinkers on the new Dagger in Lab 2. Pfusand in bear shape plays with Tyrell in the garden. Somewhere else in the garden, Chris plays his guitar. Etc.
The only objection voiced to putting the detector in a Glass Dagger was that we might lose it that way. Jonathan therefore wants to see if he can learn the diadem's psychic signature and so act as backup detector. He fishes the diadem out of the drawer in Lab 2, where we keep it, and opens his mind to it. He gets the signature -- remote, powerful, elemental -- and also a headache, brought on by the surrounding geometry which is, as always, severely bent.
He puts the diadem back and steps out into the hall, intending to stop at the autodoc, then go to his room for a nice little lay-down. But something hard and cylindrical jabs him in the back and a gruff voice demands, "Who are you?"
Jonathan sensibly raises his hands and asks, "It is enough if I say my name is Jonathan Goodhue?"
"... No." Jonathan casts about psychically and detects somebody behind him (of course) with psychic powers of some sort.
"But it answers your question!" There's a snort, a pause, a change in the pressure at his back, then the muzzle grows warm...
Tom, tinkering away in the lab, hears a faint, familiar sound. A stun gun. Alarmed, he starts to raise the net, reaching out for Chris. Chris also heard noises and was reaching out for Cantrel. Alas, Cantrel was alone with Victoria and we catch them at a VERY awkward moment.
The thoughts that intrude in Cantrel's head run, "Er..." (from Chris), "Chris--" (from Tom), "NO!" (from Cantrel), "Intruder, headed for the Robot Garage," (from Tom, who has turned invisible, snuck out, and spotted a hobnailed boot vanish that way), "Oh $#!+" (from Cantrel). He rises from the bed.
"Do you have the stunner?" asks Chris. "Yes," says Cantrel, grabbing the gun-belt containing it and running out of the room. (Fortunately, he yells back to Victoria, "Hold that thought. Intruders.") "Someone else has one, too," is Chris's parting thought. He then contacts Sophie, Alag, and Daewen, while Tom contacts Pfusand.
Tom, meanwhile, has passed the door to the Robot Garage on his way to Jonathan; it stands open and the room looks empty. He approaches Jonathan, lying in the middle of the corridor, to check him out, but a misty gray blur shoots out of the pop teleport booth at the end. Tom lifts the inaudibility from his Glamour and calls out. The mist clears to reveal Daewen, who flits into the Robot Garage in pursuit.
There follows a hectic interval in which:
Lorelei pops out of the booth, is hailed by Tom, jumps over Jonathan, and heads for the Main Bridge
Alag pops out of the booth and starts for the sickbay, where he takes attendance on the people still in stasis. No one is missing, but the sickbay pop teleport just popped. "Who just left?" he asks. "We cannot answer that," the Serving System answers.
Cantrel, naked, with gun drawn, skids around the corner and heads for the Robot Garage
Daewen appears at the Auxiliary Bridge door and almost pokes Cantrel with her sword before recognizing him
Chris dashes in from the garden, armed with a croquet mallet and protected by a displaced image, and heads for the Bridge
Pfusand starts to join the battle and is roughly ordered by Cantrel to stay with Tyrell.
Once all this quiets down, Tom verifies that Jonathan is breathing, shoves him to one side, so he won't get tramples, tears off his invisibility (which has been much more trouble than help), and heads for the pop teleport. There, he collides with Alag, who was popping in from the sickbay, in pursuit of the intruder, who is now in Corridor C.
We know this because Chris, on his way to the bridge, saw the door open at the end of the corridor. He follows and gets a cosh on the head. The intruder was hiding, and seemed to detect Chris despite his invisibility. As he falls, he glimpses the intruder darting into the Yellow Parlor, which has no other exit. He flashes the image to Sophie for her archives -- coarse trousers, hobnailed boots. "Might be Aphron," Cantrel ventures. "Shoot him."
Alag, back in the sickbay, is puzzled at the Serving System's refusal. "Do you not know, or are you not permitted." Lorelei and Daewen arrive at the bridge just as the Serving System announces, "Shutting down," all over the pantope.
Cantrel, finding the shortest way to the Yellow Parlor blocked by Alag and Tom, pops from the Robot Garage to the Combat Bridge, also on C, shortly after the Serving System makes its announcement. A grill snaps across the teleport booth and the Serving System announces, "This bridge is now in auto-protect mode." He tries to teleport out, finds he can't, curses, and blows away the grill with his disflorger.
Meanwhile, Chris has picked himself up and followed the intruder into the Yellow Parlor. He turns and finds himself facing a Middle-Earth dwarf swinging a heavy mace. He parries with his only weapon, the croquet mallet. Of course, the mace snaps the head of the croquet mallet. Not so of course, the mallet head spins through the air and neatly strikes the dwarf between the eyes. Chris follows this up with a smart, but probably superfluous, karate chop. The dwarf falls, out cold.
"Is this Aphron?" he asks. Aphron, in case you don't recall, was a member of the crew who simply vanished one day, into one of the numerous cracks in the pantope architecture. He was an Acro from the Jack, of unusually short stature, impulsive and rash. He had himself regenerated as Deryni and disguised as a Middle-Earth dwarf when last seen. Chris met him only briefly.
"Yes, that's Aphron," a number of the older crew members chorus mentally, watching through Chris's eyes. "Stun him," says Cantrel, then mysteriously falls off the net. "Ditto," says Tom, and does the same.
Chris cheerfully stuns the trouble-maker. But where did Tom and Cantrel go? And Daewen for that matter?
Making a short flashback to an earlier section of chaos, Daewen and Lorelei had met at the Main Bridge. When the Serving System announced its shutdown, Daewen started trying to bring it back up again. Tom came in and offered the use of his Knack of Tools. Daewen gave him that helm and went back to the Auxiliary Bridge to try her luck there. Lorelei went out to the hall to stand guard.
Then Cantrel opened fire on the Combat Bridge. The Serving System retaliated by stunning him (both sonically and electrically), and isolating his bridge, physically and psychically. When "unauthorized personnel" approached the other helms, it announced that they were unauthorized and that it was "in auto-protect mode," changed the lighting, and isolated them.
Tom manages to persuade the Serving System of his authority, at least enough to contact Daewen on the intercom and have the other two bridges joined to his. (Lab 1 vanished from the map as a result.) A little more persuasion gets the bridges re-connected to the rest of the pantope and auto-protect mode turned off. We even get the architecture back to ha ha normal.
Daewen sweeps up Cantrel and takes him to the autodoc, where he is revived with an awful headache. He is somewhat mollified to find Aphron there, unconscious, being repeatedly stunned by Chris whenever he shows signs of life. Jonathan is there, too, undergoing repairs.
We ask the Serving System what triggered its mechanical mutiny and where Aphron had been. It explains that it went into "auto-protect" because Aphron told it to. Any crew member can do the same, but its the FIRST person to do so who gets control. Tom was able to wrest control back because the Serving System had second thoughts about the situation; it might have misinterpreted Aphron's orders, due conflicts between those order and Cantrel's. It cannot continue without permission from Cantrel.
We all look at Cantrel, who looks embarrassed for the first time in history. (Well, we aren't exactly IN history here, but...) He splutters something like, "Oh $#!+, he just did something like what I-- Oh, ?*@&! Unseal!"
As to Aphron himself, the Serving System explains, he apparently fell victim to the security measures Cantrel set up around his room. Once more, we all look at Cantrel. He explains that there was a time when we had a largish number of disflorgers and he didn't trust anyone but himself with them. Particularly, he didn't trust Aphron with them and forcible took them away from him. This ticked Aphron, especially when he saw that Cantrel continued to carry one.
Apparently, Aphron tried to break into Cantrel's room. The Serving System, acting on Cantrel's instructions, swapped the room for a random corridor. It would appear that Aphron's wanderings led him to the In-House Time Gate.
"The what?" This is a time-machine inside our time-machine. That is, it is a doorway that lets you move back and forth within the history of the pantope itself. Thus, Aphron has been lost for only a short time, from his own point of view. Access to the In-House Time Gate is usually restricted. "What a good idea," we agree; the mere thought of the thing is giving some of us headaches. Others are hoping to find it so as to board it up.
To get more details, Chris hands the stunner to Tom and reads Aphron's memory:
Just as he was stepping into Cantrel's room, it turned into a corridor. The corridor was looped -- you go out one end, you come in the other. After a lot of marching and waiting, a door to another corridor showed up. This corridor had two rooms off it. One was a dark, cylindrical room with zero gravity, containing a large, luminous white Moebius strip. The strip turned out to have gravity; it pulled Aphron onto it and he spent a fair bit of time running around it, trying to jump off and get to the door.
After he escaped from this, he found a door onto another corridor. This one was paved with stones full of fossils, with wall murals full of strange animals. (Aphron did not recognize them, but Chris knows the murals depicted Life Through the Ages, with various prehistoric plants and animals of Earth.) Every time he paused, a door appeared next to him, opening onto outdoors scenes full of similar animals. He left in a hurry when something large and active headed for him.
He found the old looped corridor was gone and, after some more wandering through innocuous and uninteresting rooms (one of which must have been the In-House Time Gate) for about two days, he ran across some familiar territory. Still cursing Cantrel under his breath, Aphron made his way to the Main Corridor, where he saw a stranger (Jonathan) come out of the lab. He considered Jonathan's answers evasive, but at least switched from blasting to stunning him. Checking the sickbay, he found the worldbender guard absent from stasis. He feared that worldbenders had taken the pantope. He ran to the Combat Bridge, turned on the security programs he had found earlier. Then he ran into this Middle-Earth-style elf (Chris).
The rest, as they say, is history. The Serving System tells us that the two rooms were the "Moebius Room" (how original) and the "Stones of Years," also known as the "Rocks of Ages." It has no idea what the captain would want with the Moebius Room, other than to walk around on the strip, but the Rocks of Ages were a time-tunnel, with sixty pre-set gates ready to open on Earth's history at 10-million-year intervals from the Cambrian Period up to the Cenozoic.
It also announces that, in the recent shake-up, it has located two more missing chunks of itself. We congratulate it and ask if the Geometry Engine has turned up yet. No. We then ask it to try and locate the Moebius Room and the Rocks of Ages. We suspect the latter might have some connection to our current dinosaur problem.
Cantrel insists we put Aphron in stasis, kill him, or throw him off the pantope. Chris objects to this last, since we can't then control him, even if we throw him into interstellar space. Tom suggests regenerating him as a neo-dog. But the departures of Fogi, Dr. Wu, and the worldbender guard have left three empty stasis beds, so in the end we decide to stass him until the whole diadem adventure is over.
After we stass Aphron, the Serving System announces that it is unable to attach the Rocks of Ages, but HAS located the Old Bridge.
"The `Old Bridge'? Where did you put it?"
"In Corridor E."
E? We've only seen corridors A to D. "And where is Corridor E?"
"We attached it on the dorm corridor, where Store Room 1 used to be." Idly wondering if we will ever see Store Room 1 again, several of us make our way to the Old Bridge. It's the only room on Corridor E, just now.
It is much bigger than the current Main Bridge, being 10 x 10 x 6 meters. It would appear to date from a more flamboyant, or even megalomaniac, period of the Captain's life. It has two doors (one of them closed, the other being the one we enter by) flanking a throne on a semicircular dais of five steps. The whole room is in fact as much a throne room as it is a bridge. It is highly ornate, even rococo, in silver, blue, and black.
The throne and dais are made of obsidian. The throne has lots of silver trim, as do the risers on the dais steps. The throne is cushioned in royal blue. In front is a tiltable circular lectern, like a plate at the end of a long joystick. The stick is black with silver filigree, and the control plate is borne by a silver archeopteryx (a prehistoric bird with fingers and teeth).
Chris mounts the throne and examines the lectern, which he decides is a helm. "Any other controls in the room?" he asks the Serving System. "None in our registry," it answers. He has it bring up his personal set of controls, which get a bit warped in being fitted to a circular screen.
The walls are royal blue, with pictures. Above the throne, in a frame of silver curls, is a representation of the Big Bang. On the throne's left hand, above one door, is a representation of Earth, forming under a young sun. Next, on the left-hand wall from the throne, is a picture of primeval micro-life. Next, a picture of a seashore, with trilobites in the water and a Carboniferous forest on land. On the far wall is a picture of a landscape with dinosaurs.
"Maybe it's from a pervious owner," Chris suggests. "Every house has an atrocity in it left over from the previous owner."
Continuing clockwise, we have a picture of the Age of Mammals, with hominids in the middle ground and a Cro-Magnon hunter in the foreground. The last picture, to the right of the throne and over the other door, shows a landscape bearing what may be a futuristic city, with an androgynous human face in white and blue, up in the sky.
The floor is tiled black and blue, except for a white semicircle in front of the 'port. ("What a lot of blue," remarks Pfusand.) On either side of the port is an obsidian statue on a silver Corinthian plinth attached to the wall. Each shows a nude man with silver hair and beard, bearing a silver staff. These are, in fact, the weapons emplacements, the Serving System informs us.
"I see," remarks Tom. "In case intruders survive the shock to their esthetic sensibilities."
The 'port itself is now a blank white wall. The ceiling glows dimly with a riot of angels, birds, butterflies, and pterosaurs circling a representation of the Solar System with planets. As the Serving System fumbles for better control, the ceiling brightens, dims, and brightens again, and the planets start moving, stop, go into reverse, then continue forward.
Jonathan asks, "Serving System, do you LIKE this room?"
"We're really not equipped to make esthetic judgments," is the reply.
"How politic," murmurs Jonathan.
"I didn't think you did," mutters Tom.
Close examination of the dinosaur landscape on the wall above the main portal shows a small figure of one of the intelligent saurians. Daewen wanders over to examine it, reaches up, and says, "I wonder what this does?" click
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.