Dumping the Diadem
Week 2, Battle with Worldbenders
When we left our heroes last time, they were discussing what to do with the diadem now that they've got it. What follows is a lot tidier than the discussions that actually took place.
The Captain's plan is to take the diadem to a chaotic mess at the ragged edge of the universe that has the necessary physical properties to let us fold the diadem in on itself. The problem with this plan is that the worldbenders are likely to show up in the same general vicinity; we can defend ourselves against them with the diadem, but we have, as yet, no avenue of escape for AFTER we get rid of the diadem.
We might throw the diadem away by making a pocket universe with it and destroying the pocket, the diadem, and its operator all in one blow. But aside from the obviously unappealing nature of the job (though Pfusand and Lorelei are willing to volunteer for it), there is a chance of picking the pocket, so to speak.
We can't make a pocket like the chaotic place; it would automatically join up with the existing one.
Chris suggests time-looping the diadem -- arranging for its history to run in a circle. The Captain thinks this not at all likely to work; circular worldlines are very rare and we'll probably run into a prior history. Chris objects that this isn't just any old object, but the Captain feels its very character makes it an unlikely candidate for looping.
Well, if we have to go to this chaotic place, can we try hiding there, or shielding the diadem from worldbender detection, or making a decoy diadem? All those sound like good ideas to the Captain.
While we chew on this, we get some more background from the Captain. He doesn't really know who made the diadem, but he uncomfortably suspects it was the same agency that made the OTHER mighty object with thirteen components, i.e. the universe.
The Captain found the diadem at the end of a long adventure in which he felt distinctly hustled along by fate. When he came across it, two segments were already in the hands of an evil adventurer who had done all manner of mischief with it. After getting the whole thing together, the Captain and his friend Alior Nus noted that the worldbenders were after it, considered what frightful things they would do with it, and decided to hide it by breaking it up and stowing the bits all over -- at least three of them right in the worldbenders' own artificial worlds. (That was Alior's idea.)
Then they discovered that the "worldbenders" they had been dealing with were mere fronts for the REAL worldbenders, who were much worse, and the Captain decided he had to gather up all the segments and get rid of it for once and all.
We pause here to ask just what ARE the terrible things the worldbenders will do with the diadem. We've always been a little hazy on that point.
The Captain splutters and waves his hands at this point. We've always been under the impression that time was immutable, but apparently it isn't quite. The nature of the exceptions to immutability are hard to explain. The worldbenders, he says, seek to make themselves inevitable. That will leave them free to extend their conquests into their own history (us) quite freely.
Tom steps in with a couple of ideas he's toyed with over the years. Looking at the way we have laid false trails for our own earlier selves, for example in Gwennedd, Tom wonders if the worldbenders mightn't use the diadem to preserve a sort of facade of "original" history, enough to give rise to them, while freely creating scheme after scheme of nightmare behind-the-scenes imperialism and exploitation. The Captain says that's easily within their powers.
Or, goes on Tom, there are the parallel histories we've visited. They are few and far between, so far as we know. But the worldbenders might be able to use the diadem to split off and re-fuse timelines arbitrarily. That too, the Captain says, would be part of what they could do.
As best Tom understands it, if we lose, this is the way the world will always have been, past, present, and future -- we'll just not have known it before. This, Tom says, is nightmare enough for him, and the others agree.
But, asks Chris, how do we know the diadem will STAY thrown away? The Captain explains that his plan is to merge each segment of the diadem with the corresponding dimension of the universe.
And why couldn't it re-emerge somewhere or sometime else? The Captain feels sure the diadem must be unique in all space-time, by its very nature. It's like this: there must be exactly one origin to a Cartesian coordinate system. The diadem is like an object DEFINED as being at the origin. A proposed second diadem would find its place already occupied; there would be no room for it. Chris shrugs, not particularly convinced.
Cantrel has a suggestion: Wouldn't it be enough to use the diadem to change the laws of nature so that there will be no more time-travel? This would mean that any user of the diadem could wreak havoc in its own era, but that would at least limit the possible damage. He realizes it is difficult to give a meaning to "no more time-travel," since the essence of time-travel makes it impossible to date unambiguously, but...
The Captain tells him that sounds good; you would need more than one dimension of time to do it in, and although time has less than two dimensions, it DOES have more than one. [Apparently, it's fractal.]
Tom suggests that we could give a useful meaning to "no more time-travel" by ordering the diadem to never again (as measured in ITS frame) allow itself to be affected through time-travel. No time-traveler could use it or time-travel with it.
The Captain says that's pretty good, except someone could reach the thing by simple process of aging to it... Ah! Unless you put it somewhere that can't be reached EXCEPT by time-travel. Hmm. The person who takes it there would be very lonely, though they'd have a wonderful toy to play with, to occupy themselves.
Cantrel: Couldn't you sort of push the diadem over the edge, without going yourself? The Captain thinks you might. He gets a light in his eyes and suddenly feels its time to finish repairing the pantope.
He picks up a segment, tries something, then passes it to Tom, telling him to simply wish up the Geometry Engine. Tom does so, successfully, putting the door to the engine room in Lab I, whither we all repair. (If we had only known it was so simple....)
The engine room is 4 x 4 x 3 meters high, with two doors. The other door is shut. It is walled in glowing white. The ceiling and floor are transparent, showing on darkness. In the center, one meter off the floor, is a tight triangular formation of ten prolate ellipsoids, each half a mater high and five centimeters wide. They are white with a pearly iridescence. One corner ellipsoid has slipped down, out of position.
Experimentally, Tom pokes at it. He lifts it back into position, but it slips out again. Looking around, he sees Daewen wincing and so desists. The Captain wants to work out the next tricky bit of navigation, and besides he's still feeling poorly, so he has Daewen work on the Engine, with Tom's help.
Three hours later, both repairs and calculations are still going on. The Captain and Cantrel are in Lab I. Gene, Tom, and Daewen are next door in the Geometry Engine room. Chris and Pfusand are on the main bridge, Lorelei and Victoria are chatting in Victoria's room, and everyone else is in their rooms.
Without warning, the Security System (which we've never heard from before) announces, "Time Gate activation." "Disable the Time Gate," Chris snaps, and the Captain (once Tom rouses him from the zone of silence he's wrapped himself in) orders the Serving System to disable all bridges, put in views to the bridges, and link them by audio, and monitor and report any internal dimensional activity.
A bit later, the Serving System reports manipulation at the self-containment housing. This is the meter-wide (from the outside) transparent globe located in one of the pantope's gardens and containing the pantope. We re-play the visual on that but see nothing but a garden bug. But there are no bugs in the garden except bees and butterflies. When we blow up the image, the "bug" resolves into a couple of dozen miniaturized human figures. We are being boarded, first (probably) through the Time Gate, second across scale.
Chris and Pfusand move quickly to the Combat Bridge, where they start targeting the incoming foes. Sophie joins them there. The Captain then decides on Tom as the only handy person both fit enough and trained enough to throw away the diadem NOW. (Handily, he is also in a spacesuit.) In telepathic rapport, he has Tom memorize a series of 13-dimensional transformations that he is to think into a segment. This should take him suitably (if dangerously) near a singularity in the fractal structure of time. Tom is then to order the diadem through the singularity with that final provision that it shall never be affected again by time-travel.
Finally, the Captain seizes on Tom's psilencer and fiddles with it, using a segment to do so. It will, he hopes, pull Tom back from the brink of the singularity, back to here.
After a final prayer, Tom takes the other segments from Cantrel, thinks into the Captain's segment, and vanishes.
Daewen starts cursing the Geometry Engine in very low elvish. Somewhere, Jonathan shrieks in agony. Tom's departure gave a vigorous shake to the local geometry; ALL the doors in the pantope have ceased working.
Tom is freefalling somewhere in a lightless void, probably on the infinitely ragged edge between space-time and hyperspace. He thinks the final instructions at all the diadem segments. They vanish. He hits his recall button.
Tom reappears in Lab I, to find himself staring down the barrel of Cantrel's disflorger. "Tom?" asks Cantrel ominously. "What?" Tom answers in irate tones. "That was the right answer," Cantrel replies, satisfied, it seems, as to Tom's identity.
Daewen announces that she thinks she can get three doors working at a time, plus a few charges on the pop teleports. We have VERY limited mobility back. A short but anxious time later, we have all the crew together, having linked the Combat Bridge, Lab I, the engine room, and Victoria's room. Fortunately, it is only hours since we got the last segment and revived the Captain -- we are still mostly armed and armored. And we have fourteen worldbenders still alive, full-sized, breaking into the pantope through the dome over the garden.
Daewen, Lorelei, Chris, and Tom squeeze into a pop-teleport booth and jump to the garden, followed by Cantrel, Pfusand, and Gene on the next jump. The worldbenders are just working through the dome and we get the drop on them.
Daewen showers laser-fire on the incoming foe ... and every man she hits find his head englobed in a solid black sphere of glamour. This puts three or four out of action, drifting aimlessly on their flight packs. Cantrel lashes out with TK, trying to crush the guns in their hands. Lorelei disintegrates one.
Next, Daewen multiplies her images to confuse the enemy. Startlingly, one of the enemy also multiplies, and the two (two?) face off, and off, and off, maneuvering.
Chris follows Lorelei's example and opens fire with his disflorger, from the cover of a displaced image. One of the worldbenders penetrates the illusion and fires at Chris's true location; fortunately, Chris Anticipates and dodges.
Tom shoots at Chris's foe and Pfusand follows it up with a bullet from an elephant gun. This penetrates much better than laser and blaster fire. The enemy strike Cantrel, who recoils across the garden.
We trade some more fire. Daewen, in many images, swings an "empty" hand at her multiplied foe, a sword jumps into it, and delivers a hack. He falls and the many images vanish. (Turns out, he had made a mistake. He took Daewen's multiple images for true multiple INSTANCES of her, in temporal fugue -- his own trick. Daewen then double-faked him out by a mighty Glamour than made her images attack in imitation of her BEFORE she attacked herself -- Glamour back through time.)
Pfusand, Cantrel, and Lorelei all concentrate bullets, TK, and sleep spells on the worldbender who shot Cantrel. No one is there; it was illusion. Suddenly, Chris dodges for no apparent reason, turns his disflorger down from "disintegrate" to "deep fry" and shoots at Tom. The man we thought we were shooting at appears between Chris and Tom, falling. Tom picks up the man's dropped disflorger and turns it on the remaining foe. BOOM ... Oh, this one is set on "disintegrate."
That was the last serious attack. Soon, the remaining worldbenders are down.
And the diadem is gone.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.