Excitement on the Pantope
Week 2, Finding some missing parts
We left our heroes on the pantope, having re-discovered their old shipmate, Aphron. What with one thing and another (most Aphron's personality), we have decided to put him in stasis until the whole diadem issue is sorted out. Meanwhile, the Serving System has re-discovered the Old Bridge, a rococo throne room with murals of many ages.
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
The figure of the saurian is a button. It goes click when pushed. It happens that Sophie was examining the pictures when Daewen pushed the button, and noticed a hair-fine line or crack in the wall. After the click, this starts to glow, as with light from a neighboring room. Then the square of wall outlined by the crack fades away, revealing a long, dim corridor. Jonathan reports that it is a teleport doors, such as are usual on the pantope. The Serving System knows nothing about it or what lies beyond it.
Jonathan starts to walk into the corridor, but Sophie stops him. Tom sends his Second Sight down the corridor and feels a bit of a ripple as the viewpoint crosses the threshold. There are nine doors here, four on each side and one at the end. Tom tries to X-ray the doors but they are opaque. Perhaps they are not connected, or do not connect until opened. We all fetch weapons (and Cantrel fetches some actual clothing, having made do with illusory towels from Daewen), and start down the corridor, Tom first.
When Tom first sets foot in the thing, there is a grinding, wheezing noise, the walls and ceiling flicker dimly, and dust coughs out of the ventilation slots. Several of the doors glow a dim red. Red glow usually means a door is not connected. None of the doors work, until Tom reaches the last pair.
At that point, a glassy, misty archway springs into being around the walls and ceiling, between Tom and the others. It begins to fill with shimmer, then slowly thickening mist. Not anxious to touch an unknown force-field, Tom conjures a stick of ectoplasm and prods with that. Resistance, and increasing. The air glows a bit near the point of contact. The lights and ventilation increase as the wall thickens.
Chris realizes that Aphron's memory of his wandering contained this archway, though he did not heed it much at the time. It must have been working better then. Jonathan notes that Tom feels further off, and his telepathic signal is getting fainter. Getting anxious, Chris whacks at the wall with the handle of his croquet mallet, and seems to lose some wood in the process.
Tom feels there is nothing for him to do but try the three doors on his side of the wall. The end door doesn't open. The door on the right opens on the Moebius Room, just as Aphron remembered it. By now, telepathy with the group is almost gone; Tom yells his discovery through the wall.
He now turns to the other doors and, not surprisingly, finds the Stones of Years, a quick time-tunnel through Earth's geological history. He patters down it, hoping to find some clue around the late Cretaceous period to what the Captain did with the diadem segment and the dinosaurs. One of the fossil-bearing paving stones looks a bit different.
On the other side of the wall, Cantrel and Jonathan throw knives and brain-waves and the wall to no effect. Pfusand recalls that Aphron probably fell through the In-House Time Gate around here and asks the Serving System if it now has any access to that disconcerting device. No.
Inside, Tom has found a faint outline between the sixth and seventh stones, this being the junction at which dinosaurs first appeared. There's a funny psi signature to it. Meanwhile, all psi contact with the others is gone; there's a faint, reverberant telepathy, as of many distant voices. Tom examines the crack moving back and forth, for Aphron's memory showed that a time-gate opened if you stayed on one stone too long.
Outside, Jonathan shoves hard on the wall. As a result, his palms and nose turn rather pink and tender. Cantrel tries a Hremish Knock Spell to open the way, but nothing happens.
Inside, Tom hears a faint voice, mumbling, "Lee? 'Zat you? Hullo?" Someone staggers in from the corridor, a tall fellow with curly brown hair. Tom lets his fingers stray to his laser and calls, "Who are you?" "Aw, you know me, Lee! Where's my room?"
Lee? The Captain's name is Lee Verger. Tom explains that he is not the Captain. Just then, a breeze blows in on Tom's right. He has stood on one stone too long. Before anything Paleozoic can wander in, he trots down the hall toward the new arrival, who is either a very good actor or too drunk to be any threat. The time-gate snaps shut behind.
He seems to be a genuine drunk. He wants to find his room, partly because he's lost and partly because he left his arms there (he says). Gesturing graphically with a perfectly good pair, he explains "they were about THIS long and had hands on the ends."
Tom tries to telepathy the fellow, to verify that his drunkenness is real, but he's wearing a personal psilencer. After a few tries, he gets the fellow to realize that he is not the Captain and to tell Tom that his name is "Gene." Tom suspects the In-House Time Gate is still leaking and tries to explain that he is a passenger on the pantope, just like Gene. This confuses him even more. Tom asks Gene how he got here, but of course gets no useful information, only the news that Gene got into this state by losing a bet with "Dancer." (The Serving System?)
Around then, Tom gets a call on his pocket communicator. It's Sophie. Telepathy and sound have failed, but the communicators work. Tom hastily explains about Gene. Sophie recommends Tom try Dicing.
Around then, the mist fades away ... to reveal a completely strange corridor, with no shipmates in sight. Tom holds Gene in place and tries to think what he could Dice at. As the mist comes up again, he decides to try and Dice at Gene -- he seems to be an essentially random feature, suitable for Dicing -- to "go home." Tom tries to conjure an ectoplastic blindfold for Gene, but the psilencer causes it to evaporate and nullifies the Dicing. (Tom really should have remembered that, but he suspects he's stumbled into the Time Gate himself and is panicking.) The mist is thickening again. Tom Dices at it, hoping to bollix the machinery, to no clear effect.
Outside, Sophie has been talking to Gene, hearing Tom fizz in the background. She learns he was born on Centauri in 2455, if it wasn't 2355 or 2555. Chris pushes at the mist and tries to Dice the mist directly. Meanwhile, Jonathan retreats to the entrance and pushes twice on the dinosaur button, hoping to reset things.
Pfusand, Daewen, Sophie, Chris, and Cantrel find themselves isolated in a corridor with no open doors. Chris's finger tips hurt on his left hand.
The door to the Old Bridge is back, as is the end of the corridor with Tom and Gene. The archway drops its misty barrier and snaps into place at the very end of the corridor. We decide to scram. On the way out, Tom asks Gene where his psilencer is. Gene indicates his shirt pocket and Tom relieves him of it. Gene gets out a "Hey!" but then Chris reaches up with his good hand and squeezes Gene at the base of the neck. Gene slumps quietly.
Chris: "The old Vulcan Nerve Pinch. I picked it up watching TV in 1984."
Tom: "Fascinating." (I bet the intoxication and some Metabolic TK help.)
Once more, we retreat to the autodoc for repairs, this time to Chris's fingers, Jonathan's nose, and Gene's liver. At Sophie's suggestion, Tom checks the records for red flags set on Centauri. Happily, there are none. (Sophie also tells Chris and Cantrel that she found another button similar to the dinosaur one, this one a mastodon on the Age of Mammals mural.)
The autodoc has a hard time sobering Gene up. It remarks that the neurochemistry is odd, and it's hard to tell what's "natural" here. Whatever Gene is drunk on, it certainly isn't alcohol.
Tom checks Gene out with Second Sight. All he finds is a sort of swelling, like a mild inflammation, on the spinal cord, a little below the shoulder blades. Meanwhile, the autodoc thinks it has figured out Gene's normal neurochemistry and what was done to it -- something very complex, especially if it was to be done by drinking. It starts to sober him up. Tom, with Chris listening in, does a hasty memory audit on this stranger, honorably kicking in Amnesia to forget anything that isn't his business.
His name is Gene Pearce, from Centauri. He's been on the pantope two months, in his own frame of reference. He knows the Captain by the name "Lee Hro," refers to "The Dance of Hours" as "Dancer," and knows Elias as "Al."
About then, Gene wakes up, sober, and is startled to see all these peculiar people gathered round the bed, staring at him. He then asks the Serving System to vouch for US (after bawling it out for getting him drunk). The Serving System doesn't have the faintest idea who he is. He is disconcerted by this, and alarmed to find the Captain two beds over, in stasis. The Serving System explained that this was necessary if the Captain wanted to live beyond the next five to fifteen minutes (now indefinitely postponed). It then explains Number One has shut down with a bad case of system crash. We ask if he's ever heard of the In-House Time Gate. (Shudder.) "No." We explain he probably fell through it.
In an effort to date Gene within the pantope's interior history, we ask him what he knows about worldbenders. He has heard of them and gathers they are no longer a problem. He was with "Lee" and "Al" at "Al's" tavern as they were talking about something the two of them (or just the Captain) had done to stymie them.
Hm. This could be a prophecy of our ultimate victory, or it could just be the Captain and Elias discussing whatever it was the Captain did with the dinosaurs, which, according to Henderson, he later regarded as a mistake. Gene has a 50% chance of being a good omen.
Gene explains about the drunkenness: Normally, he has a very high resistance to alcohol. He bet the autodoc that it couldn't get him drunk. It won. What a pity it has no memory of this victory.
He leaves sickbay and tries to find his room. He notes that the corridors are all switched around. "You been redecorating?" We explain that they do that by themselves, randomly, ever since the attack that got the Captain and Number One. Gene finds three rooms on the Dorm Corridor that might be his. None of them have his stuff in them. But has he moved out, or is he yet to come?
Daewen predicts that we won't find any evidence one way or another for Gene's date of origin. If he's from later in the pantope's career, any such evidence would be likely to bring timelock and so be excluded. (Sophie, who disbelieves in timelock, sighs.) If he's from earlier, he may have already (from our point of view) but not yet (from his) played a part in getting the pantope or the diadem to the state we found them in. So evidence that would timelock him from returning to that past will be excluded.
Gene, meanwhile, is lamenting the loss of his arms. We ask him to clear up that point. Seems he owned a pair of "splice jobs." These are extra limbs that one can strap on and use as if they were real; they're psionic in technology and can cause distressing psychological side-effects. They are therefore illegal on some planets. But Gene has never had any trouble with his (since he got used to them), found them ... handy, and got them legally on Dhormard in 2485, a few months before he boarded the pantope.
The arms, however, pale in comparison to the loss of his spaceship. (Gene is a starship pilot by trade, born on Centauri in 2355 and hence 130 years old.) He can't even find the hanger he left it in.
After hearing a summary of our position, Gene is anxious to help the Captain, and this means helping us finish the diadem.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.